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Embracing Functional Fitness Training: Unlocking 12 Functional Fitness Exercises to Build Strength

Functional fitness workouts


Functional fitness training has gained considerable popularity due to its emphasis on real-life movement patterns and overall physical benefits.  What’s not to love about functional workouts that help you focus on improving strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination through exercises that mimic daily activities?

Unlike traditional weightlifting routines that isolate specific muscle groups, functional fitness workouts focus on improving mobility and stability while targeting muscles that are often overlooked or underused.

This article will highlight different functional workouts to explore, why incorporating functional strength training into your fitness routine makes sense, and twelve types of functional fitness exercises to get you started.

Looking to head to the gym to try out functional fitness training for yourself? Find a Planet Fitness location near you today!

Types of Functional Workouts to Try

Before we explore specific functional fitness exercises further, let’s break down functional workouts into a few categories. 

  • Bodyweight Exercises: These exercises rely solely on your body weight and can be modified to suit different fitness levels and effectively work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, improving functional strength and endurance.
  • Functional Training Equipment: Utilize functional training equipment like resistance bands, medicine balls, stability balls, suspension trainers, and kettlebells. These tools add variety and challenge to your workouts, enabling you to target specific muscle groups while improving stability, coordination, and functional movement patterns.
  • Circuit Training: Design circuit-style workouts incorporating strength, cardio, and agility exercises. Circuits involve performing a series of exercises with minimal rest in between, providing a well-rounded functional workout that improves cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and functional capacity.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Don’t be intimidated by high-intensity training! HIIT workouts combine short bursts of intense exercises with brief recovery periods. Incorporating functional movements into HIIT routines helps build strength and endurance while improving abilities required for sprinting, jumping, and rapid change of direction.

Functional exercises don’t typically involve gym machines, although there may be opportunities to incorporate fitness equipment. For example, functional fitness workouts may require hand weights, but you won’t need access to a treadmill or elliptical machine to enjoy all the benefits functional training has to offer. 

4 Reasons Why Functional Strength Training Makes Sense

If you’re not yet convinced you should try functional strength workouts, consider these additional ways functional fitness adds value to everyday life. 

  • Real-life Application: Functional fitness training prepares you for the demands of everyday life. Functional strength training enhances your overall functional capacity and quality of life, improving your ability to perform daily activities like lifting, carrying, and reaching.
  • Improved Functional Performance: Functional fitness training enhances your ability to easily perform specific movements and tasks. Whether climbing stairs or participating in sports, functional strength training improves your performance by building strength, power, and coordination.
  • Injury Rehabilitation: Functional fitness exercises can be designed to aid in injury rehabilitation. After an injury or surgery, they help restore movement patterns, strengthen weakened muscles, and improve overall functional capacity. Remember, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance when recovering from an injury.
  • Enhanced Core Strength and Posture: Functional exercises significantly engage the core muscles, leading to improved core strength and stability. Strong core muscles support good posture and contribute to better balance and spinal alignment. Functional strength training improves body mechanics and promotes overall postural health.

12 Types of Functional Training Exercises to Try 

When putting together a functional workout routine, balance leg, arm, and core-focused exercises. Our 12-exercise collection has a few options for each, so you’ll have no trouble creating a functional fitness routine that works for you. To get the most out of your workout, focus on moving slowly and maintaining proper form.

Leg-Focused Exercises

  1. Squats. Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and toes forward. Keeping the back straight and engaging core muscles, bending at the knees and hips, and keeping weight in the heels. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then push back up through your heels to return to the starting position. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and avoid letting them collapse inward. With practice, you can add weight with hand weights or a barbell. Squats are beneficial for building strength in the legs, glutes, and core muscles and improving balance and stability.
  2. Lunges. Lunges are a great exercise for building lower body strength and improving balance. To do them, stand with feet hip-width apart and hands on hips. Step one foot forward and bend both knees to create a 90-degree angle while moving your center of gravity forward towards your front foot. Push through your front heel to stand back up and repeat on the other side. Hold weights in each hand or add a jump at the top of the movement to make lunges more challenging. 
  3. Deadlifts. Deadlifts are great for building overall strength and targeting lower body muscles. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with dumbbells in front of you. Bend down and dumbbells with an overhand grip. Lift the weights and lower them back toward the ground. Repeat this movement for several reps, focusing on engaging your glutes and hamstrings. To increase the intensity, add more weight or perform single-leg deadlifts. 
  4. Step-ups. Find a sturdy, elevated platform like a bench or step that is around knee height or slightly higher. Stand about one foot in front of the platform with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your right foot and place it firmly on the platform, pushing up through your heel to drive your body up onto the platform. Extend your right knee and hip as you lift your left foot into the air, or  lift your left knee for added difficulty. While maintaining control and balance, pause briefly before slowly lowering yourself back down to the floor. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times, then alternate legs. To add a challenge, you can complete a weighted step-up with hand weights or dumbbells.

Core-Centered Exercises

  1. Planks. Planks and side planks are great for building core strength and stability. To perform a plank, start by getting into a push-up position with arms straight and hands shoulder-width apart. To make the exercise more challenging, try a side plank. Keep breathing throughout the exercise and avoid letting your hips sag or lift too high. With consistent practice, planks and side planks can help improve posture, reduce back pain, and increase overall strength and endurance in the core muscles.
  2. Crunches. Crunches are a classic exercise for toning and strengthening the abdominal muscles. To perform a proper crunch, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head, but avoid pulling on your neck. Engage your core muscles and lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground while exhaling. Repeat for several reps, but take breaks if necessary. Variations such as bicycle or reverse crunches can be added for added challenges. Incorporating regular crunches into your fitness routine can help improve core strength and overall physical performance.
  3. Glute Bridges. Glute bridges are an effective way to target and strengthen your core, legs, and glutes. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Engage your core by gently drawing your belly button toward your spine. Press through your heels and lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position, maintaining control of your core throughout the movement. Repeat, aiming for 10-15 reps to start, then gradually increase as you get stronger.

Arm-Focused Exercises

  1. Tricep Dips. Tricep dips are an exercise that can be done anywhere with a sturdy surface. Start by sitting on the edge of a bench or chair with your hands shoulder-width apart. Slide your hips off the edge and bend your elbows to lower yourself. Push yourself back up to the starting position, using your triceps to lift your body weight. Repeat for several reps, aiming for three sets of 10–12 reps each. 
  2. Bicep Curls. Bicep curls are a classic exercise for building strength and definition in your arms. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your elbows close to your sides and slowly lift the weights towards your shoulders, contracting your biceps at the top of the movement. Lower the weights back down to the starting position and repeat for several reps, aiming for three sets of 10–12 reps each. For an added challenge, try alternating curls or using a heavier weight as you build strength over time. 
  3. Shrugs. Shrugs are a great way to target the upper trapezius muscles and improve posture. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your shoulders towards your ears, hold for a second, then slowly lower back down. Aim for three sets of 10–12 reps each. For an added challenge, try using a heavier weight or holding the shrug at the top for a few seconds before lowering it back down.
  4. Overhead Presses. Overhead presses are great for building upper body strength and improving posture. Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and holding a barbell or dumbbell at shoulder height. Engage your core, press the weight above your head, then slowly lower it back to shoulder height. Aim for three sets of 8–10 reps each, gradually increasing the weight as you progress.
  5. Farmer’s Carry. The Farmer's Carry is an exercise that involves standing with feet hip-width apart and holding a heavy weight in each hand. It is great for building grip strength, improving posture, and enhancing body stability. With practice, you may increase weight to continue challenging yourself. 

Functional fitness training offers a holistic approach to strength training by focusing on mobility, stabilization, flexibility, and often missed muscle groups. By incorporating exercises that mimic real-life movements, functional fitness training enhances overall functional capacity, improves daily activities and sports performance, and reduces the risk of injuries. Whether you're an athlete, a fitness enthusiast, or simply looking to improve your everyday functionality, embracing functional strength training can benefit your fitness journey and enhance your quality of life. Get started now for free on the PF App.