Many midlife women start exercising so they can improve and maintain their quality of life. One of the best ways of doing this is using functional exercise. Functional exercises help you to maintain and improve your quality of life so you can continue to do the things you enjoy.
What is functional exercise?
Functional exercise has become a buzzword in the fitness industry. It seems to mean different things to different people – anything from getting up off the floor to burpees can be considered functional exercises. But in reality functional exercise is anything that mimics and improves function. For most women functional exercise is something that improves and maintains day to day function. Squatting is a perfect example of a functional exercise.
This is in direct contradiction to many exercises you see in the gym. Is a seated leg extension functional? Absolutely not. It will increase strength of the quadricep muscles, but how often do you extend your leg while lifting a weight. Probably never outside the gym.
Functional exercises are different for everybody. If you are a 19 year old athlete, then the exercises you need to function are completely different than the exercises a 50 year woman who doesn’t exercise regularly needs to function.
What are the benefits of functional exercise?
There are several benefits to functional exercise:
- Functional exercises make every day activity easier. They strengthen your entire body in multiple directions, not just a specific muscle in a single direction.
- They mimic motions that you do in your daily life, so they are more natural.
- They increase your metabolism as you add muscle
- They use more muscles and usually the bigger muscles so they burn more calories
- Functional exercises can be done without gym equipment and often without any equipment
Why should midlife women try functional exercise?
As we get older we start to lose muscle and even develop the inability to do certain movements properly. By adding functional exercises in to your workout now, you’ll help to maintain muscle and to maintain or restore the ability to do basic movements. You will also have the strength and endurance to keep up with those younger than you so you can keep feeling young.
Examples of functional exercises
Functional exercises should incorporate the basic movement patterns (experts don’t necessarily agree on exactly what these are, but these are included in most definitions)
Here are some examples that use these basic movement patterns:
Chair sit stand (squat)
This is basically a squat. If you find this easy, then progress to a squat. All you do with this is sit on the chair, without putting much weight on it and then stand.
Squatting helps to keep your legs strong. Strong legs mean you are able to climb stairs, get up out of a chair and do your daily chores with less fatigue. These may seem easy now, but if you don’t keep your legs strong these things will get more and more difficult.
Lunge with Press (lunge and push)
Hold a weight in one hand at shoulder height. Step back to your toes. Drop your hips and your back knee towards the floor. Step forward and push the weight up overhead as you step forward.
This is the classic push exercise. If you can’t do a full pushup, or even one from your knees (many women can’t), then try an elevated pushup as shown. Whichever you choose, keep your back straight and core engaged.
Pull up or pull along
The classic functional pull exercise is the pull up. You are amazing if you can do pull ups. If you can’t do pull-ups you can use an assisted pull up machine at the gym, or a heavy band designed for assisted pull-ups.
If you are working out at home, be careful of home pull up bars, particularly ones that insert in a door frame. An alternative is the pull along shown.
A pull up can be performed with hands in different positions. We’ll use the classic palms facing away position. Hold the bar with your palms facing away from you, wider than shoulder width apart, but not too wide. As you bend your elbows, pull up evenly on each side and pull yourself up to about eye level with the bar.
A pull along uses the same positioning, but you are lying on the floor, with a towel under your torso.
Pushups and pull-ups keep the upper body strong. This means less fatigue and more ability to keep performing daily activities.
Tubing push (Anti Rotation)
Some lists of functional exercises include a twist. Although twisting is something you often need to do, as an exercise it’s often done in an unsafe way. If you have osteoporosis or low bone density then twisting should be limited.
Many twisting exercises are done in a seated position. This puts a lot of torque on the spine where it is not meant to have it and in a position that puts the most stress on the spine.
The picture below shows an anti-rotation exercise. You stand sideways to an anchored tubing. You push the handle forward and bring it backwards, resisting the tendency to rotate.
Single leg deadlift (hip hinge and anti rotation)
Try this with or without a weight, holding on to something if you need to for balance. Start in a standing position, slowly lower your torso, and lift one leg. Keep a strong line from your head to your heel. Keep your hips level, preventing rotation of the torso.
Experiment with adding one weight or two and with either hand.
Functional exercises benefit all of us, especially as we get older. They can take on many different forms, but the five exercises shown are good examples of functional exercises that provide menopausal women with many benefits. Check out this free exercise plan to find out what exercise can do for you.heck out this free exercise plan to find out what exercise can do for you.