Functional fitness has been a buzz-worthy trend for several years, but you still may not be clear on its actual definition, purpose, or benefits. Here we lay out exactly what you need to know about this style of exercise, and why it might be for you.
The what: Functional fitness has two main areas of focus: 1) it works and trains muscles to prepare you for tasks that you need to do – either in your everyday life (moving furniture, climbing something, carrying that 50-lb bag of dog food), or for a certain sport or other more sporadic activity (say, hiking a fourteener or playing on a summer soccer team). 2) Functional fitness also works multiple muscle groups at once, such as the upper and lower body, and emphasizes core strengthening and stability.
The why: If you can do 15 pull-ups or 100 crunches, props to you – you’ve obviously worked hard, and you’ve got nice muscle tone to show for it. However, in the real, non-studio world, will your strength and bicep size pay off? There is a gap in the strength we build through working out and how it translates to our everyday. When you think about it, it seems ridiculous that you should train so hard at the studio, and still feel nervous or inadequate when faced with a physical task outside of the studio. In your everyday existence of sprinting to be on time for a meeting, or chasing down a pet escapee, or loading bags of sand or potting soil into your car, you want to be physically fit enough to take on anything.
Also, exercisers are pros and staying in The Rut. If you’re a runner, that’s what you do. A lifter? No funny stuff, thank you very much. Bikers – they’ve got no time for dabbling in fitness activities that don’t involve helmets, the open road, and bugs on their sunglasses. Of course we’re generalizing here, and the truth is that if you’re a faithful studio class attendee then you’re fairly comfortable with trying new things. However, ruts can run pretty deep, and, if you’re not careful, your comfort zone will shrink. Trying new things can help us determine just how far our strength and stamina will take us in the real world.
The how: Make a concentrated effort to try new things. Go for that loathed jog. Add in some planks a few days per week. Work on your flexibility and stretch often. You know where your fitness gap is.
Psychologist and philosopher William James once famously said that “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” While it’s fairly certain that he was not referencing a weightlifter’s ability to touch her toes, this thought can apply to your strength, body, and overall fitness. When faced with a real live creek to jump over on a hiking trip, or a super-heavy sleeper sofa to move out of the living room, it makes no difference at that moment that you just completed your 12th bike race last weekend. Push yourself into new strengths, and watch your confidence and abilities get stronger, too.