Written By: Chelsea Myer, BS, CHES, CPT
What is functional exercise?
Functional exercise training is described as a classification of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life. Activities of daily living (ADLs) include any activities we perform throughout the day that fall into the categories of personal hygiene:
Functional exercises are movements that make performing these tasks easier, and help us complete ADLs independently and as safely as possible. Functional exercises are typically performed at a higher intensity than your average resistance training. (1)
The basis of functional exercises are movements that involve resistance training that directly enhance the performance of ADLs by strengthening muscles, improving balance, and practicing movement across multiple joints and muscle groups. For example, lunges work multiple muscle groups, like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. Lunge strengthening exercises also assist us with activities such as going up stairs, walking uphill, stepping into cars, etc.
Why is functional training important? What are the benefits?
Aside from the clear benefit of making ADLs easier to perform, functional strength training is an excellent way to prevent injury. This training is labeled as "functional" because it improves balance and coordination, while also improving muscular strength and endurance by enhancing the relationship between our muscular and nervous systems. Strengthening the muscles that help us move throughout the day can lower our risks of falls, ease joint pain (by strengthening the surrounding muscles), and help prevent injuries due to muscle strain, weak joints, and falls. Functional movements are also time-efficient when compared to other types of strength training, given that we are able to work multiple muscle groups at the same time. This is efficient for strength training and weight loss, if that is your goal. Adding a few higher intensity full-body exercise sessions to your weekly physical activity routine can boost the calories you burn throughout the day. Functional movements can also be completed anywhere, whether you exercise at the gym, at the park, at home—minimal equipment is required as most of these movements can be completed with just body weight. You can also get creative and use household items as weights (such as water jugs, cans, resistance bands etc.)
How do I include functional exercises into my physical activity routine?
For the average exerciser, strength training should be incorporated into your routine at least 2x per week, for 30-45 minutes each session. This can also translate to older adults and those with chronic conditions or injuries. There may be a need to modify some movements, in which case ivira recommends you speak with a personal trainer, physical therapist, health coach, or other qualified health professional. If you are a beginner, always start with bodyweight exercises before adding additional resistance with weights or bands. (2)
Here is a list of functional exercises to work into your exercise regimen:
Continue to incorporate other types of physical activity into your routine, such as cardio, yoga, walking, etc. We want to be dynamic exercisers and work on all different types of physical activity in order to receive maximum benefits. Don't forget that "functionality" is relative and exists on a continuum. What is functional for some may not be functional for others. Just as with all types of exercise, rest and recovery are still essential. The more intense the workout, the more rest your body may need. "Active rest" days that include stretching and light activity, such as walking, are essential for muscle recovery and have the highest potential of giving us the results we are looking for. If you are unsure of how much you should exercise, please consult your doctor or another qualified professional. Again, always strive for safety. If you are at a higher risk of falling or injury, please work with a qualified fitness professional and do not exercise alone.
Functional training is exactly what it sounds like—functional. If you would like to learn more about functional exercise, or how to personalize your training plan, please reach out to an ivira Health Coach. Call our care coordination team at 302-274-0020 to learn more.
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