What is it? Why do you need it?
Being fit has been the rage for several years now. You have many different options when it comes to becoming fit, such as CrossFit, HIIT (High Intensity, Interval Training) and so many others. Lately, the words “Functional Fitness” seem to be everywhere. What is this? Is it just the latest fad? Is it something that you should even bother with looking into?
When you think of the word “fit,” you might bring images of body builders and people who seem to spend their lives at the gym, but it shouldn’t. This is where the term “Functional Fitness” comes in. The whole idea of functional fitness is that it makes everyday tasks easier by training your muscles to work together. It does this by simulating common movements you do in your life at home, work or activities. When you think of weightlifting or gym equipment, it is all about isolating muscle groups and targeting them with specific exercises. This isn’t how your body functions in everyday life. Most of the time, you are using various muscles throughout your entire body at the same time. This is what is going on when you bend down and put some thing away in a lower drawer of your dresser or reach high above your head while standing on your tiptoes trying to get something down from a tall cabinet or simply carrying a load of laundry up a flight of stairs. All of these actions, plus many more, is what functional fitness is trying to mimic. It is focus is on using multiple different muscles in your lower and upper body at the same time while improving core stability and overall balance. By doing exercises that enhance your ability to move while doing daily activities, it makes doing things every day easier and decreases your risk of injury, which ultimately improves your quality of life.
The idea of functional fitness started in occupational and physical therapy as a form of rehabilitation. It was used to help people with movement disorders learn how to perform tasks that they would be performing every day in a safe way to avoid injury and help strengthen the muscles that they would need to do those tasks. The exercises are specific to each person’s needs and were devised after taking into account the person’s current condition, what goal they would like to achieve while making sure that those goals are realistic and achievable. Numerous studies have shown that people make much better progress during their rehabilitation and will continue practicing the exercises after their rehabilitation is over when it was implemented in this format. These individuals have better results and are able to function better on a daily basis. The origins of functional fitness have driven the core concept to something that we can all use: Practicality! If isn’t something that you do in everyday life, then it isn’t practical to do. One example of this is bench presses. How many of us actually imitate the movement of bench presses as we go about our lives? This lends itself to the idea that a fit lifestyle is about how easy it is for you to do things every day without getting tired or injured, not just looking fit.
The training in functional fitness focuses on balance, planes that your body moves in, range of motion, strength and power. Having good balance is the central idea to not getting hurt. You are constantly encountering awkward angles every day and your smaller muscles are more likely to get injured if they aren’t prepared for it. If you have practice dealing with balance, they are less likely to get hurt. A component of balance is that your body is designed to move backwards, forwards, up/down and side-to-side. Often it is doing working in more than one of these planes at a time. Training to your body to function in theses different planes is essential in maintaining balance and increasing your range of motion, which helps to limit injury. In terms of strength, it is about concentrating on getting your body to work together as a whole because this makes your body stronger and more stable. While an exercise might seem to favor your upper or lower body, the other half is helping to provide stability and support. The exercises are specifically designed to allow your body be prepared for real-life situations. When discussing power in relation to functional fitness, it is all about quick explosive movements. The exercises are copying the movements you make when you quickly try to grab something to prevent it from falling or if you run back into your house when you forget something. In order to help prepare for these type of things, the emphasis is on trying to perform as many reps as possible of the exercise with proper form within a certain time frame (usually 20-60 seconds). This will make it easier to move quickly without getting hurt. Other benefits of doing multiple muscle groups exercises are you are able to get more work done in less time, your cardiovascular system improves because it having to transport your blood throughout your entire body rather than to one specific area and you have better coordination because your neuromuscular system improves. When doing functional fitness exercises, your mindset should be that you are training for life, not a specific event, like a yearly vacation or friend’s wedding. Typically, this is what motivates us to exercise and while it might work in the short term, it isn’t providing you with what you need to function every day.
So, you’re ready to try a functional fitness workout…Awesome! How do you select a trainer/gym? What should the work out consist of? The first step is talking to a trainer and gathering more information. You should be asking them questions about their program and have they worked with someone your age/fitness level before. They should be asking you about your current health status, past medical history and your goals. If they don’t take the time to do this, then don’t go there. Often larger gyms that have a lot of clients will not take the time to do consultations. During a consultation, you should be checking to see if the training program is aimed at your individual needs. It should also include a variety of exercises that work on flexibility, core stability, balance, strength and power in different planes. The program should gradually increase in difficulty as you master tasks. The tasks should be varied and repeated frequently. Using real-life objects to perform a task in a context-specific exercise is helpful. Your trainer should be providing feedback and encouraging you to discuss how you feel about tasks and your performance. A key thing to look for is small class sizes because this will allow for personalized attention during a workout. This is essential to making sure you have the ability to ask questions if you don’t understand something, which is vital to preventing an injury from doing an exercise improperly. When you are exercising, it is normal to feel burning, shakiness and fatigue in your muscles. It is not normal to feel pain in or around your joints. If you start to feel this, then stop the exercise and speak to your trainer. Remember, always start off slowly, especially with an exercise that you have never done before. It is your responsibility to let your trainer know if you are hurting and any limitations you might have before you start and during an exercise program. A good trainer will modify an exercise if needed and may request that you see a doctor before participating in a program.
Functional fitness is all about doing exercises that replicate things that you do on a daily basis. It is important to find the right trainer/program for you and if you have any concerns, be evaluated by a doctor prior to starting any program. Participation in functional fitness activities decreases your chance of injury from simple tasks and increase your overall health, which is something that everyone can benefit from!