The Reality of Functional Fitness

Functional fitness.  It is a buzzword that is incredibly popular in the fitness industry right now; one often associated with the powerful lifts and fast movements of CrossFit and similar high intensity workout styles.  People tout functional fitness as the ability to “survive” and live like we were supposed to.  While chasing down saber tooth tigers and lifting 50 lb slabs of woolly mammoth steak  isn’t mentioned, it is somewhat implied.

But by definition, functional fitness is simply “the ability to perform normal daily activities around the house or at work, without undue fatigue.”

The other day at work I was helping a woman reevaluate her fitness routine.  She is a post cardiac rehab patient, and incredibly new to exercise.  She’s stuck with her current routine for a few weeks, gotten the hang of it, but was starting to understandably feel a little bored.   While talking about how things were going for her, she told me that she hasn’t necessarily seen physical results on the outside.  But then she said to me “I know this may sound silly…but I have a significantly easier time carrying groceries into the house since I started this program.”

That, my friends, is the reality of functional fitness.

When I was in college, we were reminded near daily by our professors that only a small fraction of us would go on to work with elite or pro-athletes.  The rest of us would be dealing with aging baby boomers.  And while I simply had the intentions of sharing my passion for fitness with anyone that would give me the time of day, it turns out my professors were right.  The majority of my clients, and the majority of people who walk through our gym door seeking professional help, are indeed the 50+ crowd.    Through them I see the reality of aging without regular fitness.   People who were once healthy and mobile are suddenly unable to perform certain every day tasks, like climbing up stairs without fatigue and aching knees, squatting down to pick up a dropped item, or hell, even the ability to easily tie their shoe laces.     They were once the thirty-something-year-olds who “didn’t have the time” to workout, or felt that since the doctor’s visit gave them a clean bill of health, they were just fine without physical activity.

Until one day, they weren’t fine.

“Use it or lose it” is a hilarious term that I throw around nearly every day in my line of work, yet it is the 100% spot on truth. Very, very, very few of us are immune to the effects of aging and inactivity.  Just like a car, if you don’t maintain your body, it’s going to crap out far sooner than it should.   If you don’t use the body the way it was designed to work, it is going to cease to work the way it should.  Sadly, the majority of us in our society seem to think we are the exception to that rule.  

Here’s the thing you need to know: fitness isn’t about having a “beach body”.  It isn’t about washboard abs, or size two jeans, or 1200 calories, or being able to run marathons.  

Fitness is about reaching the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet without fear of falling and breaking a rib.  It’s about being able to pick up your child or grandchild and carry them when they fall off the swing set and refuse to (or can’t) walk the 100 yards to the house.   It’s about carrying the groceries from your car into your house with ease.   It’s about being able to pick something up off the floor without worrying what might happen if you get down there and cant’ get back up.   It is about avoiding a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs that almost always accompany the side effects of inactivity. 

Fitness is about having the quality of life you deserve.  Free from unnecessary pain, immobility, lack of independence, and health problems.  Don’t rob yourself of that experience.   It’s not too late to start today, or to even turn around some damage that has already been done.   You don’t have to go out and start running every single day, or slave away on a spin bike, or throw yourself in an intimidating, overpriced gym.   But you need to do something, because you, and your quality of life, matter.    So MOVE, before it’s too late. 


Heather (on her soapbox)

And because I can’t leave a blog post picture-less: here’s a sequence of a woman who inspires me.  60 years old and tackling her first obstacle course race with ease.  She doesn’t spend countless hours in the gym.  She doesn’t schedule her life around workouts.  But she has spent her life moving: walking, running, stretching, lifting, doing what her body was designed to do.  Clearly, it has paid off. 

Louise Collage

Louise (teal shirt), 60,  conquering a Rugged Maniac OCR course with ease.

Leave a Reply


  1. says

    Great Post! I was just explaining what functional fitness means to a silver sneakers class I was subbing for this week. We talked about squats they said they hate them I explained they would hate not being able to sit down in a chair or get back up more. Since that movement is basically a squat. Keep moving is right! Your body and soul will thank you when you are older.

  2. says

    Great post, Heather! I began to think about the real term of functional fitness this past weekend. Most important concept is to keep moving! This phrase is used over and over again, but stands true until the end of time: you use it or you lose it!

  3. says

    I love this! People look at fitness for so many wrong reasons! I always tell my clients they need to look at fitness and working out as a means to a healthy life, not to get skinny. Their body will change along the journey, but a healthy life should be the goal:)

  4. says

    I started lifting weights when I turned 62. Not only did it help me lose weight, I too noticed a big difference doing everyday movements, especially upper body strength.

    And I understand getting bored with a lifting program that lasts more than a few weeks. I got into a program where the routines changed periodically. Otherwise, I would have stopped out of pure boredom.

  5. says

    excellent! my chiroprctor (how old AM I???) asked me what kind of workouts I did, and I said that I focus mainly on running and functional exercises that will help me with everyday activities. he was impressed. it sparked a good ongoing conversation about fitness, aging, and what people (his clients mainly) can do about changing their lifestyles.
    huzzah! to you, Friend!

  6. Amy K. says

    Wonderful post! I have been active(running, weights, p90x, Insanity) since having my kids in my early 20’s and becoming a police officer at 27. Ironically, turned 40 and the injuries started..stress fracture in tibia, PF, weight gain…my PF is almost healed now due to rest and cold laser therapy. I am hoping to get back to running by summer..I miss it so much. Stretching has become my go to right now.
    I enjoy your blog!

  7. says

    Just broke my ankle a few weeks ago and am fairly immobile (cause lucky me, I’ve got a sprained ankle on the other leg). However, having been active in the gym for the past 7 or so years meant that I am able to go to the bathroom without assistance, because one-legged squats? Totally got that.Just made me even more determined to get back into that weight room to start working with my trainer as soon as this cast is off, even if I will have lost a lot of fitness by then.

    • says

      Sorry to hear about your leg!! But I just said “That’s AWESOME” out loud to my computer reading about your one legged squats! Heal fast Lisa!!!

  8. says

    Great post!! I’m always talking to my students about the need for functional movement. I have even noticed it’s a lot easier moving potted plants and such around the yard 😉

  9. says

    What a great post! While the internet and social media make it seem that fitness is all about being skinny and taking selfies of your flat/toned abs, to me fitness is about staying healthy and strong, and having the best life I can for as long as I can. Every time I sit on the floor to play with my kids or pick up 4 grocery bags on each hand, I think of that.

  10. Danielle says

    This makes so much sense. Sticking to a workout routine has always been hard for me, but as I’ve learned more about functional fitness, HIIT workouts, etc. I’ve been more motivated and inspired. Thanks for posting!

  11. misszippy1 says

    As a (ahem) 48-yr. old, I see lots of peers who have not taken care of themselves over the years and yes, it’s pretty sad to see the difference in what I can do w/ ease vs. them. And yet some of them STILL aren’t willing to go take care of themselves. It makes me sad b/c I can only imagine 10 yrs. from now. Anyhow–great post!