Pumping dumbbells at the local gym might be a breeze, but if you’re breathless while running up the stairs or give up within two laps of swimming, your body is only being partially exercised. All that bicep bulk isn’t helping you perform any better.
Maybe rolling back to the basics and exercising the body as a unit will help. It’s called functional fitness, and it involves exercising a variety of muscles all at once while also focussing on your core. The exercises — all of which are activities that help your body deal well with real-life situations — can also be done using regular household objects. And the benefits are visible, people say.
But don’t take this to mean that functional fitness exercises are any easier. There’s a scientific way of going about them, and the pressure needs to build periodically. “Take a conventional form of exercise such as running and squatting, and personalise it to your body’s needs. Or build an entire workout around a daily activity,” says fitness instructor Madhuri Ruia. “These are effective ways to stay functionally fit at home.”
Start by taking the stairs daily. Try not to use remote controls for everything. Even when returning home from the market, carry your own shopping bags, and while you’re at it, keep your posture straight, walk briskly and divide the weight equally between the two hands.
Alternately, sitting and casually bouncing on a Swiss ball while watching TV or reading a book helps the back muscles immensely. Elastic bands with varying levels of resistance, too, are just as helpful.
Sarah Fernandes (29), a chartered accountant, makes use of the chairs in her house to do sit-ups. She also frequently rolls up her aerobic mat, holds it vertical and uses it to support herself while doing squats and other leg exercises which help her core. “Just make sure that your core is engaged with whatever you do, even if it’s sweeping and swabbing. You will sense the tension when you’re out of breath. But if your instinct says something’s doesn’t feel right, stop immediately,” adds Ruia.
Don’t sit still, improvise
Experts say that as you experiment, you’ll discover new ways to exercise different muscle groups simultaneously. “There are three commonly known kinds of crunches — forward, backward and reverse — besides what you might design for yourself. And then you can play with the way you climb the stairs, too — take two steps at a time, climb backwards, sprint, jog, step up and down,” says Dr Mustafa Topiwala (27), a sports trainer and physiotherapist with Saifee Hospital. This is also true for the resistance bands that work out different muscle sets in your body.
Homemaker Sheetal Kher (25), mother of a six-month old, has taken to gardening with gusto. “Weeding the small garden in my compound and watering the saplings is so much more exhausting than I thought. I have to bend a lot, and it’s helping my posture,” she says.
However, get some advice from a physiotherapist before embarking on your functional fitness regime. Get to know what kinds of functional fitness exercises will suit you best, and once you’ve got the hang of it, you can improvise. Set aside a fixed time slot and gradually increase the intensity.
You’ll know for sure that you’re fit when you sense an inner strength in your core, and your muscles all hold up well under pressure. Eat healthy food — take in a lot of proteins, healthy fats and vegetables.
And just to gauge the improvement, take up a challenging outdoor sport. How good you are at it will be an indicator of how functionally fit your body has become.