Functional Fitness: What Is It and How Do You Do It?

Prevent injuries and get the most from your workout by following this technique.


By Cindy Piper


Marines preparing for combat emphasize functional fitness. Many firefighters use functional movement exercises to help them fight fires. CrossFit athletes use “constant varied, high intensity, functional movements,” to train for their events. Why do they workout this way?

Functional fitness programs teach your muscles to work together and this helps to prevent injuries. Functional exercises improve your daily life because you build up the muscle groups you use on a day-to-day basis. It is impressive to be able to use the leg press machine to lift a high load and have the sexiest body around, but if you pull a muscle lifting a bag of groceries or moving an appliance, the workout probably wasn’t practical for you. This is because traditional strengthening exercises typically isolate muscle groups. Functional fitness aids your muscles to be balanced, which will help in your daily life to prevent injuries. Have you heard of the Rhomboid muscle? Probably not unless you are a healthcare provider or a fitness professional. If you injure it, you will definitely feel it. It is a small muscle in the back that connects your spine to the shoulder blade. Its purpose is to help you have good posture. This is one example of why it is important to strengthen muscles evenly. If you injure this small muscle, it can cause a lot of pain.

When is the last time you lifted a 100 pounds of dog food over your head to put on a shelf? I know it is not something I do on a regular basis, but most of us use the stairs more often. These normal movements are actually very complex and require muscles to work together harmoniously.

Just going up and down the stairs uses your hips, knees, calf muscles, ankles, balls of your feet, toes and quadriceps- just to name some of the muscles. This shows that this regular activity involves multiple joints and muscles to work together.

Core exercises are at the heart of functional fitness programs. Hope Zvara, creator of Core Functional Fitness, explains why: “Everything we do comes from our core and how we exercise should best reflect how we choose to live.”

It is wise to start off learning to control your own body weight, which brings to mind yoga. Yoga can be functional training if you do exercises that imitate your daily activities. For example, I am a homemaker and I do a lot of laundry, this requires me to bend over. A yoga pose that would be good for me to do is downward facing dog. Yoga exercises strengthen the core which helps all of our movements. There are many yoga poses that help build a strong core.

Pilates is another form of exercise that focuses on functionality. Pilates helps your spine to be in alignment through strengthening the core muscles. We move our spines in many different directions throughout our day.

To make a plan that is right for you, figure out what exercises work the muscles you use regularly. I vacuum a lot because I clean up after three little kids. To prevent injury, I do lunges in three directions because they mimic the way I move when vacuuming. Lunges also help me when doing yard work. I also enjoy video editing and sit at my computer to do this activity.

It is important to have a good posture while doing computer activities. Exercises such as planks, crunches and squat presses are a good way strengthen the core which can improve your posture. I lift children a lot. My five-year-old and three-year-old love being carried to bed as a “sack of potatoes.” I carry them upside down over my shoulder. They laugh all the way to their beds. One exercise I like to do to prepare me for this nightly ritual is standing overhead tricep dumbbell extension. Try writing down your most common daily activities. Then you can search online for functional exercises that strengthen those muscle groups. These movements should mimic your everyday tasks.

If you need more ideas, try a yoga or Pilates classes. Some gyms even offer functional fitness classes. If you are still not sure what exercises will fit your individual needs, try consulting a personal trainer who is well versed in the ways of functional fitness. Make sure they have a good idea of your daily activities, and any problems you have or you might end up experiencing “ impersonal training.”

It may seem expensive to use a personal trainer, but a good personal trainer will teach you how to work out independently. This way, you don't need them every time you workout; they can just help you develop a plan.

Hopefully these ideas will help you on your path to a functional fitness plan.

Cindy lives in Michigan with her husband and three children. Her children keep her very active. She is a homemaker and enjoys making healthy meals at home for her family. One of her favorite activities is exercise. She loves reading about health topics and writing on her blog. Cindy takes courses about health through Coursera and iTunes University.

Main Photo Credit: Vereshchagin Dmitry/; Second Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia/; Third Photo Credit: itman__47/; Fourth Photo Credit: Holbox/

Wed Nov 18 06:57:33 UTC 2015