Everywhere you look today, itseems as though another exercise craze or fitness fad is hittingthe market and sweeping up millions of people eager to improve their health and lose weight. While some of these crazes can be good for someone's short term wellness, they often aren't sustainable as a long-term routine. Dancing in a Zumba class once or twice a week is greatfor your cardiovascular health, for example, but it isn't doing anything to improve your strength or help you gain mastery over your muscles. For that reason, it's important to look outside the box for other ways to improve.

One of the latest "fads" attracting more attention by the hour is something called "functional fitness" — but it isn't reallya fad at all. Instead, it's all about basic activities that you can do as exercise, rather than a dedicated sport such as running or swimming. As more individuals begin to talk about participating in functional fitness, which usually takes place outside of a class setting, you might begin to wonder: is this something that could work for me, too? To help you answer that question, let's take a closer look at exactly what "functional fitness" means, who it can benefit, and some of the biggestadvantages and drawbacks.

What is functional fitness? A working definition 

In the most basic terms, functional fitness is all about focusing on exercises that encourage the development of muscles and skills that could benefit you in your everyday life. We all encounter tasks daily that require bending over, squatting down, lifting, and many other movements to which we don't pay a second thought. Yetat the same time, it's not uncommon for us to complain of aches and pains that we could avoid if we took the time to improve our bodies. Balance, flexibility, strength, and other attributes are all things we can improve through practice. That's what functional fitness seeks to accomplish.

It's not necessarily as simple as performing squats with some hand weightsor stretching out by doing yoga every day. Some individuals take functional fitness as seriously as any other athletic discipline, and you can even find some classes that involve instructors sharing their knowledge. That doesn't mean you can't do a broad range of exercises at home, however. In fact, a key contributing factor to the growth of this fitness field is one's ability to incorporate a workout into their home routine easily. Wherever you go to try it out, what can you expect to get out of it if you commit?

The key advantages to engaging in this exercise

Like most exercises, the overall benefit is clear: you'll feel better, have more energy, and encounter less trouble with tasks in your daily life. That last one is where functional fitness reallyshines, though you might not notice it because the benefits become a regularpart of living. These exercises can help you improve your posture as you sit and even as you walk, for example. The result: less tension in your muscles and fewer persistent pains in your lower back. They can help to improve your reach, too, making it less of a strain to grab items from a high shelf or from far back in the refrigerator.

Developing better flexibility and strength is another potential benefit, with broad applications in many areas of your life. That could mean you have less trouble performing work on your landscaping, or that you find you have plenty of energy for deep-cleaning the whole house. Even climbing stairs can become easier, which is a significantbenefit for anyone who must hike up and down a flight to get to and from their bedroom. Overall, you'll see an improvement in your general quality of life. It won't prepare you to run a marathon, but it will prepareyou for a marathon of chores.

Who can benefit the most from functional fitness activities?

A better question to ask here might be "who won'tbenefit?" Even gym rats who pump iron and hit the treadmills every day can stand to incorporate functional fitness movements and exercises into their routine. In fact, those people have been a driving force behind the popularisation of this fitness trend, as they looked for a way to translate gains in the gym to gainsthey could actuallyuse in real life. However, there's no need to believe you must become as hardcore about it as those individuals. Instead, functional exercises are a fun and easy way to improve your body no matter your age.

Teenagers can aid their growing bodies by trying functional exercises, and their parents can fight back against their aches and pains by trying them out too. Even senior citizens can get in on the action, as it’s straightforwardto adapta wide variety of functional movements to suit their abilities. For seniors, such exercise could have a bigbenefit, restoring some of the flexibility and ranges of motion they've lost due to age. As with all forms of exercise, though, it's important to talk to a doctor before making massive lifestyle changes. Likewise, if you've suffered an injury, consult your physician before adopting any exercise regimen.

There are drawbacks to consider, too

If it were all good news, it might sound too good to be true. However, it's important to recall that no single type of exercise can cover all your needs entirely. That's why it is also a good idea to acknowledge the shortcomings inherent in functional fitness. While it certainly helps to improve one's daily life, it may not contribute enough to your overall health if it is all you focus on for exercise. Consider that a more intensivecardio workout is essentialfor burning more calories, improving lung capacity, and many other things. If you're only performing squats and lunges, you're never going to reach the threshold where you're consistently burning calories.

It’s possible to reach a point where you aren't making any further gains as well. While maintaining a reasonablelevel of fitness is smart, and for seniors just moving is often good enough, it isn't sufficient for younger individuals. You should aim to use functional workouts as a part of a larger, overall approach towards your health. That way, you can avoid a plateau where you spend a lot of time exercising for no real purpose. Why do 20 squats a day if you've already gotten all you can from the routine?

Incorporating functional fitness into your lifestyle

So, what are some of the best exercises you can use to develop yourself in this way? Start with lunges, as they're the easiest to learn and remember. Don't just lunge forward on one leg and then the next, though. Grab and hold on to some hand weights while you do it to add more resistance to your body, which will help train up your legs and core muscles.

Squats, also with weights, are another essential component of functional fitness. Remember to observe good form, keeping your back straight and knees in line with each other, to reduce the potential for injury. Other good exercises include more traditional efforts, such as push-ups and pull-ups. It's easy to install a sturdy pull-up bar in a door frame of your own home, contributing to the "do it yourself" ethos that's popular with these workouts. Do you have a stability ball? Use it to train your balance or add it in to a planking exercise to develop some real core strength. Put them all together, andyou can build your ownroutine in the living room.

Is this the future of home-based exercises?

In 5 or even 10years, don't be surprised if the average doctor begins to recommend a functional fitness activity on a regular basis. As an excellent way for those who haven't worked out recently (or ever) to get started, and as a versatile way for everyone to make minor improvements to themselves, it is tough to compare to other exercise fads. Since it is so easy to do, you could even walk away from this article and start trying it out yourself! Remember, though, that there will always come the pointat which you plateau — and that's the time to push through to the next level of fitness. Get your start with something functional, then look for other opportunities to seize as well.

This article was written for Sports Fitness. Shop with us for your home exercise equipment and other fitness gear.