A functional trainer is a piece of fitness equipment that uses pulleys, weight stacks and various attachments for functional training exercises. It emphasises natural movements mimicking real-life activities, making you stronger and fitter overall. You can do a lot of different things without taking up too much space, and high-end machines are quiet enough to keep inside your home, but durable enough to use commercially.
Functional trainers add resistance to your everyday movements so you can train your body to perform those actions better and better over time. Their adjustable pulley design allows them to add this resistance from any angle, so the exercise variations are endless.
In this article, we’ll give you the knowledge to properly and safely use a functional trainer, plus a starter guide for some of the foundational movements you can benefit from at any age or fitness level. If you follow the exercises in the guide, you will have a great warm-up to a functional trainer full-body workout as well.
Basic functional trainer workout routine
One of the biggest advantages of owning a functional trainer is that you can do a wide range of exercises targeting different muscle groups that allows you to progress through different variations as your fitness level improves. Functional trainers are adaptable and can simply be adjusted to accommodate different members of your household or office.
Today, we will provide you with detailed instructions on how to do some of the basic functional trainer machine exercises so you can create your own plan while considering safety, proper form and common mistakes to avoid during functional trainer workouts.
These foundational exercises offer a range of difficulty levels and variations, making them adaptable for beginners to advanced users. Each of them has several variations you can work your way though as you get stronger. With all the variations here, there are a total of 400 different ways to combine these functional trainer exercises alone into a unique warm-up. We take a look at the top functional trainer exercises you can do from cable squat, cable row, cable twist and cable push-pull along with variations of the key exercises.
Engages the lower body, emphasising quads, hamstrings, and glutes. These are excellent functional trainer leg exercises that go beyond traditional squatting techniques and magnifies the intensity of the squatting motion.
Setup and initiation
Begin by attaching ankle straps to the lower pulleys and securing them comfortably around your ankles. Hold onto the handles provided on the machine for balance. Engage your core muscles and slightly bend your knees to prepare for the exercise. Stand confidently between the two pulleys, making sure your feet are positioned hip-width apart.
Inhale deeply as you initiate the squat movement. Push your hips backward, simultaneously bending your knees to lower your body into a squat position. Keep your chest upright and your back straight during the entire movement. As you lower yourself, ensure that your knees don't extend past your toes. As you begin the ascent, exhale and push through your heels to return to the starting position.
Release and recovery
After completing the desired number of repetitions, gently release the handles, allowing your arms to relax. Transition smoothly to a fully upright position, extending both your hips and knees. Remember to maintain control throughout the motion.
One common mistake to avoid is leaning forward excessively during the squat. To prevent strain, focus on keeping your torso upright. Additionally, make sure that your knees stay aligned with your toes, rather than extending beyond them. Lastly, remember to engage your core muscles throughout the movement to provide stability and support.
Variations (in order of progressive difficulty)
- Goblet squat: hold the handle close to your chest, resembling a goblet hold (weight in both hands and close to the chest)
- Split squat: step one leg back
- Lateral squat: move one foot to the side
- Single-leg squat: perform the squat on one leg
Targets the upper back and lats while improving posture. It is also one of a number of functional trainer bicep exercises that can help you gain strength and muscle where you want it. The cable row exercise can easily be tailored to your current fitness level and goal and can easily be modified to your resistance level.
Setup and initiation
To set up for the cable row, attach a straight bar to the machine. Sit on the bench facing the machine, ensuring that your knees are slightly bent and your feet are placed flat on the floor. Grasp the handle with an overhand grip, and extend your arms fully in front of you. Sit up tall, maintaining good posture throughout.
As you initiate the row, inhale deeply. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and initiate the movement by pulling the handle towards your torso. Focus on leading with your elbows and maintaining a straight back. As you pull, exhale and contract your back muscles. Pause briefly when you've completed the pulling motion.
Release and recovery
To return to the starting position, slowly extend your arms, controlling the movement. Aim to maintain proper form and controlled motion throughout. After the full extension, you can begin the next repetition.
One common error is rounding your shoulders during the row. To avoid this, concentrate on maintaining proper posture and keeping your shoulders down and back. Another mistake to avoid is using momentum to complete the movement—focus on controlled and deliberate actions. Lastly, be mindful not to arch your back excessively during the row; strive to maintain a neutral spine.
- Wide grip: use a wider grip attachment or move your hands farther apart on the existing attachment to target different areas of the back muscles.
- Narrow grip: attach a narrow grip handle to the cable, or grip the existing handle with a closer hand spacing.
- Underhand grip: grip the handle with palms facing up and perform the rowing motion, targeting the upper back and biceps
- One-arm row: use a single handle attachment on the cable, grip it with one hand, and perform the rowing motion, focusing on each side of the upper back and lats
Engages core strength and improves rotational stability. With its versatile pulley system in a functional trainer, this exercise enhances your ability to manage and control rotational movements. From swinging a golf club to reaching for an object on a high shelf, working this exercise into your routine can give you the stability and strength needed to more through life’s motions with poise and precision.
Setup and initiation
Start by attaching a handle to the high pulley on one side of the machine. Stand sideways to the machine with your feet positioned hip-width apart. Grasp the handle with both hands, positioning your arms in front of you.
As you initiate the twist, inhale deeply. Rotate your torso away from the pulley, allowing your hips and legs to remain stable. Focus on using your core muscles to facilitate the movement. As you twist, remember to pivot on your feet.
Release and recovery
Once you've completed the twisting movement on one side, gently release the handle, allowing your arms to relax. To transition to the other side, turn to face the opposite direction, ensuring your feet remain stationary.
One common mistake is performing jerky or abrupt movements during the twist. To achieve optimal results, concentrate on executing the movement smoothly and with control. Additionally, avoid hunching your shoulders during the twist—keep them down and relaxed. Lastly, focus on using your core muscles to initiate and control the movement, rather than relying solely on your arms.
- Russian twists: sit on the floor and elevate your feet, then twist your torso to each side while holding the cable handle
- Anti-rotational presses: stand perpendicular to the cable machine and use both hands to push the handle straight forward while resisting the rotational force
- Woodchops: start with the cable high and outside, then pull the handle diagonally downward across your body while pivoting your hips and rotating your torso.
Engages the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The appeal of a cable push-pull exercise is its multifaceted engagement that works the pectoral muscles as well as triceps that moves forward the muscles and then counteracts it. The cable push-pull offers a complete upper body workout within a single movement.
Setup and initiation
Begin by attaching a handle to the high pulley on one side of the functional trainer. Stand sideways to the machine, ensuring your feet are positioned hip-width apart. Grasp the handle with both hands, positioning your arms in front of you.
Inhale deeply as you initiate the push-pull movement. Start by pushing the handle away from your body while keeping your core engaged. Simultaneously, pull the other handle towards your body, creating a balanced push-pull action. Focus on using your core and maintaining stability throughout.
Release and recovery
After completing the desired number of repetitions on one side, gently release the handle, allowing your arms to relax. To transition to the other side, turn to face the opposite direction while keeping your feet stationary.
Avoid performing jerky or abrupt movements during the push-pull. Strive for smooth and controlled execution to optimise the effectiveness of the exercise. Additionally, be mindful not to hunch your shoulders during the movement—keep them down and relaxed. Lastly, remember to engage your core muscles to initiate and control the movement, rather than relying solely on your arms for force.
- Chest press: switch to the appropriate handle, then position yourself facing away from the machine and push the handle forward while extending your arms in a pressing motion
- Overhead press: switch to the appropriate handle, then stand facing the machine and press the handle upwards overhead while extending your arms
- Tricep pushdown: attach a bar or rope handle, stand facing the machine, and push the handle downward while extending your elbows
What makes these variations increasingly difficult?
The increasing difficulty in these variations stems from the changing hand positions and muscle engagement. Wider or narrower grips demand greater stabilisation, and unilateral movement even greater still, each variation requiring more and more coordination and balance.
Of course, it goes without saying that a heavier load on the cable will also make these exercises more challenging. One of the most common mistakes people make when starting a functional trainer workout plan is failing to properly adjust the weights and pulleys according to your strength, stability and size.
How do I know how much weight to use?
The most practical way to figure out what resistance is right for you with each exercise is to start by performing the movement with a moderate amount of weight and see how it feels. You can then adjust the resistance up or down as needed. You are aiming for enough of a challenge that you are putting in noticeable effort, but not so much resistance that your form breaks down.
What happens if I don’t use enough resistance?
If you don't use enough resistance during your workout, you might not stimulate your muscles enough to grow and get stronger. Your fitness gains will be limited, especially if your goal is to gain power.
What happens if I use too much resistance?
While using too little resistance can delay your gains, using too much can actually be dangerous. Overloading the resistance means you are no longer able to maintain proper form during the exercise.
This not only changes what muscles you are training, it also significantly increases your risk of injury from muscle strains to joint issues to fatigue. Even though high-end functional trainers, such as the Force USA G20 Pro All-In-One functional trainer, have several safety mechanisms, it is still crucial to find a reasonable level of resistance.
Get fit with us
At GymQuip, we understand that getting in shape is not just about mastering a simple workout plan—it’s about achieving functional fitness that supports what you do every day. Our knowledgeable staff will help you navigate our comprehensive line of functional trainers so you can improve your health and fitness from the comfort of your own home. Contact us today and ask about our price match guarantee.