How a Focus on Functional Fitness Will Improve Your Life

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functional fitness-running with parachute for resistance


Functional fitness is a concept that’s exploding in popularity lately—and for a good reason. When you exercise and train your body with a functional focus, your workouts will always give you the most bang for your buck.

These days, we’re all too busy to put up with things that don’t work as well as they should, which also applies to our physical fitness. The sedentary stresses of the modern world are forcing us to look for the best approach to take care of our holistic health. Functional fitness is our best option for moving forward, improving our bodies, and becoming healthier.

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WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL FITNESS?

Functional fitness is training and exercise that emphasizes the body’s natural movements and improves strength, balance, mobility, and endurance. This approach leads a person to be more fit for everyday activity. It also provides better physical preparedness for more intensive training.

When a person trains for functional fitness, she emphasizes full-body exercise and movements that cross multiple planes of motion. Unlike other more conventional training methods, functional fitness allows the body to do work the way it was designed—as one whole unit. Doing so integrates many muscles and multiple sets of muscles into the same natural movements.

Until very recently in human history, all fitness was functional! We spent our days moving and being active. Hunting, harvesting, and gathering food kept us busy and fit. Nobody sat at a computer for eight hours or spent large chunks of the day sitting in a car stuck in traffic. The modern world doesn’t require us to move, and for many of us, this lack of physical activity is our most significant health threat.

The tremendous human occupation of finding food to survive has been replaced by a few taps on a smartphone and waiting for food to appear at the front door. But our bodies haven’t changed — they still need to move and do work to thrive. Functional fitness gives the body what it needs and provides us with a method for unlocking our human potential.

BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL FITNESS

When you improve your fitness through exercise, you get to enjoy some incredible benefits:

But functional fitness, in particular, will give you better overall athletic ability. This will translate to virtually every physical task performed in your everyday life. Practical, day-to-day fitness is the most significant benefit of a functional fitness approach.

When you’re more functionally fit, you can stack heavy boxes in your garage without worrying about throwing out your back. You can go on a challenging hike with friends or chase down a hyper toddler and wrestle her into a car seat without wheezing. You can even get up off the ground easier. This life skill may sound trivial until you realize how many emergency rooms are overflowing with older adults who fell at home and couldn’t get up without calling 911.

What does the research say?

Functional fitness improves living at all stages in a lifespan. This study tracks older people who were already active with more traditional fitness activities (like walking and aerobics). The study had them switch to more functional fitness routines that worked their bodies in functional movement patterns (like squats, modified push-ups, and reaching exercises).

The result?

In just a few weeks, the already fit older people became more functionally capable with their activities of daily living. They used natural movements to train for everyday life, and they got BETTER in daily life!

[Click on the image below to learn more about fitness in the real world with MovNat].

FUNCTIONAL FITNESS IS MORE FUN

Functional fitness is often more fun than other approaches to exercise. Most of us are probably most functionally fit when we’re kids. Childhood is all about finding joy. Until adulthood slows us down, we often find our fun when we’re moving.

Fun and play are how we develop our bodies, especially when we’re young. This kind of activity is very functional. When we spent our days running through parks or climbing jungle gyms, we never thought about workout routines or counting sets and reps. We just wanted to use our bodies the way they’re designed to be used!

Playing sports is another common occupation of youth. It is also an excellent functionally-oriented way to access the joy of being active, even when we’re older. Developing skills in any athletic pursuit requires you to work your whole body and facilitate improvements in strength, balance, and flexibility.

sports are a great way to be functionally fit-the power of play in a bootcamp session

Get in the “zone”

Of course, in the heat of the athletic moment, we’re not thinking about the ‘why’ because we’re so focused on the ‘what.’ Jumping to catch a ball or sprinting around the bases are exciting and very functional activities that make us healthier and let us love the process of becoming more fit.

This kind of ‘mindless’ enjoyment is a great example of ‘flow,’ which psychologists call being in the zone. When you’re in a flow state, you experience total absorption in what you’re doing, time flies by, and all other concerns drop away. Psychologists also tell us that this mindset is very healthy and positive, so we should jump at any chance to experience it.

A focus on functional fitness is a great way to increase your opportunities for flow by leading you to more complex and enjoyable activities. Compare running on a treadmill to running on a trail. Or, compare using a gym’s pull-down machine to swinging a sledgehammer or chopping wood. Some of these options are far more fun and functional than others!

THE LIMITATIONS OF CONVENTIONAL FITNESS

A lot of people start exercising with two main goals in mind:

  • lose weight
  • make muscles look bigger (or more ‘toned’)

These people then tend to take the conventional course of action:

  • join a gym
  • spend a lot of time on the treadmill
  • spend a lot of time on the weight-lifting machines

If treadmills and weight-lifting machines are what you’re really into, then hey, you do you! But most people don’t find treadmills and shoulder press machines interesting. They think of these gym activities as drudgery that needs to be suffered through to get the positive benefits of exercise.

What’s really best for your body?

It’s not our fault we default to the static gym model. ‘Big box’ gyms are a profitable business model, so that’s what’s most often sold to us. For most of these companies, making people healthier is a secondary priority to making more money.

Weight-lifting machines aren’t even a great way to use your muscles. When you sit down on something like an upright bench press machine, the machine is doing a lot of your work. The majority of your body is just SITTING there. Plus, the exercise motion you’re doing—in/out, in/out—is so linear that its benefits are pretty limited. ‘Linear’ is NOT how we move out in the real world.

The conventional fitness business has hi-jacked our collective understanding of what’s best for our bodies. Too many of us have watched The Biggest Loser. As a result, we think ‘getting in shape’ is accomplished by a person sprinting on a treadmill for as long as he can until he’s puking. But your body is designed to move and improve itself, and there’s no reason you need to hate that process!

[Click on the image below to learn more about fitness in the real world with MovNat].

GETTING STARTED WITH FUNCTIONAL FITNESS WORKOUTS

Getting started with functional fitness is easy. If you’re already a regular gym-goer, you can begin transitioning to a more functional focus by ditching the machines and using the free weights.

To start, build a well-rounded exercise routine around the body’s natural compound movements. These include squats, hip hinge movements (think deadlifts or kettlebells swings), vertical and horizontal pulling movements (pull-ups and rows), as well as vertical and horizontal pushing movements (overhead presses and push-ups). A well-written body-weight exercise routine will cover these critical, natural movements.

functional fitness-switch to free weights-lady doing overhead dumbbell press

The word is out on functional fitness, and there are a lot of small gyms these days that are going against the ‘big box’ gym model and training their clientele in functional fitness disciplines. There’s even a resurgence in classic functional fitness tools (now known as ‘unconventional fitness’ tools). Examples include kettlebells, the TRX, medicine balls, and heavy clubs, that predate barbells and can offer you fun and dynamic methods for working out.

But just as the real world rarely requires you to work in clear-cut, regimented ways, functional fitness doesn’t require you to have set exercise routines. Focusing on functional fitness can be accomplished by just moving more throughout the day. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Say ‘yes’ to the friend that needs help moving apartments. Or, play with your kids at the park while leaving your smartphone at home.

The most important rule for focusing on functional fitness: don’t be bored. Choose something that looks interesting and try it out. Have fun, push yourself, and be proud that you’re taking care of yourself and giving your body what it needs.

FUNCTIONAL FITNESS | IN CONCLUSION

Focusing on functional fitness will improve your overall health. It will increase your strength, balance, and mobility while transforming you into a more dynamic and physically capable human being. It will have tremendous transferable benefits for all of the physical activity throughout your life. Functional fitness is your ticket away from the static, linear, and boring conventional exercise methods that most people try to force themselves to put up with.

Becoming more fit and exercising is not something you should just put up with. It should be an activity that enhances your entire life and gives you a healthy foundation for happiness. The human body is built for functional training. A focus on functional fitness will make you a better human and let you feel more grateful to be alive.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these recommended service provider links, like an insurance broker, or a travel agent, I may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you. [For my full disclosure, please see my DISCLAIMER page].



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