Functional Fitness and Its Benefits
What is Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness has become the fitness buzz word in the U.S. lately, but what is it, and why is it important? The idea behind this movement is that traditional weight lifting in the gym isolates certain muscle groups, but does nothing to help the groups work together. Functional exercise helps the body to use muscle groups together to perform tasks. The body is not made to perform tasks that only use isolated muscle groups. This is why injuries still happen to those extra fit “gym rats” that have all the pretty muscles in all of the right places. Functional exercise is a function over “form” (as it applies to muscle mass). The form of the actual movements used in the exercise are incredibly important, but it is about exchanging excessive tone (form) for overall functionality of the body. It is training the body’s muscle memory and flexibility to perform tasks that will actually happen in real life situations, and therefore, maximizing effectiveness while minimizing injury.
Range of Motion
Another important element of functional exercise is increasing range of motion in the joints. By working on range of motion, you can increase your joint flexibility and muscular structure that supports those joints. There are several exercises that increase functional strength that include weight and movement together to increase range of motion as well. Weights or equipment are not necessary for functional fitness, and bodyweight alone is a great place for beginners to start.
Through range of motion and overall function are both important benefits of functional exercise, balance is another very important benefit. Balance is something that we use daily, and can cause big issues for injury if we do not have it. Bending over, reaching up over our heads to reach something, carrying packages or laundry up a flight of stairs, and even getting on and off of a couch are all times that we need balance. Functional fitness is a great way to increase balance and overall body function.
Functional Fitness Programs
At Home workouts
There are several at-home workouts that you can learn online or can get in DVD or streaming forms that use body weight to increase body function. The issue with doing these functional exercises at home by yourself is that you do not have the benefit of a trainer or teacher to correct your form. As mentioned, the form of your movements in function programs is very important, and bad form can cause you to injure yourself (which is exactly what we are trying to avoid). If you choose to do your workouts at home, pay extra attention to the notes on form.
Yoga & Pilates
Yoga is the absolute best functional exercise for improving your balance. Tree, three legged dog, and even mountain are all important poses to use in increasing you stability and balance. Pilates is also a great method of using yoga movements and body weight to increase the function of the body’s muscles and joints. Pilates and yoga are both challenging, and there are several yoga/pilates fusion and Piyo classes out there for you to try.
Many people don’t think of martial arts when they think of functional fitness. Martial arts is a very good way to get your core tight, increase your balance, and learn proper ways to move the body. The bonus with martial arts is that you are (or should be) learning the skill of self defense while working out. It is a good idea to supplement martial arts with some functional strength building exercises and yoga optimize your performance. Many schools have good functional warm ups, and advanced classes are a good combination of cardio and functional drills.
Cross fit has become the new king of functional exercise in the last decade. This whole program is built upon functional movement and strength. As with every workout program, it is important to keep your form correct and your weight manageable to avoid injury. Cross fit is everywhere, and you should have no problem finding a gym and class in a town near you that fits your schedule.
Group Fitness classes
There are several group fitness programs that use functional techniques. Many gyms have Beachbody or Les Mills instructors that teach classes that contain a strong functional element. Find out what is offered in your area, and check it out. group classes are challenging and fun.
Whatever program you choose to do on a regular basis, it is always good to add elements of other programs to round out your overall fitness. Yoga is important for overall function, but should be combined with some weighted functional exercise like cross fit or at-home workouts. Cross fit is great, but it would benefit your bodily function to include yoga or martial arts to increase your balance.