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July 12, 2021 9 min read

The fun part about fitness and exercise is discovering the various different types of ways to keep yourself in shape. Incorporating variety in your workout from time to time is important in keeping your mind fresh and your body moving.

Whether you’re striving to complete a difficult CrossFit challenge, like the  Murph Crossfit Workout, or improving your lifting abilities, functional fitness will likely help!

Woman doing functional training exercise in the gym

What is Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness, you’ve likely heard this term peppered around the fitness world. But what does “functional fitness” mean, exactly? Functional fitness training is a type of exercise that aims to improve your daily life by mimicking real-life movements.

Functional workouts typically focus on strength-training, but it can also be endurance if that is helpful for your specific lifestyle.  This might sound odd, isn’t any exercise functional? Think about other parts of your life, perhaps you have a hobby in music or writing.

If you have a weakness in your daily activities, maybe you need to become better at singing in tune or you need to work on writing faster, how do you fix this? Likely, you’ll do exercises to boost these specific areas,such as singing scales or writing with a timer on.

This is exactly how functional fitness works. While the daily lives of each individual differ greatly, there are many commonalities. For example, many people are probably: 

  • Carrying heavy groceries 
  • Getting on and off a couch or chair 
  • Running to the oven when you smell your cookies burning 
  • Lifting loads of laundry 
  • Getting items from high shelves
  • Bending down to look for your lost earring 
  • Carrying a backpack 
  • Lifting and hold children or pets

The list of small bits of physical activity you do throughout the day can go on and on. Over time, these activities can become difficult as your body wears out and becomes weak. You may even find that some of these tasks are difficult to do now. This is when functional strength and functional fitness exercise can come in handy.

How is it Different Than Other Forms of Training?

Sure, if you weightlift or run there are plenty of ways certain movements can translate into everyday life. Just having more muscle can make many parts of our lives simpler. However, certain popular lifts, such as a bench lift, is not likely a movement you do in everyday life.

Athletes often use functional fitness in their training to improve their performance in their sport. One study found that gains in performance are better achieved when the training is more closely related to the movements required in performance.

Of course, this only makes sense and means functional training can aid in the movements required by non-athletes, as well.

Benefits of Functional Fitness

Like many forms of exercise, there are several benefits to functional fitness training. Through functional fitness, you can see benefits such as:

Increases Overall Fitness

Almost any type of relatively difficult and consistent exercise will increase your overall level of fitness, and functional training is no different. You can utilize functional training to boost your fitness level while improving the movements you use in everyday life.

Additionally, if you find excess weight to be a problem in your life, functional fitness can work to help you manage your weight. Building strength and moving your body are two amazing ways to shed some pounds, getting you on your way to a higher level of fitness.

Improvement in Balance

One entirely universal part of functional fitness from person to person is the necessity of a strong core. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mother, a member of a circus, or a plumber, everyone needs adequate core strength. This makes functional training often core-oriented.

With a stronger core, you’re likely to see an improvement in your balance and stability.

You’re also likely to see an increase in your ability to do tasks that require a lot of strength, especially rotational and anti-rotational movements, such as mopping a floor or holding a child on one hip.

Increased Range of Motion

Your range of motion is incredibly important to your ease of movement. In your everyday life, you may find certain tasks, such as getting out of a bathtub or bending down to reach something, feel tight and painful. This is because your range of motion is compromised.

Not to fret, functional fitness serves as a sure method to increasing your range of motion and therefore, your overall mobility. Simply find the exercises that translate best to whatever movement feels hard.

Just doing this exercise repetitively will loosen up and strengthen the muscles and joints you use in whatever task it may be. As an example, you can use squats to help ease the difficulty of crouching down when you need something from a bottom cabinet.

Lessen Risk of Injury

When there is a lack in mobility and range of motion, your risk of injury when performing everyday tasks increases exponentially. However, building strength and mobility allows you to move with more ease and, more importantly, more safety. Bodies that are properly equipped with muscle and movement are less likely to be injured, whether that be a type of injury that occurs overtime or happens suddenly. 

Build Strength

Being strong is synonymous with having a high quality of life. When you’re strong, you can perform tasks better and with less risk of being injured. Functional fitness serves as a great method for building strength and muscle.

Of course, keep in mind building muscle and, therefore, strength is only encouraged through exercise when paired with a protein-rich diet. However, you can always use the power of muscle-building supplements to aid your body in muscle-building processes.

It’s Highly Efficient

If you’re like a lot of the population, sometimes you go to the gym and have no idea what to do. You walk around from machine to machine doing the prescribed movements with no real purpose or goal. While this is one way of getting a workout in, it is by no means an efficient way and, quite frankly, is a waste of your time.

Functional fitness can serve to fill in the gaps when you just have no idea what to do in the gym. Additionally, strengthening the areas of your body you use most in the day is most useful to you, making your gym sessions much more efficient than if you just walked in and did what the guy beside you is doing.

Can Easily Be Tailored

The great thing about functional fitness training is that you can tailor it to your specific needs. A movement that is functional for one person may not be functional for another person. If you deliver mail, you might do a lot of lifting from the floor. But if you’re a competitive tennis player, you need strong rotational power and explosiveness in your legs.

Tailoring a functional fitness routine for yourself is also quite easy. Just think about the movements you do throughout your day most often, or the movements which may feel difficult, and use those to formulate your own movements. Furthermore, since functional fitness is a very personal type of training, it is a readily available form of exercise for any fitness level.

10 Best Functional Fitness Workout Exercises

While no two people are the same and what is defined as functional fitness changes for everyone, there are many basic movements that translate into almost everyone’s lives.

One thing we all do constantly in our everyday activities is move, lift, twist, push, and pull our own body weight or other things. Below are some of the most useful functional movements to incorporate into any routine to mimic these movements.

Fit people doing deadlift exercise in gym

1. Deadlifts

If you’ve never done a deadlift before, now is the time to start. Think about how many times during your day you have to bend over and lift something off the ground. It may be something as light as a sock, or perhaps you’re rearranging furniture or moving heavy boxes.

Whatever it may be, this compound movement works several vital muscles, including your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, making it a must in any functional fitness routine.

2. Lunges

When we think of a lunge, it may be hard to think of something we do each day that mimics this movement. That’s because you do it so often without thinking much about it: walking. When we walk, we are constantly carrying the load of our body weight on our legs, which can become difficult and painful overtime. Climbing stairs is also another great translation of lunges in our everyday lives.

3. Squats

Squats are a highly beneficial compound movement that serves to not only strengthen the lower body, but also the core. We squat many times throughout our day, whether that be sitting on a chair, lifting ourselves off of that chair, or maybe even crouching to reach the ketchup that’s buried way back on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

4. Bent Over Row

A bent over row is an amazing functional back exercise and mimics many lifting movements, like removing bags from a shopping cart or starting that pesky lawn mower. Furthermore, building back and overall upper body strength is helpful in your everyday life as it assists with good posture. Good posture is especially important as our lives are often centered around a desk or computer.

5. Farmer’s Walks

Think of how many times you walk while carrying heavy loads. Perhaps you’re moving the groceries from the car to the house or are moving large buckets of water to wash your car. Whatever it may be, you can use farmer’s walks to help.

6. Push-up

Push-ups are not only important in developing core and tricep strength, but they also translate to a few but probably important movements in your life. If you couldn’t push your body weight up with your hands, how could you get off your belly in bed, or get up from the floor after trying to figure out which piece of furniture your cat is under?

7. Bicep Curl

There’s obviously a trend here: we carry A LOT of things in our day to day lives. Curls are important in functional training because having strong arms are incredibly important for lifting.

Furthermore, the bicep is our preferred muscle when lifting items, so we tend to naturally utilize a curling movement when picking up items. Think about the way you lift your phone from a table, pick your large package off the ground, or get your bags from your car. The likelihood you curled in the process is high.

8. Burpee

Burpees are great because they combine two very functional training exercises into one dynamic movement. While we have proven that squats and push-ups are both very good in functional exercise, incorporating dynamic movements in functional fitness is just as important.

This is because our lives and our individual movements tend to be very dynamic in nature. It is not often we do a push-up on its own, we probably follow this movement by standing up from a squat. This is how burpees can come in handy.

9. Pull-Up

The majority of people cannot pull up their own body weight. It is an incredibly difficult task. However, it’s very functional in nature and striving for a pull-up should be a part of every functional training routine.

You probably pull yourself up more than you realize. Sitting up from laying down is a form of pull. Or perhaps someone extends a helping hand for you to pull yourself off the ground. Pull-ups serve as a great way to boost your pulling ability.

10. Jump Rope

Jump roping is a simple exercise you can do pretty much anywhere. Whether you’re in the gym, at home, or in the park - a few sets of jump roping can be a great way to build a stronger core. It will also help increase arm and shoulder strength as well as leg strength.

How to Formulate the Best Functional Fitness Program

You don’t need a gym or fancy equipment, functional fitness is all about what works well for you. Additionally, your entire training program does not have to be functional.

We know that a large part of working out is enjoyment, so if you love a lift or movement that isn’t really functional to you, it should not be completely deleted from your routine. Incorporating just a few functional exercises can be enough to see a huge difference.

Here is a full-body functional training workout we suggest if you want to reap the benefits of functional exercise:

  1. Dumbbell Deadlifts: For a higher intensity, do 8 reps of 3-4 sets at a higher weight. For lower intensity, which is probably more functional for the average person, do 12-15 reps of 5 sets at a lower weight. We recommend the higher intensity version for those who do this movement more often throughout their day. 
  2. Barbell Bent Over Rows: High-intensity: 8 reps of 4 sets, low-intensity: 12 reps of 5 sets
  3. Kettlebell Squat: High intensity: 10 reps of 3 sets, low-intensity: 12 reps of 5 sets
  4. Bench Press: High intensity: 6-8 reps of 3-4 sets, low intensity: 12 reps of 4 sets
  5. Burpees: 10-15 reps for 4 sets

At the end of this routine, do 20-30 minutes of cardio, such as running, biking, or HIIT. Cardio is an incredibly useful functional training method as cardiovascular health translates into our ability to walk, run, and perform movements that elevates our heart rate. Furthermore, heart health is important in general.

A Note on Endurance

If you find your muscles tired throughout the day or maybe you do a lot of the same movement, functional training for you might mean increasing muscular endurance alongside strength training. To do this, simply up your reps of a desired exercise to 15-20 and do 5-6 sets. This will encourage muscular endurance.

Final Thoughts on Functionality in Fitness

Functional training is highly important in putting all that hardwork in the gym to use. Whether you find yourself needing more core strength and mobility, or you can’t squat to the ground as well as you used to, functional exercise is a great place to start for regaining movement in your everyday life.

You may already be doing several functional training movements in your routine and are likely feeling the benefits in your daily life. However, you can always be more mindful in your training approach and be sure to formulate a workout plan that works especially for you. Functional training is a great method for putting yourself first in the gym!