Are you 'functionally' fit?

Are you 'functionally' fit?

By: ParticipACTION

Proud member of the Live Right Now Advisory Board.

You exercise regularly. You're at the top of your running game - and you can still piggy-back your 10-year-old the way you did when he was three. It feels great...doesn't it?! So how is it that a little window-washing or pruning of the pear tree in the backyard has left you so stiff and sore?

participaction-cameron-catherine70x78.jpg Catherine Cameron

Active Living Ambassador

It could be that while you're getting plenty of physical activity, you're not attending to your functional fitness needs. To be quite honest, I'm guilty of this myself. Though I run day after day, ride my bike whenever I can, walk my dog several times a day, and devote time to strength training a few times a week, every now and then I marvel at how some (typically household) activity, can leave me stiff and sore.

Functional fitness is about exercising to build muscle strength and coordination while simulating and enabling the tasks of everyday living - such as activities you perform at home, work, or participating in activities and sports you enjoy (like baseball, curling or dancing).

It's very possible to have super cardiovascular endurance and to be strong and toned but to be ill-prepared for activities like painting a room, making a bed, shifting light furniture, or hoisting your preschooler out of her car seat.

Weight training, for example, enables us to isolate a specific muscle group - but it doesn't teach this same muscle group to work with others. Functional fitness training teaches muscles to work cooperatively - to be "friends".

If for example, you're constantly picking up items off the floor (say, in your preschooler's bedroom or at work), you need to use muscles in both your upper and lower body to do so. A squat to bicep curl would be one exercise that mimics the movement required to complete this everyday task and trains the required muscle groups to work together. A few other common functional fitness combinations: multidirectional lunges, squat to bicep curl, and step-ups with weights.

We've all known people who injured their lower back while making a bed or who strained the muscles in their shoulder, neck and/or upper back while pruning a tree - it's happened to most of us, and I'm no exception. I can recall one lunch with friends where I couldn't turn my head to face a friend on one side of me because my neck was so stiff and sore from gardening. I marvelled and joked with my friends that I could run for hours but that a little 'garden work,' could leave me in such discomfort.

If you'd like to improve your functional fitness, most experts suggest avoiding weights altogether, at least initially. Instead, start with teaching your body to control and balance its own weight while performing simple movement like a one-legged squat. Once you can control and balance your own weight, you can safely begin adding light weights while performing the same exercises - but my advice is to get some advice from a trainer, physiotherapist, or health professional who can evaluate your needs and identify some exercises to help you specifically. Items such as stability balls, light hand weights, kettle bells and a wobble board may factor into your routine.

I always suggest that people who are over 40 (yes, I am too!) - or entirely new to physical activity - check with their health professional first. Get the green light and some support behind you before you begin! Once you get started with some specific exercises, it won't take long before you'll see an improvement in your ability to perform everyday tasks.

I too am making functional fitness training a greater priority this fall and winter. After all, snow-shovelling season will be here before we know it!

Cheers to all!

Catherine Cameron

Ambassador, Active Living

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