Some people live to exercise but what about the everyday Joe who just wants to carry some groceries without feeling out of breath? That’s where functional fitness comes in.
Imagine this: you drop your keys and bend down to grab it. However, while bending down, you feel a twinge in your back and realise, “Oh no… I think I pulled a muscle.” After a trip to the doctor, it’s confirmed that you pulled a back muscle while picking up your keys.
Let’s face it, we’re not professional athletes who are easily able to use their bodies in extreme ways. That’s why it’s entirely possible to hurt ourselves while doing something mundane like picking up our keys. This is also a side effect of leading a sedentary lifestyle with little to no physical activity.
Functional fitness aims to train a person’s muscles to help them do their everyday activities safely and efficiently. These exercises help your muscles work together and prepare them for your tasks by simulating movements you do at home, work or even when you’re playing sports. Working your upper and lower body at the same time, core stability is also emphasised. This is especially beneficial for the elderly because better core stability decreases the likelihood of falls.
Certified Personal Trainer from True Fitness Malaysia, Nur Shafiqah Atika Bt Shamsul Manaf, enlightens us on the types of functional exercises we can carry out to help us pick up our keys, carry groceries or even squat to do our gardening safely. Some of these exercises need special equipment that can be found at the gym while others can be done easily, at home.
#1: Vipr bazooka lunges
The Vipr bazooka is a piece of equipment as shown in Image 1. Pairing it with lunges trains the lower body and this includes the gluteus muscles (backside), hamstring and quadriceps (thighs). This move challenges core stability and is a great shoulder exercise.
The exercise is performed while carrying the Vipr bazooka (as shown in the image) and executing a lunge. Step forward with one leg, keeping your back straight, lower your hips until both knees are bent at around a 90-degree angle. Repeat with the other leg and do 10 repetitions.
#2: Alternate dumbbell swing
For this exercise, remember to choose a weight that you can manage. Start small to prevent any injuries. The alternated dumbbell swing works your hamstrings, calves, glutes, lower back and shoulders.
Stand with your feet apart with the dumbbell as shown in Image 2 and ‘swing’ the dumbbell downwards while executing a squat. When you stand back up, switch arms and repeat with the other arm. Repeat this five to eight times.
#3: TRX row
This exercise involves TRX which is a form of suspension training that allows users to work against their own body weight. Doing TRX rows can help strengthen the upper back, hand grip, shoulders and core muscles.
Go into vertical plank position where your body is in a straight line while holding onto the TRX straps. Keeping your arms straight, walk in little steps forward until there’s tension in the straps as in Image 3. Pull your torso towards your hands while keeping your elbows close to your body, as if you’re doing a push up but upside down. Lower your body back to the starting position slowly and repeat, five to eight times.
#4: Alternate step push up
This interesting take on the normal push up trains the shoulders, chest and triceps while engaging the core muscles. As shown in Image 4, go into push up position but with one hand on the step and lower your body until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Repeat five to eight times, then switch sides.
#5: Bosu alternate gluteus raise
Bosu is a stability ball that is usually used to challenge the core muscles in your torso. Doing gluteal raises on the Bosu also helps work the glutes, hamstring, and lower back muscles.
With your feet on the Bosu, as in Image 5, lie back with your arms by your side. Lift your body to form a bridge and slowly lower yourself back onto the ground. Repeat this 10 times.
#6: Fit ball abdominal curl
For those with lower back problems, sit ups and crunches are uncomfortable to execute. A Fit ball may be able to help. The Fit ball also encourages you to balance your body which engages your core muscles. Doing abdominal curls on a Fit ball will help strengthen your upper abdominal muscles and reduce strain on your lower back.
Start by lying on the Fit ball such as in Image 6, with just your torso on the ball. Bring your body upwards and squeeze your ab muscles as well. Lie back down and repeat this 10 times.
#7: Plank with leg abduction
This is another great exercise that engages your core muscles with a twist! Go into plank position as shown in Image 7 and remember to tighten those core muscles. Lift one foot off the floor and move it to the side without tapping the floor. Bring it back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this 10 times.
#8: Swinging side plank
This exercise really challenges your ab muscles and lower back because as you swing your leg, these muscles will be engaged to keep you balanced.
Start by lying on your left side and prop your upper body up with your left forearm such as shown in Image 8. Raise your hips until your body is in a straight line. Lift your top leg and slowly swing it forward and backwards at an even tempo. Swing three to five times and repeat on the other side.
Remember to always check with your medical practitioner if these exercise are suitable for you. Ask a personal trainer to help you with your form so you’ll be able to reap the maximum benefits of these exercises. Additionally, if you’re just starting to exercise, start slow to prevent any injuries.