This is a great question!!
“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years now. It likely conjures up images of someone exercising while standing on one foot, doing much of their workout sitting (or standing – though please don’t!) on a big rubber fit ball to switch on their core. Spoiler: This isn’t actually what it means!**
In reality, most exercise can be functional exercises: Functional exercises are those that have a direct benefit to the movements you make in real life, whether that’s going about your day to day activities, going to the gym to get stronger, starting a beginners running program, or even training to compete in a big race. There is no particular group of exercises that are “functional”.
** As people (personal trainers, coaches, clients, and athletes) have seen how little the above types of exercise help in daily life and performance, the industry has moved away from the balance and instability elements that are the hallmark of the early “functional” trend. In fact, these exercises can lead to poor exercise technique, increased compensation patterns, and minimal additional benefit. They aren’t terrible across the board, but you can make better choices with your time!
Writing A Functional Exercise Program
When I see a client who’s interested in getting into functional movement or exercise, I get really excited, since it lets me stretch my creative juices a bit (and also because these clients have the highest chance of long term success – winning!). The process starts with a good chat about what real life looks like for you, what kind of movements you might struggle with, what kind of movements you get pain with, and what you would like to be able to do more easily. We’ll do a brief movement screen to let your body tell it’s side of the story, since most of us have movement compensations we are not aware of, and then we’ll get started on creating a balanced exercise program to match your needs and goals.
Here’s where the art comes in. When I think about what exercises should go in this program, I think about the movements you make in daily life and/or training. I’ll pick exercises that are similar to those movements to help strengthen the muscles that keep you going day to day. I’ll also pick exercises that will turn on any muscles that aren’t quite pulling their weight in your normal movements (under-active muscles play a key role in injury rates) and exercises that provide a balance to your main working muscle groups, which will further decrease injury risk. You should be able to recognize your in your workout exercises that mimic the movements of your job, or that help you improve strength or cardiovascular fitness levels so that the activities of everyday life become easier.
Common Examples of Functional Exercises
Similar Real Life Movement
|Squats||Sitting down and standing up, as from a chair|
|Step Ups||Walking up stairs|
|Bicep Curls||Picking up a small child|
|Farmers Carry||Carrying the grocery bags|
Is Your Program Functional For You?
Whether it’s called functional or not, the best program will evaluate your daily movements, energy needs, and lifestyle goals, and focus on exercises that will improve or maintain your abilities in these areas. Not every exercise will seem like something a movement you make every day, since creating strength for movement can require different muscles and joint angles than you might expect. Your body is a complex machine, and it’s rare that you’ll ever sit down, stand up, walk, carry, or lift things in the same perfectly straight line every time! Overall though, you should be able to see the similarities to your daily life, and within a few weeks should be able to feel the benefits.
If you’re not sure that your program is ticking these boxes, HealthFit can help. Your exercise physiology program is designed to be done in-home, at your gym, or anywhere else you feel the most comfortable and likely to do it, and if that’s not functional, I don’t know what is!
HealthFit looks after residents of inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer.