Keeping your strength (and life) functional with Karen Jancsy

Functional strength is something that we need for everyday activities, as well as the sports we engage in. It builds strength that is used in the real world by imitating movements we do on a regular basis. 

But how is it built? Fitness instructor and former health teacher Karen Jancsy, who instructs Step It Up+ at the Council on Aging, demonstrated compound exercises that can be used to build functional strength for this fit minute. 

Jancsy described compound exercises as “encompassing two or more muscle groups at the same time.” 

“It mimics what we do functionally in our day,” she said.

The first exercise she demonstrated was a squat with a shoulder raise. Light dumbbells in hand, she says to squat down with your arms flexing down the side of each leg. When you come up, your arms should curl in towards your shoulders, and then extend out in front of you.

Jancsy said this exercise can help people learn to pick items up through their legs rather than their back, such as groceries. 

“The reason I like this with the weights is because when you come home from doing groceries, you pick up the groceries, you do a nice squat, you don’t pick up with your back,” she said. “You pick up with your legs and then you put them away. Now I can do two things at the same time, maybe two hands versus one.”

The second exercise is a side lunge. Keeping the dumbbells on your shoulders parallel to your feet, Jancsy says to lunge one of your feet out sideways, and then drop the same arm down, before coming back to the center and repeating on the other side.

“You’re going to lunge over, your feet stay parallel, toes queued forward,” she said. “You just reach down like you’re going to get something, and then you pick it up and you’re going to go to the other side.”

Jancsy said this exercise is important because it helps hip mobility, especially with many people today sitting for long periods of time.

“Working the lateral muscles is very important,” Jancsy said. “We sit all day, we walk forward, we walk back, we don’t do this (side stepping). Everything is forward and back. As we get older, the tighter this gets.” 

For those who are new to these types of exercises, Jancsy recommends starting with one set of 12 for each, then working your way up to three sets. As always, if you are injured or feel that you are at risk of injury before or during the workout, stop and see a medical professional before continuing. 

Functional strength is important in our daily lives, but Jancsy also says that these two exercises can be great for athletes and anyone else who has a highly active lifestyle.

“Everything I do in class has a functional purpose in life,” Jancsy said. “To keep your stamina up so that you don’t get tired doing these things. It translates well to all types of sports.”

  • Ryan Vermette is the Item's Marblehead reporter. He graduated from Springfield College in 2021 with a Bachelor's degree in Communications/Sports Journalism. While in school, he wrote multiple sports articles for the school newspaper, the Springfield Student, and joined Essex Media Group in August, 2022. Ryan is a college basketball fanatic and an avid Boston sports fan and in his free time, enjoys video games and Marvel movies.