I've got another great post for you tonight from Tracy Hernandez. I just really love all the information that she's given me. Tonight she will talk a bit about functional fitness and I love what she says about "train[ing] our bodies in ways that they need to move in our daily activities." This makes so much sense to me. I've got two kids and the way I run and move with them is totally different then the way I move when I work out. I think I've got a few things to work on. Thanks Tracy!! I can't wait to do the workouts you've listed at the end! In fact, I plan on doing workout #3 first thing in the morning, anyone care to join me?! :)
The term “functional fitness” is one of the latest buzzwords in the world of working out, but what does it really mean?
Think about the last time you worked out – maybe you did some “cardio” on a treadmill, a stationary bike, or the elliptical, and hopefully you also did some “strength training” in the weight room, because we know strength training is good for us. For your strength training, in every run-of-the-mill gym what you find is a room filled with machines designed to isolate specific muscles—the lat pull-down, the bicep curls machine, and (the all-time worst isolation machine) the machine where you sit down and press your thighs together—I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about, because we have all used it in the hopes that it will shrink our inner thighs.
Even after you hit an all-time high yesterday on your lat pull-downs, today you threw out your back trying to carry a 50-pound suitcase down the stairs. What gives? You’ve been working out, so why isn’t it working?
The reason is that traditional workout models are not functional – they don’t mimic the movements that we do in real life. “Functional fitness” means we need to train our bodies in ways that they need to move in our daily activities.
In our daily life, we perform a wide range of movements that engage our entire body, whether it’s chasing after kids, climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or putting a heavy box on a shelf in storage. Very rarely will you find a real-life movement that isolates a single muscle (when was the last time you did a bicep curl outside of the gym?). So when we exercise, we should be training our bodies to handle those real-life situations. In our earlier example of the heavy suitcase, you’re not bicep-curling the suitcase. You need to be able to lift and move it without tweaking your back, and strong muscles in your core can stabilize that suitcase so it doesn’t put undue pressure on one area of your back, causing you to suffer an injury.
Before we get into the exercises themselves, I need to define a couple of terms:
1. Core muscles (or “your core”): This is referring to the muscles in your midsection—the muscles in your stomach and your mid and lower back. These muscles are involved in every movement of your body to some degree, so it’s good to make them stronger.
2. Body weight (or “bodyweight exercises”): This means anything you do where you use the resistance of your own body, or have to support your own body during the exercise.
Most of the exercises performed with the help of a machine are going to be isolation movements; the machine will do the work to stabilize your core muscle groups, so those muscles are not engaged in the exercise and are relaxed. By contrast, movements that we perform with our body weight are going to engage a variety of muscles because your body has to support itself, so your whole core will be working.
Disclaimer #1: You should consult a physician before beginning any exercise routine.
Disclaimer #2: if you have never done exercises like the ones below, you need to make sure you are doing them with proper form to avoid injury (what good is a strong core if you end up blowing out your knee from doing improper squats, right?).
If you workout at a gym, talk to the trainers at the gym and ask if they can show you proper form for these movements. If you don’t workout at a gym, go online and watch instructional videos of people doing the movements correctly. Record yourself doing the movements, and then WATCH IT, and compare it to the videos of the pros to identify things you may be doing wrong. For a great resource with tons of functional fitness movements all in one place, I recommend the CrossFit website (www.crossfit.com). In the “Exercises & Demo” section there are a TON of videos—the only ones you really need are the “CrossFit Exercise Demos” section at the very top. Everything on the site is free and open source, so you can browse videos at your leisure. And, as a bonus offered only to Kim the Health Nut blog readers, if you want to film yourself doing these movements and email it to me, I’ll provide you with some free pointers on ways you can improve your form (my email is at the end of the article).
When you first begin working on functional movements, it is probably a good idea to abandon the weights entirely and focus only on bodyweight movements. Things like push-ups, squats, and sit-ups (not “crunches”, though, I’m talking about the ones where you start on your back and sit up completely) all require coordination, balance, and strength not just in one part of your body, but in a whole variety of muscle groups.
Here is a list of some functional movements to get you started. I know what you’re thinking – “Great, here’s a list of exercises, but what am I supposed to do with it? How do I incorporate these into a workout?” Don’t worry, that is coming!
These are all bodyweight exercises that will require you to engage your core in stabilizing your body, so you will be working multiple muscle groups. Most of these can be done anywhere with no equipment, others will require some basic equipment. (Click here to view a detailed description of proper functional movement, or watch my YouTube video below for these exercises.)
One-legged squat (aka “pistol”)
Knees to Elbows
Ring Dips/Box Dips
If you’re loving the idea of functional fitness, but don’t know how to put these movements together in a workout, here are a couple of ideas to get you started. As you are doing these workouts, try not to stop in between each exercise—the less you rest, the more you will be incorporating a high-intensity circuit-training type of workout, and you’ll be getting some “cardio” in along with your bodyweight strength training.
Disclaimer (this is a repeat from above, I just want to be sure you read it): You should consult a physician before beginning any exercise routine.
Most of these workouts require only your body and a little space, but some of them also require a jump rope or a place to run (either a treadmill or somewhere outside). Start a timer and try to finish as fast as you can, but make sure you maintain excellent form throughout the whole workout (i.e. don’t go so fast that your form gets ugly). If you are new to working out, you can also cut each of these workouts in half to begin (½ the reps, ½ the distance, and/or ½ as long).
Don’t forget to warm up!
3-minute warm-up: 2 minutes of brisk walking/jogging. 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 10 squats (these don’t count toward the workout, you’re just warming up the muscles). 10 forward bend/hamstring stretches. 30 seconds of wide arm circles – 15 seconds forward, 15 seconds backward.
Sample workout #1:
Run 400 meters*
Run 400 meters
Run 400 meters
Run 400 meters
*400 meters is ¼ mile, or about 2 minutes of running. If you cannot run, jog or walk instead.
Sample workout #2:
AMRAP (As Many Rounds as Possible) in 15 minutes
Set a timer to countdown from 15:00, or start a stopwatch and go until it reaches 15:00. Do as many rounds as you can in that time, and try to rest as little as possible in between rounds.
10 Jumping Squats
Sample workout #3:
80 jump rope skips
40 Box dips
40 Walking lunges
60 jump rope skips
30 Box dips
30 Walking lunges
40 jump rope skips
20 Box dips
20 Walking lunges
20 jump rope skips
10 Box dips
10 Walking lunges
*If you are new to working out or you don’t think you can do the whole workout, skip Round 1 and start with Round 2.
About the Author: Tracy is a certified CrossFit Level 1 Trainer at CrossFit Timpanogos in Lehi, Utah, a general workout/CrossFit junkie, and a triathlete. She loves weightlifting and really dislikes running, but does it anyway because it is supposedly good for her. You can email her at email@example.com.