The ‘Functional Four’ workout and a bonus move for your butt

I work as a personal trainer in a public gym. The majority of my clients are women in their 40’s who need to lose (by their own admission) 15-40 pounds.

In my experience, the best way to do that is to perform whole body, compound exercises at an intensity that elevates your heart rate for the better part of your 45 minute workout. (In addition to eating clean, of course).

The workouts that I prescribe typically include four functional movements; squats, lunges, pushes and pulls. Each of these types of movements target multiple muscle groups and hence, won’t increase the size of your biceps or triceps or tighten your inner thighs exclusively.

Curls and triceps extensions and calf raises? Vanity moves. Exercises that can improve the look of a single muscle group, but only once the layer of subcutaneous fat that covers them is burned off!

Am I suggesting that you shouldn’t perform vanity exercises? Absolutely not! I love vanity moves too!

Instead, I suggest that you place them at the end of your program, once the heavy, metabolic, fat-burning lifting is done! Think of bicep curls as a reward for completing your squats and lunges! Tricep extensions as the dessert to your meal of pushups and bent over rows. Hamstring curls on the ball as a rest for  your arms and back after finishing your third set of pull ups!

Below is my ‘Functional Four’ workout.

Complete 10-12 repetitions of each exercises using the heaviest weight (or most challenging progression) you can. Then move immediately to the next exercise, cycling through the entire workout 3 or 4 times. Your heart rate should remain elevated throughout; don’t rest until you’re done! Options are given for beginners,  intermediate and advanced exercisers.

fitknitchick workouts

And no, I didn’t forget about your abs! Almost all of the above exercises require you to work your core in a functional manner. Stabilization and mobilization while other parts of your body are moving.

If you want to increase the challenge of the above workout to your core you can (1) offload the weight during a given exercise (e.g., offset load squat, change the pushup into a T-pushup) and (2) use a stability tool in place of either the floor (e.g., lunge with foot on Bosu) or a bench (e.g., chest press with head and shoulders supported on a stability ball)

Once you’ve finished the heavy work you can indulge in a vanity move or two. One of my favourites in a hamstring curl on the ball.

Check out today’s Tuesday Trainer for some other great vanity moves.

Do you include the functional four in your workouts?

What’s your favourite vanity move?

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.


  1. I need to get back to a few of those moves…
    and Ive gots no vanity in my life these days.
    when summer is over and theres more ME TIME—Im getting back to the booooty work 🙂
    Miz recently posted…Rhyming Miz. What’s my workout is**.My Profile

    • Ah yes, summer is quickly approaching here too. Three kids at home does a number on my exercise plans (and my sanity as well!)

  2. Love your post! I think when one is new to weights, these moves are great – and yes even for more advanced but the more advanced I got, the more I could play around with how & did things because I had my muscle base.

    Great post & video!!!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Happy Anniversary; Remembrances & Thoughts on LifeMy Profile

  3. It’s amazing how many variations there are on squats and lunges, isn’t it? You could do a different one each day of the week (maybe even the month?) and not repeat yourself!

    Thanks for the comment and share on the video!

  4. The older I get the more I love/need functional moves. Completely notice a difference in sports and even simple daily tasks. Love the hamstring curl too! A fav!

    • Thanks for stopping by Joyce! Functional work is great for everybody, regardless of age; but somehow, we don’t think about it until we get older and don’t function as well as we used to…

  5. Perfect timing for me to read this as I am planning for my small group strength class this morning, especially since I was already thinking along the same lines. Thanks for a little inspiration!
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…Marathon Training: Getting Faster, Part 1My Profile

    • Let me know how your class went Debbie!
      This is my favourite training format, with a few HIIT intervals thrown in, of course!

      • The class was great. It is called Super Ball, because we generally use either a stability ball or a medicine ball for most exercise. I’m at a country club, and my age group is in the 60+ range. Tough ladies.
        We did four exercises in a circuit format, 3x each: 1) Push up w/feet on the ball, with a roll up between each rep. 2) Back lunges w/ a twist, balance and a swoop (my class named that one). When you step back your right leg into the lunge, bring the medicine ball to your right up with a long spine. Straighten up, bringing your right knee up in front of you while you swoop your med ball over your head and slightly to the left.. Repeat for 10 reps, then do the other side. 3) Rows with balance: Stand on one leg, angled over at the hips with a long, straight spine. Hold your dumbbells in both hands and row (with my seniors I allow them to keep the back foot down if they need). Presuming they picked their “good leg” for the first set, I make them do the next two on the other leg. 4) Power side lunge. When you do your side lunge, move with power and a slight twist, extending your medicine ball over your lunging knee like you are going to throw it. All the reps on one side, then the other.

        After repeating that workout 3x through, we did some vanity moves. Biceps, triceps, and crunches on the ball. I love my girls 🙂

        Thanks for the inspiration!
        Debbie@ Live from La Quinta recently posted…Marathon Training: Getting Faster, Part 2My Profile

  6. Great advice… love your shoes in the video BTW.
    PavementRunner recently posted…Vasque Velocity 2.0 ReviewMy Profile

  7. Doing compound moves definitely ratcheted up my fitness program. Nothing shoots my heart rate higher, especially when there’s a cardio component. My favorite vanity move would probably be anything that targets the shoulders. Who doesn’t want toned shoulders? 🙂
    crubin recently posted…Glass Doors And GorillasMy Profile

    • Love toned shoulders; actually, the whole arm’s gotta look great. Strong shoulders and wimpy looking tris’? Not quite as pretty!

  8. Pinned! You go girl!!
    Electra @ Vanilla Bean Lean recently posted…Killer Arm WorkoutMy Profile

  9. Just pinned this workout. Thanks so much for sharing. I like how you have all levels covered from basic to advanced. Some moves I feel in between stages, so this works perfect for me.
    Katie @wishandwhimsy recently posted…Krema Peanut Butter = Greatness.My Profile

  10. Pinned and tweeted! This is fab. Sometimes workouts seem so complicated and you broke it down to 4 areas of the body with moves I actually understand. Thanks Tamara!
    Talia @ Bite Size Wellness recently posted…How to Stop Worrying: 5 Steps to a Worry-Free MindMy Profile

    • You’re very welcome, Talia!
      Short, sweet workouts are the best (I just did one today!)

  11. Pinning and tweeting! Looks great, Tamara.
    Elle recently posted…Get Wordled… Be Happy!My Profile

  12. Sylvia @ Frolic Through Life says:

    Lunges are the death of me. I could squat for days but lunges wear me out, in a good way. Can’t wait to try the lunge variations!
    Sylvia @ Frolic Through Life recently posted…A New Natural Sweetener – NectresseMy Profile

  13. Great tips! I love the move in the video, I just did that yesterday at the gym and I am sore today:) Awesome! I am studying for my NASM course and am really excited to become a personal trainer. Any tips for me:)
    hikermom recently posted…Three Things ThursdayMy Profile

    • Hamstring curls are deceptively painful the following day!
      Good luck with your studying; I haven’t written the NASM exams as I live in Canada are we use a different licensing body.
      But one of the most important things I did when I was first starting out was job-shadowing. I followed another trainer around the gym to see how she managed her training sessions. Of course, everybody does it differently, but it was very helpful!
      Also, I did practice training sessions with 20 different people; this was required for my certification, but it gave me so much confidence and taught me how to think of my feet!
      Best wishes and please, let me know how it goes!

  14. Just wanted to tell you that I have tagged you on my blog for the Lovely Blogger Award! Please don’t feel obligated to play if you don’t want to… I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and read it regularly!
    Elle recently posted…Shout Out to Some Canadian Fitness BloggersMy Profile

    • Hi Elle!
      Why thank you so much! I’ve done a couple of these posts before but think I can come up with something new to talk about! Watch for it this weekend.

      • Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this wbtisee with us so I came to take a look. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and terrific design and style.

  15. i seen lovely info there thanks. hope my comments are not spam

  16. most pages on this blog are usfull to me bookmarked it! keep it going, good job