If you’ve ever been curious about what lies behind the phrase Functional Training it is a combination of exercises in structured workouts that ensure your body becomes both strong and flexible. This article covers the core exercises, we cover the workouts here, but we would recommend you read this article first so you understand the building blocks before you try turning them into a house!
The Core Functional Strength Training Exercises
Functional strength training exercises cover a lot of ground, but generally they can be broken down into 7 core types, although there are countless variations. They are Squats, Deadlifts, Press Up/Push Ups, Pull Ups, Lunges, The Plank and Burpees. Between them they work your entire body and should be consistently exercised in order to achieve optimal results. Are you ready to begin your journey? Keep reading to learn more about the core functional exercises into your strength training.
One of the best exercises to effectively build muscle and strength while losing weight is the squat. This simple up and down motion works out almost every muscle in your body, however, in order to do them properly it takes a lot of repetition.
First and foremost, a squat is more about technique than it is about weight. Anyone can load weight onto a bar and heave it up and down, but this is not an effective workout. Plus, you can put yourself at serious risk for back injury. Instead, when doing squats you want:
- Flat Back
- Elbows high
- Chest up and out
- Abs tight
Once you have the mental image of yourself performing a squat with the ideal form, then you can begin to try them out. Remember, when squatting, there are a few key techniques that you should incorporate.
- Squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Don’t extend your knees past your toes.
- Don’t arch your back.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, and point your toes slightly outward.
Finally, once you’ve mastered a basic squat you can branch out and try some of the variations that work to target more specific areas.
You can find out more about squats in our guide to squats right here >>
Anyone who wants to add lean muscles to both their lower and upper bodies to create a strong, streamlined physique cannot ignore the deadlift.
Though it has never generated the frenzy that has accompanied some popular strength training exercises, is nevertheless a great all-around exercise.
Deadlifts work your legs, butt, back, arms, forearms, shoulders, traps, and abs. Not too bad just to lean over and pull up some weight! Although it sounds very simple (and it is) don’t just go into a gym and start jerking iron off the ground and call it a deadlift. Understanding the technique behind deadlifting will help you properly execute the motion giving you all of the benefits and none of the pain.
This exercise gets a bad rap because it heavily involves your back, and as we all know, trainers have scared us all by continually harping on keeping your back protected. While it is important to preserve your back, if you do deadlifts correctly they should not interfere with your back at all.
In fact, this exercise should concentrate on developing many other parts of the body by forcing other “helping muscles” to become stronger. This occurs in large part due to the constant core engagement that deadlifting requires.
While you are concentrating on working out major muscle groups, you are simultaneously building core stability. Deadlifts specifically target all the major muscle groups responsible for correct posture and core strength plus all the surrounding supporting muscles.
Learning how to properly execute a deadlift is also incredibly beneficial because of its real life application. How many times a day do you lift objects off the ground? Practicing deadlifts will make this action easier for you while decreasing the likelihood of injury.
So step one is learning how to perform a basic deadlift correctly and then, once you’ve mastered the basics it’s time to move on to some of the variations. For starters try some Stiff-Legged Deadlifts and Quadricep Deadlifts.
Press Up/Push Up
Pushups are a great strength training exercise because they require minimal set up and equipment allowing them to be done anywhere. Maybe they aren’t your favorite exercise, but once you know how beneficial they are you won’t be able to help but love them.
This minimalistic exercise has gained popularity in recent years even prompting the New York Times to sing its praises saying
“As a symbol of health and wellness, nothing surpasses the simple push-up. The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. It tests the whole body, engaging muscle groups in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. It requires the body to be taut like a plank with toes and palms on the floor. The act of lifting and lowering one’s entire weight is taxing even for the very fit.”
It’s hard to beat the efficacy of this minimalistic exercise. Just by using your own body weight you target your chest, arms, and core all at once. Plus, there is so much variation to this exercise that you will always be striving to master the next step, for example try a Wide-grip Pushup, T Pushup or Feet Elevated Pushup
The pull up is a timeless exercise. In fact, they are so effective that the US Marines use it as a measurement of overall fitness. The simplicity of this strength training exercise is what makes it such a valuable addition to your workout routine. All you need is a bar.
To do a proper pull up, your hands should face away from you when you heave yourself toward the bar. This will ensure that you are working your back and biceps properly. The one trick when doing this exercise? Don’t swing! You want to concentrate on your back and biceps to make sure that you are developing your muscles to their fullest potential.
No matter what variation you use, pull ups are a vertical pulling motion so you will be utilizing the same set of muscles. However, when you vary the grip that you use, you will vary the intensity of muscle contraction in your back and biceps. Use variations such as Supinated/Underhand grip or Pronated/Overhand grip to focus on building your lats, mid-back, rear delts, biceps, forearms, and core.
Remember, the secret to pull ups is correct form and repetition. The more pull ups you do, the stronger you’ll get.
Lunges: Build Your Booty
Another quintessential exercise, lunges can be done anywhere with no equipment. Be careful when beginning to incorporate this exercise into your routine though.
When done incorrectly, lunges can damage your joints. So make sure that you keep your knees directly above your ankle and engage your core. Similarly, when you rise back up, make sure that you put your weight into your ankles so that you do not unnecessarily strain your knees.
Don’t be afraid to go slow and look in a mirror to check your form. The more time you take getting it right, the bigger the chance that you will keep your good form in the future.
Once you have a basic lunge down, challenge your muscles and add in a little variation. Crunch gym personal training manager Tim Rich recommends reverse lunges (stepping back instead of forward) as an effective alternative to the constant forward motion in our lives and workouts. “We always move forward,” Tim says. “Moving in a reverse direction requires more skill and helps regain some balance and athleticism.”
Additionally you can try introducing weighted bicep curls to work out your upper body while you firm your legs with lunges. Try side lunges as well. They work out your lower body differently and will give some interest to ordinary lunges.
Plank: Stronger Abs with No Movement
A deceptively simple isometric exercise, planks tighten your core, strengthen your lower back, and build your shoulders. Plus, to do them, you don’t need any equipment.
They are such an effective exercise that Keith Scott, a Strength and Conditioning Specialist from Medford, N.J., recommends perfecting your plank before attempting any heavy weight exercises. That way your core will be prepared for anything you throw at it.
Even though you aren’t moving or lifting any weights with this exercise, the constant squeezing and engagement of your abs will make you wonder. Planking requires you to stabilize yourself from shoulders to legs, which does an excellent job of strengthening your entire trunk.
Holding a plank position regularly during your workouts also benefits your back. The longer that you can hold a plank, the more resilient your back becomes to injury. Seriously, with no movement and no equipment, you make your back and core stronger in preparation for all the rest of your exercises – who doesn’t want that?
Having a solid core is highly beneficial. Not only does it look spectacular, but it increases your overall stability, power, and balance. Plus, a plank is so simple that there have been endless variations of the exercise built upon it. Some common ones include the Side Plank, One Leg Plank, One Arm Plank, and Planking on a Ball
Burpees are the ultimate full-body exercise. There is a reason why everyone from professional football players to the military use it as a stand-by conditioning exercise. This simple movement requires, strength, agility, and aerobic endurance. This workout is so simple, yet it will leave you feeling like you’ve run a marathon after only a few rounds.
To complete a basic burpee, you need to master the four parts:
- Begin in a squat position with hands on the floor in front of you.
- Kick your feet back to a pushup position.
- Immediately return your feet to the squat position.
- Leap up as high as possible from the squat position.
The faster you do it, the harder you work. There is no question that if you do these correctly, you will see results.
Moving on from a basic burpee, there are a few common variations that you can try out to see how your body reacts (or survices!) give a Burpee with a Pushup a try, then Burpee with a Divebomber Pushup and Burpee with a Pullup to balance out your push and pull exercises.
Building your strength with functional training is a process, and mastering each workout requires patience and practice, so don’t get discouraged! However, once you get the hang of it, you will start to notice the benefits in your everyday life.
If you want to know more about any individual exercise, click on it to dig deeper. The more you learn and the more you keep working at it, the more the results will show. Once you start to progress don’t be afraid to mix it up – you don’t have to limit yourself to only these exercises, but they are a great place to begin. In fact, do you have any variations to these workouts that you love? Share with us in the comments, we’d love to know.
So now you’ve been introduced to the 7 core functional strength training exercises and know why they are so integral to your fitness routine. Now it’s time to make room for them in your workout. If you aren’t sure about how to structure your workout we’d suggest you head over to our next article that explains full body workout and split workout routines to help you structure your gym time effectively