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What is Functional Fitness?


Being “fit” means something different to all of us. For some, it’s maintaining a trim figure. For others, it might mean having the strength and endurance to run a marathon.

But there is a level of fitness that’s important for the daily tasks we take for granted, like sitting in a chair or picking up a laundry basket. Health professionals call it “functional fitness,” and if you don’t have it, you can put yourself at risk of injury just going about your day.

How Functional Fitness is Different

“Think of functional fitness as training for everyday life, not events,” says Kandis Hall, a certified exercise physiologist at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center. “Incorporating functional fitness exercises into your routine helps you develop core strength, balance and stability, all of which are critical to preventing falls and injuries.”

Hall says functional fitness is different than traditional fitness programs because it focuses on multijoint, full-body movements that use multiple muscle groups. “Many people use machines or exercises that isolate a single muscle group. An example of this is a tricep pullover. These are great if your goal is to build muscle or improve athletic performance, but in everyday life, we don’t use our muscles this way.”

Motions like walking, bending, lifting and climbing stairs require you to use multiple muscle groups at the same time. Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together like this so you are prepared to perform in a variety of situations.

From Beginners to Body Builders, Everyone Needs Functional Fitness

Hall says everyone benefits from functional fitness routines. “While functional fitness is especially beneficial for older adults, even athletes should incorporate it into their workouts. Many athletes are so focused on isolating muscle groups that they neglect the full-body movements that improve core strength and stability.”

And one of the best things about functional fitness is that you don’t need high-end gym equipment to do it. “You can get a really great functional fitness workout just using your body weight,” says Hall. “In fact, I recommend starting with body-weight exercises before progressing to medicine balls, resistance bands or free weights.”

Play it Safe

If you are new to functional fitness, Hall says it is a good idea to meet with a personal trainer before trying things on your own. “People sit far more today than they ever have in history, so most people can’t even do a squat effectively. Investing in a few personal training sessions to learn proper form costs less than the round of physical therapy you’ll be paying for if you injure yourself.”

Meeting with a trainer is especially important if you have suffered injuries in the past, says Hall. “Many people who have suffered an injury develop a movement pattern that compensates for the injury. A personal trainer can identify and recommend an appropriate exercise program to treat those issues.”

If functional fitness sounds like something you want to try, Hall says you can find classes and full programs entirely devoted to it. Or, you can start small. “I always say that incorporating just one functional fitness exercise into your routine is better than none at all. Start by picking out a couple that you like and build from there.”

Get started with functional fitness training today by finding an OhioHealth health and fitness location near you. As with any new fitness routine, or if you are pregnant, check with your physician first to ensure it is safe for you to begin.


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