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Exercises for Functional Fitness: Who Really Needs Them?

01/02/2020
By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS

Functional fitness has risen in popularity over the last year or so. It may sound like another craze or marketing gimmick, but exercises for functional fitness are a legitimate option for working out. Functional fitness simply means there is a purpose behind your training—and it’s something used in many professional athlete training regimens.

What is Functional Training? – Shredded Sports Science

The fitness industry has taken “functional fitness” and really hyped up the term by tailoring group classes and charging exorbitant prices for something you can do by yourself. As a fitness professional, I highly recommend adding functionality to your exercise; you don’t need to be an athlete to perform functional fitness.

What is Functional Fitness?

According to the Mayo Clinic, functional fitness is a classification of exercise that trains your body for real-life movement. There is a purpose behind every movement you do, which benefits multiple spheres of your life.

Functional fitness helps train your body to squat, reach, pull, and lift with ease. It focuses on building up your body to alleviate the struggles of everyday movement, and help you become stronger overall. For example, you may be able to squat 300+ pounds in the gym—but still pull a muscle when you go to lift up your child. The point of functional fitness is to not only be strong so you can squat at the gym, but to also be able to lift without tearing muscles or causing injury. Squatting in a rack and functional fitness go hand in hand.

Full Functional Workout: Go From Beginner To Advanced – Natacha Océane

The Basics of Functional Fitness

Nailing the basics of functional fitness is just like anything else; you have to walk before you can run. So in order to prevent injury in our day-to-day, we need to make sure our fitness routines include strength, range of motion, flexibility, coordination, body awareness, and mobility. When you perfect these aspects of training, you will be able to feel the benefits as you go through your routines.

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Compound movements use multiple muscles during the exercise, which mimic our normal movement patterns. The pushing, pulling, squatting, and rotating of a compound exercise like the squat, deadlift, or lunge helps us become stronger during everyday activities like lifting your kids from the floor or getting up from tying your shoes. It can also simply alleviating muscle imbalances, so that your body feels better in general.

The majority of functional training movements are multi-joint—so the program should include movements forward, side-to-side, and backwards, as well as rotational movements. It is important to start using your bodyweight, but incorporate free weights and bands as you get stronger to ensure the continuation of your success.

Who Really Needs Functional Fitness?

Just like any type of new movement or exercise, it is wise to take it slow and really understand workouts from the bottom up. If you want to learn how to perform the movements safely, you should invest in a functional fitness professional who can teach you the proper form in order to avoid injury.

Start with bodyweight exercises to perfect form, avoid injury—and then after you have perfected form, you can add weight to increase resistance and difficulty. As a fitness coach, I recommend a functional fitness program that is tailored to your individualized needs and goals.

Everyone needs to be incorporating functional fitness into their workout regimine. Whether you are a parent, athlete, senior citizen, or frequent gym goer, functional fitness will improve your body’s health as a whole; improve everyday life; increase your mobility, coordination, and flexibility; improve your balance and posture; and decrease your risk of injury.

Functional Training Exercises

Most fitness professionals can agree that functional fitness should be incorporated into your routine. However, it is important to check with your physician before starting a new way of exercising; you want to prevent injury!

The exercises below are a wonderful place to start with bodyweight—or when you’re ready, with added resistance from fitness bands, free weights, or other exercise equipment.

Suitcase Squat

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells in both hands (if ready for resistance) palms in.
  • Bend knees and push hips backwards as you lower yourself into a squat.
  • Drive through your heels, stand up, make sure to squeeze your glutes at the top.
Woman doing squat and holding dumbbells in gym. Suitcase Squat is one of the exercises for functional fitness.
Do Some Suitcase Squats For Functional Training (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Deadlift

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, dumbbells in both hands (if ready for resistance), hold dumbbells in front of your quads.
  • Hinge your torso forward and keep the slight bend in the knees as you lower your dumbbells to the floor while staying along your shins.
  • With your shoulders pulled back and core tight, push through the heels and stand up straight. Make sure to not let your hands or dumbbells get too far away from your shins.
Man preparing to do a deadlift as an exercise for functional fitness.
Deadlift as a Functional Training Exercise (Image Source: Unsplash)

Lateral Lunge

  • Stand with feet together
  • Take a step out to your side, right first, and when your foot lands on the floor, hinge at your hips, push your booty back, and bend your right knee as you lower into it.
  • Push off your right foot to bring your right foot back to the center and stand back up.
  • Repeat on the left side.
Two women doing lateral lunges at home.
Try Doing Some Lateral Lunges (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Reverse Lunge with Rotation

  • Start with feet together, hands together at chest level. (If advanced, hold a dumbbell in same position.) Place your right foot directly behind you (about 2 feet) and lower your body into a lunge position.
  • Make sure your left leg angle is 90 degrees and your front knee is not over your toes.
  • Rotate left, across your left leg, then face forward again.
  • Bring your right leg forward and move to standing position.
  • Repeat with opposite leg.
Woman doing reverse lunge and reaching arms high in the gym.
Reverse Lunge with Rotation is a Good Functional Training Exercise (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Push Up

Man doing push ups outside.
Functional Training Also Includes Push Ups (Image Source: Unsplash)
  • Start in high plank with your hands flat on the floor, shoulder width apart.
  • Engage your core and glutes to make sure your booty is not high in the air; you want to be parallel to the floor.
  • Bend your elbows and lower yourself to the floor.
  • Keeping your core tight and position stable, push through your palms to straighten your arms back to step one.
  • You can drop your knees to the floor to modify.

Like what you see? If this appeals to you, then consider supplementing your functional fitness routine with a TRX suspension trainer, too. Or, level up and apply a product like Sweet Sweat Gel during your next workout for improved circulation.

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