Functional Fitness: What is it and why is it important?
In this guest post, Chōsen’s Strength and Conditioning Coach Taylor Rank explains why real life scenarios should always drive our approach to exercise.
Throughout the years, exercise methodologies have changed and evolved in response to new scientific findings about how the human body works or just general fitness trends. But constants also remain and, for me, one of the most important is the concept of functional fitness. Functional fitness is not a new idea, but with the growth in popularity of workout methods like CrossFit, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and boot camps, the term is getting bandied about more than ever. So what does functional fitness really mean? To me, functional fitness should just be thought of as performing “functional movements” or movements that can be used in real world situations. A squat (which I call the king of exercises) is the perfect example of a functional movement because it can be applied in thousands of instances, the most common being sitting down in or getting up from a chair. Push presses are also functional movements – they replicate putting a heavy object in a cabinet or overhead space – and so are lunges which mimic climbing stairs. You perform a deadlift every time you pick up a bag of groceries. And it’s not just individual exercises; swimming, biking, running and gymnastics are also all functional movements because they all occur in daily life outside of training. I really could go on and on. But why is performing functional movements, and therefore improving functional fitness, important? To answer that, we have to look at the overall goal or purpose of physical training in the first place. For most people, exercise isn’t just about maintaining health or physical appearance; it’s also about improving life quality and enhancing the efficiency with which we perform daily tasks. Single joint, singular plane movements have few real world applications, which is not to say they do not serve a purpose, just that, on their own, they won’t help you much outside the gym. Whereas constantly varied functional movements yield a far larger benefit in daily life. I simply believe that, given we live in the real world, we should use our time training to optimize our performance in that environment. And we can do that by performing a diverse range of functional movements in varied intensities and for different periods of time. And variation really is key here. If you run the same route each day, you are performing a functional movement, but you’re not optimizing your functional fitness because you’re constantly working the same muscles for the same period of time. If you want to improve your overall “real life fitness level”, you would do far better to mix up your run with different gradients or, better yet, switch up your routine with some sprints, swimming, weights training or stair climbs. Use your training time to prepare for life, and you can prepare for life to get a whole lot easier! Taylor Rank is currently hosting a Chōsen program in Bali that focuses on functional fitness, increasing body awareness and optimizing training to minimize risk of injury and fast-track recovery. He will also lead The Mindful Athlete program in June.