6 Basic Movement Patterns

We all have exercises that we like, and therefore do a lot; and there are exercises that we dislike, and don’t do, unless we’re forced. I have them too. We tend to gravitate towards those bodyparts that we enjoy training, and steer clear from those that we don’t. The problem with doing the same exercises over and over again (and not doing others ever) is that you risk injury.

When one group of muscles is significantly stronger than another group, you will move differently than if your muscles are balanced in strength. Strong muscles pull on other muscles in the body, and weaker muscles stretch out.

An example of that might be if you have weak lower back, the stronger muscles in the glutes and hamstrings will pull on your lower back muscles. That could pull your pelvis out of alignment, and cause pain not only in your lower back, but also your hip flexors.



Why you want to cover these movements

Sure! Your body moves in so many different ways than just these six movements, but these basic movements will hit your major muscle groups. Of course, add other movements into your training that you don’t see here – like rotation, core and cardio conditioning exercises. Just make sure that these movements are equally represented in your overall workout routine.

If we split your body up in quarters (upper half/lower half & front/back) and give equal time to each of these muscle groups, you should be able to avoid injury due to muscle imbalances.

There are 6 basic movement patterns that you want to make sure are represented in your workout routine: Pushing & Pulling both vertically and horizontally for your upper body, and pressing & hinging for your lower body.

Each of these movements does not have to be done every single time you exercise, but do make sure that there aren’t any that you’re avoiding.


6-basic-movements-chartUpper Body Movements

Horizontal Push

What it works

Chest, Triceps, Front Shoulder – Hand position relative to your body is going to have a huge impact on which muscles are recruited. Moving the hands up will work the shoulder more; moving the hands down will shift the force to your chest. Hands closer together and elbows close to the body will recruit the triceps more, while hands spread apart will place more emphasis on the chest.


Horizontal Pull

What it works

Back, Biceps, Rear Shoulder – Just like the Horizontal Push, hand position is going to impact the muscles worked. Pulling into your shoulder area and flaring your elbows out to the side will work the shoulder more, and pulling into the rib cage, keeping your elbows down & back, will work the muscles in your middle back.


Vertical Push

What it works

Shoulders, Triceps – Your shoulder muscle (deltoid) has 3 major parts: anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear). Although the Vertical Push works all three parts, the main muscle worked is the lateral.


Vertical Pull

What it works

Back – Specifically, the Latisimus Dorsi (aka: bra fat muscle)


Lower Body Movements

Press (Squat)

What it works

Glute, Quadricep, Calf – for bilateral movements like the squat and leg press, foot position will play an important role in how the muscles of the lower body are worked similarly to the upper body hand positions: feet further apart will activate the hip muscles, and whether the toes are parallel or pointing outward could put stress on the knee if the knee doesn’t follow the same plane as the toe.



What it works

Glute, Hamstrings, Calf


How to incorporate these movements into your workout

There are no shortage of opinions on the best method for putting together a workout. It all comes down to, what is your goal?

A traditional bodybuilding format of training is to break the body up by body-part; performing chest exercises one day, back on a separate, and legs on another. Some people prefer to do full body workouts, where you would perform all of the movements mentioned.

Pushing & Pulling

A third and equally compelling format is to perform pushing movements one day, and pulling movements the next. What is nice about this body part split, is that you’re essentially doing full body workouts, working both upper and lower body within the same session, but by alternating pushing movements one day and pulling the next, you’re avoiding working out a sore muscle, since few of those muscles overlap between days.

When you perform pushing movements, you work the front of your body. When you perform pulling movements, you work the back of your body. The Chest and Triceps are synergistic muscle groups – meaning that they work together. The Back and Biceps are also synergistic muscles. When you work your Chest, you work your Triceps. When you work your Back, you work your Biceps.

How I am currently incorporating this concept into my weekly routine, is that on my dedicated strength training days (push and pull), I will either superset (switching between two exercises) my upper and lower body exercises, or perform giant sets (circuiting between 3+ exercises). I pick about 3 exercises from each of the three movement patterns (push/press or pull/hinge), and perform 10 repetitions of each exercise 3-4 times. This takes me anywhere from 30-40 minutes.

On days when I’m not doing dedicated strength training, I usually pick out one of my favorite 20 minute workouts.

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