Fit&Happier Workout of the Month: Functional Training

Fit&Happier Workout of the Month defined:  These are 30 minute general fitness workouts designed to offer a complete and balanced approach to strength and cardiovascular training in the most efficient way possible.  Strength training workouts will each feature a different form of resistance, or load, so that you can choose the type of resistance based on equipment availability and your preference.  These will offer full-body strength training and muscle toning with base exercises appropriate for beginners and progressions for those more experienced in strength training.  Cardio workouts are designed to get the most calorie burn possible in the time allotted.  Combo workouts combine strength and cardio training into one, efficient, full-body, calorie-burning workout.  All workouts conclude with flexibility training as no workout is complete without it.  Click on the exercises to link to step-by-step written and video instructions provided by ACE Fitness.

What is functional training?

When most of us think of strength training we tend to picture traditional load-bearing, muscle-targeting exercises like weight machines at the gym, biceps curls with free weights or presses with a barbell.  These exercises do tone and strengthen the targeted muscles when performed often and progressed properly.  But what exercise science has taught us is these exercises don’t do much else for us in terms of improving function in everyday activities.  The reason is traditional resistance exercises tend to utlizize only one type of movement in isolation.  But that is not how we live our lives.

For example, a basic biceps curl will strengthen the biceps muscles.  This will help you carry the weight of a laundry basket or grocery bag more easily with your arms.  But it will not help you bend and lift with the legs to get the basket off the floor or twist to get the grocery bag from the cart to your car.  Yes, you could also strength train the bend and lift or twisting muscles.  But those exercises would also be done in isolation and won’t make you any better at performing all these movements simultaneously.


Put another way, traditional strength training increases strength in targeted muscle groups while functional training mimics common multi-planar movement which increases range of motion in the joints and strength in all the muscle groups that are responsible for those movements.

There are four basic movements that the major muscle groups are responsible for performing throughout the day: the lower body is responsible for bend/lift and single leg movements; the torso is responsible for rotational or twist movements; the upper body is responsible for push/pull (vertical and horizontal) movements.  This month’s workout utilizes five exercises that mimic the most common combinations of these movements used in our lives each and every day:

  • Single Leg with Vertical Push/PullCarrying a full laundry basket or grocery bags; digging
  • Single Leg with Twist: Placing a child in a car seat; getting out of a low vehicle; placing items from a store shelf into a shopping cart; food preparation/cooking; folding laundry
  • Bend/Lift with Vertical Push/Pull: Lifting and putting down a child; pulling down a manual garage door; placing items on a high shelf; lifting a laundry basket or grocery bags
  • Single Leg with Horizontal Push/Pull: Opening a heavy door in stride; removing a pot of boiling pasta from the stove, walking to the sink and pouring the contents into a strainer; vacuuming; ironing
  • Twist with Vertical Push/Pull: Shoveling snow; sweeping; switching laundry loads; loading & unloading dishwasher

Grocery Shopping

Functional Strength & Flexibility Training Workout

Concept: Use multidirectional exercises to strengthen muscles and train movement for activities of everyday living.  Stretch the major muscle groups to increase range of motion in the joints involved in these common movements. I recommend using a padded, no-slip surface such as an exercise mat or area of wall-to-wall carpeting.  Check your surroundings, you should have enough unobstructed space around you to allow for full range of motion of arms and legs.  Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing at least 48 hours before repeating this workout.

Important Note: With functional training, form is imperative.  If one is performing these exercises with improper form, she is actually training dysfunctional movement, greatly increasing the risk for injury.  Therefore, whether you are a novice or experienced exerciser, I recommend the following protocol:

  1. Click on the links to all the exercises, whether you have performed them before or not, and be sure to incorporate all visual and verbal cues provided in the instructions.
  2. Perform these exercises in front of a mirror or an exercise partner the first several times you do this workout to ensure proper form.
  3. Perform all exercises without external load, even if the exercise link uses weights in the example, until you can perform a minimum of 20 full repetitions with perfect form before adding external load.
  4. Once you are ready to add load to exercises, start with low amounts (2-4 lbs) and progress accordingly.  Use your preferred type of load (free weights, medicine balls, resistance tubes or bands) or a combination of them.  However, I do not recommend using kettlebells for this workout.

Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching, swinging opposing arms to shoulder height as you lift knees to hip height or any other form of moderate cardio movement you choose.  The goal is to raise your heart-rate slightly before working your muscles.

Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises:

  • Single Leg with Vertical Push/PullForward Lunge with Front Raise; 20 repetitions each side or until exhaustion; as you sink into each lunge position, perform front raise; lower arms as you straighten legs back to start position each time
  • Single Leg with Twist: Walking Lunge with Twists; 20 repetitions each side or until exhaustion
  • Bend/Lift with Vertical Push/Pull: Squat with Overhead Press; 20 repetitions or until exhaustion; keep arms down by sides while in lowering phase of squat; at top of squat, bring arms to shoulder height & perform press in standing position; return arms to sides to perform next squat
  • Single Leg with Horizontal Push/Pull: Forward Lunge with Single Arm Forward Punch; 20 repetitions each side or until exhaustion; begin with arms straight down at sides; (inhale) as you sink into low phase of lunge, keep wrist stable, bend elbow of opposing arm & bring hand up to shoulder; as you hold the lunge position, (exhale) punch arm forward in slow, controlled motion & (inhale) pull hand back to shoulder in same slow controlled fashion; return arm to side as you push up from lunge to start position; repeat on opposite side
  • Twist with Vertical Push/Pull: Kneeling Hay Bailer; 20 repetitions each side or until exhaustion
  • After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (lunge with front raises through hay bailers) for a second set of each exercise.  After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.

Flexibility Workout: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and breathe deeply throughout the stretches:

Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.

Previous Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – January: Body Weight Strength Training; February: Resistance Band Strength Training; March: Free Weight Strength Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training

Check back for these upcoming Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – August: Interval Training (Cardio); September: Schoolyard Play Workout (Combo); October: Outdoor Cardio & Strength Combo; November: Timed Circuit (Combo); December: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training-Cardio)

Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing


  1. […] Previous Fit&Happier Workouts of the Month – January: Body Weight Strength Training; February: Resistance Band Strength Training; March: Free Weight Strength Training; April: Medicine Ball Strength Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training; July: Functional Training […]

  2. […] Training; May: Strength Training with Stability Ball; June: Strength & Balance Training; July: Functional Training; August: Interval Training; September: Playground Combo […]

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