The seven primary human movement patterns

A lot’s been said about functional exercise over the past decade or so – using the natural environment and obstacles, rather than weights or machines to exercise. It’s why you see so many people throwing tractor tires around or using a sledge hammer to bash things.

Fans claim you want your body to work in a way that is useful in the natural world – and that’s true. But as ever nothing is black and white and as ever, the debate is more polarised than it has to be. The truth is, the medium you use to create some kind of resistance to your body is not as important as making sure any exercise programme you do includes elements of the seven primary patterns of human movement. Because those seven patterns are the ones you use again and again without realising it, and without them your body would lose some of its functionality.

These patterns are ones we learn over time as we do them over and over again to the point they become ingrained in our subconscious – think about how a toddler initially learns to walk for example.

So what are the seven primary patterns of human movement?

Gait/locomotion – walking, running, jumping

Hinge/deadlift – Anyone who has done health and safety at work will know this as safe lifting technique. It’s a slight bend of the knees, a hinge at the waist with a flat back and a lift from the floor. Exercise examples include straight-leg deadlift, bent-leg deadlift, good morning, kettlebell swing.

Squat – Effectively the ability to sit down and get back up again, without a forward lean. Exercise examples include front squat, goblet squat, leg press machine.

Lunge – A long linear stride, pushing off the front foot to return to the starting position. Exercise examples include forward lunge, step up/step down, side lunge.

Push – The simple act of using your upper body muscles to push something away from you, or push a weight against gravity. These tend to work chest and triceps as a pair of muscle groups. Exercise examples include press up (or push up in the US), chest press, shoulder press

Pull – Using your upper body muscles to pull something towards you. These tend to work back and biceps as a pair of muscle groups. Exercise examples include bent over row, pull up

Twist/rotation – A twist of the upper body using lateral core muscles. Exercise examples include Russian twists and woodchopppers.

These moves come into everyday life in so many ways and every other move we make is a variation on the seven or combination of more than one of them. An example I use with fitness clients is the simple act of getting in your car:

You pick up your bag from the floor using a deadlift, you walk to the car, you pull the car door open and lunge to get in. You then squat to sit in the driver’s seat, you pull your bag towards you, rotate and push it away from you to put it on the passenger seat…

A few points to note before you rush off and put this newfound knowledge into play. First of all, every workout doesn’t need to work all seven movements. But you should try and include them all in your programme over the course of a week.

You also need to make sure you have balance. Push and pull for instance are diametrically opposed – overdo it on the push (too may press/push ups) and not enough pulls (bent over rows, inverted rows, chin ups, pull ups) mean you’ll get strong chest and triceps muscles but weaker back and biceps. The result will likely be you’ll end up with rounded shoulders.

There are dozens of suggestions online for all these that you might want to put together in a programme. Simply Google for some more other than the above, suggestions, or drop me a note for more information.


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