Being jacked has its perks: you can likely bench some impressive weight, and probably squat the same on the squat rack.
However, does this strength actually translate into “real life” strength?
What I mean by this is that you can pump iron all day long and build impressive muscles with traditional weightlifting exercises, but this isn’t necessarily going to help you outside of the gym (or, say, in sports) if you aren’t also doing workouts that also push coordination and movement in addition to strength.
The answer to this? Functional fitness!
Functional fitness training bridges the gap between your strength, movement, and coordination, and the result is better whole-body fitness that you can apply to the rest of your life.
At the end of the day, not adding functional movements into the mix could really be holding you back from reaching your full potential. Here are all the reasons that your training regimen should include some dedicated time for functional fitness.
An Overview of Functional Fitness
Functional fitness is just that: functional. The goal is basically to strengthen your body with exercises that are similar to your movements outside of the gym – and at the end of the day, this can make your life a whole lot easier.
Functional fitness can include a ton of different exercises, but the goal remains the same. These workouts aim to strengthen different parts of your body while maximizing coordination, and this mimics many of your everyday movements. From picking up your kid, lifting the groceries, cleaning your house, and pushing yourself up from a sitting position, you’re usually using multiple muscle groups in sync.
Because of this, a lot of functional fitness workouts are going to use and coordinate multiple muscle groups at once with compound movements, rather than isolating individual muscles.
For example, let’s look at pushups, a classic functional fitness movement. These bodyweight burners activate your chest, shoulders, and arms all at once, plus there’s some serious core work going on as you work to maintain balance and stability. Mastering a pushup means that you can now handle pushing your own body weight up, which you have to do pretty frequently outside of the gym.
This is different from, say, a bicep curl, which has a restricted path of motion and targets your biceps in isolation. While these kinds of weightlifting workouts are definitely valuable for building strength and size, there aren’t a ton of challenging movements in your daily life that would mimic that exact movement.
So in short: you’re going to see more compound movements that work multiple parts of your body at once. And as you get stronger and more coordinated, you’ll find that these functional movements are actually helping you move better 24/7!
The Benefits of Functional Fitness
Because these exercises are so applicable to real-life movement, functional fitness has some pretty great benefits:
- Functional fitness works multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously, rather than isolating them. That means you’re improving your coordination and balance, which are necessary for nearly every movement of your daily life to keep you upright.
- Because you’re working to build strength for those everyday movements, you’re also minimizing your risk of injury. For example, when you’ve been practicing rows and squats, you’ll have strengthened all the muscles that you need to pick a heavy object up safely, which decreases your risk of “throwing your back out” doing normal activities.
- It’s not just for the everyday movements either: functional fitness can make you a better athlete in the gym or on the field too. If you increase the intensity of your functional fitness exercises (for example, with powerlifting and gymnastic-type moves), you can increase your muscle power, explosiveness, and stamina all at the same time! [*]
The bottom line: working on your functional fitness can keep you on your feet, prevent injuries, and actually improve your quality of life!
Functional Fitness Workouts
Like I mentioned above, functional fitness workouts can span a wide range of different exercises. The key things that you’re looking for are compound movements and/or complexes that work different muscle groups at the same time, activating your coordination and balance throughout the workout.
Here are a couple of my functional workouts:
Planks are epic as a functional move: they improve your balance and really activate your core, all of which add up to an easier time pushing yourself up off the ground. Check out this plyo plank tutorial for a more advanced variation on a classic.
Your own body weight is a great tool for working on your functional fitness, especially when you’re using it for explosive movements like the one in this Bodyweight Ladder workout. You aren’t moving anything in isolation during no-equipment workouts like this, so you’re forcing your whole body to coordinate throughout the movement. At the same time, you’re also activating your core and strengthening your ability to carry your own weight.
3. Bat Cave Training
Looking for superhero-level functional fitness? Check out this high-intensity training session where I use full-body explosive workouts using bodyweight and dumbbells.
Squats are a prime example of functional compound movements. They use multiple muscle groups at once and can be translated to a lot of real-life movements from lifting your kids to heavy furniture. This video walks you through different squat variations to keep the burn going.
What better way to add the function into your functional workout than by bringing your partner into the mix? This couple’s bodyweight workout adds a ton of compound and explosive movements so that you can give yourself a full-body workout that’ll literally help you carry your partner on your back!
The Bottom Line
Functional fitness takes all the benefits of working out and applies them to your real life, and that’s something we can all benefit from.
You only spend a couple of hours a week inside the gym, so if you want your workouts to make you a stronger and more athletic person the rest of the time, you should definitely be adding functional fitness into the mix.