Functional strength training: 7 movements you need to include in your workouts

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There are certain words used in the fitness world that you might loosely understand at face value but don’t actually mean much to you. Well, unless you’re a qualified PT or have done a shed load of research. Hypertrophy, for example? It’s a more straight forward concept than it sounds. And then there are the many anagrams for different types of sets and reps to get your head around.

One training phrase that continues to pop up at the minute is ‘functional training’, from boutique gyms offering classes based around the idea to personal trainers talking about the importance of the movements. Luckily, this one isn’t that complicated: functional training literally means that it serves a function or a purpose outside of the workout itself. 

“Functional training is about moving for everyday life,” explains Yasmin Phillips, a personal trainer at Third Space. “It is about learning movement patterns so that the body and the muscles move in synergy.” 

This can help people who have weaknesses or injury that prevent them from doing everyday tasks, such as lifting things off the floor. “We can train the squat and the pull to train the muscles and joints that will support people to move through those motions,” says Yasmin. But it’s also important for those without any strength or mobility issues, too. “Functional training is a nice primer for heavy lifting. If you are somebody that can’t squat very deeply, you need to work through a functional movement pattern first and once you are able to do that correctly, you can then load it. It will get you more effective lifting for heavier lifts,” Yasmin explains. 

Right now, training with a functional purpose is more important than ever. “You’d be surprised how many people can’t do certain movements because they sit at a desk all day long and their low back or hamstrings become really tight. In order to use them, loosen them and keep them strong, they need to move functionally through the body,” says Yasmin. 

There are seven of these functional movement patterns that we need to train to support our everyday movement and our gym workouts. 

The seven functional movement patterns

  • Squat 
  • Lunge
  • Push 
  • Pull
  • Hinge 
  • Twist
  • Walking

These movement patterns should form part of your daily warm-up or mobility routine, as well as the basis for your workouts. For a beginner, a workout could look like this: 

  • 10-minute walking 
  • Bodyweight squat
  • Reverse lunge with rotation
  • Press-up
  • Lying back raise
  • Bodyweight deadlift 

As you get more advanced, you might want to move through all of those movements to mobilise the joints and muscles before you train. You could then focus on a functional workout split, such as push/pull/lower body (including squats, lunges and hinges) to build strength through these movement patterns. 

“Functional training empowers the body because if you know that it can move through all planes of motion comfortably, you then are more confident to pick up a heavier weight,” Yasmin adds. 

Ultimately, you should plan your functional training around what your body needs to move through life better. And if that doesn’t sound like a workout worth doing, we don’t know what is. 

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