Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to help you do everyday activities safely and efficiently. Find out more about functional fitness exercises — and what they can do for you. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Do you live to exercise? Unless you're an elite athlete, you probably answered no to that question. Most people, in fact, would say they exercise to improve their quality of life.

And that's the focus of functional fitness. Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of basketball with your kids.

Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.

For example, a squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.

Functional fitness exercises can be done at home or at the gym. Gyms may offer functional fitness classes or incorporate functional fitness into boot camps or other types of classes. Exercise tools, such as fitness balls, kettle bells and weights, are often used in functional fitness workouts.

Functional exercises tend to be multijoint, multimuscle exercises. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life.

Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.

Multifaceted physical movements found in activities such as tai chi and Pilates involve varying combinations of resistance and flexibility training that can help build functional fitness.

Other examples of specific functional fitness movements that use multiple joints and muscles include:

  • Multidirectional lunges
  • Standing bicep curls
  • Step-ups with weights

Multidirectional lunges prepare your body for common activities, such as vacuuming and yardwork. To do a lunge, you keep one leg in place and step out with the other leg — to the front, back or side — until your knee reaches a 90-degree angle and your rear knee is parallel to the floor.

If you are older than age 40, haven't exercised for some time or have health problems, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Similarly, women who are pregnant should check with their doctors.

It's also a good idea to start with exercises that use only your own body weight for resistance. As you become more fit and ready for more of a challenge, you can add more resistance in the form of weights, resistance tubing or performing movements in the water.

As you add more functional exercises to your workout, you should see improvements in your ability to perform your everyday activities and, thus, in your quality of life. That's quite a return on your exercise investment.

Feb. 05, 2014