Functional fitness is a term that is tossed around a lot these days. It gets used for about every new piece of equipment that comes out.
But for something to really qualify as functional fitness it has to be something that translates to better movements in every day life.
Functional fitness generally means doing compound movements that move you in every direction and force you to move and twist and turn with awkward weights. It means doing movements that will strengthen your body to handle any challenges you may encounter in every day life without getting injured.
And one great functional fitness tool we like to use at the gym is the Barrel.
No we aren’t necessarily all moving barrels around in every day life. But we are required to push and pull and move awkward heavy objects more than we probably even realized. We are asked to twist and turn and stabilize in imperfect positions.
And that is why barrels are such a great training tool. They force you to move in every direction and grip these heavy awkward things. They force your body to constantly adjust and stabilize so that you don’t fall over or push or pull the barrel over.
They force you to push and pull and rotate using your entire body since most of the time in every day life we aren’t simply using one muscle group to move.
Below is more information about getting your own barrels as well as 15 of our favorite Barrel Training Moves to get in a great functional core workout.
Functional Fitness – Barrel Training
Locating and Creating Your Barrels:
If you want to train with barrels, the first piece of the puzzle is gaining access to barrels. While many commercial gyms probably won’t have them, they could be a great fun tool to add to your home gym.
But you won’t be able to find them at traditional equipment stores. Instead you’ll have to get them from a waste management company or even find them online by simply typing in “55-gallon food storage barrel” to Google.
Once you locate your recycled food storage barrel, you’ll then need to fill them with water, sand, rice or any other “filler” you want to create the weight you want. These barrels can weigh up to 600lbs depending on what you put in them. (I’m sure you can even find chains or some such to make them weigh even more if desired.)
Once you have your barrels filled, you can then play around with these 15 Barrel Exercises.
15 Barrel Training Moves:
Below are 15 exercises using the barrels that are compound, core-intensive full-body movements. These moves will make you push, pull and rotate in every direction as your core works hard to keep you balanced and stabile.
1. Barrel Pushes (1:20) – Just like with push ups and many other pressing/pushing activities and exercises, your entire body, and especially your core, is required to work. That is why Barrel Pushes are so great. They force not only your chest, shoulders and triceps to work but also your entire core and even your legs.
To be able to move such an awkward, heavy weight, you have to use the big muscles of your body instead of simply depending on your arms to push.
Beginners may need to start with a Staggered Stance Push while advanced exercisers may be able to do this move with both feet parallel.
To do the Barrel Push, stand with your feet parallel and about hip-width to shoulder-width apart. You can make the movement easier by standing with your feet wider apart.
Grab the barrel on the cap and bend your elbows, bringing your chest near the barrel as you sit your butt back. Press your chest up and do not round over.
Then press the barrel out and away, using your hips as much as needed. Keep your chest pressed out and do not round forward as you push the barrel away and fully extend your arms.
Use your glutes and legs as much as you need to power the barrel push. The more you stay low and don’t use your legs, the more upper body intensive the move will be.
Do not let your back round as you press. Press your chest out and engage your back to help power the push.
Move slowly to press out and then slowly lower the weight back down as you bend your elbows and sink back. Sink your butt down as you lower. Do not stand up straight and round your back.
Beginners may need to do a Staggered Stance Push (1:30), which will provide them with a more solid base and the ability to use their legs more while more advanced exercisers may want to attempt the Staggered Stance Single Arm Press (1:44).
Forcing each arm to push the barrel will not only make each side work independently to correct imbalances, but it will also force your core to have to engage and work more. Plus, you now have to press the load with just one arm (an easy way to add more resistance without adding weight to the barrel!).
2. Barrel Pulls (1:56) – If you want to work your back, arms, core and legs, a great barrel exercise to include is the Barrel Pull. Especially if you have a desk, you want to include as many pulling exercises as you can to even out all the pushing and sitting hunched over a computer that we do.
To do the Barrel Pull, stand with your feet about hip-width to shoulder-width apart (the wider apart your feet are, the easier the movement will be).
Grabbing the lid of the barrel, sit down and back as you pull the barrel back toward you and in toward your chest. Keep your chest pressed out and your spine nice and tall as you drive your elbows down and back and pull the barrel in toward you. Sit your butt back and don’t round forward as you pull. Feel your shoulder blades draw together as you pull.
If you need to use your legs more to power the pull, stand up between each pull and sit your butt back and down as you pull the barrel in. To work your legs but force your back to power the pull more, try to stay low as you pull. Only stand up if you need to use a hip drive to pull the barrel.
Just barely touch the barrel back down before you pull it back in. Maintain a nice tall posture the entire time and feel your back working.
3. Barrel Rolls (2:25) – Work your core, arms, back and legs with Barrel Rolls. They are a great multi-planar, rotational movement and a great exercise to build core strength and stability.
To do Barrel Rolls, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and place both hands on the barrel lid. Then sit your butt back and squat down as you pull the barrel slightly in toward you so that it is on the edge of the bottom.
As you pull it onto the edge, roll the barrel to one side, twisting the barrel with both hands. Then stand up out of the squat and sit back into it as you roll and twist the barrel the other way. You can also stay in the squat and roll and twist the barrel to mix things up.
Do not round over as you rotate the barrel. Feel your back working as you twist and roll the barrel. Do not lean over and let your butt go up toward the ceiling. Make sure to sit your butt down and back.
Twist and roll the barrel both directions, moving quickly.
4. Double Barrel Push (2:34) – If you want to take Barrel Pushes or Pulls to the next level, you can try using two barrels. The Double Barrels will force your entire body to work harder and really challenge your core while forcing each side to work independently.
To do the Double Barrel Push, you will want to stand in a staggered stance with a hand on each barrel. Your arms will be bent and your chest should be pressed out as you sink low in the staggered stance.
Then, using your legs while bracing your core, press the barrels out and away. Use your legs and glutes as much as you need to power the press. Work hard to press both barrels out at the same time although you may find that occasionally one moves before the other.
Brace your core to help you press and so that you don’t feel your lower back taking over.
You can also do Double Barrel Pulls or even the One Pull, One Push if you want an extra core-intensive movement!
With the One Pull, One Push (3:18), you will press one barrel out as you pull the other one toward you.
5. Half-Kneeling Push (2:42) and Half-Kneeling Pull (2:52) – When you take the Barrel Push and Pull from standing to half-kneeling, you force your glutes and core to work even harder to stabilize and keep you balanced.
With both movements half kneel in front of a barrel with both hands on the lid. Place one knee down on the ground and your other foot just outside the back of the barrel. Engage your glutes and keep your chest up nice and tall. Then push or pull the barrel, but do not round over. Engage your abs and use your glutes to push or pull.
Feel your back working as you pull or your chest working as you push as well as your arms, core and glutes.
6. Half-Kneeling Barrel Fighting (3:02) – This a great core-intensive, multi-planar move that gets you pushing, pulling and rotating the barrel in every direction.
To do Half-Kneeling Barrel Fighting, set up half kneeling behind the barrel with both hands on the lid. Keeping your chest pressed out, kneel nice and tall and engage your abs as you brace your core and push, pull or rotate the barrel.
Move it around and, as you do, even change from half kneeling on one side to the other. Push, pull and rotate and mix things up as you move the barrel all around and switch which side you are half kneeling on.
You can also do Barrel Fighting standing as well.
7. Kneeling Press (3:11) – Kneeling can force your core to work even harder during barrel presses and pulls.
To do Kneeling Presses, kneel behind the barrel and place both hands on the lid with your elbows bent and chest pressed out. Engage your glutes and brace your abs as you press the barrel away from you.
Extend your arms fully as you press the barrel away. Do not sit your butt back as you press the barrel away or lower it back down. Keep your abs and glutes engaged as you press.
Slowly lower the barrel back down and toward your chest. Then press the barrel away again, kneeling nice and tall.
You can also do the Pull kneeling as well.
8. Barrel Rotations (3:28) – Barrel rotations are another great rotational, core-intensive move that will really target your obliques. With rotations, you are pushing and pulling the barrel side to side.
To do Barrel Rotations, stand with your feet between hip-width and about shoulder-width apart and grab the barrel lid as if you are sort of hugging or twisting off the cap with your arms.
Then squat down and push with your back arm as you pull with your front arm to rotate the barrel, pivoting your feet as you rotate. You want to pivot and use your hips to rotate the barrel.
Then pull it back up and, as you do, push it to rotate it toward the other side, pivoting your feet as you rotate. Do not hunch over as you rotate. While you will be hugging the barrel, you don’t want to simply round forward.
Use your hips and legs as much as needed to rotate the barrel. This isn’t only an upper body exercise. It should work your entire core.
You can also do this move as a Half-Kneeling Barrel Rotation (3:41) as well.
If you want a great functional workouts, start including these 15 Barrel Exercises in your workout routine. What other functional “homemade” equipment do you like to use?