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7 Ways to Build Functional Fitness Without Ever Hitting the Gym

You really don't need to hit the gym to get in shape. These functional fitness moves will do the trick.

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Functional fitness is not new, but its popularity took on new heights during the pandemic, as millions of men looked for ways to work out without the gym. Part Strongman competition, part practical movement, functional fitness workouts take everyday actions and objects and combine them into strength and cardio workouts like no other.

The perks are many, including brute strength, but the biggest perk is more pragmatic, says Damien A. Joyner, an ACE-certified personal trainer in San Diego. “The only commute when you’re working out at home is getting out of bed and walking to the room where you want to exercise,” he says. Moreover, “you have access to your own amenities such as the music that you enjoy as well as a shower and bathroom steps away from your workout.”

To set up a spot at home for a functional fitness routine, you’ll need a few things. “Start with a chair without wheels,” says Joyner. “It can be used for everything from single-leg squats to triceps dips.” If your floor is wood, move the chair into a corner or against the wall, says Joyner, to avoid it slipping. Next on your list: Furniture mover sliders (for you, not your couch). “These are good for advanced lower body movements such as a lateral lunge or rear lunge,” he says. And finally, you’ll want to locate some strong anchor points in your house or apartment where you can attach ropes or bands without concern of them ripping free from the wall. Doorknobs are one option; a sturdy railing or banister is another.

And that’s it: You’re good to go. Try these moves to give your game a lift.

Drag and Pull

You need: Rope; tire or duffel bag of bricks or books; driveway/sidewalk

How to: Start by securing one end of the rope to the tire or duffel bag handles; tie the other end around your waist, leaving about four feet between you and the weight (enough so that it won’t clip your heels). Turn your back to the tire and start running, pulling the weight behind you. Run as hard as you can for 15 seconds; turn around and run back to where you came from Do this three times. Then, let the rope out so that there is about 20 feet between you and the weight. Squat down and start hauling it in, hand over fist. Once you’ve pulled it to you, walk back the other direction, letting the rope out again, and repeat. After three pulls, it’s time for another set of drags (then pulls again).

Water Jug Squats

You need: Gallon water jug

How to: “It can be hard to recreate the benefit of machines or barbells with home items,” says Joyner. “Performing squats while holding a full gallon of water at sternum height can be a good option.” (Make it harder: Hold a gallon jug in each hand, keeping hands at chest height.) Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slightly turned out. Bend at your knees, letting your butt sink until quads are parallel to the floor. Straighten. Do 10 reps, 5 sets. “Focus on slower, controlled movements,” says Joyner. A three-count squat and three-count rise back up will help with core strength as well as give the legs more time under tension, he adds.

Split Squats

You need: Sturdy chair; water jug

How to: Stand with your back to the seat of the chair, about two feet away. Hold a water jug with both hands, arms extended in front of you. Bend your right leg behind you until your right toes rest on the edge of the chair seat. Bend your left (front) leg, lowering your right knee toward the floor. Straighten back up, keeping arms outstretched in front of you. “This move focuses on stability and strength,” says Joyner. Stair Drills

You need: At least two flights of stairs

How to: The aim with this section of your workout is to get your heart rate up as high as possible. “There should be some point where the intensity is such that it is hard to hold a conversation,” says Joyner. “It should be as fast as someone would move when trying to get across an intersection and out of the way of cars that are waiting for a green light any second. How fast could you move if you needed to?” To start, run up the stairs as fast as your feet can move, then jog back down. Do this five times. Then switch to every other step: Bound your way to the top, and jog back down, five times. Next, crouch down on all fours, hands on stairs above your feet. Staying in the crouched position and maintaining contact with all four limbs, scamper up the stairs, then jog back down, five times. Finish with five more all-out sprints to the top and jogs back down.

Pushups

You need: Your body

How to: “There are many options for pushups, regardless of fitness level,” says Joyner. “A good example are wall pushups—clients are surprised to find that they are a good challenge.” To do a wall pushup, walk up to a wall and place your forearms on it and your hands flat against it. Keeping your arms still, take a step or two back and rise up to your toes, says Joyner. From here, straighten your arms, keeping your palms against the wall. Bend arms and let forearms touch again. Do 20; rest for 30 seconds; do 20 more. (If this feels too easy, 10 reps of classic pushups x 4 sets will do the trick as well.

Lateral Lunges

You need: Bungee cord

How to: Tie a bungee cord or exercise band around your ankles, allowing for about a foot distance between feet when the cord is taut. Start off as if you are about the sink into a traditional squat. Then, instead of sinking straight down, shift your weight to the right and sidestep to the right with your right foot, keeping right knee bent and left leg straight. “Focus on ‘sitting’ over your right heel so your hamstring and glute are engaged,” says Joyner. Push off with your right foot and return to standing. Repeat on left side. Do 10 reps with alternating sides x 2 sets.

Deadbugs

You need: 2 bungee cords

How to: Lie on your back. Raise your hands so your wrists are above your shoulders. Then raise your legs with your knees above your hips, legs bent at 90-degrees angle. Tie the end of one bungee cord or exercise band to your quads above your knees and hold the other end of the cord in the same-side hand, keeping the line taut. Exhale and lower one arm behind you toward the ground. Bring the arm up and inhale. Do the same with the other arm. Then extend one leg until it is straight and hovering above the ground. Return to start. Do the same on the opposite leg. “These are a great way to not only increase core strength and stability but also open up the back,” says Joyner.