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What is functional fitness?
We know that many of our readers will already know what functional fitness is and indeed will be living it every day. It’s not a new concept after all and has been talked about for at least a decade.
But just in case you keep seeing the term used and want to know more, we asked Ritchie Januszek, Product Development Director at Escape Fitness, to give us a good overview of what it’s all about.
In this article, Ritchie looks at:
- The main reasons most people exercise.
- How functional fitness prepares the body for the activities of daily life.
- The role functional fitness can play in improving sporting ability.
Why do people exercise?
If we were to ask 100 gym members why they exercise, it’s likely that most of them would talk about the benefits that it brings to their life as a whole. They wouldn’t focus on the enjoyment of the exercise experience itself.
Sure, some of us hardcore fitness fanatics get an enormous buzz from working out. But no matter how much most people enjoy it, they are probably more interested in the effect is has on them when they are away from the gym.
Take a look at articles on ‘why exercise?’ from people like the National Health Service and the focus is on overall benefits rather than the feeling you get in the gym. That’s how most people view exercise: it’s about improving the way they feel, being fitter in general and enjoying long-term health benefits.
For many people, the thing that gets them into exercise is noticing a lack of fitness when performing day-to-day physical activities. These are tasks like lifting heavy shopping bags, gardening, doing DIY or playing football with the kids.
These tasks might be routine, but for many people they are harder than they should be. This is where functional fitness comes in.
Functional fitness is all about getting ready for daily life
When personal trainers take clients through functional fitness training, they want to develop their muscles to make it easier for them to live an active lifestyle.
It’s not about training just to be able to do a great dead lift. It’s more about training muscles to work together effectively when performing common movements like lifting, carrying, reaching and other changes in body positions. Functional exercises usually involve multiple joints and multiple muscles in a single movement or series of movements.
So functional training is very different from exercise that focuses on a very specific group of muscles. A good example is this:
- A weightlifter might stand perfectly still while performing a bicep curl: lifting a dumbbell with just the elbow bending. This is very targeted at bicep development. Someone with amazing biceps might not be prepared for functional movements: even something as simple as lifting their child from a car seat can cause a pain or two.
- A functional fitness exercise might be to use both hands to raise the dumbbell from the right hip across their body to their left shoulder. This would develop biceps, triceps, torso, shoulder and back muscles. That gets people better prepared for a variety of movements needed for general living.
When someone has been working consistently on a functional fitness programme for a few weeks they will start to notice a difference. They will feel improvements in overall strength, endurance, posture, balance, flexibility and agility.
They will also notice that it’s easier to dig the garden, chop some firewood, paint a ceiling, play with the kids and do dozens of other things that used to give them aches and pains.
For many people, the benefits will also be felt at work. Even though more people work in offices than ever before, there are millions who have a physical aspect to their work. From the nurse lifting patients to the mechanic reaching to fit an awkward car part, there is a very real need to be fit and strong to protect the body.
Functional training is also great for people who play sports
As long ago as 2007 there was interest in the value of functional training for sportspeople, as a report entitled ‘Functional training improves club head speed and functional fitness in older golfers’ demonstrates. The report explained how, after an eight-week functional training programme, club head speed when using a driver increased for the older people taking part.
Most people playing any sport will improve their ability and endurance in that sport if they work out in a functional fitness programme. There’s also every chance that they will also be less likely to pick up an injury.
It’s here to stay
Gyms will always be used by people who are into hardcore training and there will always be highly-targeted workouts for specialist sports. But most people join gyms and work out because it’s going to improve their overall quality of life. This is why functional training is such a perfect fit for them.
This is why at Escape Fitness we have been into functional training for a long time and why it’s definitely where we see the future of the industry. Many of our training tools are ideally suited for functional fitness programmes, whether it’s lifting or flipping the TIYR, slamming the Slamball or going through varied movements with the Core Momentum Trainer. These products and many more provide the versatility and flexibility necessary for putting together superb functional fitness programmes.