Skip to main content

What is Functional Training? Elevate Your Movement Skills

Also called purposeful training, functional training features exercises that improve movement in everyday life. Incorporating it into your routine can boost agility, strength, and endurance.

12 min readAugust 3rd, 2023
SLWritten By Sara Lindberg
AWWritten By Ashley Walton

Whether you’re engaged in daily tasks, athletic events, or recreational activities, there’s a good chance you’re using movement patterns related to functional training.

Functional training, and more specifically, functional training exercises, focus on activities that require multidirectional movements and the simultaneous coordination of a variety of muscle groups, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In other words, you need collaboration from your entire body to perform many functional movements.

Curious how functional training might fit into your overall fitness program? Read on to discover the benefits, functional moves, sample exercises, and how to get started with functional training.

Related Functional Training Resources

Benefits of Functional Training

Functional exercises prepare your body for the way it needs to move in daily life. More specifically, strengthening the muscles in the same way you use them to perform common tasks or sports-specific movements may reduce injury, improve performance, and lead to better results.

For some people, the goal of a functional workout may be to get better at walking while carrying a load. Still, for others, the purpose might be related to a specific sport skill like running faster, increasing club head speed for golf, or improving ball striking skills in soccer.

According to a 2021 systematic review, functional training among athletes can enhance speed, muscular strength, power, balance, and agility. Plus, using functional moves in a workout routine may help develop kinesthetic awareness, body control, and balance.

Functional training typically consists of compound exercises or multi joint movements involving more than a single muscle group. Unlike a movement such as bicep curls (which only targets bicep muscles), functional workouts include exercises like the squat, deadlift, lunge, loaded carries, pull-ups, and push-ups. Incorporating these types of exercises into your routine can help your body work better as one unit instead of individual parts.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), compound exercises may also improve dynamic balance and movement skills, which may help boost the overall quality of life. And because compound exercises address several actions at once, they are both efficient and effective.

Get our fitness newsletter

Stay on track with your fitness goals and get inspired! Sign up for the GymBird newsletter for twice-monthly expert fitness and nutrition tips.

Types of Functional Moves

Designing a workout program around functional movements allows you to target major muscle groups, minimize muscle imbalances, improve mobility and coordination, enhance athletic performance, and boost overall muscular strength and endurance levels.

In general, there are seven core functional movements incorporated into functional training, including pull, push, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation, and gait. These movement patterns show up in daily life and activities such as getting in and out of the car or bed, picking something up off the floor, sitting in a chair, and walking.


The pull is a key functional movement that allows you to pull a load or resistance toward your body. In the gym, this could be a vertical pull like a pull-up or a horizontal pull such as a bent over row. Everyday life examples of pulling include pulling a heavy load towards you like a potted plant off of a bench or pulling your body weight up from a supine position. Pulling exercises strengthen the muscles in the upper and lower back, rear shoulders, biceps, forearms, and core. These muscles help you maintain an upright posture, especially while seated at a desk.


Pushing requires moving a load or resistance away from your body. In daily life, this could look like pushing yourself up off the floor, pushing a door open, or pushing a heavy grocery cart. At the gym, the push is involved in the chest press, shoulder press, and push-ups. The muscles involved in a push include the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles.


The squat is a fundamental movement pattern involving the major muscles of the lower body. More specifically, the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, adductors, hip flexors, and calves.

Proper execution of the squat also requires contracting your core muscles, which include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae. The squat is involved in daily activities like getting in and out of a chair.

In the gym, the squat motion is used during various squat exercises and during athletic and recreational activities.


In daily life, walking up the stairs, straddling, running, hiking, or reaching for something all use a lunge movement. You also use a lunging motion when bending over to tie your shoe.

At the gym, you can perform stationary lunges, walking lunges, lateral lunges, or single-leg lunges. Because the lunge features one leg in front of the other, this functional movement pattern challenges balance and strength unilaterally, which may help with weaknesses or muscle imbalances on one side of the body.


Like the squat, the hinge is also a functional movement pattern. In everyday life, hinging at the hips allows you to bend over and pick things up off the ground. It’s also a key movement in several strength and power exercises like the deadlift, power clean, hyperextension, and kettlebell swing.

Hip-hinge exercises target the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. When these muscles are weak, you may experience low back pain. Performing a hip hinge correctly allows you to strengthen these muscles and maintain an upright posture, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).


Rotation involves recruiting the core muscles to help twist and turn the upper body. In daily life, we rotate or twist while throwing an object, reaching for something, and turning our torso to look at something or someone to the side or behind us.

During exercise, rotation occurs while swimming, running, dancing, lifting weights, and playing sports like golf, football, baseball, pickleball, soccer, and tennis. The primary muscles involved in rotation include rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, and pelvic floor muscles.

Strengthening the core muscles help stabilize the spine.


Gait refers to the technique of walking, which is a fundamental movement pattern. Walking requires several movements, like rotating, lunging, pushing, and pulling. It also uses the powerful quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles to execute. Oftentimes, we carry heavy items while walking such as groceries or a child.

Supporting a load while walking makes you more aware of any gait abnormalities or weaknesses. In the gym, focus on resistance-based exercises like the farmer’s carry and suitcase carry that require a strong gait, balance, and stabilization.

Example Functional Training Exercises

Functional training exercises commonly include compound moves like a squat or push-ups that mimic typical or everyday activities and movement patterns. They also require using more than one muscle group to work together, are often multijoint, and performed in multiple planes of motion like forward, back, side to side, rotational actions, or abduction and adduction.

One reason functional training is so popular is it does not require fancy equipment and specialty programming to get started. Instead, the ACSM recommends incorporating exercises that require you to control and balance your own body weight or use moderate resistance, focusing on activities that challenge balance and coordination and require you to move in multiple directions.

With that in mind, here are seven functional training exercises you can add to any overall fitness routine.

Functional Exercise: Bent Over Row

Type of functional move: Pull


  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  2. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  3. Tighten your core muscles and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist.
  4. Keep your upper body still and lift the dumbbells to your side.
  5. Squeeze at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the weights to the starting position.
  6. Do two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Functional Exercise: Push-Ups

Type of functional move: Push


  1. Start in a high plank position with your arms fully extended, eyes looking down or slightly in front of you, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and palms directly under your shoulders. If a high plank position is too challenging at first, you can perform push ups on your knees.
  2. Tighten your core muscles and pull your shoulder blades down and back. Your back will be flat, and your body will form a straight line from your neck to your heels.
  3. Bend your elbows and push your shoulders forward to lower yourself to the floor until your chest is about an inch off the ground.
  4. Pause briefly in the lowered position, then exhale, and push your body back to the starting position.
  5. Do two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Functional Exercise: Goblet Squat

Type of functional move: Squat


  1. Grab a kettlebell by the handles and hold in front of your chest.
  2. To start, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes will point forward or slightly turned out, whichever is most comfortable.
  3. Lower into the squat position by simultaneously bending your knees and hips until the tops of your legs are parallel to the floor. Imagine there is a chair behind you.Keep the weight in your heels and your spine feeling tall and long.
  4. Pause at the bottom of the movement.
  5. Squeeze your glute muscles, extend your knees and hips and push back up to standing without leaning forward.
  6. Do two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

*You can also perform this functional exercise without added resistance.

Functional Exercise: Forward Alternating Lunge

Type of functional move: Lunge


  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a light to moderate-weight dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides.
  2. Take a big step forward with your right leg. Your heel should touch the floor first. You will feel the weight in this leg.
  3. Lower your body until the forward leg is parallel to the floor.
  4. Pause, then push into your right heel and drive back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat with your left  leg.
  6. Alternate lunging forward with the right and left leg.
  7. Do two to three sets of 20 repetitions, 10 on each leg.

*You can also perform this functional exercise without added resistance.

Functional Exercise: Single-Leg Deadlift

Type of functional move: Hinge


  1. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand. Feet should be together.
  2. Stand on the left leg with a slight bend in the knee. a soft knee bend. Your right foot will be off the floor.
  3. Hinge at the hips, keep your chest up and back flat, and move the weight towards the ground. Your right leg will go straight back behind you.
  4. Hinge as far as you can until you feel tension in the left hamstring.
  5. Stand up by squeezing your glutes and return to the starting position.
  6. Complete all reps on the left leg before changing to the right leg.
  7. Do 8 to 10 repetitions on each leg.

*You can also perform this functional exercise without added resistance.

Functional Exercise: Medicine Ball Rotation

Type of functional move: Rotation


  1. Choose a medicine ball that provides enough resistance to challenge your muscles, but not too much that it prevents you from maintaining balance.
  2. Stand upright with your feet about shoulder width apart.
  3. Grasp the medicine ball with both hands and fully extend your arms in front of you, about shoulder height.
  4. Rotate your upper body to the left as far as possible. Keep your lower body stationary with toes pointing straight ahead.
  5. Pause briefly, then rotate your body to the right as far as possible. Turn your head with the ball and watch it while rotating both directions.
  6. Alternate rotating to the left and right side for 20 repetitions total.

*You can also perform this functional exercise without added resistance.

Functional Exercise: Farmer’s Carry

Type of functional move: Gait


  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Grasp a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to feel the resistance but light enough to keep your form tight and posture upright.
  3. Stand upright by engaging your core muscles and pulling your shoulder blades down and back.
  4. Step forward with the right foot and begin walking while carrying the kettlebells or dumbbells for 30 to 45 seconds. You can also designate a distance to walk and then turn around and return to the starting location.
  5. Repeat the walk two to three times.

How to Get Started with Functional Training

If you’re new to functional training, you might be wondering how to get started. The good news is it generally does not require a significant shift in a workout program. Instead, making small adjustments by adding functional exercises to a routine is a great way to start.

Preparing for functional training is no different than prepping for other strength-type workouts. And, because functional training focuses on purposeful training, how you prepare is up to you.

More specifically, what makes a workout functional varies for each person. That’s why the first step is to establish your training and fitness goals so you can match them to your workout routines.

Once you’ve determined your goals, the next step is to design a program. In general, most people will benefit from incorporating exercises that fall under the seven functional moves.

Because this training type often features full body workouts, you’ll want to plan for adequate rest days. For example, take one day off between each functional workout session, which allows for three to four training days each week. If you’re doing other types of workouts like cardio, sports-specific routines, mobility, or athletics, you may want to limit full body workouts to two to three days each week.

A great resource for information on exercise frequency is the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that adults perform muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity involving all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

This is in addition to the 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular or aerobic exercise each week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity spread throughout the week.

Beyond the physical activity guidelines, if you’re unsure how to design a routine or need help with performing the exercises, consider working with a certified personal trainer or strength coach.

A Word from Ashley

I'm Ashley Walton, Cofounder and Chief Content Officer at GymBird, and I wanted to share some thoughts.

Functional training programs like CrossFit can be a bit intimidating if you're new to functional training. Personally, I've found it helpful to remind myself that at its core, functional training is trying to help my body perform movements I do all the time and help me improve everyday mobility.

Training for everyday mobility is important for me and my fitness routine because I have chronic back pain and injuries. It may sound dramatic, but if I'm not doing regular functional training, then something simple like lifting a package or even just twisting my torso too quickly can result in my back being thrown out... and let me tell you, that's not fun.

Personally, I don't regularly visit a CrossFit gym or participate in group training classes, but I definitely think it's crucial to do so when you're first starting out, so that you can learn proper form. If you're not properly performing movements, you can really hurt yourself, so working with a coach or trainer is a must.

Plus, I have many friends who absolutely love the friendships, camaraderie, and support that they receive from their functional fitness groups or CrossFit gyms. Many lifelong friendships are forged in these kinds of classes and gyms.

If you're interested in doing functional training, go for it! But take steps to take care of yourself. Talk to a doctor, learn proper form from a trainer, and make sure you listen to your body, drink plenty of water, and avoid overworking your muscles and joints. If you do all the above, functional training can truly be life-changing, trust me.

The Bottom Line

Functional training is an effective way to add purpose to your workouts while also increasing muscular strength, enhancing sports performance, minimizing muscle imbalances, improving mobility and coordination, and boosting overall fitness.

If you’re unsure how to get started or have questions about incorporating functional training into your fitness program, consider downloading a fitness app like Future and/or working with a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, or physical therapist.

Future logo


Best for 1x1 Training

This interactive fitness training platform offers flexibility, variety, daily motivation, and access to hundreds of expert trainers and coaches ready to design a program tailored to your fitness level, goals, equipment availability, schedule, and personal preferences.

  • Apple Watch Rental Program

  • Record Mode for better coaching & feedback

  • Select Your Coach