Every day, we do a number of things that require cooperation from our bodies. That includes anything from alternating between sitting and standing in front of your computer, carrying (too many) grocery bags up the stairs, picking up your piles of clothes, cleaning your apartment, and more. And while no workout will make doing household chores any more enjoyable, functional fitness may at least help train your muscles so you don’t pull one while vacuuming your floor.
What Is Functional Fitness (and Why Is It Important)?
As the name implies, functional fitness relates to moving your body in accordance to daily functions. It is “typically describing a training category that utilizes movements and exercises that simulate or have a carry over to real-life movement patterns,” explains Jen Polzak, CPT, PN, MES and Byrdie Advisory Board Member.
While functional fitness may not train you for a marathon, it can help you do regular activities more safely and efficiently. “It’s important to move our bodies through functional movement patterns so our bodies are strong and functioning at its best for everyday life,” adds John Thornhill, a ACE-CPT certified master trainer at Aaptiv.
Both Polzak and Thornhill agree that functional fitness benefits everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. All of us need to build strength so we can go about our days without worrying we’re going to overly strain ourselves by simply walking down the street.
What Kind of Equipment Do You Need?
Functional fitness doesn’t require any special equipment, as you can use your own body weight for many of the movements. If you want to add additional resistance as you get stronger, Polzak says common tools could include bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, TRX, something to step up on, something to perform a pull-up on, or a cable machine.
Functional Fitness Exercises
Functional training often includes compound exercises, which are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups. “They can give you ‘more bang for your buck’ when utilized correctly,” says Polzak. Compound exercises may also be more reflective of how we move in real-life, because we’re rarely standing in place only using one muscle group.
Here are a few functional fitness exercises to try, from Thornhill and Polzak:
- Stand with your feet under your hips, 10 toes pointing forward.
- Interface your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows wide.
- Hinge at your hips, sending your butt back while keeping your chest proud and belly tight.
- Drive your feet into the floor as you target your attention to your core, hamstrings, and glutes to stand.
Squat to Standing Reach
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward.
- Bend your knees and sink your hips toward the ground, keeping your heels grounded and your chest lifted.
- As you stand, reach your right arm up and over your head to the left.
- Alternate on each side, working your entire body.
Reverse Lunge with a Twist
- Stand tall with your feet under your hips.
- Step your right foot behind you and bend your right knee to hover over the ground, lowering your thigh parallel to the ground.
- As you lower into the lunge, twist your torso to the left.
- Keep your weight in your front foot as you push the floor to stand.
- Alternate between both sides, working your core, glutes, and legs.
- Stand tall and reach your arms to the sky.
- Fold in half and reach your hands to the floor.
- Walk them out so that your body forms a plank position on your hands and toes.
- Walk your hands back to your feet and roll up to stand.
- Lay on your chest and reach your arms out long, your body forming a straight line from hands to feet.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your head, chest, and legs off the ground.
- Hold for 2 seconds, then lower back down.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart.
- Rotate your toes out naturally about 30 degrees.
- Keeping your weight in the middle of your feet, send your hips back as if you were sitting into a chair. Aim to have your hips reach slightly below parallel.
- Diving through your midfoot, stand all the way back up.
- You can add intensity to the squat by adding weight, or adding time under tension. You can slow the squat down, or add a tempo or pause to the squat, which also makes it harder.
- Set yourself up with your hands flat on the ground, wrists directly under your shoulders.
- You should be on your toes with your feet extended behind you. Avoid arching your back, and you should feel as if you are trying to squeeze the floor together between your hand and toes, forcing you to engage your glutes and abdominals.
- Hold and time your plank.
- Set yourself up in a plank position with your hands flat on the ground, wrists directly under your shoulders.
- You should be on your toes with your feet extended behind you. You should avoid arching your back, and you should feel as if you are trying to squeeze the floor together between your hand and toes, forcing you to engage your glutes and abdominals.
- Lower yourself to the ground in your plank.
- Once you have brought your entire body about a fist distance from the floor, exhale and push the floor away, until you arrive back in your original plank.
- If you need to modify your pushups, do them on an elevation, such as with your hands on the back of a couch.
Dumbbell Neutral Grip Overhead Press
Requires: Two dumbbells
- Hold two dumbbells with your palms facing toward each other, and your elbows at 90 degrees.
- Press the dumbbells toward the sky, finishing with straight arms and your biceps ending up near your ears.
- Return the dumbbells to the starting position.
Requires: A kettlebell
- Stand with your feet about hip width apart, with the top of the kettlebell’s handle directly in the middle of your feet, feet on either side of the kettlebell.
- With a neutral spine, send your hips back.
- Slightly hinge at the knees until you feel tension on the backs of your legs (your hamstrings) and you can reach the kettlebell with both hands.
- Maintain a flat back and neutral spine as you stand bringing the kettlebell with you.
- Repeat in a reverse fashion to place the kettlebell back down on the ground.
Requires: A pull-up bar
- Using an overhand grip, grab your bar with a wide (wider than your shoulder) grip.
- Make sure to wrap your thumbs around the bar.
- Let your body hang, start to depress your shoulders down as if you are trying to create space between your shoulders and ears.
- Continue pulling, maintaining your body in a hollow, plank like position, until your chin is over the bar.
Barbell Bent Over Row
Requires: A barbell
- Setting yourself up in a deadlift position. The barbell should be almost touching your shins as you bend over to the bottom of your deadlift.
- Maintain a flat neutral spine as you grip the bar overhand, right outside of your shins.
- Pull the barbell to your sternum, driving your elbows behind you.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the start position.
Harvard Health Publishing. Fitness with a function. Updated October 1, 2021.