Functional Fitness at Home with Alpine Physical Therapy

by Kara Mantooth and Leah Versteegen, MS, DPT

The term “functional fitness” refers to exercises to train and prepare your body for daily tasks. Functional exercises can be done at home, work or the gym because they often require little to no equipment. These exercises simulate common movements an individual does while performing daily tasks, such as performing a squat exercise to train muscles used when you pick up low objects or take a seat on a chair. Functional exercises employ multiple joints and a wide variety of muscles. Functional fitness can make every day activities easier and reduce the risk of injury when performed properly. The exercises can be done to improve balance, agility, muscular strength and reduce the risk of falls.

It is important to consult a doctor or physical therapist before beginning a new exercise program. Safety is of primary importance. The exercises only should be completed in a safe environment. Be sure to have something sturdy nearby to hold on to at the start of the exercise program. You should not have any pain while performing any of these exercises. There will be guidelines on your goal number of repetitions, but only do as many as you feel safe and successful first. Once you feel safe and successful with the movement, then you can challenge yourself just a little bit at a time by working through a greater range of motion or adding repetitions.

There are two ways to test your functional fitness and strength. The first is the sit-to-stand test. Grab a chair and a timer. Sit up straight on the middle of the chair with your feet flat on the ground. Rise to a full standing position without using your arms, then sit back down on the chair. Conduct this test for 30 seconds to count how many times you come to a full standing position. Adults over the age of 55 should be able to get about 12 sit to stands in 30 seconds, adults age 70 and over should be able to complete 10 or more, and if you are over the age of 80 the goal is eight or more. The second functional fitness test is getting up and down off the floor without using your hands. Research indicates that if you successfully can do this you will live a longer and more independent life.

Below are exercises that can increase functional fitness and make living easier every day.


Tandem or semi-tandem walk across kitchen

  • Position the heel of one foot just in front of the toes of the other foot. Your heel and toes should touch or almost touch.
  • Choose a spot ahead of you and focus on it to keep you steady as you walk.
  • Take a step. Put your heel just in front of the toes of your other foot.
  • Repeat for 20 steps.

Single limb balance for 30 seconds

  • Stand on one foot behind a sturdy chair, holding on for balance.
  • Hold position for up to 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times with the other leg.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 more times with each leg.
  • Progression: Try turning head side to side, closing eyes or standing on a pillow.


Squat variations – holding sturdy chair or sink

  • Stand facing the back of a chair or sink, holding on with both hands.
  • Bend ankles, knees and hips to a squat position.
  • Keep equal weight on both feet and do not allow heels to lift from the floor.
  • Squat only down as far as you feel safe then return to standing.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Variation: You can also squat by sitting down to a chair, lightly tapping sit bones to the chair then return to standing. Try not to use your hands.

Side step with squat in between

  • Stand facing a counter or table, holding on for balance,with feet together.
  • Step laterally toward the right with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees directly over your toes, hinging at the waist and perform a squat.
  • Come back up to standing and bring your feet together toward the right.
  • Repeat five times.
  • Rest, then repeat toward the left.

Calf raises

  • Stand behind a sturdy chair, feet shoulder-width apart, holding on for balance.
  • Breathe in slowly.
  • Breathe out and slowly stand on tiptoes, as high as possible.
  • Hold position for a few seconds.
  • Breathe in as you slowly lower heels to the floor.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.
  • Variation: You can conduct calf raises one leg at a time.

Lying hip bridges

  • Lie down on your back on a mat, or any padded floor.Walk your heels back as close to your buttocks as possible.
  • Keeping your feet firmly on the floor and arms at your side, lift your hips toward the ceiling. As you lift, you should squeeze your buttocks.
  • Hold the position for three seconds at the top, then slowly release back to the start position.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.


Pushup (wall or table)

  • Face the wall, standing a little farther than arm’s length away, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean your body forward and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly breathe in as you bend your elbows and lower your upper body toward the wall in a slow, controlled motion.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold the position for one second.
  • Breathe out and slowly push yourself back until your arms are straight.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Torso rotation

  • Sit upright on a chair with feet flat on the floor with arms straight in a “T”.
  • Your hips may move slightly, but twisting should occur at the waist.
  • Rotate your head, chest and torso as one unit to one side as far as you can go.
  • Pause for a couple seconds.
  • Return to the forward-facing position.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Rest; then repeat 10 to 15 more times.

Wall slides overhead

  • Face a bare wall.
  • Begin with forearms in contact with the wall, shoulder width apart, and wrists in line with the elbows.
  • Your palm should be flat with the thumbs pointing toward your shoulders.
  • While the forearms are maintaining contact with the wall, slide your arms up and out without shrugging your shoulders.
  • Return your arms back to the start position.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

It is important to work on these strength exercises at least three days per week. Balance exercises should be conducted almost every day to help prevent falls. Once you start exercising and becoming more physically active, you’ll begin to see results in just a few weeks. Now is the time to build on those benefits by doing more. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself for your efforts.

Sources: Mayo Clinic Website: