Functional Fitness

Functional fitness is a growing fad. Its premise is that instead of mindlessly using machines at the gym, you can get a better workout by doing things humans were designed to do -- jump, run, lift and move heavy things, including yourself.

Karen DeCoster, 46, a certified public accountant in Clinton Township, Mich., used to keep fit mainly by cycling. But for the past four years, she has relied on her lunchtime functional workout in downtown Detroit.

She sees speaker boxes as an aerobic step jungle, and benches serve as push-up and triceps dipping stations. A spiral structure at the end of her route makes a good plyometric playground.

"People are getting in these ruts, these plateaus," she says. "It's the same thing over and over. They do the same three bicep curls. I can do something out here with a bench and work my entire upper body. And I'm having fun. Every time out, I find something new. Like a planter. I can do something with a planter."

It's a routine that's not really a routine because DeCoster loathes keeping track of repetitions, miles, minutes spent, calories burned, or any other outside indicator of success. For her, it's all about using the natural environment of an urban center and minding a natural burn.

"I just listen to my body," says DeCoster, who blogs about politics and fitness at

DeCoster says she does the workout "one to three times a week." Whatever she sees, she uses.

"I was in Tennessee last week, and I had an old porch with a wooden pole," she says. "I took my set of bands and instead of using a door as an anchor I used the pole, and I did chest, back, arms. Then I did runs up the hills. You can kind of use anything. You just have to look at things and see it for what it can be."