5 essential functional exercises to get you fit and strong
Today conventional wisdom says that to be strong, one must lift heavy barbells and toss around big weights. The current interest in fitness has beginners in gyms getting under heavy barbells without the proper training – a recipe for disaster. Really, you should master some basics before attempting more technical lifts.
Our caveman ancestors were strong across a wide spectrum of modalities: pushing, pressing, pulling, throwing, squatting, lunging, jumping, twisting, hauling and a myriad of other physical movements. Since very few of us grow up in an intensely physically demanding world, it is common to embark on fitness endeavors with substantial strength and fitness deficits. Regardless of your current fitness level, you are certainly suited to lifting heavy things, but heavy is a relative term and all that should matter is what is heavy to you.
Bodyweight resistance exercise (or calisthenics) is the perfect place to start. These exercises make strength training simple, safe, cheap, time efficient and always accessible. They are infinitely scalable to be as easy or as difficult as you choose and as an added bonus, will improve core strength. The absence of any outside resistance makes these exercises extremely safe for the joints and soft tissues often injured in the gym, even under expert supervision.
Bodyweight exercises promote functional fitness. This refers to the natural interplay between corresponding joints; tendons; and muscles as they are meant to be used in everyday movements. You could measure strength by how much you can bench press, or how many plates you can stack on the leg extension machine. Alternatively, strength might be measured by how well you climb a tree, how powerfully you could stroke to shore against a rip tide, or if you could carry your wife or child from a burning house.
Below are five functional exercises. The key to functional exercise is integration – teaching all the muscles to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.
3. Overhead press
The beauty of these exercises is that you can manipulate your own bodyweight to increase the load safely and effectiveness for all levels of fitness. There are many ways to modify these exercises to make them really easy or really hard. For example, a push-up against a wall would be the simplest application of a push up, whereas a muscle up, superman push up or planche push up are incredibly difficult! Similarly, try a basic prisoner squat versus a one-legged pistol squat. The average Joe will not need barbells or squat racks to progress and get fit.
For ideas on how to make the above exercises more or less challenging, download a copy of Mark Sisson’s eBook, “Primal Blueprint Fitness”. You can download a free copy here.
You might be currently struggling with a recurring injury, feel your current fitness program is inadequate or unsafe, or just don’t know where to start. Visit your health professional for advice on safe and effective fitness alternatives that will benefit your individual needs.
*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.