Building functional, real-world strength—and even some muscle—doesn’t require a gym membership. You don’t even need weights. If you want to make everyday activities, from carrying groceries to walking upstairs, easier, look no further…
Here are five functional strength exercises you can do anywhere:
1. Pushup: They may be the most popular bodyweight exercise on the planet. Even the military uses it as a standard for physical fitness. And there’s good reason for it. Pushups activate more than just your pectoral muscles. One study found triangle—or narrow—pushups engaged triceps muscles better than any other exercise.1 Each repetition forces you to use your shoulders, parts of your back, and even your abs to help stabilize and support your weight. Pushups are your foundation for total, functional upper-body strength.
2. Plank: Most people think crunches or sit-ups are the way to a strong core. But even though planks may look easier at first glance, they’re more effective—and more difficult—than sit-ups. A study at Penn State found that planks activate more muscles than crunches. That’s because during a plank, you’re using your abs, back muscles, hips, and glutes to help stabilize your body.2 Unlike a crunch or sit-up, planks help build complete core strength—not just nice abs. This means better support during everyday movements like getting into your car. But it may also help you perform the other exercises on this list better and avoid lower back injuries.
3. Squat: Think of it as the pushup for your lower body. Squats may look like they just work your thighs… But just a few reps and you’ll know that’s not the case. Doing bodyweight squats helps build strong glutes and hip flexors. This is important for avoiding hip pain and injury as we age. But they also use your calves, shins, and abs to keep proper form as your hamstrings do the pushing.3 Squats lead to the kind of strength you’ll feel every time you climb a flight of stairs or get up from your seat after dinner.
4. Glute Bridge: You may look—and feel—silly the first few times you do this exercise… But don’t let that stop you. It’s one of the best ways to build up core strength. This is almost like a reverse pushup. Lying on your back with your feet planted in front of you, you’re using your glutes, abs, and hips to lift your lower back up off the ground. Each rep fights the force of gravity… But holding for a second or two in the top position will really round out a strong, stable core.4 But it may also come with the extra bonus of improving your sex life by making your pelvic muscles stronger.5
5. Single-Leg Deadlift: This exercise challenges your strength, balance, and flexibility. In other words, it’ll take patience and persistence to get better at it. But like the other exercises, the benefits can be huge. Balance helps you prevent accidents. Flexibility helps you prevent injuries. And because you’re only using one leg for this exercise, you’re putting a greater load on each than they’re used to. This helps build strong glutes… But you’ll also feel it in your core and even your quads—especially near the end of your set when each rep gets more difficult than the last.
Stand up straight and bend forward from the waist, lifting one leg behind you until it’s parallel to the floor. Reach your arms toward the floor (without touching) and find your balance. Repeat on the other side. Start slow and make sure your form is correct. Remember, the goal is to get stronger—not injured.
You don’t need access to an elite gym to get stronger. And you don’t need weights to make getting around easier. These simple—but challenging—bodyweight exercises will help give you a solid foundation for functional strength. And you can do them just about anywhere. Try doing three sets of 10 repetitions for each exercise every other day. Each workout should only take you about 20 minutes.
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