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What is Functional Fitness?  Why You Should Try It and A Sample Workout

Posted by Jill Derryberry on May 26, 2022 8:56:39 PM
Jill Derryberry
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Have you heard the term functional fitness?  It’s a general term for training your body for everyday situations.  Conventional weight training isolates muscle groups to strengthen them one at a time.  In functional fitness, the movements are meant to teach the muscles to work together and mimic movements you do in regular life.  For example, a deadlift is a functional exercise that can help you so when in a situation like needing to lift a heavy box you can do it without an injury.  Functional exercises can increase your strength, mobility, stamina, and stability.  


Most of the movements considered functional training exercises are compound movements which means you bend at multiple joints and use multiple muscle groups while performing the move.  Our bodies are designed to move in multiple ways.  We’re made to push forward, pull back, hinge at the hips and bend at the knees among other movement patterns.  When you move throughout the day, you rarely use just one joint or one muscle to accomplish a movement.  Your body functions as a single unit in this type of training, just like most normal activities.  Because you are using several muscle groups at once in functional training, coordination and neuromuscular control is also improved. 


Functional training, like other forms of exercise, burns calories and so with proper nutrition can also create weight loss.  When performing the compound movements that are part of this type of training, your body recruits more muscle fibers which builds more lean muscle and burns more calories during the workout and after.   


Functional Training is for (not a complete list!): 


  • Carrying groceries 
  • Picking up children 
  • Lifting Packages 
  • Placing your carry-on luggage in an overhead bin on a plane. 
  • Moving furniture 


A bodybuilder, or anyone focusing on building muscle size, will most likely do traditional strength training that focuses on one muscle group at a time.  For example, they may break their workout routine into a split training schedule where they target specific muscles during their workout, back and biceps on one day, then the next day glutes and hamstrings, etc.  In functional training, each workout typically works your entire body.  Because it is a full body workout, it is best do perform these workouts on non-consecutive days, so your muscles have time to rest and recover before working again.  There is a time and place for all kinds of training.  Functional training is a good choice if you are looking to develop all around fitness and to help your everyday life feel easier.   


Benefits of Functional Fitness 


  1. Daily tasks feel easier!   
  1. Reduced risk of injury – Keeping up and improving your mobility and strength will help keep you from getting injured when performing daily tasks.  Training your entire body will help alleviate any muscle imbalances which also lessens your risk for injury. 
  1. Help maintain and preserve balance – Since most functional exercises utilize your core muscles, they will strengthen and improve your balance.  Having good balance is important to prevent falls. 
  1. Time-efficient – Since you are working multiple muscle groups at a time, your workouts can be shorter than working each muscle independently.   
  1. Increased athletic performance – Athletes may improve their performance by completing appropriate functional exercises for their sport.  For example, a basketball player might practice jumping side to side to improve their agility and mobility on the court.   


Basic Functional Training Workout 


Before any workout it’s a good idea to perform a dynamic warmup and stretch when you are finished.   Perform ten repetitions (reps) of each of the following exercises and repeat 2 – 4 times.  


Squats – Squats help many of our daily activities feel easier.  For example, squats help build our strength for getting up out of a chair.  Stand with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed forward.  Lower your body, bending at the knees and hips like you are sitting down into a chair.  Watch that your knees don’t go too far past your toes.  Keep your heels on the ground and chest lifted.  Squeeze your glutes and return to standing.   


Romanian Deadlift – Deadlifts help build strength for things like moving furniture, grabbing a bag of seed or dog food or lifting a box from the floor.  Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell or a dumbbell in each hand.  Keeping your back straight, hinge at your hips and sit your hips back.  Keep the weight(s) close to your legs and lower until your back is parallel to the floor.  Squeeze your glutes as you bring your hips forward and straighten your legs to stand up.   


Overhead Press – An overhead press can help make placing a heavy pan on a tall shelf or performing the overhead press will not only increase your upper-body strength, but it will also strengthen your core, since you balance and stabilize yourself while standing and lifting.  Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart.  Hold a dumbbell in each hand and hold them above your shoulders with your palms facing forward and elbows perpendicular to the floor.  Exhale and press the weights straight up above your head.  Pause, then lower the weight back down to your shoulders.   


Farmer’s Carry – Being able to lift and carry things is important in everyday life.  A Farmer’s Carry can help you keep doing that safely.  Hold dumbbells in your hands and walk with your arms straight down at your sides.  This will strengthen your back, arms, shoulders, core and grip.  LivRite Indy has a turf area that is the perfect length to do a Farmer’s Carry.  Start at one end walk to the end, turn around and go back.  That would be one rep.   


One Arm Dumbbell Rows – Rows strengthen your back muscles which is important in many day-to-day activities.  Stand to the right of a weight bench or sturdy chair, hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing in.  Place your left knee and your left hand on top of the bench or chair for support.  Let your right arm hand down and a bit forward.  Ensure your back is naturally arched and your right knee is slightly bent.  Pull your right arm up until your elbow is pointing to the ceiling, your upper arm is parallel to the floor, and your hand comes to the outside of the ribcage.  Lower the weight slowly back down.   


Step Ups – Being able to go up and down stairs is a necessity in our lives.  Stepping up and down off a step or a box is a great exercise.  If it is too easy, hold a dumbbell in each hand.   


Ramp Walk or Run – LivRite Fishers has a great outdoor ramp that is perfect for many functional exercises.  A simple (but highly effective) way to use it is to run or walk up and down the ramp.   This is a great exercise to add to the workout if you are at the Fishers location.   


Like with any workout routine, rest and recovery are essential in helping you see your desired results and warding off injury. Because functional training workouts are often full-body workouts, it’s a good idea to take a day off between training sessions.  Strength training like this should be done at minimum two days per week.  However, you can train this way up to four days a week if you have adequate rest in between sessions. 


Functional training is a fantastic way to stay fit, healthy, and strong for everyday life! 

But it isn’t the only way to workout.  Any form of strength training can help you preserve and strengthen muscles and improve bone health.  Functional exercises can be combined with other workout styles to fit a certain goal.  If you feel functional fitness isn’t for you and you prefer the machines at the gym or if functional fitness won’t get you to your goals, that’s ok, find what you like to do to keep strength training in your life and stick with it.   


Don’t hesitate to ask a LivRite trainer if you have any questions or would like a complimentary fitness assessment.