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Functional Strength Training Combinations

There are several ways to define “functional training,” but essentially it involves moving the body through different planes of motion while working multiple muscle groups and challenging balance. This Add It Up! strategy includes an upper-body move, a lower-body move, a core exercise that offers active rest, and then a compound movement using the same strength exercises. Participants may stay with the separate moves if the combined exercise is too hard. The keys to success are precision and control.

Add It Up! Details

Total Time: 60 minutes

Goal: to train every major muscle group, with a focus on the core

Equipment: set of dumbbells, mat

Music: 128 beats per minute, or slower


  • Ensure participants are engaging their core muscles to help with injury prevention, especially during compound movements.
  • Constantly cue participants to lift the chest, keep the shoulders back and down, and tighten the core.
  • Cue class to move slowly; offer variations and modifications.
  • “Road-test” combinations before teaching them.
  • Look for movement fluidity and continuity through full range of motion.

Warm-Up (10 minutes)

Teach the following body weight exercises, focusing on form. Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

  • alternating knees
  • parallel squats
  • lunges side to side, reaching arms to ceiling
  • push-ups
  • alternating forward lunges
  • wide squats
  • alternating reverse lunges

Work Phase (45 minutes)

Set 1: Upright Row + Alternating Lunges

  • Upright row: From neutral standing position, core engaged, lift dumbbells toward chin, elbows pointing to sides, squeezing between shoulder blades, 24x.
  • Complete 1 set of alternating forward lunges (with or without weights). Keep knees at 90 degrees at bottom of range. 16x each leg, alternating.
  • Core interval: standing side-bends. From neutral stance, hold dumbbells in hands and lean to right side; engage oblique muscles to return to standing, and repeat left. 16x each side.
  • Alternating lunges with upright row: Lunge forward with dumbbells by sides; pull dumbbells into upright row while moving back to standing. 16x each side, alternating.
  • Repeat standing side-bends.
  • Repeat alternating lunges with upright row.

Set 2: Triceps Extension + Alternating Reverse Lunges

  • Complete 1 set of triceps extensions from lunge position, torso slightly forward, elbows bent as you extend dumbbells behind until arm is straight, 24x.
  • Do 1 set of alternating reverse lunges (with or without weights). Step back into lunge, front knee directly in line with second toe, and return to standing. 16x each side, alternating.
  • Core interval: Charlie’s Angels twist. From sumo squat position, extend arms in front of body and interlace fingers as if pointing gun. Rotate ribs slowly R and L, hips facing forward, 16x.
  • Alternating reverse lunges with triceps extension: Do triceps extension as one leg steps into reverse lunge. 16x each side, alternating.
  • Repeat Charlie’s Angels twist.
  • Repeat alternating reverse lunges with triceps extension.

Set 3: Frontal Raise + Parallel Squat + Balance Knee

  • Frontal raise: Lift dumbbells forward to shoulder height with elbows mostly straight, but active, 16x.
  • Alternating frontal raises with balance knee: Raise one arm into frontal raise while lifting opposite knee to hip height. 16x each side, alternating.
  • Parallel squat: With feet hip distance apart, sit back while keeping knees over heels, chest lifted, 24x.
  • Core interval: mountain climbers. From plank position, alternate bringing in knees toward nose, 32x.
  • Frontal raise with squat and balance knee: Slowly lift both arms into frontal raise as hips lower into squat position over 2 counts; lower arms and return to standing. Then raise one arm into frontal raise while lifting opposite knee to hip height. Alternate sides and repeat, 8x each side.
  • Core interval: cross mountain climbers. Drive knee toward opposite elbow, keeping hips low, twisting between ribs and hips, 32x.
  • Repeat frontal raise with squat and balance knee.

For more combinations, please see “Sample Class: Add It Up!” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Pamela Light, MA

Pamela Light is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA with a bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology, a Master’s in writing, and 25 years’ experience in the fitness industry. You can find videos of Tape Box workouts in her Facebook group, Pamela’s Light and Fit Community.

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