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WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL FITNESS?
By Ruth Frost, June 2013
Here at Euphoria Fitness we specialise in what’s known as ‘functional fitness’. You’ll see that term a lot on our website. But what exactly is it?
Functional fitness is about training your body in ways which will improve your fitness for day-to-day living. Traditional gym machines, as you would find in a big chain gym, have their uses, but they are limited. Having your range of motion dictated by a machine while you lift a controlled weight exactly vertical to the floor, for example, won’t help you safely lift your heavy shopping bags from the kerb into the car boot, or full watering can diagonally above your head for the hanging baskets, or squirming toddler into his high chair.
Real-life movement happens in lots of planes of motion at once and involved lots of muscles working in a chain, all stabilised by your core. Training and strengthening those patterns of movement, the ‘kinetic chain’, is what functional fitness is all about.
Generally, your whole body will be moving during an exercise (though of course if particular areas need to be targeted really specifically – to help in rehab from an injury for example – then that’s what we do). This gets your muscles, respiratory system and motor skills working together effectively, burning lots of energy and keeping your heart rate up.
What kind of equipment do we use for this? Well, your own body is a starting point – becoming fit and flexible enough to control your own bodyweight. Imagine a gymnast slowly bending forward, touching the floor and lifting up into a handstand – while it’s unlikely we’ll ever have you doing THAT, that kind of control and mastery of one’s own body is something healthier to aspire to, for most people, than hulking the biggest dumbbell you can find off the floor.
Beyond that, kit includes things you may not have seen before but which specialist functional fitness trainers have been using for years, though some items are (happily) becoming much better-known nowadays, such as kettlebells.
Training with kettlebells
Kettlebells aren’t a new fad, though you many think so from the way they’ve suddenly exploded onto the mainstream commercial fitness scene in the past few years. I even saw them for sale in Sainsbury’s the other day! It’s believed they originated in Russia in the 19th century, though some proponents claim a variant of them can be seen on Ancient Greek pottery.
More recently, if you watch the first Rocky film, you’ll see them in the background of the training montage sequences. Boxing gyms have always used them to assist in developing what their fighters need – great cardio fitness, agility, balanced all-over strength, core stability and power. Those are all things which every trainee can aspire to for their overall health and fitness.
Kettlebells are swung, lifted and pushed in various moves and sequences, getting your heart rate up, working your muscles, your core (as it works to stop you being pulled over by the momentum of the kettlebell), and your brain at the same time. They become a fun and surprisingly graceful way to train, particularly when moves are matched to your favourite choice of music. Euphoria Fitness has them in weights from 4kg to 20kg and in singles and pairs. Used correctly with attention from an experienced trainer such as myself, they can form a key part of the workout for every client, from beginner to experienced.
Other functional fitness kit includes battling ropes (like tug-of-war ropes), tyres, Olympic rings and sandbags. You’ll also find more recognisable equipment within our kit box such as dumbbells and Swiss balls.
So what will functional fitness training do for you? It will give you a thorough, balanced workout, which over time makes you fitter and stronger in ways applicable to your day-to-day life. It will also help you lose weight if needed; build muscle mass if that’s your goal; improve your posture, balance and agility; and strengthen your heart and lungs. As with all thorough workouts, it will also help get your endorphins firing for a better mood and higher energy levels, along with helping to control or ward off a host of conditions and diseases.
[It will also, if you have friends who go to a mainstream gym, give you bragging rights – “you spent 40 minutes on the cross-trainer last night watching bad MTV? I hauled sandbags, thrashed battling ropes, swung kettlebells and balanced on Olympic Rings with my favourite Metallica/Brahms/Erick Morillo/ABBA (insert favourite music) CD on in the background!”]
Of course, the intensity and exact nature of each workout depends on you, the client; what your level of fitness is at the moment; and on what your goals are. This is kit which also requires a learning process and gradual development of new skills, which in itself can make the workout process more satisfying and fun.
Curious? – book a taster session for a basic introduction and to learn more about the ways functional fitness can improve your life.
Copyright Ruth Frost June 2013