All exercises are not created equal. Some are designed purely on isolating the muscle and increasing size. However these won’t necessarily make the day to day physical aspects of your life any easier. We’ve come up with a comprehensive list of 9 exercises that will increase your functional strength, whilst ensuring you keep packing muscle on.
Clean and Press
This is much like a standing military press, except with a push-press, you have to pick the weight up and put the weight down after each rep. For the press, you’re encouraged to use some drive and momentum from your legs. You don’t get much more functional then picking weight up and throwing it over your head! Make sure you wear a weight-lifting belt or back support as this lift can put a reasonable amount of pressure on your lower back.
For some reason, dips are often overlooked by many modern gym-goers. This is a fundamental exercise in many athletes’ workouts, with good reason. Dips bring in several muscle groups, making them work in unison. Your delts and core stay tight to support your body whilst your chest and triceps work to create the pressing movement.
Incline Dumbbell Press
Whilst it doesn’t focus on increasing functional strength as much as push press, incline dumbbells press stimulate far more muscle fibers than barbell and flat presses do, this is due to the increased range of motion. Also, whilst using dumbbells, your forearms and core stay tight whilst supporting the movement.
They don’t call the deadlift the king of the lifts for nothing! It’s the ultimate in functional strength. In essence, you’re taking something as heavy as you can and picking it up off the floor (with good form of course). This exercise brings in a lot of muscle groups, mainly the back, hamstrings, quads and abs.
This is an exercise that has been around for centuries and is still used in military drills today. Pulling yourself off the floor really requires no equipment other than a bar or beam. Bringing in all muscle groups across the top of your back whilst stimulating your rear delts and biceps, this is a tried and tested strength and mass builder.
Very similar to the above exercise, close-grip pullups really put more focus onto your biceps and lats. Ensure you focus on the lower half of the movement to stimulate as many muscle fibers as you can.
With such a wide range of angles and stances, it’s difficult to characterize the barbell row in general. Start off in a power position (feet shoulder width apart and squatting down slightly) this is essentially increasing the amount of weight that you can pull.
Again, an exercise that is increasingly over looked. Grab a barbell from the rack (or the floor if you prefer) with your hands at shoulder-width. Pick up the barbell as if locking out a deadlift and stand up straight. To shrug, squeeze your shoulder blades together and move the barbell up and down by only using your shoulders, don’t bend your arms.
Whilst you probably won’t be able to move as much weight when switching your back squat out for front squatting, you’ll end up building more functional strength. When you place the bar across your shoulders, you’re distributing the weight more evenly between your back and abs, whilst increasing the muscle stimulation in your quads. Ensure you go as low as you physically can with front squats.
Switch it Up…
There are variations and different ways you can play around with these exercises. You can add a weighted belt to the body weight exercises. Deadlifts can be swapped with variations such as Romanian, stiff-legged or sumo deadlifts and there are a range of stances and angles for which you can perform a barbell row. Start including these in your workout (at least 2 sets in the 3-8 rep range and 1 set of 15+ reps) and you’ll be packing on muscle and strength faster than ever before.