Health Notes: Functional Fitness – Optimize Your Health

This blog is a shout out for critical keys for health and performance, with fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle tips and insights! Many gyms are closed per COVID, but even when they re-open, having A HOME PROGRAM is an asset for consistency and time management.

Phase one: STRENGTH TRAINING: We will guide you through a process to increase your strength, starting with the top 10 strength training exercises. The truth is there are foundations for each of these to optimize performance, in the kinetic chain…the kinesiology foundations in how your body moves. You can follow this program and build a home routine of functional fitness for all you want to do in life.








8.Single Stance



Functional Fitness, Safe Fitness*: Intro

Have you heard this term, functional fitness? If you can do cross-fit box jumps, and that is part of your fitness, do you use your muscles that way in your life? Yes! if you are a ninja warrior competitor, or special ops person, or practice bouldering, jumping, and extreme sports

But…often people are doing maximum exertion tasks in fitness that may cause strain or sprains, which can keep a Physical Therapy office busy.

Weekend warrior fun can also overtax and strain individuals, reflect-have you done something sporadically that caused a strain and you went into it with gusto and bravado and paid for it afterward?…this happens to most people. Especially as we age, because our connective tissue is stiffer and we are weaker, over age 25 or 30 people start to lose strength!

Functional fitness is that which mimics tasks we need most in our daily lives; if you are a dog walker you need a strong voice, core, and shoulder and trunk muscles to work with wild puppies and tame older dogs who may lunge at lizards. If you are a mom or dad with a toddler you need to be able to lift, push, pull, and carry your child who weighs 18 to 30 plus pounds. (Grandparents can have challenges with child care as they have lost that strength so get on board if that is you).

If you are a gardener you need total body strength for pruning, strength, and balance for climbing ladders and inclines, and the ability to squat, lift, and carry plants, rocks, and soil. Core power and arm strength are needed to shovel, dig, and work a pitchfork. Consider what you need to do for your home life, for your work, and your fitness pursuits, your goals. Are you having physical difficulty with any tasks? If so, consider having an analysis of your strength, flexibility, and stamina, and sports training as needed, Physical Therapy (PT) fills that niche.

Upper and lower body strength training with core work (deep back, pelvic and abdominal muscles) is the foundation for functional fitness, combined with task-specific training simulating what you want to perform regularly, for work, leisure, recreation, and competitive challenges. Your choices to strength train include bodyweight resistance, free weights, bands, and straps such as TRX, weight training machines, pilates and yoga, and blingy workouts like vibration plates and even blood flow restriction training. Whew! That’s a lot of info. Let’s keep it simple to start; bodyweight resistance.

Example #1: Functional Fitness

Shoulder: Pushing; Shopping carts, strollers, wheelchairs, doors. Prep for plank, press up, and down dog.

Wall Push Up

The wall push up is a stepping stone to be able to push with power, or simply do push-ups, as you are only moving a partial amount of body weight with the wall push up. (In life we sometimes need to really push harder on one side, such as wonky shopping cart, or stroller with a wheel stuck on a sidewalk crack.) Also, if planks make your shoulders sore, check out the basics:

Tips are to:

A. Keep the shoulder blades pulled down and back. This keeps the trapezius from being a bully.

B. Keep the shoulders open versus hunched forward. This keeps your pectorals from trying to do it all, and it keeps you “superhero” vs hiding your chest.


Beginner: Start with 5 reps, with only a slight angle of lean. Work up to 10 reps.

Intermediate: 2-3 sets of 10, with a greater angle of lean towards the wall.

Advanced: Vary your speed, your angle, and the percentage of weight on the Left and Right arms.

Limitations can exist such as wrist tendonitis, strains, or sprains along the arm, neck discomfort, and inability to hold the neck and trunk in alignment. See your health care provider, including your PT, for medical screening and a program to help you be able to strength train.

Pectoral Stretches

Often the front of the shoulder is too tight to be able to hold the shoulders down and back during a wall push up; the pectorals and internal rotators are active all day with hunched over computer work, and the spine may become rounded too-so shoulder openers against the wall can help. The keys here are to keep the spine tall, and avoid arching the back to meet the wall…It is actually a progressive exercise. Start low, slide arms up to the point that you cannot stay in alignment, and work your way “up”, and slowly back “down”. Keep it pain-free. If standing is too difficult, then try this lying on your back.5 to 10 reps slowly is a good start.

Photo: External Rotation (Below)

The small external rotators sweep from the edge of the shoulder blade to the top and side of the humerus, and they keep it pulled down in the socket and balance with the internal rotators. The external rotators work with other muscles to prevent the humeral head from jamming up into the top shelf (acromion) of the shoulder blade…to keep you pain-free. Here is a quick strength training for them to help your shoulder power; side-lying external rotation. Start with no weight to test it out, then ½ pound, increase as comfortable. (Follow the guides for repetitions).

Photo: Shoulder dips

The big muscles such as the lats (latissimus dorsi) that connect the shoulder to the trunk and spine can use some training to help shoulder power. Shoulder dips are great for this! This can be done with yoga blocks, or any other prop or surface that is stable and supportive. You can start by just pushing down and check out your power and stability, or lack of (been there!).

Eventually you may be comfortable lifting your body up with a little clearance, if sitting. This is also great to stretch out the trapezius!


You can set a goal for how many you want to be able to do, such as 2 sets of 10; give yourself time and be safe, be consistent, and a general warm up such as walking before -hand can help your muscles work better.2 times a week is a minimum strength training workout, and 3-4x a week is optimum.

A foundation for your ABILITY TO BUILD STRENGTH is your blood level of vitamin D; it is receiving attention for its critical role in health, and D deficiency is a risk factor for strength loss. Vitamin D is a building block for many metabolic factors including bone density maintenance and also the production of sex hormones. Do you know your “D” levels? Mine was low, and I certainly feel more energetic and stronger since I raised the level.(Low levels are <25nmol/liter, vs high >50nmol/liter levels).

Use it or lose it. Strength powers up with training. If you are struggling with tasks, consider that a warning sign that you may be losing strength and stamina. Each decade people tend to lose muscle mass and strength, between 1 and 5% per year!… and therefore there can be a decline in function with the loss of the ability to reach up in cupboards, squat down, lift, push and pull items, as well as weight gain (belly fat ) and declines in flexibility balance. Not fun. I get paid to teach programs via insurance in PT, but not everyone can attend therapy, so I will offer the keys in this blog for maintaining function and thriving with fitness, at all ages!

Look to the next blog here in the series for a continued outline of functional fitness top 10 exercises! This is an introduction to the shoulder here, but the shoulder moves 360 degrees and is a wheel that can be overworked easily, so think about progressive fitness…building blocks. I will also show the kinesiological foundations for how to do these safely.


*Medical disclaimer: This website information should not be taken as medical advice, but rather as health and wellness tips for your benefit. See your MD or health care provider for your medical needs. Read our terms, conditions and privacy policy to be informed of how this site is offered to the public and professionals for your education, as well as information we may collect on you, and your privacy rights in using and interacting with this site.

Camargo P, Alburquerque-Sendin F, Avila MA, Haik MN, Viera A, Salvini TF, Effects of Stretching and Strengthening Exercises, With and Without Manual Therapy, on Scapular Kinematics, Function, and Pain in Individuals with Shoulder Impingement; A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy 2015, 45(12)

Keller K, Engelhardt M, Strength and muscle mass loss with the aging process. Age and strength loss, Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal 2013; 3(4)

Saeed, M, The HoIisitc RX, Your guide to healing chronic inflammation and disease, Rowman and Littlefield., 2017

Visser M, Deeg, D JH, Lips P, Low Vitamin D and high Parathyroid Hormone Levels as Determinants of loss of Muscle Mass (Sarcopenia): The Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam,

J Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2003, 88(12); 5766-6772

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