Most people exercise to burn calories, tone muscles or strengthen their bodies. They hit the gym and work on machines that generally exercise one muscle group at a time; they take classes that concentrate on cardio, strength training or flexibility. There is, however, an exercise that encompasses all of the above while readying the body to handle the real-life movements of daily routine without risk of injury; it’s called kettlebells, and it’s one way to achieve functional fitness.
Understanding Functional Fitness
Being functionally fit means being able to accomplish routine activities in real-life positions without getting hurt: picking up your child, gardening, lifting groceries, running for the train, vacuuming under the bed, or just playing basketball with your son after dinner. At home or work you lift, lunge, bend, throw, push and pull to make things happen. “Ow,” you cry grabbing your lower back as you rake leaves. “What the heck is wrong with my knee,” you wonder after sprinting up the stairs. We take our bodies for granted, assuming they are going to move the way we ask them to. We’re surprised when they respond with pain.
Reduce Muscle Pain
According to Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with Muscle Activation Techniques who has worked with the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets, and the Utah Jazz, “The key to functional exercise is integration. It’s about teaching all the muscles to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.” Muscles that are strengthened together in workout routine are supportive of each other during real-life movements. Picking up a 40 pound bag of fertilizer is easier to do, and the risk of injury less, when the back muscles are helping the biceps with the lift movement. If you’re an adult, whether a couch potato, involved with sports training, or enjoying a senior fitness program, it’s important to be trained for functional fitness. It’s an important factor in your quality of life.
Reduce or Eliminate Back Pain
Let’s take a look at lower back pain as an example for the need to be trained in functional fitness. Has gripping back pain ever made you gasp as you were brushing your teeth? Ever turn in bed the wrong way and see stars in the middle of the night? Lower back pain is a chronic problem that affects how you walk and sit, prohibits many activities and puts you in a perpetually bad mood because pain is a constant reminder of your weak back. Back stretches and warms baths may alleviate the pain, but strengthening the lower back to reduce the likelihood of it going out again, also means strengthening the abs, hips, glutes and hamstrings, too; they are all muscles that support the back.
If you’re sighing and feeling discouraged because you think this means doing five different kinds of strengthening exercises, relax. With a kettlebell program, it means doing one exercise: the basic swing. This movement simultaneously works multiple muscles, including your core, and differs from traditional weight training that works muscles in isolation. The basic kettlebell swing strengthens the back because it involves working groups of muscles that support it. In one movement the swing loosens hip muscles, strengthens the abs, glutes and hamstrings that all play a significant role in keeping a back strong. As muscles are trained to work together, flexibility increases and risk of injury is reduced.
Getting Started With Kettlebells
It’s wise to consult the experts before you jump into a new exercise program. Follow these three simple tips, and don’t get derailed before you experience the benefits:
First have a chat with your doctor about your fitness level and decide if this workout regime is appropriate for your physical condition.
Next, find a certified kettlebell trainer who can instruct you on the proper form, techniques and positioning; it is important to build a solid kettlebell fitness foundation with a professional. Discuss any physical issues you may be experiencing, or past surgeries that may affect your kettlebell training and results.
Once you understand the premise of the kettlebell moves, continue your fitness program with a trainer, join a class taught by a certified instructor, or buy and workout with a video.
A clean bill of health and perfect form are critical to any successful kettlebell program, so don’t ignore the tips above.
Whether you’re a gym rat, working on a sexy six pack or don’t like to exercise, you can’t ignore the fact that your body needs to be functionally fit to meet the demands of life you’re putting on it. Take care of your back, knees and shoulders and be ready for life by starting a fitness program that includes kettlebells.