Functional fitness refers to any type of fitness or training that works your muscles together in a way that prepares them for a specific task or everyday movements. But is it better than isolated training such as bodybuilding? How can it help you in everyday life?
What are the benefits of functional training?
A good level of fitness is important, we know this. Having a good level of fitness promotes better health and a longer lifespan, but why is functional fitness important?
Functional fitness trains us for everyday life. The exercises in a functional fitness exercise programme mimic real life activities and are designed to allow you to perform your day-to-day activities more easily and without injury. Each exercise focuses on several muscle groups instead of isolating just one, so all of your muscles work together to perform the movement. This is important because all of our muscles depend on each other and are supposed to work together. By using our muscles together, we become more efficient.
Functional training exercises
There are four types of functional fitness known as the 'four pillars'. All of your functional training exercises will come under one or more of these categories.
Locomotion refers to moving from one point to another, whether it’s skipping, jumping, jogging or running. When locomotion is required, single-leg movements are best as this trains both sides of your body equally and will reduce imbalances as we all have one more naturally dominant side. Functional training therefore includes lots of single-leg movements designed to enhance functional movement patterns.
Level changes are movements from low to high. Our body goes through lots of level changes in every day life, such as being seated to getting up and standing, bending over to pick things up and lifting things into the air or onto a high shelf. If you have a physical job, you may have to perform lots of level changes with heavy equipment or materials and therefore functional training would be great for you. Level change exercises include deadlifts and shoulder pressing.
Push and Pull
Push and pull makes up almost every exercise, whether it's pushing and pulling weights, cables, objects or your own body weight. These two movement patterns are fundamental to functional training. Most functional push and pull movements require you to push and pull whilst standing. So whilst a bench press wouldn’t be functional, a standing chest press using a cable machine would. With pulling motions, you’re typically pulling something towards you, often off the ground, and that’s where bent-over rows come in. Pull-ups are also great for training various grips required for sports, however rows are probably the best functional pulling move.
Rotation is required in most movements; we bend and twist to pick things up, to get dressed of a morning or to shoot in tennis or rugby. Rotation accelerates and decelerates movement, cables are great for training with rotation as they add resistance to regular movement patterns.
What is functional training?
An exercise becomes functional when it improves everyday function. If an exercise has a real life equivalent, it becomes functional. In real life you may not do a lunge with a medicine ball cross body rotation as such, but you may stagger your stance as you catch and twist to throw to another player in a netball match, for example.
When it comes to functional movements, children move far better and more easily than us. Children typically perform squats and deadlifts without anyone having to show them how and it is as we grow older and become more sedentary that these movements become unnatural.
Functional fitness benefits
When we talk about training functionally, we look at how muscles work together to support entire body movements. This means we look at how muscles connect to form a chain of reactions which create movement, identifying any weak links in that chain can improve performance. When we focus on muscles working together for function, we call these “muscle slings”.
Adding functional movement to any routine, will help improve your day to day function and keep your training varied.