What is Functional Fitness?
To be "functionally fit" means having the ability to perform at your desired level of activity - whether that's being able to sit and stand from a chair unaided (squatting), pick-up and walk with your shopping (dead-lift and farmer's walk), place luggage in an overhead space (shoulder press) or play sports.
Functional fitness describes any exercise programme aimed at improving your body's natural ability to move in order to keep you healthy, strong and fit for life. This typically includes a combination of strength training, cardiovascular, flexibility exercises and balance work.
How is functional fitness different from other types of exercise?
Purists may say that functional fitness focuses on movement patterns rather than isolated movements like those seen in traditional workouts. So, Instead of doing sit-ups, pushups or leg-press on a weights machine, you may find yourself doing burpees, box step-ups, skipping or battle rope exercises.
The reality is any physical activity that improves your overall fitness through increasing muscle mass and endurance, while also improving balance and coordination, can be regarded as functional fitness. Yes, even the aforementioned leg press can be considered functional if the goal is to restore strength in a weakened muscle group.
Examples of functional fitness programmes
If you have done a Jo Wicks workout, a Zumba or Barre class you already have some experience of functional fitness training. Exercise programmes uniquely branded as functional fitness though, include:
As much a training ethos (train for everything, expect the unexpected) as it is a community. Crossfit training involves constantly varied high intensity/high volume exercises that incorporate elements of Olympic-style weightlifting, gymnastics, endurance and sprint exercises across all mediums (on water, in water, on land). It is equally participated by males and females and the programme is suitably scaled for all ages and abilities.
Competitive CrossFit has become a global phenomenon with several national and international events taking place each year with ever-growing prize purses. The annual CrossFit Games is an open event to find "the fittest on earth" by gender, age, individual or team. Find your nearest CrossFit affiliate here.
F45 is an international chain of fitness studios that run 45-minute circuit-style classes of high-intensity functional training. Every studio around the world does the same exercise programme that changes daily. So, it's great if you happen to travel a lot and want the familiarity of a workout environment without the fear of repeating a routine.
Every class begins with a trainer demonstrating the movements to come. These include exercise modifiers to cater for all levels of fitness. Find your nearest F45 studio here.
Barry's is one of the first mass commercial high-intensity interval training (HIIT) fitness workouts that aim to improve your cardiovascular fitness and strength by alternating cardio workouts (treadmill or spinning) with floor-based strength workouts. Maintaining an elevated heart rate for the almost 50-minute workout means that you get a good calorie burn in the process.
Classes take place in lowly-lit, red-hued, well-ventilated studios to a background of pumping motivational music. Find your nearest Barry's here.
Be Military Fit (BMF), previously known as British Military Fitness, are group fitness classes mostly held in outdoor public areas around the UK. The workouts are led by current or ex-members of the British Military who are in no way intimidating.
Utilising motivational techniques honed in the forces instructors put you through workouts, some of which requires teamwork. The sense of camaraderie, coupled with the unique feeling that comes from exercising in the elements, can be a strong motivator. Find your nearest BMF venue here.
Total body HIIT workouts that focus on improving your endurance, power and strength. The one-hour classes have you rotating between three stations of rowing, treadmill and weights all the while monitoring your heart rate with technology. The aim is to maintain your heart rate at 84-91% of your maximum, the orange zone, for as long as possible to create an "Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption" (EPOC), or afterburn. In short, workout so hard that you continue to burn calories after you finish.
Find your nearest Orange Theory Fitness venue here.
With any physical activity, there is always a risk of injury. This can either be an acute injury, like a muscle strain in a weight lifter or runner, or an overuse injury from doing too much of the same thing. The nature of functional fitness workouts is that they are meant to be varied which means the chances of repeating the same movement often, and risk an overuse injury, is small.
When an injury does occur, in some instances it may have to do with your physical makeup and simply treating the injury may not be enough to stop it from happening again. You may require a physical assessment to identify an underlying cause that can then be addressed.
I am a big advocate of functional fitness training which so happens to be my personal choice of keeping fit. If you are concerned about an injury or wish to discuss any concerns you may have around your exercise regime click here to make an appointment.