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August 04, 2021 10 min read

When you’re just starting out in training, there’s no need for fancy exercises that target every specific part of your body.

On the contrary, for the person new to training, exercises that hit most of your major muscle groups are arguably the most effective way to both increase your strength while at the same time improving your cardio capacity, athletic ability, and coordination.

But you don't need to be a beginner to see incredible improvements in your physique and strength from full-body functional exercises that translate to every day life.

The Full Body Benefit

In addition to being a great foundation for all of your training, full-body exercises are efficient. Rather than focusing on one part of your body, compound exercises that hit several muscle groups at once give you a bigger bang for your buck.

A full-body workout routine will also have the benefit of training different parts of your body to work together, which useful for athletic and functional performance.

Remember to warm up and cool down for optimal workouts. If doing an exercise for the first time, it’s best to use lighter weights until you get the form down perfect.

Here are 10 of the most 'functional' exercises you can add to your weekly program:

1. Burpees

No full-body exercise list would be complete without including burpees. Being a simple, bodyweight exercise, the burpee challenges your body in a way that backs up its popular reputation.

The burpee is basically just a combination of a squat jump and a push-up, but it’s easy to modify it if you’re looking to make it easier or more difficult. But since it’s a bodyweight movement, it also means that you’ll need to attack them with intensity of effort if you want to reap maximum benefits.

For example, burpees are a terrific exercise to include in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine, since they get you sweating and heart racing. On top of providing a cardio workout, you’re also going to be activating pretty much every muscle in the body.

  1. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart, putting your weight onto your heels and having your arms rest at your sides. Hinge at the hips while bending your knees, entering into a squat position.
  1. Continue downward until you can place your hands in between your feet on the floor. In one motion, shift your body weight onto your hands as you kick your feet back to land in a plank position.
  1. Lower yourself into a push-up—chest almost touching the floor. Then, jump your feet back to your hands and then drive through your legs to explosively jump up into the air, reaching your hands straight up. As you land, immediately enter into another squat.

2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

When it comes to activating as many major muscle groups as possible,  the deadlift is one of the best lifts you can do. It's effective for improving explosive power as well as brute strength. This incredible exercise trains your entire posterior chain including the glutes, lower back, hamstrings, upper back, and also your core. Your forearms and stabilizing muscles are also forced to perform their fair share of work.

The Romanian deadlift (or, RDL) is a unique deadlift varation in that your hips aren’t mean to go as far down as in a conventional deadlift. This is particularly useful for those looking to emphasize their hamstrings over their quads. Dumbbells are good if you’re just starting out or if you’re trying to correct a muscle imbalance, but a barbell will allow you to move more weight and reap greater hypertrophy and strength gains.

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, with knees slightly bent and loose. The dumbbells should be held in front of your hips, with your palms facing your thighs. Maintain a straight back and squeeze your shoulder blades down and back, bringing them together.
  1. Continue by hinging at the hips and lowering the dumbbells, keeping them close to your shins. Only lower them until they’ve passed the knees—not any lower.
  1. Pause at the bottom of this movement before driving through your heels and extending your knees and hips. Once at the top starting position, squeeze your glutes.

3. Lunge to Overhead Press

The overhead lunge is useful as a stability exercise since you’ll be engaging your quads and hamstrings to keep your upper body in control of the weight above you.

The primary muscles worked in the overhead lunge are the quads and the glutes, but you’ll be feeling the tension everywhere. This includes your feet, knees, core hips, and shoulders, as you drive the weight upward while also challenging the lower body with lunges.

Other stabilizers include the traps and the abdominal muscles. All in all, the lunge with an overhead press is guaranteed to pack a punch.

  1. Your feet should begin at shoulder-width apart and both knees bent slightly. Take an inhale as you raise the weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) above your head, keeping it centered between the shoulder joints.
  1. With your right foot, step forward into a deep lunge—you want to ensure that your right knee is directly over the foot and not in front of it. Your forward thigh should also be parallel to the floor, with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
  1. Drive through your forward foot, and step back up into the starting position.

4. Bulgarian Split Squat

Along with the deadlift, the squat is a juggernaut of a movement when you’re trying to develop your lower body muscles. But much like the deadlift, the squat works a lot more than just your legs. Along with your quads, calves, glutes, and hamstrings, also expect a good core and back workout.

Bulgarian split squats ramp up the difficulty by destabilizing you during the movement, which helps to develop balance and core strength. It’ll also help you improve athletically, since driving off only one leg is a cornerstone of most athletic movements (for example, running).

The Bulgarian split squat is also more beginner-friendly, even though slightly more difficult with a weak core. This is because a lot of the stress is taken off the lower back, and your leg and core muscles get to shine instead.

  1. You’ll first need to find an elevated surface that’s about knee height. Stand facing away from the bench and enter into a forward lunge, with your back foot resting on the elevated surface. The leg in front should be about 1 to 2 feet in front of the bench.
  1. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them at your sides. Your front thigh should lower down until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Much like the lunge, your front knee shouldn’t travel further than your toes.
  1. Press through the heel in front and come back into the starting position, slowly and in control.

5. Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are one of the greatest (and most difficult) measures of upper body strength. It’s a notoriously difficult (and beneficial) movement to include in your training routine that primarily hits the upper body in your traps, rhomboids, biceps, lats, and core.

Include these into your routine, and you’re bound to see fantastic full-body results.

  1. Standing in front of a pull-up bar, jump up and grab onto it with palms facing away from you. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart—the wider you go, the more your back will be engaged. Hang with your arms extended.
  1. Bracing your core and glutes, pull your chest up to the bar, until at least your chin is above it.
  1. Reverse the movement, but do it slowly. Increasing time under tension will lead to greater gains in the long run.

6. Back Squats

The back squat is widely considered to be the king of total-body exercises forcing nearly every muscle in your body to engage to lift the weight. This includes all of the lower body: the glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors, hip flexors, and calves, and also your shoulders, arms, core, and back to stabilize the weight.

  1. With a barbell resting on your shoulders, begin with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider. You’ll need to keep your core engaged and chest up.
  1. Hinge at the hips while keeping a neutral spine, bending your knees as you do. Continue down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  1. Pause at the bottom and drive through your feet to come back to the starting position.

7. Kettlebell Swings

This is another fantastic explosive training exercise. Not only is it guaranteed to challenge every muscle in your body, but you’re also going to be working up a sweat and getting an incredible cardio workout too.

If you’re looking for a high-intensity exercise to finish your workouts with, look no further than the kettlebell swing.

While form is always important, it's critical to the kettlebell swing. In order to ensure your safety, you need to be doing the movement correctly and engaging the correct muscles.

  1. Choose a kettlebell (light is better when you’re just starting out) and place it just in front of you, between your feet. Plant your feet about shoulder-width apart and bend slightly with your knees. However, to reach down, you’ll mostly be relying on your hip hinge.
  1. Maintain a neutral spine as you reach down and grab the weight. Swing the kettlebell backward between your legs to create some momentum.
  1. Use this momentum to also drive your hips forward while simultaneously straightening your back, knees, and hips, to drive the kettlebell upward. Aim to get it to about shoulder height before allowing it to swing back down between your legs.

8. Renegade Row

When it comes to training the back muscles, rows are the go-to exercise. They’re a fundamental pulling movement that you’ll be using in your day-to-day life and/or athletics regularly, so it’s a good idea to include some sort of row variations in your training.

While there are all sorts of rows, the renegade row really shines when it comes to engaging more of your musculature. It specifically engages much more of your core, to the point where the weight you use will be significantly less in order to mainatian optimal form and engage all of the muscles in the movement.

Opt for lighter dumbbells than you’re used to!

  1. Begin with a dumbbell in each hand. Go for ones that have the flat sides, at least when you’re starting out. Get into a push-up position, supporting yourself on the dumbbells.
  1. Engage your abdominals and ensure that your back remains straight, neck in line with the rest of your spine.
  1. Raise one of your arms with the dumbbell in it, and bring it up to your chest. Pause before slowly bringing it back down. Alternate sides.
  2. Be sure to keep your hips parallel to the ground and do not to swivel back and forth as you row. If you do this then the weight you're using is too heavy. The renegade row is as much of an anti-rotation exercise for your core as it is a row for your back, which is why it is such an effective row varation.

9. Turkish Get-Ups

When it comes to working out your whole body unilaterally, the Turkish get-up takes the cake. It invloves you laying on your back in a prone position, getting to a standing position on both feet and back while holding the weight above you the entire time.

While it seems simple, it’s a complex movement, and with this complexity comes a range of benefits and muscular development.

The key to this exercise is to take it slow and treat each part of the movement as its own separate exercise.

Turkish get-ups are particularly useful for those looking to develop their shoulder mobility and strength, or for those going through rehabilitation. It’s usually done with a kettlebell, but bodyweight will work as well.

  1. Start by lying on your back, with legs and arms splayed out. Take your right foot and place it flat on the floor close to your butt and just outside of your hip. Bring the kettlebell in your right arm straight up.
  1. Drive through your right heel while simultaneously propping yourself up on your left elbow, bringing your shoulder blade down and back. Your torso should be facing to the side rather than straight up.
  1. Engage your abs and place your left hand on the ground, pushing through it to get into a seated position. Remember to keep your shoulders packed back, while also pointing the kettlebell straight up.
  1. Continue by sliding your left leg underneath your body and kneeling on your left knee. The knee and ankle should be in line with the hand that’s planted on the floor and supporting you. Sweep your left leg behind you so the foot is directly behind and the knee is pointing forward—you’ll be looking straight ahead.
  1. Drive through your back foot and come up into a standing position. Reverse the motions until you’ve reached the starting position.

10. Farmers Walk

The farmers walk might have a humble name, but it was originally popularized by competitive strongmen. As a strength and conditioning exercise, this movement loads every major muscle group in the body: including the calves, lats, quads, hamstrings, glutes, arm muscles (including biceps and triceps), the upper back and traps, neck, and several other stabilizers.

In addition to it being a great strength training exercise that hits pretty much your entire body, the farmers walk can also provide a great cardiovascular workout. Pair it with a couple of heavy dumbbells, and you’ll be giving it all you got before long. It’s also a functional exercise, meaning fewer shopping bag trips from the car to the kitchen.

  1. Place your chosen dumbbells on the floor beside you, and hinge at the hips to pick them up. You’ll be essentially deadlifting them—maintaining a neutral spine. Keep the dumbbells by your side as you brace your shoulders and core.
  1. Standing tall and looking straight ahead, simply begin walking forward at a regular pace, focusing on your feet and keeping your muscles engaged and your back as straight as possible.
  1. Rather than completing the exercise as fast as possible, you want to lean towards heavier weights that are a struggle to carry. The key is to keep your back straight so as to avoid any injuries.

Full Body Benefits

The exercises discussed above are great places to start if you’re looking to get bigger and stronger, but also have a great foundation of general physical preparedness (aka GPP).

Each exercise above provides a great bang for your buck, and they all tranalste to real-life.

However, full-body workouts expend a lot of calories since you’re using so much energy, and you need to properly resupply if you want consistent and significant development. While all macros are important, protein is the key.

If you’re looking to turbocharge your gains in this department, consider using a protein powder to bring your physique to the next level.