What’s functional fitness? A classic example is a push up, which uses multiple muscles, including the chest, triceps, abs, and lower back. Functional exercises like the push-up engage your whole body, instead of just isolating a single muscle group. This translates into increased strength throughout your body for daily activities athletic or not.
Now compare a push up to a similar exercise performed on a seated chest press machine. On the machine, you’re sitting down (core is not activated) using only your chest muscles to push the weight up and down.
This type of exercise limits muscle growth because, “conventional weight training isolates muscle groups, but it doesn’t teach the muscle groups to work with others,” according to Greg Roskopf, a biomechanics consultant for the Denver Broncos. If your muscles aren’t talking to each other, your body isn’t working as efficiently.
Now I am not saying to abandon machines completely. If you’re looking for hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) then isolating muscles is the way to go. Unlike weightlifting machines, you can’t perform functional exercises to complete failure (which means lifting a weight that is extremely difficult to complete the last one or two repetitions in a set).
Instead, you execute the exercises until you no longer have proper form. Let’s redefine “training to failure” to mean “training until your form deteriorates. If your form is not perfect, then it will only hurt your development of building muscle and your chances of getting injured increases as well.
I understand it may be a little daunting jumping straight into functional exercises for people who have been using machines alone; but let me tell you, it’s well worth it!!
Here are five reasons why functional fitness is the next trend in fitness:
This is the number one issue for why people don’t exercise. It is unfortunate to hear people say this when the average American watches 5 hours of tv every day….. How about taking 30 of your tv time and get a great workout instead?
You can achieve a great functional workout in 30 minutes or less if you increase the intensity. For example, you can do a set of push-ups, immediately go into a set of lunges, then do a minute of jumping jacks to increase your heart rate and burn a ton of calories.
This way, you can maximize calorie burn in a short time period. You put these types of techniques together and you’ll have a very effective workout in a short amount of time.
2) Functional fitness is much more efficient for burning calories than traditional weight lifting.
The way people have worked out for decades (and still are) was that they would workout one body part and then they might do a little core work or a little bit of cardio at the end.
The cool thing about functional fitness is that instead of focusing on one body part, you are working your whole body ALL at once. By recruiting multiple muscle groups, you end up burning MORE calories. This is known as synergistic core based training. Hybrid lifts in which you are using your leg muscles to do squats or lunges while lifting dumbbells are good examples of functional workouts.
3) Picking up and dropping weights gets boring
If you are like me, it gets boring standing in one place doing the same exercise over and over again. I hear this a lot from new clients wanting to learn new ways of working out.
This is why functional exercises are the way to go because you are continually moving around and you are constantly doing different exercises throughout the workout session. So instead of doing a standard bicep curl, I will show a client how to do a squat bicep curl and then transition into a lunge bicep curl.
By adding the squat or the lunge along with the bicep curl, you are engaging multiple muscle groups at the same time. It’s not the same repetitive movement that gets monotonous and causes you not want to workout anymore.
4) You don’t need to spend money monthly on a gym membership
You don’t have to join a gym to workout. The beauty of functional exercise is that you need very minimal equipment for a great workout. You can save a ton of money by purchasing a few pieces of equipment.
You can buy a few things like: dumbbells, kettle bells, a bosu ball, or a Bulgarian Bag (youtube it), and use them for a plethora of full body exercises. You can use any of these pieces of equipment to engage the entire body in unison for a killer workout. Do a little bit of research on the internet for different workouts to do at home or at a park.
5) Your brain works more efficiently
Functional fitness is more neurologically demanding and involves extra coordination, but it’s well worth it for your body and your mind. It has been shown that exercise helps alleviate symptoms of depression and even competes with the effects of antidepressant medication.
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey.
I think it is a no brainer to strengthen your body and also make your brain work more efficiently. Win Win in my opinion.