Functional Fitness: Start with the Core

With a powerful core, you'll gain both balance and control of your body during complex movements.


By Sara Vallejo


The benefits of strength training and cardiovascular exercise are well documented. We know that aerobic and endurance exercise are good for the heart, and weightlifting can help prevent against metabolic and heart diseases. But there’s another way fitness can improve your health: it can allow you to perform functional tasks better and with a lesser risk of injury. These functional tasks involve the ways we use our bodies on a day-to-day basis, from carrying groceries and playing with children, to tidying up around the house. Functional fitness may even help improve balance in older adults and decrease the risk of falling.

What makes functional fitness different?

Unlike performing sets of bicep curls or leg presses, functional fitness involves multiple muscle groups and joints, more closely mimicking everyday movements.

These movements include lifting, reaching, and rotating, and require that muscle groups work together, not in isolation. Functional fitness determines your ability to safely and easily perform everyday activities. Even athletes can benefit from functional fitness, especially core-strengthening exercises.

At the core of it

A strong core is the foundation of functional fitness—just ask anyone who’s thrown out their back when hoisting a moving box! The movements we use throughout our daily lives rely on our core working in conjunction with our upper or lower body. The core serves as a powerful stabilizer for the body both in exercise and in daily actions and transfers energy from the lower to the upper body and vice versa. A powerful core helps with both balance and control of the body during complex movements.

The core is comprised of the muscles in the trunk of the body that connect to the lower back or pelvis and include: the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack”), paraspinal and gluteal muscles (posterior), erector spinae, multifidus, the pelvic floor and hip flexors and abductors. While you may do ab work to get and maintain a sleek and muscled midsection, training all the muscles of the core can help you across all areas of fitness: improving your athletic ability while also increasing your functional fitness. So don’t count crunches out, but expand your repertoire of core exercises to train the other important muscle groups that make up your core.

Training your whole core

Overtraining your abs while neglecting your obliques, back and hips can lead to injury and limit athletic performance. When looking to add core-strengthening exercises to your routine, think beyond exercises that work a single muscle or muscle group. Opt for exercises that engage multiple muscle groups.

Focus on body weight and free weight/dumbbell exercises instead of pumping iron on weight machines. These exercises, especially those done in a standing position, engage more muscles per rep. As a bonus, since they require only a few weights, many of these can easily be done at home.

So where should you start? Try a few classic moves, like weighted squats, lunges, Russian twists and bent-over rows. These exercises may not seem like core exercises, but rely on the muscles of the core for stability and are a great way to build functional exercises into your fitness routine.

Sara Vallejo is a self-confessed happiness, health and self-development junkie from Chicago. She writes professionally in a business development and marketing capacity, and as a volunteer for a digital nonprofit. Miss Vallejo is a passionate mental and holistic health advocate who believes that good health is an ongoing journey best undertaken with supportive peers. Sara’s areas of expertise include nutrition, weight loss, women’s health, mental health and disability issues. She is returning to weight loss and fitness following orthopedic surgery and is excited to encourage and inspire fellow Azumio community members and readers to achieve the best health they can.

Main Photo Credit: Syda Productions/; Second Photo Credit: holbox/; Third Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/