Functional Fitness 101: Building Strength for Everyday Life

Functional fitness is essential for handling everyday activities safely and efficiently. Carrying heavy objects, getting up off the floor, and lifting something on a shelf are just a few daily tasks made easier by functional training. One of the best parts is that exercises require little to no equipment to train your body for improved strength, agility, and stability. This convenient approach allows you to move through life with ease and without worrying as much about preventable injuries.

It is important to remember that exercising with a functional purpose is more about living a longer, healthier life and less about changing your appearance or losing weight. The focus is also more on performance and less on muscle size. Some more good news is that the risk of injury with functional training is significantly lower than other exercises, making it suitable for those of varying skill levels, fitness goals, and ages.

Functional training particularly benefits those recovering from injury or with certain health conditions. Occupational and physical therapists typically use functional training exercises to treat patients with movement disorders and injuries. Fortunately, everyone can benefit from incorporating these types of movements into their workout routine.

Functional fitness examples

Functional training is generally a more laid-back exercise requiring less equipment and intensity. Typical functional exercises include movements like pushing, pulling, walking, bending, lunging, squatting, lifting, and jumping.

Bodyweight or free weights can be a part of functional fitness exercises. This training uses multiple joints and encourages movements across various planes, such as forward and backward, from side to side, and rotationally.

Another great example of functional training is squats. This exercise incorporates a range of muscles and joints in your knees, hips, and legs, with the added benefit of strengthening your bones, tendons, and ligaments. Other great examples include:

  • Lunges
  • Pushups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Planks

Joining a yoga class is a terrific way to integrate functional fitness into your exercise routine. Poses that would be categorized as functional training include:

  • Downward-facing dog
  • Chair pose, warrior pose
  • Staff pose,
  • Opposite arm/leg table-top position

Most pilates programs are big on this type of exercise as well.

What are the benefits of functional fitness?

Functional fitness training does more than just build strength; these exercises also increase your range of motion, boost endurance, and improve flexibility. They teach your body to work together as a whole rather than just one part. The body is designed to function best when different muscle groups come together and support overall strength. 

Core stability is a particular emphasis when it comes to functional fitness. Yoga and pilates are especially helpful in this category. This preparation positively contributes to athletic performance, injury prevention, and other fitness activities.

When looking at injury prevention benefits, an older adult could practice bodyweight squats to strengthen their ability to stand up after sitting. The balance and coordination benefits of functional training can also prevent falls and other related injuries. For athletic performance, basketball players might practice exercises that increase their speed and agility on the court, like leaping from side to side. Rowers could utilize squats to train the muscles used in the boat, while lunges and weight-lifting exercises benefit baseball players.

The best place to start

 Starting at a beginner’s pace and working your way up is essential for functional training. You could start with just using your body weight for resistance and add more weight as you grow stronger and more confident in this type of training. Signing up for a yoga, pilates, or other exercise class is a wonderful way to learn more and discover the exercises that best fit your lifestyle.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how functional fitness could fit into your routine, especially if you’re over 40, haven’t exercised in quite some time, are injured, or have health issues. Pregnant women should also discuss incorporating functional fitness into their workout plan with their doctor.

Visit to learn more and to speak with a healthcare provider.


Daniel Drechsler, MD, CAQSM

Board-Certified Family & Sports Medicine Physician
Pardee BlueMD - Boylston Hwy.

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