The Importance Of Functional Fitness

The Importance Of Functional Fitness

Functional Training

Functional training, which can also be called functional exercise, is the name given to workouts that adapt or develop exercises that let people perform their everyday life activities more easily and without risk of injury. This is important for everyone but especially important for anyone at risk of osteoporosis, osteopenia or with brittle bones. After all, even if you can lift heavy weights in the gym and you do 20 minutes of high intensity training every day, this does not mean that the next time you lift your suitcase on your way to the airport that you won’t throw your back out.

Functional fitness focuses on everyday activities like running for the train, lugging groceries and picking up children, and training the body to handle these. So, rather than focusing on lifting particular weights, or carrying out an exercise with the proper form we get trained to become better at real life activities.

Muscles Working Together

Weight training or gym training works to isolate specific muscles to build them as fast and big as possible (depending on your regime and gender of course), but it doesn’t train the body to use multiple muscle groups together, in the way they are used for everyday activities. On the other hand, functional exercise integrates different muscle groups and teaches them to work together in unison.

Finding Your Balance

Weight training and cardio exercise are important in the gym but they do not improve balance: and balance training exercises, like the one legged squat, are more useful for everyday life than leg pressing 500 pounds. Why? Because stability is what serves you in everyday life, like when you have to reach for something in a high cabinet, or walking up and down stairs. Balance is an integral part of everyday life, including those regular tasks like walking, using the stairs and reaching for something, as well as avoiding falls, as anyone who has ever suffered from vertigo will tell you but, it goes far beyond that.

Did you know that a balance system that functions properly can help humans to see clearly while moving, orient themselves in terms of gravity, assess direction and speed of movement, and also allows them to make adjustments to posture and stability while doing daily activities. There is also some research that suggests that children who are taught balance exercises can improve their performance in the classroom! Training your body to control and balance its own weight can serve you when you are young as well as while you age because it makes you stronger, more stable and therefore allows you to avoid falls, which can be very serious in seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 adults age 65 or older suffer a fall that results in moderate to severe injuries, including hip fractures or serious head trauma, both of which can increase the risk of early death.

Avoiding Compensation

No, not the financial type! Typical strength training workouts may leave isolated weaknesses in the body that can then affect your day to day movement. This is because while you strengthen certain muscles, like the arms and shoulders, you may avoid or forget to train others. This can create a pattern of compensation, in your everyday activities which means that when you use your muscle groups for daily activities one muscle or muscle group works harder than the other (compensation) and that type of strain can cause injury. Functional exercises teach isolated muscles to work together so that when you pick up that suitcase, or your child, or reach for something on a high shelf you won’t tweak a weak muscle that is not properly trained.

Workouts that include bending, pushing, pulling, lifting, sitting, reaching, balance and twisting, and those that mimic day to day life and engage your core muscles while at the same time targeting other muscles of the body providing an overall “functional” state of fitness.

There Is More

Functional training can help you avoid bone loss by teaching movements that support body weight. This can help to prevent osteoporosis. And the multi-joint, multi-plane movements engage the body’s stabilizers that help to improve coordination, challenge the brain and ultimately help you avoid falls and twists.

Components Of Functional Workouts

Functional Workouts should contain the following, adapted as necessary for each person’s needs:

  • They should cover specific everyday life activities and should be meaningful.
  • Programs should be tailored as necessary for instance, for seniors who want to avoid falls, for any adult wanting to improve their day to day performance, or for athletes training in a specific sport or for someone trying to heal their body after physical trauma, such as an accident.
  • The individual’s overall state of health should be taken into account when assessing exercises to use and the overall training load. This means that some of these exercises will NOT be suitable for those who already have some degree of osteoporosis or osteopoenia.
  • The program should includes power, strength, balance, and core exercises that focus on multiple movement planes.
  • The training should include increasing difficulty and varying tasks.
  • Functional training should be repeated regularly on an ongoing basis.
  • Feedback and a means of assessing progress is needed.

Examples Of Functional Exercises

  • Any exercise that involves standing on two feet and supporting yourself while lifting any type of weight is typically a functional exercise. You can really do this at home just by repeating activities that include this.
  • Balance Exercises – Various balance exercises without weights that teach the body to stabilize itself.
  • Exercise Ball – The greatest benefit to training using ball exercises is that they target the core muscles that are vital for stability and good posture. There are many different moves with the ball.
  • BOSU Ball – As opposed to the exercise ball, a BOSU has a round side and a flat side. The BOSU makes any exercise a lot more challenging because it adds an element of instability to each workout as it forces you to use the core to remain steady. BOSU workouts also work to improve strength and help muscles learn to work together that prevents injury in real life.
  • Bent Over Row – works the back, shoulder and arm muscles and mimics life activities. Think about bending over to make the bed, a mechanic bending to repair a car, a carpenter bending over a saw table, bending over to plug in electronics, even bending down to get something from a low shelf and many more. Much more useful when compared to a seated row, where you are only working the chest and arms, and your body is not activating its core stabilizer muscles, and therefore, it is not learning to use those muscles together because the machine is doing the work.
  • Stand On One Leg (you can start by holding onto a chair at first, then work to doing it on your own)
  • One Legged Squat
  • Lift Off
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Medicine Ball Squat With Overhead Lift
  • Medicine Ball Reach
  • Multidirectional Lunges
  • Standing Bicep Curls
  • Step-Ups With Weights
  • Dumbbell Lunge
  • Lunge With Back Row
  • Deadlift
  • Powerclean
  • Overhead Press
  • Front Squats
  • Chin Ups and Pull Ups
  • Kettlebell or Dumbbell Swing
  • Planks

How To Get Started With Functional Fitness


If you are over 40 (35 for men) or have health problems or are pregnant, check with your doctor first before starting a functional or any other exercise program. Functional training exercises, like other full body workouts are more difficult than using machines, as they are more demanding but equally, they can provide more benefits. Start with bodyweight exercises such as the Plank or push ups instead of using weights. You can add weights as you get fitter because they will add resistance and, therefore, challenge your body.

Experienced exercisers can add functional types of exercise into their regular workout routine. Many functional moves can target other fitness goals, such as strength training, fat burning and heart health, as well as the obvious aim, so choosing a specific functional exercise in lieu of say using a weight machine may enable you to reach two targets at once.

Proper form is important, in order to avoid injury and there are lots of videos and resources online that can help, or you may prefer to use a personal trainer to help you learn the moves. They can be very helpful with motivation as well as showing you proper form and helping you develop a customized workout plan based on your needs and lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

It is never too late to get started with improving your stability and balance that will serve you in your everyday life.