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The Best Functional Exercises For Improving Sports Performance

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By: Phil Simondet


To perform at a high level, you need to train your muscles to work together. Whether you’re preparing for a competition or just trying to increase your athleticism, functional exercises can help improve your sports performance.

Let’s look at a few exercises key to functional strength training and how they can help you reach a new level.

Table Of Contents

What Are Functional Exercises?

You’re probably familiar with isolation exercises like bicep-curls, which target a specific muscle or area. But functional exercises involve more muscle groups and require a bit more coordination to perform. That’s part of what makes them so complementary for athletes.

The idea around functional exercises is that they train your body to perform a specific movement or movements. Each exercise is supposed to mimic a real-life movement, like pulling, pushing, squatting, and more. For athletes, functional exercises—also called sports workouts—can help improve balance, coordination, and explosiveness.

Try These Functional Exercises

The best part about functional exercises is that you don’t have to be a pro athlete to benefit from them. Everyone could use a little more mobility and strength. Give these exercises a shot and see if you notice results.

man sprinting up stairs

High-Intensity Interval Training

Commonly known as HIIT, high-intensity interval training combines a short window of intense effort with slow-paced recovery, resulting in improved endurance and strength. Usually performed with a cardio movement such as sprinting or biking, HIIT can also be done with functional movements at lower weights.

  • Perform a single movement at high intensity for 30 seconds, followed by one to two minutes of rest.
  • Continue this cycle for at least 10 minutes (aim for 5 total sets).
  • If using a functional movement in your HIIT, focus on maintaining proper form and pick a weight you can do for the full 30 second working window


    Squatting engages several muscles in the legs and back, as well as multiple joints, resulting in improved body strength and muscle.

    • To perform a squat, spread your legs about shoulder-width apart.
      • Then bend your hips and push your knees out laterally while keeping your spine straight.
      • Go down until you reach a 90-degree angle. It helps to keep your eyes forward and head upright.
      • Hold in the downward position for a second and return to the starting position.
    • You can squat using dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or your body weight.


    Deadlifting works practically every major muscle group making it one of the best functional exercises.

    man in orange t shirt starting a deadlift

    • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart or closer and have the barbell mid-way over your feet.
      • Bending at the hips, lower yourself until you can grab the barbell at about shoulder width.
      • With a tight grip and straight spine, brace your core and begin lifting the weight up by fully extending your knees and pushing your hips forward.
      • Once you’re in an upright position, lower the weight in a controlled fashion and repeat.
    • Deadlifting doesn’t require much equipment, but you should practice with lightweight before going heavy.

    Bench Press

    This is a staple for most exercise routines and helps build your body strength and endurance. Believe it or not, benching can benefit sprinters as much as it benefits hockey players.

    • To bench press, position yourself so that your eyes line up directly under the barbell.
      • Position your hands a few inches outside your chest width with a firm grip.
      • Lift the bar off the rack, and lower it until it makes contact with your chest.
      • Then push back in an upward motion.
    • Bench pressing is fairly easy to do. Just remember to have a spotter if you're pushing your limits.

    Bent-Over Rows

    Rows are an excellent functional movement that primarily builds back and arm strength, but also utilizes the abdominals, glutes and hamstrings. It improves stability and has countless variations for athletes and normal guys alike to utilize in their workouts.

    • Can be performed with a barbell, 1-2 dumbbells or 1-2 kettlebells
    • Stand with your feet lined up under your hips
    • Push your hips back while bending your knees slightly until your back is close to parallel to the ground
    • Engage your core and maintain a flat back
    • Pull your weight(s) up towards your hips. At the top of the row, your hands should not be higher than the bottom of your rib cage
    • Pause for 1 second then slowly lower the weight(s)

    Increase Sports Performance Naturally with Mdrive

    man stretching arm cross body

    Functional exercises can prepare your body for optimal performance, but how will you recover from training? After all, you don’t want your hard work to be for nothing. Mdrive is a daily men’s supplement designed to work with your body’s natural process to increase strength, energy, and drive. Former athletes and driven guys already use our products to increase their performance. See which Mdrive is right for you.

    Successful sports performance is a holistic endeavor that combines practical training with a strong knowledge foundation. The free ACE CPT practice exam by Trainer Academy can be a valuable tool in your educational arsenal, ensuring you're well-equipped to guide yourself or others toward athletic excellence.

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