Human movement can be reduced to three basic categories: pushing, pulling, and hip extension (squatting, jumping, running, and even riding a bike). Functional fitness begins with learning good form for this essential repertoire and then gradually adding weight and difficulty to build stability and strength. Doing these exercises correctly with five pounds, in other words, is better than doing them poorly with 100. In the words of Gray Cook, one of the founding fathers of functional training, "Don't add strength to dysfunction."
Pull-Up and Chin-Up
Whether swimming, rock climbing, or just hauling yourself over that wall in your next Tough Mudder, vertical pulling motions are just about the most basic things we do with our arms. Both pull-ups and chin-ups work the entire upper body as a unit, but chins engage the biceps more, while pull-ups de-emphasize biceps in favor of the upper back and triceps.
- Start with hands shoulder-width apart for chin-ups, wider for pull-ups.
- Stabilize shoulder blades (as described before).
- Bring your chin above the bar and lower down to straight arms on each rep.
Credit: Photograph by Terrence Darvin
- Weighted push-up: Once you can do three sets of 10 pull-ups or chin-ups with body weight alone, add a light dumbbell between your legs, increasing the weight over time.