functional strength training

The Ultimate Guide to Functional Strength Training

Are you just starting your fitness journey and feeling overwhelmed by all the workout options out there?

When it comes to getting stronger and fitter, it's easy to get caught up in the flashy gym routines that promise quick gains.

But if you're looking to build strength that actually helps you in your everyday life, functional training is where it's at.

You improve balance, coordination, strength, and overall athleticism by engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Imagine effortlessly lifting heavy groceries, tackling stairs with ease, carrying your kids around or dominating on the field without worrying about pulling a muscle. That's the kind of functional strength that sets you apart from the crowd.

So, before you dive into those curls and leg presses, consider giving functional training a try. Check out our beginner's guide to functional strength training to get started on the right foot.

What is Functional Strength Training?

Functional strength training is a type of exercise that focuses on improving strength, balance, coordination, and agility for real-world activities.

Functional training started way back in the early 20th century with people like Joseph Pilates. But it wasn't until recently that it became more popular.

People started talking more about preventing injuries, rehabilitating them, and biomechanics. This made everyone focus more on exercises that actually help you become stronger in a helpful way.

Unlike regular strength training, which can tend to isolate specific muscles at a time, functional training works on multiple muscles and joints together, just like the way our bodies move in our day-to-day activities.

It trains the body as a whole system. Exercises like squats, lunges, and pushing/pulling motions are designed to mimic natural movements we use every day. This helps us improve our coordination, balance, and agility, making everyday tasks easier.

What are the Benefits of Functional Strength Training?

Some major benefits of functional strength training include:
Injury Prevention

Did you know that functional strength training is really helpful in reducing your risk of injuries?

It strengthens the muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout your body. A lot of common injuries are caused by muscle imbalances that put too much pressure on certain joints.

For example, when your glutes are weak, and hip flexors are tight, it's often the cause of lower back pain. By doing functional exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts, you can train multiple muscle groups together and get rid of these imbalances.

Proper form and controlled movements are also key focuses of functional training. When your body learns to move the right way, it puts less stress on your joints and other tissues, especially during your sweat sessions.

Functional training is also great for preventing athletic injuries. Sports like basketball, tennis, and soccer require lots of multi-directional movements.

It prepares your body for the unexpected physical demands of sports by building balanced strength in all planes of motion.


Functional strength training also plays an important role in rehabilitation by targeting specific muscle groups to regain strength and mobility after injury or surgery.

Think of someone who hurt their knee and is trying to recover. Instead of doing just one exercise, like a basic squat, they can do some more challenging exercises, such as standing on one leg and doing squats or stepping up onto a box.

This makes the muscles around their knee stronger and more stable, which will help them move around more easily.

By doing functional strength training, you can return to your normal routine and enjoy a better quality of life.

Sports Performance

Functional strength training is awesome for sports performance, it helps to improve coordination, balance, and agility.

Unlike regular strength training, it trains the body to move in different directions at the same time. This helps to build essential skills that you can't get from just doing exercises that target specific muscles.

If you do these workouts, you can jump higher, run faster, and change direction quicker in any sport!

Full-body dynamic exercises also lead to power, speed, and endurance gains.

Functional training can get your heart rate up, which is great for your cardiovascular capacity. At the same time, the total body moves can enhance your muscular strength and endurance in a balanced way.

With these benefits, you can run farther and faster, have the power for sprints and explosive directional changes, and build a strength base for real-world actions required in your sport.

It'll give you an edge over opponents with strength limited to individual muscles, and help you reach your maximum potential.

Your Daily Life

Functional strength training has a lot of benefits that make everyday tasks easier and safer to do. By working multiple muscle groups together, functional training helps you balance, move more easily, and coordinate your movements better overall.

This gives you the power, flexibility, and control you need to confidently do things you do every day. Some key examples of how functional training improves daily life include:

  • Easier, Safer Everyday Tasks: Squats and lunges strengthen legs, making activities like standing up, climbing stairs, and lifting easier and safer.
  • Improved Balance and Mobility: Single-leg exercises and agility drills can help improve your balance and coordination. This can come in handy when you're climbing stairs or walking on uneven surfaces.
  • Strength for Daily Movements: Full-body exercises improve strength for lifting, reaching, and bending, making common actions like picking up items and reaching high shelves easier.

Psychological Benefits

Functional strength training is not just about building muscles. It has way more benefits than that.

It can make you feel good about yourself by enhancing your ability to do everyday tasks with ease and confidence. This can have a positive impact on your mental health and well-being, too.

Simple everyday activities like getting up from a chair, lifting objects overhead, and bending down become easier and more effortless.

You'll see yourself grow stronger, more agile, and more capable, which is a great feeling. It can remind you that you're making progress and keep you motivated to push forward.

Functional Strength Training Exercises You Should Try (Categorized by Body Area)

Functional strength training is all about doing exercises that help you in your everyday activities. It uses both bodyweight and equipment-based exercises that target specific muscles and movements.

Here are some key exercises you should try:

Upper Body

Overhead Shoulder Press

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at shoulder height.
  2. Press the weights directly overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Lower the weights back to shoulder height and repeat.

How it helps in functional strength training: The overhead shoulder press targets multiple upper body muscles, promoting strength and stability in the shoulders and arms, essential for daily activities and sports.

Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench with feet flat on the floor, holding a barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower the barbell to chest level, keeping elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Press the barbell back up to the starting position, extending your arms just short of lockout.

How it helps in functional strength training: Bench press is a compound exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, building upper body strength and power.

Back Rows

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Hinge at the hips, keeping the back flat, and slightly bend the knees.
  3. Pull the weights towards the lower ribcage, squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  4. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.

How it helps in functional strength training: Back rows strengthen the upper back muscles, improving posture and stability, and preventing injuries.


  1. Start in a plank position with hands shoulder-width apart and feet together.
  2. Lower the body until the chest nearly touches the floor, keeping elbows close to the body.
  3. Push through the palms to return to the starting position, fully extending the arms.

How it helps in functional strength training: Push-ups improve upper body strength and stability, targeting your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. This helps with pushing movements in daily tasks and sports.


  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing away.
  2. Pull the body upward until the chin clears the bar, engaging the back and arm muscles.
  3. Lower the body back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.

How it helps in functional strength training: Pull-ups target the back, biceps, and forearms, and improve upper body strength for various activities.



  1. Lie face down on a hyperextension bench with feet secured under the footpads and hands crossed behind the head.
  2. Engage the lower back muscles to lift the torso until it aligns with the legs.
  3. Lower the torso back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.

How it helps in functional strength training: Hyperextensions strengthen the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings and improve posture, preventing lower back pain.


  1. Start in a push-up position with elbows directly beneath the shoulders and forearms resting on the floor.
  2. Engage the core muscles to keep the body in a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Hold the position for the desired duration while maintaining proper form.

How it helps in functional strength training: Planks are a killer exercise that works your entire core, improving strength and endurance. This makes daily tasks like carrying groceries and standing easier and safer.

Russian Twists

  1. Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet lifted off the ground, holding a weight or medicine ball with both hands.
  2. Lean back slightly to engage the core muscles and twist the torso to the right, bringing the weight towards the right hip.
  3. Return to the center and twist to the left side, alternating sides with each repetition.

How it helps in functional strength training: Russian twists strengthen your core by working your obliques and deep core muscles, which helps enhance rotational strength and stability for twisting movements like golf swings and reaching for objects.

Bicycle Crunches

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, hands behind the head, and elbows pointing out to the sides.
  2. Lift the shoulders off the floor and bring the right elbow towards the left knee while straightening the right leg.
  3. Alternate sides, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee while straightening the left leg in a pedaling motion.

How it helps in functional strength training: Bicycle crunches work abs and obliques, improving core strength and coordination. This enhances stability and twisting/bending motions in activities like sports or gardening.

Dead Bugs

  1. Lie on your back with arms extended towards the ceiling and legs lifted in a tabletop position.
  2. Lower the right arm and left leg towards the floor while keeping the lower back pressed into the ground.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

How it helps in functional strength training: Dead bugs are great for your core and hips as well as your stabilizing muscles. This exercise helps you maintain good posture and spinal alignment while walking, running, and lifting.

Lower Body

Back Squats

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with a barbell resting across the back of the shoulders.
  2. Keeping the chest up and core engaged, bend at the knees and hips to lower the body into a squat position.
  3. Push through the heels to return to the starting position, fully extending the hips and knees.

How it helps in functional strength training: Back squats work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, making you stronger and more powerful. This compound exercise also improves functional movements like sitting, standing, and lifting objects.


  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, with a barbell on the floor in front of you.
  2. Hinge at the hips and bend the knees to grip the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keeping the back flat and chest up, lift the barbell by extending the hips and knees.
  4. Lower the barbell back to the floor in a controlled manner.

How it helps in functional strength training: Deadlifts target the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, improving core stability and making lifting heavy objects easier.


  1. Stand tall with feet together, hands on hips, or holding weights at your sides.
  2. Take a large step forward with one foot and lower the body until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push through the front heel to return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

How it helps in functional strength training: Lunges work your legs, butt, and balance. They help with muscle imbalances and coordination and mimic real-life movements.

Farmer Walks

  1. Stand tall with a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, arms by your sides.
  2. Engage the core and maintain an upright posture as you walk forward for a set distance or time.
  3. Keep the shoulders pulled back and down, and avoid leaning to one side.

How it helps in functional strength training: Want stronger grip, forearms, and legs? Try farmer walks. This exercise helps with everyday tasks like carrying heavy items and maintaining good posture. Plus, it builds endurance and stability.


  1. Stand in front of a sturdy bench or step with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Step onto the bench with one foot, driving through the heel to lift the body up.
  3. Bring the opposite knee up towards the chest, then step back down with control.
  4. Repeat on the same side for the desired number of reps before switching legs.

How it helps in functional strength training: Step-ups target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles, as well as improving balance and coordination.

Full Body

Medicine Ball Slams

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball overhead.
  2. Explosively slam the ball to the ground in front of you, bending at the hips and knees.
  3. Catch the ball on the bounce or pick it up and repeat the movement.

How it helps in functional strength training: Medicine ball slams engage multiple muscles, improve coordination and power, and mimic real-life actions.

Kettlebell Swings

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell with both hands in front of the body.
  2. Hinge at the hips, keeping the back flat and chest up, and swing the kettlebell between the legs.
  3. Drive through the hips and extend the knees to swing the kettlebell up to chest level.
  4. Control the descent and repeat the swinging motion.

How it helps in functional strength training: Kettlebell swings work out your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and shoulders. This explosive movement boosts strength, fitness, and coordination, making it a great exercise for enhancing athleticism.


  1. Start in a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower into a squat position and place hands on the floor.
  3. Jump feet back into a plank position, keeping the body in a straight line.
  4. Perform a push-up, then jump feet back to the squat position.
  5. Explode upwards into a jump, reaching arms overhead.

How it helps in functional strength training: Burpees are a full-body exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, builds strength, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness, improves agility and coordination, and helps with functional movements.

Bear Crawl

  1. Start on all fours with hands directly beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips.
  2. Lift the knees slightly off the ground, keeping the back flat and core engaged.
  3. Crawl forward by moving the opposite hand and foot simultaneously.
  4. Keep the movement slow and controlled, focusing on maintaining stability and proper form.

How it helps in functional strength training: Bear crawls engage and strengthen your whole body, improve coordination and stability, and mimic real-life movements like crawling under obstacles or navigating uneven terrain.

Clean and Press

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Hinge at the hips and bend the knees to lower the barbell to mid-thigh level.
  3. Explosively extend the hips and knees to drive the barbell upwards.
  4. As the barbell reaches shoulder height, quickly drop into a quarter squat and catch the barbell at shoulder level.
  5. Press the barbell overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  6. Lower the barbell back to the starting position and repeat the movement.

How it helps in functional strength training: Clean and press is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups. It improves power, coordination, and total body strength for better functional strength and athletic performance

Quick Note:

Make sure to adjust the number of sets, reps, and weights according to your fitness level and goals.

If you're just starting out, go for lighter weights and fewer reps, and then increase the intensity gradually as you get more comfortable with the exercises.

Always remember to listen to your body and seek advice from a fitness professional if you have any questions or concerns about proper form or technique!

Measuring Progress and Success in Functional Strength Training

Set Clear Goals

Setting clear goals is key to staying motivated and seeing results with functional strength training. Goals should follow the SMART framework:
  • Specific: Goals should be well-defined and focused, such as "I will improve my squat form and depth."
  • Measurable: Quantify your goals so you can track progress. Aim for specific numbers like "I will squat my bodyweight for 3 sets of 5 reps".
  • Achievable: Set realistic goals you can reach in the set timeframe with your current ability. Build gradually.
  • Relevant: Ensure your functional training goals align with your needs and purposes.
  • Time-bound: Set a timeframe to achieve each goal, like "I will squat my bodyweight in 2 months".

Track Your Progress

Besides the usual strength and endurance goals, try setting up some qualitative goals around posture, balance, flexibility, and functional ability. These are key benefits of functional training.

  • Check your posture regularly and aim to maintain an upright posture throughout the day.
  • Test balance through exercises like standing on one leg. Aim to hold for longer durations.
  • Take before/after photos or measurements of flexibility. Remember, the goal is to gradually improve!
  • Note everyday tasks that are difficult currently and track when they feel easier.

You can also use fitness apps or trackers to keep a record of your workouts. You can log things like sets, reps, and weights.

Tracking your progress can help you stay motivated and accountable. And don't forget to celebrate your successes along the way!

Integrate Nutrition and Recovery

Good nutrition and rest are crucial for optimal results and recovery during strength training. Here are some best practices to follow:

Make sure to eat a combination of protein and carbs around 1-2 hours before hitting the gym. This will help your muscles store glycogen and provide amino acids for muscle repair.

Some great snacks to eat before your workout are Greek yogurt with fruit, oatmeal mixed with protein powder, or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Stay hydrated during training by sipping water or sports drinks. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and dizziness.

Don't forget to eat something after your workout to help your muscles grow and refill your glycogen stores. It's best to eat a mix of protein and carbs within 30-60 minutes after your workout.

You can have some chocolate milk, a protein shake, a turkey sandwich, or a veggie omelet with sweet potatoes. They're all great options for recovery meals.

To bounce back after tough workouts, it's crucial to get a good 7-9 hours of sleep every night, take a chill pill for 1-2 days, and indulge in some recovery stuff like foam rolling, massages, ice baths, and Epsom salt baths.

If you keep feeling sleepy, and sore, or your performance is stuck, you might wanna take more rest days.

Remember to eat well and rest up to see progress toward your functional training goals. Listen to your body and adjust your program as needed.

Key Takeaway

Functional strength training mimics real-life movements, improving total body coordination, balance, strength, and agility. It helps prevent injuries, boosts sports performance, and makes daily activities easier.

You don't have to go it alone. Get some guidance from a personal trainer or sports coach to learn the proper form for the various exercises. Take it slow and steady, and aim for 2-3 weekly sessions for maximum results.

Functional strength training can transform your life. Invest in your health today and start your journey to becoming functionally fit!