You are currently viewing 6 Fundamental Movement Patterns to Feel and Move Your Best

6 Fundamental Movement Patterns to Feel and Move Your Best

Many of us have more fun keeping our workouts fresh and interesting. And that’s not a bad thing! Variety is the spice of life, after all.

But, like spice, too much variety can be a detriment. If your workouts are a random mess of exercises, you’ll likely struggle to make much progress.

That’s where having a few fundamental movements can be a game-changer. By focusing on a handful of movement patterns that you perform consistently, you can enjoy significant variety while still being focused and effective in your training.

1. Squat

Squatting is one of the most beneficial movements you can do. A good squat works the whole lower body. When loaded, it can effectively challenge your core and upper body, as well.

In addition to building lower body strength, squats can protect knee and hip health, develop ankle and hip mobility, and keep you independent as you age.

There are a lot of different ways to squat, including some single-leg variations. And, because of individual differences in anatomy, your squat may look different from somebody else’s.

However you squat, there’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Feet flat on the floor, with equal pressure through the big toe, little toe, and heel.
  • Lead with the hips by sitting ever so slightly back to start your squat.
  • Think of your legs as corkscrews, twisting them into the floor away from each other as you squat.
  • Keep your chest and your gaze out, not down.
  • Squat as low as you can with good control and with a straight back – don’t round over.
  • Allow the knees to travel over the toes, as long as the heels stay down.
  • As you squat, create space for your belly to fit between your thighs, not on top of them.

A few possible squat variations:

  • Air squat
  • Cossack squat
  • Single-leg squat
  • Goblet squat
  • Front squat
  • Thruster

Learn how to improve your squat here.

2. Hinge

After the squat, the hinge is probably the second most important movement to learn. Doing a hinge well helps you pick  things up and stoop with less wear on your back.

The primary difference between the squat and the hinge is that the knee travels through a large range of motion in a squat, but a significantly smaller range in the hinge. Think of it as opening and closing a hinge at the hip, not the knee. As a result, the hinge tends to target the hamstrings and glutes more than the squat.

In addition to building lower body strength, hinging helps protect knee and hip health, improves power output, and fortifies the low back.

A few things to keep in mind for most hinge variations:

  • Keep the feet flat on the floor, with equal pressure through the big toe, little toe, and heel.
  • Hide those armpits! Imagine you’re holding a magazine under each armpit and you don’t want to drop them.
  • Soften the knees to allow the hips to move freely.
  • Reach back with the hips – hard. Don’t reach towards the ground – a good hinge will lower you toward the ground.
  • Keep the shins fairly vertical throughout. Movement is at the hip, not the knee.
  • Squeeze your butt muscles hard to return to the start.

A few possible hinge variations:

  • Jumps and bounds
  • Glute bridge
  • Hip thrust
  • Deadlift
  • Dumbbell Snatch
  • Swing

3. Lunge

Besides working one leg at a time, lunges tend to challenge the body in a very different way than a squat. In a lunge, the lead knee typically stays behind the toes, whereas the knees are free to travel over the toes in a squat. Additionally, the working leg’s knee and hip typically travels through a smaller range of motion in a lunge than in a squat. As a result, lunges tend to target the glutes and hamstrings more than most squat variations.

The lunge is important for developing good balance, coordination, and single-leg strength. Consistently including lunges in your routine can help you bust through plateaus in your squats or deadlifts and make you more capable outside of the gym.

A few things to keep in mind for most lunge variations:

  • The front/leading leg is going to do most of the work. The rear leg is really only for support and balance.
  • Keep the knee behind the toes on the forward leg.
  • Drive hard through the lead foot to return to standing.

A few possible lunge variations:

  • Reverse lunge
  • Step-up
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Barbell front rack forward lunge
  • Bear hug walking lunge
  • Double dumbbell front foot elevated split squat

Need some help?

Would you rather have someone tell you exactly what you need to do? Then our Trained For Adventure online coaching program is a perfect fit for you. Your coach will provide a custom program based on your goals and experiences to help you get fitter than ever. Send videos to your coach to get specific feedback on your form and upload pictures of your meals for quick tips on improving your nutrition.

4. Upper Push

Any exercise that involves pushing or supporting a weight at arms length typically falls into this pattern.

This movement pattern helps develop overall upper body strength and muscle mass. It can be further subdivided into horizontal and vertical push patterns. Including both patterns helps develop greater functional strength and can minimize wear and tear on your shoulders.

A few things to keep in mind for most push variations:

  • For horizontal pushing, keep the shoulders packed and stable throughout the movement by pulling the shoulder blades back and down.
  • Flex your glutes and quads to help keep your back straight.
  • Don’t flare the elbows out to the side. Whether vertical or horizontal, most push patterns will feel better and be more effective with the elbows angled out around 45 degrees from the shoulder.
  • Stack the elbows and wrists vertically.

A few possible upper body push variations:

  • Push-up
  • Walking plank
  • Toe-off chair dip
  • Dumbbell floor press
  • Dumbbell push press
  • Barbell strict press

5. Upper Pull

Movements that pull a weight towards the body or resists a forward pull is usually going to be an upper body pull pattern.

This movement pattern helps develop overall upper body strength, muscle mass, and maintains shoulder health. Like the upper body push pattern, you can also separate the pull into the vertical and horizontal plane.

Developing strong pulling muscles helps undo the loss of function caused by our modern sedentary, hunched-over lifestyles. The horizontal plane is especially good for maintaining strong, healthy shoulders and upper back.

A strong back also provides a stable foundation for heavier push, squat, and hinge patterns. It also creates a solid, more resilient base for carrying heavy packs or lugging your kids around.

Due to the massive benefits of the pull, I like to have my clients perform pull patterns at least twice as often as the push pattern.

A few things to keep in mind for most pull variations:

  • Start a pull with active shoulders, pulling the shoulder blades back and down, then pulling with the rest of the arm.
  • Focus on pulling the elbows back, using your back and shoulders, rather than pulling with your arms.
  • Don’t flare the elbows out to the side. Whether vertical or horizontal, most pull patterns will feel better and be more effective with the elbows in tight or angled out less than 45 degrees from the shoulder.
  • If you have to shrug to finish a rep, either the weight’s too heavy or you’re doing too many reps.

A few possible upper body pull variations:

  • Kneeling assisted pull-up
  • Inverted row
  • Superman hold
  • Alternating bent-over row
  • Weighted chin-up
  • Barbell hang power clean

Want to learn how to get your first pull-up? Check out our step-by-step guide.

6. Carry

The last fundamental movement pattern is the loaded carry. Out of all the patterns listed here, this is the one that most people perform outside of the gym. Whether you’re carrying groceries, toting around a kid, or moving furniture, the loaded carry is an integral part of every day life.

Including the loaded carry in your training can significantly improve your core integrity and trunk stability. It can simultaneously develop a strong back, shoulders, grip, hips, and core.

The main thing about including loaded carries in your training is to make them challenging enough that they make normal walking difficult. A good loaded carry should force you to create a lot of internal tension to remain upright and stable.

If you’re short on space, you can just march in place. This will provide much of the same challenge to your body and core.

A few things to keep in mind for most carry variations:

  • Use a hinge or squat to pick up and set down the load.
  • Limit any leaning, rounding, or twisting as much as possible. Remain as upright and tall as you can throughout the carry.
  • Keep the chest up and shoulders down. Don’t shrug to compensate for a weak back.
  • Pull your navel in slightly then imagine pushing out against it to create 360 degrees of pressure throughout your belly. Just as an aluminum can is strong when intact, you want to create a wall of consistent pressure around your core to stay tall and strong.

A few possible loaded carry variations:

  • Farmer’s carry
  • Suitcase carry
  • Double rack march
  • Single-arm rack carry
  • Bear hug carry
  • Overhead + rack carry

Putting it together

Ideally, you’d perform each movement pattern at least twice a week. Here’s three ways you could implement this each week:

2x per week: workouts include each pattern
3x per week: a lower body day, upper body day, and full-body day
4x per week: two lower body workouts and upper body workouts each

It helps to have a particular focus for each workout. For example, for a 4-workout week, one lower body workout might start with heavy squats then use a hinge and lunge pattern as accessory work. The next lower body workout might then start with heavy lunges, then use lighter hinge and squat patterns as accessory work.

You can read more about how to write your own workouts here.

Next Steps

This may be enough for some people. Others may need a little more guidance. You want to know what to do, when to do it, and how to progress from where you are now to where you want to be.

That’s exactly how we can help.

For those who want step-by-step guidance and a coach to keep you accountable, check out our awesome Trained For Adventure remote coaching program:

Thanks for reading! We hope this resource is helpful. Feel free to bookmark it to keep it handy.

And, if you are looking for something to make the difference in your fitness, keep this in mind while shopping around:

Fitness should empower you to do the things that excite you.​

You deserve a program that helps you become confident, strong, and capable in the outdoors (and in life). That’s exactly what we do.

All the best,

Wait, what about other planes of movement?

The exercises I list here mostly take place in the sagittal plane. That is to say, these movements are largely done by either moving forward or backward.

Other coaches and systems may consider it necessary to include movements that target rotational or lateral movements.

I don’t (along with many, many other experienced strength coaches).

While doing exercises specifically targeting other planes can add a degree of variety and may be therapeutic in certain circumstances, human movement doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Everything we do is done in three dimensions. For example, when you take a lunge forward, you are introducing instability into the system, which challenges the body to avoid rotational or lateral collapse.

Every time you include exercises that uses free weights (such as dumbbells) or target one side of the body at a time, you’re already working these other planes to a fairly significant degree. It becomes redundant to make things more complex.

For most people, we just need to keep things simple. Adding in more complexity and less intensity just makes it less likely we’ll see any progress at all.

Leave a Reply