Not everyone has the goal to run a marathon or be a competitive weightlifter. No matter what your health goals are, all of us need to maintain strength, balance, flexibility and stamina. This helps us navigate our daily lives without chronic tension, soreness, mobility issues, or potential injuries.
This is where functional fitness comes in. A recent estimate from the CDC shows that fewer than 25% of U.S. adults are consistently active enough. Functional fitness makes it easy to move on a regular basis, helping you build the strength, balance and resilience you need to thrive.
Here’s what to know about this type of fitness and how to reap the benefits of it for yourself.
What is functional fitness?
Functional fitness includes low-impact, stabilizing movements that condition your muscles and joints to perform daily tasks. You might not associate the word “strenuous” with activities such as lifting a bulky object, reaching for an item on the shelf, climbing a staircase or kneeling on the floor. But over time, this repetition can cause physical wear and tear.
That’s why functional fitness matters—it trains your body to be able to walk, bend, lift, squat, kneel, reach, stand, pull, rotate or push correctly. This alleviates strain on the body, which helps boost your range of motion and lower the risk of injuries long-term.
Functional fitness focuses on the full body, with an emphasis on the core, back and hip stability because strength in those three areas will increase overall mobility. Unlike some other forms of exercise, though, functional fitness does not call for gym equipment or high-intensity movement, which makes it accessible to everyone.
Functional fitness also combines both cardiovascular and resistance training, so you can meet all the activity guidelines for optimal health.
What are functional training exercises?
It’s worth noting that, while all exercises can improve physical function, not all exercises qualify as functional fitness. In order for a workout to fall into this category, it must be adaptable and versatile enough for anyone—regardless of ability level—to perform with their own body weight.
You can include kettlebells, dumbbells or resistance bands in a functional fitness routine to give yourself more of a challenge, but it’s not required.
The whole point of functional fitness is being able to move through the activities of daily life with ease and comfort. So if a workout places too much tension or pressure on your joints and muscles to the degree of acute pain, it’s not functional fitness.
With this in mind, here are some exercises that do count as functional fitness. You might be familiar with some (or all!) of them already.
- Wall Sit
- Calf Raise
- Bicep Curl
- Arm Cross
- Step Down
- Glute Bridge
- Scissor Kick
- Chest Press
- Shoulder Roll
- Lateral Jump
- Russian Twist
- Leg Extension
- Bicycle Crunch
- Mountain Climber
How to get started with functional fitness
You don’t need to do 60 minutes of movement to strengthen your mind and body with functional fitness. In fact, research indicates that even 15 minutes of exercise each day has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being.
If you’re new to functional fitness (or fitness as a whole), begin with two to four sessions each week. Choose a duration that fits your schedule so you can build consistency. Cycle through 5-10 of the exercises listed above, doing 10-20 repetitions each. As your muscles acclimate over time, you can incrementally boost the number of repetitions.
if you already have a consistent workout routine, all you need to do is add a few of these exercises into each workout. You may do many of them already.
As you build strength, remember to honor the needs or limits of your own body. Functional fitness is meant to be tailored to your needs, so make whatever modifications are necessary to optimize your goals, results and comfort level.
Functional fitness can elevate your quality of life
Functional fitness allows you to hike, play and even work at a desk, with less pain and more ease. It supports your long-term resilience and strength so you can feel great every single day. Just 15 minutes of movement, practiced consistently, can have an impact, so find what works for your schedule and body and start moving with function in mind.