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What is Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness is an exercise method that trains multiple muscle groups—and often the entire body—to perform in coordination. Also called functional training or functional movement training, it takes notes from occupational therapy where you simulate common daily movements to optimize execution. The main focus of functional fitness is making muscles work together, through movements like walking, pushing, pulling, lunging, squatting and core strengthening.

How is Functional Fitness Different from Traditional Weight Training?

Conventional weight training isolates muscles groups. You maximize your bench presses, bicep curls or quad extensions utilizing one muscle at a time, often at the expense of other muscles. By contrast, functional fitness is about muscle integration. It teaches the muscles to execute together, so you aren’t just stronger; you’re able to perform everyday tasks more efficiently.

If you’ve attended a CrossFit class or worked with a personal trainer, odds are you already have some experience with functional fitness. Some more modern exercise machines even use functional fitness techniques rather than attempting to isolate muscle groups. But true functional fitness homes in on the muscle groups a specific individual needs to prevent muscle strain, injury, and back pain in their everyday life. Functional fitness teaches the body to be stronger and more efficient in the movements you make over and over again in your work and play.

Examples of Traditional Weight Training

Quad lifts

Bicep curls

Bench presses

Hamstring curls

Seated row

Examples of Functional Fitness Exercises

Bent-over row

Box step up

Dumbbell bench press

Farmers carry

Romanian Deadlift

Weight Training vs. Functional Fitness in Action

· Strengthening quads or hamstrings alone doesn’t mean you can run a fast 5K.

· Having strong biceps won’t protect you from throwing out your back when lifting a heavy box.

· Sit-ups alone won’t alleviate backpain from bending over a work bench or conveyor belt all day.

What Are the Benefits of Functional Fitness?

Life rarely requires us to use our muscles one by one. Carrying a moving box or suitcase up a flight of stairs would exert biceps, chest and quads all at once, along with a number of core stabilizing and back muscles, just to name a few. From team sports like soccer, baseball or football to simpler endurance athletics like running, swimming or biking, all exercise requires coordinated muscle efforts. Even everyday walking uses more muscle groups than just the legs—abdominal and back muscles work to stabilize you and your arms help propel you as they swing.

Functional fitness benefits people of all exercise abilities, from those recovering from or trying to prevent injuries to high performance athletes. Just some of the benefits include:

1) Better Balance and Posture: Functional fitness trains the muscles to work better together to carry your weight in action and at rest. Without machines to support you as you exercise, your body learns to compensate and grows stronger in the areas that promote balance.

By training muscles in coordination, you run less risk of over-bulking certain muscle groups at the expense of others and causing misalignment and pain. A classic example is over-working chest muscles without properly strengthening the core and back. This leads the chest muscles to contract, pulling the shoulders forward and hunching the back.

2) Greater Muscle Memory and Movement Efficiency: Performing regular functional fitness exercises trains the brain as well as the body. The repetitive movements help your body to understand the order in which muscles should fire, and at what capacity, so you can move with greater efficiency and agility. An exercise like a plank or a lunge improves overall body strength but also movement by requiring abs, glutes, quads and hamstrings to all coordinate in the right place at the right time, over and over and over again.

3) Prevents Injuries: Arguably one of the biggest reasons that people begin pursuing functional fitness is to recover from or prevent chronic injury. Functional training first began as a series of techniques that physical therapists used to rehabilitate injuries. Functional fitness helps train people in the proper techniques and body position for the kinds of activities that often cause injury, like changing directions quickly while playing sports or leaning over a table, desk or counter in daily life for long periods of time.

4) Strengthens Core and Decreases Back Pain: Functional training aims to strengthen your core muscles and correct body positioning in everyday movements and relieve stress on your back muscles. The core carries the body and stabilizes us in every movement, yet many people have weak areas in their abdominal muscles that their back then tries to compensate for. Over time, chronic over exertion leads to back pain and misalignment that can be difficult to correct on your own. Functional fitness helps you align your body by engaging your core in almost every exercise, just as you do in real life.

5) Improves Everyday Life: Anyone who’s undergone a fitness regimen can tell you how hard it is to integrate exercise into your routine, and not just because of timing issues. Conventional weight training often leaves us sore and unable to perform our regular functions a day (or even two days) post workout.

Since there’s usually little integration or consideration of your typical movement habits in traditional workout routine, this temporary soreness doesn’t even lead to better daily resilience, i.e. your back still hurts at the end of the day. Functional fitness targets your daily routines and helps train your body to perform them better, meaning the stronger you get in your exercise, the more mobility and flexibility and less pain you’ll have in your everyday life.

6) Increasing Mindfulness: Functional fitness is all about being aware of your body positioning and your muscle movements. It trains you to use the weight of your body efficiently. By using exercises that mostly only rely on body weight, you become more in tune with what is moving where during a workout. You concentrate on your body position on how it feels, which pulls you into your exercise and the moment.

Functional Fitness at VitalSigns Wellness

At VitalSigns Wellness, we create functional fitness routines that home in on your individual needs. Working with your Vital Coach, you develop an exercise regimen that can help support strength where you need it and help you attain and maintain a healthy weight. Our VitalFit group exercise program provides you with the support and accountability you need, while still giving you the tools to cater to your strength level and the individualized exercises you need to move better in your daily activities.

VitalSigns Wellness helps you become a disciplined steward of your body and mind, giving you the support you need to start your health transformation through the four pillars of wellness: nutrition, exercise sleep and peace. Schedule a call today to get a personalized health plan that leads you to the path of health peace.

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