Remember when step classes were the workout-du-jour? “A-step! Grapevine! Around the world!” the perky instructor would yell into her mic (I’d finally get the hang of ‘basic left’ as the rest of the class cooled down). Thankfully, those torturous days are over with. We’ve seen dozens of fitness trends come and go since: Jazzercise, Zumba, Tae Bo a la Billy Blanks. And who could forget Suzanne Somers’ ThighMaster? (Oh, that Chrissy Snow.)
These days, we’re working out smarter. Gone are the days of marathon treadmill sessions. Now it’s all about science-based evidence—in other words, what gives you the most bang for your gym-membership buck. The latest buzz term on everyone’s radar? Functional fitness ((a.k.a. functional training). Think of it as exercises that mimic everyday, real-life activities such as carrying groceries or shoveling snow. Unlike some trends of yesteryear, functional fitness is here to stay. Here’s everything you need to know about the popular workout technique.
Functional fitness say what?
As the name suggests, functional fitness is any exercise that simulates real-world activities using multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time (forget about “leg” or “upper body” day). “It’s taking everyday movement patterns and incorporating them into your workout,” says Spynga’s own Jill Rubenstein-Saltzman, who teaches a killer strength bootcamp class with a focus on functional fitness. “A squat is like sitting down and standing up. A dead lift is like picking your keys up off the ground. Shoulder press is putting stuff up high on a shelf. These are all movements we already do on a daily basis.”
Where do I sign up?
Unlike, say, spinning or boxing or Pilates, there’s no actual “functional fitness” class listed on gym schedules. Rather, FF movements (squat, shoulder press and so on) are simply woven into a full-body workout regime with a focus on form. Call it bootcamp, call it CrossFit, call it BodyPump…the point is to use multiple muscle groups at once instead of focusing on just one specific muscle group. (But to answer your question, sign up for Jill’s Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday morning Spynga bootcamp for a fun, FF-focused ass-whipping.)
“Fitness has evolved,” says Jill of the FF craze. “Working out no longer means an hour of high-intensity go-go-go. People are more aware than ever before: they want to be active and they’re willing to take the time. With functional movement, you’re creating a strong body.” When it comes to burpees, Jill is constantly telling clients, “If you can’t get up from lying on your stomach, you’ve got a problem.” In other words, everyone should be able to achieve these moves, even if it means taking baby steps.
As Jill explains, “All these doctors are telling people with knee and back injuries, ‘Don’t squat, don’t dead lift.’ They’re basically saying, ‘Don’t sit on the toilet or don’t pick up your keys that you dropped.’ These are daily tasks—without them, you can’t function.” Jill is all about form and ensuring clients are working the right muscle groups (using your glutes while squatting, for example).
Will I see results?
The benefits of functional fitness are endless: better posture and balance, improved endurance, increased strength, a boost in metabolism—the list goes on. Functional fitness provides an awesome fat-burning workout. It activates the core, as well, in a way that crunches alone can never achieve. To put it simply, FF creates that toned look we all want so badly while optimizing functional movements like picking up your crying toddler or lifting heavy cases of wine into the house (now we’re talking!).
Written for Spynga by Shawna Cohen