Functional strength is one of those things you’ve probably heard a crossfitter, or somebody who completes mud runs, bragging about. It’s the kind of strength that is most required in day-to-day life.
Being somebody who lives in the weight section at the gym, it’s painful for me to admit that functional strength is probably more useful than the strength gained pumping iron. I’m not saying strength gained in the gym isn’t useful, because it obviously is, just maybe not as useful as the functional kind. For example, it’s very unlikely you’ll need to curl 10 reps of 40kg in real life, but at some point you will probably need to complete a bodyweight pull up outside of the gym.
The vast majority find that functional strength is best developed through bodyweight exercises – movements that don’t require the use of additional weight. I’ve compiled a list of the exercises that I deem to be the best for functional strength.
The push-up is ranked highly, as it’s such a great pushing exercise. Although it primarily targets your chest and triceps, strength in your back and shoulders is also developed. Once you've mastered this exercise, you can move on to one of the more advanced variations; there are dozens!
For pulling exercises, you can’t beat an old fashioned pull up. You’ll feel most of the burn in your back and shoulders, but your biceps and your forearms also play their part in the movement.
If you’re looking for a lower body workout, lunges are your best friend. Your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes are all incorporated in the eccentric and concentric phrase of the movement.
You might think that placing squats below lunges is a controversial choice, but I have my reasons! Squats focus more on isolating your quads. In terms of functional strength, the incorporation of multiple muscle groups is essential. Yes, squats do recruit multiple muscles, but lunges are much better at spreading the workload amongst the lower body muscles.
There is very little argument surrounding the fact that the plank is the best exercise for core strength. It’s one of those exercises that looks easy, but is definitely not! Your abs, back, obliques and glutes will be pushed to the limit during this exercise.