I referenced Functional Fitness in my post about the Turkish Get Up so I thought I would discuss it a bit more. There are always new buzzwords in the exercise world and Functional Fitness is really hot right now. It has also been around for years, in fact, it is fancy talk for “stuff you do every day.” When I was working on my Silver Sneakers certification we learned to compare the movement we were doing to the way we would use this movement in real life.
A dead lift or deep squat is similar to lifting a child or grocery bags. Overhead press is the motion used to put dishes in a cupboard. A diagonal reach with a medicine ball mimics reaching for something off the top shelf of your closet. One foot typically comes off the ground and one are reaches further, putting you off-balance. Think about how many muscles are having to work together to allow you to do function each day. If you quit working those muscles, they will quit working together.
I’m not a big fan of machines at the gym- I use them if I want to see how much weight I can press, but they aren’t practical. How often would you ever sit in a chair and push super heavy weight with your legs? Or lay on your belly and curl your legs behind you? Dumbbells, barbells, bands, balls, and Bosu‘s are much more practical and you don’t need to invest a lot of money to get a good workout. The object is to have strong muscles that work well together, not as individuals.
So, what are the best functional exercises? Here are a few of my favorites Part 1:
1. Medicine ball squat with overhead lift
Functionality: Even though you lift things – like groceries, your kids, and other objects – with your arms, your legs and back are also key players. This exercise strengthens your legs, glutes, lower back, arms and shoulders.
Exercise: Stand with your feet wide, holding a light medicine ball in front of you in both hands. Squat down moving your rear back, keeping your knees over your ankles and lower the medicine ball to the floor while keeping your head up and back straight (don’t hunch). Return to a start position and lift the medicine ball up over your head. Repeat squat and lower ball to the ground.
Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Increase weight of the ball as you get stronger. When you get really good, try it on a bosu or balance board.
2. Stair climb with bicep curl
If you don't have weights- improvise!
Functionality: Whether you have stairs at your house or have to climb them elsewhere, using stairs as part of your fitness program will keep your legs conditioned – not to mention toned. Partnering stair climbs with bicep curls will strengthen your arms and improve your ability to carry things up the stairs. This exercise will also boost your cardiovascular fitness.
Exercise: Stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs holding a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell in each hand. Climb the stairs while performing bicep curls. Walk or run down the stairs holding the weights but not doing curls.
Repeat 5 to 10 times. Increase the dumbbell weight as your arms get stronger and mix up your climbs by taking two steps at a time for a flight or two.
Functionality: This exercise improves your core strength and balance as well as strengthens and tones your shoulders.
Add a knee raise to waist level for balance and core strength
Exercise: Stand tall with a 5-pound weight in each hand, arms to your sides. Lift your right knee until it reaches hip level while simultaneously lifting your arms straight out to the side to form a T at your shoulders. Hold for 2 seconds making sure your belly button is pulled back towards your spine then lower to start position.
Repeat 10 to 15 times for each leg. Increase the weight of the dumbbells as you get stronger. If you are a beginner, don’t use weights or use very light weights, especially for women. A lateral raise is not easy so you need to build up. When you get really good, close your eyes at the top of the movement when your knee is bent at the waist and arms out. This isn’t easy, regardless of skill level.
4. Torso rotation with medicine ball
Functionality: Having strong obliques is key in avoiding lower back injuries. This exercise improves the strength and coordination of all of your core muscles – and will improve your tone and tighten your waist.
Exercise: Sit on the ground with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, holding a medicine ball at your chest with both hands. Lean your torso back away from your thighs, increasing the angle at your hips and pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Maintaining your hip angle, rotate your torso to the right, moving your right elbow towards the floor behind you. Return center and rotate to the left.
Repeat 10 to 15 times for each side. As you get stronger, perform the rotations with straighter arms and/or use a heavier medicine ball. Always keep your belly button pulled in.
Investing in a medicine ball is a good idea but this can be done without one.