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."
For the most elemental of human movements – sitting down and getting back up, or lifting something heavy off the ground – there is no better exercise than the squat. But form is incredibly important for preventing injury, so start with unweighted "air squats" to develop a full range of motion before adding weight.
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder width, toes splayed 30 degrees, your chest up and butt back. Weight should be on your heels, not your toes.
- Squat by pushing your butt backward, not by bending your knees forward.
- Knees should track directly over the feet, never caving inward or outward.
- Bring your thighs parallel to the floor while keeping your weight on your heels and your spine straight and solid.
Credit: Photograph by Terrence Darvin
- Back Squat: Once you can hold good form through 20 body-weight squats, add weight by resting an empty barbell on your back, and then add plates as you progress.