Your Guide To Functional Strength Training

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November 3, 2022

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In recent years, the number of women around the world enjoying strength training has skyrocketed, and we are SO here for it. Strength training can help to improve your cardiovascular health and body composition, have a positive effect on bone health and even help to boost your mood. Who wouldn’t want that?

There’s also something incredibly empowering and energising about discovering what your body is capable of and feeling your strength improve, and the sheer number of women in the Sweat Community following strength training programs such as PWR, BUILD and High Intensity is a testament to that. 

So where does functional strength training fit into the puzzle? What does it mean, what are the benefits, and how do you get started? Read on to find out!

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What is functional strength training?

Functional strength training refers to a training style or group of exercises which focus on movement patterns you tend to use in everyday life, such as squatting, bending to lift things off the ground, lifting objects above your head, carrying heavy bags, twisting, pulling or pushing. 

According to Mayo Clinic, functional strength training is a great way to build full-body strength, control and power that can help to improve your quality of life by making everyday movements easier and reducing your risk of injury.

With traditional strength training, you would typically be isolating specific muscles and joints and working them to fatigue with weights or machines, such as bicep curls or leg extensions. Meanwhile, functional strength training is all about performing dynamic exercises that encourage multiple muscle groups and joints to work together at once. 

A 2021 systematic review of the effect of functional training on fitness among athletes concluded it significantly impacts speed, muscular strength, power, balance, and agility. You may also see improvements in other components of your fitness, such as:

Functional strength training exercises can use a range of equipment such as kettlebells, dumbbells, resistance bands, TRX or barbells, or simply your bodyweight!

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Functional vs traditional strength training: Which is best?

There’s really no black and white answer to this question - it all depends on your personal fitness goals, the type of workouts you enjoy and what equipment you have available

Traditional strength training is better if…

  • Your goal is to build muscle mass and size

  • You have access to and enjoy using large pieces of equipment such as barbells and gym machines

  • You want a workout that feels challenging, but isn’t high-intensity to the point where you’re out of breath 

  • You want a training program that uses exercise principles such as progressive overload and hypertrophy

  • You enjoy doing similar exercises each week and seeing your strength increase progressively

Sound like you? The best Sweat programs to try are BUILD, PWR or Lifting At Home.

Functional strength training is better if…

  • You have access to and enjoy working out with smaller pieces of equipment such as resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls and dumbbells. If you have a gym membership, you’ve got plenty of options!

  • You want a workout you can do anywhere, anytime using minimal equipment or your bodyweight

  • You enjoy high-intensity training where you challenge your muscular strength as well as your cardio fitness

  • You find complex movements fun and love seeing your skills improve 

  • You want to improve your overall strength, fitness and athletic performance 

Sound like you? Give Sweat programs High Intensity with Kayla, High Intensity Strength with Cass and FIERCE a go.

Functional strength training exercises

These exercises are built on a foundation of everyday movement patterns such as the squat, lunge, push, pull, bend, and core control. 

As a beginner, your best bet is to start with exercises such as bodyweight squats and lunges, dumbbell rows and deadlifts, push-ups and planks. Learn how to perform the basic movement patterns with the correct form and build your coordination and muscle control. 

As your skills, strength and confidence improve, you can increase the difficulty by trying more complex or challenging exercises, or adding extra weight. Here are a few challenging moves to inspire you, all of which engage multiple muscle groups at once!

Single-arm overhead lunges

You can find the step-by-step instructions here.

Exercise: Single Arm Overhead Lunge - Kelsey Wells

Exercise: Commando - Kayla Itsines

Exercise: Bench Press - Cass Olholm

Exercise: Turkish Get Up - Chontel Duncan

Exercise: Renegade Rows - Kelsey Wells

Exercise: Wood Chop (Medicine Ball) - Kelsey Wells

It’s never too late to start

Whether you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, you lead an active lifestyle but haven’t tried strength training, or you feel like it’s too late to try something new, don’t let functional strength training intimidate you! When you can start with bodyweight exercises in the comfort of your own home with zero equipment, it’s perfect for any age or fitness level. 

One 2014 systematic review of functional training for older adults found beneficial effects on muscle strength on muscle strength, balance, mobility and activities of daily living. 

Just be sure to check with your healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program.

Work out anywhere, anytime with Sweat

Ready for your first workout?

A well-designed workout program should make you feel stronger, fitter, and more confident, but it should also make daily movements much easier. That’s the power of functional strength training. Challenge yourself, improve your skills and athletic performance, move easier each day, and most importantly, feel great.

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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