Functional fitness is everywhere you look. Gyms provide the equipment, articles talk about it, trainers teach it to clients. Stability balls, wobble boards, balance domes, etc have made their way into the fitness mainstream.
Fitness clients/enthusiasts perform exercises standing on one leg, bands pulling them in a
different direction, along with many other unique exercises. However, do all of these exercises truly fit the criteria of functional fitness?
Unfortunately, there isn't a clear cut answer. This is because there isn't a specific definition of functional fitness. Functional fitness depends on the training goals of the individual. Simply put, functional fitness is being fit enough to accomplish what you need to. If an exercise helps meet your needs, it is functional.
For the most part, functional fitness has been equated with balance/instability training. This does engage the core to a great degree; as well as helps train supporting muscles such as the glutes and rotator cuff. These sorts of exercise are useful for helping people recover from injury, maintain gains made during a rehabilitation process, or to help reach a specific performance goal.
Now, how does all of this tie in to the fitness routine of the regular male or female simply
looking to get in better shape, have energy, and be able to play catch or shoot baskets with their
kids? In these cases, the balancing/instability exercises should not be the staple of a fitness program. Rather, they should play a complimentary role to assist in enhanced function.
Instead, functional fitness should help you function better in your life. You should perform exercises that will help you pick up a box without getting hurt, move furniture, carry your kids, carry laundry up the stairs, and keep your heart rate low and overall strength levels high.
Because of this, true "functional" exercises will include walking/jogging, pullups/chinups,
pushups, squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, as well as a host of other compound exercises
(involving multiple body parts at once). For athletes, this will include running, jumping, changing direction, etc.
Some balance/instability training can be included. These can provide plenty of benefits. Just be sure to supplement your workout program with these exercises; not use them as the base. After all, being able to stand on one leg forever isn't going to help you when that couch needs to be moved.