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Functional Fitness

Joe Fleming provides an overview of functional fitness and the benefits of these workouts for you.

At its very core, functional fitness truly is fitness that helps you function. This may sound redundant because, technically, does not all fitness help you function better with increased endurance, strength, and flexibility? While that is true, the goal of functional fitness exercises is more to train your body's muscles to work together mimicking actions that you might do in your non-fitness life - daily actions like rising out of bed, carrying groceries, vacuuming, taking the stairs at work, or playing tag with your kids.

Functional fitness programs incorporate a variety of bodyweight exercises with strength-training, coordination, balance, agility, and aerobics. You may find functional fitness activities mixed in with circuit training and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) during a fitness boot camp or taught stand-alone in its class altogether. Many yoga and tai chi practices naturally blend functional fitness movements with deep breathing, stretching, and body weight poses too.

You can also do basic functional fitness workouts at home or in the gym once you know some standard exercises and acquire helpful tools like resistance bands, medicine balls, dumbbells, exercise balls, and kettlebells.

Benefits of Functional Fitness

Functional fitness often plays a role in the exercise regimens of older adults. Still, it is gaining ground with even the youngest avid gym-goers as more and more people are seeing the adverse effects of sedentary lifestyles taking their toll. Benefits of functional fitness include:

Widespread muscle and joint recruitment - the goal of functional fitness is to engage multiple muscle groups and joints at once to condition the body for an active life, not necessarily for excelling in a specific sport. The development of muscular strength combined with joint mobility and coordination can help counteract musculoskeletal imbalances that develop over time from prolonged sitting, poor workout habits, and so forth.

Reduced body fat - a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that functional training significantly improved the body composition and lipid profiles in postmenopausal women by reducing their body fat and cholesterol levels. By triggering the use of more muscles during functional fitness exercises, you naturally use up more energy (calories) which can contribute to healthy weight loss.

Reduced risk of injury - by supercharging how you can complete basic activities of daily living, functional fitness naturally reduces your risk of incurring an injury from them. For example, strengthening the movements you make to carry groceries or do yard work can safeguard you against muscle strains you might otherwise experience doing those things.

Improved quality of life - imagine it, if everything you do in a day from standing up to sitting down to carrying and lifting items if all of it was easier and less stressful to your body (and brain) then life overall would be better, right? That is the ultimate goal of functional fitness. By empowering your everyday activities and bolstering your health, you can live a better and more active lifestyle.

Protects against falls - functional fitness that specifically addresses come risk factors for falling is critical towards the health and longevity of older adults. An estimated one in four adults over 65 experience a fall every year. This is often due to difficulties like traversing stairs or getting in and out of the shower. Functional fitness strengthens a senior's strength, balance, and ability to correct their body in the event of a slip or stumble to prevent a fall.

Enhanced mobility - by improving your natural movement skills, functional fitness can improve your overall mobility. Functional fitness is multidimensional and reinforces the body mechanics that help keep you mobile like your ability to sit down, stand up, climb stairs, and walk or stand for extended periods.

Common Functional Fitness Exercises

If you are wondering what some of the most common functional fitness exercises are that you can do, check out the essential list below.

  • Squats
  • Standing bicep curls
  • Single leg bicep row
  • Kettlebell snatch
  • Overhead dumbbell press
  • Multi-directional lunges (i.e. forward lung, a reverse lunge with rotation)
  • Kettlebell Turkish get-up
  • Stability ball push-ups
  • Breakdancer push-up

Ultimately, you want to master five-movement patterns including pushing, pulling, squatting, the deadlift, and the lunge. Your exercises will occur across three movement planes too - side to side (frontal), forward and backward (sagittal), and twisting/rotating around the centre line (rotational).

Depending on your goals, your functional fitness routine may vary slightly from someone else. For example, an older adult might focus on functional fitness that helps them with getting in and out of the car, carrying bags, and climbing stairs. A younger adult who works full-time as a nurse, on the other hand, may target more functional fitness exercises that help him or her with transferring and lifting patients and standing on their feet all day.

Functional fitness can also contribute to targeted pain relief, helping people to recuperate after an injury and thus prevent injuries down the line. For example, if you wear a brace to help with upper back pain, functional fitness activities that purposefully strengthen the arm, back, and core muscles can work to relieve the stress on your upper back.

Tips for Getting Started with Functional Fitness

If you do not exercise regularly, you can increase your risk of injury by jumping into a new intense workout regimen, even if it focuses on functional fitness. Going from zero to Turkish get-ups could result in muscle strain or inflammation that sidelines your workout routine altogether. Experts recommend always talking with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you are over 40 or pregnant.

Functional fitness, like any other fitness methodology, is most successful (and the safest) when guided by a knowledgeable instructor. Whether it is a personal trainer, a class instructor at your gym, or an expert tutorial you stream online, always learn the best way to do functional fitness exercises before attempting to do them yourself.

Beginners should consider starting with just bodyweight exercises, even utilizing a pool to reduce the initial impact on the joints. Over time, you can work up towards incorporating equipment into your routine and progressively doing harder, more challenging exercises.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2018) Functional Fitness [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. To inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health, and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces, and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.