Functional fitness is a term that has been made much more common with the creation and growth of crossfit. Basically, functional fitness means training your body to deal with everyday activities. When I work with my clients at Forever Fitness, I ask them to project their vision of health and fitness and then we can develop a program to get them there. Functional fitness typically involves using non-traditional training equipment.
Define Functional Fitness
To train for functional fitness, you should start by defining your current (benchmark) state. Do you have any physical limitations such as injuries or weaknesses? What are your strengths? What are the current demands on your body? As you can tell, these questions are very individual to you. Don't skip this step as it is critical to know the answers in order to design a program that will work for you.
Next, you'll determine what functional looks like to you. This vision statement gives you a picture of what you want to be able to do. For me, I want to be able to have the stamina to play sand volleyball. I want to be able to move my body and objects without injuring myself, especially my lower back.
Focusing on functional fitness is going to push you to do workouts that are relevant. As a result, you're much more like to stick with the program and meet your fitness goals.
Training for Functional Fitness
I strongly encourage you to hire a personal trainer to help develop a functional program. It can be quite difficult to build an exercise program that will effectively hit on multiple fitness modalities and avoid injuries. A dedicated personal trainer can help you get started and stay engaged as you build your functional fitness.
Part of your programming should focus on correcting your weaknesses. Strengthening my core is integral for me to avoid back injury while I lift weights to build the strength I want. I also need to focus on my mobility for the same reason.
After considering your weaknesses, you can get some work done to improve your strengths. But it might take some patience to get your weaknesses addressed to a point it is safe to train strengths. Again, that is an area where a personal trainer can help. Once you're ready, you'll likely work on continuous improvement on your weak areas while you progressively push your strengths.
Functional Fitness Tools
Here are a few tools you may want to invest in (or seek out at the gym):
- Kettlebell – A ball with a handle in many different weights. The awkward shape of the kettlebell makes it valuable across many fitness modalities (strength, balance, endurance). An example of a good kettlebell exercise is the Russian kettlebell swing. This exercise works endurance and builds strength across the posterior chain (back, butt, and hamstrings).
- Agility Ladder – A ladder-like piece of cloth or plastic that you lay on the floor. The various exercises are to move through the ladder from side to side as you go through. The object is to move through the ladder as quickly as possible to build agility and speed.
- Medicine Ball – A large, soft, weighted ball. The most common exercises for the medicine ball are wall balls and medicine ball slams. In the wall ball, you hold the ball at your chest facing a wall. You squat and on way up you throw the ball (using your legs) up to a target that is 8 – 12 feet off the ground. Medicine ball slams involve bringing the medicine ball over your head and throwing it against the floor. Both of these exercises work endurance and strength.
- Battle Ropes – Long, thick (1 1/2 – 2 inch) ropes. The length and thickness of the battle rope determines the intensity of the exercises. The rope is attached to a wall or post and you grasp both ends of the rope. Making various wave patterns builds endurance and strength.
- Weighted Sled – A sled that allows you to stack weights to add resistance. You grasp the handles and using your legs you drive the sled forward as quickly as possible (much like pushing a car).
- Sandbags – Sandbags come in different sizes and weight. Some have handles, but I find the ones without handles to be more effective for functional fitness as grasping them is harder. You can build an entire workout using sandbags and bodyweight.
- Clubbells – Invented in India, clubbells are clubs with weighted ends. Swinging the clubs helps build strength and thorasic mobility.
- Tires – Old truck and tractor tires provide for strength, endurance and power work when you work to flip and jump over them.
- Rubber Mallets/Sledge Hammer – Using tools like this to hit or pound a tire helps build strength and endurance, expecially grip strength.
Obviously, I've gone over a lot of exercises and you may not be able to picture all of them. You can find examples on youtube, but I'd strongly encourage you to work with a trainer so you can maximize your functional fitness and avoid injury.