What is Functional Fitness?

Erika C.

Functional fitness is the physical capacity to meet real-life physical challenges. A person who has achieved functional fitness is capable of integrating different muscle groups and relying on endurance and full-body strength to perform natural, physical tasks. One who is functionally fit should not only be able to perform exercises, but should also be capable of real-life activities, such as carrying a heavy suitcase up a flight of stairs or engaging in physical combat. Functional fitness is used by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) to prepare Marines for combat. This type of fitness is achieved through functional exercise.

Man lifting weights
Man lifting weights

The concept of functional fitness differs from that of regular fitness because of its focus on integration, coordination, balance, and correct movement. With this type of fitness, the goal is for different muscle groups to work together in close coordination. Functional exercises are typically much more difficult than traditional fitness exercises, which often involve machines that don’t require the performer to balance the body or coordinate movements.

Functional weight-training exercises often do not involve weights at all, and when weights are used, they are free weights – machines are almost never used. The performer is usually standing so he or she has to support the body’s weight and use the core for balance. Typically, a performer leverages his or her own body weight to build strength and coordination, using exercises like squats and lunges. These exercises require the use of all the body’s muscles for balance. Many programs start with these types of exercises and then add weights to the exercises once the performer has mastered them.

Benefits of functional fitness include all the benefits of regular exercise, plus many additional advantages. One of the main goals – beyond preparing individuals for real-life physical demands – is to improve posture and correct improper body movement patterns. Functional exercises can break many of the body’s bad habits and teach individuals to use all muscles in proportion, rather than relying consistently on certain muscles and not using others at all.

This can result not only in greater strength, flexibility, and balance, but also in fewer injuries. Functional exercise tends to cause fewer injuries than other types because of its focus on correct movement. Becoming functionally fit can also relieve physical problems such as low energy, back pain, headaches, and joint pain. Sometimes these problems can be completely eliminated. Some proponents of this type of fitness say it can also alleviate depression.

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