Robert is a former teacher and travel buff, and has spent the last 30 years travelling to different parts of the world including all over North America, South America, Africa, and Europe. He loves trying new cultural cuisine, zip-lining through the Amazon jungle, and his cat, Twyla-Mae.
Hello and welcome! Today we are going to be answering the question, “What is functional fitness, and why is it important?”
Please read the whole article, to get the most value from this article. And don’t skip any videos either!
Table of Contents
- Self-Esteem and Fitness
- Looking Good vs. Functional Movement
- Body Building or Functional Fitness
- What is Functional Fitness and Why is it Important?
- Avoiding Injury at All Cost ($$$)
- List of Good Functional Fitness Exercises Anyone Can Try
- Recap – Make Functional Fitness A Priority ASAP
Ok, let’s get into it!
Self Esteem and Fitness
We all want to feel good about ourselves, and for that to happen, we have to look good to ourselves as well.
Looking “good” can mean many things, but often it ties in with how our bodies are shaped.
Depending on a multitude of factors, from genetic factors beyond our control, to our own personal choices, our body shape and overall “look” is determined.
And so, in many ways, a trip to the gym is often more related to our self-esteem than it is to the benefit of our overall health.
You’ve got to admit, many people (including you?) go to the gym and engage in workout routines that are more akin to body sculpting than any kind of routine that is going to make us live longer.
Trips to the gym are interesting because, sometimes, we may not have a clear plan for what we’re trying to accomplish there, we just hope that going to the gym is good for our souls.
Make sure when you go to the gym you have a plan, and don’t forget to make sure it’s a GOOD plan.
Looking Good Vs. Functional Movement
Now, you might say, “But what’s the point in living a long time if I can’t look good while doing so?” Well, if that is your opinion, you really should re-think it, because it is counter-productive to your health in so many ways.
Looking good (ie. having a nice body that you and others admire) is one thing, while having a body that is going to be functional for a long time is quite another thing.
One workout – call it the “beach body workout”, really has nothing to do with how “functional” your body is. And perhaps you think you can have it all, and that if you do the beach body workout, you’ll be totally ok to do stuff like this…
…Or how about this?
One thing’s for sure – focusing exclusively on different types of body sculpting workouts isn’t going to prepare you for this:
Ok, maybe you don’t care about being able to do flips, or walking a pack of dogs. Nooooo thanks!
But, realistically, you should consider what exercises allow for people to do those kinds of things, because, in the long run, a beach body isn’t going to prevent an injury.
BTW, these kinds of exercises, that help to prevent injury and promote a full range of motion – this is called “functional fitness”.
Body Building Or Functional Fitness?
Let’s talk about the term “body-building” for a minute. As you may know, the purpose of body building is strictly aesthetic.
With body building, as it is usually classified as a sport, and not a form of fitness per se. Nothing wrong with it, of course. It’s great, and it has its place in a well-balanced fitness regimen.
With bodybuilding, are we not trying to enhance certain aspects of our physique in order to look a certain way? Bigger. Stronger. Ripped. Shredded. That’s great, but you have to admit it’s not going to help you with, for example, your balance, or your reflexes.
Working our abs and our glutes is a type of bodybuilding as well, in that we are trying to focus on a certain part of our body and make it look the way we want it to.
In fact, some people go to the gym and do ONLY exercises which are meant to “target” parts of their body, and magically chisel them into the shape they want, even though that’s simply not how exercise works.
At any rate, this type of body sculpting is not quite the same as your typical barbell lifting type of upper body focused body-building, but it is similar in its own way.
Don’t get us wrong, we have nothing against working on your glutes, but it’s not the ONLY type of exercise someone should be doing.
That said, many of us who desperately want a “nicer” body engage in this type of routine, and some of us even feel we do this for our health. Again, nothing wrong with a well toned tummy.
But is that really the case that getting toned like this is ultimately the best thing we can do for ourselves health-wise?
Think about this: Body building, as in the competitive sport, has certain goals that are set out from the beginning, that are part of the bodybuilding culture.
For instance, judges who judge body-building competitions look at the overall physique of a person, and when they strike a pose, they look at just how defined certain muscle groups are. This really has nothing much to do with daily life, to be honest.
In terms of our self-image, some of us feel we are too heavy, while some of us feel we are too thin. Either way, a trip to the gym is often a journey to a special place where we can attempt to change the shape of our bodies.
But we too often forget what we’re actually hoping to accomplish with a trip to the gym.
Ok, now to the question at hand…
What is Functional Fitness and Why Is It Important?
Now let’s get back to the term “functional fitness”. What is it?
Unlike other forms of exercise, and particularly body building (to which it is almost the opposite), the purpose of functional fitness is to essentially mimic movements that we already do in everyday life, in order that we may function better as humans.
Wait a minute. “Function better as humans”? What’s that mean?
It means, to do the things we need to do physically (and mentally) as humans, in a way that causes us no discomfort, so that we can take advantage of a full range of motion.
Remember we were showing the guy walking the dogs, the lady holding the groceries, etc.? Yeah, that stuff – everyday things.
The opposite of a full range of motion (ie. do whatever you want whenever you want) would be to have a limited range of motion. Can’t bend over. Can’t move fast. Can’t jump. Bad reflexes. Prone to injury.
That’s the thing – injury isn’t something we want to think about. No one wants to be injured, or even expects it, but it happens.
And…one big reason it happens is because we aren’t able to compensate physically for the needs of every day life. We’re not flexible enough. We have bad balance. We are slow. We eat Cheetos.
Functional fitness is meant to combat this, and prevent injuries, so that they don’t happen, and you don’t have to deal with the consequences.
You think this is a joke? Watch this…
Amazing, but also very handy!
More Benefits of Functional Fitness
As you can see, reflexes are important. Sometimes life saving. Quick reactions, fluid movements. You know as well as we do that you don’t have to be a hero to appreciate having decent reflexes. Have you ever tripped over a rug or sidewalk? Have you ever fallen down some stairs?
This stuff happens all the time, and if we aren’t prepared, we get injured, and NO ONE wants to get injured. We’ll say it again – functional fitness is meant to encourage better daily movement, and PREVENT injury.
Ok, now what sorts of movements are we talking about here when it comes to functional fitness? Let’s take a look at some examples from real life, other than the heroism displayed above.
Well, how about bending over to pick some thing up off the ground? Or carrying groceries to your car? How about simply taking a walk around the block? What about shaking dust out of your comforter? Catching a frisbee? What about this guy?
We’re not done yet. Chasing your cat off the road before it gets hit by a car? Riding your bike down a hill? Sliding on a water slide? Swimming laps in a pool? Having sex? (tee hee) Doing a summersault? (huh?) The list goes on and on…and on! These are just some of the many, many motions we go through in our day to day lives.
But what if we couldn’t do these movements? No sex, no frisbees, Mr. Whiskers walking down the middle of the road and no one to save him. Aaaaaghhh!
While some of us take simple everyday movements for granted, we really shouldn’t do that, since there are so many of us that are extremely limited in even these every day movements, that they can’t perform them at all.
These people who are, for one reason or another, limited in their movements, are probably in need of functional fitness routines, moreso than bodybuilding.
Another way to say “functional fitness” is to say “practical movements”. Think about going to the gym and doing a lat pull-down. We do this move at the gym to “work” on our back and shoulders, as in make them bigger, more defined, and stronger.
Here’s an example of “good form” lat pulldowns (which we love, btw).
But consider this – what movement from real life does the lat pull-down mimic?
In other words, when do we do anything similar in real life where we pull a weight down from above repeatedly?
Generally, this is not something people do normally, so therefore, it is not part of “functional fitness”.
The key word, once again, is injury prevention. The reason we want to prevent injuries, other than obviously because injuries hurt and are bad, is that society nowadays isn’t always kind to people who have injuries.
Avoiding Injury at All Cost ($$$)
Think about going to the hospital. If you live in the USA, a trip to the hospital means you’ll be paying for it afterwards.
Besides the fact that no one wants to get injured, there’s also the fact that most people literally can’t afford to get injured.
Any sort of injury that necessitates a trip to the hospital is bad news, but there are other reasons to want to avoid the emergency room, and the doctor’s office.
Think about waiting around at the doctors after you pull a muscle in your back. Not only is this painful physically (and financially), but people these days don’t have time to wait 5 hours or 5 days or sometimes weeks for an appointment. This whole ordeal is stressful from the get-go!
This is the point of functional fitness – to prevent these injuries by mimicking real-life motions. Bending over, squatting down, pulling things, leaning against things, carrying things, and getting on our hands and knees and trying to move.
Here’s a video playlist from Human 2.0 that gives you a variety of functional fitness moves (aka flexibility exercises) to try and how they are done.
Great video, how about an actual list though?
List of Good Functional Fitness Exercises Anyone Can Try
- Squat (click here for “Bodyweight Squat” video)
- Sled push
- Sled pull
- Chin up
- Turkish get up
- Farmers carry
- Resistance band or med ball rotation
- Stair climbing
- Walk/sprint intervals
Functional fitness is something you’ll want to incorporate into your exercise routine ASAP. You may not be capable of doing some of these moves, but the sooner you begin to attempt them, the easier they’ll get, and the more comfortable they’ll feel. This will soon translate into your every day life and you will feel the benefits.
Functional fitness, far from being a fad, is essential for anyone who does any kind of fitness routine. In fact, if you are into yoga, you’re already doing a lot of functional fitness because the movements are usually related to natural movements you’d perform in real life.
Think about people who lived in the past, hundreds of years ago, and how their jobs probably involved all kinds of different movements, as opposed to people today, who can easily sit, and sit, and sit some more.
Yes, maybe those people back hundreds of years ago died on average decades before we do today, but that’s mainly because they didn’t have dentists or 95% of the medicine we have now.
They were probably much more “functional” than we are today, since half of the population was tilling soil and tending to crops all day long.
As boring as it was, picture those bronzed backs glistening in the sun, filling a big wheelbarrow with cabbages. Wow! Sure, they might have gotten the Bubonic plague, but they were still probably in better shape than you and me!
Sitting is fine, but you don’t want to sit all the time. And you don’t want to sit a lot, for years and years. Because, you know what that means? Pretty soon, all you will be able to do is sit! Or maybe, if you kneel down, you won’t be getting back up.
This is not a good situation, and it’s also a huge problem in today’s world.
Sitting is now almost considered a “disease” in the fitness world, as illustrated by the graphic above. Sit for too long, and you’ll regret it.
You need to get up and move around regularly, all day, every day, for your whole life.
Recap – Make Functional Fitness A Priority ASAP!
This is another reason why you need to consider making functional fitness a real priority in your life, because if your normal life isn’t one that involves much activity, your trip to the gym is going to be pointless, if you’re trying to define your muscles and that’s ALL you’re doing.
What good are muscles if you can’t even squat down? What good is a nice bum if you can barely move your torso. And what about this?
A good functional fitness routine also means you don’t have to go bananas at the gym.
If you focus on movements that are natural, you’ll be doing those same movements when you get home, or you should be.
It doesn’t make sense to not move at home, and then go to the gym and pretend like you’re Rambo running around the woods.
Your functional fitness routine can only mimic your real life if you actually have a life that involves movement.
Remember all of this next time you hit the gym. Are you going to work on getting bigger and beefier and more “cut”, or are you thinking about doing things that will allow you to pick up your 5-year-old and carry them around the park? Time to decide on what your priorities are, or should be.