Functional fitness refers to a type of training that prepares people for daily life, with the aim of keeping you healthy, strong, mobile and cardiovascular as long as possible, even as you age and become more susceptible to injuries and degenerative diseases.
A major part of achieving that goal is to record functional movements, or movements that translate into things that you do regularly – such as picking up a heavy box from the floor, getting in and out of your car, going up walk down the stairs and jump over a pool of water. Functional movements also translate into actions and activities that you may not encounter so often, but the power will really come in handy when you encounter them – such as pulling yourself over a fence or practicing a sport.
I outline below the seven most important functional movements that everyone, including you, should control.
Read more: The most effective training to get in shape in the shortest possible time
Elements of a functional exercise
A certain group of properties makes a movement truly functional. These exercises usually:
- Use more than one joint (they are compound movements, not isolation movements).
- Recruit multiple muscle groups.
- Record movement in multiple planes (forward, backward, side by side, up and down).
- Involve free weights (dumbbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells) instead of machines.
- Builds strength, coordination and balance.
- Improve body awareness and joint range of movement.
You train functional exercises to use your body as a system, as it is intended for use. That is different from isolation exercises, such as the leg extension machine, where you sit in a chair and isolate your quadriceps to move weight. You will never imitate that movement in real life – your quads move together with your hamstrings, calves, glutes and core.
Isolation exercises have their place: strengthening individual muscles can help people recover from injuries or correct muscle imbalances. However, functional movements are the most important, most suitable and useful exercises to control.
Read more: Lifting heavy weights versus light weights: why one is not better than the other
The 7 functional movements that you need to become strong
When you be ready to become stronger, make daily activities easier and generally feel better able in life, add these nine functional exercises to your gym routine. You can try them alone or as a circuit in any combination you want.
Remember that if you are new to practice or unsure of your shape, it is always best to get help from a professional or experienced friend who can show you how to safely perform these movements.
One option is to try out various functional fitness programs such asF45 training, Barry & Bootcamp and Opex Fitness if you do not want to train alone.
Read more: How to make a training routine that you actually adhere to
Deadlifts are the most functional of all functional movements. Think about it: how often do you stoop to pick something up? Probably more than you even realize. Every time you squat to pick up a box, bag, child, small dog or something else, you do a deadlift. Or at least that should be you.
Many people lift items off the ground in the wrong way, pulling only with their back muscles instead of using the legs and core. Practicing deadlifts in the gym can help you learn how to handle things with a good shape – hinges at the hips, keeping your core tight and back flat and recruiting your leg muscles. This reduces your risk of injury when performing a basic activity, such as taking your heavy suitcase from the baggage claim at an airport.
Squats are a close second to deadlifts as one of the most important functional movements. Squatting is a natural position that people have to reach (think of toddlers squatting in a perfect squat), but unfortunately most people lose the ability to squat in good shape due to poor posture, too much sitting and lack of joint mobility.
When done correctly, the squat strengthens your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and abs. When performed poorly, you risk injury to one of those muscle groups. If you are struggling with squat form, you can start with supported squats: hold onto a hanging trainer or a solid object, such as the back of your couch, as you descend to the full depth.
3. Overhead press
Also called "strict press" and "military press", the overhead press means that you fully extend your arms above the weight. You can use a dumbbell, dumbbells and even kettlebells for this. Some functional training schedules would like to be even more serious about the real aspect by letting people push real objects, such as a sandbag or tree trunk.
Like the deadlift, you are probably executing the overhead press pattern more often than you realize. Every time you reach high to put something away or take something down, you press above your head. This movement not only translates substantially into daily life, but also strengthens the main muscles of your shoulder, protecting the vulnerable joint underneath (your shoulder joints are very susceptible to injury due to the highly mobile ball-and-bowl structure).
Pull-ups: seemingly simple but notoriously difficult. Although pull-ups do not translate directly into a movement pattern that most people use in real life, the functional aspect stems from the fact that pull-ups are a multi-point exercise that strengthens many muscle groups at the same time.
When performing a pull-up, move towards the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, and contract the muscles in your forearms, biceps, upper back, and midback. Because pull-ups pull back the shoulder blades (pull the shoulders back and down – remember to compress your shoulder blades), they can help improve posture and reduce posture-related pain.
Plus, many recreational activities benefit from pull-ups: you use your back and arm muscles when performing a rowing or pulling movement, so controlling the pull-up can help you with hobbies such as swimming , kayaking and rock climbing.
Another surprisingly difficult body weight movement (who knew it could be so hard to push your own body off the ground?), Push-ups build strength, especially in your chest, shoulders, triceps and core .
This translates as pushing any heavy object, but the greater benefit comes from the ability to put your core in a vulnerable position, protecting your spine from unnatural and potentially harmful positions. If your hips drop or your back hyperextends during a push-up, that is a sign that you have to work on core stabilization and strength.
If you can't do standard push-ups (only toes and hands on the floor), start with custom push-ups on your knees. It is best to practice with a simpler version until your muscles, especially your core muscles, are strong enough to support your spine and maintain good shape.
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You could think of lunges as a good way to build muscle mass in your legs, what they are, but they offer more benefits than toned thighs. Like squats, lunges recruit quads, hamstrings, glutes, core and lower back – the big difference is that lunges are a unilateral movement, while squats are a bilateral movement.
Unilateral is just a nice way to say "one-sided". With lunges you work one leg at a time, unlike squats, where both legs work at the same time. In addition, lunges recruit your calves, a large part of their translation into almost any activity that moves your legs.
Lunges can help you build strength for all activities that require one-leg strength, or generally when you notice that you have to take a big step, such as standing on a platform or stepping on a boulder during a walk. They also help with balance and stability, because working on one side of your body forces you to stabilize the muscles to keep your spine aligned.
7. Loaded bears
Loaded bears, also called farmer bears, can prepare you for any question where heavy objects are transported in your hands. You can carry loaded carry with dumbbells, kettlebells or foreign objects, such as buckets full of water.
The benefits of loaded carrys? Improved grip strength, upper back strength, shoulder stabilization and core stabilization. Another advantage that is sometimes overlooked is rotational resistance, or your ability to withstand the weight of an object that pulls your core in a certain direction. And of course carry all groceries up in one trip.
Read more: These 20-minute HIIT courses are all you need to get in shape.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care professional for any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.