By Jenna Nelson, Trainer at Milestone Fitness

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It can be overwhelming deciding which exercises you should be doing in your workout program. There are endless options. Throw in the new world of social media and you have about a million other options being thrown your way on a daily basis.  I want to help simplify the process for you and let you know that it does not need to be that complicated. I also want you to know that variety is not always the answer. When it comes to smart strength training my advice is to keep it simple. We all perform the same 7 foundational movement patterns on a daily basis. Those patterns are squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, rotate,  & gait.  These are the exercises I recommend you perform throughout most of your training sessions.  Forget the cool exercise you saw the instagram model do on the bosu ball. Stick with the basics and your body will thank you!


A few examples of those patterns would be:

  • Squat- Standing up off the toilet

  • Lunge- Running or getting up off the floor

  • Hinge- Picking up the laundry basket from the floor

  • Push – Putting something up onto a higher shelf in the kitchen

  • Pull – Moving furniture

  • Rotate- Playing catch with your kids or fetch with your dog

  • Gait- Carrying the groceries from the car to the house 

  • Enter Functional Strength Training- What does that even mean? 

To me, it means becoming proficient at specific movement patterns, strengthening those patterns, and than watching them become easier in your day-to-day routine.  

In order to perform these patterns your body will work as a unit. That is why at Milestone you won’t normally see people doing muscle specific exercises; rather you see pattern specific exercises. We call this big bang for your buck exercises.  They help your body move in the way it was designed to, and they also require you to stabilize and activate more muscle fibers causing you to burn more calories. Win Win!

If you perform farmer carries at the gym you will realize that it’s very similar to when you are trying to carry all the bags of groceries into the house, or when you are holding your child in one arm and carrying a few bags in the other. The movement you train at the gym mimics the movement in real life.

We train general populations at Milestone Fitness. That means we train men, women, students, moms, dads, grandparents, anyone and everyone.  That is a very general, and very large category of clientele. We absolutely LOVE IT! We love the variety of people we get to meet and work with. We know that anyone who joins Milestone has a personal goal they want to work on, as they should. We also have a very specific goal for everyone who joins Milestone. We are going to assess your movement patterns first, write an effective training program, help you execute that training program properly, and then we are going to watch as you start to move better and feel better while simultaneously achieving your personal goals! BAM, that’s the mission!

Our clients come to us with very different goals. Fat loss, chronic pain, general exercise, increase strength, etc. We choose to incorporate functional strength training into everyone’s program because it is useful to everyone at any phase of life. Like I mentioned above, we ALL perform the same seven foundational movement patterns. When executed and programmed properly you will notice that your posture improves, your movement quality improves, your strength increases, and overall you feel drastically more stable and efficient with your movement throughout each day. Functional strength training is NOT always just about building lots of muscle mass. It can also be about helping people build more stability and mobility throughout their body so that they can live strong and pain free as they age.  

Move Better, Feel Better. How do we do that?

We start by building a solid foundation. I’m sure you have all heard the word CORE. Most people come in with a goal of “strengthening their core”.  To most people that means strengthening their abs to protect their low back.  Nothing wrong with that goal.  In fact, wanting to get strong to prevent future injury is a fantastic goal in my book.

To me, building a strong core means learning to how to stabilize your spine while the extremities (arms & legs) go through motion.  In order to stabilize the spine you need to know how to breathe properly, brace by activating the inner unit, and have adequate mobility and stability throughout your body depending on what movement patterns you are performing. IT’S NO JOKE!

Your core is ultimately your entire body. So, when we are working on Functional Strength and movement patterns, which is what we do, we are working on your core!

1. Farmer Carry - I recommend practicing different variations with different grips and different weights. Start by carrying two weights (one in each hand) down by your side and walk for 30 seconds. Increase the time each week until you can do one minute. To progress you could rack two kettlebells up at your chest and carry the weight that way. To make the exercise more challenging you can hold a weight only on one side.  You could also hold one side racked with the other weight down, and you could hold different sized weights in each hand. Never ending options when it comes to the farmer carry. Think about how much you carry things around in your life. Practice carries in the gym and maintain a tall, balanced posture as you walk!

2. Single Leg Deadlift - To me, this is the most functional lift I do at the gym. I can’t tell you how many times a day I bend over on one leg to pick something up off the floor at my house.  I feel like I am constantly picking up after my boys when we are home and I am always doing the single leg deadlift.

3. Split Squat – No matter what your age is you want to be able to get up off the floor. We program split squats for almost everyone unless there is a medical reason not to.  We like to train this pattern to improve core stability so that you don’t have to fall forward as you try and stand up from the ½ kneeling position.

4. Turkish Get Up Step 1 - Turkish what??? I’m sure if you follow us on instagram or facebook you have seem some videos of us doing the Turkish get up. This exercise is performed by lying on the floor with one kettlebell pressed up towards the ceiling. It will remain pressed up as you get yourself from lying down to standing up. Although this might not work for everyone, we do try to work on at least step one with everyone. Picture yourself lying down in bed in the morning. That first roll to one hip and press up to your elbow is how you get yourself out of bed. Lets strengthen that pattern.

5. Walk – Walk for stress relief, walk for exercise, walk because your body was designed to move! As important as I think strength training is, if someone told me they were unable to do any strength work my advice would be to eat a very healthy diet and walk. I think that person would be just fine!

There you have it, my favorite functional strength exercises. If you are looking for something to add to your current routine or if you are unsure of what exercises you should be doing you can’t go wrong with these.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or what fitness level you are at. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

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