In an industry that’s often governed by trends, the latest — toward functional fitness — has serious staying power.

Basically, functional fitness means simulating real-life activities during your workouts, moving your muscles from side to side, up and down, and front to back, and variations in between — what fitness folks call “working through multiple planes of movement.”

Why is this important? Old-school workouts focus mostly only on up and down (or single- and frontal-plane) movements, which, while getting our hearts and lungs in good shape and building nicely toned muscles, often don’t translate well to everyday life.

For real-world examples, think about picking up a child or a bag of groceries and putting it in the car. You’re not simply lifting something — you’re also twisting to set it in its place. Same thing goes for carrying something around at work. Or say you suddenly find yourself on uneven or slippery ground, and you suddenly have to jerk yourself upright to stay stop from falling. Maybe you are able to stay on your feet, but your back hurts for a couple of days afterwards. Functional fitness aims to help in these situations, as well as prevent long-term back problems and muscular imbalances.

Because using proper form is absolutely vital when it comes to functional fitness exercises, they can be difficult to teach correctly unless you’re in a one-on-one training environment. That’s why I was so excited to see a new video release from Tracie Long Productions that is the first I’m aware of to incorporate cardio and strength-training exercises in a fun, challenging format.

“Functional Foundations” is a two-DVD set with two separate workouts: Core Cardio and Core Strength. Both workouts are based on protocols from the National Association of Sports Medicine, which is a pioneer in functional fitness.

A warning: When you first try functional fitness exercises, you have to leave your old assumptions at the doorstep. You can’t worry about how much weight you’re able to lift or how many repetitions you’re able to do. But don’t worry; you’ll still get serious results.

Long’s workouts challenge the body in several ways. Core Cardio does incorporate some old-school step aerobics, but with a twist. Long uses a medicine ball and resistance bands to add intensity as well as to work the muscles of the abdomen, back and hips, and it results in a serious — but fun — heart-pounding workout. This video workout personally got my heart rate higher than many others I’ve tried in the past.

But the real gem of this set is Core Strength, which is a terrific workout that should appeal to both men and women. Taking you through exercises such as one-legged squats to overhead press (while holding a dumbbell), pushups off a stability ball, and multi-planar lunges, Long helps you build power, endurance and strength.

One caveat to doing these videos: make sure you have a mirror nearby so you can make sure you’re using impeccable form, as demonstrated by Long — otherwise, you might end up with a sore lower back. If you do them correctly, however, your back will be stronger than ever.

For more information, visit

—Wendy Watkins is a writer and personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. Send your questions to

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