Functional Fitness

Post by Olivia Martino, Certified Personal Trainer, Nourish Northwest

Olivia, personal trainer

Have you heard the phrase functional fitness before and wondered what it meant?  Let me explain it this way: You spend hours in the gym working on the weight machines, doing exercises like isolated bicep curls and using the adductor machine in hope of toning your thighs.  You are burning calories, maintaining a good lean muscle mass and are feeling fit and healthy.  But when you go to pick your child out of the car seat, you throw your back out.  You thought you were fit, healthy and in perfect shape, so why did a simple move like this lead to such a horrible injury?

This is where functional fitness comes into play.  Traditionally, personal trainers have approached weight training by isolating specific muscle groups.  The same thing is accomplished by all of those weight training machines at the gym.  They are only allowing you to work one muscle while stabilizing the others.  An advantage to this type of training is that it can be safer by preventing injury from instability or poor form.  It does allow you to build muscle and burn calories in a protective way.  But the major problem is that this doesn’t translate into the outside world and mimic the kind of movements that you do to do on the daily basis.

The primary movements that we do on a daily basis to accomplish everyday tasks are bending, pushing, pulling and rotating.  In a move like picking your child out of the car seat, you are using many of these movements almost simultaneously.  We use these movement patterns may times throughout the day, when we are lifting a grocery bag off the ground, grabbing something from the cupboard or walking up the stairs.

When we use a combination of these movements, as we often do, our body requires integration of several muscle groups, as well as balance and coordination.  Again, a disadvantage of a weight machine is that it does not teach either of these things.

So how do you take your typical exercises and make them more functional?  Check out these short videos to find out!

Instead of a seated bicep curl, take it to the wall and perform a squat as you flex your elbows in and out:

Biceps with wall sit

Or preform alternating forward lunges as your do your bicep curls:

Biceps with lunge

Instead of working your quads on a leg extension machine, perform a squat with an overhead press:

Overhead press

More functional exercises that work multiple muscle groups:

Perform a diagonal weighted reach to alternating sides with a squat in the middle:

Squat and Reach

Perform a knee lift with lateral arm raises:

knee raise

Torso rotation with weight:

Russian twist

If you need more guidance and tips for functional exercises, you can always ask any of our wonderful trainers, here at Nourish Northwest during your weekly classes or feel free to contact me to set up a personal training session at

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