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What Is Functional Fitness?

How does Functional Fitness affect you?
There are two primary ways:
1. It allows you to better perform common everyday movements faced by most people (like sitting, twisting, lifting, bending, walking, carrying, sorting)
2. It enhances your performance and skill-set for specific sports, tasks and activities. This could be anything from the sport-specific requirements of a novice up to elite athlete, to the day-to-day activities of a construction worker, to the domestic demands of a parent. In fact, it could even help up your endurance at vital tasks such as shopping marathon’s or night’s out on the town!
So how does it work? The short answer is that functional fitness teaches you to better handle basic versions of, as well as combinations of, your body’s basic movement patterns. These are squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting and walking. If you think about it, all movement, all exercises, and every daily task incorporates some element of or combination of these. So it stands to reason that training yourself to be stronger, fitter, faster and more adept at performing these movements will give you a stronger, fitter and faster (as well as pain-free) approach to daily demands. With this in mind, machine-based training is not the way to go. This is because (for most people’s goals) machines are a waste of time. Although they typically address some small element of functional movement, they neglect to address the requirements of core, posture, co-ordination, or balance – all of which are frequent demands in every sport and activity I can think of.
But that’s not to say that Functional Fitness training is flawless. Inherently, functional fitness can incorporate some pretty crazy moves. Anything that involves varied combinations of body weight, free weights, cables, swiss balls, medicine balls, tornado balls and balance boards, couple with multi-plane or multi-direction movement, is bound to get a little out of hand now and then.
This is where functional fitness can go horribly wrong. If you work out in any sort of progressive health club (like most inner city Fitness First clubs) then you will have seen PTs and their clients doing some pretty funky stuff. To the untrained eye, a lot of functional exercises look like they could be harmful. Many people think it would be safer to sit on a nice stable piece of equipment and push a load back and forth in one direction. Hopefully by now you’re not one of those people! I know I’d rather train my small muscles and stabilising system rather than let it waste away on a supportive machine – wouldn’t you? But I’m getting off track. The point I want to make here is that many gym-goers (and even some trainers) take what they’ve seen in the gym, or read in Men’s/Women’s Health, think it looks pretty cool, and – with no real strategy to addressing their own functional capacity and requirements – start doing crazy funky stuff in the gym without really knowing why. This is scary stuff. As much as you NEED to be able to perform all the (above listed) basic movement’s to a full range, you CAN’T safely do so without a good foundation.
The Foundation of Functional Fitness (and enhanced movement/skill):
Just as you wouldn’t build a house by starting with the roof, you shouldn’t train your body without a good solid base. Your basic requirements for ideal posture, a strong back and core, diminished pain, and improved performance all-round are:
  • flexibility; ideal range of movement at all joints
  • inner and outer (core) unit function
  • a correction of muscle imbalance through appropriate stretching, strengthening and corrective exercise
As much as you might want to jump ahead to the ‘fun’ stuff, this is really the place to start. Or else you may as well just donate $30,000 to your nearest physio/rehab centre and save yourself the trouble down the track. The best approach to addressing these three areas is to engage the services of a core/corrective specialist Personal Trainer. Chek trainers have been specifically trained in this approach and are becoming renowned the world-around for their ability to restore ideal movement and function. Other good approaches include yoga or pilates, sports massage, common sense reminders like sitting up straight and breathing fully, or – for the more determined of you – picking up a copy of Paul Chek’s unmatcheable ‘How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy’. Can’t be bothered, or don’t think it’s worth the time/effort of going back to basics? I’ll put it this way: you can either put the effort in now, and reap the rewards for years to come, or you can spend years not-quite-getting-there, dealing with pain and a flabby gut before finally being forced to spend money on physios/chiros/you-name-it, in a possible futile effort to undo years of incorrect training. Invest now and you truly will get to live life now. I guess the moral of the story is that – while it’s great to get excited about the Functional Fitness trend, and while Functional training is a vital part of YOUR exercise program – you need to address your individual requirements first.
Whew! I seem to have cleared my writer’s block for the time being, and I think I’ve probably hit you with enough to take in. In my next post I’ll explain some of the best functional exercises for you to include in your training (assuming you have the foundation of course!)

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Kat

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