Getting started with functional fitness

From the bicep curl to the tricep extension, conventional weight-bearing exercises isolate muscle groups for maximum return. That’s great if you’re chasing a beach-ready body. But it doesn’t translate if your goal is to be able to swing a jack hammer, reach up to get something off a shelf, or even get out of your office chair without hurting yourself.

A trainer from the Cooper Clinic, a Texas Mutual policyholder, demonstrates a simple exercise that is good for people who suffer from arthritis.

For those everyday tasks, you need functional fitness.

Functional fitness exercises improve our posture, flexibility, range of motion, joint alignment, bone density and core strength.

So how do you get there? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Consult your doctor. Before you start any exercise program, consult your doctor, especially if you have a heart condition, asthma or other health issues.

Work with a professional. An Internet search for “functional fitness basics” yields a laundry list of results. If you want more guidance, enlist a certified trainer’s help, or see if your local gym offers functional fitness classes.

Identify your needs. Muscular strength and endurance are different concepts. Hefting 50-pound bags of concrete on a construction site requires strength. Lugging a relatively light bag of groceries up three flights of stairs leans on muscular endurance. Think about what you want to get out of functional fitness, and then choose exercises that meet your needs.

Choose exercises that meet your needs. Functional fitness exercises mimic movements we do in our everyday lives. Multidirectional lunges prepare your body for vacuuming and yardwork. Stair climbs with bicep curls condition your legs and arms for carrying groceries to your second-floor apartment. Identify exercises that will prepare your body for the rigors of the job – whether on or off the clock.

Don’t ditch traditional training. While the benefits of functional fitness are well-documented, the bench press, curl and other mainstays of strength training have their place. Experts advise you to treat functional fitness as s complement to, not a replacement for, traditional strength training.

Start with your body weight. By starting with your body weight, you’ll teach your body to control and balance its own weight before handling heavier loads.

Focus on form. Power lifters looking to gain mass work their muscles to fatigue. For example, they might do bench press reps until their body physically can’t do another. Functional fitness stresses form over quantity. When you can no longer do an exercise with proper form, it’s time for a break.

Invest in tools of the trade. You don’t need a fancy gym to invest in functional fitness. Most sporting goods stores offer stability balls, medicine balls, kettlebells, foam rollers, resistance bands, free-weights and other low-tech tools of the trade.

Follow our series on functional fitness
This post is the final installment in our series on functional fitness. If you missed previous installments, click on the links below:

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