What is ‘Functional Fitness”?

“Functional fitness”, or “functional training” have been buzz words in the fitness industry for the last decade or so. However, the definition of a functional exercise is not universally agreed upon. Generally there is an association between functional exercises and day to day activities – natural movements. Some people will go further and demand that the exercise looks like one of those daily movements – squatting looks like sitting down, for example. Others, and this is the view that we hold, believe that an exercise, or regime is functional if it supports activities outside of the gym – A functional exercise is one that teaches, or reinforces a movement pattern that is useful, and health enhancing, beyond the execution of that particular exercise.

For example, I would consider the Hundred to be functional because (amongst other benefits) it requires the maintenance of spinal stability under load (from our legs), and also the ability to disassociate our shoulder joint – to move our arms in our shoulder joints without uncontrolled spine or shoulder blade movement. Both of these being very useful in a very wide range of activities. I wouldn’t consider using a bicep curl machine to be functional, because the machine removes any requirement to create stability, or to transfer load into the centre (free-standing curls would be a different story, of course) – it simply trains you to be good at using the bicep curl machine.

Joseph Pilates created his system of exercises after years of practicing different sports that had specific training regimens. He recognised the flaws in training for particular sports or activities and wanted to create an ‘every(wo)man system’ – one that would offer general physical fitness training to everyone and anyone. Many of his original exercises (The Roll Over, for example) do not look at all like daily activities for most of us but the skills, strength and mobility that we have to develop to perform these exercises are highly transferable to not just daily life but sports as well.

The ‘fun’ in functional

Another element to the consideration of ‘functional’,  missing from the definition above, is fun, or feeling great. It’s sort of covered by the ‘health enhancing’ idea, I think, but deserves its own mention. Something that makes you appreciate, or helps you bask in the joy of whole body movement surely performs a valuable function? To return to the bicep curl analogy, I’m no body builder, but it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone ever had much fun doing sets of bicep curls. Yes, seeing your swollen muscles in the mirror afterwards may result in a flush of pleasure, but actually doing the sets of curls? However, enjoying the freedom of rolling through your spine, or the whole body strength and control of so many Pilates exercises feels marvellous.

Book a Pilates Mat class to find out more….