Functional Trainer Exercises: 10 Movements to Mix It Up

By: Jessica Yu   On: Friday 05 January, 2018

Functional trainer exercises not only work your major muscle groups, but engage the smaller stabilization muscles that surround them too. They’re an amazingly effective way to target varied areas of the body and a popular style of workout in any gym. However, most people do the same old exercises on a functional trainer machine – tricep extension, bicep curl, and chest press. So in this post, we wanted to share a few alternatives for you to try next time you hit the gym!

Our Top 10 Alternative Functional Trainer Exercises

Cable Reverse Lunge

Most of us are comfortable with the classical lunge movement, but doing the reverse motion can really challenge our strength and balance. With the cable pulley on the lowest height setting, position yourself in a lunge position with one knee bent at a right angle. Hold the rope attachment over one shoulder and extend your legs into a standing position, pulling the rope with you along the way. Then return to the lower lunge position and repeat for the desired number of reps to really work your hamstrings and posterior muscle chain.









Plank Triceps Kick Back

This exercise works the core, legs, and triceps too. Place the pulley on the lowest height with the D-handle (single grip with rotating handle) attachment. Assume the plank position facing the machine and grasp the handle with one hand. Pull the handle back towards your hips as you straighten your arm in a tricep extension movement. Repeat on one side and then switch.  This is one of the top functional trainer exercises to also engage your core along with the primary muscle group (triceps). 










Standing Leg Curl

Using the ankle attachments allows you to try an even wider variety of exercises on the functional trainer machine. Place the pulley on the lowest height setting and attach the ankle strap to your leg. Face the machine and extend your leg behind you to really target your hamstrings and glutes. Keeping your leg straight and your core tight, return your leg to the standing position. Repeat the desired number of reps on one side and then switch over.








Side Plank Cable Row

This exercise activates the core, shoulders, and lats, while improving your overall balance too. Attach the D-handle and position the pulley on the lowest height setting. Assume a side plank position, with your body supported by your forearm and foot. With your free arm, pull the cable towards you whilst maintaining a strong core and not allowing your body to rotate. Repeat the desired number of reps on one side before switching to the other.







Cable Front Squat

The cable front squat engages the quads, glutes, and hamstrings for a complete lower body workout. Place the pulley on the lowest height setting and face the machine. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and grasp the rope attachment with two hands in a goblet position. Lower down slowly into a squat, keeping the rope at shoulder height. Then push back up to standing with an explosive movement. Repeat the desired number of reps and sets, remembering to maintain explosiveness throughout each set.






Wood Chop

The wood chop is one of the more classic functional trainer exercises that challenges your core and shoulders across several planes of movement. Position the pulley slightly above shoulder height and attached the D-handle or rope. Stand at a 90-degree angle to the machine and pull it down and across your body to the floor, in a motion that’s similar to chopping wood. Return it to the start position and then repeat for the desired number of reps before swapping sides.







Cable Step Up

This exercise activates the hamstrings and glutes. Place a step or box in front of the functional trainer machine and set the cable pulley to the lowest height. Face away from the machine holding the rope attachment over your shoulder, and step up on to the box. Keep your core tight as you step back down and then repeat starting with the opposite leg. Keep switching legs until you’ve completed a full set to ensure that you build equal stability on both sides.







Single Arm Row

The cable chest press is a favorite with most people, but have you thought about trying the reverse pulling movement to activate the shoulder and lats? The single arm row does just this and allows you to target each limb independently. Place the cable pulley at shoulder height and attach the D-handle. Step back an arm’s length from the machine and then pull the handle towards you whilst keeping your core tight. Return it slowly back to the machine and repeat for desired number of reps.







Bridge Curl

Bridge curls target the core and biceps, yet not many people think to incorporate a functional trainer machine into the exercise. Position the pulleys at the lowest height and then lie on the floor facing the machine with your knees bent. Grasp a handle in each hand and curl them towards your shoulders as you lift your hips from the ground. Then return slowly to the starting position in a controlled manner. Repeat the desired number of reps and sets.





Cable Crunch

Cable crunchies are popular with bodybuilders and an incredibly effective way to target the abdominals. Position the pulley at chest height and add the rope attachment. Kneel in front of it and grasp the rope behind your neck, then fold forwards towards the ground pulling the cable as you go. Return to the starting position and keep the core strong throughout.  This is one of those functiona trainer exercises that you’ve probably seen done a thousand times incorrectly.  Make sure to use lighter weights and slow down the repetition speed to ensure you are making the most out of the movement.



Bonus Exercises That Don’t Require A Functional Trainer 

If your facility doesn’t have a cable unit, then here are a few alternative functional trainer exercises that you can try instead…

#1 Burpees – a favorite amongst PTs and Bootcamp instructors, burpees raise your heart rate fast and work all the major muscle groups. Crouch down and jump your legs out behind you into a plank position, then do a press up. Jump your legs forward so you return to a standing position and then jump explosively as high as you can. This is one rep – repeat as many as you can in one minute.

#2 Pistol Squats – an even more challenging version of the classic squat, these independent movements target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Lift one leg in front of you and then lower yourself down into a squat position on the other leg. Since your entire body weight is supported on one leg instead of two, you’ll find it a lot more challenging. Repeat an equal number of reps on each side.

#3 Handstand – you might think of this as a playground move but fans of calisthenics swear by it for strengthening the upper body and improving stability. Try it against a wall to begin with until you can confidently hold your own weight upside down. Then move a little further from the wall until you no longer need it to balance.

Looking for more functional trainer exercises or workout ideas? Our team are industry veterans and can provide all the guidance you need – get in touch here.