If so I’d like to introduce you to the six foundational movement patterns. These movement patterns optimally engage the major muscle groups, strengthen you for daily activities and build a well-rounded body.
So whether you are new to resistance training/lifting weights or you want to get the most out of your time in the gym, make sure to master these movement patterns through regular repetition and progression.
All effective exercise routines or training programs will include various exercises that are built on these movement patterns:
Some have said that, “The Squat is the king of all exercises.” And while the topic of Back Squats being king is up for debate, as a movement pattern it isn’t. The squat is the king of all movement patterns. Why? Because you do it every day!
You squatted today. You squatted deep as a toddler and when you can no longer squat you’ll lose independence. Why? Because you may be unable able to sit down and stand up on your own, get on and off a toilet or pickup something up from the floor.
Fight sarcopenia and master the squat today.
(TIP: If your upper body assists you in getting up and down, this is a sign that your lower body could use some strengthening.)
Basic Squat Cues:
-stand up straight with feet about shoulder width apart
-weight on your heels
-maintain a neutral spine
-begin descending by sitting back (don’t shoot the knees forward!)
-shins stay mostly vertical
-descend until parallel with the floor or lower
-drive the weight up through your heels
-keep your knees out (they shouldn’t cave in)
(Pro Tip: Spread the floor. Push your feet apart like your trying to pull the ground apart. This helps create tension in the lower body, forces the knees to push out, helps maintain a neutral spine, keeps the weight on the heels and correctly distributes the load.)
If you’re just starting out, practice squatting to a seat behind you or something lower, if possible. Keep the tension as you lower down and come up. This trains you to sit back, protects you from falling while you learn the squat and helps to keep you honest with your depth.
Exercise Progression: Practice and master each of these before moving onto the next. Bodyweight squats, goblet squats, front squats, back squats.
-100 continuous bodyweight squats
-25 continuous goblet squats with a dumbbell that’s 1/2 your bodyweight (if you can do this, you have strong legs and a strong core)
(BONUS: Hindu squats are a great exercise that targets your quadriceps, calves and conditioning when done for higher reps. 4 sets of 25 reps with 1 minute rest in between makes for a great finisher.)
As the squat is knee-dominant so the hinge is hip-dominant. This differentiation helps as some have a hard time hinging at the hips. The hinge uses the posterior chain (hamstring, glutes, lower back etc.), which is great news because these muscles have a high potential for power output. This is the movement pattern you use when properly picking up something heavy from the ground, not exclusively using the back. Hence the exercise called the Deadlift. A.K.A. The queen of all exercises.
Basic Hinge Cues:
-sit back into the hips
-minimal knee bend
-finish by squeezing the glutes for a strong contraction
Hinge Variations: Bodyweight hinge, DB Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), BB RDLs, Trap Bar deadlift, rack pulls, deadlift, hip thrusts, kettlebell swings, etc.
(PRO TIP: Imagine someone tied a rope around your waist and is pulling you back. In this way the Cable Pull-Through can be a great exercise for learning to hinge at the hip.)
Kneel down to tie your shoe? Notice the man proposing? What do these two have in common? The Lunge.
This is the last of our lower body movement patterns; dynamic single leg exercises. By working one leg at a time we improve stability, coordination and correct muscle imbalances. (While some live and die in squat and deadlift land it’s important to do single limb exercises too.)
Taking The Lunge- Basic Cues:
-step forward on one leg
-more weight on front heel
-lower down until both knees are about 90-degrees
-back knee may touch the ground or be a few inches above
-don’t shoot your front knee forward
-press back up with the front foot
-upper body positioning: stay upright to target the quads or lean slightly forward for more glute and hamstring emphasis
-upper body stays rigid on either positioning
-repeat on both sides
Lunge Variations: split squats, forward lunge, reverse lunge, walking lunges, lateral lunge, Bulgarian split squats, alternating jumping lunges, etc.
(PRO TIP: when doing walking lunges do 2 reps on one side before switching; this removes momentum and allows you to focus on form. If you are proficient at lunging try combining forward and reverse lunges simultaneously. You won’t need much weight, if at all — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per side as a finisher will light your legs up!)
The most popular pattern by far: The Push.
From push-ups to the Bench Press these movements have been ingrained in our society. Push-ups have existed for centuries and have many variations, and benching is by far the most popular gym exercise. Every Monday is #InternationalChestDay after all. But before you jump into barbell training you want to master your own body weight.
-get into push-up position
-elbows tucked, not flared
-squeeze your glutes
-brace your core
-bend at the elbows
-lower yourself until your chest touches the ground or your elbows are at about 90 degrees
-your body should stay in a straight line the entire time
-press yourself up and repeat
The push-up is a great exercise that can be done anywhere. It strengthens the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. It is a great teaching tool for creating total body tightness that will transfer to lifting weights in general. Once you can do 10 bodyweight push-ups (without your lower back sagging) you’ve earned the right to work on dumbbell and barbell pressing.
Pushing can be done in 180 degrees: variations are divided into horizontal pushing and vertical pressing.
Horizontal Variations: all forms of Push-ups, weighted push-ups, Hindu push-ups, low incline pressing, dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press etc. All are done at about the 90 degree angle. Lower angles would include decline pressing and dips.
Vertical Variations: 1 arm and 2 arm standing dumbbell overhead press (OHP), BB OHP, Seated Presses, High Incline press, W Press, Y Press, Arnold press, handstand push-ups, etc.
If needed push-ups can be done on your knees or at an incline to make them easier (regression). The idea is to find out where you are and build on that (progression).
Strength Standards To Shoot For:
50-60 continuous push-ups for men
20-30 continuous push-ups for women
40 Dips for men
20 Dips for women
I was that kid in elementary gym class that couldn’t do one pull-up. I still remember hanging from the bar. I wasn’t even that big, yet. It was a strength test and I failed. I just wasn’t strong enough. No one explained that strength can be trained, that through progressive overload and proper regression we could someday progress to pull-ups. And this Fixed Mindset is how a lot of people view their upper body strength (especially women).
Why The Pull matters: It strengthens your back, upper back, lats, rhomboids, core, arms and grip. Grip strength is an indicator of early mortality rates, along with lower body strength (JUST IN CASE YOU NEED MORE REASON TO TRAIN LOWER BODY) and VO2 max. Your arms manipulate everything around you and in order to have proper posture you must have the musculature to support yourself.
Unfortunately when we think of pulling we only think of it vertically, just like when I was a kid. What is a better test? Horizontal pulling. Enter the inverted row.
The inverted row is also known as the reverse push-up and a lot of the same cues apply.
Inverted Row Cues:
-brace your core
-squeeze the glutes
-body stays in a straight line
-engage the movement by pulling with your back (not just your arms)
-find the angle appropriate to your level
Pulling can also be done from 0-180 degrees. Here are exercises from the ground up: deadlift, Yates row, low angle DB row, horizontal row, barbell row, face pull, lat pulldowns, assisted chin up, chin-up, pull-up etc.
Start with inverted rows, then move to single arm dumbbell rows and finally the barbell row (where you’ll need to hinge at the hips!).
Strength Standards To Shoot For:
15 Pull-ups/Chin-ups (Men)
8 Pull-ups/Chin-ups (Women)
20 Inverted Rows (Men and Women)
(PRO TIP: while some get lost in the pursuit of pull-ups it’s a good idea to keep a ratio of 2:1 with horizontal to vertical pulling respectively. Take a look at your weekly training and adjust accordingly.)
Infants learn many new motor patterns. Crawling. Walking. Running.
(Crawling is awesome exercise by the way!)
Though we may take walking for granted and not give it much daily thought, a lot of trial and error went into that amazing process. But before you could walk someone carried you.
The carry refers to locomotion; moving your body through space in a number of ways. Good exercise programs include walking, loaded carries and maybe sprinting, etc.
The weighted carry is generally considered an ab exercise as it targets the core. Think about a Suitcase Carry- when you carry something heavy on one side but do not maintain a normal upright posture. This is a sign of core weakness. The good part about finding weaknesses is that you can then work to strengthen them!
Loaded Carry Cues:
-neutral spine position
-joints stay stacked
-take narrow steps and move through space in a controlled fashion
-don’t rush the pace
Carry Variations: walking, suitcase carry, loaded carries, overhead carries, etc.
Crawling Variations: lateral crawls, bear crawls, Spider-man crawls etc.
Just like when you were a baby that learned to crawl, got stronger with more coordination and eventually learned to walk, so these movement patterns will require practice, commitment to the process (you didn’t give up on walking after all!) feedback and possibly coaching.
If you would like some workout ideas, nutrition coaching or a custom training program designed to fit your specific goals and needs, contact me. Feel free to ask me any nutrition or health questions as well. I look forward to hearing from you!