“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years, but many people – including many in the health and fitness industries – struggle to define it. To some, the word may conjure up images of exercise standing on one leg with your eyes closed, or even on a huge exercise ball. Good news: You can save those circus tricks for, well, the circus!
Functional fitness means being physically able to meet your daily demands of work, sport or exercise, and leisure activities. Functional training refers to exercises that give you the strength, coordination, and endurance (or cardiorespiratory fitness) to do so. The muscles of the upper body, lower body, and core must be strong, with good neuromuscular coordination to tie it all together effortlessly. Increasingly, functional fitness also means being physically able to counteract the poor postures and physical stresses we encounter in daily life.
Many people are facing the same physical, functional needs, ranging from weakness in foundational-level stabilizing muscles to imbalances in muscle tension, length, or strength. Creating functional fitness in these circumstances means building up weak points and decreasing stress on overused areas. This can be done by teaching your muscles to activate better, loosening or lengthening muscles and connective tissues, or using a targeted exercise program to build strength and balance out poor posture.
Some of the most common scenarios we see:
- Too much sitting: Your desk job, meeting, car/bus/train commute – all of these things create excessive tension and shortness at the front of the hips and thighs, which can be a major (eventual) contributor to lower back pain. Stretch out the hip flexors and quads to regain that length and take pressure off the lower back.
- Too much computer: Any screen time falls into this category, including tablets and smartphones. The forward postures that go along with this shortens the front of the shoulders and over-stretches the muscles of the upper back, leading to the neck and shoulder tension you are likely way too familiar with. As with the hips, stretching through the front of the chest and shoulders is a good start. I’d also recommend doubling up with a deep tissue massage (aka remedial massage) through the entire upper body, as this will help the tissues stretch much more easily and (added bonus) will actually get you feeling better fast!
- Not enough movement in general: Many, many people have swapped physical stress for mental and emotional stress. We work too much, our leisure activities often involve the TV or computer, and there’s little actual need for movement. But even just 10 minutes of low-intensity movement (going for a walk or playing with the dog, or even doing household chores) can help decrease stress and counterintuitively, can give you a great energy boost!
Not sure what your functional fitness needs might be? Ask one of our expert coaches below to have your answer featured on a future post!