If you're carrying a full-load backpack on an uphill trail without huffing and puffing, you're functionally fit. The same goes for carrying two six-packs of 1.5 liter bottles of mineral water home from the grocery store...
Did you ever ask yourself, "Why did the Creator give me a body?" Surprisingly, most people don't know the answer.
Craig has humongous biceps from the hundreds of heavyweight dumbbell curls he does every day. Yet, when his wife asked him to take down a can of tuna from the top shelf in her kitchen pantry, he couldn't do it because his shoulders were too tight. He simply couldn't raise his arms that high, despite his 6'1" frame. Frustrated, his 5'3" wife stood on a kitchen chair and took the can of tuna down herself.
In her own words, Marianne "feels dead" if she misses a day of spin class. She spins for an hour a day, proud of her figure yet she eats whatever she wants because she burns about 700 calories in one session. But, she's so into her peddling as the techno-background music pumps her up, that she slouches over the handlebars, which she grips tightly. Her figure isn't too slightly because she can't stand up straight. What's more, she can only carry her attaché case to work (weighs about 5 pounds, including laptop) in her right hand because she's developed lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in her left arm. So now, in addition to her slouching, she walks with one shoulder higher than the other because she only lifts things with one hand.
Yaacov, in his quest for six-pack abs, does over a thousand crunches a day. Sure, his stomach muscles are like iron but his hip flexors and lumbar spine are so tight that he can't touch his toes without deeply bending his knees. Yaacov looks good on the beach but he sorely lacks inner core strength and like Marianne, his posture is terrible.
Naomi is the women's weightlifting champion of her gym. She can military press and bench press more than women twice her size. Yet, the other day, she bent over to pick up her baby and she pulled her back out.
What's wrong with Craig, Marianne, Yaacov and Naomi? They are into what you might call "cosmetic fitness", working out for the flashy body, the bulging biceps, the six-pack abs, the "Hey, look at me!" legs and the general Miss or Mister America body. Yet, they lack functional fitness. They can't perform basic functions in life. Their workouts are wrong and they oftentimes are detrimental to overall health rather than conducive to it. How?
The muscle/bikini beach crowd focus on isolated muscle groups rather than on multiple muscle groups working together in harmony. In the words of Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with a company called Muscle Activation Techniques who has worked with athletes from the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets, and the Utah Jazz, "Conventional weight training isolates muscle groups, but it doesn't teach the muscle groups you're isolating to work with others".
Hashem gave us a body to house the soul. The Rambam speaks extensively about maintaining the healthy body in order to maintain a healthy soul. What's more, as the Sefer Charedim teaches us, our various limbs and appendages are for the purpose of performing Hashem's commandments, His mitzvoth. Our motivation in exercise, just as our motivation should be in all our other bodily functions, should be to serve Hashem.
When we're healthier, we're quicker and more agile in our daily functions, particularly in performing His mitzvoth. Therefore, we should focus on "functional fitness". Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of hide-and-seek with your children.
You don't have to spend hours in a gym. Fifteen minutes a day of functional fitness exercises are sufficient to keep you feeling great. Although I love such total body kettlebell exercises as deadlifts, goblet squats and kettlebell swings because of all the muscles they involve, you don't need any apparatus. Such bodyweight exercises as pushups, front and side lunges, squats and planks will keep you fit from head-to-toe. Shlepping groceries up three flights of stairs works wonders too...
Then again, functional fitness works great with faith: the only thing that beats an hour of walking is talking to Hashem in personal prayer during that hour of walking. G-d willing, time permitting, I hope to do some functional fitness tutorials in the future. Meanwhile, you're welcome to view these. Never forget also that good dietary habits are twice as important as exercise. Shabbat is for delight, but not for eating into oblivion, especially grossly unhealthy things. All good diets tolerate, even encourage, one cheat-day a week but that doesn't mean alcohol and pastry suicide. Like our working out, our eating and drinking should be for the sake of maintaining a fit body to serve Hashem for 120 happy and healthy years, amen! Blessings for a lovely Shabbat and delightful weekend!
Rabbi Lazer Brody is the editor of the Breslev Israel English-language website and the Mashpia Ruchni (Spiritual Dean) of Breslev Israel. He is also a certified fitness trainer and health coach.