Functional fitness: senior woman working out using dumbbellsFunctional fitness: senior woman working out using dumbbells
mobile-female@2x-comprmobile-female@2x-compr

Kickoff's certified personal trainers and registered dietitians share detailed analysis, discussion, and how-tos about the questions we get most often

Back

Your Guide to Functional Fitness Benefits and Exercises

Looking to broaden your exercise habits? Say hello to functional fitness: a straightforward type of training that focuses on everyday movements. While you’re most likely already familiar with many functional fitness exercises, we’re here to introduce you.

In this article, we’ll explain what functional fitness is, why it matters, who can benefit, the seven functional movements, and examples of functional fitness exercises.

What Is Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness: Kris Hagen talking from Kim's Convenience GIF

Functional fitness is any type of exercise that helps you with everyday life movements: squatting to sit down, lifting groceries or heavy objects, getting up off the floor, fighting mountain lions, etc. (ok, we’re kidding with that last one). In other words, this exercise helps you function.

While pretty much all exercises can help you perform everyday activities, these specifically target such activities. 

You can combine several functional fitness exercises into one full body workout. This may have many benefits. In fact, a systematic review from Aging Clinical and Experimental Research found functional fitness training, specifically sessions combining strength and endurance training exercises, are more beneficial for cardiovascular health than one type of exercise alone.

Benefits of Functional Fitness 

When you practice functional fitness, you improve your strength, coordination, and balance, and you reduce your risk of injury from real-life activities. 

Another important component of functional fitness is that you can do these exercises anywhere, with little or no equipment. This is in contrast to programs like CrossFit, which is designed to target functional movements but unfortunately relies heavily on expensive equipment, such as kettlebells, barbells, and medicine balls.

That said, to ensure your functional fitness workouts are really meeting your fitness goals, you might want to consider working with a personal trainer. An online personal trainer from Kickoff will be able to meet with you anywhere and offer expert guidance on which functional fitness exercises are best for you and how to do them correctly.

Who Can Benefit

In short, everyone! We all perform functional movements every day, so all of us can benefit from adding some functional fitness exercises into our fitness routines.

Of course, some people will benefit even more. For instance, if you need to do some heavy lifting for your job (or even lift small children at home!), then functional fitness movements associated with lifting can help you reduce your risk of injury.

The 7 Functional Movements

Functional fitness: man doing squats

We do seven basic types of movements each day:

1. Squat

Squats are an important exercise, but we also commonly squat in our daily lives. We might squat to sit down or pick something up off the floor. 

Squats are an exercise by themselves or can even be combined with other exercises, such as jump squats or burpees.

2. Push

Pushing involves moving weight away from you. We push to open doors, move furniture around a room, or, for a more extreme example, move a broken down car. 

Exercises that target this movement include push-ups, bicep curls, and shoulder press.

3. Pull

Pulling involves bringing weight towards you. This is something we do when dragging a wheeled suitcase, pulling a door handle to open a door, opening or closing long curtains, etc. 

Exercises that target this movement include pull-ups and using a rowing machine.

4. Hinge

A hip hinge involves extending your hips and butt backward, stretching your torso forward, and slightly bending your knees while keeping your spine straight. 

You do a hip hinge when lifting anything off the ground as well as squatting. Exercises that target this movement include deadlifts and squats.

Done correctly, this movement should come primarily from the hips and be felt in the hips and thighs. Done incorrectly, this movement can stress the lower back. So, it’s crucial to check your form (as with all exercises).

5. Rotation

Functional fitness: Jean-Luc, Will and Beverly turning from Star Trek GIF

A rotation involves twisting your core. We use rotation any time we change directions while walking or running, and also whenever we throw or kick anything (with proper form). This movement is central to agility.

You can add a rotation to many exercises, ex., curl-ups with a twist or squats with a twist. Woodchopper and sledgehammer exercises also feature rotation.

6. Lunge

A lunge involves bringing one foot forward while bending the other knee behind you, holding the position momentarily before coming back up. You can also do a backwards or side lunge. This movement creates instability and requires good balance.

A lunge is basically an exaggerated step we take every time we walk. Anyone who walks a lot can benefit from practicing a lunge, as it engages all the large muscle groups of the lower body.

7. Gait

Functional fitness: Fred Armisen walking GIF

Your gait describes your posture and movement patterns while walking. Walking is a series of movements requiring coordination between multiple muscle groups. 

As you already guessed, exercises that target your gait include anything that involves walking, running, or jumping.

Examples of Functional Fitness Exercises

Woman doing lunges

Ready to get started? Well, we have good news: You can start right now! The following exercises can all be done with little or no equipment, conveniently wherever you happen to be right now (but expect some stares if you’re in a coffee shop). Note that some involve weightlifting, but weights can often be replaced with everyday objects as necessary.

You can simply go in order and perform however many reps of each exercise you’d like, but for more structure, consider combining some of these exercises to create a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

Squats

We’ve already seen that these are a functional movement, and as such, they make a great addition to any functional fitness training regimen. As a bonus, squats require zero equipment or space.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Bend your knees as you press your hips back and lower your torso with a straight back.

  3. Raise yourself back to the starting position.

Modification: For more intensity, try squatting while holding dumbbells..

Walking Lunges

Another functional movement that is also an exercise, lunges help engage the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. 

  1. Spread your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Step one leg forward as you bend the front knee in a 90-degree angle, back knee hovering above the ground. Come back to the starting position.

  3. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Modification: Rotate your torso to one side as you lunge, or carry dumbbells to add intensity.

Push-ups

Woman doing push-ups

This tried-and-true exercise also requires no equipment or space, just your bodyweight for resistance. It targets upper body and core strength. As the name suggests, it also targets the push movement.

  1. Start in a plank position, arms extended, palms flat on the ground.

  2. Slowly lower your body until it’s hovering over the floor. Pause.

  3. Push back to your starting position.

Modifications: Keep your knees down for easier knee push-ups.

Deadlifts

This is a great exercise for targeting the hip hinge, and it’ll help you any time you need to lift something off the floor. While the exercise traditionally uses a barbell with weights, you could substitute this for dumbbells or any heavy objects around the house, like large books.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your weights or heavy objects on the floor just in front of your feet.

  2. Squat down with your hips extended backward, your torso extended forward, and your spine straight until you can grab the weights or objects on the floor.

  3. Hold the weights or objects in your hands as you stand back up.

  4. Repeat the motion while keeping the weights or objects in your hands.

Overhead Dumbbell Press

This activates the pushing movement and tones your whole upper body.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms out to the side, elbows bent at a right angle, hands facing upwards. Hold a weight in each hand.

  2. Push both weights up at the same time, extending your arms above your head.

  3. Bring your arms back to the starting position.

Modifications: To make this easier, you can also do it sitting down and/or just with one arm at a time.

Burpees

Women doing burpees GIF

Burpees are tiring, but they can be incredibly beneficial, targeting multiple movements: squat, hip hinge, and push.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, and do a vertical jump.

  2. As you land, come into a squat, hands on the floor in front of you. Shift your weight onto your arms.

  3. Kick back into a plank.

  4. Lower your body until it hovers over the floor.

  5. Kick your legs forward to just outside your arms.

  6. Stand back up, and do another vertical jump.

  7. Whew! Give yourself a high five.

Modifications: For a low-impact version, take out the jumps or the push-ups. Or, switch to knee push-ups.

Farmer’s Walk

This one is so straightforward that we don’t really need to list step-by-step instructions. Simply walk around while carrying some weights. If it helps, imagine you’re on a quaint farm, carrying some bags of animal feed. You can use dumbbells or really anything that’s heavy enough.

Keep in mind any sort of walking is very beneficial, as it targets both the lunge and gait movements.

How Kickoff Can Help You Get Started With Functional Fitness Training

Woman saying I'm so ready GIF

So, while functional fitness may be achieved by doing pretty much any sort of exercise, it can be very beneficial to focus specifically on functional movements you often do in your daily activities. Any of the above exercises (and more) can be included in your functional fitness training program.

We hope by now you are sufficiently amped and excited to start functional fitness training! To get the most out of your workouts, consider working with a personal trainer, who will come up with a personalized training program for you.

The online personal trainers at Kickoff will help tailor workout plans to your specific needs and fitness goals. You’ll have access to them around the clock, and they’ll be there for you every step of the way, cheering you on and encouraging you when you lose motivation. Get started for as little as $3 a day.