Whether it’s increasing our strength or aiding in mobility, functional training plays a crucial role in the maintenance of our bodies and can help to increase and maintain bone density as we age. The whole premise of functional training is that you perform movements that aid in your everyday life, from walking up the stairs without being in pain, to having the strength to carry groceries from the car to the house. With this in mind, we’re looking at 6 functional training exercises that everyone should be adding to their weekly routines, to make sure we can move for many years to come.
Why is Functional Training Important?
Aside from the immediate health benefits, the main goal of resistance or functional training is to reduce the impact of ageing. That is, to increase:
All of these components work together to build and maintain physical mobility. There are now countless studies confirming this relationship, and evidence that functional training can help regardless of your current age.
For example, this study analysed a group of more than 40 elderly women, with an average age of 69, during a 1-year progressive resistance training program. It showed “significant strength gains in bilateral bench press (>29%), bilateral leg press (>19%), and unilateral biceps curl (>20%)” at the end of the 12 month period.
Similarly, this study considers the efficacy of resistance training in treating or preventing sarcopenia and osteoporosis. In order to properly counteract these conditions, the study states that “bone tissues must be exposed to mechanical load exceeding those experienced during daily living activities. Of the several exercise training programs, resistance exercise (RE) is known to be highly beneficial for the preservation of bone and muscle mass.”
“Exercise training has been recommended as a promising therapeutic strategy to encounter the loss of bone and muscle mass due to osteosarcopenia.”
Furthermore, this study has shown that the level of bone loss in a postmenopausal woman increases with age. On average, this loss is around:
- 0.6% per year for the 60-69 age bracket
- 1.1% per year for the 70-79 age bracket
- 2.1% per year for the over 80 age bracket
This means that you can expect to lose more than 5% of your mineral bone density before you hit 70, and more than 15% by the time you hit 80.
“Strength exercise seems to be a powerful stimulus to improve and maintain bone mass during the ageing process.”
What is Functional Training Exercise?
Functional training exercises and routines are designed to equip you with the strength, balance and stamina to face any daily challenge. Generally speaking, functional training programs will include some form of resistance training, as this is where the most benefits are derived. Functional training exercises include:
- Compound movements. That is, they incorporate the larger muscle groups, more than one muscle, and more than one joint, e.g. squats
- Movement in a number of directions e.g. forward and back, side to side
- Strength training
- Balance components
- Free weights, to better simulate real-world conditions such as lifting a heavy box over your head or being able to stand from a seated position without having to support your own body weight.
When it comes more specifically to increasing muscle strength and bone density, this study explains that there are two types of exercises that are effective:
- Weight-bearing aerobic exercises. That is, the limbs are bearing the weight of the exercise. For example, walking, stair climbing, volleyball, and jogging. Whilst these steady-state aerobic activities to not directly increase bone density, they do have some propensity in reducing their wastage.
- Strength and resistance exercises. The importance of these exercises is in the load or resistance (e.g. lifting weights), whereby the joints are pushed against the resistance. For example, free weights, machines and bodyweight exercises.
However, the same study states that for these exercises to be effective the resistance must be more than that experienced in ordinary, everyday activities. They are also muscle/bone specific. That is, functional exercises that target the quads will not increase bone density in the shoulders. For this reason, among others, we recommend these 6 functional training exercises to make sure you are maximising the anti-ageing effects of resistance training.
Deadlifts engage some of the largest muscle groups in the body, whilst combining core strength and balance components to boot. Working with the hips, knees and ankles, deadlifts help to build strength throughout the lower and mid-body, and as long as they are performed correctly can help to increase your flexibility too. From a functional training standpoint, deadlifts help you to lift heavy items from the floor, using your legs (the largest muscles in the body) as a stable anchor.
Deadlifts can also be performed by holding kettlebells at your sides, which effectively simulate shopping bags!
Squats are one of the best functional training moves you can add to your routine, particularly if you add some resistance in the form of free weights or a barbell. They engage almost all muscle groups in the legs, hips and core, and can also hit the upper body when resistance is added.
They are particularly useful as a functional training tool as they simulate a number of real-world scenarios, such as standing from a seated position. They also train the muscles that we need to climb stairs, and the stabilisers we use to pick items (and ourselves) up off the floor.
Modification to get more core engagement
Modification weighted goblet squat
Lunges are more or less one-legged squats and tend to hit the same muscle groups and stabilisers. In the real world, lunges help to simulate walking where there is additional resistance, such as walking uphill or upstairs.
If an ordinary lunge has become too easy for you, adding a dumbbell can help to strengthen your core, glutes, quads and hamstrings. They can, however, be hard to master, so if you need more advice reach out to our qualified team, or join our perfect posture program!
So far we’ve covered the lower body, but developing strength in the upper body is just as crucial to our functional fitness. Chin-ups and pull-ups are vital resistance exercises for engaging the arms, upper back and core, as well as putting our joints under load to improve ligament strength and flexibility.
They are also effective functional training exercises as in most cases your bodyweight is more than enough resistance to have a positive impact. Of course, as you get used to the movement you can always modify it to reduce the resistance and ensure you’re still targeting those muscle groups without adding too much strain to the body. These movements engage a lot of the upper body muscles and help to develop our ‘pull’ strength.
Another body-weight exercise with vast benefits is the classic pushup. In the real world, developing the strength across the chest, arms and upper back required to correctly perform a pushup allows us to literally lift ourselves off the floor if we ‘have a fall.’
Again, this movement targets the upper body, but unlike pull-ups, push-ups help to develop our ‘push’ strength, allowing us to effectively move or push a load/resistance.
6. Weighted Carries
Loaded or weighted carries are exactly as they sound- you pick up a weight or resistance, and carry it. These movements can help to simulate carrying luggage or shopping from your car to your house, or even picking up and carrying the kids!
Depending on the load, they can be one of the most functional training exercises available, as they engage almost all muscle groups in the body. You can perform weighted carries with kettlebells, sandbags, weight bags or dumbells, and the resistance doesn’t have to be particularly heavy- just as long as it is enough to stimulate and fatigue your muscles, you’re doing it right!
This month we are gifting away 10 spots for our perfect posture program!
How Can I Join The Turnfit Family?
If you’re looking to improve your functional fitness, or for more information about our programs, packages, or resources please don’t hesitate to reach out and connect:
We’re always available to help you improve your health and fitness goals!
About Turnfit Personal Trainers
Turnfit Personal Trainers is founded by David Turnbull or “Coach David” – an experienced and successful Personal Trainer who strives to build happier, healthier lives every day.
With a focus on holistic health, we pride ourselves on making a difference and were recently awarded the 2019 Top Choice Award for Personal Trainer in Vancouver.
It’s our mission to help you to build the skills, and mindset, it takes to feel successful in all areas of your life.
We look forward to hearing from you!