There has been a bit more talk about Functional Fitness these days. But what is it? Why do I need it?

The Mayo Clinic basically describes functional fitness as training designed to increase the ability to do a person’s activities of daily living. Bending, stretching, twisting, etc… are all part of our daily activities. If you are of a certain age, I’m sure that you have tweaked your back putting on your socks or underwear at least once. “Why am I walking funny? I…um…fended off a mugger in my neighborhood? Spent last weekend climbing Kilamanjaro? Yeah, that was after that phone conference we had on Saturday. Last minute thing.”

So, it seems reasonable that even those who aren’t athletes can benefit from functional fitness routines. ACE suggests that we think of the body as an integrated machine (which makes total sense, right?). When one part of the machine isn’t working properly, the whole thing is off. Therefore, training should emphasize efficiency of movement and making sure the machine is well maintained.

What this all means from a scientific standpoint, according to Texiera, et al., (2017), is that we are training for the events of life. They summarize some of the current evidence, and state that a functional fitness regimen should involve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance. The goal is for individuals to be able to complete their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) – whether that is to be able to do that pickup basketball game with their buds on a Saturday, go Ziplining and Mud Racing, or just feel well enough to keep up with their kids. If we are, indeed, “only as strong as our weakest link,” then a lot of us have our work cut out for us.

What constitutes a functional fitness regimen? Should we be trying to fix someone’s structural and postural issues in order to improve performance? First of all, it seems to me that finding your weakest link and strengthening it should be the domain of a trained professional. Now my story is a little different in that I have some chronic issues that I must tend to, but how many of us have gotten hurt trying to get healthy? A person trained in understanding how our bodies move is critical. I have been told more than once to either make a change my body wasn’t ready for or had my posture fixed by a well-meaning instructor, only to be inured and miss several days of training. What a turnoff. Another plug for contacting your friendly neighborhood certified personal trainer.

From looking at multiple sources, a good functional training regimen involves movements that mimic the patterns of our ADLs. Travel a lot by air? Then hoisting and lifting your carry-on might get easier with exercises that mimic that pattern. A general rule is that movements should be trained on multiple planes – twisting, lifting, squatting, etc… and should involve multiple joints. Now, if there is a specific weak link (e.g., my triceps are very weak as well as my traps due to the nature of my condition/injury), then specific exercises might be prescribed to target those areas. A physical therapist and sports medicine specialist might need to get involved. However, in the general scheme of things, full body movements are more helpful than, let’s say, 50 bicep curls.

Coordination and posture are also targeted. We have discussed before the importance of core strength, and I’ll probably dedicate a whole blog to posture. Training often occurs on unstable surfaces, such as wobble boards and balance discs. Let’s go back to the air travel example. Do you need fitness to get through TSA? Think about that for a second. I have to unpack my carryon and take out the liquids. I have to hoist my bags onto the belt while simultaneously taking off my shoes and making sure I didn’t miss something. Everything has to go on the belt quickly while passengers are breathing down your neck to move more quickly. Then after the scanner, I have to move at lightning speed to retrieve my items, put on my shoes (good luck finding a place to sit and do that), make sure I didn’t miss anything, and get to my gate. Yeah, I’d say functional fitness is important for the traveler.

I’m not going to post functional fitness workouts today, because I think it is important to work with a qualified trainer to develop a program that fits your ADLs and body. Some qualifications you might want to seek out:

There are other certifications – some are very legit, and some are sketch. As with anything else, be sure to do your homework when searching for a qualified professional.

Here’s to pain-free training and happier, more active lives!

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