What Is Functional Fitness Training About?


What is your end-goal for hitting the gym on a regular basis and staying active? Fitness fanatics and casual gym goers have different reasons and end-goals for adopting an active lifestyle. Common end-goals for adopting an active lifestyle include, improving cardiovascular fitness, losing and maintaining a healthy bodyweight, toning up and getting the body in great shape, relieve stress, and keep nagging health problems at bay, just to mention a few. Besides these common end-goals, have you ever considered adopting a fitness regimen that seeks to help you perform day-to-day activities efficiently, safely and with ease? If your answer to this question is a ‘YES’, then it is about time you added functional fitness training to your weekly workout schedule.

What is functional fitness training about? Functional fitness training simply refers to exercises that improve your performance of everyday activities. In other words, functional fitness training aims to develop your muscles so that daily activities such as carrying heavy objects or groceries, picking up your kids, picking items from the floor and placing them up on a shelf and vice versa, climbing up a staircase, and especially for the aged, getting up from a chair or floor and down, are done safely and with ease. These exercises are based on activities and movements you do on a daily basis and strengthens the muscles used in performing those daily activities. The development of these muscles helps to prevent injuries and improve your quality of life.


The popularity of functional training has risen in recent years and continues to rise by the day. Even though it does sound like a ‘new thing’ in the fitness industry, functional fitness training has been in existence for ages. It has its origins in the physical rehabilitation field where occupational and physical therapists use this training approach to help patients recovering from injury and individuals with movement disorders.

One great news about functional fitness training is that, it can be performed either at the gym or in the comfort of your home, with or without added weights. Sounds great, right?

Equipments Used

As stated earlier, functional fitness training can be done with or without added weights. The fact that functional fitness incorporates movements such as pushing, pulling, lunging, squatting, rotating, and twisting, just to mention a few, means workout sessions can effectively be done with just bodyweight.

When it comes to using equipments and added weight, deciding on which equipment to use is mostly centered around your ability and end-goal of your workout session. For a pregnant person or someone undergoing rehabilitation, the choice of equipment is based on how relevant it will be to the patient.

Equipments used in functional fitness training include:

  • Kettlebells
  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Medicine balls
  • Foam rollers
  • Exercise balls
  • Resistance band or tubes
  • Macebells
  • Sandbags
  • Balance disks
  • Slide boards
  • Clubbells
  • Wobble boards
  • Suspension trainers
  • Bench
  • Bodyweight

Benefits Of Functional Fitness Training

The impact of functional fitness training on the body can never be overemphasized. It provides us with the improved mobility, stability and strength needed to conquer the physical demands of our daily hustles and bustles.

Other benefits of adding functional fitness training to our weekly workout schedule include:

  • It involves multi-dimensional exercises that tend to improve our natural movement skills and boost our general mobility.
  • It challenges and improves our balance and coordination. With added weights, the body’s balance and coordination are challenged even further, resulting in more strength and calorie burning potential.
  • The multi-dimensional and compound nature of functional fitness training ensures both the upper and lower body are effectively worked out. Also, compound exercises such as lunges, squats and push-ups tend to work more muscle groups simultaneously.
  • The simultaneous training of multiple muscle groups helps the body to function better as a whole single unit. Another benefit of working multiple muscle groups is that more work is done in less time. In other words, the body’s workout efficiency is massively improved.
  • It improves the body’s motion and range of motion. Adding a multi-dimensional form of exercise, such as functional training, tends to increase the body’s motion from single plane (such as just front and back movements or side to side) to multiple planes. An example of a workout motion involving multiple planes is a lunge with a hip side-to-side twist. Increasing your body’s range of motion improves your core strength, flexibility and coordination.
  • Functional exercises can be very beneficial for the aged as it could improve their mobility, agility, balance and reduce the likelihood of falls. Their overall body strength is also improved.

12 Functional Fitness Exercises To Add To Your Routine

What is functional fitness training about? Well, we hope you are gradually finding the answer to this question….. that is, if you have not already done so.

To improve your ability to efficiently perform everyday tasks, boost your strength, coordination and balance, and keep injuries at bay, you should seriously consider incorporating the exercises below into your workout routine.

Perform these exercise 3 to 4 days a week and observe the difference in the ease with which you perform your everyday physical activities…..

1. Standard Squat


Squatting works out and strengthens your lower body and improves athletic posture. When it comes to real-life application, squatting helps with standing from a seated position, pushing and jumping. It is a similar movement to sitting on a chair and standing up and should definitely be included in your functional fitness routine.

How to:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet can be parallel or slightly facing out.
  • Bend your knees and hips, stick out your buttocks and crouch as though your are about to sit down on an imaginary chair.
  • Crouch until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Whiles crouched, ensure you stick out your chest, stick out your buttocks and keep the soles of your feet completely flat on the floor.
  • Once your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, push through your heels to return to the standing position.
  • Repeat sequence. Try 10 to 20 squats to start with, and increase the number of reps once you get comfortable.

2. Dumbbell/Kettlebell Squat




This is just like the standard squat but includes dumbbells or kettlebells to mimic the picking of suitcases, grocery bags or any form of load from the floor in each arm.

How to:

  • With a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Ensure your palms are facing inwards with arms relaxed and resting along the sides of your legs.
  • Complete the remaining sequence as though you are performing the standard squat above.

3. Push-Ups


This exercise works out your upper-body and abdominals. It improves your ability to push yourself off the floor or another surface. Having such an improved ability is very vital for functional fitness.

How to:

  • Whiles lying flat on your tummy, place your hands with palms facing down under your shoulders and ensure your body is in a straight line.
  • Push your body off the floor with your arms. Your bodyweight should only be supported by your arms and balls of your feet.
  • Gently lower your body back down without touching the floor. Repeat sequence.
  • Throughout the execution of this exercise, please ensure your elbows are tucked in close to your sides as possible.

4. Farmers Walk


The farmers walk improves posterior chain stability while simultaneously building and strengthening your core. The posterior chain is a group of muscles on the posterior of the body. These muscles include the hamstrings, the spinal erectors, the posterior deltoids, the gluteus maximus and the trapezius. The farmers walk improves real-life movements such as walking, climbing stairs and carrying load in both arms.

How to:

  • Pick up weight in each hand and walk with it. Simple, right?
  • Whiles performing this exercise, ensure you tighten your core and keep your chest up.

5. Deadlift


The deadlift is one of the best exercises out there due to its overall impact on the body. It strengthens the whole body from head to toe, especially the hamstrings, quads, glutes and back. With the deadlift, every muscle in the body is given a good workout. This exercise improves our ability to pick up items(especially heavy ones) from the floor.

How to:

  • Stand close to the bar, with the bar going across the upper laced part of your trainers and your shins as vertical to the bar as possible. Feet should ideally by hip-width apart.
  • Crouch as though you are performing a squat and touch the bar with both hands to the side of each foot. You can use either a double overhand grip or a one hand reverse grip. Choose the type of grip you feel more comfortable with.
  • Stick out your buttocks, keep your back straight and start the lift by engaging your hamstrings, glutes and lower back.
  • Stand up fully erect.
  • Crouch back down whiles keeping your back straight and repeat sequence.
  • Ensure shins are straight and vertical throughout this exercise.

6. Planks


The plank is an exercise that challenges the body’s balance, mobility and strength. It gives your abdominals a great workout, builds overall strength and improves your ability to get off the floor.

How to:

  • Get on all fours and extend your legs backwards so your legs are supported by the balls of your feet. Your upper-body should be supported by your lower arm.
  • Keep your head, shoulders and hips in a straight line and look down toward the floor. Looking could put a strain on your neck muscles.
  • Fully engage your muscles, tighten your core, focus on your abdominals and ensure your hips do not dip or raise.
  • Hold the position for as long as you can.

7. Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups


Pull-up or chin-up exercises improve overall strength, especially the upper body. This exercise improves our ability to perform real-life activities such as dragging and climbing.

How to:

  • Once your bar is mounted, take hold of it with palms either facing towards you or away from you.
  • With arms shoulder-width apart, engage your shoulders and slowly pull your body up to the bar.
  • Once the chest gets to the bar or chin gets above the bar, slowly lower yourself back down to the start position.

8. Step-Ups


This basic exercise strengthens the muscles used to climb stairs.

How to:

  • Stand in front of a bench or step.
  • Step up onto the bench with your right foot.
  • While keeping your weight on the right foot, only tap your left foot to the surface of the bench and return the left foot back to the floor. That is one rep done.
  • Complete 10 to 20 reps with the left foot and switch legs

9. Step-Downs

The movement involved in this exercise is similar to descending a staircase. This exercise looks simple, but it is a good way of strengthening the muscles used in getting up and down a staircase and improving balance and stability.

How to:

  • Stand sideways in front of a bench and place one foot on the bench while the other foot remains on the floor.
  • Push yourself up with the foot on the bench and raise yourself up so your other leg is fully extended.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down to the start with one foot still on the bench. That is one rep done.
  • Complete 10 to 20 reps on the same leg and switch legs.

10. Lateral/Side Lunges


The standard lunge is quite a common exercise, but its variation, the side lunge, is often overlooked by a lot of people. Side lunges give the buttocks a great workout.

How to:

  • Stand straight with your feet together.
  • Place your hands on the hips and take a big step sideways to your right side.
  • When your right foot hits the floor, slightly bend forward at the hips, stick your buttocks out and bend your right knee to lower yourself into a sideways lunge.
  • From the sideways lunge position, push off your right foot and return to the start position. That is one rep done.
  • Complete 10 to 20 reps and switch legs.

11. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Rowing exercises are a great way of targeting a large amount of neglected muscles mass on our back and sides.

How to:

  • With a dumbbell in each arm, stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hinge forward at your hips, stick your buttocks out, engage your core and slightly bend your knees.
  • Keep your neck in a comfortable position by gazing at the floor a few inches infront of your feet.
  • Perform a row by pulling the dumbbells towards your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades for a couple of seconds at the top of the move. Ensure your elbows go past your back and are kept close to your body during the exercise.
  • Extend your arms and slowly lower the dumbbells back down. That is one rep done.

12. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge


The reverse lunge works out the core, hamstrings, glutes and concurrently challenges your mobility, balance and stability. Incorporating a dumbbell into a reverse lunge provides an added challenge and workout.

How to:

  • Hold a dumbbell with both hands and stand upright with feet hip width apart.
  • Take a large step backward with your right foot.
  • Lower your hip so that your left thigh becomes parallel to the floor. Ensure your right knee is positioned directly over your ankle.
  • Push off your right foot and return to the start position. That is one rep done.
  • Complete 10 to 20 reps and switch legs.

The Takeaway…

Functional fitness training mostly uses bodyweight and it is simple, straightforward and safe for most of us. It seeks to improve how well and safe we perform everyday physical activities, but if you happen to be recovering from a recent injury, pregnant, or have health concerns, you should first consult your doctor before giving these exercises a go.

What is functional fitness training about? Well, I hope this article has given you the answers you need.

Comments, suggestions and questions are welcome in the comments section below. Thank you.

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  1. I really learned a lot from your article, I never heard of functional fitness training before. I take for granted most people could do this type of fitness training despite their age as long as they are healthy, I am just asking if I am right about this or not?

    • As long as you are healthy and fit, functional fitness training should be safe to perform, Jeff. If in doubt as to whether your fitness level is good enough for this form of everyday training, please consult a health professional before starting.

      Thanks a lot for the comment!

  2. Hi Daniel! Great post on a very useful subject! For many years I’ve been mostly focused on functional fitness training. Its certainly possible building a great physique training this way as well!

    I have a question for you, are you familar with Steve Maxwell? And if so, do you have any opinions on his isometric exercises, in relation to this topic?

    Thank you!

    • Honestly speaking, I’ve just started looking into Steve Maxwell’s isometric exercises. I do know enough about his exercises to give a well informed opinion yet, but I can see some similarities his exercises have with functional fitness training. I’ll look more into this.

      Thanks for the comment and a great question!

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