If you have an interest in fitness, you’ve probably heard about functional training. Simply put, functional training is strengthening the body as an integrated unit using movements from life and sports. This is a change from the style of strength training that dominated the fitness industry for the last few decades, which treats the human body as a collection of separate parts and attempts to train them individually. For example, a biceps curl with a dumbbell is a classic single-joint, isolated muscle-group exercise—aka: old school. Whereas shimmying up a rope is considered functional training—aka: new school.
Why? Because getting up the rope requires strength from the entire body, not just one muscle group. And by practicing this skill over time, you will actually be able to complete a task—making it to the top of the rope.
Functional training is also time efficient. Because you are strengthening multiple muscle groups simultaneously and completing full-body movements, your overall calorie expenditure is increased. And most importantly, this type of training is FUN!
Functional training exercises lend themselves to the mindset of completing a task or mastering a skill rather than performing a set number of repetitions. For example, in the sand bag exchange exercise described below, your intention is to maintain good technique, but you also want to attack the drill with a sense of urgency. Imagine the bags are full of money and you get to keep as many bags as you can move! This change in perspective from the traditional “rep counting” of strength training can provide you with renewed motivation for your workouts and a feeling of achievement—even if you are not exponentially more wealthy when the task is complete.
I’ll take you through five points of focus for strength training and give you a sequence for each engaging, entertaining and functional move, all of which get results. See if you can feel your entire body working as you push, pull, squat and twist through each drill. Focus on completing the task with precision and good technique, moving slowly at first as you learn the exercises and then working more quickly through the combinations. But beware! These exercises may make you chuckle should you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. You may even find your attention so keenly focused on mastering the skill that you perform several extra reps without even realizing it.
- Begin sitting on a BOSU, dome side up, with your feet flat on the floor and your hands behind you on the dome, fingers pointed toward you.
- Lift your body off the dome and walk your feet out underneath your knees.
- Bend at the elbows to lower and press yourself up in a triceps dip.
- After 5 dips, stay in the same position and “crab walk” all the way around the dome.
- Repeat 5 dips and then “crab walk” around in the opposite direction.
- Option for dips: Perform 1 dip. Reach one arm out and lift the opposite foot off the floor to meet it. Alternate sides.
- Pile four to six 4- to 15-pound sand bags to the outside of your right foot.
- With feet wider than the hips and knees forward over the ankles, squat down and rotate to the right to pick up the top sand bag. Lift it over your head as you straighten your legs and squat down to place the sand bag on the floor to the outside of your left foot.
- Repeat until all the sand bags have been transferred, and then move them back.
- Lie face down on the floor in a full spinal extension or “Superman” position (hands reaching over head, chest and thighs as far off the floor as you can lift them). Hold for 5 seconds.
- Without touching the floor with your hands or feet, try to roll over onto your back. Feel free to swing or tuck one arm under your body to help you roll until you master the move.
- Perform a “Banana,” which is a small crunch while hovering your arms and legs off the ground.
- Roll the other direction back to “Superman” and repeat the sequence, rolling the other direction.
- Begin on your toes or knees in a push-up position. Place the foam roller vertical to your body under one hand.
- Perform a push up with one hand on the foam roller and one hand on the floor.
- Once you are back in the starting position, roll the foam roller to the opposite hand and do a push up. Repeat.
- Try to work up some speed as you alternate the foam roller from right to left.
- Begin in a plank position on your elbows and toes. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Roll into a side plank on your right elbow. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Roll to the right into a reverse plank on the elbows and heels. Your hands should be on the floor, palms down and pointing toward the feet. Lift the hips and chest while trying to keep your back, glutes and legs from touching the ground. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Roll to the right into a side plank on your left elbow. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Roll to the right again to end up back in a plank on both elbows and toes.
- Repeat the sequence, rolling the opposite direction.