When you first hear “Functional fitness” it sounds like a trendy new workout that (falsely) promises to tone you up overnight, but don’t let the alliteration in the name fool you: It’s actually a series of exercises that are designed with how you use your body (hence the function!) in mind and train your muscles to be able to accomplish the IRL activities you want to do.
Turns out, functional fitness is serious business — and has tons of benefits for your body. By performing exercises that mimic movement that you would do out in the “real world,” you target multiple muscle groups and reap full-body benefits in less time.
“Functional exercises tend to use multiple joints and numerous muscles. Instead of only moving the elbows, for example, a functional exercise might involve the elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles. This type of training, properly applied, can make everyday activities easier, help reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Functional exercise training may be especially beneficial as part of a comprehensive program for older adults to improve balance, agility and muscle strength, and reduce the risk of falls.”
After just a couple of sessions, you’ll start to improve endurance, balance, posture, strength, coordination and agility from head to toe. And because you have to use your brain to do the moves, time goes by faster than regular workouts. Can’t beat that!
Here are 10 of our favorite functional exercises to give you a full-body workout.
Medicine ball squat with overhead lift
Functionality: Even though you lift your kids and groceries with your arms, your legs and back are also key players. This exercise strengthens your legs, glutes, lower back, arms and shoulders.
Exercise: Stand with your feet wide apart, holding a light medicine ball in front of you with both hands. Squat down, moving your rear back and keeping your knees over your ankles, and lower the medicine ball to the floor, keeping your head up and back straight (don’t hunch). Return to the start position, and lift the medicine ball over your head. Repeat the squat, and lower ball to the ground. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions. Increase the weight of the ball as you get stronger.
Stair climb with bicep curl
Functionality: Whether you have stairs at your house or have to climb them elsewhere, using stairs as part of your fitness program will keep your legs conditioned and toned. Partnering stair climbs with bicep curls will strengthen your arms and improve your ability to carry things up the stairs. This exercise will also boost your cardiovascular fitness.
Exercise: Stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs, holding a 5- to 8-pound dumbbell in each hand. Climb the stairs while performing bicep curls. Walk or run down the stairs while holding the weights, but don’t do curls. Repeat five to 10 times. Increase the dumbbell weight as your arms get stronger, and mix up your climbs by taking two steps at a time for a flight or two.
Hip extension with reverse fly
Functionality: This exercise improves your balance and coordination as well as strengthens your upper, mid and lower back, shoulders, glutes and legs.
Exercise: Stand tall, holding a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand. Extend your right leg back, and place your toe on the floor, keeping your right leg straight. Lean forward slightly at the hips. Lift your right leg behind you as you bring your chest toward the floor and lift your arms straight out, forming a T at your shoulders, squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your head in line with your neck. Return to the start position. Repeat 10 to 15 times for each leg. As you get stronger, increase dumbbell weight, and strap 2- to 5-pound weights on your ankles.
Diagonal reach with medicine ball
Functionality: When you reach for your boots on the top shelf of your closet, pay attention to how your body moves — one arm reaches up while the opposite leg slightly lifts to the side. This exercise works all the muscles — arms, shoulders, legs — involved in lifting something diagonally overhead as well as lowering it.
Exercise: Stand tall, holding a medicine ball at your chest with both hands. Lift the medicine ball diagonally overhead to the right, straightening your arms while extending your left leg to the side, making a diagonal line from the medicine ball to your toes. Lower to the start position. Repeat 10 to 15 times for each leg. Increase the weight of the medicine ball, and strap 2- to 5-pound weights on your ankles as you get stronger.