By definition, functional strength is “training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities”. This includes things such as picking up boxes or moving furniture, carrying a heavy bag of groceries, walking up and down stairs, doing yardwork, or simply going for a walk. Activities such as these are most often unavoidable, and performing them safely with proper form is the best way to avoid injury. Functional strength is something you may think you already have enough of, or may not think about at all as you go about your daily life. No matter where you stand, there is always room for improvement.
How can you improve your functional strength?
There are different areas of the body which become even more important when it comes to functional strength. The three areas of focus should be in your abdominals, hip abductors and rotators, and scapula stabilizers. These three muscle groups often work in unison to maintain good posture while performing activities. Let’s use the groceries as an example. When we carry a bag of groceries from the car to the house we use our abdominals to stabilize our upper body and maintain an upright posture. Our hips are vital to maintain whole-body balance and ensuring we move straight forward without falling to either side. The scapula stabilizers (rear shoulder) are necessary to hold the bags in our hands without putting too much strain on our neck and arm muscles. It’s obvious that some exercises will demand more of one muscle group than the others, but we shouldn’t forget that our body must work together to execute each movement with safety and efficiency.
What kind of exercises can improve your functional strength?
While it’s true that all forms of exercise can benefit your daily life in more ways than one, there are specific exercises and movement patterns you should be doing to improve your functional strength. The best part of functional strength training is it includes a variety of bodyweight exercises and minimal equipment use, making it an easy at-home workout. Some of the most basic exercises include bodyweight squats, push-ups, hip bridges, planks, lateral shoulder raises, and sit ups. These exercises can be completed together as one workout, or you can split them into two separate workouts. By spacing them throughout your day, it allows you to put greater focus and energy into each individual exercise.
I encourage you to be aware of your own functional strength, and determine where improvements need to be made. If you can’t seem to figure out where you need the most improvements, start by performing all the exercises listed above and your body will quickly inform you of your weak points.