Functional fitness exercises train body for everyday tasks

by Laura Bednar

People looking to get fit may think the only way to exercise is by using machines at the gym, but there is a type of exercise that promotes full body health just by mimicking everyday movements.

Functional fitness is not a new exercise, but rather a newly identified form that causes people to think about exercise in a different way. The American College of Sports Medicine listed functional fitness as one of the top 20 fitness trends for 2020 in their health and fitness journal.

Dr. Laura Goldberg is a pediatric sports medicine specialist and medical director for west side sports medicine at University Hospitals. She explained that functional fitness refers to how the whole body works and focuses on “how we can make everyday actions easier.”

Any type of compound exercises that involve using different parts of the body to complete tasks can be considered functional fitness. Goldberg gave examples of getting off the ground without using your hands; a squat jump; a walking lunge; farmer’s walk, which is carrying a heavy load in each hand while walking; or a v-up, which is lifting your arms and legs off the ground at the same time while lying on the ground.

The goal of these types of exercises is to improve functional ability and for people to have less fatigue while doing everyday actions, according to Goldberg.

Functional fitness exercises are also meant to build up a person’s endurance so, for example, they can get through their workday without feeling so tired at the end of it. Most workout machines focus on one muscle at a time, isolating parts of the body. Goldberg said this is not functional fitness because it doesn’t engage the whole body at once.

“Functional fitness doesn’t look at one thing, but all things together to improve daily function,” Goldberg said.

While Goldberg said exercise is stressed for people over age 50, anyone can perform functional fitness because it “makes people better at what they do.” The exercises mentioned build up core stability, improve balance and counteract muscle decline. A person who performs functional fitness will be less likely to live in an assisted living facility in the future because he or she will have better balance, leading to fewer falls and more independence, according to Goldberg.

She said, “Your mental, emotional, and physical ability [can] improve with these exercises.”

There are existing exercise programs that use functional fitness including Zumba dance and the aerobic videos hosted by fitness personality Richard Simmons. Goldberg also said that Spartan Runs include challenging functional fitness activities.

For those interested in starting functional fitness as part of their regimen, Goldberg suggests finding resources online or working with a trainer to ensure the right techniques are being used to avoid injury. ∞