What is Functional Training?

You might have only recently started working out or begun learning about fitness and exercise, but since then terms such as functional training or functional exercises, start popping up all over the place. So, what do they mean? What is it and how do you incorporate them into your workout routine?

Well, to begin with, functional exercises are movements that help your body function better. They mimic everyday movements such as squats for sitting down and getting up or deadlifts for lifting. They are exercises that are based on your daily movement patterns, helping you to move and function better. They train your body to become stronger, better balanced, more coordinated and mobile. As well as this, they help to increase the quality of your life whilst reducing the risk of injury, strain, soreness and stiffness.

Functional exercises are often compound exercises (movements that require several muscle groups to work together), giving your body a full workout rather than isolation exercises that only focus on one area of the body. Not only this but, you don’t often need any equipment to perform functional exercises, using your body weight is fine, though there are always options to add weight and resistance to help you become stronger.

Functional training is beneficial to everyone, including the young and old, men and women, fit and unfit. You should aim to have 2-3 days of functional training exercises per week. But, if you think that you can't fit it all in, remember that most exercises have more than one benefit to them. For example, the Wood Chop exercise (listed down below) is a functional movement that helps you to lift objects and bring things down. However, this exercise can also be part of your ‘Strength and Conditioning’ days, or your upper body/arm workout days, and (if performed at a fast pace) it can also be part of your cardio routine as well. That’s four different areas that this one exercise can fit into. If you already have a workout regimen you might be performing functional movements without realising it.

Down below we have listed some of our favourite functional exercises just for you.


BENT-OVER ROW (Upper, Side and Mid-Back, Biceps & Shoulders)

Barbell, Plates


  1. Stand up and lean forwards at about 45-degrees, pushing your hips back with your legs slightly bent and back straight.
  2. Hold your barbell with your grip slightly outside your shoulder line, palms facing towards you. (It’s okay if your shoulders are slightly rounded.)
  3. Lift the weight up to your chest. To engage your back, bring your shoulder blades back as you lift upwards.
  4. Pause and then lower the weight back down, resuming your starting position.

Inhale: Before you lift and hold as you perform the row.

Exhale: Lowering your weights.


Dumbbells: This can give your body a little extra workout since it is trying to keep your body balanced, but it’s also an excellent way to even out uneven arms. This works the mid-back (lats) a little more too.

Underhand: Instead of griping your barbell with your palms facing you, grip the barbell with your palms facing away. This will stop your elbows from flaring too much which helps to put less emphasis on your shoulders and more on your mid-back (lats) and biceps.

Single-arm: You can also perform this move one arm at a time. Just use a dumbbell instead and lean on a bench, with one arm and knee on the bench and the other leg straight on the floor, next to the bench.


DEADLIFT (Focus: Lower Back, Core, Glutes & Hamstrings)



  1. Stand with your feet a little more than hip-width apart and your arms just outside your legs, holding your barbell.
  2. Bend your knees and push your hips back, keeping your back straight.
  3. Your weights should be in line with the middle of your foot and your shoulders in line with the weights.
  4. Lift yourself up as your weights follow an imaginary vertical straight line. Your chest should be out and so should your hips.
  5. At the mid-way point, bring your hips in and straighten your body.
  6. Once at the top, lower your weights back down to the floor. Your bum should not go lower than your knees when you bend down. It is best if they are slightly above the knee line.

Inhale: Before you lift and hold as you perform the lift.

Exhale: Lowering your weights.


Block: Instead of picking your weights up from the floor, set them up on a box or a weighted plate.

Deficit: Perform the deadlift, but this time elevate yourself on a box or a weighted plate. This will lengthen the distance you need to lift the bar which will increase your range of motion and your strength.

Single-leg: Perform this movement balancing on one leg. To perform this lift, place a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you. Balance on one of your legs and lean forward as you would on a normal deadlift only this time stick your other leg out behind you. Hold your weight in both hands and lift yourself up, or you can lift your weight with one hand and use the other hand to hold on to something for balance. This will improve your core and stability and will allow you to even any unevenness found in your glutes and hamstrings.

Sumo: For this variation, have your feet positioned outside of your shoulder line. It improves mobility and puts more effort on the hamstrings, hips and quads and less on the back.

Wide-grip: Well this is in the name. Instead of gripping the bar just outside your legs, gradually move your grip further away from this original stance. It will work your back and traps even harder than before and will also increase your range of motion for this lift.


FARMERS WALK (Calves, Hamstrings, Quads & Shoulder)

Dumbbells, Kettlebells


  1. Stand up straight and hold a pair of weights by your side.
  2. Walk around, holding the weights, with your back straight and your core tight.


GLUTE BRIDGES (Core & Glutes)


  1. Lie flat on your back and bend your knees so that your feet lie flat on the floor at hip-width apart.
  2. Place your arms down the side of you with your palms flat on the floor.
  3. Engage your glutes as you lift your hips off the floor making a straight line of your body, from your knees to your shoulders.
  4. Pause in this position for a second and slowly lower your hips down to the ground.

Inhale: Lower your hips to the ground.

Exhale: As you thrust your hips up.


Abductors: Perform your normal glute bridge, when your hips get to the top, squeeze your glutes again and push your knees out to the side and then back into the original position before lowering your hips.

Frog: For this variation put your feet together and separate your knees as far as possible, so your legs looks like it’s in a diamond shape. Maintain this shape through your whole movement.

Hold: Perform our glute bridge, but when you get to the top hold your position between 30-60 seconds. Squeezing your glutes the whole time.

Marching: As you lift your hips raise one of your legs, keeping it bent, and bring that knee towards your chest. Lower your leg back down to the ground when you lower your hips down as well. Repeat on your other leg and alternate like you are marching.

Narrow: Place your feet together.

Pulse: When you perform your glute bridge, instead of lowering your hips all the way to the bottom, lower them halfway and thrust your hips up once more before lowering your bum completely to the ground.

Raise: Place your feet on a step or a box to increase the height of your glute bridge.

Single-leg: Either stick out the inactive leg straight in front of you as you perform your glute bridge, or cross it over your other leg, letting your ankle rest above your other knee.

Walkout: Raise your hips to the top of your glute bridge and hold. Then, keeping your hips high, take one step forward followed by the other foot. After, take one step back to your original stance and repeat this ‘walk’ for 30-60 seconds. If your legs are long try for two steps or do two mini ones if you want.

Weighted: You can increase the challenge by holding a weight on your stomach.

Wide: Place your feet inline or outside your shoulder line.


LUNGES (Core, Glutes, Hamstring & Quads)


  1. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. With one leg, step in front of you leaving the other leg in its original position.
  3. Bend both knees to a 90-degree angle, so that the back knee almost touches the ground and the forward thigh is parallel to the floor.
  4. Once there, push up by squeezing your glutes and bring your forward leg back towards your starting position. Repeat this movement on the same leg or alternate legs.

Inhale: On your way down.

Exhale: Lift up.


Alternate: Perform a forward lunge then move straight into a reverse lunge by bringing your front leg back, past your stationary leg.

Curtsy: When you perform your lunge take a step back instead of forward but bring your leg over to the other side of your stationary leg like you are curtsying.

Jump: If you want to feel the burn in your legs, start by doing a forward lunge then, when you are lifting yourself up, lift both of your feet off the ground with a jump and quickly switch your leg positions over so you are now lunging on the other leg.

Lifted leg: Get into a lunge position with one foot in front of the other, but raise your hind leg onto a surface roughly knee-high. Perform your lunge keeping your core tight for stability.

Pulse: When you are performing a lunge, instead of lifting yourself to a standing position raise yourself halfway before lowering yourself into a full lunge and then stand up straight.

Reverse: Instead of stepping forward, take a step back and perform your lunge and then return to your starting position.

Side: Step out to the side as you perform your lunge instead of forward.

Skater: Perform a reverse lunge, but this time keep your hindfoot off the ground so you're balancing on one leg the whole time.

Walking: Take a step forward and perform your lunge, but instead of taking a step back to return to your original position, bring your hind leg forward until it passes your front leg until you can perform another forward lunge. Keep doing this so you are walking around performing lunges. If space is restrictive why not do two forward lunges then two reverse lunges?

Weighted: Hold a weight or a pair of weights as perform your lunge.


PRESS-UP (Focus: Chest, Core, Shoulders & Triceps)


  1. Get down on your hands and knees, placing your hands just outside your shoulder line.
  2. Move your feet back and straighten your legs so your whole body is in a straight line. Your arms should be vertical from the floor.
  3. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, bending your arms at the elbow.
  4. Push your body back up, tightening your core and glutes for better stability.

Inhale: Lower down.

Exhale: Press up.


Handstand: If you want an even bigger challenge, instead of balancing on your legs, perform a handstand and raise your legs so your body is completely vertical. Then do a press-up as your body is up in the air.

Raise: Instead of having your feet on the same level as you, why not raise them on a platform? This will be even more of a challenge.

Single-arm: Try doing a push up using only one arm instead of two. Put the arm that you are not pressing up with behind your back.


SHOULDER PRESS (Shoulders & Upper Back)



  1. Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells and lift them so your arms are sticking out by your side. Have your elbows bent so that your weights are in line with your shoulders and your elbows are below your chest line. Or you can have your arms at a 90-degree angle with your elbows in line with your shoulders and weights in line with the top of your head.
  3. Slowly lift your weights as you straighten your arms up, but do not lock at the top. Your dumbbells should not touch each other either.
  4. Bend your elbows and return your arms to your starting position.

Inhale: Lowering your weights.

Exhale: Lifting your weights as you straighten your arms.


SQUATS (Glutes, Hamstrings & Quads)


  1. Stand straight and space your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Tighten your core and bend your knees like you are going to sit down. Make sure your back is kept straight and your arms are out in front of you or tucked in near your chest. Keep your knees just above your toes and your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
  3. Once you’re down, straighten your legs back up.

Inhale: Going down.

Exhale: Going up.


Abductors: Squat down, then when your legs are at a 90-degree angle squeeze your glutes and push your knees out sideways. For an extra challenge use some resistance bands to make this even harder.

Jacks: Squat down and then, as you squeeze your glutes to lift yourself, jump a little and bring your legs in together quickly so your feet are hip-width apart. Squat down into a narrow squat before jumping up again and separating your legs into a normal squat.

Jump: Squat down and get up again, however, as you raise your body, squeeze your glutes and jump on the balls of your feet so that you lift up into the air. When you land either stop still to kill the momentum or squat down straight away.

Leg lift: This time, instead of standing up normally after a squat, lift and balance on one leg while you squeeze your glutes and kick your other leg back or to the side of you.

Narrow: Stand with your feet hip-width apart instead of shoulder-width.

Pistol: Balance on one leg with your other leg pointing out in front of you. Squat down maintaining this position, sticking out your arms at your side, if needed for extra balance.

Pulse: Squat down then, as you raise yourself up, stop when you get a quarter to halfway up and squat down again before standing up fully.

Sumo: Have your feet even wider than your original stance so your thighs have roughly a 90-degree angle to each other, like you’re a sumo wrestler, and squat down.

Three-pointer: Start by performing a narrow squat, then step or jump into a normal squat and then into a sumo squat. After than go from a sumo squat into a normal squat and finally into a narrow squat.

Weighted: Hold a dumbbell or a kettlebell in both hands and keep it up to your chest as you squat up and down.


STEP-UP (Glutes, Hamstrings & Quads)


  1. Stand straight with your arms down beside you in front of a step, box or bench of your desired height.
  2. Lift one of your legs onto the step and raise your body onto the step, using your lead foot. Your back should be straight and core engaged.
  3. Step backwards off the step, using the same lead leg.

Inhale: Lower down.

Exhale: Stepping up.


Weighted: Hold some dumbbells or kettlebells by the side of you or hold one at your chest for more of a challenge.


TURKISH GET-UP (Focus: Arms & Core)



  1. Lie down flat on the floor with a kettlebell on your chest held tight by both hands. If you have a heavy weight have it lying next to you and curl against it. Then pull it onto your chest with both hands as you roll back into a flat lying position.
  2. Spread your legs out so that there is a 90-degree angle between each leg.
  3. Keeping this degree, bend your right leg until you can place your right foot firmly on the ground.
  4. Stretch out your left arm to your side at a 45-degree angle with your body, palm facing down.
  5. Once you are in this initial starting position, pinch your upper arms into your shoulder joints and pin them back. Throughout this whole movement your abs, back, chest, glutes and shoulders need to be tensed up and engaged to reduce your risk of injury and to keep your body strong and stable.
  6. Altogether, push off with your right foot that is already bent; at the same time lift your weight straight up into the air keeping your shoulder pinned back; then use your stretched out arm to help lift your body up by pressing your left elbow into the floor and shifting balance onto your left forearm, keep your shoulder pulled back for more stability. Keep your left leg straight and tense so your heel pushes into the ground. Pin your eyes on your weight at all times!
  7. Straight after, rotate your hand so your fingers are no longer facing your feet but are now pointing in the opposite direction at a 90-degree turn. As you do this, lift your body weight from your forearm to your hand and lock your elbow once your arm is straight, keeping your shoulder back.
  8. Next, keep your core and glutes tight, lift your hips and balance for a moment on the heel of your left foot before bringing it in and underneath you so your left knee is below you and your left foot is in line with your right foot.
  9. Now, bring your bum down a little towards your left foot and straighten your body so your torso is vertical to the floor. Once you are upright raise your body and rotate your left foot behind you so you are in a kneeling position with your left leg pointing in the same direction as your right leg, but keep your knee planted on the ground as you turn. Your eyes should have been watching your weight at all times, but now you are allowed to look forward.
  10. Keep your back straight (don’t arch) and your core tight, stand up by pressing your right foot into the floor and stand up. Keep your raised right arm locked and your wrist strong and in line with your arm, don't let it drop or droop.
  11. Now, lower yourself back down to the ground by reversing all of the steps that we have just gone through. But here is a quick speedy reminder.
    1. Return to a kneeling position by bending your left leg.
    2. Swipe your left lower leg to the right and ‘sit’ on your left foot as you lean back onto your left arm. (Keep your eye on your weight again.)
    3. Using your left hand and right foot balance on them as you pull your leg out from underneath you and stretched out before you. (Remember to have a 90-degree angle with your other leg.)
    4. Rotate your left hand inwards so that it is pointing towards your left foot and lower your elbow down so you are leaning on your left forearm.
    5. Gently and controlled lower your body so your back is once again lying on the floor, by straightening your left arm and bending your right knee even further. Then bring in your right arm so your weight is resting on your chest in your original starting position.

Inhale: Before your lift.

Exhale: Pressing into your bent foot, lifting your weighted arm and leaning onto your supporting forearm.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale: Raise your body and straighten out your supporting arm until it has become straight.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale: Lifting your hips up as you balance on your outstretched legs heel.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale: As you bring your outstretched leg under your body.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale: Making the motion to get into a kneeling position and straightening your body, taking the weight off your supporting arm.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale: Raising yourself into a standing position.

Inhale: Before moving on to the next movement.

Exhale for the reversed movements above.


WOODCHOP (Abs, Arms, Hips & Shoulders)



  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in front of you with both hands.
  2. Bring your dumbbell to your right hip, turning on the balls of your feet to face right as well.
  3. Brace your core, glutes and arms as you lift your weight up to the opposite side of your body. As you swing your arms up, pivot on the balls of your feet so your toes face the same direction as your movement.
  4. Lower your weight from above the left side of your head to the right side of your body, pivoting on the balls of your feet again to face the other way.

Inhale: Lowering your weight.

Exhale: Lifting your weight.


Lunge: When you lower your weight down, twist your body and perform a fluid lunge so you complete your woodchop and lunge at the same moment. When you raise your weight back up, twist your body and straighten out your legs so you are at your full height when your woodchop is at the top.

Resistance bands: If you don’t have weights with you can always use long resistance bands. Tie it securely to a post or weight so that it does not fling up as you pull it. The resistance band should be angled so one end is on the floor to your side and (when you are at the height of your woodchop) the other end should be in your hands above your head on the other side of your body so the band is one long horizontal line.



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