It’s easy to complicate exercise.
There always seems to be a new, complex exercise protocol claiming that it’s guaranteed to get you results lightning fast. One day it’s kettlebell flows, and the next it’s blood flow restriction training.
But we don’t always believe the hype.
There is no substitute for mastering the basics when it comes to exercise. In this case, the basics are the seven functional movement patterns.
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Functional movement patterns compose all our daily movements. They are the primal foundation for movement in the human body. There are seven total movement patterns: squat, lunge, bend, core, push, pull, and locomotion.
These movements are great to include in your training plan because they improve your function in everyday life and reduce your chance of injury.
Each time your body coordinates the muscles to perform one of these movement patterns, you’re in the process of developing new neural pathways. The more you perform the movements, the more ingrained and efficient the pathways become, and the more benefits you receive from them.
Now let’s dive deeper and look at each pattern, its role in your everyday life, and the best exercises to train it.
The squat is the first movement pattern. The squat involves the hips and knees flexing together, allowing the center of gravity to lower. The main muscles involved in the squat include the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, and core.
Training the squat improves your ability to get up from the seated position.
Bending is the second lower-body movement. It involves flexing at the hip while maintaining rigidity at the knees, and uses your glutes, hamstrings, and core. The most popular bend exercise is the deadlift.
In your daily life, you use the bending movement anytime you pick something up off the ground.
The lunge is the last lower-body specific movement pattern. It is a support pattern for the squat and bend, requiring active stabilization in both the core and the extended leg.
In daily life, you use the lunge when you walk up the stairs or a mountain.
The fourth pattern is engaging your core. The core is a complex series of muscles, broadly considered the torso (everything below the arms and above the legs). Its main function is to stabilize the spine in static and dynamic movements.
You use the core in most daily activities. It is the main way you stabilize yourself and helps you carry heavy loads when you’re doing yard work or moving.
The first upper body movement pattern is the push. It is any movement where you push a load away from you or push your own bodyweight away. Push movements engage your triceps, shoulders, and chest.
In daily life, the push takes place when you open doors or return to the standing position from prone (lying face down).
The last upper body movement is the pull. It is any movement where you pull a load towards you or pull your own bodyweight. Pull movements engage your upper back and biceps.
The pull pattern is used every time you pick up a trash bag out of the trash can.
The last movement pattern is cyclical. This is a movement that occurs in cycles and that you use to move from one place to another (think walking and running).
Training this pattern will support you being able to move for the rest of your life.
To reap the benefits of these patterns, you need to perform them over and over again. Resistance training—lifting weights—is the best way to do this for all patterns except cyclical because it gives you time under tension in each pattern.
Instead of the traditional exercise-based approach, we challenge you to think in patterns. Create workouts based on the seven movement patterns and then fill in an exercise for each one.
Start with full-body resistance training 2-3 days a week. On a training day, perform each movement pattern with one exercise per pattern. We recommend that you superset—perform back to back—an upper and a lower body pattern, as it’s more time-efficient. A training day could look like the following:
A1) Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift @3030, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds
A2) Dumbbell Bench Press @2111, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds
B1) Goblet Squat @3311, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds
B2) Seated Lat Pull Down @3012, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds
C) Banded Dead Bug @3030, 10-12 reps x 3 sets; rest 60 seconds
On the days you are not doing resistance training, use the cyclical pattern and do aerobic training. Go for a walk, hike, or ride a bike.
Even on a rest day, you should still perform some light aerobic work. The blood flow helps with recovery.
This is one of the most common questions we receive.
To help you answer this question for yourself, we’re teaching our movement pattern-based approach to exercise selection in this free course.
Through 9 videos and the PDF guide, you will learn the fundamental movement patterns and principles of progressing exercise selection.