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NEW YORK (Reuters) -A mother-to-be hoists a rubber cylinder overhead. A 70-year-old balances on a wobble board and a firefighter grips a medicine ball while lunging across the gym floor.
Called functional training, workouts mirroring the activities of daily life have become a cornerstone of personal training sessions and group fitness classes, even if daily life can encompass anything from lifting a baby to scaling a burning building.
"Functional fitness has moved beyond the trend stage, and is simply one of the driving forces for many of the 50 million health club members," said Meredith Poppler of IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association).
It's basically exercise aimed at improving the quality of life and movement.
"Functional fitness is exercise that mimics everyday tasks," explained Frank Salzone, a trainer with the Equinox chain of fitness centers. "I always put my personal clients through functional training."
Salzone noted that while functional fitness has always been around, it has gained steam since the image of a healthy body shifted away from the bulkier body builder to today's leaner look.
"Body builders tend to use power moves, power lifting. They only do three or four repetitions at a time," he explained. "Functional training uses higher repetitions with fewer breaks so it boosts cardio vascular levels as well as strength training."
Bootcamp classes, which use light weights or one's own body weight, he said are among the most popular functional fitness classes.
"You can also use medicine balls, resistance balls, dumbbells," he said. "Any tool can be used in a group fitness setting given the right instruction and set up."
Among the newer tools in the functional fitness arsenal is the ViPR (Vitality, Performance, Reconditioning), a rubber cylinder with cutout handles designed to be carried, dragged, flipped, thrown, stepped on and rolled over.
It's functional, according to Salzone, because you can adjust your workout to your goals, "whether you're a marathoner, looking to gain lean mass or just have an overall full body workout."
Life Fitness, the Illinois-based equipment manufacturer, has put together functional training manuals specific to sports, such as football, basketball and baseball, as well as programs for seniors, youth and firefighters, according to spokesperson Heather Sieker.
"Functional training is basically a type of training that improves function," Sieker said. "It could be function in a specific sport, work, or even function in daily living."
Even absolute beginners can perform functional movements, she said, but they should ask the guidance of a fitness professional to start.
"Then as they progress they might incorporate more and more advanced movements," she said.
Salzone recommends starting out with three or four functional training sessions a week, then adding a day as you build strength.
"You should be doing four to five times a week for a full body functional workout," he said. "If you do these workouts nonstop, you'll be incorporating your cardio as well."
Salzone said you can define fitness in many ways.
"My definition of fit is having a healthy, well-working body where you're able to do functional movements without injuring yourself," he said. "If you're running for a bus, you want your heart rate to be able to go higher without risk."