The Best Functional Training Workouts
for Improved Strength and Performance
Traditional weight training is being replaced with a more effective approach: functional training. Your typical fitness program would have you work specific body parts until you have next to nothing left, then move on to the next area. This was effective for building a more muscular-looking physique but arguably less effective at strengthening the body in a functional sense.
Functional training is a type of fitness program that incorporates everyday movements into exercises that work multiple muscle groups to make your entire body stronger and better equipped to handle strenuous tasks in everyday life. Firefighters and those serving in the military, for example, benefit greatly from improved performance and strength from functional training.
However, the greatest benefit of functional training is it gives the best of both worlds — functional workouts build overall strength while some even help give you a sculpted physique that can make you the envy of conventional lifters.
Try adding functional training to your daily training session. The following are some of the best functional exercises — high-intensity (faster-paced with a focus on cardio and increased heart rate) and low-intensity (slower-paced with a focus on maintaining balance and flexibility).
Medicine Ball Slam
The medicine ball slam uses explosive movement to build and transition power in your body and is a great addition to any fitness program. This exercise can be done in four different ways: tall kneeling, one-half kneeling, standing and single leg.
To do the medicine ball slam using any of these techniques, start in one of the four starting positions with fully extended hips, then quickly bring the medicine ball overhead and slam it on the floor. It’s important to keep your elbows straight while performing the movement and not let your shoulders round forward during the slamming motion.
For a tall kneeling slam, you’ll begin in a kneeling position; a half-kneeling position for a half-kneeling position; standing straight up for a standing position; and in a single leg stance with your knees, ankles and hips slightly flexed for a single leg position. At the end of the single leg slam, your leg should return to a slightly flexed position.
Barbell Back Squat
The barbell back squat is one of the more efficient compound exercises you can do, since a single squat works 256 muscles simultaneously. This functional training exercise is great for targeting multiple lower body and core muscles for everyday activities, as well as improving your explosive leg movements in competitive sports.
To begin, set your barbell just below shoulder height with your preferred weight, stand under the bar with your feet shoulder width apart and position the bar to rest on the muscles at the top of your back — it’s important that the bar isn’t resting on the back of your neck.
Once you’re in the correct position, place your hands on the bar over your back with a wide grip (to stabilize you) and bend at the knees to prepare for taking the weight off the rack. Push up with your legs to get the weight off the rack, while keeping your eyes up and back straight, and take a small step back.
Make sure you’ve got your balance, then slowly lower your body down — it’s important to not lean forward. Your backside should come out and drop down. Squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor and once you reach that point, raise your body slowly back up by pushing with your heels. During the lowering and raising of your body, don’t lock your knees.
A great exercise for working your whole body is the kettlebell swing. This functional training workout focuses on building strength with your hip hinge.
To perform the kettlebell swing, bend over in a flat-back position and grab your kettlebell’s handle with both hands. Swing it behind you, then drive through your knees to stand up, thrusting your pevlis forward and the natural momentum will swing the bell forward. At the peak of the movement, you should be standing tall — make sure you don’t actually jump in the air, as it’s dangerous to sacrifice balance and control while holding heavy weights.
Simply reverse the movement from there — bring the kettlebell back down and behind you, knees bent, then repeat as many times as you need to for your fitness program.
One of the most common and popular functional training exercises is the burpee. This movement is incorporated into almost every functional fitness program you’ll find because it works nearly every muscle in your body, including your abs, quads, inner thighs, shoulders and chest. Burpees also get your heart rate very high. .
To do a burpee, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your weight on your heels and your arms by your sides. Push your hips back while bending your knees, lower yourself into a squat and place your hands on the floor in front of (and just inside) your feet.
Once your hands touch the floor, jump your feet back into a plank position — remember to land softly on the balls of your feet and form a straight line with your body, from your head to your heels. Letting your butt stick in the air or your back sag will prevent you from fully working out your core.
After you’ve arrived at the plank position, hold it for just a moment before jumping your feet back forward just outside your hands. Reach your arms over your head and jump into the air. Once you land, immediately lower yourself into a squat to prepare for your next rep.
The shoulder press is a common lift and proven way to build upper body strength. The best part is it’s a simple exercise and you can use a kettlebell, barbell or weights.
Pick up your weight and either sit on a bench that supports your back or stand with your feet under your hips. Raise the weight to shoulder height, press it upward and lower it back to shoulder height. You can repeat this motion as many times as needed for your fitness program.
The pushup is a classic exercise, one of the first movements that comes to mind if you say the word “workout.” This workout is important to building upper body strength (working the pectorals, triceps and anterior deltoids) and should be an integral part of your functional training routine.
It’s a simple motion: get into a high plank position with your body forming a straight line, your eyes looking slightly ahead and your hands a little bit wider than your shoulders. Lower yourself until your chest touches the ground, rolling your shoulders down and back and bending your elbows — make sure your elbows maintain a 45-degree angle.
Once you’ve gotten to the ground, keep your back straight as you raise yourself back up.
The glute bridge is the workout in your fitness program that will strengthen your posterior chain by working the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals.
To perform the glute bridge, simply lie on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Put your arms by your sides and your palms flat on the floor, then lift your hips upward by pushing through the soles of your feet. After pausing at the top, slowly lower your hips back to the ground.
It’s important to breathe steadily and keep your core, glutes and hamstrings engaged throughout the movement.
Step Overhead Press
The step overhead press is a simple movement that fits into virtually any fitness program and helps you build upper body strength and balance.
To do a step overhead press, put a bench in front of that allows your hips to be at a 90-degree angle when you put a foot onto it. Hold a weight in each hand — keep them at shoulder level and bend your elbows. Step up so there’s one foot on the bench then follow with the other foot as you raise the weights overhead. Simply repeat using your feet in reverse order.
The single-leg deadlift is great for improving functional movement for daily activities and building your core muscles.
To do this move, stand with a weight in each hand in front of your legs and your feet together. Shift your weight to your left leg and lift your right leg behind you while you lower the weight to the floor. During this motion, it’s important to slightly bend your left knee, hinge at your hips to bring your torso parallel with the floor and keep your back flat.
Tighten your core as you push through the left heel to stand up straight. Keeping the majority of your weight on your left foot, bring your right leg back down alongside your left. After you pause and squeeze your buttocks, you’ve completed one rep.
How Can You Get Started Doing Functional Training?
The exercises mentioned above are just a few of the functional training movements that will build strength and improve your ability to perform daily tasks. And there’s no better time than now to incorporate functional training into your daily fitness program.
But with so many exercises to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re unsure where to begin, identify a couple of fitness goals you want to achieve or daily activities you’d like to do better and pick functional workouts that mimic those movements as closely as possible.
The more similar the movements, the better your results will be and the sooner you’ll see yourself getting stronger.