Functional Fitness Is The Workout You Never Knew Your Body Needed

Your butt isn’t just there to look pretty.

What good is a sculpted butt if you can’t squat down to pick up your keys? And TBH, toned biceps are kind of useless if you can't even lift your gym bag.

That's the mindset behind a type of training known as functional fitness. You may have heard this term floating around over the past couple of years—and its resurgence is partly due to the popularity of bodyweight training exercises and workout apps like Kayla Itsines’ Sweat With Kayla.

But functional fitness isn’t anything new—and you’ve likely done a variety of functional fitness exercises without knowing it.


What the heck is functional fitness anyway?

Functional fitness is about preparing you for life, rather than something specific like a big race or a lifting competition. Think anything from squatting down to pick something off of the floor, to turning and reaching for the oatmeal on a high shelf. This type of exercise mimics your everyday actions while engaging multiple muscle groups.

Not all exercises are for everyone because everyone has individual needs, goals, and fitness levels,” she says. But for the most part, these moves will focus on balance (lunges, step-ups), strength (often combo moves, like standing bicep curls), cardio moves (often plyometrics-based), and exercises that require your body to move through different planes of motion (like multi-directional lunges).

And while a lot of moves focus on bodyweight, functional fitness may also include props (think battle ropes or suspension trainers) or weights (dumbbells and medicine balls) in some cases.

Okay, so what's in it for me?

Not only does functional fitness improve the quality of your life (if you can't pull on a tight pair of jeans without throwing out your back, are you really living?), but you will also notice a change in overall strength and stability, O’Byrne says. In turn, this creates a balance among your muscles and decreases your chance of injury.

And while this may sound pretty great, O'Byrne also notes that if you're coming off of an injury or have mobility issues, you may want to check in with a trainer or P.T. before you start this training on your own.

How to add functional fitness into your routine

If your body is healthy and injury-free, try giving this workout a go. It focuses on those key multi-directional moves, to get you strong and steady for everyday life:

1A: Dumbbell Lateral Goblet Squat

How to: Stand tall with feet more than shoulder-width apart; hold head of dumbbell with both hands at chest height. Sit hips back and bend right knee to lower to right until thigh is nearly parallel to floor, keeping spine neutral. Push through right hip to return to start. That’s one rep. Do six, switch sides and repeat, then rest 15 seconds.

1B: Lateral Bound

How to: Stand on right leg and bend knee to load weight into hip; bring both arms to right side. Using arms and hips for power, jump as high and as far to the left as possible, landing softly on left foot. Quickly jump back to start and hold for two seconds. That’s one rep. Reset and do four or five, then switch sides and repeat; rest 90 seconds.

2A: Lateral Half-Kneeling Cable Pull

How to: Grab rope handle attached to cable machine at lowest setting with both hands, palms facing each other. Kneel on left knee and extend right leg out to the side. Keeping hips forward, pull rope up and across body. Reverse to return to start. That’s one rep. Do six, then immediately switch sides and repeat; rest 15 seconds.

2B: Medicine Ball Rotational Throw

How to: Stand sideways near wall, holding medicine ball, feet shoulder-width apart. Brace core and rotate arms, torso, and hips away from wall, then explosively rotate toward wall and throw ball into it. Catch, pause, and reset at start. That’s one rep. Do five or six, then immediately switch sides and repeat; rest 90 seconds.

3A: Single-Arm Overhand-Grip Dumbbell Row

How to: Hold dumbbell in right hand, place left knee and hand on exercise bench, and extend right arm straight down from shoulder, palm facing right leg. Bend elbow out to side and pull dumbbell to chest. Slowly reverse movement to return to start. That’s one rep; do 10 to 12. Switch sides and repeat, then rest 15 seconds.

3B: Side Plank

How to: Lie on left side with forearm on floor, elbow under shoulder, and feet stacked together. Bring right hand to left shoulder, then push down into forearm and raise hips to form a straight line from head to heels. Hold for up to 45 seconds, then immediately switch sides and repeat; rest 60 seconds.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Women's Health. Pick up a copy, on newsstands now.


Allie Holloway