If I had to guess, the reason most people start a fitness program is because they want to get slim enough to fit into the jeans they wore five years ago, or because they want to gain muscle so they look better at the beach. There’s nothing wrong with that! But what if you want to move with greater ease and feel better doing the things you do daily?

Like carrying bags of groceries up the stairs in one trip. Like squatting and bending down to pick up your toddler’s toys after playtime.

For us massage therapists, getting in shape could mean the movements we perform every day in sessions with clients are stronger and our bodies become more resilient to wear and tear. This is what the fitness industry calls functional fitness.

What is Functional Fitness?

The Mayo Clinic defines functional fitness training this way: “Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports. While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability.”

You may have even engaged in functional fitness exercises before without necessarily realizing it — many of them are staples in gym routines and workout classes. Typical functional fitness exercises include squats, split squats, lunges and deadlifts for the lower body. Moves that involve pulling and pushing, like push-ups and pull-ups, are the functional fitness exercises best for the upper body.

All of these functional fitness movements can be made more difficult by using equipment like dumbbells, bands, kettlebells and medicine balls. And all of them work multiple body parts instead of isolating a single body part at a time. That’s one of the reasons they work so well to improve your quality of life.

Save Time, Feel Better

I’m a big advocate of functional fitness training. Let me just sum up all the advantages it offers. Function fitness training:

• Saves time. Because functional fitness training focuses on multiple muscle groups at one time, you can achieve more in a shorter amount of time.

• Reduces the risk of injuries. As you’re engaging all those different muscles at the same time, you’re training your body to move more efficiently. That can lessen the likelihood you’ll injure yourself during the movements you make on a day-to-day basis.

• Is convenient. Functional training can be a lot easier on your schedule than a traditional workout. Since many of these movements can be done without access to the gym, you can do it anywhere, anytime. Now there is no excuse for missing your workout.

• Makes you feel better. When you incorporate functional fitness into your life, you develop strength, stability, mobility and endurance, and you do it efficiently. These changes will help you get through your daily activities with ease (and may help you slide back into those old jeans and look good on the beach, to boot!).

Get Moving!

Here are some of my favorite functional fitness moves.

split squat 1
Split squat, step 1
split squat 2
Split squat, step 2

Split Squat

The effort you make while doing this exercise is primarily concentrated in the front of the leg. However, being in that position also makes the other parts of the body work a little harder to control balance and stability, so you get much more benefit from the move than first meets the eye. Avoid bouncing when you do the squat.

Stand straight and place one leg a few feet behind the other, toe on the floor, heel up. Place your hands on your hips and bend your back knee until it almost reaches the floor. Pause for a few seconds, then rise back up. Do one set of 10 reps.

Deadlift, step 1

Single-Leg Deadlift

Deadlift, step 2

If the word deadlift conjures up images of giant-size Olympic powerlifters, consider that anyone can do it (and benefit from it); it’s all about the amount of weight you’re deadlifting. If you’re a beginner, you can use body weight and concentrate on technique and balance. To advance, add in dumbbells in weight increments that align with your improving strength.

Stand straight with your arms at your side, feet hip-width apart. Bend the knee of one leg slightly as you raise the other behind you, and bend at the hips as if to touch something (with both hands) about a foot off the ground. Slowly straighten back up. Do one set of 10 reps.

push-up
Push-up, step 1
Push-up, step 2

Push-Up

Push-ups are probably the best overall upper-body exercise—but they can be difficult, so don’t feel bad if it takes you a while to work up to doing any number of reps. And there are ways to make the movement easier, such as performing them on your knees or doing them on a bench. Just know that, with practice, you will improve. And it’s worth the effort, since push-ups do more than just strengthen the arms: They engage the core as well.

Get down on your hands and knees, then slide forward until you are balanced on your hands and toes (in the plank position). Your arms should be shoulder-width apart and your fingers splayed. Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle and lower your body down to an inch or two above the floor, keeping your back flat. Tighten your abdominal muscles and push up with your arms to return to the plank position. Do one set of 10 reps.

World’s Second Greatest Stretch

Stretch, step 1

Even though this is titled a stretch, this is an amazing overall dynamic movement that works every part of your body. It will help your mobility and stability at the same time!

Stretch, step 2

Stand in a wide-leg position, bend down, place both hands on the floor, and walk them out until your body and arms are both straight. In one continuous move, push your hips up and reach your right hand toward your left foot, then come back to the start, bring your right foot forward, bend at the knee, rotate your torso and reach your right hand up toward the sky. Come back to the start and walk your hands back to standing wide-leg position. Switch sides. Do 10 reps.

Stretch, step 3
Stretch, step 4
Stretch, step 5
Stretch, step 6

From “Better Stretching,” by Joe Yoon. Copyright © 2020 by the author, reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

About the Author

Joe Yoon

Joe Yoon is a massage therapist, personal trainer and founder of Joe Therapy, a company that provides massage therapy at his clinic in Orlando, Florida, and through which he teaches stretching and self-massage techniques online. He wrote “Better Stretching: 9 Minutes a Day to Greater Flexibility, Less Pain and Enhanced Performance,” which will be released in early 2020. Joe is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star (massagemag.com/all-stars), one of a group of innovative therapists and teachers who are educating the magazine’s community of massage therapists in our print magazine, on our social media channels and on our website. His articles for MASSAGE include “Minimize Load to Maximize Career Longevity: 3 Tips for Massage Therapist Self-Care.”