Functional fitness has once again been named as one of the top trends in the fitness industry by an international survey published in the November/December 2008 issue of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal
. Functional fitness workouts are designed to help you perform everyday movements and tasks such as lifting a laundry basket or carrying your luggage with greater ease and efficiency. A key element of functional fitness training, and one that differentiates it from traditional machine-based muscle conditioning exercises, is that it concentrates on developing muscle integration throughout the body during an activity. That is, it strengthens and trains various muscle groups of your body to work together to carry out a task.
Traditional machine-based muscle training isolates a muscle group through a fixed range of motion. It doesn't "teach" the muscle to work with other muscles in the body. Consider the tasks you perform throughout the day and the muscles involved in carrying them out. How often do you use one muscle group or bend at one joint to perform a daily task? Although traditional methods build muscular endurance and strength, the carryover into everyday activities, which require different muscle groups to work together, is not as great as it is with functional fitness training. Think in terms of a seated biceps curl machine. Your torso and arms are stabilized against pads, your lower body is inactive and the only joint being used is that of the elbow. Contrast this against lifting a bag of groceries in which you not only need to recruit your biceps muscles to lift the bag, but you need to activate your leg muscles by squatting and engage your abdomen and back muscles to stabilize your spine while performing the lift. All of these movements need to be coordinated in order to prevent strain and injury.
The goal of a functional fitness exercise program is to train your body for the routine and customary movements of daily life situations. To serve this purpose, these types of exercises consist of multi-joint/multi-muscle activities that involve coordination of upper- and lower-body movements. Disciplines such as Pilates and Yoga fall under the functional fitness category. A variety of equipment can be used to develop functional fitness as well such as weighted balls (medicine/kettle balls); balance discs, boards, and balls; resistance bands and tubing; and step boards. However, you do not need special equipment to improve your functional fitness.
Using one's own body weight, especially if you are starting a functional fitness program for the first time, can improve your ability to perform everyday tasks with ease. Examples of exercises that teach your body to support its own weight include push-ups (can be done against the wall or countertop if unable to do "traditional" push-ups), squats, and lunges. Activities such as balancing on one foot, performing one-legged squats, and standing leg abductions and adductions can promote balance and muscle coordination needed in everyday life.
Does this mean you should eliminate all forms of traditional exercise in your quest to achieve functional fitness? No. Traditional means of gaining and maintaining fitness have their place, and a very important one at that. Aerobic activities such as walking and biking help to build cardiovascular endurance and weight lifting with machines can lay a solid foundation of strength upon which to build.
As stated by Shelley Rubinstein, Co-coordinator of the Optimal Aging Program - a medically-based program promoting fitness in healthy adults 60 years of age and older - at William Beaumont Hospital's Beaumont Health Center in Royal Oak, "Exercise in general improves function". What do we need to function independently? The ability to "reach, bend, carry and lift" according to Rubinstein. "Simulating those moves [in your exercise routine] helps to strengthen muscle memory" explains Rubinstein. Muscle memory, also known as motor memory, involves performing a particular activity repeatedly over time so that your muscles "learn" the movement and it becomes automatic. Performing the above movements in your exercise routine will carry over into your day-to-day activities improving your ability to function in real-life situations. An ideal exercise program is one that incorporates a variety of modes and methods to develop a body that is capable of meeting the demands placed on it throughout life.
ACSM Fit Society Page Summer 2006 pp. 3-4, "Exercising for Functional Fitness". Yoke, M.
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal VOL .12/NO. 6, pp. 7-14. "Worldwide Survey Reveals Fitness Trends for 2009". Thompson, W.R.
WebMD Feature Article "Working out for Real Life Functions". Shaw, G.
William Beaumont Hospital's Optimal Aging Program; Beaumont Health Center, 4949 Coolidge Highway, Royal Oak, MI 48073; (248) 655-5034.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.
Labels: ACSM, balance, coordination, functional fitness, Health and Fitness Journal, Optimal Aging, William Beaumont Hospital