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10 Functional Exercises that Help Improve Strength and Endurance

Introduction

Functional exercises are those that almost anyone can do, even those who have chronic health conditions like heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure, or arthritis. Participating in physical activity can make it easier to get life insurance or get a lower premium. For example, premiums to get life insurance with asthma are less expensive if you are active, eat healthily, and manage blood pressure.

Functional exercises are those we do that are similar to how we move in our everyday lives. The goals of functional exercises are to feel better, to improve mobility, to improve stability and balance, and to make daily activities easier.

Daily activities include going up and down the stairs, getting in and out of the car, carrying groceries, playing with kids or grandkids, getting off the toilet, or going for a walk.

For older adults, functional exercises can improve balance, reduce the risk for falls, and improve strength and endurance. These exercises can also relieve common ailments such as hip pain, low back pain, arthritis pain, Here are ten functional exercises to help anyone feel better and move better. 

1. Squats

Squats are one of the most functional exercises we can do. This exercise works many of the large lower body muscle groups like the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles.

Squats can be done with or without weights. If you are a beginner, it’s important to have proper form and technique first. It should feel as if you are pushing your butt back like you are sitting in a seat, and your body weight should be heavy in your heels and not focused on your toes.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing a squat you could do a similar exercise. One great option is a chair stand. Make sure you have a sturdy chair and start from a seating position. Stand up to a count of 2. Slowly back down to the chair to a count of 4.

You can use the arms of the chair if you need to, but try to use your lower body muscles as best as you can. Start out with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of squats or chair stands, then work up to two sets with a short rest in between.  

2. Lunges

Lunges are also a great functional movement because they work a number of large muscles in the lower body. Lunges can be done forward, backward, or to the side (laterally).

For a stationary lunge, start with feet together, then step one foot backward. Bend your knees to lower toward the floor while keeping the front knee from crossing over the toes. You should feel the effort in your butt and thighs.

You could also do a similar move toward the front for a forward lunge or to the side for a lateral lunge. Walking lunges are achieved by stepping forward then descending into a lunge while propelling yourself forward with each lunge.

For lunges, you can also start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions then work up to two sets with a short rest in between.  

3. Balancing on one Foot

This activity can be done anywhere, but if you need to have something to hold on to, you can do it near a wall or chair. It can also be done during other activities, like cooking at the stove or brushing your teeth.

Practice standing and balancing on one leg for 30 seconds to a minute with your hands comfortably at your side. Try not to hold on to your chair or the wall unless you need to. Switch to the other leg and see if you can hold it as long.

If this is too easy, you can practice balancing on one foot while doing an upper body exercise like a biceps curl.  

4. Superman Back Extension

Back extensions are a great exercise for those low back muscles that we tend to neglect. Low back pain is very common and those muscles can become sore or tight when we sit too much or have improper posture.
To do this exercise, start on the floor lying on your stomach. You could also start on all fours, with palms flat on the floor, arms extended, knees bent and knees and toes on the floor. At the same time, extend one hip and the opposite shoulder. Do the same thing with the opposite hip and opposite shoulder.

For back extensions, you can also start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions then work up to two sets with a short rest in between.  

5. Planks

Planks are an isometric activity that help improve the stability of your core, which is important for any type of movement that we do. Isometric means that the angles of your joints do not change, so there isn’t a movement, but you feel the tension in your muscles.

During a plank, your body should look like a straight board. Planks can either be completed with palms flat on the floor or mat with elbows extended or with forearms on the floor or mat with elbows flexed and bent. Toes should be touching the ground with knees extended.

A beginner could also start with palms flat on floor and knees bent touching the floor, similar to a modified push-up position. Beginners should try to hold a plank as long as they can and complete a few repetitions with rest in between each one. Try to increase the time you hold the plank until you can get to 60 seconds.  

6. Single-leg Deadlift

Planks are an isometric activity that help improve the stability of your core, which is important for any type of movement that we do. Isometric means that the angles of your joints do not change, so there isn’t a movement, but you feel the tension in your muscles.
Do not let the name of this exercise scare you; it’s a great way to improve stability and strength all in one.

This exercise may seem difficult, but it’s a great stability exercise that also strengthens many lower body and back muscles. The muscles that are worked include the hamstrings, gluteals, calves, quadriceps, abdominals, and low back. Balancing on a single leg also helps improve stability.

Start by standing near a wall or chair and while balancing on one foot, bend forward at your waist bringing the opposite leg behind you until you feel a stretch in your low back, back of the legs, and butt. Arms should be comfortable and hands can move toward the floor. Come back to a standing position and try to maintain balance then repeat.

You can touch your toe or foot between each repetition, but it will improve balance more if you do not touch between repetitions. You can also hold a single weight, two weights, or do this without any weights.

Start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions on each leg then work up to two sets with a short rest in between for single-leg deadlifts.
During a plank, your body should look like a straight board. Planks can either be completed with palms flat on the floor or mat with elbows extended or with forearms on the floor or mat with elbows flexed and bent. Toes should be touching the ground with knees extended.

A beginner could also start with palms flat on floor and knees bent touching the floor, similar to a modified push-up position. Beginners should try to hold a plank as long as they can and complete a few repetitions with rest in between each one. Try to increase the time you hold the plank until you can get to 60 seconds.  

7. Step-Ups

Step-ups can be done with a stair or step, a short bench, or a sturdy stool. This mimics going up a stair or step so it is very functional for daily movements. You will just step up on the step and then back down.

You can either switch the leg stepping up first with each repetition or do a certain number of repetitions on one leg then switch to the other leg. You can hold a rail or wall if you need that for balance.  

8. Push-Ups

Push-ups are a great upper body exercise that also help build core stability but can be difficult on the floor. There are a variety of different modifications depending on your skills and abilities.

If a regular push-up is difficult, then you can try a push-up with flexed and bent knees in a modified push-up position. If getting on the floor is difficult, you can still get the benefits of a push-up by doing a push-up with hands on a counter or against the wall.

Wall push-ups are great for beginners. The further you place your feet away from the wall, the more difficult the push-up will be. With push-ups, you can also start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions then work up to two sets with a short rest in between.  

Walking for exercise

9. Walking

Walking is one of the most functional exercises we can do because it’s an activity we do off and on all day long. Walking strengthens the lower body muscles and improves cardiorespiratory health. Even a short walk of 15 minutes a day has benefits for heart health and longevity.

If decreased mobility is an issue, try finding which assisted devices and mobility aids would improve mobility.  

10. Yoga

You do not have to be an expert to try yoga. YouTube has a variety of different yoga videos for different skill levels or for different goals. There are a variety of exercise durations and different poses for all people including beginners and yoga newbies.

Yoga is not only great for balance, stability, and flexibility, but it’s also good for mental health and well-being. You do not need any special equipment, just a yoga mat and comfortable, loose clothes.  

Make Exercise a Habit

A good goal would be to do these exercises two to three times a week. They can be done separately or incorporated as part of an overall fitness and exercise routine.

Also, most of these exercises do not need any special equipment. There is minimal equipment needed, just a yoga mat for comfort, comfortable clothes, supportive shoes, and a wall or chair for a few of the exercises.

The other good thing is that these exercises do not have to take hours out of your day. You can easily do them in less than 30 minutes. If you are looking for a quick workout when you are pressed for time, try this 7-minute exercise routine that incorporates some of the functional exercises discussed in this article.  

About the Author

Melissa Morris gives fitness and healthy living advice on the life insurance site, QuickQuote.com, and she has an MS in exercise science. She is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and an ISSN certified sports nutritionist. She teaches nutrition and applied kinesiology at the University of Tampa.

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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