How to Build Functional Strength

Does your workout translate into real gains of strength that you can use in sports or other parts of your life outside the gym? Are you wasting time lifting weights but not really getting any stronger? Are you exercising in a safe and productive manner?


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    Variety - Add variety to your exercise routine. Use different forms of resistance (dumbbells, stretch bands, cable machines, kettlebells, sandbags, etc) and different set/rep patterns. Try exercises from various angles as well to create a challenge for your body.
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    Rest Time - Shorten your break time between exercises. Try supersetting exercises (performing two different exercise sets back to back without a break). This will increase your overall endurance and anaerobic capacity.
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    Common Motions - Utilize motions that are more common in your every day life. For example, how often do you find yourself lying on your back and lifting something heavy over your chest? Probably the only time is in the gym doing bench presses. Instead, work on more common movements or change the exercise to perform it from a more common position. With bench press some examples include push-ups, standing cable press, or even punching motions with a stretch band or cable machine resistance.
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    Posture & Balance - Practice excellent posture and balance in all of your exercises and throughout your life. Typically when we need strength we are on our feet, so spend most of your exercise time on your feet.
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    Core - Engage the core in every exercise. Try to use your glutes for balance when standing, your hips and obliques to generate twisting force, and your abs to create a tense and balanced position for the appropriate exercises.
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    Weights & Cardio - Be sure to combine resistance training for building muscle with aerobic training to increase endurance and overall capacity.
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    Interval Training - When performing cardiovascular exercises train in "sprint intervals" or pre-determined periods of maximal exertion followed by specific rest periods. The rest periods should be only long enough to allow the heart to recover and fall back into an aerobic pace.
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    Stretch - Spend as much time as possible stretching. Flexibility will greatly reduce your chance of injury during training and helps to create a more balanced physique.
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    Rest & Recover - After exercising allow your body adequate time to rest and recover. Eat healthy, natural foods that are high in protein and low in processed sugars and saturated fats.


  • The most powerful functional movements come from a well-coordinated movement. Practice exercises slowly at first with great emphasis on technique and safety.
  • Try to reach the full range of motion that is considered safe in each exercise. Don't shortcut lifts to get more reps in. You'll gain more from executing exercises with good form.
  • An example functional workout might combine a specific interval set, such as Tabata intervals (8 sets of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off) with a functional exercise such as unweighted squats and hip bridges[1].
  • Avoid over-emphasizing the upper body in workouts. Power comes from the legs and core (hips, glutes, abs, obliques), not from your arms. Focus your efforts on these parts.
  • These strategies work very well for women as well as men.
  • Remember that the body quickly adapts to a familiar training regimen. The solution is to vary your routine so it provides a constant challenge to your body[2].
  • Avoid falling into a specific workout routine that you repeat each week. This will cause gains to diminish as the body becomes accustomed to the regimen.


  • Always warm up and stretch before engaging in strenuous exercise.
  • Consult with a physician if you are unsure if you are healthy enough to start an exercise program such as the one described here.
  • Functional training often includes explosive/elastic movements to improve athleticism. While these exercises are great for improving agility and endurance, they may not be appropriate for everyone.

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Categories: Building Muscle & Strength