A functional fitness workout prioritizes natural movements that help us conquer the obstacles and tasks faced in our everyday life.
Here are the best Functional Fitness Exercises:
Squats are one of the most fundamental functional movements in our lives.
Getting off the ground, moving in and out of chairs, and shoveling snow will all be easier after a regular squatting practice.
Simple bodyweight squats are a great way to get started, but if this is too tough at first, start with assisted bodyweight squats:
Once you get comfortable with a regular bodyweight squat, you can start incorporating weights, like with a goblet squat:
If you build up to a 30-pound dumbbell, this move can replicate picking up a small child off the ground. Practical and functional if you’re a new parent.
Speaking of picking up stuff off the ground, let’s talk about the deadlift as a part of functional fitness.
Moving furniture, grabbing bags of dog food, and taking a sleeping child to bed are all forms of the deadlift. When you start to incorporate the deadlift into your life, you make all these movements easier (and safer).
If you’ve never deadlifted before, it can be a little intimidating. A good place to start might be the Romanian Deadlift with very light dumbbells:
If you’re looking for other deadlift variations, or you want to make sure you have proper form, read our full guide with step-by-step instructions on how to deadlift safely.
#3) Overhead Press
The overhead press is another exercise that will provide benefits in daily life:
- Placing a cast iron skillet into a top kitchen cabinet
- Hoisting luggage into the top bin when flying
- Showing off the piece of the Triforce you just scored
Performing the overhead press will not only increase your upper-body strength, but it will also strengthen your core, since you balance and stabilize yourself while standing and lifting. Compare this to the bench press, where the bench itself offers support during the movement.
Again, some lightweight dumbbells are a great starting point if you’re just getting started:
Make sure you read our full guide on how to perform the overhead press for more variations and tips for progression.
#4) Farmer’s Walk
The farmer’s walk is really simple: pick up a couple of weights and walk.
To up the difficulty, pick up more weight. Or walk further.
Very basic, yet very functional, because most of us carry objects from one place to another all the time.
When performing the farmer’s walk:
- Pick the weight up with a good form
- Keep a tight posture with your shoulders back
- Take small, manageable steps
The farmer’s walk will challenge your arms, back, shoulders, core, and grip.
Being able to lift and carry heavy objects is about as functional as you can get.
#5) Bear Crawl
When we’re young, it’s a given that we’ll be mobile on the floor.
As adults, eh, not so much. The only interaction with the floor comes from us standing on it. We won’t even sit on it without a chair helping us.
Not very functional.
Enter the bear crawl…
To perform the bear crawl:
- Begin in a tabletop position.
- Bring your knees up, so they hover.
- Using opposing arms and legs (ex: right arm, left leg), take a small step forward with each limb. You want to use small steps so your torso is stable, instead of rocking side to side.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
It’ll look like this:
#6) Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is going to provide lower body strength, as well as balance, for when you come in and out of the movement.
To perform a walking lunge:
- Stand with a shoulder-width stance.
- Step out with your right leg.
- Lower your hips until your back leg’s knee almost touches the ground.
- If you stepped out far enough, your front knee won’t extend past your toes.
- Explode forward and up by pushing off with your back leg and up with your front leg.
- Bring both feet together, and then step forward with your other foot and repeat.
When discussing the best functional fitness exercises, we can’t neglect your “pull” muscles.
Being able to lift yourself up is very functional, and may save your life if you’re being chased by velociraptors.
If you can’t quite get your first pull-up yet, an inverted bodyweight row will help you build strength until you can.
#8) Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is an explosive full-body movement that focuses on building strength with your hip hinge.
How to perform the kettlebell swing:
- Get down into a bent-over, flat-back position and grab the kettlebell with both hands from the handle.
- Swing the kettlebell behind you, then get ready to jump up.
- Jump up (without leaving the ground) and swing the kettlebell up. You should be standing tall at the peak of the movement.
- Reverse the movement and bring the kettlebell back down and behind you.
If you want more tips for training with a kettlebell (a great tool for functional fitness), then check out “The 20 Minute Beginner Kettlebell Workout.”
Push-ups, the ole fitness staple. But being able to hold yourself firm in a straight line (don’t sink), while pushing yourself up will create a lot of core strength. And a great functional exercise.
Plus, you can add some variation to level them up, creating a more dynamic exercise.
For example, you can do dive bomber push-ups:
#10) Step Up
It doesn’t get much more functional than going up steps. Life doesn’t always provide us with elevators.
If this seems too easy, start mixing weights into the practice:
BONUS: #11) Handstands
On the one hand, handstands are really tough. On the other hand, the amount of strength and balance required to perform a handstand are central to functional fitness.
And…ah…you need both hands to do it…unless you’re Luke Skywalker:
We have a full guide that will walk you through getting your first handstand, from simple wrist stretches:
All the way to handstand push-ups:
Are you doing these moves correctly? A good way to check would be to record a video of yourself and match it against the gifs and videos here. If they look close, you’re doing great!
The other option would be to have a trained professional review your form, which we can do in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program!
Our spiffy mobile app lets you send a video of your training directly to your coach, who will provide feedback so you can perfect your technique.
They’ll also build a workout program that’s custom to your situation, which can improve your functional strength!