Functional fitness is the concept of designing our workouts around exercises that mimic everyday movements — and engaging multiple muscle groups at once. This approach to fitness aims to improve the ease and safety with which we move through our daily routine.
Beth Nicely, celebrity personal trainer and founder of The Limit, told TODAY that it’s important to train in this way because it prepares our bodies to perform the movements that we carry out on a daily basis.
“As we all go back to doing things like traveling or even more work, sitting at our desks, a little more sedentary, we don’t realize that the activities of our daily life need some exercises to strengthen, so we don’t get injured,” said Nicely. “We’ve all felt, even myself, you pick something up, and then your back’s out. These moves are going to help strengthen the correct muscles so that doesn’t happen when we’re doing something very simple every day.”
Nicely shared four different exercises that can help strengthen the muscles needed to perform common everyday movements, from picking up your kid to mowing the lawn.
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Squat to overhead press
Facilities: Two 10-15 pound dumbbells
Everyday movements: Helps with things like putting your carry-on in the overhead compartment, lifting heavy items out of closets or cabinets, and picking up your kids.
How to: Hold the weights at your shoulders with your feet hip-width apart, toes straight, and knees over the second and third toes. Bend your knees and sit back in your heels with elbows driving toward your knees keeping your chest lifted as you breathe in. As you return to standing, breathe out and press your arms overhead and parallel to each other, engaging your core and glutes. Perform 3 rounds of 12 reps.
Single arm row in split squat position
Facilities: one 10-15 pound dumbbell
Everyday movements: Helps with vacuuming and picking things up off the floor (toys/laundry), and also improves posture.
How to: Stand in a short-split stance, one foot in front of the other with your toes straight, and lift your back heel. Hold the dumbbell in the back hand at a 45-degree angle forward. Keeping your spine straight and chest lifted, squat as low as you can, keeping knees over second and third toes with your front knee staying behind the tip of your front toe. As you stand up, pull your arm back into a row while engaging your core and glutes. This is great for posture as well since we are activating the upper back while challenging our spine unilaterally. Perform 3 rounds of 12 reps on both the right and left sides.
Supine dead bug and chest press
Facilities: Two 10-15 lb dumbbells
Everyday movements: This works the core and arms simultaneously in a forward motion like you do when pushing a lawn mower.
How to: Lie down on your back holding a weight in each hand with palms facing toward your body and elbows and shoulders at 90 degrees. Lift your knees up into a tabletop position, so that your knees and hips are also at 90 degrees. As you extend one leg forward parallel to the ground, press your arms up above your chest and then lower them back down as your leg comes in, keeping your back flat on the mat with the core engaged. Alternate sides with the legs. This is a great way to activate your core simultaneously with your chest and legs. Perform 3 rounds of 12 reps.
Knee into chest stretch on back
Everyday movements: This stretch loosens the lower back muscles and hips, which is great for those who spend a lot of time sedentary at desks.
How to: Lying flat on your back, bring one leg into your chest and extend the opposite leg parallel. Keep your hips square and let your back and hips release. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. This is a great stretch for lower-back pain — which 80% of adults suffer from! — and it’s great for stretching your hip flexors as well.