Functional fitness isn’t a new idea at all. Really, any mode of training that focuses mainly on compound movements (multiple muscles and joints being worked) vs. isolation movements (few/single muscles and joints being worked) can be considered “functional”.
There is a stark difference between working out solely for vanity’s sake vs. working out for higher level of total body fitness. The are difference are from a goals perspective, and I’d argue that anyone who is not a bodybuilder would be far better served using seeking functional fitness over isolation movement based movements. When I talk about functional fitness, we’re talkng about someone who is far less likely to throw out his back while doing something as simple as sitting down on the toilet.
You see, when you perform a highly functional movement like a squat or deadlift, you involve a ton of muscles, large and small, that wouldn’t be hit at all if you were to perform an isolation movement like a leg extension.
All things being equal, from an efficiency standpoint (I’m all about efficiency), you get more fitness bang for your buck if you perform 3 sets ot 10 squats (working every muscle in the posterior chain) than if you performed 3 sets of 10 leg extensions (quadriceps muscle being only worked). Your body will still get leaner and noticeable more balanced and muscular.
So for the example above of sitting down on the toilet, a movement highly mimics a squat (or vice-versa), this is a highly “functional” movement. There aren’t many living examples of when you’d need to mimic a leg extension, so that movement is far less functional. Thus, the guy that blows out his back while sitting down on the toilet might have weak abdominal and posterior chain muscles that cannot support adequately support his spine throughout the movement.
Your Workout Is Fake
Paleolithic man didn’t have to work out, since his entire life was filled with hard physcial work that was one continual, functional workout. In other words, functional movements literally mimic what humans are designed to do and the entire concept of “working out” is an artificial concept that us modern humans use to simulate how we should be moving naturally.
The Amazing Opposable Thumb
Thanks to our opposable thumbs, humans love to use tools to assist them in their work. However, we don’t really need additional tools to have an effective functional workout, and I’m a big believer in people learning to master of their own bodyweight, as moving your body through space at various angles (pushups, dips, squats, pullups, burpees) is highly effective.
Tools also can bring additional options for working through new angles and adding resistance. More importantly, though, they teach us to move objects through space with force. Some of my favorites are kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, suspension trainers, resistance bands, kegs, sandbags, and other oddly weighted objects. I recommend staying away from machines that isolate muscles like leg extension, butterfly, preacher curls.
Don’t Live to Train, Train for life
In conclusion, adding functional, compound movements to your routine should help in nearly every movement you perform throughout your life, they burn more calories since more muscles are involved, and they improve joint health and flexibility. Functional fitness is training for life.