Like many people, we’ve spent a lot of time exercising indoors at the gym this winter (thank you, polar vortex). Something we’ve been hearing a lot about from fitness instructors is incorporating “functional fitness” elements into our routine. Functional fitness exercises use movements that mimic everyday activities to increase strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility (range of motion). This type of training makes performing day-to-day activities like carrying groceries easier, while at the same time reducing the risk of injury.
The key element is using multiple muscle groups together (as opposed to traditional weight machines which work one muscle group at a time in isolation). In essence, functional fitness trains the body to work with itself. Bodyweight exercises like pushups, squats and lunges are great examples. Without a machine for support, the muscles of the core (think back and abs) play a crucial role in maintaining balance and proper form. Functional fitness isn’t limited to bodyweight exercises, either. Free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands and balance boards are all useful tools.
Exercises that use more than one muscle group not only help strengthen the core and improve balance, they’re often less time consuming. Plus since there aren’t any big machines necessary, many can be done at home. If you have access to a gym, see if there’s a trainer who uses a functional training approach to help you get you started. And always, check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.
(Content reviewed by the Clubs at Charles River Park)