Functional Fitness: A Brief History

Have you ever thought about why it’s essential to work out routinely? The fitness industry isn’t a fad to engage fitness professionals to sell you the latest trend. It’s about fitness training for the long haul. It’s about functional training to keep your body young and healthy. It’s a functional exercise, so carrying grocery bags into the house doesn’t cause you to pull a muscle or throw out your back. It’s about living your best life through functional movement.

Understanding Functional Fitness Training

Functional fitness, also known as functional training or functional movement, is a type of fitness training that promotes muscles working together to perform daily tasks necessary for life. Anything ranging from workplace movements to sports to chores around the house, a functional training program works for you to do those movements without injuries or limitations.

Unlike hardcore training programs like CrossFit, functional fitness exercises focus on performance rather than gaining significant muscle mass. When done correctly, functional training exercises are less intense and allow all levels to train. By training in functional movements, people can,

  • Lift and lower oneself from a seating position on the floor
  • Carry heavy objects like groceries
  • Increase flexibility to reach high places

Once you start a functional training program, you achieve significant gains in everyday life. You perform day-to-day activities with strength and endurance and decrease the risk of injuries. Functional fitness improves your quality of life.

History Behind Functional Training

Functional fitness dates back to the Classical Period. Hippocrates, a Greek physician, was thought to be the creator of the medicine ball. He was known for having his patients toss a ball back and forth as an aid for pain and illness. While Greek heroes and demi-gods practiced training that built strength, the Greek people performed functional training exercises to make everyday life easier.

As time went on, many others contributed to functional training throughout the 19th century. People like Nicholas Andry, the father of orthopedics, and Donald Walker, an Englishman who published books on the importance of calisthenics, propelled the importance of functional exercises further as things like club swinging were known for helping posture and neck problems.

Another major player in the 19th century was Dudley Allen Sargent, the director of physical training at the Harvard Gymnasium. Noting a direct correlation between manual labor, like sawing wood and plowing land, and physical health, he implored functional movements to mimic those actions to increase overall fitness for day-to-day activities.

The 20th century brought further advances to calisthenics that promoted functional fitness. Not only were these functional training workouts good for building strength for everyday activities, but they also encouraged people to break free of the sedentary lifestyle, especially in America. Things like muscle imbalances and pain were counteracted with functional exercises.

In the 1980s, Dr. Mel Siff, a sports scientist, and biomechanist presented his findings on proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF is a form of stretching that improves muscle elasticity while helping with range of motion. Dr. Siff is also credited with coining the phrase “functional conditioning.”

Introduction of the Swiss Ball

The Swiss ball, commonly referred to as an exercise ball, was created by an Italian toy maker in the 1960s. After Dr. Siff’s presentation, the world saw the expansion of the Swiss ball to help with functional fitness training. Determining how essential core strength was to everyday life helped its popularity among coaches and physical trainers.

There is a slight obsession with core stability. A fitness professional will explain how essential core strength is to your overall well-being. It becomes more vital as we age and our posture changes. Building core strength through functional exercises helps take pressure off other areas like hips, back, and knees.

Functional Fitness Training in Professional Sports

Before functional movements became popular, sports coaches and trainers saw many new injuries like rotator cuff tears. This significant tear in the shoulder usually results in surgery and a significant recovery period. As they noticed these new injuries, it became apparent that functional training systems needed to be incorporated into pre-season and in-season workouts. The more intense sports became, the more vital it was to ensure functional exercise was put into practice.

Workouts of the 2000s

Since functional movement training was the latest craze, many fitness training professionals were jumping on the bandwagon. The use of the Bosu Ball, created by David Weck in the 1990s, proved to push people to their limits regarding stability. The half-moon ball works by standing on it with your legs bent to keep one’s balance. It’s excellent training for the core.

Planks, wheel rollouts, and kettlebells made their way into functional fitness training to initiate core strength training. Fitness professional, Pavel Tsatouline, brought kettlebell training worldwide with its versatility and functional movement training.

Workouts like CrossFit and TRX also led the way in functional training to prepare people for unforeseen circumstances. The philosophy was building strength and endurance to allow people to withstand anything that life presented.

How Effective is Functional Training?

Functional training is effective for various reasons. Not only does functional fitness training prepare you for everyday activities, but it also builds strength and endurance. It’s possible to see muscle definition when you add functional fitness to your workout routine, and it’s safer than bodybuilding.

As you become more fit, your body burns more calories at rest. Incorporating functional fitness training into your lifestyle means you will have a higher metabolic rate. Burning calories during a workout is a given, but being able to do so long after training is complete is the way to weight loss.

Incorporating Functional Training into Your Lifestyle

Once you start performing functional movement into your lifestyle, everyday activities aren’t as tricky. Since functional training isn’t as intense as some training like bodybuilding, you can train 2-3 times per week without the risk of injury. The idea is to perform functional exercise that lowers your risk of injuring yourself when you bring the groceries in from the car or play on the floor with your children. No matter what workout program you choose, finding functional exercises brings a healthy lifestyle without needing intense workout sessions.

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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