Isn't fitness... fitness? While all fitness is beneficial, some types of fitness may be more advantageous for you, and more suited to your life goals. Sure, an athlete training for a specific sport such as body building may have a specific exercise regime, but for the average person, having the capacity to stay fit, and "do life" is the long term goal.
If you've ever wondered why you can be fit, healthy, and go to the gym, and then throw your back out after lifting a 50 pound suitcase, or why your back aches after shovelling snow, it's probably because you're missing a key component in your fitness routine; Functional Fitness.
While you can get strong and lean from going to the gym, the introduction of functional fitness is important for longevity and applying strength in real life situations. Traditional gym routines often involve lifting a certain amount of weight in an idealized posture created by a gym machine. This is great for building isolated strength, however much of life is not very isolated or categorized by 5 pound increments.
Functional fitness trains the body to become capable of completing every day tasks with ease and efficiency. Think maneuvering suitcases, carrying groceries, lifting a toddler from a crib, and bending down to tie your shoes. Functional exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating movements you would do daily at home, work, during sports, or in the event of being chased through the forest by a tiger (just saying). They simultaneously engage muscles of the upper and lower body, as well as the core to build total body strength and functionality.
As a bonus, because these movements recruit a variety of muscle groups, they burn many calories. This means now that not only is life easier... you look and feel better too!
These movements aren't just for those who are already fit, or running adventure races. They are applicable and important and fundamental for everyone across the lifespan; from the average human being to the elderly. Think prolonging your longevity in later life by being able to walk unassisted, stand up from the chair, and be able to use the toilet. While this is frightening to think about, it will one day be a reality. If the longterm aspect doesn't inspire you, think short term like being able to pick up your children free of injury, keeping up with them at the park, and being around to see your children have children.
Functional fitness isn't about finding a couple hay bales or tires and throwing them around. It begins with the basics; starting with bodyweight movements. If you can't control your body with ease and proper form, you can't expect to perform other movements pain and injury free either. Start with the basics, and build your way to tasks that will challenge you to achieve your goals; whether they are simply day to day tasks with more ease, or training for an event.
Some basic functional movements and how they relate to real life tasks:
Squat: The squat is a fundamental movement pattern that involves nearly every muscle in the body. It is important for picking things up off the ground, going to the bathroom, and for overall general strength. Start with bodyweight squats.
Kettlebell Farmer Carry: Increases grip strength and the ability to lift and carry everyday objects. No crazy equipment necessary, just something heavy enough to challenge you in each hand, and walk with your spine as tall as possible. Part of the movement is in the pick up; keep a tall back, and engage the core to protect the spine.
Kettlebell Swing: The kettlebell swing is in the business of posture. Helping you to sit taller, correct rounding of the shoulders, and strengthen the posterior chain to offset the effects of sitting, the swing is an ideal move. On top of that, it has minimal jarring on the knees and ankles, trains the cardiovascular system, and burns a ton of calories. (I know what you're thinking... why am I not doing this already?)
Start slow, building upon the basic foundations of functional movements. Once you master your own body strength, flexibility, and mobility, you can start to build upon this foundation. You will be surprised and amazed at the energy that these movements require, the effect they will have on your body, and the fun you will have completing them. Especially in a group setting.