Functional Training

Resident MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY explains how you don’t need to be a pussy to move with purpose…

What’s funny about the notion of “functional training” is that it’s become a paradox. Quite often the gurus that promote it don’t actually train in a way that translates to real world environments. Even if your whole paradigm of success is based on posture, you don’t need to stand on a Swiss ball and throw a medicine ball at a trampoline in order to improve it. It can be addressed at the most basic level by making sure you’re balanced between the front and back of your body.

Functional training doesn’t have to mean the pussification of training; it can just mean the right exercise for the right person at the right time. So given that the term functional has been hijacked, beat up and left for dead in a gutter, let’s replace it with the term purposeful. The following exercises will allow you to TRAIN WITH PURPOSE. They can make you bigger, stronger, fitter, faster and healthier. If you’re beat up from years of squats, deads and benches, they can help recalibrate your system and keep you progressing. They’ll help you to function better in every aspect of your life – from the weights room to the board room to the bedroom – and that’s truly what functional training is supposed to be all about.



The deadlift is a crowd favourite, and to be fair you can’t get much more functional than picking heavy shit up off the ground and moving it around – but oftentimes physical limitations stop people from executing it effectively. Enter the Trap Bar Deadlift. This is often seen as a hybrid movement – technically it’s a deadlift yet the loading mechanics on the quads and glutes gives it squat like benefits. With a neutral grip that more easily engages the upper back, and a slightly higher pulling position allowing you to remain more vertical, you can shift heavier loads while minimising some of the stress and risks associated with a normal deadlift.


PURPOSEFUL MOVEMENT NUMBER 2: The Dead Ball Ground To Shoulder (GTS)

Torso stability is often the limiting factor in compound lifts. The GTS tackles this head-on while training explosive triple extension of the legs as used in traditional Olympic lifting. “Getting underneath” something awkward, pulling it towards your centre of mass, then forcefully shifting the weight upwards again, encourages the effective transfer of force and power from the hips and posterior chain through the core and into the upper body. You need a tonne of strength and stability through your mid section to be able to do this well.



Want an “easy” warm-up to get ready to lift, run, throw, or just move better in general? Look no further than a classic bear crawl which allows us to work on the motor patterns we use when sprinting while also challenging the core, shoulders and hips to stabilise the body. The low impact nature of this exercise makes it safe for everyone, and if you want to make it a tonne harder try crawling using dumbbells or Kettlebells and/or pushing a heavy deadball around.



Farmer’s walks are a safe, efficient and effective way to overload the traps, core, hips and grip, as well as the cardiovascular system. Doing them regularly can build stronger movement, improve shoulder health, target fat loss, and increase strength and mental toughness in a “functional” way.  The farmer’s walk has become a staple exercise for training the core to deal with real force in motion, while also just being brutal to execute.



The bilateral deficit is a real thing. Whether it’s a strength or stability issue, most people have a dominant side when lifting. Since you’re only as strong as your weakest link, it makes sense to try and even up the playing field to both improve strength and size gains and help prevent against injury. Given that our locomotion is primarily single leg, it makes it pretty damn “functional” to train on one. There are a heap of single leg exercises out there, but my “go-to” is the BSS and if you’re ever done one before you’ll appreciate that you should probably prepare yourself to be unable to take a dump for the next few days since the whole sitting down situation might be compromised.



The major benefit of the TGU is that it challenges shoulder stability and strength while moving through multiple planes of motion – anterior, lateral and overhead positions – all while transitioning from lying to kneeling to standing. If “functional movement” is about bulletproofing the body, this full body exercise that forces you to engage the entirety of the core throughout, should be a non negotiable.


So ditch the wobbly surfaces, plant your feet on the ground and move some weights around. That’s functional.


“Action Alexa” is an internationally published celebrity trainer, sports model and nutrition and lifestyle coach with over 15 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, and has worked with NZ’s world champion rugby team, the All Blacks. She has qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Champs and was named as one of the Five Toughest Trainers in Asia during her seven-year stint in an MMA gym in Hong Kong.

For the full article grab the August 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

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