What Is Functional Fitness?

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Next time you’re on your way to the gym, ask yourself how your impending workout is going to benefit you. Are you going to look better, be fitter, or improve your ability to carry huge shopping bags for miles on end without stopping? (If the latter is your aim, we would definitely recommend the farmer’s walk.)

Functional training claims to train the body for everyday situations, and who doesn’t want to get really good at carrying shopping bags? F45 Training gyms run 45-minute HIIT classes using functional exercises – the F stands for functional – so what better place to turn to find out the actual benefits of functional fitness and how to get started? Here’s Cameron Tew, head trainer at F45 Paddington, to explain all.

What is functional fitness?

Functional fitness means doing movements that mimic everyday actions, incorporating multiple muscles groups at the same time. This builds strength, stability and mobility across the body, making us more efficient human beings not only inside the gym but outside as well.

What kind of exercises are you talking about and how do they help in the real world?

The deadlift activates our pulling muscles and is incredibly practical in that it mimics the everyday movement of picking things up and putting them down. It helps to minimise the risk of injury while carrying these movements out at home or work.

Pull-ups are fantastic because they activate multiple muscle groups in our upper body at once. They also get people used to handling their own bodyweight while working on an often forgotten, but very useful, aspect of fitness – grip strength.

Most people’s days consist of a constant pattern of sitting down and standing up – your desk, your lunch, your means of transport, your sofa. Performing squats regularly will improve your efficiency in these everyday movements.

Is working on your functional fitness good for losing weight, building muscle or cross-training for certain sports?

All of the above! Because functional fitness incorporates muscle groups across the whole body it is beneficial to nearly any type of person no matter what their fitness goal is. It builds lean muscle and helps you lose weight if that’s your intention, and athletes right up to the professional level will use this type of training for conditioning because it brings a well-rounded aspect to their often highly-targeted training regimes.

If you’re a beginner, should you do functional exercises under supervision at first?

As with any type of exercise, it is better to at least be shown the basics. For most movements there are just a few key points you need to focus on, which will greatly reduce the risk of injury when performing them. Once you learn these little points it is very easy to do functional training by yourself. To reduce the risk of injury at the outset you can also focus more on bodyweight exercises and use lighter weights.

What are the benefits of doing it in a class, rather than solo?

The benefits of doing it in a class like F45 is that from the front of the room you get the guidance of experienced PTs that provide the technique cues you need to perform the exercises safely.

The PTs should motivate you too – although one of the major draws of group training is the motivation you get from seeing and hearing those around you pushing themselves and encouraging you to work to your limit too. Many people also find a group setting much more fun than exercising by themselves and let’s be honest, if it’s not fun then what’s the point?

15-Minute Functional HIIT Workout

“This quick 15-minute HIIT session will have your whole body burning, and you can do it anywhere – no equipment, no excuses,” says Tew.

Run through the five exercises in turn, aiming to complete as many reps as possible in the work periods. Do three rounds in total.

Rounds 3 Time 45sec Rest 15sec

From a standing position, drop into a squat so your thighs are parallel to the ground, then explode into the air, jumping as high as possible. Land softly, then go straight into the next rep.

Lateral shoot-through

Start in a press-up position with your arms extended and your feet spread apart. Lift one hand and move the opposite leg under your body so it extends out to the side. Then come back to the press-up position and repeat with the opposite limbs.

Tuck jump burpee

Because regular burpees wouldn’t be tough enough. From a standing position drop down and kick your feet behind you into a press-up position. Do a press-up, then jump your feet back up to your hands, stand up and explode straight into a tuck jump, bringing your knees up to your chest. Land softly, then go straight into the next rep.

Plank jack

Get into a standard plank position, face down and supported by your forearms and toes. Then jump your feet out the sides and then back together, keeping the rest of your body straight by bracing your core.

Frog squat

Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop into a deep squat so that you touch the floor in front of you with your hands. You should look like a frog, basically. Then push back up to a standing position.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.