What is functional fitness? and how effective is it?
What IS functional fitness?
Is Functional Fitness REALLY more effective? And what does “Functional Fitness” actually MEAN anyway??
I’m one of the owners of a CrossFit and Group-training gym in the heart of the Dubai Marina. We get no shortage of people throwing around the term “Functional Fitness” to us. It’s not uncommon to hear these EXACT sorts of sentences thrown around by coaches, trainers, weekend warriors and even beginner athletes:
“Dude, you HAVE to be doing functional fitness. It’s the only way to train.”
“Functional fitness is the type of training I do with all of my clients now.”
“I know all about training. I’ve been doing functional fitness with kettlebells for almost 6 months.”
“Functional Fitness” is a term that gets thrown around A LOT in the health and fitness industry. Many fitness protocols claim this is a tenet of their training (calisthenics, CrossFit, kettlebell training, etc). Often, trainers claim this is the best way to train.
Well, to answer that question, first we have to try and understand what “functional fitness” is and how it applies to our training. In general terms, functional fitness refers to training and exercise that mimics or relates closely to everyday activities.
Picture the types of everyday movements that you perform. What do you come up with? You might do a lot of walking, you might pick up your young child often, you could swim almost daily, maybe you’re an avid golfer…the list goes on and on.
Then, once you’ve listed some of the physical movements you do often, what exercises would help train or mimic those movements so that you improve? Obviously lunges, walking on a treadmill or weighted walking could help you feel more comfortable walking. Deadlifts, squats and similar movements could be beneficial if you are often lifting things off the ground. Swim training would be best for someone in the water a lot. Core-related strength and rotational training would certainly benefit a golfer.
The issue with trying to develop a training protocol that mimics daily movements for everyone is that everybody does different things on a daily basis. So although it’s true that every single person on this list can benefit from “functional fitness”, how that is applied is different for each person.
I love handstands and teaching our adult clients how to do them is SUPER fun, but for most of us, that probably wouldn’t really classify as “functional” since we aren’t usually cruising around the house, walking on our hands (nifty party trick if you haven’t had too much to drink though).
Why Functional Fitness IS better for your training
There are 4 aspects of functional fitness that are related, no matter what the training protocol. And these movement patterns really ARE beneficial for everyone to include in their training.
- Core strength is vital to all activities and in maintaining good posture. If you don’t include core-strengthening exercises in your training, it’s only a matter of time until the first injury hits.
- Resistance movements improve bone density, increase strength and help prevent injuries. Even if it’s our own body-weight, these should be in every training protocol.
- Compound movements involve multiple joints and muscle groups. These movements provide the most bang-for- your buck and mimic the demands of everyday life the best. It’s an absolute must in all training plans.
- Mobility and flexibility should be included in all training protocols to maintain proper muscle and tendon structure and pliability. This does not necessarily have to be static stretching (and I’d argue that’s not the most effective way to improve mobility), it just means every time you perform a movement you should achieve full range of movement throughout.
So be sure to take it with a grain of salt the next time someone insists that you “need to include functional fitness” in your training…you’re likely already doing it!
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