You’re feeling pretty good. After all, your typical week includes lifting weights and logging miles on the treadmill.
Then why does your back feel sore from carrying in the groceries and pulling some weeds the other day? It could be that your workout focuses on isolated groups of muscles rather than training your body parts to work together.
Comprehensive training for activities you do in everyday life is known as functional fitness and is currently one of the hottest buzz phrases in the workout industry. The American College of Sports Medicine ranked functional fitness as one of the top 10 fitness trends for 2015.
Target: optimal performance
Jay Shiner, program director for the Athletic Performance Program at University of Rochester Sports Medicine, helps athletes learn how to go beyond strength training for isolated areas, to develop more holistic fitness.
Shiner has years of functional fitness experience, working with top-level professional athletes including the Baltimore Orioles and members of the U.S.A. Track & Field team. He even spent time in the Dominican Republic working with Major League Baseball players, and using functional fitness as a training tool.
“We didn’t have any equipment. No machines. No ellipticals. Our training was life function in the purest form,” he says.
Members of the Athletic Performance team—including 15 certified athletic trainers, a chief clinical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon—conduct on-site athlete assessments in two categories: sports performance and injury prevention. The former focuses on agility, footwork and speed, and the latter on mobility and stability in multiple functional movements. The assessments are done together and called a combine.
The combine caught the attention of Fritz Killian, director of Health, Physical Education & Athletics at Brighton Central School District who arranged a combine for his student athletes in May 2014.
“These assessments let you see alignment issues, and see an injury waiting to happen. Then after just two minutes of instruction, there’s improvement,” Killian says.
After each combine, Shiner follows up with a review of the data and a summary. He identifies strengths and areas for improvement, providing next steps for coaches and parents.
You can too, but go slow
Functional fitness isn’t just for athletes. Because it trains your muscles to work together and prepares them for fundamental movement used to perform daily tasks—twisting, bending, squatting, lunging, reaching and staggered stances—it is ideal for everyone.
To be executed safely, all these movements demand a certain level of strength and coordination. Think of climbing a ladder with a paint bucket or picking up a squirming toddler. There is a correct form and proper way to do these movements, which become your training exercises.
Shiner says he prefers using body weight rather than machines for effective training, saying that more weight can be added with plenty of time and training.
“An individual should only add resistance and additional weight when he or she is physically and structurally ready,” he says.