Functional Fitness Training: Exercise for Everyday Life

Our guide covers the basics, benefits, and essential information you need to improve your everyday wellness through functional fitness.

Last updated: Feb 14th, 2023
Functional Fitness Training

The concept of “functional fitness” has existed for decades, but the term only gained widespread recognition in the 21st century. Chances are you’ve seen this type of training mentioned in magazines or advertisements. You may even have friends or family members that practice it. So, what’s the appeal?

Functional fitness training aims to improve and maintain the performance of all muscle groups. This variety of exercise can reduce the challenge of real-life, everyday activities, such as lifting moving boxes or playing catch with your children.

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What is functional training?

Functional training, also known as neuromotor training, differs from traditional exercise types, such as strength training or bodybuilding. Instead of targeting a specific muscle group, the focus is on combined and simultaneous movements that use the whole body to imitate common daily activities. For instance, a squat trains the muscles that help you sit in and get up from a chair, and strengthening your core by doing planks can improve your balance to prevent falls.

One of the perks of functional fitness training is that it doesn’t require any special equipment to achieve results, making it both beginner and budget-friendly. Body-weight exercises to improve strength, such as squats, push-ups, lunges, and planks, utilize more of your body than many exercise machines and still deliver noticeable improvements.

Functional exercises for improving flexibility and coordination include yoga, tai chi, and other controlled movement or sustained stretching activities. Regularly practicing yoga or other stretching-strengthening exercises can significantly improve balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility.

If you prefer exercising away from home, some gyms offer a dedicated functional fitness area or host classes specializing in neuromotor workouts. You may find various functional-fitness-appropriate exercise tools in a gym, such as kettlebells, dumbbells, jump ropes, medicine balls, and more.

If you’re looking to up the ante on your functional fitness routine, another form of functional training combines the basics of neuromotor exercise with some aspects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). High-intensity functional training (HIFT) focuses on completing a number of functional exercise repetitions in the fastest time possible or trying to fit as many reps as you can into a specific amount of time. CrossFit training is considered the most common HIFT program.

Who is functional fitness training for?

While much of the research has surrounded the benefits of functional fitness training in older adults, more recent studies have shown that all age groups see marked improvement from neuromotor exercises.

Current guidelines from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion show that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits, replacing the previous 10-minute minimum requirement. So, functional fitness training can benefit anyone, regardless of age, sex, or ability. If you're new to exercise or starting again after an extended break, taking it slow and starting with body-weight exercises or a low-impact aqua aerobics class can help you build strength and reduce the risk of injury.

If you have a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, or osteoporosis, it’s best to speak with your doctor and get their input before starting.

For those who are pregnant, it’s important to discuss exercise with your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) to ensure it’s safe for both you and your baby. Generally, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week is the recommendation for pregnant individuals cleared for exercise.

The Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q or PAR-Q+) can provide guidance if you’re unsure whether or not you need to speak with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen. The current form of the questionnaire, the PAR-Q+, is a seven-step screening test for people of all ages. The questionnaire determines risk factors you might face during moderate physical activity, including family history and disease severity. The official online version of the PAR-Q+ questionnaire can be found here.

Functional fitness training benefits

Functional fitness training improves your ability to perform daily activities through greater autonomy, flexibility, strength, balance, and agility. These benefits can mean greater independence in older adults, with fewer falls and doctor's visits. For young children, the benefits include greater gross motor skills and proprioception — the ability to sense and locate parts of your body. Even in adult athletes, functional training was found to improve speed, muscular strength, power, balance, and agility.

Besides the specific benefits of neuromotor exercise, any physical activity can improve your brain health, help with weight management, reduce disease risk, and strengthen your bones and muscles. Regular exercise, even in small amounts, can reduce depression and anxiety; it can also help you to rest better when you sleep.

Examples of functional fitness exercises

Starting a new exercise regimen can be intimidating. If you’re unsure where to start, here are a few simple neuromotor exercises to get you started.


Push-ups can be modified in numerous ways, making them an excellent choice for people at all stages of their fitness journey. To reduce the difficulty, you can do push-ups against a wall, utilize an elevated surface, such as a countertop, or keep your knees bent if you do push-ups on the floor.

  • Your hands should be kept shoulder-width apart on the surface.
  • Walk your feet back to stand on your toes, with your body in a straight plank position.
  • Engage your core by squeezing your abs and glutes throughout the movement to prevent injury.
  • Lower yourself toward the surface until your elbows bend at approximately 90 degrees, exhale and press yourself back up into the starting position.

If you would like a visual example, here’s a video guide on push-ups.

Youtube Video


Squats are another excellent beginner exercise that can be modified as needed. You can sit down and get up from a chair if you need some extra support. Adding weights or jumping can increase the difficulty and intensity. The following steps are to perform a beginner-friendly squat, known as a prisoner squat.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight in front of you.
  • Put your hands behind your head, elbows out, and tighten your core by squeezing your abs.
  • Ensure your knees are in line with your toes, then squat down only as far as you can without slouching or overarching your back.
  • Keep your chest out and your eyes looking forward.
  • While maintaining your posture, squeeze your glutes and rise back to the starting position, keeping the pressure of the lift on your heels.

Here’s a video guide on the prisoner squat.

Youtube Video

Kettlebell deadlift

This beginner-friendly deadlift works your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The only equipment you need is a kettlebell. If you don’t have a kettlebell at home, you can get creative and substitute it with something like a weighted backpack, milk jug, or paint can.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Your kettlebell, or substitute object of choice, should be positioned between your feet.
  • Keeping your back straight and your core engaged, hinge at the hips and bend your knees to grab onto the kettlebell.
  • Maintaining posture, lift the kettlebell until your body returns to a fully upright, straight position.
  • Repeat the same motion to bring the kettlebell back to the floor. You don’t need to drop the weight; continue the cycle of properly raising and lowering the kettlebell for the desired number of repetitions.

Here’s a video example of the kettlebell deadlift.

Youtube Video

With its beginner-friendly, accessible approach and numerous physical and mental benefits, now is the perfect time to start functional fitness training or add some exercises to your routine.



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