Upon looking at one of my older bio pictures (left), one of my friends said: “ Dude, you need to get those biceps to pop!”
To which I responded: “You don’t get it… I work out to keep those biceps from popping!”
In essence, that explains the difference in functional fitness and other types of training you would find in a gym.
The basic tenets of functional fitness have been around as long as the human body started walking upright. Our neanderthal ancestors learned to run fast from try to avoid getting eaten. They learned to bend over by gathering and planting and worked on their nutrition by mastering basic skills in hunting. Simply stated, Functional Fitness is moving our bodies in a way that improves our everyday living. CrossFit has taken that concept and turned it into an entire brand and industry.
Though fitness trends come and go (remember Jazzercise or Dance Aerobics), regular movement remains a critically important contributor to our health and well-being.
The rise of functional fitness has challenged exercisers, gym-goers and fitness professionals everywhere to rethink how — and why — they work out. Functional Fitness is not just another fitness fad, but an important paradigm changing the fitness industry.
WHAT ‘FUNCTIONAL FITNESS’ ACTUALLY MEANS
Though ‘functional fitness’ is a broad term, it really refers to training or working out in a way that helps you perform better in life or in sports or activities in which you regularly participate.
To quote Men’s Health(1)
“…Functional Fitness refers to performing exercises, using equipment, and generally training in a way that improves your physical performance in everyday life, not just in the gym. In practice, that might mean favoring free weights over machines, focusing primarily on full range of motion exercises, training in multiple planes of motion, and skewing your workouts toward compound rather than isolation movements.
The primary goal of functional training isn’t to increase absolute strength or build a bodybuilder-like physique (although using these types of workouts can help you achieve those ends as well). Rather, the objective is to become stronger and more powerful in your daily actions—from moving furniture and carrying heavy suitcases to dominating pick-up games and pushing cars out of ruts.”
At 614Fitness, we think of functional fitness in terms of incorporating a wholistic approach to each person’s fitness based on these five specific areas of challenge:
- Balance and stability
- Mobility, and
At the intersection of all five of these disciplines is Functional Fitness.
Simply put, we don’t workout so we can look better to impress our friends, partners or classmates at a reunion (even though many of our transformations are substantial and awesome!) We workout to make our lives (and the lives of others around us) better.
The basic idea: What you do in the gym directly benefits your ability to do whatever it is you do outside of the gym. This approach to working out utilizes a large variety of exercises that focus on movement patterns you perform in most, if not all, areas of your life.
That means functional fitness is about so much more than losing weight or having biceps that bulge out of your T-shirt. It’s about becoming a more capable human being.
THE BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL FITNESS
While bodybuilding-style workouts, for example, focus on movements that grow certain muscles so you can achieve a certain physique, functional fitness workouts focus on movements that help you do things outside of the gym. How many times per day do you bend over to pick something up off of the ground, get up out of a chair or unload groceries? The goal of functional fitness is to make real-world movements like these easier. A good functional fitness-focused program will help you become stronger and faster, move better and improve your coordination.
By getting as much of your body involved as possible (typically moving multiple joints at once), functional movements help your body become stronger and more resilient throughout all planes of motion — meaning you can twist to grab your squirming toddler, pull that heavy box off the top shelf and keep up with your dog in the backyard more easily. It also means you’re less likely to get injured doing everyday things.
Not to mention, since functional exercise typically demands more work of more muscles, it often helps you build more muscle mass and greater strength — and yes, burn more calories — than less functional workouts.
WHY YOU NEED FUNCTIONAL FITNESS
We have been evolving for thousands of years and have always had to move in order to survive. Throughout our history, we’ve had to climb things, chase things, lift things, pull things and build things.
Today, though, technology has made life very physically easy for us, and does a lot of the moving and lifting for us. The devastatingly unhealthy result: We live sedentary lives, have tighter muscles and joints, move poorly and are generally weaker and less resilient.
So if we’re only spending an hour moving every day (versus the constant movement that used to pepper our days), it’s more important than ever that our hour of movement makes us a stronger, healthier, more capable human being. In fact, it’s crucial for feeling better (mentally and physically), decreasing pain, preventing injury and living a long, healthy life, Wickham argues.
WHAT FUNCTIONAL FITNESS LOOKS LIKE IN (AND OUT) OF THE GYM
Yes, functional fitness can include a huge variety of exercises and movements. However, it generally involves exercises that use multiple joints and muscles (Think: your legs and your upper body) in multiple planes of motion (Think: side-to-side and rotational), says Wickham.
In addition to getting all the muscles and joints involved in all the directions, a good functional fitness workout program also stimulates the body in multiple ways. You’ll want to include heavy strength work, as well as high-intensity and cardiovascular endurance work. Think about our MaxBurn, Mobility or Tabata classes at 614Fitness, for instance.
That means you might build strength with heavy barbell or dumbbell deadlifts, kick up the intensity with box jumps, and develop endurance with jogging or ERG rowing.
Isolation exercises popular in bodybuilding — like biceps curls — often aren’t considered functional. After all, they only involve one joint. However, flexing the elbow, which is essentially a biceps curl, is how we pick things up. So, even isolation exercises can have a place in a functional fitness program, as long as your main focus is on moving better — not just looking a certain way. Our members have heard me say 1000 times that we are building muscles that are “long and strong, not just pretty?”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately, the functional fitness plan that’s best for you depends on your current fitness, activity level, injuries, age and goals. Qualified personal trainers can help determine what types of movements will most benefit your day-to-day life — whether you want to hike mountains on an upcoming trip with ease, or be able to carry your 5-year-old around all day without your arms giving out.
We hope that every workout at 614Fitness helps you in so many ways. Stronger in your body, more coordinated in your movements, more balanced in your daily activities and more confident and self-assured in every aspect of your life.
So, If you don’t feel you are functioning at the very top of your game, maybe it’s time to give FUNCTIONAL FITNESS a seat at your fitness table!