Functional Fitness


What’s behind this hot trend in fitness? Learn how being “functional” can help you fit fitness into your daily activities.

“Functional fitness” is so much more than the latest buzzword in fitness. It’s a way to integrate strength-building and improved flexibility into your day-to-day activities.

“Functional fitness is activity that’s ‘unassisted,’” says Laura Bookman, MS, Fitness Director at Lake Forest Health and Fitness Center and certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer. Functional fitness incorporates all types of movements that isolate and utilize core function through a range of motion. This can be done standing, sitting, balancing on one foot or a combination of standing and balance movements. You may use resistance bands, balance balls, free weights or simply items available in your home.

In contrast, “assisted” exercise uses resistance or weight machines such as those found in a health club. You put your hands or feet in the same place every time and move the way the machine wants you to move to work targeted muscles in a consistent way.

Unassisted exercise through functional fitness activities allows more freedom for greater range of movement—working muscle groups in different ways. “Think about using free weights for your arms, for example,” says Bookman. “With the functional fitness approach, you could have your palms up, palms down, arms straight, elbows bent, arms up, arms down or to the side. Each way you hold and move the free weights works different muscles in the arms in different ways. Compare that to an exercise machine that works your biceps or triceps in one specific way.” Additionally, functional fitness incorporates core muscle groups and balance training.

Bookman recommends Yoga and Pilates as forms of functional fitness. Pilates works the muscles around the spine, and strengthens your upper and lower back and your abdomen in all directions. Yoga helps with lengthening, flexibility and isometric holds. Both methods build your “core.” “Strengthening your abdominal muscles and lower back can help you with lifting and other activities,” she says. “A strong abdomen and back also reduce your risk of injury.”


Special equipment is not needed

While bands, balls and yoga classes are helpful, you don’t need special equipment or a specific class to benefit from functional fitness. It’s easy to fit right into your normal activities.

Bookman offers some ideas for how to blend functional fitness into your daily activities:

  • When you reach to grab something off of a high shelf, do it in a way that stretches your back, arms and shoulders and improves your balance.
  • “While you are working around the house, focus on proper alignment. Be sure that you’re engaging your abdominal muscles to help protect your back and spine,” she says.
  • When vacuuming, avoid bending at the hip (which can hurt your lower back). Stand upright or make sure you are bending at your knee joint. “You can also do lunges while you are vacuuming,” Bookman says. Lunges help to improve balance and strengthen the major muscles in your lower body.
  • When shoveling snow, bend your knees and use your abdominal muscles — not your back — to lift and toss the snow.
  • When you go for a walk, hold free weights in your hands to build strength in arms and chest. “This also can help to improve your cardio-respiratory endurance.”
  • In the pool, do leg lifts to the front, back and side, keeping your knee straight as long as you do not have a knee injury and can safely work through the resistance of the water.
  • Bookman reminds people, “Stretching is always important to do after a long day of work. Stretching will help improve range of motion around your joints and will help prevent injuries.”


Get the Right Start with a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer can teach you effective techniques to maximize your fitness potential from at-home exercise or activities. You can meet a personal trainer or participate in Yoga or Pilates classes at a Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Health & Fitness Center, located in Lake Forest and in Lindenhurst. Both facilities welcome adults and their children. For more information on the Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Health & Fitness center, visit