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Functional Strength Training: The Ultimate Guide

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Functional Strength Training: The Ultimate Guide

All too often, adults find that they can easily injure themselves in day to day life. As our bodies age, it becomes easier to pull muscles while out jogging, or to hurt yourself while carrying items up the stairs. Many of these day to day injuries can actually be avoided though, through functional strength training.

Functional strength training aims to simulate the resistance needed to build and condition muscles for everyday life. It's a type of functional fitness that anyone can utilize to avoid injury during their daily routines or on the sporting field.

In this article, we'll take a deeper look at what functional strength training is, how you can benefit from it, and how you can start implementing functional strength training routines into your schedule. 

What is functional strength training?

Functional strength training is a form of functional training that aims to replicate the demanding physical conditions of real-life through exercise and sporting activities.

Functional exercises are designed to reduce the chance of injury, by building your body up to better withstand the dangers of daily life routines. Functional strength training exercises utilize resistance and bodyweight exercises, rather than heavyweight exercises, to help you to naturally build muscles that have a functional use in real life.

Functional strength exercises will replicate natural body movements to use muscles that are regularly needed in daily life, be it as simple as walking up the stairs or pushing a trolley around the supermarket. These exercises can be as simple as squats or lateral raises.

As our bodies age, we tend to lose body mass and fitness, which is why people become more prone to injury (especially in day to day life) as they get older. The goal of functional strength training is to help prepare the body for its demanding daily routine, to avoid those harmful day to day injuries.

Of course, functional strength training can be of great help to athletes too, as these exercises help the body to withstand rigorous daily routines, which in the long run, help athletes to avoid injury in their given sport.

What is the difference between traditional strength training and functional strength training?

The goal of training for functional strength differs from the goal of traditional strength training.

Traditional strength training is usually targeted on one specific muscle or muscle grouping. Traditional strength training aims to build up a core muscle, such as biceps or triceps, for instance. The goal can be to build better-looking muscles or to improve performance for a particular sport.

Functional strength training targets a wider variety of functional muscles, rather than individual muscles or groupings. The goal isn't to build a more aesthetic body (although, this will be a side effect!), but to build functional fitness. That means that rather than weight lifting to build up your biceps, you will instead be using a range of exercises, such as different varieties of push-ups or sit-ups, to build up a larger range of muscles that are used in daily life.

While traditional strength training regimes are commonly used by athletes or bodybuilders, functional strength training regimes can be used by anyone, regardless of age or physical ability.

Functional movements in daily life

To better understand how functional exercises can help to improve your overall strength and fitness, and help you to avoid injury, it's good to look at the major functional movements we use in day to life.

There are 7 key functional movements, and it's important to focus on improving the capacity for these movements through functional fitness exercises.

  1. Hinge movements; bending at the hips.
  2. Squat movements; bending at the knees and lowering your body.
  3. Lunge movements; placing one leg forward, with a bent knee.
  4. Pull movements; pulling movements that pull your body towards an object, or pull an object towards your body.
  5. Push movements; pushing an object away from your body, or pushing your body away from an object.
  6. Twist movements; twisting movements include turning your body to throw objects or to look behind you.
  7. Carry movements; encompasses a wide range of movements, where you carry objects whilst moving.

Functional strength training exercises

With these major functional body movements, you can start to put together a functional strength workout that can build up your functional fitness.

The following functional strength training exercises are great for building a core group of exercises that you can practice regularly, throughout the week.

Remember to warm up, by stretching, or performing light cardio, before attempting these functional strength training exercises.

1. Squats

The classic squat is a great way to build functional strength. Squats help protect your knee joints from injury in day to day routines, while they also building up your glutes and your quadriceps.

To perform a squat

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Lower yourself by bending the knees, with your arms held out in front of you.

Focus on proper squatting technique to strengthen your joints. You can add resistance by using a hip circle band, or if you are strong enough, you can add weight by holding dumbells while you squat.

2. Inverted row

Inverted rows are a great exercise for building functional strength.

Inverted rows involve pulling up your body weight, while inclined at an angle to the floor. You can perform them using bars, or using resistance bands at home.

  1. Attach a resistance band to a secure location (above you) and stretch it down towards you.
  2. Place your feet firmly on the ground, and lean backward to take the strain.
  3. Pull yourself upwards, using your arms and back, similar to the movement you'd make if doing a push-up or pull up.

Inverted rows will work out your back muscles, your biceps, your forearms, and improve your overall strength and grip.

3. Band lateral raise

Band lateral raises are great exercises to build your core strength and shoulder muscles.

  1. Take a long resistance band and place your feet firmly in the center of the band, so you are stood on top of the band itself.
  2. Raise your arms evenly while holding onto the band to create resistance.
  3. From the testing position, bring your arms up slowly so they are perpendicular to your shoulders while holding the resistance band.

Can you build muscle with functional strength training?

Functional strength training workouts routines will help you to build functional muscle that will, in turn, help you perform better in day to day tasks or exercises such as jogging.

Functional strength training is great for toning and strengthening existing muscles. To build larger muscles, you can easily incorporate free weights, such as dumbells, into the exercise routines.

The goal of functional strength training though isn't to increase mass or muscle weight, but to help your body better cope with daily routines.

Final thoughts on functional strength training

Functional strength training can be incorporated into regular fitness schedules to help your body avoid injury and wear and tear from daily routines. Athletes can benefit too, from the functional strength training exercises.

Functional fitness exercise can be performed by anyone, regardless of age or ability, and you can create a great workout with simple pieces of fitness equipment, like resistance bands.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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