Stronger for Life: What Is Functional Fitness Training?

Sandbag Training, Functional Fitness, Lunges
/ Dec 15, 2022

When setting your fitness goals for your next training session, ask how your workout will benefit you. While bench pressing hundreds of pounds is undoubtedly impressive, it isn't a learned motion that comes up often in everyday life.

That's where functional fitness comes in. Functional fitness is the practice of training your body for daily life to make everyday activities easier and safer.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about functional fitness and how to add these concepts to your fitness routine.

What Is Functional Fitness?

Functional training focuses on building muscle strength and endurance through everyday actions—incorporating multiple muscle groups at once. It helps improve balance, coordination, flexibility, posture, and overall quality of life. It can also help reduce the risk of injury.

Functional fitness exercises emphasize core stability while using various muscles in the upper and lower body simultaneously.

A deadlift is an example of functional movement training. During a deadlift, you're training the muscles you use when you pick up a heavy object from the floor and return it safely. By conditioning your body to work the way it works during normal activities, you help it become better at performing its daily functions.

You can perform functional exercises at home exercises at home or at the gym.

Some gyms may include functional training exercises in their regular exercise programs or even offer specific functional fitness classes. Various equipment, including fitness balls, kettlebells, and weight machines, are often used in functional fitness training. But equipment is not required during functional fitness workouts.

Foundations of Functional Fitness

There are a couple of basic components of functional fitness. To be able to move freely without worrying about injuries, you need to master the basic movements and proper form first. They consist of strength, balance/coordination, power, range of movement, and flexibility.

Paying attention to these aspects of your fitness routine will help you achieve numerous benefits that will carry over into your Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Common movements such as walking, jogs, runs, sprints, jumps, lifts, pushes, pulls, bends, twists, turns, stands, starts, stops, climbs, and lunges will be easier to perform when working to improve functional fitness.

Functional Fitness Benefits

Functional fitness exercises tend to be multijoint, multi-muscle exercises. For instance, instead of just moving the arm by bending at the elbow joint, a functional movement might involve the shoulder, hips, knees, and ankles.

Functional fitness is meant to help you be prepared for all aspects of your daily life, not just to succeed at lifting heavy weights in the gym.

Functional fitness training program may be the answer if you can hit a 300-pound back squat but you’re out of breath walking from your vehicle to your front porch. This type of training will help you develop into a better overall athlete who will be able to use your skills outside of the gym for everyday tasks.

Master Movement Patterns

Your body was designed to move.

Functional exercise involves movements that mimic real-life activities. Your human physiology was specifically designed to operate best when standing up straight with your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Humans move through different movements during daily tasks, including hinging, squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and rotating. Functional fitness can help you master these natural movements without the aid of machines.

Burn More Calories

Functional exercises can be used to increase calorie burning during exercise.

Your body burns about five calories of energy to consume one liter of oxygen. Any time you use muscles simultaneously, you consume more oxygen — which means you burn more calories.

Improve Movement Efficiency

Even practiced athletes and fitness professionals can benefit from functional strength training methods. They can use foundational movements to perform at the highest levels of their sport. Many strength and conditioning coaches design exercise programs based on movement patterns to improve athletic performance.

Mobility is the capacity to regulate movement throughout an entire range of motion. When muscles on one side of a joint shorten, the muscles on the other side will lengthen. Many integrated movement patterns — such as squatting or pushing and pulling from a standing position — can improve overall muscle coordination and joint mobility.

Enhance Physique

Functional training uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously, which can help create a leaner, more athletic-looking body. The reason why most athletes and dancers have great physiques is that they perform movements that use their whole bodies.

Increase Aerobic Capacity

Functional cardio training includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Performing an interval workout on a treadmill, bike, or other cardio machine using the Tabata method involves completing eight intervals of 20-second exercise bouts at maximum effort.

One study found that results from a four‑minute Tabata cycle were superior to those achieved by exercising on a treadmill for 30 minutes. The participants completing the Tabata intervals were doing HIIT for 12 minutes a week, while the 30-minute group was running at a moderate level of intensity for a total of 90 minutes per week. After sixteen weeks, the Tabata group improved their aerobic capacity and time-to-exhaustion more than the 30-minute treadmill group.

More Lean Muscle Mass

Functional exercises, including explosive medicine ball or heavy barbell lifts, in addition to HIIT workout routines, could be beneficial for older adults who want to maintain their physical fitness levels throughout life.

Muscles grow when they're used. If the muscles responsible for strength and size aren't exercised, then they can become weak and lose their shape.

Higher-intensity workouts activate the fast twitch type II muscle fibers, which are usually not used during lower-intensity training. Yes, intense exercise can be difficult, but so can growing older. A well-designed exercise program could reduce some of the effects of the aging process and minimize everyday life injuries, helping you remain strong and fit into your later life.

Functional Fitness Training Exercises

These movements target every major muscle group, working them together so they perform better when you're lifting weights, playing sports, or carrying groceries from the car.


The push-up is a body weight exercise that will strengthen your arms, chest, shoulders, back and abs. Beginners can start with easier variations, while more experienced exercisers can use a more challenging variation.

To perform push-ups:

  • Start with an elevated surface (such as a countertop) — the lower the surface, the harder your push-ups will be.
  • Put your arms out straight from your shoulders at shoulder width. Then step back so that you’re on your toes and your body is straight in a plank position. Squeeze your abdominal and gluteal muscles throughout the entire exercise, and don't let your hips sag down.
  • Lower your chest toward the surface until your elbows are bent at roughly 90 degrees. Exhale and push back up to the starting position.
  • Your elbows should be at an angle of approximately 45 degrees when performing a push-up. They shouldn't be straight out to the side.

Bent-Over Row

The bent-over rows activate multiple muscle groups throughout your entire upper torso. This is a good functional exercise to prepare for picking heavy things up from the ground.

Bent-over rows are typically performed with a barbell but can be done with various resistance devices (like strength bands, dumbbells, etc.). There are other variations that you can perform if you have back pain.

To perform a bent-over row:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a weight (barbell, light dumbbells, a plate, a sandbag, etc.) in front of you.
  • Bend your knees and hinge at the hips. You want your back to be as close to parallel to the ground as possible. Pull your abs in and keep them tight.
  • As you exhale, bend your elbows and lift the weight straight up toward your body. Keep your elbows close by your side and keep your eyes focused downward.
  • When you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together before returning to the starting position.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a great full-body exercise that utilizes multiple muscle groups but is excellent for your legs, core, and glutes. It also helps develop cardiovascular fitness.

Exercisers of all levels can use the movement as a warm-up exercise during a lower-body workout or as a way to advance to a weighted front squat with a barbell.

To perform goblet squats:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip to shoulder width apart.
  • Hold a weight up at chest height and squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull it in close to your body.
  • Sit your hips back into a squat — it helps to pretend you’re sitting back in a chair. Go as low as you can; aiming for thighs parallel to the ground is a good goal. Just don't lose a neutral spine.
  • Squeeze your glutes and return to your starting position.


The basic bridge strengthens the hamstrings and glutes while enhancing core strength. It's easy to add bridges to any workout. This exercise can be used as a warm-up and is a good rehab exercise for improving core and spinal stabilization.

To perform a bridge:

  • Lay on the ground with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Your palms should face up with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • Squeeze the glutes and press through your heels as you lift your hips off the ground.
  • Lower your hips to the ground while you keep tension in your glutes and repeat the movement.

Walking Lunges

Walking lunges is another simple functional fitness exercise you can accomplish with or without weights.

To perform walking lunges:

  • Take a step that’s slightly longer than your normal step forward. Then both knees to lower yourself into a lunge.
  • Keep your weight on the front leg while letting your back heel come off the ground.
  • Push through the front foot to stand. Then, take a step forward with the other leg.
  • Keep traveling forward for your desired number of lunges.

Functional Fitness: Training for Life

Functional fitness training is an easy, effective way to stay fit, healthy, and strong for everyday life. Over time, adding functional exercises to your workouts will improve your ability to perform everyday activities.

As with any type of exercise program, proper training and recovery are necessary for seeing your desired results. The overall intensity of your workout routine will determine how many days a week you train. Keep in mind that most functional training workouts are full-body workouts, so it’s a good idea to take a rest day between training sessions.

Ready to add functional movements to your workout routine? Check out our selection of strength and conditioning equipment, such as hip resistance bands, medicine balls, sandbags, and more.