The term “fitness” can be used to describe a broad range of physical ability, but at its essence, it can be defined as the physical capability to carry out the functions of daily life without major limitations. For example, you need flexibility in order to be able to bend, twist and move through a full range of motion; you need muscular strength to be able to lift and carry a wide variety of objects; you need a baseline of aerobic capacity in order to convey yourself from one place to another on foot. But since many of us don’t do a whole lot of this “moving” thing throughout the course of our day, it’s a good idea to build some of these functional movements into our workouts. So today I’m giving you a quick, simple workout you can do two or three times a week in order to maintain (or even regain some lost) functional fitness. The exercises are based on the five primary movements: the bend and lift, single leg movements, pushing movements, pulling movements and rotational movements.
At first glance, these movements seem like traditional strength training exercises, but if you look at the whole routine in context, you’ll see that they also provide flexibility, mobility and balance work. The only thing missing here is the aerobic component, so be sure to get in some moderate cardiovascular exercise separately (you should be shooting for 30 minutes five times per week).
1. Squat with Weighted Object: Place a box of junk, a container of cat litter, a gallon of milk, a dumbbell or a medicine ball on the floor in front of you. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Engage your core muscles, then hinge at the hips (this is different from bending at the lower back) and squat down, driving your knees forward. Really try to get your rear end low between your legs (like you’re squatting over a yucky toilet seat). Grab your weight object with straight arms then push yourself up with your legs, keeping the object close to your body and your center of gravity between your feet (not out in front). When you’re standing upright, bend your arms and pull the object up to chest height (keep it close to your body) to get an extra bit of arm work. Repeat this 6 to 12 times.
2. The Walking Lunge: Take a normal stride forward with one leg. As soon as your foot hits the ground in front of you, start bending both of your knees as you lower yourself down into a lunge position. How low you go will depend on how strong your legs are. If you start to feel any pain in your knees, don’t go quite that low – you’ll still get a good workout from doing a shallow lunge. You should be leaning just slightly out over your front leg, so that your chin is in line with your mid-thigh. That front leg should be bearing almost all of your weight – the back leg is just there for stability. Now push up and forward with that front leg, transitioning into a step forward with the other leg. Repeat the lunge on that side. Continue in this manner, walking and lunging slowly across the floor. Take 10 to 20 steps in all.
3. Pushups: I have news for you, you can do pushups! Maybe not Marine pushups, but you can do some form of them. Whether you’re on the floor with the weight on your toes, with your knees resting on the floor, or standing up and leaning into a wall, pushups are a super effective exercise that works nearly all the major muscle groups of the upper body. The key is to keep your core engaged and your torso ramrod straight. If your hips sag toward the floor or your butt sticks up behind you, drop to your knees and reset your form. If you’re standing and doing wall pushups, play around with the position of your feet from the wall and the height of your hands. You’ll find a spot that allows you to do them properly. When you find that magic position, give me 8 to 12 reps.
4. Standing Row: This is the only exercise that requires a true piece of exercise equipment. Since pushups don’t effectively work all of the upper back muscles, it’s important to add an exercise that does target them, because they rarely get used, and in fact they get stretched out and weakened, over the course of the day. When you sit at a desk with your head forward and your fingers typing away, your shoulders round forward, stretching the muscles across your upper back. This leads to a host of postural problems that can only be countered by strengthening those muscles. Okay, that was a long introduction, now here’s how to do this exercise at home: The best (inexpensive) piece of equipment you can use is a resistance band, preferably a fairly heavy-duty one. Loop the band through your anchor point (any fixed object, I use my staircase railing). Stand facing your anchor point, feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees just a bit and engage your core. Pull the handles of your band toward your mid-chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
5. Weighted Twists: This rotational exercises primarily works the abdominal muscles, but it also provides some great mobility for the spine. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and heels touching the floor. Pick up a weighted object like a dumbbell, medicine ball, 28 oz can of tomatoes, etc. Position the object close to your chest, “winging” your elbows out to either side. Next, lean back slightly, taking care not to round your lower back. You should feel some tension in your abdominal muscles. Now slowly twist as far to the right as you can, pause, then twist all the way to the left, pause, and repeat. Do 10 to 15 repetitions in all.
If you have time, you can repeat this circuit one to three more times, but even doing just one set, two or three times per week, will help keep you functionally fit.