Bodhidevi maintains that a holistic, Ayurvedic diet and balanced lifestyle are critical to being healthy, both physically and mentally. One of the most crucial elements of a healthy, balanced lifestyle is a sustainable and effective exercise regimen. At Bodhidevi, we embrace functional fitness as the foundation of our fitness programs.

What is functional fitness, and why do we place it at the core of our fitness philosophy? Functional fitness might sound like a rigid fitness dogma or intricate exercise regimen. But in reality, it is exactly what it claims: a training program with functional applications. Today we explore the nature of functional fitness training, the benefits it can offer, and the reasons we chose to make it the backbone of our personal fitness philosophy.

What is the Purpose of Functional Training?

Functional training, or functional fitness, is just that: training that has a functional purpose. What that means in a practical sense is that functional exercise conditions the body for practical everyday movements, like mowing the lawn or carrying a baby. By extension, regular functional training enhances the capacity to perform other activities that aid us in being healthy and active.

Most popular forms of exercise, like resistance machines and cardiovascular equipment, exercise individual muscle groups in a one dimensional way. If you’re training for a specific event, like a bike race or a marathon, one-dimensional exercises serve a functional purpose in that they prepare the body to sustain these activities for extended periods at a higher output.

But everyday movement is rarely one-dimensional, and typically requires the coordination of multiple muscle groups. Regularly exercising on the elliptical thus does little to condition you for yard work, coaching sports practice, or cleaning the house, activities that necessitate movement in a two-dimensional plane.

Unlike conventional exercise, functional fitness requires two-dimensional movement engaging multiple muscle groups. Further, functional fitness necessitates forms of exercise that condition the body for other elements of everyday movement. Thus, it not only strengthens the muscles through resistance; it also enhances muscular endurance, speed, proprioceptive awareness, and agility.

The defining element of functional fitness is the emphasis it places on neuromuscular coordination. Functional fitness not only strengthens muscles; it also reinforces the neural circuitry coordinating the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. In so doing, it enhances muscle memory and trains our bodies to perform complex, compound movements in everyday life with ease.

What Does Functional Training Require?

In some ways, functional training parallels the “Paleo” stance on being healthy. Those who embrace the Paleo lifestyle emphasize not only eating the way our ancestors did, but also exercising the way that they did. And that means alternating short bursts of intense exercise with strength training and complex movements. Functional training, too, incorporates complex movements that mimic the ones our ancestors performed and that we continue to perform in everyday life.

Functional fitness fuses exercises that require core stability, strength, and balance. The most important body parts to emphasize are the hip abductors and rotators, abdominal muscles, and scapula stabilizers. Exercises require movement in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes of movement. They tend to be fluid and integrate movement of multiple body parts. Finally, functional fitness principles emphasize improving form and posture to properly condition the body and prevent injury.

What Exercises are Considered Functional Exercises?

Functional exercises include classic bench presses, squatting, and deadlifts. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups and have practical applications, increasing the ease of lifting and moving heavy objects. But there are so many other types of functional exercise. In fact, many of the movements you perform as part of your current efforts at being healthy may actually qualify as functional exercises.

Other forms of functional exercise might include forward, side, and back lunges with a bicep curl. Functional cardiovascular exercise could involve running up stairs or squat jumping. Deadlifting with a row or squatting with a shoulder press effectively engages multiple muscle groups to mimic activities like lifting heavy boxes or kids. The possibilities are endless, and at Bodhidevi, we like to get creative with them in our Fitness classes.

To reduce the impact of functional exercises, you can perform them in a pool, or simply with your own body weight. To up the intensity, you can add resistance bands, weights, kettle bells, medicine balls, and more! Functional fitness permits many types of adjustment to make the exercises suitable for all fitness levels.

What are the Benefits of Functional Exercise?

Functional exercise boasts a broad array of benefits. Perhaps the most significant is the reduction of injury risk in everyday life, which is critical for being healthy in the broadest sense.

Sure, lots of people get injured doing sports or races. But the average person is more likely to suffer injury as a result of an uncoordinated fall, lifting a heavy object the wrong way, or performing some other everyday activity with improper strength and form. Because functional exercise enhances bodily strength, flexibility, and coordination, and trains the neuromuscular system to properly coordinate complex activities, it can significantly reduce the likelihood of sustaining an everyday injury.

Functional training may be particularly beneficial for both athletes and the elderly; athletes, because sports often require fast, load-bearing multidimensional movement; the elderly, because they are more susceptible to injury from simple activities like walking down the stairs. Functional fitness emerged at the crossroads between personal training and physical therapy. That means it is particularly applicable to the needs of these groups.

Because functional training strengthens stabilizer muscles and improves posture, it can relieve joint pain. By engaging multiple muscle groups, functional training improves range of motion, flexibility, body stability, strength, and endurance. It thereby helps to prevent overtraining and improper form.

Finally, by improving the ease of everyday movement, functional fitness may actually increase our ability to be active throughout everyday life. And that makes being healthy as a lifestyle a whole lot easier. Greater daily activity translates to a greater daily calorie burn, which may aid in weight loss and improve mood and cognition.