If you've spent time in a gym or fitness studio lately, you
may have noticed a shift away from exercise machines and toward the use of
kettle bells, dumb bells, medicine balls and exercises using one's own body
weight. This current trend in the fitness industry is called functional
Functional training involves exercises that simulate
real-life body movements by working muscles together rather than in isolation (which
can result in muscle imbalances and injury). Strength, endurance, balance,
coordination and flexibility are all improved through functional exercise, which
can make every day activities easier and reduce the risk of injury.
According to Jim White, RDN, ACSM, HFS, spokesperson for the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Owner of Jim White Fitness &
Nutrition Studios, functional exercise for children serves as a precursor to
resistance training in adulthood and helps them to develop overall body
strength while creating awareness for exercise and its many benefits.
"Children should perform functional exercise,"
says White. "The only major difference would be the utilization of free
weights or medicine balls with adults whereas kids can stick to body-weight
How Does Functional Exercise Apply to Kids?
In addition to being active for at least 60 minutes most
days of the week, White recommends that twice a week kids perform six to eight
exercises that work all major muscle groups.
While adults often engage in functional training in a
structured environment, exercise for kids needs to be fun and playful. White
highlights the following kid-friendly activities and categorizes them by their
- Climbing the monkey bars
- Climbing a rock wall
Coordination and Balance
The Role of Parents, Teachers and Caretakers
Parents, teachers and other caretakers should provide
opportunities and encourage kids to spend time each day playing functional yet
“The first thing parents can do is be physically active
themselves,” says White. “Setting a good example for your child has a
tremendous effect on their interest in exercise.” He recommends planning an
activity hour twice a week where parents and their kids play a sport together
or engage in one of the functional exercises mentioned above.
Teachers and other caretakers can encourage children to play
games during recess and free time. Spending a few minutes getting the activity
organized and started is all it takes and can make a big difference in whether
kids participate or not.
Grandparents and sitters should also set aside play time when
watching the kids. Joining in is a great way to spend quality time with them,
and an opportunity to show how fun being active can be.
Reviewed October 2013