Working muscles you use on a daily basis can help prevent risk of injury doing everyday tasks

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: SCOTT KEITH - Trainer Jennifer Smirl (right) works with Heather Craig on functional fitness training.If your goal is to have a better physique the next time you visit the coast on a hot summer day, you have several exercise options. If, however, you want a fitness program that will enhance your daily activities, consider functional training, or as some call it, functional fitness.

Functional training is designed to work your muscles in a way that makes it easier to perform everyday functions from climbing up the stairs with your kids to, perhaps, improving your golfing skills. Guiding clients on Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard in Portland is Jen Smirl, who is fitness director at Me Fitness Studios (

Functional training has been gaining popularity over the past several years. “We’re training clients for their lives — not just to look good,” said Smirl, who is also a personal trainer.

The idea is to train the body for functional movements. “Functional means you’re not sitting down at a machine and doing one thing,” she said, adding a functional exercise may involve carrying a sandbag to mimic picking up your youngster.

“Getting your child in and out of a car seat is a movement parents do daily - a reach and rotation move with weight - that would be a considered a functional movement for the parent of a young child,” Smirl added.

All ages can benefit from functional training, according to Smirl. “You’re not just doing one joint movement or muscle movement. You’re getting rotation, generally, and multi-joint function. So that type of training makes every day activities easier and reduces your risk of injury and improves your overall quality of life.”

An older client, for example, may benefit from proprioception exercises. “As we age, we lose connection with even just what we’re standing on (for instance an unsafe crease in a rug or an uneven sidewalk, which can lead to a fall). Proprioception and balance work would be functional and beneficial to help someone know where they’re at in space,” Smirl said, noting that a client would learn how to use underutilized muscles and keep their spine healthy by moving in all ranges of motion.

Functional training may involve doing balance work on one leg, or reaching down on the floor, picking up an object, rotating, then putting the object on a shelf.

Smirl notes people often squat improperly during their everyday functions and may also lift objects in an unsafe way, using their back.

“Learning how to squat properly can affect how you get anything (for example a bag of groceries) off the floor,” she said. “We might work with sandbags and rotate. You grab a sandbag from one side of your body, you rotate, and lift it up high on the other side.”

Me Fitness Studios offers many tools to help clients with functional training. You’ll find a piece of equipment that’s a rounded dome on one side, then flat on the other. Other pieces of equipment include stability balls, medicine balls and balance pads. “Anything that’s not nailed to the ground,” she said.

Functional training can help clients (like many of us) who spend too much time in front of the computer.

“It (spending time at the computer) creates a lot of upper back weakness and chest tightness,” Smirl said.

Smirl enjoys helping her clients, saying she’s “very satisfied to get to be in a position to help people. I love what I do - that satisfaction of helping people reach their goals and get to play and do the things that they would like to do in life, without injury or fear of injury, is a huge, huge piece. I love what I do.”

Funtional fitness Q&A

Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of basketball with your kids.

What is functional fitness training?

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.

For example, a squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.

Functional fitness exercises can be done at home or at the gym. Gyms may offer functional fitness classes or incorporate functional fitness into boot camps or other types of classes. Exercise tools, such as fitness balls, kettle bells and weights, are often used in functional fitness workouts.

What are the benefits of functional fitness training?

Functional exercises tend to use multiple joints and numerous muscles. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life.

Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.


Scott Keith is a freelance writer with the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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