The word fitness can undoubtedly stir up images of elite athletes - Matthew Fraser, Serena Williams, Lebron James, Christiano Ronaldo, Simone Biles - household names deservingly recognized for their high levels of accomplishment and athleticism. But what about the rest of us? What about those who work all day and come home with energy levels too low to even cook dinner? How does the emotionally exhausted stay-at-home parent relate to these elite athletes? Regardless of the demands of life, whether you are able to commit to a gym routine or not, everybody needs functional fitness.
Consider the first few minutes of your daily routine. Most of us wake up to the sound of an alarm clock, turn off the alarm clock (...or press snooze a few times…), swing our legs off the side of the bed, plant our feet on the floor, and head towards the bathroom. In that brief moment of time, we have already demonstrated the need for functional fitness.
So, What is Functional Fitness?
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, functional fitness trains and develops our muscles to perform day-to-day activities. Trace back to the origins of humanity. As hunters and gatherers, functional fitness improved a human’s ability to obtain and prepare food. Now, flash forward to the circumstances of today. Carrying the groceries into the house? You need functional fitness. Chasing toddlers around your backyard? You need functional fitness. Getting off the couch after binging Netflix for two hours? You need functional fitness. Walking up the stairs to go to sleep? Say it with me now...you need functional fitness.
Chances are that if you have stepped foot into a gym, box, or studio, you have seen kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, or resistance bands. Combining these items with an individual’s own body weight is functional exercise. Functional exercises generally involve a multitude of muscles, joints, and bones. Evaluate lunges as a functional exercise. This simple motion involves the abdominals, back muscles, gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Now consider the benefits of lunges in our daily lives. First, lunges activate stabilizing muscles which will improve our balance and coordination. Next, lunges can correct imbalances and asymmetry in our bodies. Because lunges strengthen our core muscles, our posture improves, we stand taller, and it becomes easier to avoid back injury. Further, lunges as a functional exercise will increase muscle tone, strength, and confidence.
Benefits of Functional Exercise
According to Opex Fitness, there are 5 primary advantages to regular functional exercise:
Functional exercises improve everyday life. Day to day activities, such as vacuuming or making the bed, can be completed with ease. Improving the strength, endurance, and stability of your body will improve the function of your body. As our day to day activities are completed easily, our attitude and stress levels also improve.
Functional exercises increase muscle memory. Muscle memory actually exercises the functioning of the brain. Even when an action becomes automatic, muscle memory activates the motor cortex. If you can regularly engage in opportunities for brain exercise, you can improve your memory. Enhanced muscle memory will increase the vitality of life.
Functional exercises increase mobility. Imagine getting out of the car after a long road trip. Due to limited mobility for an extended period of time, your back, knees, and hamstrings are tight. With functional exercises, mobility increases, which will improve coordination, flexibility, muscle strength, and agility.
Functional exercises improve balance and posture. Because multiple muscles work together in functional fitness, muscles are able to manage body weight and movement. With stable core function, balance and posture will improve.
Functional exercises decrease injury risks. Overall, increased muscle memory, increased mobility, improved balance, and improved posture can decrease injury risks.
Who Needs Functional Fitness?
Say it with me now...you need functional fitness.
Children need functional fitness. While it is not recommended that children use free weights without adult supervision, body-weight functional exercises are an excellent preparation for physical training in adulthood. Functional exercise can be fun for children. Climbing the monkey bars, freeze tag, and hide-and-seek are all examples of functional exercises that children can practice.
Adults need functional fitness. As the circumstances and seasons of life change, we are met with deadlines and demands. Consequently, a lot of us place our physical fitness on the back burner.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 percent of adults aged 65 and older are limited in their ability to perform basic actions, like picking something up off the floor or reaching to grab a cereal box from the pantry.” Silver Sneakers
Once we factor in aging, mobility can become extremely limited due to decreased muscle tone. To prevent injury and increase mobility, routine functional exercises are beneficial for maintaining quality of life.
Competitive athletes need functional fitness. Functional exercises allow athletes to train for a specific function. Athletes can target core stability to improve power movements. Athletes can also train their explosive energy to enhance speed and power. Due to the risk of injury, athletes can also use functional exercises to increase their range of motion (“prehabilitation”).
Overall, functional fitness is key for a healthy, sustainable life. Increased strength, balance, coordination, stability, mobility, and brain function all lead an individual to better life. Whether you’re competing as an athlete or picking up your grandchild to place the star on the Christmas tree - say it with me now, you need functional fitness.