Not Living to Work Out? Try Functional Fitness

Not Living to Work Out? Try Functional Fitness

Functional Fitness ranks #9 on NASM’s 2019 Fitness Trends, but how much do you know about it? Functional Fitness is the foundation of CrossFit and is similar to military training, but it can be helpful for older adults and those looking to move better throughout their day, who might experience limited mobility due to that pesky office job or past injury.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Functional Fitness

“train[s] your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.”

What can functional fitness training do for you? (2016, October 29). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/functional-fitness/art-20047680

When we look at movements and exercises involved in functional fitness, we see they are multi-joint, multi-muscle movements. Compound movements, as we know, are good for building a solid foundation and building our overall strength. If you think about the motions we engage in every day: standing up, picking things up, putting things away, getting them out, they’re all compound movements.

Core stability

When we think of our core and core stability, most of us might think of a 6-pack of abs on Terry Crews or Tom Ellis, *swoon*, but really core stability helps us balance, helps prevent falls (take notice if you’re 50+ or have a parent that is) and helps prevent injuries while performing movements (think snatches or even squats). Coaches might give the cue to “brace your core”, which means that he wants you to flex those abs to protect your low back and provide balance.

Most people, myself included, neglect a lot of this vital accessory work in lieu of trying to go heavy, and its a big reason why many lifts fail or people throw their back out. But you’ll also see core stability emphasized in yoga and Pilates because of the bodyweight movements that are used. You could negatively affect the benefits of a pose or movement, or open yourself up to unnecessary back pain (which about 80% of people experience in their lifetime, according to the NIH) and injury.

Building Core Stability

If you’re looking to build core stability, I would highly recommend looking at this article from Yuri Elkaim, who discusses why crunches and ab machines aren’t effective at building core stability and then he recommends these 9 movements to counter low-back pain and build up your core and lower back. Your body will thank you.

  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Bird Dog
  • Bridge
  • Grasshopper (on a stability ball)
    • If you don’t have one, try the spider man lunge or you can do this without the ball if you’re feeling brave.
  • Ball Hamstring Pull-Ins
  • Stability Ball Dead Bug (or you can do ball passes)
  • Supine Straight Leg Ball Twist
  • Ball Pikes (modify by doing on knees instead of feet)

Difference Between Functional and Traditional

Traditional weight training doesn’t take always take into consideration the balance, coordination, volume and extended range of motion that our bodies endure throughout our day.

Sure, you could argue that bicep curls are functional, but how often are you going to be lifting a 10 or 25lb beer? Didn’t think so. You also wouldn’t be lifting that beer with one hand, you’d be using both hands and leaning back to get it to your mouth.

If you have to dig a hole, you need to have a strong lower back and the endurance to keep shoveling. Those bicep curls in 4 sets of 8-12 aren’t going to do the job.

If you need to quickly need to dig a hole because the rain is coming, well, speed isn’t accounted for in traditional strength training either. Traditional strength training is meant to build muscle not combat the limited range of motion or difficulty we face while doing basic everyday tasks.

Okay, but which is better?

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst 

The truth is, any kind of exercise is going to benefit you. I cannot stress enough the importance of just MOVING (more on this later). If, however, your goal is to move better and be more productive in your regular activities because of a past injury, limited ROM, or other outstanding circumstance, functional fitness is the way to go. If you’re looking for big muscles and big PR’s, stick to regular strength training.

Whatever you decide to do, I’m sure you’ll be successful at it. Just committing to a workout regimen and eating healthy will yield results, it’s just a matter of which one you like more.

I personally subscribe to both. I am CrossFitting usually 3-4 days a week, which has a functional fitness foundation, and 1 or 2 days a week I’m focusing on traditional strength training to build my muscles and fundamental strict movements that help maintain good form in CrossFit and preventing overall injury.

Hope your weekend is great!

Happy LIFTing, Les

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