Do you feel like even though you work out religiously, you just aren't getting any fitter? Surprisingly, millions of people feel the same way.
It can be a real psychological battle to feel like you're not getting anywhere with your fitness goals and to continue working out, which begs the question- are you doing something wrong?
You could be.
That's why, ideally, you should be performing activities that help you on a day-to-day basis, so you don't feel like basic chores are taxing your body to the maximum.
That, ladies and gents, is the beauty of functional fitness training.
In this blog post, we're going to be discussing all about functional fitness and why you should be adapting your workouts to mimic this style.
What Is Functional Fitness?
Functional fitness is a fantastic approach to working out that's becoming more and more popular these days. It is all about training your body to handle everyday activities with ease, so you can live a healthier, more active life.
You know how sometimes you feel like you need to be an acrobat just to pick up something off the floor, or maybe you struggle to carry groceries without feeling like your arms are going to fall off?
Functional fitness is designed to help with those kinds of real-life challenges. It focuses on natural movements and exercises that mimic the activities we do daily, like squatting, lifting, pushing, and pulling.
One of the coolest things about functional fitness is that it incorporates a mix of strength, flexibility, balance, and core stability. So, instead of just isolating one muscle group, you're working your entire body in a more holistic way. This helps you become stronger, more agile, and less prone to injuries in the long run.
Principles Of Functional Fitness
What makes functional fitness different from other sorts of training? Whilst many disciplines focus on improving performance for a specific discipline, they often don't translate well to real-life situations. That's why functional fitness adheres to certain principles. These include:
Focus On Natural Movements
Functional fitness emphasizes exercises that mirror the way your body moves in everyday life. Think of movements like squatting, bending, twisting, and reaching, which are all common actions we perform daily. By practicing these movements in your workouts, you'll be better equipped to handle these daily tasks with ease.
Training For Everyday Activities
The goal of functional fitness is to improve your ability to perform everyday activities, whether it's carrying groceries, playing with your kids, or climbing stairs. This means choosing exercises that translate well to these tasks and targeting the muscle groups involved in these actions.
Emphasis On Compound Exercises
Unlike traditional workouts that often isolate individual muscle groups, functional fitness prioritizes compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. These exercises, like lunges or deadlifts, not only build strength but also improve coordination and overall movement patterns.
Compound movements are highly preferred because in real life scarcely will you be required to rely on one muscle group, but rather, a group of them working together.
Integrating Flexibility, Balance, and Core Strength
Functional fitness recognizes the importance of flexibility, balance, and core strength in addition to sheer muscular strength. A well-rounded functional fitness program will incorporate exercises that challenge and develop these aspects, as they are crucial for overall mobility and injury prevention.
Adaptability and Progression
Ideally, functional fitness should be adaptable to your individual needs, goals, and fitness level. This means that exercises can be modified or progressed to challenge you appropriately as you grow stronger and more capable. It also means that functional fitness can be integrated into other training modalities, such as cardio or strength training, to create a comprehensive workout plan.
Benefits Of Functional Training
Improved Overall Strength
One of the most notable benefits of functional fitness is the development of total body strength. Functional training focuses on compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups and joints, leading to increased muscular strength and endurance.
This helps you build a solid foundation that translates to improved performance in daily tasks, recreational activities, and other forms of exercise. The stronger you become, the more capable you'll be in handling the physical demands of your everyday life. Additionally, increased strength can contribute to better athletic performance, making it easier to excel in your favorite sports or physical activities.
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Enhanced Mobility and Flexibility
Functional fitness doesn't just build strength; it also emphasizes flexibility and mobility. By incorporating exercises that challenge your range of motion and improve joint stability, you can reduce muscle imbalances, increase flexibility, and ultimately move with greater ease. Some elite level bodybuilders and strongmen do experience difficulty and breathlessness when attempting to tie shoes laces, which is a far cry from what a functional body should be able to do.
The improved mobility helps you avoid discomfort and injury, both in your daily life and during your workouts. As we age, flexibility and mobility tend to decline, making functional fitness particularly important for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle throughout our lives.
Greater mobility and flexibility can also lead to improved performance in other types of workouts and physical activities, as your body becomes more adaptable and versatile.
Better Balance and Coordination
Balance and coordination play a critical role in our everyday lives, from walking and standing to more complex movements like climbing stairs or carrying heavy objects. Functional fitness helps develop these essential skills by including exercises that challenge your stability and encourage your body to work as a cohesive unit.
As a result, you'll become more agile and better equipped to handle a variety of physical challenges. Improved balance and coordination can be particularly beneficial for older adults or individuals recovering from an injury, as these skills are crucial for preventing falls and promoting overall independence.
One of the key benefits of functional fitness is its heavy emphasis on injury prevention. By addressing muscle imbalances, improving flexibility, and strengthening stabilizing muscles, functional training reduces your risk of injuries in everyday life and during physical activity.
This means you can remain active and healthy for longer, without being sidelined by an avoidable injury. Functional fitness helps to identify and correct weak points in your body, which can often be the root cause of injuries. By targeting these areas and working on them consistently, you'll be able to build a more resilient and robust physique, minimizing the chances of getting hurt while doing everyday activities or participating in sports.
Of course, it goes without saying that you need to ensure you are providing the body with raw materials to strengthen joints and keep you injury free.
Radiance Collagen protein is beloved by athletes looking to safeguard their mobility and remain injury free for years.
Better Posture and Body Alignment
Poor posture and spinal alignment are common issues that can lead to discomfort, pain, and an increased risk of injury. Functional fitness helps correct these issues by targeting the muscles responsible for maintaining proper alignment and promoting body awareness.
As you become more aware of how your body moves, you'll naturally adopt healthier postures and movement patterns. Improved posture and body alignment can result in reduced muscle tension, decreased risk of developing musculoskeletal issues, and better overall comfort during daily activities. Furthermore, good posture can enhance your appearance, making you look taller, more confident, and healthier.
Increased Energy Levels
Functional fitness can have a profound impact on your daily energy levels. By improving your overall strength, mobility, and cardiovascular health, you'll find that everyday tasks become less tiring and more manageable.
This boost in energy can lead to a more active lifestyle, which in turn contributes to better overall health and well-being. As you become more physically capable, you may also notice that you're more inclined to participate in social activities, outdoor adventures, or hobbies that require physical exertion.
The increased energy and vitality you experience from functional fitness can have a positive ripple effect on all aspects of your life, making it easier to stay engaged and enthusiastic about the things you love.
Improved Mental Health and Well-being
Exercise is well-known for its positive effects on mental health, and functional fitness is no exception to this. By engaging in functional training, you can alleviate stress, boost your mood, and enhance your overall sense of well-being. Moreover, the sense of accomplishment you'll feel as you notice improvements in your daily life can boost your self-confidence and motivate you to stay committed to your fitness journey.
The mindfulness aspect of functional fitness can also help you develop greater mental resilience and focus, enabling you to better manage stress and face life's challenges with a more positive mindset.
Greater Independence and Quality of Life
Functional fitness is all about training for the activities and demands of everyday life. As you become stronger, more flexible, and better coordinated, you'll be able to perform daily tasks with greater ease and independence. This can be especially important for older adults, individuals recovering from injuries, or those with physical limitations.
By focusing on functional fitness, you can maintain or even improve your quality of life, ensuring that you can continue to enjoy your favorite hobbies, travel, and live independently for as long as possible.
Versatility and Adaptability
Functional fitness training is incredibly versatile and can be adapted to suit a wide range of fitness levels, goals, and individual needs. This means that regardless of your age, physical ability, or experience, you can find a functional fitness program that works for you. You don't need to be in perfect health to start, as the goal is to get better, bit by bit.
The adaptability of functional training makes it an excellent option for those who are just starting their fitness journey, as well as for seasoned athletes looking to improve their performance or prevent injuries. By incorporating functional fitness exercises into your existing workout routine or starting a dedicated functional training program, you can ensure that your workouts remain dynamic, engaging, and relevant to your everyday life.
While it is possible to include many more exercises than those mentioned below, we recommend you start with those since the compound nature will allow you to experience the most benefits in the shortest period of time. Focus on the following:
Squats are a foundational functional fitness exercise that targets the lower body, specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. They mimic the action of sitting down and standing up, making them an essential movement for everyday life. Squats also help to improve hip mobility, core strength, and overall balance- perfect for people with low to moderate-intensity pain radiating from the lower body.
How to perform squats:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward.
- Keep your chest upright and your core engaged.
- Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if you're sitting on a chair.
- Ensure your knees stay in line with your toes and do not extend past them.
- Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground, or as low as comfortable.
- Push through your heels to return to the starting position.
Lunges are another lower body exercise that focuses on the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. They also help to improve balance, coordination, and hip mobility when performed unilaterally. Lunges simulate the motion of walking and climbing stairs, making them a crucial functional movement.
How to perform lunges:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips or holding weights by your sides.
- Take a step forward with your right foot, keeping your torso upright.
- Lower your body by bending both knees until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and your left knee hovers just above the floor.
- Make sure your right knee stays aligned with your right ankle and does not extend past your toes.
- Push through your right heel to return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the left side, alternating legs for the desired number of repetitions.
Push-ups are a versatile upper body exercise staple that works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. This compound movement is beneficial for improving upper body strength, stability, and overall pushing power, which are all essential for various daily tasks that involve pushing.
How to perform push-ups:
- Begin in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet together.
- Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels, engaging your core muscles.
- Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping them close to your sides.
- Lower yourself until your chest is just above the ground.
- Push through your hands to return to the starting position, fully extending your arms.
Deadlifts are an important functional exercise that targets the posterior chain, which includes the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This movement mimics the action of lifting heavy objects from the ground and helps to build overall strength and core stability, and improve posture when done correctly.
To perform a deadlift:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the middle of your feet under a barbell.
- Bend your knees and hips, lowering your body to grip the barbell with your hands just outside your knees.
- Keep your back straight and chest up, engaging your core and maintaining a neutral spine.
- Push through your heels to lift the barbell off the ground, extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
- Once you reach a standing position, fully extend your hips and knees.
- Lower the barbell back to the ground by bending your hips and knees, maintaining a straight back throughout the movement.
Planks are a core exercise that works not only the abdominal muscles but also the shoulders, back, and hips. A strong core is essential for maintaining proper posture, balance, and overall stability, making planks a crucial component of any functional fitness routine.
To perform a plank:
- Start in a push-up position with your arms extended, hands shoulder-width apart, and your body in a straight line from your head to your heels. Alternatively, you can support your body on your forearms if full extension feels difficult.
- Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and maintain a neutral spine.
- Hold this position for the desired amount of time (usually 30 seconds or longer), ensuring that your hips do not sag or lift too high.
Farmer's walks are a simple yet highly effective exercise that helps to build grip strength, core stability, and overall endurance. By carrying heavy objects (like dumbbells or kettlebells) in each hand while walking, you'll be simulating the everyday task of carrying groceries or luggage.
To perform a farmer's walk:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a heavy weight in each hand, with your arms fully extended by your sides.
- Engage your core and maintain an upright posture, keeping your shoulders back and down.
- Begin walking forward, taking short, controlled steps while maintaining a strong grip on the weights.
- Continue walking for a predefined period of time, ensuring that your posture remains upright and your core stays engaged.
Turkish get-ups are a complex, full-body movement that works for multiple muscle groups and requires a great deal of coordination and balance. This movement helps to build overall strength, mobility, and spatial awareness, making it an excellent addition to a functional fitness routine.
To perform a Turkish get-up:
- Lie on your back with your right arm extended, holding a kettlebell or dumbbell above your chest.
- Bend your right knee and place your right foot flat on the ground, keeping your left leg straight.
- Push through your right foot and engage your core to lift your upper body off the ground, resting on your left elbow.
- Push up onto your left hand, keeping your right arm extended and the weight above your chest.
- Lift your hips off the ground and slide your left leg under your body, resting on your left knee.
- Move into a kneeling position by bringing your left foot next to your right knee, keeping your right arm extended overhead.
- Stand up by pushing through your right foot and straightening both legs, still holding the weight above your chest.
- Reverse the steps to return to the starting position, then switch sides and repeat with the left arm and leg.
Step-ups target the muscles of the lower body, especifically the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, while also improving balance and coordination. This exercise simulates climbing stairs and is essential for maintaining lower body strength and mobility in daily life.
To perform step-ups:
- Find a stable surface like a bench, box, or step that's knee-height or slightly lower.
- Stand facing the step, with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your right foot firmly on the step, engaging your core.
- Push through your right heel to lift your body onto the step, fully extending your right leg.
- Bring your left foot to meet your right foot on the step.
- Step down with your left foot first, followed by your right foot, returning to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch legs and perform the same number of repetitions with the left leg leading. You should complete all repetitions with one leg leading before switching to the other.
Pull-ups and rows are essential for building upper body pulling strength, targeting the back, shoulders, and biceps.
To perform pull-ups:
- Find a sturdy pull-up bar that can support your weight.
- Grasp the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from your body.
- Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended and your feet off the ground.
- Engage your core and pull your body upward by bending your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Continue pulling yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
- Lower yourself back down with control, fully extending your arms at the bottom.
To perform rows:
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand with your palms facing inward.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight, and lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the ground.
- Allow your arms to hang naturally, with your elbows slightly bent.
- Engage your back muscles and pull the weights up towards your ribs, keeping your elbows close to your body.
- Slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the movement.
Overhead presses work the shoulders, triceps, and upper back, helping to improve pushing strength and stability in the upper body, especially in tandem with chest strength. This movement translates to everyday tasks like reaching for items on high shelves or lifting objects overhead.
To perform an overhead press:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand at shoulder level, palms facing forward.
- Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine.
- Press the weights upward, fully extending your arms and locking out your elbows at the top of the movement.
- Lower the weights back down to shoulder level with control, maintaining proper posture throughout the exercise.
Functional fitness equipment and accessories are designed to help you perform a variety of exercises that mimic daily activities, improve overall strength, and enhance mobility. These tools can be used to create a well-rounded fitness routine that targets multiple muscle groups and movement patterns.
While an entirely bodyweight or calisthenics workout can be done, these accessories can help reduce the learning curve by allowing you to use what you are capable of, in contrast, to be forced to use your entire body resistance.
Here's a list of some popular functional fitness equipment and accessories:
- Dumbbells: Dumbbells are versatile pieces of equipment that can be used for a wide range of exercises targeting both upper and lower body muscles. They are available in different weights, allowing you to progress and adjust the resistance as needed.
- Kettlebells: Kettlebells are compact, cast-iron weights with a handle, offering an alternative to traditional dumbbells. They are ideal for functional exercises like swings, goblet squats, and Turkish get-ups, which challenge your strength, stability, and coordination.
- Resistance bands: Resistance bands are elastic bands that provide variable resistance and can be used to perform a variety of exercises targeting different muscle groups. They are portable, affordable, and available in different resistance levels, making them a great addition to any functional fitness routine.
- Medicine balls: Medicine balls are weighted balls that can be used for various exercises, such as throws, slams, and core rotations. They help improve strength, coordination, and power while adding a dynamic element to your workouts.
- Stability balls: Stability balls, also known as Swiss balls or exercise balls, are large inflatable balls that can be used for a range of exercises targeting core strength, balance, and flexibility. They are particularly useful for performing exercises like planks, bridges, and crunches.
- TRX Suspension Trainer: The TRX Suspension Trainer is a portable and versatile training system that utilizes your body weight to perform a wide range of exercises, targeting all major muscle groups. It can be easily set up at home, in the gym, or outdoors, providing a full-body workout that improves strength, balance, and flexibility.
- Battle ropes: Battle ropes are thick, heavy ropes that can be used for high-intensity, full-body exercises that improve strength, power, and endurance. They are ideal for functional workouts that involve slamming, waving, or pulling the ropes.
- Plyometric boxes: Plyometric boxes, or plyo boxes, are sturdy platforms of varying heights used for performing jumping exercises like box jumps, step-ups, and depth jumps. These exercises help to develop explosive power, agility, and overall lower body strength.
- Sandbags: Sandbags are weighted bags filled with sand that can be used as an alternative to traditional weights. They are versatile and can be used for a variety of functional exercises, such as carries, throws, and squats. Sandbags offer an unstable load, challenging your grip and core stability during workouts.
- Foam rollers and massage balls: Foam rollers and massage balls are essential accessories for functional fitness enthusiasts, as they help with muscle recovery, flexibility, and injury prevention. They can be used for self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques, which help to alleviate muscle tightness and improve mobility.
- Yoga mats: Yoga mats provide a comfortable and non-slip surface for performing various exercises, such as stretching, mobility work, and yoga poses. They are essential for maintaining proper form and preventing injuries during your functional fitness routine.
Do I Need To Perform Cardio?
While functional fitness training often incorporates exercises that can elevate your heart rate and provide cardiovascular benefits, it's still a good idea to include dedicated cardio workouts in your overall fitness routine. Cardiovascular exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming, or rowing, help to improve heart health, endurance, and overall cardiovascular fitness.
Functional fitness training typically focuses on strength, mobility, and stability through compound movements and exercises that mimic daily activities. Although these exercises can be intense and provide some cardio benefits, they may not be enough to maximize your cardiovascular health.
By including cardio workouts in your functional fitness training, you can ensure a well-rounded fitness routine that targets all aspects of your health and performance. Cardiovascular exercises complement functional fitness training by increasing your overall endurance, which can help you perform functional exercises for longer periods and with more intensity.
Aim to include at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, as recommended by the American Heart Association and other health organizations. You can break this down into shorter sessions, such as 30 minutes per day, five days a week.
You can also integrate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or circuit training into your functional fitness routine to combine strength, mobility, and cardiovascular exercises in a single workout. This approach can help you save time while still reaping the benefits of both functional fitness and cardio.
How Many Days Per Week Should I Train?
The frequency of functional fitness training depends on your individual goals, fitness level, and available time. As a general guideline, most people can benefit from performing functional fitness training 2 to 4 times per week.
If you're new to functional fitness, start with 2 to 3 sessions per week, allowing at least one rest day between sessions to give your muscles time to recover and rebuild. As you become more experienced and comfortable with functional training, you may choose to increase the frequency to 3 to 4 times per week or even more, depending on your goals and how your body responds to the training.
It's important to remember that balance is key when it comes to any fitness routine. Make sure to include other forms of exercise, such as cardiovascular workouts, flexibility training, and targeted strength training, to create a well-rounded fitness program.
Additionally, listen to your body and adjust your training frequency as needed. If you're feeling overly fatigued or notice a decrease in performance, consider reducing the number of sessions or incorporating more rest days. Recovery is an essential component of any fitness program, as it allows your body to repair and grow stronger.
Regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, you can adapt your training to be more functional in nature, and reap the benefits of improved strength, stability, and mobility.
By incorporating functional fitness exercises into your routine, you can accelerate your progress, reach your goals faster, and enjoy a well-rounded fitness program. Remember to include some dedicated cardio workouts as well for optimal health and performance.
Finally, listen to your body and adjust the intensity and frequency of your workouts accordingly for safe and effective training. When done properly, functional fitness can provide lasting benefits that will serve you for years to come.