Having good functional fitness refers to the ability to perform everyday activities with ease and balance. Functional fitness training therefore focuses on exercises that are designed to train and develop the muscles required when performing everyday movements and tasks (e.g. lifting your children or carrying groceries up stairs).
A good example of a key functional exercise is the basic squat. This movement engages the muscles you use to sit down, stand up, and pick up low objects in your daily life. Free weights can also be used to build up functional fitness. As a staple in any gym, free weights are often the first thing that comes to mind when envisioning bodybuilding and weight training.
Even with the advent of complex pulley and cable machines and other modern gym equipment, the humble free weights continue to stand the test of time and are a core part of any functional training program.
Benefits of functional training
Functional exercises can be performed using on body weight, but as your fitness improves over time, introducing free weights into your exercise regime is necessary to yield excellent results.
Like most training, some machines can impede on the movement of joints due to their limited or fixed range of motion whereas free weights, on the other hand, allow for added resistance to movement without restricting the joints. Using free weights allows for natural movement, and since functional movements tend to employ multiple joints, muscles, and limbs, the range of motion can remain natural.
Another benefit of functional training with free weights is the effect that it can have on core strength. As movement in functional training is generally unsupported (e.g. squats over leg press machines), the abdominal muscles are more engaged, impacting positively on posture and daily strength.
Furthermore, other stabiliser muscles are employed with free weights, helping to maintain a balance in the body’s overall strength. For example, dumbbell bicep curls require use of grip flexors and other supporting muscles in order to raise, lower, and balance the weight.
Other aspects of functional training
Functional training can employ a large range of exercise tools in conjunction with free weights, including equipment such as fitness balls and kettlebells. The use of these tools can make some movements easier and more ergonomic, for example, doing a kettlebell swing is much more practical than a dumbbell swing.
As with any training philosophy, there are various opinions around the most beneficial form of functional fitness movement. Some of these are quite extreme, but the fundamental principle is that functional fitness is focused on movements that are performed on a daily basis.
The core motivation is to build endurance, strength, and fitness to better perform these tasks in our daily lives and contribute to our overall health and quality of life. The combination of free weights or other gym equipment and functional training is an appropriate and beneficial exercise for all who are looking to improve balance, strength, and agility.
The fact that this type of training can be done at home or at the gym also makes it a worthwhile component of any exercise regime or training program. The next time you go to pick up your toddler or load groceries into the back of the car, ask yourself what muscles you’re engaging in the task. Then, ask yourself how you can improve or ease the execution of this movement by training with free weights for functional fitness.