kettle bell

Functional Exercise. How functional are you?

Functional exercise are movements that mimic everyday activities.

These exercises can be modified to suit both beginner and advanced exercise routines and are great for weight loss! They are fun, complex and can you challenge you both in and out of the gym.

Functional exercise & movement

There has been a shift in mainstream exercise i.e. walking on the treadmill or doing some biceps curls to more functional movements. But, what is functional? what does it involve and where did it all come from?

Put simply, functional exercise is any movement that mimics activities that we do every day. They are exercises which involve the movement of multiple joints or body parts. Nowadays, this definition has been stretched to incorporate movements which we don’t necessarily conduct every day.

Functional exercise requires multiple muscles to be used, in which we see the upper, lower and abdominal muscle working to together in comparison to a single muscle unit. As with all fitness modalities, functional exercise has its place in the world of health and fitness but it doesn’t rule out the other modes of fitness.

Benefits of functional exercises

  • Improves your everyday movements i.e. squats, step ups, lifting – improvement in general day to day moveability.
  • Increases flexibility and coordination.
  • Improves posture and balance.
  • Increases abdominal strength and whole-body stability.
  • Enhances athletic performance.
  • Suitable for people of all ages.
  • Burns more calories due to more muscle movements.
  • Ability to improve multiple fitness principles; speed, strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, muscle, endurance and flexibility.


Things to consider

  • Practice and time is required to be able to perform the movements correctly.
  • Some movements require a certain amount of flexibility, strength and mobility before performing them.
  • Advanced exercises can increase the risk of injury.


Common functional exercises:


Box Jumps

A great exercise to work on explosiveness and lower body musculature. This is also a very common exercise used in athletic development to improve jump high in sports such as basketball, volleyball and varying football codes. Ensure you choose an appropriate jump height to avoid injury i.e start with a lower height then progress gradually.

Technique execution

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart at a comfortable distance from the box.
  2. Commence the jump by first bending at the hips and loading the gluteal muscles.
  3. Lower yourself to a semi squat position whilst keeping your torso upright.
  4. Propel yourself on to the box by extending your hips forward and pushing your heels through the floor.
  5. Land on the box in a semi squat position and then stand upright to complete the movement.

Kettle bell swing

Nowadays most gyms have this piece of equipment but the correct use of them is rarely seen. Kettlebells can be used in multiple different ways to improve strength and athletic performance and due to their versatility, they are a great piece of equipment to have in the home gym.

Technique execution

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with toes slightly pointing out.
  2. Hold the kettlebell in front of you with both hands.
  3. Commence the swing by moving into a semi-squat position. As you move into this position, pull the kettlebell in between your legs, you should feel tightness in muscles under your armpits as you do this movement.
  4. Maintain an upright torso and keep your core muscles braced at all times.
  5. Propel yourself up by squeezing your glutes as tightly as you can and driving your hips forward.
  6. As you move to a standing position swing the kettlebell forward to eye level.
  7. Repeat these movements with momentum to connect repetitions.



A very common exercise used in the gym and one which replicates much of our movements we conduct in our everyday lives. This exercise is great for developing leg strength, athletic performance and toning the lower body muscles. No equipment is required to conduct this movement which makes it a great exercise selection for all your workouts regardless of the setting.

Technique execution

  1. Keep your body upright with your shoulders back and looking forward.
  2. Take a larger than more step onto 1 foot.
  3. Lower your hips until both knees are approximately 90degs.
  4. Keep your front foot completely on the floor and your back foot on your toes. Make sure that your front knee is directly over your ankle slightly pointing outwards and your back knee is not touching the floor.
  5. Push through the heel of your front foot and lift yourself back into position 1 by standing with your feet together.



Body weight squats

The squat is the most frequently used movement in our everyday lives and it is crucial to include this exercise in your workout routine. It is a great exercise to develop the lower body, improve athletic performance and a simple way to assess for any muscle imbalances or weaknesses.

Technique execution

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing slowly out
  2. Lower yourself by pushing back your hips as if you’re taking a seat.
  3. As you are lowering yourself push your knees out slightly and stop when your hips are in line with your knees. If you have good flexibility, you may lower your hips below your knees. Keep an upright posture, your chest up and your shoulder blades pinned together.
  4. Lift yourself up by pushing through your heels and bringing your hips forward to return to the standing upright position.



Farmer’s walk

We carry objects every day, so the farmer’s walk is a very relatable exercise and can provide flow on improvements with lifting objects. It is a great exercise to increase whole body strength but will specifically improve shoulder, arm and abdominal strength.  You may also see improvements in your cardiovascular fitness if you walk for prolonged distances.

Technique execution

You may lift different objects when conducting this exercise i.e. weight plates, dumbbells, barbells and any object that you can grip.

  1. Initially grip the object that you would like to lift and stand up using the squat technique.
  2. As you still hold the object being lifted, walk for a certain distance and return the object to the floor.
  3. Whilst you are walking with the object, remember to keep your abdominal muscles tightened at all times and look forward.



There is a significant amount of functional exercises that can be performed both inside and outside of the gym. They can be used at a beginner level right through to advanced where we see the involvements of other exercise equipment. Be sure to include some of these movements in your exercise routines to reap the benefits of performing functional exercises, and remember to be creative when performing them..there are no limits!


Always engage an exercise professional, such as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist when starting a new exercise program or if you are unsure how to perform a move or use certain equipment, to ensure you’re exercising safely.