All of the movements you do throughout the day—getting into your car, hoisting groceries, holding a child on your hip—stem from just seven basic building blocks our body uses to manage these movements called primary movement patterns. This is our brain’s way of managing the millions of different movements we practice throughout each day.
We begin to develop these movement patterns shortly after we’re born, and we continue to depend on them for the duration of our lives.
Given that they’re the root of everything we do, you can imagine the detriment that improper movement patterns can cause. The problem is, most of us have dysfunctional movement patterns without realizing they’re out of whack.
Think about your car being out of alignment. Chances are, things aren’t so bad at low speeds. But when you hit the highway, you might hear new noises and feel shakes where you shouldn’t. Ignore the small things long enough, and a chain reaction of expensive problems can start to develop.
Our bodies operate in much the same way. Things might feel okay—or maybe you even learn to take a little everyday pain for granted—until one day you notice you can’t move like you need to. You have stiffness and pain in new places all the time, and even basic movements feel increasingly tough.
Some mistakenly view these troubles as an inevitable byproduct of getting older, when in actuality proper movement pattern training can alleviate them immensely.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on training these movement patterns versus training individual muscles.
If you’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition, a bicep curl might do you good. But if you’re preparing to take on each and every day of a long life, training movement patterns is the only way to pain-free success.
So, what exactly are these movement patterns and when did we all start using them? Let’s break ‘em down to the basics.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #1: PUSH
This is the first movement pattern we attempt as babies. When a baby lifts her head up for the first time, she’s developing the shoulder and torso muscles she needs to roll, crawl, and eventually walk upright.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #2: TWIST
The shoulder and torso strength you gain from the push leads to the ever important twist. When a baby begins to twist her torso, she’s developing her thoracic spine’s (upper back) ability to rotate, which should happen with every step we take.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #3: PULL
Now that our baby can push and twist, she’s rolling around freely, and ready to take on the next developmental step: pulling. As a baby begins to pull herself up, she’s developing the back muscles she’ll need for more dynamic movements like climbing.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #4: GAIT
After she’s up on her feet, our baby uses the movements she’s gained so far to shift her weight and attempt to propel herself forward. This leads to—you guessed it—walking. A pretty important development.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #5: HINGE
Otherwise known as bending over, this is when our baby’s body learns to pivot using the muscles of her hips and thighs, and the stabilizers of her spine. Hinging is a complex pattern that enables lifting, carrying, and most importantly, falling safely from her newfound standing height.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #6: SQUAT
Coordinating hip hinging and knee bending, a squat further utilizes the muscles of the thighs and hips, in addition to stabilizers of her torso. From a squat position, a baby can rest, explore, and use it as a platform for jumping and lifting.
PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERN #7: LUNGE
The lunge brings it all together, honing skills in coordination, balance, and strength. It exercises the stabilizers of every major joint and emphasizes dynamic leg strength. This is the final movement pattern preceding most sports skills.
If you’re reading this, you’ve long been utilizing the seven primary movement patterns every day. But you may not have realized the importance of getting them right and the harm in getting them wrong. Movement is an inherent gift and shouldn’t be painful or difficult. With consistent practice, these seven patterns can keep your body tuned up, out of pain, and leave you feeling more confident than ever.