Exercises to Improve Functional Movement

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Exercises to Improve Functional Movement

When it comes to physical activity, we sometimes take the “go big or go home” approach, which often leaves us right back where we started — motionless. Although the goal is commendable, attempting to take our activity level from zero to 60 is likely to lead to burnout due to often unrealistic expectations. I invite you to reconsider what it means to go big and perhaps instead consider an alternative: go broad. In other words, aim for a broader vision of what it means to work out and a broader array of movements.

Going broad with your movement goals can make room for variety, which is just what the doctor ordered. Research has found that compared to traditional strength training, an approach known as functional training may be more helpful for improving the ability to perform the activities of daily living in older adults. Functional training is often defined as purposeful training and can be considered any type of exercise that is performed with the aim of training the body for certain movements or activities (whether they be everyday activities or those of a competitive sport). This type of approach trains muscles by using varying movement patterns that involve changes in the body’s center of gravity and base of support, often using multiple joints.


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Embracing functional training and thinking beyond the usual terms of exercise as defined by western culture can expand our ability to perform everyday movements, from walking to picking up a child to getting up out of bed. In other words, becoming more aware of how we move can improve our quality of life and allow us to do more of what we love. How do I reach for tools when gardening? How do I walk up the stairs? How do I sit in a chair? How do I hold my head when working on a computer? How do I pick something up from the floor? Can I get down onto the floor and get back up? How do I catch myself if I happen to trip? How much assistance do I need to be able to complete these tasks? Most of these skills are necessary on a day-to-day basis. Functional training helps us to consider, and improve, the “how” of these movements.

Functional movement exercises

Try the following exercises to help improve your functional movement competency. 

Pick Something Up From the FloorPick Something Up From the Floor

• Choose any object that you are able to pick up and set it on the floor.

• Stand directly over the object with your feet on either side of it.

• Keeping your chest tall, bend your knees and lower your hands and hips toward the object, grabbing


• Straighten your legs to stand back up, bringing the object with you. Reverse the steps to set it back down, and repeat.


Reach Overhead Or HangReach Overhead or Hang

• Stand in a doorway and reach your hands up to the top of the frame (if you are shorter, simply reach as high as you can to the outer edges of the doorframe so that your arms are still above your head).

• Hold this position and breathe.

• Advanced option: Using a sturdy doorframe or hanging bar, attempt to suspend your weight and breathe.



Single Leg BalanceSingle Leg Balance

• Stand on one leg (static balance) near a wall or chair in case you need support or to steady yourself.

• Try moving your nonstanding leg in circles and different directions while maintaining your balance (dynamic balance).

• Practice standing on one leg while brushing your teeth, talking on the phone, watching commercials or doing the dishes. Practice on both sides.



Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”

Laurel Dierking, MEd, NASM, 700-ERYT

Laurel Dierking, MEd, NASM, 700-ERYT

Laurel Dierking, MEd, NASM, 700-ERYT on social media

Dierking is a fitness and movement expert who specializes in Postural Restoration (PRI), strength and conditioning, yoga, and breathing training. She has extensive hands-on training and experience in the health and fitness industry, having worked for nine years in privately owned professional training facilities, yoga studios, and rehabilitation clinics. She is currently providing health and fitness guidance at The Fitness Studio in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Dierking co-authored Bariatric Fitness: For Your New Life, a post-surgery book of mental coaching, strength training, stretching and cardio routines written by Julia Karlstad, and contributed articles for the Obesity Action Coalition Magazine for three years.

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