What is functional fitness training about – an overview

Functional fitness training is also be referred to as functional exercise or functional fitness and is a workout methodology that improves how individuals function in day to day life.

What is functional fitness ?

So you ask, What is functional fitness training about? Well, I will explain a few basis points below and head over to the functional fitness section for a more detailed explanation.

It adapts or develops exercises that allow individuals to perform activities of everyday life more easily and without unnecessary risk of injury.

You may find it easy to lift heavy weights at the gym and complete 20 minutes of High-intensity exercise. However- this does not guarantee when you next carry a 65 lb (30Kg) suitcase through the airport . It can however help you perform that little bit of gardening and stop your back giving you problems.

Functional fitness training focuses on training the body in such a way that it can handle day to day real-life activities, like carrying shopping, playing with the children, gardening etc.

So, instead of focusing on lifting massive amounts of weight you should adhere to the proper suggested form.

Functional fitness trains you to become better at understanding real-life positions. It also aids you  to perform everyday activities with greater ease and with less worry.

Muscles Working Together

Regular training with weights isolate specific muscles. However- neglects to train the whole body to use multiple muscle groups together.

Functional fitness exercises integrate different muscles and through proper form and motion teaches them to work together and in unity.

Functional fitness ensures overall fitness of the entire body working in unison and gives you the ideal base to build on.

If you which to progress in your fitness journey or even to make day to day tasks that much easier to perform, I would suggest functional fitness if the building blocks you should be aware of.


Many routines focus on weights, weight machines and compound exercises. but they neglect to address a fundamental need humans have for day to day life, and that is balance.

Balancing exercise, like a one-legged squat or push up, are considerably more useful in everyday life than performing a 500lb (220Kg) back squat.



Stability serves you in everyday life, like when you have to reach for something in a high cabinet or walking up and downstairs.

Balance is an essential part of everyday life. Have you ever witnessed a drunk person- imagine if that was your average level of stability. Regular tasks such as walking,

lifting, carrying or in some circumstance, standing become very difficult if not impossible. Being functionally fit ensures you can perform day to day tasks with ease or at your best possible level.


Did you know that a system that functions properly can help people of any gender assess themselves while moving?. They can orient better in terms of gravity, determine the direction and speed of any particular movement.Also allowing them to make fine adjustments to their posture, stability and balance while doing essential daily activities?

Training your body to balance its weight is first understood when you are young.

For instance – when you are learning to crawl and eventually walk. This is because trying to crawl, stand and walk makes you stronger, more stable and therefore allows you to avoid falls. Interestingly these are some of the most common injuries seen in the elderly.

Forgetting to work on functional fitness can see you lose all the strength, balance and coordination you have built up over a lifetime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 people aged over 65 suffer falls that results in moderate to severe injuries’. including, debilitating hip fractures or severe head trauma.

Avoiding compensation 

One major drawback of strength training workouts is that they complete not train the small linking muscles which can lead to isolated weakness in the body that then becomes detrimental in day to day movement and progression in all exercises or movements.

While you strengthen specific muscles, like the biceps and shoulders, you may inadvertently neglect to train others less, and that creates a pattern of compensation and imbalance, which, means that when you use them together one works harder than the other and that type of strain can cause injury. For instance, performing abdominal exercises and neglecting back workouts can cause tremendous imbalance and stress in the lumbar region.

Functional fitness exercises teach isolated muscles to work together in unity and utilise smaller linking muscles to aid the movement thus when you pick up that suitcase or play with your child you won’t tweak an untrained weak muscle or joint.

Workouts that include pushing, pulling, lifting, balancing and twisting, and those that mimic day to day activities engage the core muscles while at the same time targeting other tissues of the body providing l “functional” state of fitness.

Additional benefits

Functional fitness training goes beyond the above points and increases bone density through movements that easily support body weight, and as such, these exercises can help prevent osteoporosis.

The multi-joint, multi-plane movements of functional fitness training engage the body’s stabilising muscles which help to improve coordination and even challenge the brain.

How great is that?

Essential components of functional workouts

Several elements to functional workouts make them that much more effective. These need to be adapted to each individual’s goals and needs.

Practical exercises 

  • Practical exercises should not be directed towards a persons specific everyday life activities but into ensuring seldom used body areas are trained. An office working sitting all day needs to ensure their postural chain is durable and trained more than a building contractor who twists and lifts all day.

Individualised programs

  • Individualised programs tailored to the specific goals and needs of an individual are essential for improvements to your lifestyle. For example, some exercises are targeted at 60-year-olds who wants to avoid falling and tripping, any adult looking to improve their daily activity performance, or an athlete training within specific sport or someone requiring physical therapy for an injury and is retraining their body to cope with new limitations. No matter the circumstance, functional workouts should focus on meaningful goals.

Health review

  • The overall state of your health when assessing the types of exercises to use and the total training load you decide upon are best reviewed and assessed before your workout.
  • There should be a well-integrated program that includes load, strength, balance, coordination and core exercises that focus on multiple movement planes.


  • The training should progress with increasing difficulty and should include varying tasks that focus on any problem areas. Functional fitness training should be repeated on a regularly basis . Feedback as to progression should be logged either through self-assessment or with the aid of a trainer or physical therapist. This feedback is vital to show progress over time and will help to motivate and ensure consistency in your routine.

Examples of functional exercises 

  • Any exercise that involves standing and supporting yourself while lifting any weight is a typically functional exercise routine. You can complete this at home just by repeating activities that mimic the above. Several balancing exercises completed without weights that will teach the body to stabilise itself. For instance
  • Exercise Ball – Training using exercise balls target the core muscles that are great for stability and proper posture. Head on over to exercises ball for beginners.
  • Balance board – Again, this takes a lot of control and uses the core to control your balance.
  • Standing on one leg – hold a chair if needed and build up to standing up for set amounts of time
  • Plank – hold this position with a tight core

Bodyweight exercises

  • One-legged squat
  • Push up
  • Pull up and chin up
  • Step-ups
  • Lunges
  • Yoga
  • Hand stands
  • Skipping

Weighted exercises

  • Dumbbell routines
  • Medicine Ball
  • Olympic lifts – Deadlift, front and back squat, jerks and cleans
  • Overhead Press
  • Kettlebell workouts
  • And many more

How to get started with functional fitness

The truth is that functional fitness exercises, like other full-body workouts, are more complicated than using machines.

Machines support the body and utilise less of the smaller stability muscles.Yet are more demanding on the larger muscles body causing an imbalance in your overall body set up.


If you are over 50 or have health problems, you should check with your doctor before starting a functional exercise program.

Women who are pregnant should seek medical advice before starting any new workout routine.


As a beginner to functional fitness training, it’s recommended, to begin with, bodyweight exercises rather than using weights.

Adding weights as you progress and get fitter is a great way top progress.

Try adding 1 lb (2.5Kg) each workout.

This added resistance will challenge your body and assist you in building lost muscle. Resistance also enable you to break through any of your bodies limitations.

Those experienced in the fitness industry can undoubtedly engage in intermediate and advanced level movements.

Adding functional fitness training into any regular workout routine has enormous benefits.

It’s crucial to note that many functional training movements have several benefits and will improve other fitness goals.

Strength training will be improved by being more flexible. Fat burning and heart health by using the correct muscle groups for each exercise.

Therefore choosing a specific functional activity instead of a weighted exercise kills two birds with one stone.

Proper form

Please note all functional exercises require proper form and posture .Without it you can compound any lousy form or postural problems your body is dealing with.

Trust me your body can and will find a way to make any exercises as easy as possible

Remember Quality beats quantity. Get into full depth when performing your squats, stretch to the correct point keeping flat backs where required.

I find concentrating on every movement and performing it slowly ensures  maximum benefit from functional fitness training.

If you are unsure of the correct position hiring a personal trainer as a last resort to teach you some moves is another excellent way to get started.

However- I would personally search for pointers on YouTube, Facebook groups or drop me a shout in the comments below and I will give you some tips.


It is never too late to get started with functional fitness.Improving your stability and balance can be completed in a very short amount of time.

For instance while waiting for the bus, walking to the shops, sitting at your desk at work.

Many movements or stretches can be performed in private or in public and will serve you everyday life.

Get functional, stay

Healthy and get flexible!

Author Profile

Owner and author at shortandintense.com , 25 years as a quality and health and safety professional with an in-depth knowledge of functional and corrective exercises. IHoS registered,lead auditor, personal trainer and human movement specialist.

4 thoughts on “What is functional fitness training about – an overview”

  1. Hi Brian. This is such a good explanation of what goes on into training and what it required to maintain fitness and prevent injury. I am a 66 year old female who works out regularly at the gym under the instruction of a trainer. I always just do what she tells me to do, but at the back of my mind I wonder why she chooses certain exercises for me. I can use this information even when doing my own workout and my biggest takeaway is that muscles should not compete but work together. Thanks for this information. 

  2. Hi,

    This is a great article and very informative. I am slightly overweight and haven’t exercised properly for nearly two years so I am looking to ease myself back into it. 
    I like the idea of functional fitness as I work in an industry where I am always lifting, carrying, twisting and turning so this will definitely benefit me. 
    Is there a set pattern I should follow or can I just make up my own fitness routine?




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