You have been exercising as your doctor suggested and maybe even going to the gym, working with weights and machines and doing cardiovascular exercises as well. But one day at work, you bend over to pick up a child and you strain your back!
Many in the fitness field suggest that exercising only with machines or weights does not do enough to prepare people for the real world of lifting, bending, or sprinting for that airplane or cab while carrying luggage. While the machines and weights target special muscle groups and are good at strengthening weak muscles, they do not reflect real-life movements.
Occupational and physical therapists have long understood this concept. When working with clients, they often design programs that mimic the clients life situations so they can return to their lifestyle routines healthy and as quickly as possible.
Fitness experts have taken notice, and a relatively new form of exercise is exploding onto the scene. Functional fitness, or functional exercise, is a type of routine that any person can do at home or at work with no costs, special equipment, or crowds. The best thing about functional exercise is that it gets your body in shape while also preparing you for real-world situations.
If you are currently physically active or visit the gym regularly, functional fitness is still a great addition to your workouts. Functional exercise focuses on teaching all the muscles to work together, and the goal of a functional fitness routine is to prepare you to use multiple joints and muscles, which will make daily activities a little easier.
Functional fitness emphasizes moving the body through three planes of motion: front and back, side to side, and rotation. It also emphasizes core strength (strength in the center of your body), which helps maintain balance, stability and flexibility. A strong core also can help prevent back pain, which affects 80 percent of Americans at some time in their lives.
Functional fitness is easy to do anywhere, and almost any type of movement may be considered functional exercise. Because childcare workers often find themselves crouching down to the childrens level, a good functional exercise routine may include squats. This exercise will help build core strength and leg muscles, making repeated standing up and sitting down easier, and may help decrease the likelihood of an injury when engaged in heavy lifting (including picking up children).
Some specific examples of functional exercises include:
Squats Stand with your feet hip-length apart. Slowly lower your body as though you are sitting down in a chair. Make sure your knees do NOT extend over your toes! Go as low as you can to mimic sitting in a chair, or until your rear is in line with your knees. Keeping the weight in your heels, slowly push your body back to the starting position. Do as many repetitions as you can until you can no longer maintain perfect form.
Standing Balance Stand with your feet hip-width apart and eyes closed. Attempt to maintain balance for 15 seconds (hold onto something if necessary at first). Do four repetitions for 15 seconds each. Once this movement has been conquered, progress by extending your arms out in front and then to your sides (eyes opened or closed) for five repetitions. Further progression would be standing on one leg while lifting the other leg as high as possible, attempting to maintain balance for 15 seconds. Relax, then repeat this three more times with each leg. Having good balance helps with posture and everyday movement.
Penny Pick-Up Place a penny on the floor and take three steps away from it. Slowly walk toward the penny, stop to lunge or squat down to pick it up, then stand back up. Walk another three steps forward and mimic picking up the penny again. Do five repetitions. This increases strength in the legs and back.
Bend-Over Row Using a chair for support, lean over while holding a light weight, vegetable can, or a bottle of water in one hand, with your arm hanging straight down. Pull the weight up, pointing your elbow to the ceiling, finishing with the upper arm parallel to the ground. Switch the weight to the other arm and repeat the movement. Do as many repetitions as you can perform perfectly. This exercise is for the shoulders, back and arms.
Rake and Twist This exercise may be done while sweeping the floor or raking leaves at home. Take long, steady strokes while turning your hips and raking or sweeping toward your body. Make sure you sweep from left to right, and from right to left. This is a good upper body exercise.
Standing Side Stretch Hold a light weight (again, it may be a carton of milk, a vegetable can, or any other object easy to hold) in one hand while standing up straight with your feet slightly more than shoulders width apart. Slowly bend at the waist toward the side holding the weight, without leaning forward or backward, lowering your hand down your side as far as it will go. Hold for 15-20 seconds and slowly straighten back up. Repeat on the other side. As you become more flexible, increase the weight and/or stand with your feet closer together. This exercise is good for core strength.
Unload and Lift If you use a dishwasher, turn your body from side to side as you remove the dishes, twisting your hips and torso while reaching for the high and low shelves. Remove the silverware one piece at a time, twisting to put it away in the drawer. If you handwash dishes, this action may still be mimicked as you put your dishes away in the cupboards and your silverware away in the drawers. This is another good upper body and core exercise.
Cynthia D. Sprouse, Project Associate
Training and Technical Assistance Services, Western Kentucky University
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 330 N. Wabash Ave., Ste. 2500, Chicago IL 60611-7617; www.aapmr.org/condtreat/pain/ hsehold.htm
American Council on Exercise (ACE), 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego CA 92123; 858-279-8227; www.acefitness.org
Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology (CHEK), Sycamore Business Center, 2105 Industrial Ct., Vista CA 92081; 800-552-8789; www.chekinstitute.com
WebMD, www.webmd.com/ fitness-exercise/guide/working-out-for-real-life-functions