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If you’ve seen personal training clients jumping around, throwing medicine balls and swinging kettlebells in the club, you’ve probably witnessed functional training in action. Although originating from injury rehab and sports performance, functional training continues to gain popularity with average Joe (or Joan) exerciser. If you aren’t incorporating functional exercises in your workout routine, what are you waiting for?

Functional training is more of a concept than specific exercises. Functional training exercises mimic movements performed in every day life. These movements are compound in nature – using multiple muscles and joints – that will improve strength, balance and coordination while providing a challenging and fun full-body workout.

What’s the difference?

Exercise machines and many free-weight exercises typically focus on one muscle or a small group of muscles while functional exercises target multiple muscles and multiple joints. For example a biceps curl targets your biceps. To make a biceps curl a more functional exercise you could add a squat to biceps curl, mimicking squatting down and picking something up off the floor.

Why do it?

Functional exercises benefit everyone, no matter what your fitness goals are. The more muscles you use, the more calories you’ll burn which aids weight loss. Functional exercises also improve balance and coordination, making daily tasks easier – helpful the next time a friend asks for help moving. Another great benefit of functional exercises is that you’ll you get more done in less time so you can get outta the gym and get on with your life. Below are a couple of my favorite functional exercises.

Squat to row

  1. Grab two low pulley handles in each hand. Keep your abs drawn in and your back straight throughout the exercise.
  2. Slowly lower into a squat position, make sure your spine remains parallel with your shins and your knees don’t go beyond your toes.
  3. After a brief pause, push through your heels to a standing position while pulling the handles towards your hips. Be sure to squeeze your glutes and abs throughout the movement.

Repeat for the desired number of reps.

The clincher: In the same amount of time it takes to do a squat, you’re also working your back, core and biceps. Also, holding the cable pulley provides balance and resistance that’ll help you maintain good form during your squat.

Romanian Dead Lift

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart while holding a Kettlebell, dumbbells or a barbell. Tuck in your chin, draw in your abs and roll your shoulders back and down.
  2. While shifting your weight onto your heels and keeping your back straight, bend at the waist and slowly lower weight towards the floor.
  3. Keep your back straight, chin tucked and glutes squeezed, and slowly return to the starting position.

Repeat for the desired number of reps.

The clincher: not only does a deadlift use your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, the compound effect of the movement works a greater percentage of the hamstrings muscles compared to a machine hamstring curl (40% vs. 60%).

Lunge Balance & Press

  1. Stand upright with your abs tight and your shoulders back while holding a medicine ball at chest height. Keep your glutes and abs tight throughout the movement.
  2. Step forward and place your right foot in front of you at a 45-degree angle while lowering the medicine ball towards the floor. Make sure your knee stays behind your toes.
  3. Pushing through your heel, return to a standing position while lifting the medicine ball back to chest height.
  4. Lift your right knee to form a 90-degree angle while pressing the medicine ball overhead.

Return to Step 1 and repeat with your left leg. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

The clincher: your body is moving in different planes of motion, which improves balance and coordination. Lifting the medicine ball over your head changes your center of gravity, which further challenges your balance and works your core.

About the Author

Israel started as a personal trainer with 24 Hour Fitness over 11 years ago. He has a BS in Exercise Science and an MS in Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention. Israel, a self-proclaimed fitness geek, has achieved more than 20 national personal training certifications while working in the industry. Currently, Israel is a field fitness expert and has represented 24 Hour Fitness at three Olympic games (Beijing, Vancouver and London) as well as on NBC’s The Biggest Loser.


Get more from your workouts! Learn about #functionaltraining (with exercises) in our blog:


It’s time to put the function into your workout routine! Functional exercises involve compound movements that’ll work your body like never before. Learn more about functional training – including three great exercises you should be doing – from one of our talented fitness professionals! Check it out in blog: