Workout articles, healthy lifestyle tips, and fitness advice.

What is Functional Fitness Training? A Beginner’s Guide to Functional Workouts and Strength Training

Functional training workouts


If you’ve heard the term functional fitness training and cocked your head like an adorable, albeit confused, puppy—don’t worry. It’s a term that sounds simple but can lead to confusion.

Functional fitness training is a type of workout geared explicitly toward better function when performing everyday tasks. These tasks might include putting a heavy object on a high shelf, bending to pick up something off the floor, or walking up and down stairs.

Think of functional fitness as maximizing your workout time to make everyday life easier. Typical injuries can occur to people most would consider “in shape” — No one is immune to something as simple as a tweaked back or sprained ankle. 

With functional training as part of a regular workout routine, you can more safely enjoy your daily coffee run, weekly grocery trip, or annual ski trip with less worry about everyday injuries

How Does Functional Fitness Work?

A functional workout focuses on moving groups of muscles at a time with more than one type of joint as part of that movement. This also affects your overall fitness goals, so instead of focusing primarily on toning a particular muscle, losing weight, or lowering your cholesterol—although all of these and even more benefits can occur in conjunction with functional fitness—you’re upgrading your life as a whole. 

Of course, most workouts are functional in some way. Building any type of strength has its benefits. But multi-joint and multi-muscle movements generate the best results in the least time. 

Benefits of Functional Strength Training 

Functional fitness training—unlike other popular kinds of strength training, like CrossFit or bodybuilding—is far more relaxed, requiring minimal equipment and less effort. The concentration is on performance rather than physical size or shape.

Not only is functional training highly accessible, but it also leads to noticeable benefits over time, such as: 

  • Less joint pain
  • Muscle memory improves daily function
  • Better balance and coordination
  • Increases flexibility and mobility
  • Improves posture
  • Decreased back pain
  • Better protected from injuries

The best part of a functional fitness workout? You don’t need a single piece of equipment to get started. 

Is Functional Training Right For You?

Functional fitness is like any other new type of exercise, which requires beginning at a leisurely pace and building over time. And before starting any new exercise routine—functional fitness or not—you should consult a doctor if you have any doubts that it’s safe. 

Generally, though, functional fitness training can be “used safely in the population,” says national sources. You’ll begin with exercises that use only your body weight for resistance. Remember, no equipment necessary! 

A functional fitness workout is best when tailored to each individual. So while large group fitness classes may benefit some, an individualized or small-group program can ensure success by strengthening specific weaknesses and tailoring the exercises to your goals. Whatever method you choose, functional fitness will optimize your performance inside and outside the gym.

How to Incorporate Functional Fitness Workouts Into Your Routine

Functional fitness workouts can be incorporated into your routine by choosing exercises that mimic movements you do in your daily life, such as squats, lunges, and lifting weights. It is essential to start without weights (or with light weights) and focus on proper form to prevent injury. Then, gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time. 

We’ve picked five simple, no-accessories-necessary, functional strength training exercises you can practice right here while finishing this article—or later during the commercial breaks of your most recent no-shame TV binge. 

1. Squats

Squatting is an integral part of any functional fitness routine and should be done slowly and controlled with an optional light dumbbell in each hand. Limit range of motion and complete 2 sets of 15 reps.

2. Plank

A plank works the whole body but focuses on the core. It involves rolling shoulders down and back, forming a straight line from head to heels, and holding for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat 2 to 3 times. Strengthening those core muscles—deltoids, pectorals, abdominals, rhomboids, and more—is essential for a healthy life. 

3. Bridge

The posterior chain is full of powerful muscles essential for day-to-day movement. To strengthen the glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and place your arms down by your sides. Inhale and lift your hips toward the ceiling, engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings. Slowly return to the start and repeat 5-15 times.

4. Lunge

The split stance, forming a triangle with your legs and the ground, is a great way to strengthen your quadriceps and promote mobility in your knee joints. To do this, lunge forward on your leading leg, not exceeding 90 degrees, and return to start. Repeat 2 sets of 15 reps on each side.

5. Downward-Facing Dog

This yoga pose necessitates supporting your body weight, which immensely benefits functional daily movement. Start in a high plank position, keep your hands, feet, and neck stationary, and lift your hips to form a triangle with the ground. Hold for 10 to 90 seconds as you’re able. Repeat 2 more times.

Functional Fitness vs. Weight Training: What’s the Difference?

As you know, functional fitness focuses on movements that mimic everyday activities. On the other hand, weight training is centered around lifting weights to build muscle mass and strength. 

For example, a common weight training exercise is the bicep curl, which tones one particular muscle while using the elbow joint. This exercise is focused on building upper arm muscle. A functional strength training activity may be lunging to the left or right with a kettlebell. This exercise builds balance, flexibility, form, and strength while simultaneously engaging multiple muscles and joints. 

Of course, both weight training and functional strength training have their benefits and can be incorporated into a well-rounded fitness routine. But for those without a lot of time for fitness and general health goals, we give functional fitness an A+. 

Join Planet Fitness to start your functional fitness journey and take advantage of free fitness training through our PE@PF program, available to all PF members.