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Blog / 2013 / May / Functional Fitness: Keeping Group Exerci...
May 12, 2013

Functional Fitness: Keeping Group Exercise Goal-Oriented


Most professionals agree that in order to accomplish a task, there are specific steps that should be followed in order to achieve success. Think about any task related to a specific profession, such as a local plumber. We call our plumber when the kitchen sink is clogged and none of our attempts have removed the clog. A plumber assesses the situation, makes a recommendation, and proceeds to clear the clog! There are two key points to the success of the task. First, the plumber must be able to assess the problem, and then they must have the "tools" to complete the task. The "tools" refer to both the physical tools used to complete the task, as well as the knowledge required to choose the most appropriate tools to clear the drain.

Keep Your Exercise Goals Functional

How does this relate to group exercise? Well, what's in your toolbox?

This modified plank is a traditional core exercise.

Exercise professionals are unique in that many of our "tools" are directly related to our knowledge and how we apply it to achieve specific tasks. Many times we can accomplish specific goals without using any type of "physical tool."

It's important to remember that when we use the term "exercise" this has a specific meaning. According to Caspersen, "Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and has a final or an intermediate objective."1 This is different than simply being active. It is critical for group exercise instructors to remember that each class must have at least one goal (or more), and the class design should be structured in order to accomplish the goal.

Are there common goals for exercise classes? Yes, all group exercise classes should have a "functional" element. This is a term that is frequently used in the fitness industry but not always associated with group exercise. The key to applying functional principles to group exercise is to integrate the primary and secondary components into a class format.

Integrate Components to Keep Group Exercise Functional

Group exercise classes are frequently designed to address one or more primary fitness components:

  • cardiovascular endurance,
  • muscular strength,
  • muscular endurance,
  • and flexibility.

Secondary components include factors such as

  • balance,
  • coordination,
  • and stability.

Functional training enables us to look at the factors that influence the primary components and integrate them into our program in order to move in the most efficient manner. Integration combines coordinated movements requiring participants to use multiple joint movements in multiple planes while enhancing balance and stability.

For example, the plank is a traditional core strength exercise often part of group exercise classes. This exercise becomes much more functional if the next progression includes a balance challenge, having the participant rotate to one side and use only one leg and one hand to balance their body while maintaining core strength. Next, change the plane of movement by threading the unsupported hand down through the open space under the ribs. This requires the participant to maintain core strength while adding a balance and change-of-movement plane challenge.

Part of the functional training paradigm includes making sure that all participants know the purpose of their movement by equipping the class with knowledge, as well as the "physical tools." Having a functional element to group exercise ensures that the class has been designed to accomplish a task that will benefit all the participants in the most safe and efficient manner. So when designing your next successful group exercise class, remember to integrate "function" into fitness, and give your class the tools they need to be successful.

Share your favorite functional fitness workout tips in the comments below.

Leslie Stenger is an ACSM-Certified Health and Fitness Specialist, Certified Pilates Mat Instructor, Certified Spinning Instruction, and has been in the fitness industry for 30 years. She currently Exercise Science faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and serves on the ACSM Group Exercise Committee for Certification and Registry Board.

1Caspersen, C.J., Powell, K.E., Christenson, G.M., (1995) Physical Activity, Exercise, and Physical Fitness: definitions and distinctions for health-related research, Public Health Reports.

filed under Group Exercise
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