Of course, maintaining your long-term health requires more than just a regular exercise habit, but physical fitness is certainly a significant part of the equation. However, beyond the more traditional notions of physical fitness — running a marathon, boot camp style workouts sessions or extra intense CrossFit WODs — there’s what’s referred to as functional fitness, or exercise that builds and enhances the strength and mobility needed to accomplish everyday tasks.
Functional exercises, explains Kimberly Watkins, a New York City-based fitness trainer and CEO of inSHAPE Fitness and inMOTION Exercise On Demand, serve to distribute blood flow to muscles, keep joints lubricated and promote pain-free movement in everyday life.
“Furthermore, being able to endure an elevated heart rate, lowering down to the ground and getting back up, sleeping well and maintaining a level of energy needed to get through the day are all the components of a successful functional fitness regimen,” she said.
No doubt, we all want to hold on to these qualities of good health and youth, but since with age our bodies naturally experience a decrease in muscle and bone mass, flexibility, and even balance, the role of exercise becomes even more important. Additionally, notes Patrick J. Sweeney II, a former Olympic-level athlete, trainer and adventure TV personality, it’s important not only to focus on exercises that mimic the movements of everyday life, but that also incorporate multiple disciplines.
“[By that] I mean making sure each workout contains at least two or three of the following elements — strength, balance endurance agility and coordination,” he said.
In other words, a well-rounded functional fitness routine, like the one we’re about to share, can help to prevent and even reverse some of the side effects associated with growing older and ultimately, helping you stay fit and strong for life.
For a full workout, perform three rounds of the following 10 exercises for the designated amount of repetitions. Or, as a supplement to your regular workout routine, simply perform one round of all 10 exercises every day.
This exercise targets the core, lower body and helps to enhance balance.
How To: Stand on your left leg and hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand. Maintain a neutral spine as you hinge at your hips, lowering the kettlebell towards the floor and allowing your right leg to extend out behind you. Pause for a beat before slowly reversing the motion and returning to the start position. Perform 8 to 12 reps and then repeat on the other side.
This exercise targets the major shoulder muscles while also enhancing balance.
How To: Stand on your left leg. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand and keep your core tight and spine neutral as you raise it straight above your head. Slowly lower your right arm down so that your right elbow and forearm form a 90-degree angle (pictured here). Repeat the movement for 8 to 12 reps and then repeat on the other side.
This exercise targets the major muscles of the upper body and the core, while also enhancing flexibility and joint mobility.
How To: Start in normal push-up position, as you lower down towards the floor draw your right knee to your right elbow. Extend your right leg back as you return to the starting position. From here, raise your left arm up to the sky as you rotate to the left. Return to the starting position and then repeat the entire sequence with your left knee and right arm, alternating sides for 10 to 20 reps.
“These are good bodyweight exercises, preferably done on something challenging to grab so you can work grip strength as well,” Sweeney said.
How To: Either move will pose a great challenge for most, so beginners should certainly begin with assisted pull-ups and/or chin-ups (pull-ups, when performed correctly, will primarily target the larger back muscles; chin- ups will place a larger emphasis on the biceps). Assisted versions of each exercise can be performed on gym machines designated for such or with the help of a trainer or resistance bands.
This exercise targets the lower body and challenges your agility and balance, as well as your cardiovascular fitness.
How To: “Find the highest box you can jump on with good effort,” Sweeney explained. “Jump up on it 10 times, focusing on the explosive lift-off at the beginning.” Note, it’s imperative that your “box” is sturdy and supportive and that you can safely jump up on to it.
This move targets multiple major muscle groups and incorporates several planes of motion, which helps to promote flexibility and joint fluidity.
How To: Start standing with your feet about hip-width distance apart. Keep your core tight and spine neutral as you slowly hinge forward at the hips, reaching your hands to the floor (aim to keep your legs as straight as possible, but bend your knees as needed to connect your hands with the floor). When your hands meet the floor, slowly begin to walk them forward until you’re in the push-up starting position. Perform a full push-up and then walk your hands back towards your feet and slowly return to the starting position by rolling your spine up one vertebrate at a time. Watkins suggests performing this move for 60 seconds, but you can also aim for 8 to 10 repetitions if you’re just starting out.
This move targets the major muscles of the lower body and the core and also helps enhance balance.
Start standing tall with your feet about hip-width distance apart, shoulders relaxed and head held high. Look straight ahead to keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Hold your arms straight out in front of you (this is best if you need extra balance) or place your hands on your hips. When you’re ready, keep your core tight and maintain a neutral spine as you slowly squat down (as if you were about to sit in a chair behind you). Be sure to keep your heels firmly planted on the ground and to keep your torso upright. Pause for a beat before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat for 8 to 12 repetitions.
“Loads of people roll their eyes at the age-old jumping jack,” Watkins said. “However, a dash of plyometrics is so beneficial when it comes to functional fitness. Neurotransmitters that reside in the feet are rendered sleepy as a result of shoe-filled sedentary lives. Light impact is great to wake those crazy critters up. And like the walk-outs, the jacks, when performed with control, also work multiple muscle groups and get the heart rate up.”
This move targets the glutes and the core and promotes hip flexibility.
How To: Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, feet planted firmly on the floor. Your arms should lie directly at your sides. Keep your core tight as you slowly lift your hips up towards the ceiling, pushing through your heels and glutes. Pause for a beat before slowly lowering back to the starting position. Repeat for 8 to 12 repetitions.
This exercise primarily targets the core, building strength with an isometric contraction.
How To: Start on your hands and knees with your hands placed flat on the floor directly beneath your shoulders. Lift up off your knees by extending your legs completely behind you and tuck your toes under so that your entire body is now lifted off the ground (in push-up starting position). Slowly lower down onto your forearms, one arm at a time. Be sure to keep your shoulders directly above your elbows and your spine neutral (don’t let your hips sink towards the floor or push them up towards the ceiling). Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, depending on your ability and practice to gradually increase the amount of time you can hold your plank for. Repeat for two to three repetitions.