crossfit, fitness, box

Are you looking to start your functional fitness journey? Or have you been working out for a while and you want to take your fitness to the next level? Either way, functional training is a great way to improve your overall health.

Think about everything you do in your daily life that requires strength. Picking up your kids. Carrying groceries from your car into your home. Moving furniture to vacuum that spot that’s always mysteriously dusty.

Elevating your functional fitness level will make all of those tasks and more so much easier. Plus, there are so many different kinds of functional training exercises that you’ll never get bored!

Ready to begin crafting your functional fitness workout? Keep reading to find out the first steps.

yoga ball, elastic band, and yoga mat on gym floor

What is functional training?

Functional training is a specific type of training that focuses on movements that we perform in our daily life. Including functional exercises in your workout routine can help you avoid injury in your everyday activities.

How functional training can elevate your fitness

If you’re creating your own functional training program, it can be difficult to make sure that you’re getting in enough strength training. Functional training can help round out your workout program.

By performing a variety of functional training exercises with good form, you’ll be building strength. You’ll also be helping your body keep up with the demands of everyday movement.

Many strength training exercises only focus on one muscle group at a time. So you’d most likely be splitting your workout days into upper body and lower body exercises. Adding functional training ensures that you’re not just focusing on isolation exercises.

small dumbbells and scale in a physiotherapy room

With functional strength training, you’ll be doing compound movements such as push-ups and pull-ups. Movements like these build strength in multiple muscle groups at a time. This is great news for those of us who don’t want to spend hours in the gym.

How to Start Functional Training for Beginners

With any new training program, it can feel overwhelming at first. Whether you want to get stronger for everyday life or you want to be able to complete that uphill hike, improving your functional fitness will benefit you.

If you’re unsure about how to begin functional training, start here.

Set realistic goals

Sounds simple, right? Your first goal is to start functional training.

But let’s break it down further than that.

set goals written on a chalk board

Starting with a goal that’s too broad can backfire. When a goal is too broad, we can find ourselves confused about what to do first. This can lead to analyis-paralysis AKA getting stuck in the decision-making phase AKA doing nothing.

Is your goal to lose weight? Build muscle mass? Increase your muscle endurance?

why written with questionmarks

Functional strength training will help with all of those goals and then some. But first, think about your “why.” By connecting your ultimate goal to something that’s important to you, you’ll be more likely to achieve it.

So take out a piece of paper or your phone and write down why you want to start functional training.

Do you want more energy in your everyday life? Do you want to be able to care for your aging parents? Do you want to play soccer with your children this spring?

Whatever your “why” is, write it down somewhere and put it where you know you’ll see it everyday.

man thinking, doubt

Now, you’re ready to start setting some realistic goals.

A good goal is SMART. SMART=Specific. Manageable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-bound.

Following the SMART formula makes sure that your goal is realistic. You don’t want to throw yourself off the deep end without being prepared. If this is your first time doing any sort of functional training, it’s important to not do too much too soon.

This can lead to burn-out or an injury.

Burn-out can be just as detrimental as a physical injury. To guard against physical injuries, you can hire a certified personal trainer. If a personal trainer isn’t in your budget, there are plenty of tutorials online about how to perform functional strength training exercises correctly.

Now when it comes to burn-out, only you can guard yourself against it. I witnessed burn-out with so many of my health coaching clients. They would go from zero to 100 for a couple of weeks then quit.

woman upset and overwhelmed from stress

When you go from a couch potato to functional strength training 6 days a week for 2 hours each session, you’re setting yourself up for a disaster. You’ll be breaking your body down which makes it that much harder to complete your next training session.

An example of a more realistic goal would be to exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week. But remember to tailor your goals to your own needs. You know your body better than anyone else.

Find a comfortable place to exercise

Before you start working on your functional fitness, you should ask yourself where you would feel comfortable enough to exercise. Is there enough space in your living room? When the weather is nice would you want to exercise in your local park?

The good thing about functional strength training is that you can get in a killer workout with minimal equipment. So if you decide to go to a park, you don’t have to lug a whole bunch of equipment with you.

woman running along a paved path next to a forest

If you’d rather work out in the comfort of your own home, consider investing in a functional trainer for your home gym. They can help bring your functional training sessions to the next level.

Choose exercises that are appropriate for your fitness level

As a beginner, you should start out by mastering a few basic functional movement patterns.

There are 7 basic functional movement patterns: squat, push, pull, lunge, twist, hinge, and walk.

I know it can be tempting to throw yourself headfirst into your functional fitness training routine. Resist the urge!

Before grabbing a pair of free weights to hold while you lunge, practice this exercise with no weight. As you get stronger, you can add weight.

single weight plate

For exercises that usually don’t involve any weight, such as push-ups, you can still meet yourself where you are.

You can begin by just getting comfortable in the starting position of a push-up. After all, holding yourself in a high plank is super challenging! And you can work on your core strength at the same time.

You want to make sure that you’re performing all your exercises with proper form. Get in tune with your body. Pay attention to where you feel specific exercises in your body. This will help to make you more aware of how you move, and can help you fix potential issues.

man performing pull-ups with sweatbands on wrists

Start slow. Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts

When you first add functional exercises to your workout plan, start slow. You don’t want to start by doing three rounds of barbell lunges followed by 30 medicine ball slams.

As a beginner, you need to slowly introduce your body to this new style of training. This will help prevent injuries and will also help you to not feel overwhelmed.

A great place to start is by practicing body weight exercises.

So instead of immediately jumping to the goblet squat, master the squat without any added weight. Once you master the basic movement patterns of the squat, you can up the intensity by either adding more reps or more weight.

assorted weight machines in gym

Here are a few more tips to slowly increase the intensity of your functional fitness training:

  • Start with 2-3 workouts per week. As you get stronger, you can increase it to 4-5 workouts per week. Just make sure you’re not working the same muscle groups twice in a row. Give your body enough time to recover.

  • Each workout should be about 30-60 minutes.

  • Focus on key compound movements such as lunges, squats, and push-ups.
    • Even though push-ups are mostly building your upper body strength, you’re also working on your core strength. A strong core will help you tackle day to day life with ease! Your core is at the center of activities like moving that box of junk that’s been sitting in your living room corner for a week.
  • When you’re ready to add weights to your functional exercises, choose a weight that’s challenging but not too heavy. Basically, you want to be able to maintain proper form without feeling any pain.
    • There is a difference between soreness from working your muscles and pain as a result of straining to lift a weight that’s too heavy for you. When you begin your functional fitness training, it may be difficult to tell the difference. So take it slow and listen to your body.

woman in downward dog yoga pose in white room

Key Considerations for a Successful Functional Training Journey

You have to begin with the right mindset. Half the battle is mental. Your functional strength won’t improve overnight. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but sometimes we need this reminder: consistency is key.

Obstacles will pop up in your daily life. When that happens, have a plan for how to overcome them.

Is your child starting school for the first time? This might pose an obstacle for you if your strength training sessions conflict with the school pick-up time.

Juggling everyday life with functional strength training can be difficult. But with a little extra planning, it can be done.

home fitness equipment, yoga ball, balance ball, portable fitness equipment

How to Step Up Your Functional Training Game

Having a home gym can make it easier to squeeze in functional training whenever you have some time for yourself.

Working out at home eliminates the possibility that someone might be using your weight machine when you need it. Plus, you’ll save gas money and time by not having to commute to the gym.

If you’re looking to enhance your functional strength training and get in an awesome workout no matter what, get a functional trainer.

Conclusion + My Experience with Functional Training

If you haven’t already done it, you want to add some functional exercises into your training program. As a beginner, functional strength training is absolutely essential to getting your body to move freely and pain-free.

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring! When I first started focusing on strength training exercises that mimicked everyday movement patterns, it was easier for me to stick with it.

two silhouetted people jumping and celebrating in the sunset on a beach

You’ll start to see the results show up as you’re going about your day. That’s pretty exciting to me!

Lunges with added weight are a great exercise to start feeling results right away. They’re great for working your lower body (quads, glutes, hamstrings, etc). But if you do lunges with a dumbbell in each hand you’ll also be working your grip strength. That grip strength really comes in handy when you need to open a jar of peanut butter.

It’s results like those that get you addicted to feeling stronger. And once that excitement takes hold of you, you won’t want to quit.

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