How many times have you heard someone say they hurt their back while piling wood? Or have a sore neck from sleeping wrong? Or they need a couple days rest after cleaning out their garage? These injuries all too common, but often completely preventable by focusing on ‘functional fitness.'
What exactly is functional fitness, you may ask? In the simplest terms, it's a classification of exercise which involves training the body for activities performed in daily life. Daily activities like climbing stairs, squatting down to pick up keys, reaching high shelves, lifting boxes or other items, using the toilet, carrying groceries, carrying laundry up and down the stairs, piling wood and the list goes on.
But wait, if these are things we're doing every day, then why do we need to “train” for them? Simple. To reduce your risk of injury and create a balance amongst our muscles, making our bodies more efficient at doing these daily tasks.
The example that I am going to use is piling wood. We recently cut, split and piled all of our winter wood in one weekend (while it snowed, oops!) As we worked, I found myself comparing what I was doing to the movements I include in my regular exercise routine. Deadlifts? Picking up the wood properly from the ground without injuring your back. Push Press? Tossing it up onto the pile without straining a shoulder or pulling a muscle. Sandbag carries? Carrying the wood without injury to the lower back. Cleans? Getting those bigger pieces of wood from above your knee (deadlift position) to shoulder height for throwing purposes. The connection between performing these movements in the gym and transferring them to the woodpile means little to no risk of injury.
Piling wood is just one example of how fitness can be connected to the real world, but it applies to so many more scenarios. While working out would definitely help your body do these tasks more efficiently, even something as simple as spending some time learning how to do things with proper form could be highly beneficial. For example; if you lift a lot in your profession (nurse, PSW, warehouse worker, logger,etc) then deadlifting is something you’re going to want to know how to do because it IS the proper way to pick things up. Most people use the toilet regularly, proper squat form is what you will want to be all over in that department - unless you are looking forward to having help getting on the toilet further down the road, which I assume most of us are not.
The examples are endless when connecting exercise to the real world. Working out has a longstanding reputation of being all about losing weight and fitting into your skinny jeans. And, sure, working out has its benefits to both of those things, but it’s definitely not the only reason to do so. Exercise doesn’t need to be about being a certain weight or anything on the outside at all - it can truly just be about your health! It’s time to broaden the ways that we are thinking about exercise and begin to understand the true value of it!