Spring weather brings new beginnings, and it's a great time for you to consider starting a new spring fitness program with a focus on functional exercises. Functional fitness is an emerging fitness trend where individuals focus on building strength and endurance for everyday activities. Whether you're looking to restart that new year's resolution you've put on hold or vary your normal training routine, functional fitness is a great way for you to get in shape, focus on functional strength, and recover from previous injuries. Before you begin any exercise program, you should consult with a healthcare professional or licensed physical therapist to work on building foundational strength with proper form before adding additional weighted resistance. We've highlighted some functional exercises for you to consider as you jumpstart spring fitness.
The tried and true push-up is a great way to start your functional fitness exercises. Push-ups help you build upper body strength and work your triceps, shoulders, and pectoral muscles. Depending on your comfort level, you can choose to start in a plank position supported by your hands and toes, or you may wish to rest your knees on the ground to make it a little easier. Straighten your arms and legs and set your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. From this starting position, lower your body towards the ground until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, then push back up to the starting position at a controlled pace.
Your lower back, abdominals, glutes, and hamstrings play an essential role in nearly every activity you do throughout the day. For this exercise, you're going to strengthen multiple muscle groups by performing controlled hip thrusts while on your back. To begin this functional exercise, you want to lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor. From there, place your arms comfortably at your sides with the palms facing down on the floor. With controlled movements, begin to lift or thrust your hip upwards by pushing through your feet and activating those glutes, abdominals, and hamstring muscles. Try to form a straight line or a bridge from your shoulders to your knees. Once you've reached the top, begin to slowly return to the starting position.
Developing stronger abdominal muscles can help your body perform both heavy and light tasks throughout the day. Abdominal twists with a medicine ball is a great way for you to develop those ab muscles that are used to support your core and are in use when you twist and turn during the day. To begin this exercise, you want to sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet resting flat on the ground comfortably. From there, lean your upper body away from your knees and pick up a medicine ball while keeping the hip angle. Begin rotating from side to side while holding the medicine ball at a controlled speed. As you get more comfortable and build up your strength and endurance levels, you can vary this exercise by picking your feet off the ground to increase the tension on your abdominal muscles or increase the weight of the medicine ball.
When you're performing activities in your daily life that require both arms, oftentimes one arm will compensate more than the other which can lead to muscle imbalances and deficiencies. To resolve this issue, one-sided or unilateral functional exercises can be a great way to target those deficiencies and improve them over time. One such exercise to focus on building muscle and endurance for arm strength is the one-arm dumbbell snatch. In this exercise, you'll work to develop shoulder strength through compound movements that utilize your legs, back, quads, biceps, and shoulders. To begin this exercise, place a dumbbell in front of you and stand behind it shoulder-width apart. From there, bend your knees to squat and grab the handle and begin standing up, keeping a neutral spine, while pulling the dumbbell off the ground. Leading with your elbow, raise the dumbbell up to your shoulders and then thrust upward above your head to extend your arm in a controlled fashion. Reverse the entire movement to begin to a starting position and repeat. You'll want to train both arms to work on developing strength in both arms to target those muscle deficiencies.
One of the great things about functional fitness is the creative and non-traditional exercises that can target multiple muscle groups and build functional strength at the same time. In this exercise, you'll activate nearly all of your muscles to engage your arms, back, core, legs, hamstrings, shoulders, and more! To begin a crab walk exercise, you'll want to sit on the ground with your feet flat on the ground and roughly hip-distance apart in front of you and your arms on the ground behind your back comfortably with your hands palm-facing down. Then, lift your hips off the ground and begin walking forward by taking one step and one foot at a time. Focus on the proper technique and then increase the pace once you feel comfortable.
If you're looking to develop strength and power in your lower body, jump squats should be on the list of functional exercises to try. Jump squats will help you target glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. To begin this functional exercise, you want to stand with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. From the starting position, you want to lower your body into a squat by bending your knees. Once you're in a squatting position, you want to explode up into the air and then come back down softly, transitioning into the next squat to repeat the exercise. When landing, you want to make sure that you keep your knees bent to avoid injury and repeat the exercise in a controlled fashion to ensure proper technique and form. Modify this activity by not jumping and instead just standing up quickly.
One of the great things about doing functional exercises is that you don't need to use complex equipment or external weights to get a good workout in, your bodyweight can be all you need to get the heart rate elevated. Bodyweight squats are a great exercise to develop lower back, core, quad, and hamstring strength. To begin this exercise, you want to stand with your feet flat on the ground shoulder-width apart. Then, lower yourself by bending your knees as if you were getting ready to sit down in a chair. Once you've reached a 90-degree angle, go ahead and push your way back up to the standing and starting position.
Dumbbell thrusts combine multiple exercises into one and allow you to target your entire body with one exercise. During a dumbbell thrust, you'll be working to engage those quads, glutes, shoulders, triceps, core, biceps, and hamstrings. To begin the exercise you'll want to find some dumbbells that you can comfortably pick up and extend above your head towards the ceiling. Once you've found an appropriate weight and you feel comfortable with an overhead press/extension using dumbbells, you'll want to stand with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart while holding the dumbbells in a starting position at shoulder height. From there, bend down into a squatting position while holding the dumbbells and then extend upward by pushing through the ground as if you're performing a normal squat exercise. As you complete the squat movement you want to use your upward momentum to reach toward the sky and extend the dumbbells above. Once you've reached full extension above, lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders in the starting position and repeat the exercise. Try to perform the exercise in one fluid motion and do so at a steady pace so you can avoid injury. During this exercise, it's important to focus on form over the weight you're lifting.
As you go about your daily routine, you'll find that you use your core in virtually every activity you do, which is why it's important to build your core strength with functional exercises. Doing a plank exercise is a great low-impact exercise that can help you tone those important abdominal muscles. To begin this exercise, you want to get on all fours and support yourself by resting on your forearms and toes. The goal of this exercise is to form a straight line from your head to your heels and hold it for 30 seconds to a minute.
Hoisting or carrying objects in your daily life starts by building strong biceps, lats, and back. Pull-ups are a great exercise to build functional strength in your upper body for all that life throws at you. To begin, find a secure pull-up bar that will allow you to hang freely and grab with your arms roughly shoulder-width apart. You can choose to take an overhand grip where you grip the bar with your palms facing away from you or an underhand grip where your palms will be facing towards you. From the starting position, lift your body upward until your chin goes above the bar and then in a controlled fashion lower your body back to the starting position. Repeat this exercise several times. Don’t have a pull-up bar? No problem. All you need is a door and a couple of towels. Just follow these steps. Step 1: Tie a knot on one end of each towel. Make sure it's tight. Step 2: Hang both towels over the door. The knot should be on the inside of the door when closed. Step 3: Close the door so it latches. Make sure the towels are laying flat enough on top of the door to get it to close. Step 4: Use the towels to do pull-ups. Your body will slide up and down the closed door.
Lunges can be a great compound exercise to develop functional strength in your core and legs, and there are plenty of different lunges to choose from. To begin a traditional walking lunge, you want to stand with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. Step forward and begin to lower your body by bending the lead knee until you're at a 90-degree angle. From there, you want to step forward with your opposite leg to carry your momentum forward and stand back up so that you can return to the starting position where you planted your lead foot. Alternate legs after each repetition.
Bending down to pick something up happens more often than you think, which is why it's important to develop functional strength so you can do it safely without potentially injuring your back. Performing a deadlift can help you build functional strength in your core, quads, glutes, abdominals, lower back, and hamstrings. To begin this exercise, find some weight you can comfortably pick up for several repetitions. If you don't have an exercise bar, you can easily substitute it for dumbbells or grocery bags with some weight. To begin the exercise, stand with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. With a straight back, lean your shoulders forward and your hips back to lower your body to the ground and grip the bar or dumbbells. From there, you want to lift the weight by pushing the floor away from you, bringing your chest up and hips back under your torso until you are upright. Once you've reached a standing position, you want to lower the weight back down to the ground while trying to keep your back straight. Focus on controlling your form and moving at an intentional steady pace. If you find that you're struggling to perform this exercise, practice by just using your bodyweight until you develop the strength and endurance to perform this exercise.
We use functional fitness and functional exercises to help patients meet their goals and treatment needs. With functional fitness, our licensed physical therapists work with patients and individuals to prevent future injuries, alleviate pain, and recover effectively from previous injuries. Schedule an Appointment Today to see how Physical Therapy can help you get back to doing the things you love and give you the opportunity to jumpstart spring fitness safely.