Functional fitness. A workout for a healthy and strong life

What exactly is functional fitness?

What are your reasons for working out?

Weight loss? Improved strength? Better health?

Everyone has their reasons for working out, but there may be more to be had from your workout.

Fitness can be practical and useful too.

The term functional means practical and useful or serving a purpose.

When we look at functional exercise, we can see that our fitness routine can serve us in our everyday life, as well as our health goals.

Not only that, but our everyday life can serve us in our functional fitness goals.

How great is that? Very practical and useful.

Group doing functional fitness exercises
Photo by Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash

How can you use functional fitness in your workout?

Design your workout with your activities of daily life in mind.

You do not need to dedicate your entire workout to functional fitness, but you can throw in a few moves that may solve some life problems along the way.

An example of this would be the all-important hip hinge movement pattern that is neglected by many and causes so many lower back pain problems.

The hip hinge movement is used in moves such as the deadlift, the squat, good mornings and picking up items from the floor, cleaning the bathtub, and reaching the lower shelves at the supermarket.

You get the idea.

Pay attention to your day-to-day needs.

The best way to find the right functional exercises for you is to pay attention to the things you do not find easy:

  • Do you have an aching back because you have to bend down a lot?
  • Do you struggle with turning to see behind you?
  • Can you bend down to reach low cupboards and shelves?
  • Can you step up to reach something high up?
  • Would you catch yourself if you stumble or do you fall?
  • Can you push and pull heavier objects?

Over time, we may find that we lose some of these movement patterns.

This could be that we just don’t need to do them very much, so when we do need to use them, our joints and muscles find it difficult to move.

It can also be old injuries that you “rested” and never really got moving again. If the injury has healed and your doctor has given you the all-clear for movement, it may be time to start mobilising again.

It may also be due to leading a less active lifestyle. Unfortunately, if we don’t use it we tend to lose it.

Functional fitness – there’s an exercise for that.

Once you have identified the movement patterns that you find difficult, you can take your newfound goals to the gym or exercise class.

Personal trainers and class instructors are qualified in providing exercises that work in different planes of motion, that utilise certain muscles and joints, and different movement patterns. Let your trainer know about your goals and they will be sure to provide exercises to help you out.

There is also an abundance of exercises that you can look up, for example:

  • Deadlifts and squats for bending safely.
  • Thoracic rotation stretches for turning to look behind you.
  • Step-ups for reaching high places.
  • Lunges for climbing, walking downhill, and catching yourself when you stumble.
  • Push-ups and rows to promote pushing and pulling actions.

Always ensure that you have any medical concerns cleared by a medical professional before embarking on a new fitness routine and be sure to have injuries, new or old checked out too.

Ease into a new workout routine, and avoid overloading or overstretching yourself. Pay attention to your body and work within your physical limitations, stop if there is pain, and perform movements gently rather than forcing your joints and muscles to perform.

Master the movements and life becomes a workout.

Once you master your functional movement patterns in a fitness environment, the world can be a workout.

  • Bending to lower shelves or getting up and down from your chair becomes your everyday squat reps.
  • Picking up the kid’s toys or cleaning the bathtub is an opportunity to perfect your deadlift form.
  • Carrying shopping bags can be a good excuse for a few bicep curls.
  • Retrieving your dropped car keys from under your car is a good reason for a plank or push-up.

You can even perfect your core posture and alignment just by standing in a queue, just draw those shoulder blades back and down, squeeze those glutes and engage those abs.

Always be sure to check with your GP or health care professional before starting a new exercise or nutrition program and seek support from an exercise professional to ensure you are exercising correctly.