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Functional Fitness, What Does That Even Mean?

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Winston Churchill once famously stated that “Americans always do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” For those of us who work in preventative care, it has been painfully obvious for quite some time now that we’ve tried “everything else” in regards to our health and wellness. That approach has most notably gotten us to two distinct places, more sick and near the brink of bankruptcy.

This statement is founded in the fact that as a country, we spend nearly $2.3 trillion, (yes trillion, with a ‘T’) on health care annually, which is leaps and bounds ahead of any other country, yet according to the World Health Organization, U.S. health care ranks 37th among other nations. We spend twice the amount on health care per capita as European countries, yet we are twice as sick with chronic diseases.

Why are these numbers so imbalanced? The problem can largely be attributed to the fact that nearly 100% of every dollar allotted towards health care is spent on treating the current issue as opposed to trying to prevent the issue from happening in the first place. Literally about 75% of current health care costs can be accounted for by the big five; breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, prostate cancer and obesity. And what’s maddening about these statistics is the fact that all five of these are largely preventable and in a lot of cases, reversible given some pointed and intentional lifestyle changes in terms of diet and exercise.

Now I do not claim to know how to fix the problem however, being a fitness professional throughout the last decade, I have seen some pretty great results along the way simply by instilling in people the importance of making healthy deposits. Because let's be honest, everything is important. That is, until you are sick, that’s when you realize there was only ever one thing that was important; your health. But nonetheless so many of us borrow from the bank of our health, taking loans on stress and sleepless nights to pay for something that at the end of the day doesn’t matter. And for quite a few individuals, it takes a decline in health to realize what actually matters the most.

So what does “making healthy deposits” mean? Aside from taking a good hard look at what you are consuming (including but not limited to food), today we are going to chat a little bit more about functional fitness. No, it’s not the newest ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ trend, it’s a way to train that teaches you how to move properly outside of the gym using exercises inside the gym. It’s learning how to properly move that couch that you don’t want to move. It’s learning how to put luggage in the overhead compartment without throwing out your back or dislocating your shoulder. It’s the act of engaging in everyday movements, properly.

The foundational movements we’re going to get into are universal however, depending on where you train or who you train with, there will probably be variations in lingo that’s used as well as different levels of importance placed on each movement. Technically, there are seven foundational movements: squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, twist and walk. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to put them in three main categories and expand from there.

  • Squats (which includes lunging)

  • Floor Lifts (often referred to as a “pull”, helps us engage in hinging)

  • Overhead Lifts (often referred to as a “push”)

Squats! In my professional opinion squats are one of, if not the most important functional move there ever was. A squat, even though typically seen incorporated on leg days, does a fantastic job of utilizing nearly every muscle in your body and becomes increasingly important as we age. Through the aging process, we gradually lose our ability to stand unassisted, it becomes harder and harder to pick things up off the floor and our own body weight can be difficult to carry around freely. To maintain our quality of life as we age, we need to focus on strengthening our hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, core and low back as well as ensure close to a full range of motion and squats helps us do this.

Pressing movements such as an overhead lift allow you to bring objects up overhead in a safe and efficient way. Similarly to a squat, overhead movements also do a great job of recruiting more muscles than just your arms and shoulders. In order to protect your low back while sustaining said load overhead, your core, glutes, quads and hamstrings need to be engaged as well. Shoulder injuries are nearly as prominent as low back injuries so the importance of not only strengthening the muscles involved with pressing movements but doing them properly is integral to your overall health and wellness and quality of life.

Lastly we have floor lifts, commonly referred to as pulls. You can think of this in terms of a deadlift or as I previously mentioned, moving a couch. These types of movements do a great job of strengthening your posterior chain as well as incorporating hinge movements which help strengthen your hips and hip flexors. Low back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year, add to that lost wages, as it’s also one of the most common reasons people miss work, that figure easily doubles. Knowing this, it’s incredibly important to engage in activities (such as functional fitness) in order to strengthen your low back and the surrounding musculature so you don’t fall victim to simply being another statistic.

Beyond the clear health benefits, learning and being able to perform each of these foundational movements allows you to feel more confident in your everyday life as well as expand on these and learn other important and fun movements to incorporate into your day to day routine.

For instruction videos and functional training content, visit our Functional Training Page.

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