Functional training exercises allow you to fit physical activity into your busy schedule. The exercises are simple and you don't need much equipment. If you are recovering from an injury, functional exercises can be also beneficial. Combining stretches and basic functional training will help to ease pain and discomfort. This will aid healing, leading to greater health and muscle tone. In this list you will find 9 great functional exercises for beginners to get you started. Functional training involves full-body movements engaging your body in multiple planes of motion. They mirror and enhance the movements that you do in daily life including lunging, pulling, pushing and twisting. The aim is to gain functional strength and improve coordination.
#1 Burpees will leave you breathless
Burpees are great for gaining strength in the entire body. They are usually a part of many popular functional training programs such as crossfit. This is because they work your arms, chest, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and core. This results in training the body as a unified kinetic chain.
To Do: Begin by standing straight and looking forward. Squat with your hands on the floor in front of you then kick your feet back to a plank position. Follow this with do a push up before returning your feet to the squat position (keep your back flat). Leap up as high as possible from your squat position
Benefits: Condition and boost your endurance for any physical activity.
They are great for burning fat as they are an intense full body exercise.
They are dynamic and they are lots of variations you can do so you won't get bored doing them.
#2 Squats benefit your entire body
You can fit squats into your routine super easy. I often do them while I’m brushing my teeth or folding laundry. As a functional training exercise they benefit the body in many ways. The main target area is your thighs (quadriceps) and hips (gluteus maximus). Squats are also very beneficial for healthy hamstrings and lower back. Squatting improves your overall workouts because of its full-body engagement.
To Do: Bend your knees and lower your upper body until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Follow through by pushing upwards back into the initial position. Only lower to a depth that allows you to keep your back straight for the duration of the exercise. Keeps your abs tight throughout as this provides support to your lower back. Squat with your feet and knees pointing on a outward angle
Benefits: Serves as a great cardiovascular, hypertrophy and strength exercise. Creates an anabolic environment in the body due to engaging such a large muscle group. Triggers the release of testosterone and growth hormone, aiding muscle growth.
#3 Planks will improve your posture
Planks are great for beginners as its a very simple action and setup. As your fitness level increases you can add intensity by varying the movements and holding for longer. Planks require strength and endurance in your abs, back and core.
To Do: Begin by holding your trunk part of your body off the ground, making sure to hold it in a straight line. Focus on pulling in your belly button towards your spine. Try to hold for at least 20-30 seconds to begin with, aiming to hold for a minute as your fitness grows. Be wary of the following common mistakes:
Letting your hips, shoulders or head to drop
Placing your hands too close together
Holding your breath
Trying to hold the position for too long
Benefits: One of the best exercises for core conditioning, working your glutes and hamstrings.
Great for improving balance and posture by engaging multiple muscles.
Reduces back pain and increases flexibility.
#4 Maximize your strength with push-ups
Remember to stretch and warm up before doing this body weight functional training exercise. Push-ups are great for increasing strength and engaging the core and lower body.
To Do: Start in a high plank position, placing hands firmly on the ground directly underneath the shoulders. Ground your toes and brace your core, engaging glutes and hamstrings. Ensure your back is flat so your entire body is straight. Lower your body until your chest grazes the floor. Don't sag from the hips and try to maintain good form throughout exercise. Repeat 10-20 reps or as many as you can while maintaining the correct form. Don't look directly down but slightly forward to avoid sagging or flaring your arms.
Benefits: You strengthen many of your major muscles in your upper body.
Very effective cardiovascular exercise supporting a healthy heart and reducing stored body fat.
There are many variations of push-ups you can try.
#5 Lunges help you loosen up and get lean
Lunges builds and shapes several muscles such as quadriceps, gluteus maximus and hamstrings. It is highly effective at evening out muscle imbalances and increasing flexibility in the hip flexors. It is a great move for beginners as it is a variation of our natural walking pattern.
To Do: Keep upper body straight with shoulders back and relaxed and chin up. Make sure to always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are at a 90-degree angle.
A great option is to do lunges with extra weights (dumbells, kettlebell or weight plate)
Make sure to use proper form to avoid putting undue strain on the knees and hips. A long and deep lunge works the glutes while the shorter lunge engage the quads more.
Benefits: Lunges are excellent for balancing your lower body and strengthening your weaker side.
Effective lunging requires engagement of your whole core, including your back and abs. Regular lunge exercises will improve your core strength.
#6 Mountain climbers: Mountain not included
Mountain climbers get your heart rate up while engaging almost every muscle group in the body. This move helps to build upper body and core strength. It’s great for cardiac health and can be used as a warm up for other functional training or as workout itself.
To Do: Start in the push-up position. Then move one knee into your chest. As it gets closer pull your abs in tighter putting the ball of your foot on the floor under your hip. Quickly switch and repeat with other knee. Continue by alternating your knees, in an almost running or climbing motion. After about 20-30 seconds, you’ll really start to feel the burn.. They can be really challenging but they are an efficient cardio exercise when space is limited.
Benefits: There are great for testing and improving agility. You also need to good coordination to increase speed while keeping your form.
Improves joint flexibility as every repetition involves flexion and extension of the hips and knees.
#7 Jump rope: Tune up your heart and mind while blasting calories
Looking for a high intensity, low impact plyometric workout that brings benefits to bones, muscles and balance in one simple exercise?
A jump rope is great value for money as it is portable and provides a workout anytime.
To Do: When you stand on the middle of the rope, the handles should extend to your armpits. Hold the rope near your hips with elbows slightly bent and upper arms close to your sides. Make your jumps small and aim to land on the balls of your feet. Start with a simple single jump, and work on double jumping if you want to ramp it up.
There are endless combos of intensities and reps for different levels of fitness.
Benefits: Supper effective at burning calories. 10 minutes of jumping rope is roughly equal to running an 8-minute mile. Jumping at a moderate rate burns 10-16 calories per minute, with 3 ten minute rounds burning 480 calories in 30 minutes!
It engages the calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, forearms, and deltoids.
This functional training improves your balance and quickness/coordination by making your mind focus on your feet for sustained periods of time.
#8 Increase your explosiveness with kettle-bell swings
Kettlebell swings engage so many muscles simultaneously making it an effective functional exercise. They improve posture, build strength and increase explosiveness. The exercise targets your posterior chain muscles, engaging your upper back, abs, butt, hamstrings.
To Do: Start with a lighter kettlebell than you usually use. This will allow you to focus on the correct technique at the start. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out with knees slightly bent. Hold the kettlebell between your legs with both hands. Swing it out keeping your lower back arched, bend your hips until the kettlebell is between your legs. Squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and swing it up. Keep your arms straight while you project the kettlebell up and away from the body. Absorb the kettlebell weight as it follows the same path back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your arms straight the entire time.
Remember to keep your breathing regular, inhaling slowly and deeply.
Try to do 3 sets of 10 repetitions
Benefits: Kettlebell swings are great for burning calories. It is a high intensity activity where you can burn 15-20 calories per minute.
Kettlebell swings are a real full body exercise. The main focus is your back, core, glutes, hamstrings, quads and shoulders. But because you need to keep good form to do the exercise effectively so many other muscles are worked.
Kettlebell swings reputation have grown as a kind of a magic exercise. Tim Ferris experimented with doing them as his only form of exercise.
#9 Work your abs deeply with bicycle crunches
Doing regular crunches can get boring so a changeup is always a good alternative. Bicycle crunches is one of the best core exercises. They are a great way to target the rectus abdominis and the obliques.
To Do: Laying on your back, you extend your legs into the air like you are pedaling a bicycle. Place your hands lightly on the sides of your head; don't knit your fingers behind. Be careful not to pull your head with your hands at any point during the exercise. Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle to the ground. At the same time turn your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow towards the left knee. You don't need to touch elbow to knee, instead focus on moving through your core as you turn your torso. Make sure your rib cage is moving and not just your elbows.
Switch sides and do the same motion on the other side to complete one rep. Keep on alternating sides until you've managed 10 reps on each, aiming for three sets of 10.
Benefits: Bicycle crunches targets the upper, middle and lower abs. The movement covers all areas of your core defining, strengthens and tones your abs. Having your legs up off the ground works the lower abs which are difficult to target.
These 9 functional exercises are great for beginners as they are easy to do and have many benefits. They can be done inside at home to increase your endurance and muscle tone. While this isn't an exhaustive list of functional training exercises, it is a good place to start. It will allow you to get a better idea of what you want from a fitness program. Tell me what you think in the comments below! Share with your friends so that they too can enjoy the benefits of doing functional training everyday and anywhere!