The term “functional fitness” became kind of a buzz-phrase a few years back, but I haven’t heard it tossed around as much lately, mainly because I think people started to forget what it actually meant and/or jumped onto whatever the “next big thing” was that came around.
At its core, functional fitness is fitness that helps with functioning in real life. Think strength exercises that work multiple muscles at a time instead of ongoing reps of a single muscle. A lot of functional fitness beginning programs start by doing strength exercises that don’t even require outside weights, simply using ones own body weight. Here’s a test… can you do a one-legged squat? Yet, could you sit down on a leg-press machine and pump out several reps? Truly functional fitness comes when you are teaching all your muscles to work together in harmony. Living requires moving multiple groups of muscles all at the same time! [Functional Fitness on the Mayo Clinic]
I take the definition even further. While coaching runners, I had a group of gals who were struggling through their first 7-mile run in half-marathon training and as I trotted up to them to see how things were going, one of them said, “The only way I’m getting through this is to keep telling myself ‘skinny jeans, skinny jeans, skinny jeans.'”
I’ll be honest, I don’t like that kind of motivation for training for an endurance event or for any kind of fitness. I truly believe it needs to come from a deeper place than that to be a lasting change in your life. So I said to her, “What about: powerful heart, efficient lungs, stronger muscles, longer life?”
She looked at me and said, “Nah… that’s no motivation.”
Okay… I can understand simply because we live in a world that has conditioned us to believe that the only reasons we work out are for aesthetic qualities.
Got a wedding coming up?
Exercise to look good in your dress.
You need to workout to wear a bathing suit.
Class reunion, formal event, going to the coffee shop…
you can’t do any of it unless you fit into a specific size/mold/ideal.
It’s really not fair to place that expectation on each other or ourselves. We’re all different, unique, INDIVIDUALS.
Recently Alissa wrote a post about the phrase “skinny-fat” and how some trainers recommend against steady-state endurance exercise because it’s not “the best” for your body appearance.
Running gives me a cardiovascular workout but it also helps with brain fitness. [Brilliant! All The Running You’re Doing is Making You More Smarter] Running also helps me with psychological wellness. (Running is cheaper than therapy, anyone? Although… some of us do need both!) Those benefits are HUGE to me and I’m not going to stop running just because some books/articles/podcasts tell me it’s making me “skinny-fat”.
I used to think the term skinny-fat was reserved for people who are genetically thin without doing any kind of fitness activities while living off a diet of processed foods that should not be dietary staples. But now it’s being used as a marketing ploy to make all of us feel bad. No matter what approach you take, it’s not right or not good enough. Pinterest is rampant with boards and pictures labeled as “fitness inspiration” or “fitspiration” or “fitspo”, often with photos zoomed into a specific body part. You don’t know what type of body that person has, what they have had to do to gain that or if that is even possible for your genetics to achieve. [Fitspiration: Why it isn’t so inspirational on Huffington Post]
There are paleo and “caveman” dietary trends, marketed to help you slim down by eating more like our primal ancestors, which in turn lead to exercise plans to help you achieve these early human physiques. Did you know that most likely the cavemen still had a layer of fat around their midsections, simply because it was a fuel source that enabled them to be powered through their long hunting and gathering sessions? And when they did make a kill, most likely they gorged themselves because who knew when or where the next meal would come from? [Did Cavemen have Six Packs? on Wildman Training]
Overall, I just would like to encourage everyone to work out in ways that make them feel good. Whether that be running or some other activity you enjoy… don’t base your entire motivation for health solely on how you hope to be able to change your body or trying to look like someone other than the best version of yourself possible.
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