We can all agree that fitness should be an aspect of anyone’s life, whether we are into team sports, weight lifting, jogging, dance, or even a morning powerwalk, physical activity is an essential part of our well being. However, our fitness regimen can do more than just keep us fit, it can keep us functional.

Have you heard of the expression “fundamentals first?” All top-level coaches, professionals, and experts advocate the simplistic approach of having the fundamentals before anything else. One of the challenges today is that many of us want progress to the next level without having our fundamentals down first. We want to participate in things like yoga, pilates, crossfit, weightlifting, or sports (all activities that require our bodies to perform complex movements); movements our bodies are not always ready for. This is a problem. In regards to exercise, this is critically important if we want to minimize our risk for injury.

The number one goal we should all have with an exercise program is to prevent injury. This comes before any goal of fat loss, weight loss, muscle building, or performance enhancement. If you get hurt, then none of those goals even matter because you can’t train. Now that we have our number one goal established, we must have strong fundamentals in our exercise program. Digging down deeper, we must have sound fundamental movement patterns before we put a fitness program on top of baseline movement.

Exercise is meant to help improve daily movement and strengthen muscles to protect joints, bones and ligaments, meaning the types of exercises you perform should mimic functional movements you perform everyday such as bending over to pick up something heavy, reaching overhead, squatting to sit or stand up, or twisting. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability. Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.

What are the benefits of functional fitness training?

Functional exercises tend to be multi joint, multi muscle exercises. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life. Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.

Multifaceted physical movements found in activities such as Tai chi and Pilates involve varying combinations of resistance and flexibility training that can help build functional fitness.

It’s also a good idea to start with exercises that use only your own bodyweight for resistance. As you become more fit and ready for more of a challenge, you can add more resistance in the form of weights, resistance tubing or performing movements in the water.

As you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform your everyday activities and, thus, in your quality of life. That’s quite a return on your exercise investment.
Due to the average person’s lifestyle, our bodies are not moving the way they are meant to. From our drive-in commute, to long hours sitting, to not having to scavenge for food, build shelter, and perform other taxing duties that our ancestors had to. We no longer perform the primal movement patterns that our bodies were designed to do. If we neglect our natural roots, our bodies are going to pay dearly for it; and that is why issues such as poor posture, lower back pain, neck pain, poor circulations and many others have become so prevalent recently.
Functional exercises comprising of squatting, lunging, lifting overhead, picking a weight up, pushing or pulling our own body weight or an object, mimic our natural movement patterns and therefore keep our muscles and joints functional, and therefore decrease our risk for injury or pain, while improving flexibility, strength, and functionality.

There are various screening tools available to assess your body’s functionality such as the functional movement screen which looks at fundamental movements, motor control within movements, and a competence of basic movement patterns. Its job is to determine movement deficiency and uncover asymmetry. Another tool is the selective functional movement assessment which based diagnostic system, designed to clinically assess 7 fundamental movement patterns in those with known musculoskeletal pain. The assessment provides an efficient method to systematically find the cause of symptoms, not just the source, by logically breaking down dysfunctional patterns and diagnosing their root cause as either a mobility problem or a stability/motor control problem. Based on an individual’s results, the trainer or clinician can recommend corrective exercises to improve mobility and motor control for better functionality.

Remember, the goal is to become functional before we get into more complex exercises. We want to ensure that the body is moving in its natural range of motion before putting heavier loads onto it. Let’s get back to basic to be fit, functional and injury free!

FeaturedTired of Getting Injured At The Gym? Think Functional Fitness