Mayo Clinic Health Library

Functional fitness training: Is it right for you?

Updated: 10-30-2010

Do you live to exercise? Unless you're an elite athlete, you probably answered no to that question. Most people, in fact, would say they exercise to improve their quality of life.

And that's the focus of functional fitness. Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of basketball with your kids.

What is functional fitness training?

Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability. For example, a squat to bicep curl is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you pick up an object from the floor or a table. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.

Functional fitness exercises can be done at home or at the gym. Gyms may offer functional fitness classes or incorporate functional fitness into boot camps or other types of classes. Exercise tools, such as fitness balls, kettle bells and weights, are often used in functional fitness workouts.

What are the benefits of functional fitness training?

Functional exercises tend to be multijoint, multimuscle exercises. Instead of only moving the elbows, 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.

What are examples of functional fitness exercises?

Functional fitness exercises use multiple joints and muscles at once to train your whole body. Examples include:

  • Multidirectional lunges
  • Squat to bicep curl
  • Step-ups with weights

Multidirectional lunges prepare your body for common activities, such as vacuuming and yardwork. To do a lunge, you keep one leg in place and step out with the other leg — to the front, back or side — until your knee reaches a 90-degree angle and your rear knee is parallel to the floor.

The squat to bicep curl uses weights and mimics the action of lifting a laundry basket, laptop bag or young child from the floor. To do a squat to biceps curl, you start with your feet about shoulder-width apart, spine straight and your core stable. Holding the dumbbells at your side, slowly bend through the hips, knees and ankles until your knees reach a 90-degree angle. As you slowly return to the starting position, turn your palms toward the ceiling, flex your arms and curl the dumbbells in toward your shoulders.

Are functional fitness exercises for everyone?

If you're over age 40, haven't exercised for some time or have health problems, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Similarly, women who are pregnant should check with their doctors.

It's also a good idea to start with exercises that use only your own body weight for resistance. As you become more fit and are ready for more of a challenge, you can add more resistance in the form of weights, resistance tubing or performing movements in the water.

The functional fitness payoff

As you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform your everyday activities and, thus, in your quality of life. That's quite a return on your exercise investment.

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