As a human you pretty much move the same as all other humans. Barring any specific structural abnormalities or injuries, your body works just like everyone else’s.
In fact, there are 6 basic movement patterns that make up the foundation of all movement.
Those movements are:
If you plan on living a long, healthy, functional life, then you need to train the six foundational movement patterns, in different variations. Doing so will allow you to better avoid injury, lessen some nagging aches and pains, and still help you achieve any physique related goals as well.
Even though everyone’s body works basically the same, that does not mean that everyone should perform all these movement the same way. You need to find the variations that best fit your needs.
Also, unless you are a stage athlete of some kind, such as a bodybuilder, or someone whose career depends on looking a certain way (like a bodybuilder) your training should focus on training these movement patterns versus focusing on training specific muscles.
The squat is a movement pattern that transcends its use in the gym. It’s used for routine activities and movement requirements for sport and activities of daily living.
Now, before you start thinking about loading a barbell and putting it on your back, the first thing you need to do in all the movement patterns is establish proper movement efficiency with your bodyweight. If you are not able to perform a proper squat with just your bodyweight, then it is a really bad idea to try to add any additional load.
Once you are able to squat your bodyweight, progress to adding load in the following order:
1. Goblet Squat
2. Barbell Front Squat
3. Barbell Back Squat
Notice that back squats are the last on the list? They should never be the starting point.
The hinge is one of the most important movement patterns to master when it comes to protecting your back, but most people have lost the ability to properly hinge.
The most common hinge movement is the deadlift, and much like the squat, images of huge men picking up massive weight comes to mind. However, even though the deadlift is a hinge movement, it is not the only hinge movement. So avoiding hinging all together for fear of injuring your back will likely result in a back injury.
Like all the movement patterns, you must be able to properly hinge with your bodyweight before adding any type of load. Once you are ready, here is the progression I recommend:
1. DB RDL (Romanian Deadlift)
2. BB RDL
3. DB Deadlift
4. Hex Bar Deadlift
5. BB Elevated Deadlift (lifting the barbell from an elevated position such as blocks)
6. BB Deadlift
Not everybody will be able to perform a BB Deadlift from the ground with a neutral spine, and THAT’S OK! If that is you then just stop somewhere on the progression list.
The most important difference between a squat and a lunge is the use of one leg at a time. Single leg function is vitally important for all sports, but also for healthy aging. Losing the ability to move unilaterally greatly lessens your independence as you age.
Single leg training also enhances overall stability and balance which is also crucial for functional aging. Sadly, many people ignore lunging because it tends to highlight structural weaknesses that we don’t want to think about.
The lunge also provides a better opportunity to train this pattern in multiple planes of motion (forward/backward, lateral, and rotational). Since life, and sport, occurs in three dimensions, it is important to train all three planes of motion for effective overall movement efficiency.
After mastering the ability to lunge effectively with your body weight in all three planes of motion, use the following progression to increase the overall work demand in the lunge.
1. DB Reverse Lunge
2. DB Lateral Lunge
3. DB Transverse Lunge
4. BB Reverse Lunge
5. BB Lateral Lunge
There is no shortage of the pushing movement patterns. Bench presses and push ups are staples in most everyone’s workout routines.
The push movement pattern can be split into two distinct movements; horizontal pushes such as push-ups, and vertical pushes such as overhead presses.
Unfortunately, the push movement is often over-programmed, but also VERY under-performed. Most people are not able to properly perform a bodyweight push up without compromising their shoulders in the process.
Range of motion of the shoulders also comes into play when we talk about overhead pressing. If you lack sufficient mobility in the shoulders to allow your arms to fully extend overhead without compensating by arching your lower back, then overhead pressing is something you should avoid.
Once a proper bodyweight push-up can be performed, the following progression is what I would recommend.
1. DB Floor Press
2. BB Floor Press
3. DB Incline Press
4. BB Incline Press
5. DB Bench Press
6. BB Bench Press
7. DB Overhead Press
8. BB Overhead press
The upper body pull movement pattern may be the most misunderstood pattern as it pertains to the benefits that upper body pulling can provide when developing the posterior chain and protecting your back.
Like the push pattern, the pull can also be split into two movements, horizontal (such as a bent over row) and vertical pulling (like a pull up or lat pulldown).
Vertical pulling can be a challenge for the same reasons that overhead pressing can; lack of sufficient shoulder mobility. In addition, vertical pulling requires specific posterior shoulder stability that needs to be developed in order to properly perform any vertical pulling pattern.
Horizontal pulling is the best place to start when developing the pull pattern. The progression I recommend when working on the horizontal pull is the following.
1. Chest Supported DB Row
2. Bench Supported Single Arm DB Row
3. Inverted Row
4. Bent Over DB Row
5. Bent Over Barbell Row
Once the horizontal pattern is mastered, and you have proper shoulder mobility and stability, then working on developing the vertical pull pattern should follow this progression.
1. Lat Pulldown
2. Assisted Pull Up
3. Pull Up
Once these patterns are developed, you can begin to program them into your normal routine. I recommend for most people to focus on pulling about twice as much as pushing.
The carry pattern is the one I get asked most often as to why that is even considered a movement pattern. Unlike the other movement patterns, the carry is associated with generalized locomotion of the body.
The ability to move through space with stability and control has become a lost art. From walking to running, sprinting to be able to react with agility, the carry movement pattern is necessary for you to be able to move your body with control through space, and under a myriad of challenges.
The carry pattern is truly powerful when looked at through the lens of your ability to maintain independence and control as you age. The necessary coordination of the upper body with the lower during the carry targets the core in the way it was intended to function, and that is the transference of forces in and out of the extremities.
Like all the other movement patterns, there must be a systematic progression employed in order to maximize the effectiveness while minimizing the risk of injury. In addition, the ability to move your own bodyweight with control is essential before adding load of any kind.
Here is the progression I suggest.
2. Farmer’s Carry
3. Suitcase Carry
4. Front Loaded Carry
5. Mixed Grip Carry
6. Overhead Carry
In addition to the adding load, gait speed, variations of hand positions, and duration can all be manipulated in order to challenge your body in different ways.