What is functional fitness and why is it important?

The tagline for ‘en Joy dance fitness is “feel-good, fun and functional fitness”. Our workouts are designed to be enjoyable and make you feel good about yourselves. But what about “functional fitness”, what does that mean and why is it important?

In a nutshell, functional fitness helps you move better in everyday life, making daily tasks easier. In turn, this helps you avoid injuries and falls and promotes healthy ageing, ultimately improving quality of life and prolonging independence.

Functional fitness isn’t just something for older adults to think about, however. It’s really important for adults of all ages to stay as active as possible in order to reduce the risks of inactivity in later life. Functional fitness is about utilising muscle groups and getting them to work together, it’s about gradually increasing the depth of movements (such as squats and lunges) and the range of motion, to strengthen the muscles and mobilise the joints. Functional fitness is also about creating a degree of instability in exercises (eg standing on one leg) in order to improve balance. Through consistent functional fitness training, if you trip you’ll be more likely to manage to quickly get your balance and stabilise your body. If you fall and catch yourself in a lunge position, the muscles in your legs and core will be able to work efficiently to pull you back to standing, as you’ll have practised this movement and strengthened the correct muscles.

Functional fitness is about moving with a purpose. It doesn’t necessarily mean high-energy cardio, or the type of training you wake up aching from the next morning! It’s important to take a gradual approach and not overload the muscles, especially if you are new to this type of exercise. Classes such as FLEX + Flow and FitSteps TONE use slower, controlled movements to help improve mobility, flexibility and stability – all things we need to make everyday life easier.

Resistance training is a great way to add some functional training to your workout. In FitSteps TONE we use resistance bands to condition the upper body and to improve posture. In Zumba Toning we use very lightweight Zumba Toning Sticks. These are great fun to use, as they are maraca-style instruments which also add resistance to the movements. You’re unlikely to develop huge biceps from Zumba Toning, but in time you’ll notice improved upper body and core strength which will help you carry out daily tasks such as carrying shopping bags or picking up a heavy basket full of laundry. Resistance training is particularly important from middle age, as muscle mass and bone mass generally begin to gradually decrease from the mid-thirties, more so if a person is largely inactive. The decrease in oestrogen from menopause onwards also makes women more susceptible to loss of bone mass than men, which can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis in later life. The term “use it or lose it” is certainly true when it comes to functional fitness.