An Easy Functional Training Workout for Beginners

By on January 4, 2021

Anyone can do a bench press. Find the lightest weight – even just the bar – and push that weight away from while lying down. No problem! Functional training for beginners is not so simple.

That’s because the same cannot be said for a push up. Or a cable press.

Even if a person has the necessary amount of pec, shoulder, and tricep strength; that is no guarantee that they will be able to perform even a single push up.

Bird Dog

Push ups, you see, are far more complex. Not only do they require a certain amount of core and hip strength, they also require coordination. You need to contract the right muscles at the right time. And you need to push powerfully and forcefully.

You need to contract the right muscles at the right time.

This is an issue for any trainer trying to write a program that will build mobility and core strength. It’s also a problem for anyone that wants to begin a more functional program themselves.

This same issue applies to many other functional exercises. And herein lies the challenge of functional training for beginners.

See also: What is Functional Training? Training for Athletes and for Life

How do we adapt functional training exercises to be accommodating while still being effective?

Remember: Not Everyone Can Do a Push Up

This issue often gets lost on people with no experience training others: it’s easy to forget that not everyone can do a push up or a pull up.

Many people find crunches and sit ups painful.

A lot of people don’t have access to a medicine ball, or get tired after 20 seconds of battle ropes.

These people aren’t the exception. They’re the rule.

A functional workout for beginners

And telling that person to do as many push ups as they can anyway won’t cut it. They won’t perform the push ups fast enough or with enough intent, which means they won’t get the maximum benefits. And they won’t enjoy it, so they probably won’t stick at it.

Worst case scenario, they may injure themselves.

With that in mind, how do you write a training functional training workout for absolute beginners? How do you get started if you yourself are a beginner?

Building Functional Humans

The great thing about functional training for beginners, is just how much good it does.

To many, starting a new training program means lifting weights to get a little bit stronger, or running on a treadmill to burn calories. They can do these things and still struggle with basic movements like the push up. They may still get tired climbing the stairs. It’s still more than possible that they’ll put their back out doing something simple.

You’ll find everything else that much easier.

You may not need to do push ups in your day-to-day life. But being able to do push ups, means you’ll find everything else that much easier.

See also: The Surprising Benefits of Doing 100 Press Ups a Day (Or More)

A beginner functional training workout will make you better at exercise so you eventually can program in more complex and powerful movements. That’s when the exponential improvements begin.

Once you’re doing explosive push ups on one hand, you’re almost guaranteed to have the flat abs and ripped obliques that you’re looking for!

A Beginner Functional Training Workout

The key is to start out simple. Make it fun and ensure that the individual feels comfortable really going to town.

Here is a simple program I wrote for those looking to build a base of fitness and performance. This will burn calories, “tone” muscle, and improve coordination and rate-of-force development.

Functional exercises for beginners

The following is a circuit. Aim to complete 30 reps of each exercise in one go. If you reach failure, either simplify the exercise (place knees on floor for instance) and complete OR rest for a couple of seconds and continue. These high reps are here to increase blood supply, burn fat, and build work capacity – so no long breaks!

See the video for more detail.

  • Sitting Leg Raises x 30 – Sit on your buttocks, lean back, bring the knees up to the chest
  • Air Squats x 30 – Squat down to a comfortable depth
  • High Knees x 30 (Each Side)– Run on the spot bringing the knees up high
  • Punches x 30 (Each Side) – Powerful punches performed on the second.
  • Bird Dog x 10 (Each Side) – Get on all fours, raise one hand and the opposite leg and point them straight forward/back. Hold each pose for 2-3 seconds.
  • Incline Push Ups x 30 – Perform push ups with hands on a raised surface (higher = easier)
  • Skater jumps x 50 (Each Side) – Jump-step sideways, tap the second foot behind the first foot
  • Bodyweight rows x 30 – Pull the upper body up toward the underside of a table or leaning away and holding onto a rope. Heels on the floor.

This is to be performed 3 times with a 60 second pause in-between.

Why This Workout Works

These beginner functional exercises are suitable for people that can’t perform a single push up. To be effective, however, they must be completed with powerful intent and high effort.  

See also: Functional Training and Beyond: New Bioneer Book!

While this workout might seem fairly simple on the surface, it will build the kind of work capacity that leads to longer, more intense workouts in future. This “metabolic conditioning” style of training (think circuits with incomplete recovery) is perfect for burning fat in an enjoyable way.

This endurance will subsequently help the individual to avoid injury and to perform better for longer during other tasks.

Punches for functional fitness

What’s more, is that this workout challenges the individual in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, transverse). Stepping side to side and twisting the body are things we need to learn, but they’re missing from many other beginner workouts.

There’s also hip mobility and balance in here (thanks to the high knees) which will improve gait and reduce injury. Bird dog will strengthen the core and the spine. Several of these movements will improve coordination and agility. This is what will translate to better performance in every other movement.

See also: Better Than Resolutions and Goals for Getting in Shape

This beginners’ functional training workout also has the advantage of being quick, convenient, and not too unpleasant. This should prevent early quitting.

Stepping side to side and twisting the body are things we need to learn, but they’re missing from many other beginner workouts.

Over time, as this routine becomes easier, you can adapt it to include slightly more difficult variations. For example, you can begin incorporating regular push ups. As soon as you can’t do another push up, switch to the easier variation (incline push ups) and complete the time. This is called a “mechanical dropset” and it’s a fantastic way to increase difficulty without

More Functional Exercises for Beginners

Looking for more functional exercises for beginners? Here are some great options:

  • Butt kicks – Run on the spot and bring the foot up behind to literally kick your own butt!
  • Med ball slams – If you have access to one, this can be a fun way to train
  • Lunges
  • Bear crawl – Literally crawl on all-fours keeping the knees off the ground
  • Windmill – Stand with legs apart and touch each opposite toe
  • Step ups – Step up onto something quickly
  • Resistance band row
  • Heavy bag work (or punching pads/mitts!)
  • Battle ropes – Start light
  • Roundhouse kicks
  • High knee twists – Bring the opposite knee to the opposite elbow

If you want demonstrations of any of these, YouTube is your friend. I’ll be making a video about this myself soon too, so stay tuned for that one!

Lunge for functional fitness

Remember: the aim of this functional training workout for beginners is not to immediately become an athlete. Aim to get to the point where you or the client is able to perform the kinds of exercises you’d ideally like them to be doing. Observe closely and if they struggle with any of the movements, swap them out for something that plays more to their strengths.

The aim is to make training fun and effective. I truly believe that a good functional training workout for beginners can achieve that better than many other training modalities!

Want more functional training for beginners? Then check out my book: Functional Training and Beyond! It’s currently on preorder and there’s a discount on for those that act quickly.

Functional Training and Beyond Adam Sinicki

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

5 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    Hey Adam

    I found your YT channel by accident.
    I have had a love/hate relationship with training but mostly cos of mental state and paralysis by analysis. I don’t like bullshit which is what most fitness coaches push. I have found your content to be honest, no BS and well presented.
    I just wanted to ask if your new book has elements for absolute beginners? My foundations are not strong, hence I want to start over and get it right this time at the ripe age of 41.

    Best regards

    Pete

    • Hey Pete! Thanks, I’m glad you like the content 😀

      SuperFunctional Training has a Level 0 for those that have limited experience but I would say don’t attempt that until you can do this workout confidently first 🙂

      Functional Training and Beyond is more of a discussion/introduction to the topic (rather than guided workouts). There should be something of value in there for everyone – I hope!

      Thanks and good luck with the training!

      P.S. Don’t think about it! Just start doing push ups, pull ups, and squats every other night (or easier variations). Add to it and learn from there, but just get the base fitness going!

  2. Michael A Van De North says:

    Hey man, love you’re content and your philosophy. I just wander if you have any tips when it comes to this particular functional training routine for beginners. I find that after one round of it I’m completely spent and thrashed. I’m not over weight but I don’t do much activities like I used too since my kids and working graveyards. What do you suggest to help build myself up for three rounds of this? Like I said I’m not completely out of shape but mostly out of practice when it comes to endurance and stamina. Thank you

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the content! That just means it’s working 😀 If one round is all you need, do that for a few weeks/months until you feel ready to go for the next one. Be honest with yourself (could you actually do more?) but likewise realise that at this early stage the aim is not to completely destroy yourself. Try to enjoy it and focus on getting the movements right. Good luck and be sure to let us know your progress!

    • Ira Glenn says:

      Hey Adam,

      I really enjoy your content on YouTube and the wealth of information in both your E-book and recently published book. I also found the gist of the answer I was looking for in this comments section which was how should I prioritize my training to get up to the superfunctional level.

      I wanted to know once I am capable of performing this routine 3x without feeling like I’ve just narrowly escaped a maniac, would I then proceed to the level 0 or level 1 routine in your E-book?

      I’m almost 30yrs old, at a high body fat % and weight and very out of practice with exercising/training so I see part of how I progress will be to add a few random sets and reps on my off days to “grease the groove”.

      Thanks again for doing what you do!

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