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Strength coaches hate the term “functional exercise” because every exercise has a function—it’s the goal you choose to apply it to that determines if a lift is appropriate in your workout.
But if you define a “functional” exercise as one that improves your ability to perform everyday tasks or sports skills, builds overall strength and balance, and augments your resistance to injury, these five moves are must-haves.
PURPOSE: This move will help strengthen all pulling muscles.
REAL-LIFE APPLICATION: The deadlift works every muscle to perform an essential movement—picking something up.
Can’t do the deadlift? Replace it with this easy substitute:
Dumbbell Deadlift or Kettlebell Swing
Both teach you to extend your hips—the most important movement for exerting power.
2. Power Clean
PURPOSE: Total-body explosiveness.
REAL-LIFE APPLICATION: Jumping, standing up fast. The ability to extend your hips, knees, and ankles powerfully is pivotal for applying force.
Can’t do the power clean? Replace it with this easy substitute:
Squat Jump or Kettlebell Snatch
Any lift during which you can apply speed will build power.
3. Overhead Press
PURPOSE: To build upper-body and core strength.
REAL-LIFE APPLICATION: Pushing, throwing—unlike the bench press, the overhead press has you on your feet, training you to apply force from a standing position.
Can’t do the overhead press? Replace it with this easy substitute.
Dumbbell Clean to Press or Kettlebell Press
Stabilizing then pressing a weight builds the strength to over- come inertia.
4. Front Squat
PURPOSE: To strengthen your lower body and enhance athletic posture.
REAL-LIFE APPLICATION: Jumping and pushing. The front squat puts you in a position more common to athletics than the back squat.
Can’t do the front squat? Replace it with this easy substitute.
Back Squat or Stepup
These two strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings thoroughly.
5. Chin Up
PURPOSE: To build upper-body strength and relative strength.
REAL-LIFE APPLICATION: Climbing, dragging, and wrestling—chin ups force you to master your own body weight while working the entire upper body.
Can’t do the chin-up? Replace it with this easy substitute.
Bentover Row or One-Arm Dumbbell Row
Strong pulling improves posture and prevents shoulder pain.
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