Last Updated on April 24, 2014 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
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.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.