10 Functional Fitness Exercises to Keep You Injury-Free for Life

Created by an expert F45 trainer, this functional fitness workout combines HIIT and compound movements to reduce your chance of injury, improve your overall fitness, and keep your motivation high.

F45 Functional Fitness Girl Doing Mountain Climber Exercise
Photo: Adobe Stock

When it comes to how you choose to exercise, you basically have endless options. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the name of the game for those looking to sweat it all out with a heart-racing routine. And yoga is a great way to unwind your mind, while strength training requires a challenging amount of focus. But when it comes to the type of exercise that most closely translates to the movements you perform in everyday life, functional fitness outpaces all the rest. Functional fitness workouts are best known to correlate with everyday movement patterns (think: sitting and standing, bending over, and twisting from side to side) and make those subconscious movements easier or pain-free, according to Scott Thompson, director of athletics at F45 Training.

What "Functional Fitness" Actually Means

In theory, all of your workouts should be making your life better — period — but functional fitness takes living your best life to the next level. Functional fitness workouts combine the best components of aerobic and resistance training (i.e., exercises such as push-ups that cause the muscles to contract in response to added resistance or weight), according to Thompson. Specifically, functional fitness exercises include a myriad of styles that fall under these two categories, and can often include powerlifting, compound exercises, isolation movement, mobility training, and core work. This formula leads to a workout regimen that improves your overall quality of life. "Our F45 functional workouts aim for holistic improvement, including better exercise technique in functional movements over a period of time, better proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space), improved mobility, cardiovascular endurance, and strength," explains Thompson.

Functional Fitness Workout Benefits

Over time, this work translates to simply feeling more at home in your body as it moves throughout the day — hence the term "functional." For instance, maybe you start incorporating squats — one OG functional fitness exercise — into your strength training routine, and suddenly you find that carrying your Trader Joe's bags and crouching down to pet your pup suddenly feels less achy.

While this may seem like a small benefit at first glance, research shows that functional fitness training is beneficial for muscle strength, balance, and mobility — all of which help guard against disability within activities of daily living (ADL) at an older age. It's true: Falls and vehicle crashes are the leading causes of injury and mortality in older adults, per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mobility plays a major role in preventing both types of accidents, so it follows that functional training isn't just an investment in your health today, but an investment in feeling safe, mobile, and well later in life, too. What's more, other research has shown that functional fitness workouts may help you stay motivated since you'll start feeling the difference in your movements really quickly.

That said, not all of your workouts need to fall in the "functional" bucket, says Thompson. "While functional fitness is efficient and has several benefits, not every single session needs to fall under the 'functional fitness category,' he says. "Working out should be something that is enjoyable to participate in, so it is important that you choose different fitness modalities that suit your interests and fuels your motivation levels." So if you're into other workout techniques that might not earn the "functional" badge of honor, don't feel like you need to drop everything and start from scratch. (Plus, another bonus of functional fitness is that it has been shown to level up your performance in other training styles. A win-win.)

Of course, it's always a good idea to touch base with your doctor before starting any kind of new fitness regimen. Below, Thompson runs through a functional workout that involves 40 seconds of effort mixed in with 20-second breaks — aka a Tabata-style circuit. Grab a mat and your water bottle, and get started.

HIIT-Style Functional Fitness Workout

You can do the following functional fitness workout, which Thompson designed specifically for Shape, as a full-body routine a few times a week in conjunction with other modalities you enjoy.

How it works: Each functional fitness exercise or combo move should be done for 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Repeat the entire circuit 3 times total.

What you'll need: You can do this workout equipment-free.

High Knees to Inchworm

This exercise duo is a great way to accelerate your heart rate and warm up the body for the rest of the workout.

A. Start with feet hips-width apart, then bring one knee to chest-height. Return foot to ground.

B. Bring the opposite leg up to chest-height, return the foot to ground. Continue alternating, while picking up the pace. Complete a total of 20 high knees, 10 on each side.

C. With both feet back on the ground, reach arms down to the ground and walk hands out away from feet coming into a high plank position, palms directly under shoulders and pelvis tucked. Begin to walk the hands back to feet, before coming back to standing.

D. Repeat the inchworm for a second rep before returning to high knees for the remainder of the working time.

Continue to do 20 high knees and 2 inchworms on repeat for 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds.

Wide Mountain Climbers

Work your endurance, core strength, and agility with this killer functional fitness move.

A. Start in a high plank position with palms directly under shoulders, legs stretched long and glutes squeezed. Press weight into balls of feet, and make sure core is engaged.

B. Bring one foot to outside of same hand, then return leg to the starting position. Repeat this movement with opposite leg.

C. Continue to alternate legs and pick up the pace, keeping hips tucked and facing forward throughout the movement.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Lateral Lunge and Hop

Practice lateral movement patterns, encourage joint mobility, and boost your heart rate with this simple — but not so easy — workout functional fitness workout move.

A. Shift weight into one leg, and take a large step out to the side with the other, bending at the knee, sitting hips back but keeping chest lifted.

B. Squeeze glutes, and push through the foot with bent leg to drive the return to center as you drive knee to hip height, hopping off the ground. Alternate sides with each rep.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Plank Diagonal Reach

A. Start in a forearm plank position with shoulders stacked over elbows and straight alignment from the head all the way to feet.

B. Keep core stable while reaching one arm out at a 45-degree angle, hovering above the ground. Simultaneously step the opposite leg out to the side at a 45-degree angle so opposite arm and leg are out at a diagonal.

C. Return arm back to plank and repeat this movement on the other side. Continue alternating.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Fast Feet Sprawl

Another great exercise for increasing your heart rate and testing your agility.

A. Lower body into a half squat position, with feet hips-width apart, knees bent, coming down only halfway to your typical squat position, and weight in the heels.

B. Lift onto the balls of feet and start running as fast as possible, tapping both feet quickly on the floor without fully coming back to standing.

C. After a few seconds, drop hands to the ground and jump both feet back to come to a high plank position with both hands planted and arms straight, with the core and glutes engaged.

D. Release hands from the mat and jump your torso forward and return to the half-squat position.

Contiue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Frog Squat

Challenge your hip mobility and glute strength with this move.

A. Begin with feet wider than shoulders and feet angled slightly out at an angle. Push hips back while bending at the knees into a squat.

B. Place elbows on the insides of both knees, press palms together, and ensure the back is flat.

C. Bring hips down low to deepen the squat until a stretch can be felt in the adductors (inner thighs), then drive hips up so that the legs are almost straight. The torso remains folded over the body with a flat back and hips in line with the shoulders, so body is an L-shape.

D. Repeat the squat to hinge movement without ever raising torso.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Hip Thrusters

Another glutes-focused functional fitness move, you can also try this at the beginning of a lower-body workout to warm up the major muscles of your hips and legs. Up the difficulty by keeping your butt from touching the floor in between reps.

A. Lie on back with your knees bent and hands placed on the floor.

B. Squeeze the glutes to raise hips, engaging core.

C. Pause at the top before lowering the hips back to the floor.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Bicycle Crunches

A. Start by lying on the back and bringing legs to a tabletop position, feet off ground, knees bent directly over hips.

B. Brace core, place the hands behind head, and take opposite elbowto the opposite knee, while extending the other leg forward.

C. Alternate legs while keeping the core tight. Relax the neck.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Single-Leg Deadlift

Challenge your hamstrings, glutes, and core with this variation on traditional deadlifts.

A. Begin standing and shift weight to left leg, which should be straight with only a soft bend in the knee.

B. Begin to send the right foot back, keeping the leg straight and hips square to the ground. At the same time, slowly start hinging at the waist, tipping torso forward until it's almost parallel to the floor.

C. At the bottom of the position, the body should be aligned from the head all the way to the back foot.

D. Press through hamstrings and glutes to return to standing position. Repeat on the other leg.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

Lateral Fast Feet with Ground Touch

This agility finisher will challenge your footwork and exhaust your glutes and leg muscles.

A. Begin standing and send the hips back slightly into a partial squat position, then take several quick, small steps in one direction while keeping the chest lifted.

B. Tap the ground quickly with hand before making the way back for fast feet in the other direction, then tap the ground again on that side. Continue moving side to side.

Continue for 40 seconds, then rest for 20.

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