You’re unloading groceries from your car trunk when—ouch!—there goes your back.

You’re pulling on a sweater and—snap!—you tweak your shoulder.

Want to help protect yourself from these annoying—and often painful—everyday injuries? Functional fitness training can help you…


Functional fitness training is the official name for exercise that improves strength, balance and flexibility in ways that allow you to safely and effectively perform your real-life activities. It’s not a new concept. It’s been used for more than a decade to help patients get back to their normal daily activities after heart attacks, stroke, surgeries and other medical setbacks.

Latest development: Functional fitness training is increasingly being used preventively to stave off injury and maintain independence. In fact, it has reclaimed a spot on the top 10 list of fitness trends in the US and around the world for 2018, according to a survey of more than 4,000 exercise physiologists and other fitness professionals.

What’s different about this form of exercise? Unlike traditional fitness moves that work just one or two muscle groups at a time (for example, up-and-down bicep curls or the cyclical motion of an elliptical machine), functional fitness training focuses on whole-body movements that mimic the twisting, bending, turning, crouching and reaching you do all day long.

Scientific evidence: When researchers published a review in European Review of Aging and Physical Activity of 13 trials looking at functional fitness training, this form of exercise beat out strength training alone (such as weight lifting) when assessing one’s ability to perform daily activities.


Most signature exercises of functional training haven’t gone away—they are just being supplemented by recent (and some would say improved) ideas such as introducing unstable surfaces (using Bosu balls, for example) or equipment that elevates the exercise challenge (for instance, suspension exercises, as described below).

Traditional functional fitness exercises include…

• Chair Sit to Stand, which engages your abdominal, back and leg muscles. This exercise, which involves rising from a seated position, helps you get out of a chair, car or bathtub.

• Medicine Ball Low-to-High Chop involves squatting down, picking up a weighted ball positioned next to one of your ankles, and standing up while hoisting the ball overhead and then swinging it to the opposite side. This helps prepare you for unloading groceries, stashing items on high shelves and picking up an item from the floor. It also can help your golf swing!

Among the newer additions to functional fitness workouts…*

• TRX Suspension Training. If you’ve seen these black-and-yellow straps dangling from an overhead anchor point at your gym and felt intimidated, fear not. With this type of suspension exercise (TRX is short for total-body resistance exercise), the strap’s handles can be gripped with your hands or looped around your feet, letting you leverage your body weight and gravity for a full-body workout. It can be a smart option for active older adults—it offers the opportunity to perform hundreds of moves that can be made increasingly more challenging as strength improves.

Sample TRX move #1: Squats. Let’s say you want to do squats, which strengthen the muscles needed to climb stairs or lower yourself into the bathtub. With this form of suspension exercise, you can shorten the straps to increase stability as you lower your body and rise back up. When the straps are lengthened, however, more strength and body control are required throughout the exercise.

Sample TRX move #2: Assisted Row. Beginning with shortened straps, hold one handle in each hand. Your hands should be chest height with your palms facing in and your elbows fully bent. Slowly lean your upper body back and away from your hands, keeping your back straight. Once your arms are fully extended, pull back up to the starting position. Increase the number of repetitions and sets as strength improves.

Note: The TRX Suspension Training System is available at more than 25,000 gyms worldwide. If you’re interested in a home system, TRX Home2 System is available for $169.95.

Important: For beginners with very poor balance or poor body awareness and control, the TRX may not offer sufficient support. To avoid injury, good body form and movement technique should be maintained throughout the exercises performed on the TRX. If you’re concerned about your balance, ask your doctor if suspension exercises are right for you.

• Resistance Bands. These stretchy bands have been around for a while, but are now being used in fresh, new ways. With resistance band–walking, for example, a long band is tied around the user’s hips while a trainer holds the other end. As the user walks far enough away to create tension in the band, the trainer then gently tugs or releases the band, forcing the user to quickly adjust to the instability.

You also can perform a number of different solo exercises by attaching your band to a post or door handle. For example, you can lower your body into a semi (partial) squat or staggered stance position and perform an alternating push-and-pull exercise with or without trunk rotation.


One-on-one training is the safest way for beginners to start a functional fitness training program. For those who are more experienced exercisers, group classes are a more affordable option. Check your local Y or community center.

For personal guidance, look for an exercise professional with a degree in kinesiology or sports science and/or a Senior Fitness Specialist certificate from the National Academy of Sports Medicine or American Council on Exercise.

Another option: You also can use a DVD for a functional fitness workout at home. Search “functional fitness workout DVD” online.

•Consult an exercise professional for advice on the frequency and appropriate number of repetitions for you.