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6 functional exercises you need to include in your workout

Forget the crunches and the bicep curls, here are the six basic, foundational exercises we all need to perform for a better life

Squats can help in fat burning, strength gaining, and muscle building
Squats can help in fat burning, strength gaining, and muscle building (Istockphoto)

From Crossfit to boot camps to gyms, functional exercise or functional movement is a phrase that is tossed around constantly. So much so that the phrase is included in the definition of CrossFit — constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. But are the exercises that we do at these fitness and training centres, actually functional movements? 

For example, do any of our real life movements ever really mimic a bench press or the inverted leg press? And let’s not even get started on the futility of crunches, planks, snatch, lunges, dumbbell flies, bicep curls, skull crushers, bent over rows and one arm rows — all common and popular exercises in almost every kind of training you might turn to. 

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However, there are, indeed, some exercises performed in the gym that are functional movements which we tend to repeat in our regular lives. In this case, exercise doesn’t only make you fit, but it makes you self-sufficient too. This list is fairly long as well but it would be prudent to stick to the six best functional exercises that come into play in our lives.             

Squats: Squats remain one of the best compound exercises that engages everything from your lower body to core and trunk. Squatting is also a functional movement that we tend to use all the time, everywhere and in whatever we do. While doing something as simple as getting out of bed or sitting down and then getting back up, we are always performing a squat or a variation of it. The advantage of not missing leg days is better mobility, and the ability to stand up on your feet painlessly and efficiently, from a sitting position.     

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Clean and press: How many times do you walk into an aircraft without any bags at all? Chances are never. Anyone who doesn’t travel light will always have a carry-on over and above the checked-in bag. The best use of the clean and press exercise is when we need to put our bags in the overhead bins in the plane. If you don’t want to throw out your back or tweak your shoulder while trying to securely store your cabin baggage, it’s best to include clean and press in your training. The clean part of the movement teaches you to move the weight efficiently and smoothly from the floor to shoulder level, while the press teaches you how to push the load overhead swiftly.       

Farmers walk: This exercise requires you to carry a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand and walk for either distance or time. This is excellent practice for anytime you go shopping or grocery shopping and have to carry bags in both hands. It is also extremely useful when you travel to the US and don’t want to pay for the baggage cart that most large airports in the country charge travellers. Also, you will be grateful for doing this exercise on your Euro trip when you realise that your cute Airbnb is on the top floor of a building that doesn’t have an elevator. Extremely functional, everyone needs to do the farmer’s walk.  

Suitcase Carry: Similar to farmers walk, but in this case you carry a weight in one hand only, and then engage your core to keep your body from drooping or twisting to one side, while walking for distance or time. Extremely useful for strength building as well as balance. 

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Deadlift: Just like squats, deadlift is another foundational movement of the exercise world. We use the deadlift move several times in the course of a day, even if we don’t need to lift anything as heavy as our coaches might ask us to deadlift. Not only does the exercise strengthen your back, hamstrings and core, it also improves your resistance to back injuries and back pain. Every time you pick something off the floor, you perform a deadlift. There might be no exercise as fantastic and functional as the deadlift. 

Box jump and box jump-overs: This one is included in the list only because of social media and the popularity of pictures of people suspended in air mid-jump. You need explosive strength in your lower body to be able to jump high enough and fold your legs at the knees before straightening them and landing safely back on the ground. Added advantage is that these jumps build explosive strength and are also great for burning calories as well as getting your heart rate up.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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