Health and fitness coaches keep talking about “functional” movements that can help you perform your day-to-day tasks and chores better, but then go on and pack your training calendar with bicep curls, tricep extensions, ab crunches, bench press, calf raises, dumbbell flies and the like. Well, these are isolation movements and lead to gain in strength and mass in targeted muscle groups—they are not really functional movements. Functional exercises are those that improve your performance in the tasks you perform or the sport you play.
Professional athletes will have a very different functional training routine depending on the sport they play. For example, basketball players will do a lot of shuttle runs, quick change in direction and jumps whereas a fast bowler’s functional training regimen will include work on shoulder strength, arm speed and strengthening the lower back. However, for common folks and fitness enthusiasts, no matter how experienced, the functional exercises are more basic and the aim is to help them become better at chores and daily tasks.
Here are four functional exercises that should be a part of everyone’s training routine.
Squats: This is one of the most basic and functional movements in our lives. Without even realising it, we perform squats in some form or the other multiple times throughout the day. However, most people who turn to an active life of exercise and gymming, usually struggle with performing the full squat. “We spend most of our time in front of the computer or working while seated. This way we don’t end up flexing our ankles, knees or hips as much as we should and this makes the muscles around our joints weak and the joints themselves a bit rusty. That makes squat an extremely challenging exercise for anyone starting out,” says Sandeep Sachdev, coach and co-founder of EasyHuman fitness studio and café in Mumbai. Yet with patience and practice the squat can be mastered. The squat helps you in standing up from any seated position, getting off the bed, climbing stairs, carrying your backpack, picking up things from the floor, getting up from the ground, chair, car or bike among other things.
Deadlift: This exercise is just as important and vital, second only to the squat. Pick a day at random and try to recall how many times you lifted something off the floor. You probably don’t have a number because you have to do it way too often. Deadlift involves picking up a load off the floor and coming up to a standing position while keeping your spine straight all through the movement. This exercise is excellent for strengthening your core, lower back, glutes and hamstrings while it helps you maintain a healthy back and spine. A strong back also means lower chances of injury, better posture and fewer back pain issues. We mimic the deadlift movement in our daily lives whenever we pick up anything off the floor or something from a lower height. For example, picking up a baby off the mat, your phone off the floor if you have dropped it, the cricket bat that one might have left on the ground, your groceries bag and baggage off the conveyor belt at the airport or getting it from under the seat on the train. By performing the deadlift efficiently, you develop better posture for picking things off the floor and that reduces your risk of lower back injuries.
Farmer’s Carry: While grocery shopping for oneself is common the world over, with home delivery services and for other reasons we don’t always end up carrying our grocery bags from the market to our homes. However, we often end up carrying our laptop bags and the spoils from our shopping sprees. And how can we forget the last minute dash at the airport gate with our hand baggage? If any of these scenarios are familiar to you, you need to incorporate farmer’s carry into your fitness routine. As the name suggests, farmer’s carry requires you to carry a load and walk with it. You hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and walk with it. That’s farmer’s carry, simple. It is one of the most practical and functional movements you would perform in the gym or at home. It helps you move better while bearing any load and improves posture and strength.
Push-ups: This is often a difficult exercise for beginners but it is very useful all the same. It recruits the muscles in your chest, back, arms, core, and legs simultaneously, making it total-body exercise. However, its biggest benefit is gaining upper body strength. This is required in our day to day life for something as simple as sitting on a chair or getting out of bed after a lie-in.
Whether you can perform the full push-up or not, everyone performs some variation of the push-up while getting out of bed or managing to stay on their feet on a crowded bus, metro or train while being pushed around. Without upper body strength and firm feet, using public transport systems could be a challenge. Push-ups are also great for health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2019 study of more than 1,100 occupationally active adult men found a negative association between baseline push-up capacity and incident cardiovascular disease risk.