Functional Fitness: Training for Real Life

In the Fitness industry there always seems to be a new trend or “buzz” word.

You may have heard of functional fitness or functional training. While the term has gained popularity over the last few years, the concept has been around for decades. The goal of a functional fitness program is to strengthen parts of your body that will help you perform activities throughout the day. Getting back to the basics!

What is a functional training program?

A functional exercise program includes exercise methods that engage the entire body to move in different directions and speeds. Often multi-directional it can incorporate multiple movements in one exercise, and the exercise programs are typically personalized and tailored to the individual. The exercises performed resemble or mimic the movements and movement patterns used in daily life and/or a particular sport or job.

Our daily life consists of performing many movements; walking, lifting, bending, pulling and, standing to name a few. Instead of moving only the biceps for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life.

Functional training forces your body to work against resistance to improve your strength and balance. It focuses on building a body capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions, not just lifting a certain amount of weight in an idealized posture created by a gym machine.

Functional training plays a strong role in injury prevention and is also a great way to more quickly rehabilitate after any injury.

Our Muscles Need to Work Together, Not in Isolation.

Often traditional weight training solely focuses on one muscle group at a time. The key to functional exercise is teaching your muscles to work together because that is how they function in life! By exercising your muscles in isolation, the strong muscles get stronger and the weak ones stay weak. This can create a pattern of compensation. Functional exercises teach isolated muscles how to work together because they work more than one muscle group at a time.

Does Functional Training Really Matter?

An American Council on Exercise (ACE) study showed that basic exercise programs that incorporate functional movement patterns provide significant benefits to all age groups therefore making the activities of daily life easier to perform, decreasing the risk of injury and increasing the quality of your life. You become more coordinated as your entire body works together to perform optimal movement. Without including functional exercises, you could have what you consider a great, heavy workout. Then go to the store, carry a few bags of groceries, and throw your back out.

Examples of Functional Exercises

Functional fitness starts with standing on your own two feet and supporting your weight. Bodyweight exercises are strength-training exercises that do not require free weights; the individual’s own weight provides the resistance for the movement. It may surprise you that working with your own body weight as opposed to fitness machines is more demanding on your body, and therefore a lot harder. Functional training should begin with body weight alone, and then can be progressed with various forms of resistance and stability equipment. The key is to master the basic movement before progressing an exercise with resistance or instability.

Some examples of functional exercises and how they related to daily activity:

Squat: It trains the muscles used when we rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects.

Deadlift: It supports us in picking up heavy Items off the floor; a purse, box, or even your child. It’s common for us to pull muscles in their backs while trying to lift heavy items because they have poor form.

Overhead Press: It supports the everyday activity of placing things over your head. This includes putting things on the shelves in your closet or lifting your suitcase in an overhead compartment on an airplane.

Rotational Movements: Exercises that rotate your body such as dumbbell chops are also functional. Many people injure their backs doing rotational or twisting movements. Backing our car out of a driveway or turning to grab something from the back seat are all things we do in our daily lives

Incorporate Functional Fitness

It is always appropriate to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

For any exercise, it is critical to ensure you are recruiting the proper muscles and performing the exercise in good form. Working with a qualified individual is a key component.

Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.

The bottom line is this: functional training prepares you for life. Try incorporating more dynamic moves and less isolation. You will enhance your body’s ability to function correctly during every day of your life and you will also get stronger and fitter as a result.

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Lynn Ortiz was born and raised in the D.C. metropolitan area, Lynn graduated from JFK High School in Silver Spring Maryland and University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. Her new career in personal fitness is far removed from the 30 years she spent in the corporate consulting world. Most recently, she worked for an IT consulting firm in various operational leadership positions. She came to Fitness Together in 2008 and lost 45 pounds as well as half her body fat. The impact that Fitness Together had on her life instilled a passion in her to pursue this work. Lynn made a huge decision to change careers and began working with Fitness Together Tysons in early 2010, becoming an Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AAFA) Certified Personal Trainer. She is certified by the American Senior Fitness Association as a senior personal trainer, and she is also a Certified Holistic Health Counselor. She enjoys working with the baby boomer/senior population because of how fitness can impact their health. To learn more about Fitness Together Tysons, visit or call 703.289.9909