It’s no secret exercise is good for you. But it’s not always easy to know where to begin — or how to avoid injury-causing exercise mistakes. Whether your neck and back are sore from working from home or you’re simply spending too much time on the couch, it’s important to find an exercise routine that keeps your body safe.
One great way to stay active and help prevent pain and injury is with functional fitness — or simple exercises that use many muscle groups at once.
What makes functional fitness special
While exercises like weightlifting and cardio target specific health needs, functional fitness is meant to reduce your chance of injury while doing everyday things.
"Think in terms of your daily routine," says Kaiser Permanente Director of Employee Wellness and certified functional strength coach Andy Gallardo. "From crouching down in the garden to reaching high while shopping for groceries, you move in all sorts of ways every day. Functional fitness helps you stay strong and flexible as you go about your life." Simply put: It’s about preparing your body for everyday life.
Like most exercise, functional fitness is good for your mental health too. Plus, Gallardo adds, it works well for all ages.
"Even though younger people tend to be more flexible and avoid injury easier, functional fitness can benefit everyone. And it’s especially good for people in their 40s and older," he says.
7 simple functional fitness exercises
You may be familiar with most functional fitness exercises, which are easy to do at home and usually require little to no equipment. Some examples include:
- Squats for your legs, stomach, and lower back.
- Lunges for your upper legs and glutes.
- Planks for your core, back, and shoulders.
- Push-ups for your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.
- Pull-ups for your biceps, triceps, forearms, wrists, shoulders, and core.
- Shoulder presses for your core, shoulders, and back. Tip: To help prevent injury, try sand-filled weights instead of dumbbells.
- Stackers for your whole body. Not familiar with stackers? Here’s what to do:
- Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder’s width apart and pretend to hold a basketball straight out in front of you.
- Bend at the waist to reach and tap the outside of your left heel.
- Then reach back up and across your body to the right, as if you’re stacking a box on a shelf right above your shoulder.
- As you twist across your body, your left heel may come off the ground as you pivot your hips to the right.
Whichever exercises you do, remember that form is key. If you’re working out at home, you can always search online for videos and step-by-step graphics that show how to do these exercises correctly. Make sure to go with a source you trust. And if something hurts, always stop and find help.
Tips for a successful fitness routine
To get the most from functional fitness, like with any exercise, you should make it part of your regular routine. "Move every day," says Gallardo. It’s his number one tip. But also remember to:
- Warm up and cool down — "Always start with a warmup to get your heart pumping blood to your muscles. Some jogging in place and light stretching are great ways to get your body ready for action," says Gallardo. "And after your workout, go for a walk and do more light stretching or yoga to help your body cool down."
- Pay attention to posture — To prevent injury, keep your back straight and avoid hunching your shoulders or straining your neck.
- Mix it up — Variety is key. Mix and match exercises each day to keep your workout fresh and give different muscles time to rest.
- Know your limits — Check with your doctor before you start your new training program so you can discuss your needs. Everyone is different, so take it slow and listen to your body as you create a workout that works well for you.
Looking for other ideas? Explore our mind-body wellness center for more guided exercises and activities.