Discover how functional fitness exercises can enhance your daily life by boosting your muscle and joint strength and flexibility.
Do you want to improve your ability to do everyday tasks without pain or injury? If so, you might want to try functional fitness. Unlike gym machines, which isolate your muscles and make you lift a fixed amount of weight in a perfect position, functional fitness challenges your whole body and prepares you for the real world.
As we get older our bodies change and we become less active. This leads to loss of muscle mass and strength which can make it harder for us to do everyday tasks, like carrying groceries, climbing stairs, or getting up from a chair. Practicing functional fitness exercises can delay or prevent these changes, improving your quality of life and maintaining your independence.
The special advantage of functional fitness training
Training your muscles to work together is especially important as you age because you may be at risk of sarcopenia, a type of muscle loss that occurs with aging or immobility. This can affect your gait, balance, and ability to perform daily tasks.
But there is a way to slow down or even reverse this process of muscle loss, and that is resistance training. Resistance training is a type of exercise that makes your muscles work against a force, like weights, bands, or your own body weight. Resistance training improves the strength and health of your muscles and bones as well.
The CDC recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week. These activities should work all the major muscle groups, such as the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms, and can include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, carrying heavy loads like groceries, or doing heavy gardening.
But not all resistance training is the same. Some exercises are more useful than others for improving your ability to do everyday tasks. These exercises are called functional fitness exercises. Functional fitness exercises are designed to improve your ability to perform everyday activities with ease and safety. They train your whole body by using multiple muscles and joints at the same time, which mimics the way you move in real life. For example, when you squat, you use your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core to lower and raise your body. This can help you with tasks like sitting in a chair, picking up objects from the floor, or climbing stairs. Functional fitness exercises also improve your balance, coordination, flexibility, and mobility, which can prevent injuries and enhance your quality of life.
Common functional fitness exercises
Common examples of functional fitness exercises are the deadlift (lifting a barbell or a weight from the floor to the level of the hips and then lowering it back to the floor), assisted lunge with press (lunging with one foot forward while adding an overhead press with a dumbbell), and resisted squat with overhead press (standing on a resistance band and squatting down while performing an overhead press with the band as you stand up).
A great thing about functional fitness exercises is that they are adaptable and customizable for anyone, no matter their age or fitness level. You can change or modify them to fit your abilities and objectives.
The American Council on Exercise offers a variety of videos and articles that show you how to do functional fitness exercises safely and effectively, whether you are at home or at the gym. Below are a few examples of functional fitness exercises that you can try right away. You can do these at home with a chair or a resistance band, which is a long, elastic band that you can use to create tension and challenge your muscles.
Bicep curl: Bicep curls are a great exercise to work the bicep muscle, which is the large muscle on the front of your upper arm. The bicep muscle helps you perform many everyday activities, such as lifting and carrying things, pulling objects toward you, or pulling yourself up. By strengthening your biceps, you can make these tasks easier and prevent injuries.
Here is how to do bicep curls using a resistance band:
- While seated or standing, step on the middle of the band with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one end of the band in each hand, with your palms facing up and your arms straight by your sides. This is your starting position.
- Curl your hands toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows close to your body and squeezing your biceps. You should feel the band getting tighter as you lift.
- Hold the top position for a second, then slowly lower your hands back to the starting position. Do not let the band snap back or lose tension.
- Repeat for as many reps as you can, or until you feel your muscles fatigue. You can adjust the difficulty of the exercise by changing the length or width of the band, or by using a different band with more or less resistance.
Core activation: Core activation involves engaging your core muscles, which are the muscles that support your spine, pelvis, and abdomen. By drawing your abdominal and pelvic muscles in, you can improve your posture and prevent slouching. This is important to protect your spine and keep it from compressing, which can cause pain and injury. Core activation can help you sit up, stand up, bend over, twist, or reach. It can also improve your balance and stability, which can prevent falls and fractures.
You can do core activation exercises with or without equipment, but here are two simple exercises that you can do with just a chair and the floor:
- Seated march: Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands on your ab muscles. Pull your abs in and feel them contract under your hands. Breathe normally and keep your spine straight. Lift one leg off the floor as if you are marching, then lower it back down. Repeat with the other leg. Do this for as long as you can, or until you feel your abs fatigue.
- Lying march: Lie on your back on the floor with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Place your hands on your lower abs. Gently pull your abs in and lift your pelvic floor. This will create a slight tilt in your pelvis. Keep this position as you lift one foot off the floor and place it back down. Repeat with the other foot. Do this for as long as you can, or until you feel your abs fatigue.
Rowing: rowing consists of pulling a handle attached to a band, cable, or chain, which simulates the motion of rowing a boat. Rowing works the muscles between your shoulder blades and behind your shoulders, which are important for posture and shoulder health. Rowing also helps you keep your spine upright and protect it from compression. Rowing can help you carry groceries, open doors, or pull objects.
Here is how to do rowing using a resistance band:
- While seated or standing, step on the middle of the band with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one end of the band in each hand, with your palms facing inward and your arms straight by your sides. This is your starting position.
- Pull the band toward your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades together. You should feel your back muscles working as you pull.
- Hold the end position for a second, then slowly return to the starting position. Do not let the band slacken or lose tension.
- Repeat for as many reps as you can, or until you feel your muscles fatigue.
Stretching for posture: One of the common problems that older people face is having a rounded forward posture and a forward head. This means that your shoulders are slouched and your head is tilted forward. This can cause tension and pressure in the neck and upper back, and can affect breathing and balance. Stretching loosens the tight muscles and strengthens the weak ones in your chest, neck, and upper back, which can improve posture and prevent pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Stretching can also help you breathe easier and stand taller by opening up your chest and bringing your head back to a neutral position.
You can do stretching for posture exercises with or without equipment, but here is a simple exercise that you can do with just the floor:
- Lying T stretch: Lie on your back on the floor with your arms open in a T position, level with your shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds at first, and gradually work your way up to 3 minutes. If you feel any discomfort, you can bend your elbows slightly. This will stretch your chest and shoulder muscles.
- Chin tuck: Now bring your arms back to your sides and relax. Tilt your chin in and down, as if you are making a double chin. Keep the back of your head on the floor and breathe deeply. Do 5 repetitions at first, and gradually work your way up to 10 repetitions. This will stretch your neck and upper back muscles.
Triceps extension: Triceps extensions work the triceps muscle, which is the muscle on the back of your upper arm. The triceps muscle helps you perform many everyday activities, such as pushing yourself up from a chair, scooting on the edge of a bed, opening or closing a door, or lifting a suitcase. By doing triceps extensions, you can make your triceps stronger and more toned.
Here is how to do triceps extension using a resistance band:
- Hold the band in both hands and sit up tall with your abs pulled in and your shoulders back and down. This is your starting position.
- Bring one hand to your chest, placing your knuckles on your chest to keep your wrist neutral. This hand will anchor the band and stay still.
- Pull the other hand away from your chest and straighten your elbow, extending your arm behind you. You should feel the band getting tighter as you extend.
- Hold the end position for a second, then slowly bend your elbow and bring your hand back to your chest. Do not let the band snap back or lose tension.
- Repeat for 12 to 15 reps, then switch hands and do the same on the other side.
The bottom line
The goal of functional fitness is to make you better at doing daily tasks with comfort and safety. It works your whole body by using many muscles and joints at the same time, which is similar to how you move in real life. For example, when you squat, you engage your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and more to lower and lift your body. This can help you with tasks like sitting in a chair, picking up objects from the floor, or climbing stairs. Functional fitness exercises also enhance your balance, coordination, flexibility, and mobility. By strengthening the muscles in the same way you would need to use them for certain tasks, preventing straining or pulling something when you do tasks like sitting in a chair, and improving your balance and posture, functional fitness exercises can reduce your risk of injury and increase your quality of life. Functional fitness exercises are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, as they can be modified or adapted to suit your needs and goals. Functional fitness exercises are a great way to keep your body healthy and functional for everyday life.