6 Movement Patterns You Should Be Doing
Hey there! I hope everyone in the Northeast made it through the “snowpocalypse” without too much damage. For me, I enjoyed a couple days of forced seclusion to catch up on things at home, hang out with the wife, and finish compiling my thoughts on movement patterns that are contained in this blog post. However, having the cars under 30 inches of snow did make me acutely aware of how much I’ve come to rely on the ability to hop in the car and go wherever I want, whenever I want. When that freedom is taken away, I tend to go a little stir crazy! Regardless, I hope you enjoy the info and pictures in this week’s article on movement patterns that you should be doing. Read on to find out more!
Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to starting an exercise routine for many people is that there are so darn many exercises out there. How do you know where to start and what to do?
Should you do a full body workout, just arms, just legs, just core? Should you do biceps, triceps, squats, Anti-Lateral Flexion Iso-Holds (wait WHAT??)? Maybe you shouldn’t do any specific exercises, just cardio? There are literally thousands of options.
This confusion is sometimes worsened by the many different philosophies on training and exercise that exist. There are some who advocate for training specific muscles, others focus on specific movements and skills, and still others focus on the desired effect of a workout routine (e.g. cardio, strength training, metabolic resistance training, etc.)
My goal is to help you understand how human movement should dictate which exercises you do. In general, an exercise program should be made up of movements that replicate how your body needs to move in real life. Otherwise what you do in the gym won’t transfer to what you need to do outside of the gym.
This is where the term “functional” exercise comes from. It means that what you do in the gym should match up with the demands of everyday life, and if you’re an athlete, it should match up with the demands of your sport.
Perhaps you’re someone who wants to start exercising regularly. Or maybe you already exercise, but you don’t have a plan. Where do you start?
Your program will be dictated by your goals and desired results, for the most part. But I believe that everyone should be doing some form of six basic movement patterns, no matter what your goals are. I will outline these six below.
When I am designing a workout routine for any of my clients, I always start with these six movements. I do this because it helps boil down all of the available options into more manageable chunks. It also allows me to train my clients in ways that they need to move in real life, and not just the ways my gym equipment dictates they should move.
My 6 Basic Movement Patterns
The reason I refer to these movements as my 6 basic movement patterns isn’t because I came up with them on my own. Rather, they are movements that are fundamental to all humans. But I call them “my 6” because some people may disagree that these are THE 6 basic movement patterns.
Some have advocated for different movement patterns, or more or less than 6. But in my experience, these are the 6 that I have used with great success while training clients.
Before we jump in, I must say that this article is not designed to be a comprehensive or prescriptive exercise program. Within each of the 6 categories, there are many different options for specific exercises which fall upon a continuum from very basic to very advanced. The trick is knowing which exercise along that continuum is right for each individual. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe each exercise along those continuums, but any qualified fitness professional should be able to prescribe the exercises that are appropriate for you as they relate to these 6 movement patterns.
And without further ado, Here they are:
#1 – SQUAT
TRX Assisted Squat
The first movement is the squat. This is such a basic movement that if you observe any baby or toddler, you will see them squatting down to pick something up off the floor with ease. Unfortunately, as we grow older, sit in chairs, and become generally less mobile in the hips, knees, and ankles, we tend to lose this pattern.
I love the squat as an exercise because it can be modified so that everyone can do it. At the UMedGym we have had everyone from 15-year-old kids to an 89-year-old lady doing some form of squat. But please understand that when I say squat, that doesn’t mean that everyone is doing it with a barbell on their back.
There are many different variations, and progressions/regressions. If you sit down and stand back up from a chair, you have just done a form of a squat!
#2 – HIP HINGE
As opposed to the squat, where there is knee and hip flexion at the same time, in the hip hinge there is only a slight amount of knee bending. Most of the movement comes from bending at the hips with a flat back.
Many people recognize this movement pattern as the deadlift, and that is the ultimate progression of the hip hinge.
Trap Bar Deadlift
But where many go wrong is trying to start out on day 1 with the deadlift. Most clients whom I have worked with have a very difficult time performing a decent looking hip hinge with no weight in their hands the first time I see them. So I’m not going to load them down with weight until I know they can move through this pattern without trouble.
Because of this, the first few workouts usually consist of patterning a hip hinge movement with a flat back. I like to use a dowel rod on the back for this.
Dowel Rod Hip Hinge
#3 – Push
Single Arm Cable Punch
Now to the upper body. The first movement is the push. Pushing can be broken down into several different sub-categories. There are double and single arm pushes, horizontal and vertical pushes, and pushes in various stances. But all these fall under the category of pushing.
One of the most versatile of pushing exercises is the Push-Up. As you can see below, the Push-Up can be progressed from an elevated hand position, to a traditional Push-Up on the floor, to a Push-Up on an unstable surface like TRX straps.
An example of a vertical pushing exercise would be a Landmine Press or an Overhead Press.
Single Arm 1/2 Kneeling Landmine Press
#4 – Pull
Number four is the pull. It is important for shoulder and upper body health to match the amount of pushing you do with an adequate amount of pulling. I’m sure most of you have seen the guy in the gym who only does the Bench Press and Biceps Curl. This is the guy who can’t put his hands behind his back and will end up with shoulder problems at some point.
Like the push, pulls can also be separated into sub-categories of single and double arm, horizontal and vertical, and varying stances. In general, with both pulling and pushing I start clients out with basic horizontal pulls and pushes, and progress to different variations including vertical pulling and pushing.
Here are a few examples of good pulling exercises:
Split Stance Single Arm Cable Row
1/2 Kneeling Lat Pulldown
#5 – Step/Lunge
Stepping or Lunging is a movement that sometimes falls under the squat category, but in this case I’m going to keep it separate. The reason for this is that, while squats and lunges/stepping exercises use many of the same muscles, there is also a big difference in the demands on the body.
For instance, during a Step or Lunge movement, the hips need to stabilize as you absorb force and push off of one leg. There will also be a totally different stimulus and demand for balance and stability because you are narrowing and lengthening your base of support from front to back. Finally, there is a greater demand on hip mobility as well as stability as you move through a larger range of motion.
All of this adds up to a number of exercises that can be quite different from a traditional squat. They also serve to supplement squats very well in a normal exercise routine, and increase the squat’s effectiveness.
#6 – Carry
Ok, so carrying may not exactly be a movement pattern, but it definitely should be something you are doing in your exercise program. Loaded carries are great real life exercises, because everybody has to carry things from time to time.
Loaded carries also serve as great total body exercises. They put a huge emphasis on core and hip stability, grip strength, and shoulder stability (the rotator cuff activates to keep the shoulder in place). Not to mention that they are great endurance exercises to add at the end of a workout!
Depending on your abilities and needs, you can perform many different variations. Single or double arm Farmer’s Carries (shown below) are a great place to start.
These can be progressed to Overhead carries and even Overhead carries with a walking lunge to get really wild!
Walking Lunge with Single Arm Overhead Carry
As I stated above, these may not be the only movement patterns, depending on who you ask. But I do think that these make up the base of what should be in anybody’s program.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget core training! This should also be a staple in everybody’s program, but I couldn’t justify core training as falling under the category of a “movement pattern.” If you want to learn more about it, though, check out my previous blog post: “The Best Core Exercises EVER.”
There you have it. In my opinion these six movement patterns should be the foundation of any good exercise and strength training program.
If you’ve never thought about designing a workout around movement patterns, instead of muscles, try this at your next workout. If you have any questions about movement patterns or what exercises you should start on, feel free to contact me (I promise I don’t bite).
If you want me to design a workout for you, feel free to contact me or The Carlisle UMedGym (where I work, and where we also do not bite!).