How functional fitness can make us fitter and more sociable

“Forget running – functional fitness has made me the strongest, fittest and most sociable I’ve ever been”

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There’s more than one way to get strong; sometimes, it takes ditching what we feel comfortable doing to reap the mental and physical benefits of fitness.

Lockdown and running. For me, they were a partnership; the perfect match born out of an incredibly challenging time. I ran at least four times a week at the height of the pandemic, often five. And while that was positive for my fitness and mental health, it took its toll on my body. 

It’s that toll which led me, eventually, to a functional fitness class. Undoubtedly, a lot changed during the pandemic, including how we exercise. As gyms closed, we tried alternative methods of fitness. What I possessed in motivation to run (it meant an escape from the house and often homeschooling), I lacked in physical strength and wellness. 12 months after that initial lockdown, I had tendonitis and arthritis in my left hip, quite possibly from over-exercising

The recovery was painful, and when I was advised to stop running, I entered a despondent slump: what could I do to stay strong and fit? 

Despair set in for fear of losing the fitness I’d worked hard to achieve. I was rarely inspired to do a YouTube pilates or HIIT class, and for some months, I did no fitness at all bar the odd online class. 

Then, in September last year, my friend invited another friend and me to a functional fitness class at a local gym. I thought it would be a quick HIIT class followed by a catch-up with my friends. I was wrong. 

How does functional fitness differ from HIIT?

Connor McArthur, functional fitness coach and personal trainer at Lifeline Fitness and CMC Coaching, uses functional fitness for his clients and explains how it differs from a HIIT workout: “HIIT is strict to one form of aerobic movement, meaning it will be based around running, biking or rowing for several sets,” he tells Stylist. “Functional fitness mixes aerobic capacity and compound movements that use the entire body, such as squats, deadlifts, thrusters, snatches, cleans and pull-ups.”

McArthur uses functional fitness for his clients for many reasons. “Functional fitness helps you move and feel better in daily tasks,” he says, “along with creating a fun, versatile way of training that helps you achieve your goals while enjoying the journey.”

How functional fitness makes you better at everyday life

The first session hooked me, even though I was given the lowest weights available. We spent the hour doing exercises that prepare you for daily tasks by training your muscles to work together. The combination of squats, lunges, deadlifts, rotations and step-ups using weights, kettlebells, speed bikes, fitness balls and TRX bands was brutal but satisfying. The next day I could barely walk or bend my arms.

The theory behind functional fitness is that if you master power, strength, balance and mobility, you’ll be better equipped to carry out the movements required in everyday life. You should find things like bending, walking, climbing and even tasks such as lifting or moving furniture at home a lot easier (or, at least, less dangerous) because you have the all-round moves to do it safely rather than just possessing sheer strength.

My friends and I have been going once or twice a week to the same class for almost five months, and my fitness is just as good, if not better, than it was when I was running regularly. I’ve gone from lifting 2kg weights to 7.5kg and from having never used kettlebells to using two 20kgs at once.  

My body is fitter, I’m stronger, my injuries are gone, and I love working out with my friends as I push myself much more. There have been countless occasions when I have almost given up or have loudly vocalised that I won’t be able to do the medicine ball wall throws or leg raises, but my training buddies or the instructor have encouraged and motivated me to keep going. 

And McArthur agrees with working out with a trainer or in a class: “I’m here to hold each individual accountable for their fitness journey and goals. All the client has to do is show up and let me do the programming for the session and motivate them throughout.”

How to get into functional fitness

So, where do you start if you want to try functional fitness? McArthur suggests beginning with some expert help. “It is always better to start with a trainer when doing functional fitness to teach the correct form without the possibility of injury.”

And it doesn’t matter what your level of fitness is or what age you are. “Anybody can start functional fitness, no matter what level of fitness you are,” McArthur stresses. “We all have to start somewhere, and exercises within functional fitness are scalable to every client’s needs.

“Functional fitness is suitable for any age group, from top young athletes to people looking to feel and move better, to those trying to look after their body as they hit the later stages in life. It creates a sufficient physical fitness level to manage daily tasks safely and independently without any form of fatigue.”

Instead of dreading exercise, as I often did with running, I genuinely look forward to the functional fitness classes. Not only do I see my friends, but my body feels fit, strong and pain-free and increasing my weights and reps motivates me to keep going. Yes, we refer to the class as the ‘Pain Cave’, but I wouldn’t swap it for any other type of fitness! 

Start working on your functional fitness with a Strong Women Training Club 15-minute mobility class.

Image: Getty

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