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Foundational Movement Patterns: The 6 Patterns Every Human MUST Master

If you have been around or heard me speak on behalf of exercise prescription you know very well that I am never married to one exercise when it comes to the prescription of a client. There is no “best” or “must” exercise to perform to hit a certain goal. However, there are a series of movement patterns, that no matter who you are, what your exercise experience is, you need and SHOULD master.

What I am talking about is the 6 Foundational Movement Patterns. The patterns that the human body was designed to perform in some variation or another. The patterns are as follows:

i. Squat

ii. Hip Hinge

iii. Push (upper body)

iv. Pull (upper body)

v. Loaded Carry

vi. Single Leg (lunge)

If for whatever reason your training regimen is missing one of the above foundational movement patterns, you are putting your health and longevity at serious risk, but also will struggle to achieve the results, you so deeply desire. To be frank, no workout program is complete unless these patterns are programmed and performed PAIN FREE.

When it comes to training programs its inherently important to base your training off movement patterns, opposed to “exercises”. This takes more of an individual approach to training, allowing you to use movements that fit your lifestyle and fitness level, contribute to your goals, and most importantly, enhance your long- term health and longevity.

You see, when you spend time developing these 6 movement patterns and apply varying loads and intensities under an experienced coaches’ eye they truly have a remarkable way of developing strength, building some serious muscle and keeping you injury free!

The Squat

The squat is coined the King of all lower body movements. But a common issue that comes into play with the squat is, individuals have no clue how to perform a sound squat. Since movement is the absolute foundation that all training depends on, it is extremely important to dial in quality movement before directly jumping to a loading option. If you find yourself struggling with the squat, below will be a few tips to help you on your way to feeling confident inside the pattern!

First, we must appreciate that every individual will have a different set up with the feet due to hip and pelvic structure. Once we can accept this, it will lead to massive steps forward in realizing individuals must squat differently. You are probably asking, well how the hell do you know where your feet should be during a squat?! And that’s a good question. Rule of thumb is anywhere between hip and shoulder width. Finding your comfortable squat position might take some time but with experimentation you should be able to find your stance rather quickly.

When it comes to your individual stance, it doesn’t matter much of where you fall either shoulder width or hip width but rather that the following boxes are checked while performing the movement:

1. heels stay flat

2. lumbar spine stays neutral

3. proper depth: parallel or below

4. knees track over middle to the outside of your foot.

Once you have found your proper set up for the squat pattern, it is time to start reaping the benefits of this powerhouse of a movement!

Always adhere to the regression- progression protocol when first starting exercise. If you are unaware of what this means or entails for the squat, it is incredibly wise to invest in a certified strength coach.

The Hinge

As a coach I would argue this is the most important movement pattern to learn, since it has the biggest carry over into real life application, and if performed properly and frequently, can make you wicked strong and healthy in everything you do. In hindsight, if you lack the ability to perform a proper hip hinge, you will be more susceptible to lower back injuries for just about your entire life.

I bet without even realizing it, you perform upward of 20 hip hinges a day, from tying your shoes, to picking stuff up off the floor, to grabbing dishes out of the cabinets and so on and so forth.

I am a firm believer that if you want to be good at something, the only way to get good at it is to DO It.

When we break down what the hip hinge entails and how to learn, it is easiest when taught with a dowel rod (pvc pipe/broom stick) and a wall.

When setting up for the hip hinge, ensure feet are shoulder width apart, stand about a foot away from the wall, and place the dowel rod behind your back with the following 3 points of contact

1) The back of the head

2) T-Spine or Upper Middle back

3) Sacrum or base of the spine

Once the proper set up is assumed we perform the movement in the following manner:

1. Brace the core as if you are about to be punched in the gut

2. Bend at the hips, pushing the butt to the wall behind you (remember we must remain with three points of contact with the rod)

3. If you feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings you are performing the movement CORRECT 😊

4. Reverse the movement by standing straight up, contracting your glutes and core hard at the top, before resting or performing more repetitions.

Some common exercises you will see inside of the hinge pattern are:

- Band or Cable Pull Through

-Kettlebell Deadlift

-Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

-Barbell Romanian Deadlift

-Trap Bar Deadlift

-Barbell Conventional Deadlift

-Kettlebell Swing

When first learning the hinge pattern it is suggested to practice with a non-external load until comfortable and then progress accordingly to the regression-progression protocol.

The Lunge

Often a very overlooked movement when it comes to putting on good size and strength to your lower body. The lunge is a fantastic single leg exercise that challenges stability through the foot, ankle, knee, and hip and is a massive bang for your buck movement pattern. If your goal is longevity and or high performance, single leg exercises like the lunge should be a staple in your programming.

Lunges can be programmed in as a primary strength movement, and or as an accessory movement aimed to achieve functional hypertrophy. Majority of the time at Matrisciano Fitness we alternate between Split Squats, Reverse Lunges & Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats. We use the forward lunge very sparingly due to the shear force on the knee.

Split Squats and unilateral exercises alike find their way into our hearts due to most of life being lived on one leg, and majority of sports being played on one leg. With that in mind, building strength in the unilateral pattern is a tremendous way to stay pain free. Unilateral exercises like the Split Squat are arguably safer than its counter-part, the bilateral squat (back squat) due to the friendliness on the lower back.

Split Squat- The least complex single leg lunge pattern and majority of the time our starting point with our clients. Split squats can be programmed in for hypertrophy work, or as main strength movement if the athlete or individual has earned the right to do so.

Reverse Lunge- Excellent movement to take stress off the knee compared to the forward lunge. We love the reverse lunge because of its ability to load up the glutes and hamstrings to a greater degree.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat- Our favorite unilateral leg movement and for good reason. The RFESS is a powerhouse when it comes to developing balance, hip flexibility, size, strength and performance. The RFESS can without a doubt be programmed in as a main strength movement that will yield massive PAIN FREE results.

The Push Up

The push up is one of the MOST butchered movements we see as coaches inside of the gym. Unfortunately, most individuals lack the proper coaching and fail to realize the complexity of this movement. Often, folks perceive this movement as just pushing your body up and down off the floor, however this could not be further from the truth, and proper form.

Performing the push up requires a great deal of motor control, functional strength, and body alignment.

As coaches here are the cues we use and look for:

1. Glutes are not contracted- Flexing your glutes assists gravity opposed to fighting it. The goal instead should be to engage your hip flexors to resist the gravitational force.

2. Glutes stay tall, don’t let hips sag- It is very common to see folks allowing their hips to sag, this results in lower back pain majority of the time. Focus on keeping your hips in line with your torso throughout the entire movement with a powerful core contraction.

3. Natural Curvature to the spine- Put simply, your back should not be exactly flat, but instead should remain with a slight arch to it.

4. Tall neck and head- Keep the neck and head long, most folks drop the head, or lift it too high to the ceiling. Leave the neck and head long to remain in proper alignment.

5. Elbows- Elbows should never be flared, and majority of the time they should not be at 45 degrees. Keep the elbow angle to 10-20 degrees for best practice.

6. Chest out- As you descend into the push up, you want to be focused on retracting (pulling back) and depressing (pulling down) your scapula or shoulder blades. This will take shear force off the shoulder joint an ensure pain free movement.

7. Foot Position- Remain on the toes, a lot of lifters fall to the heels during the push up, this results in less than optimal form.

The Pull

Row variations and pull ups are a staple in any good strength program because of their ability to build super-hero strength and pack on a ton of muscle! However, they are one of the most poorly executed movements inside the gym. Lacking the ability to properly perform pull ups, not only is extremely ineffective but potentially injurious as well.

If you are finding yourself struggling with pull ups, or even having pain after performing the movement, refer to these cues below to clean up the issue.

1. Shoulder Stability- if you have to jump to reach your pull up bar, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage before even starting the movement. Instead, place a box or bench below you and use that as a stepper to allow you to get into an optimal set up. By using the bench, you can create max tension at the bottom of the movement, enhancing strength throughout the kinetic chain but also stability in the shoulder joint.

2. Straight leg position- How often do you see lifters bend their knees during the pull up? It is extremely common to see this, however the lack of a strong and stable spinal position is contributing to your problematic pull up. Other movements inside the gym require a neutral spinal alignment during the duration of the movement and the pull up is no different.

Weakness and dysfunction is masked by the knees bent, hips extended back position and will no longer suffice in your pulling patterns.

Instead, position feet in front of you, knees straight, hips slightly flexed forward. This position allows the spine the opportunity to remain neutral through-out the movement, but also engages the core and stabilizers and allows them to work optimally.

3. Glutes, Quads, Core- Lastly, contract your glutes, quads and core, to create full body tension and use the body as a strong functional unit. Being able to link up the kinetic chain as one firing unit, the stronger, more athletic and more pain free your pull will be!

The Carry

Whether you are a desk jockey, athlete, construction worker, or doctor, your core strength and overall health can be SIGNIFICANTLY improved. Failing to train your core in a standing or walking position can dramatically hinder health and performance.

Lifting and carrying heavy objects is a phenomenal way train the core while standing or walking, the carry helps avoid postural issues and core dysfunction.

If there is one exercise you can do daily in here, it is a form of a carry. Not only is it the BEST core exercise you are most likely not doing but, it will help fight against the constant sitting, texting, and slouching, you ARE doing.

Start with light to moderate loads and increase gradually. Once you have perfected the carry and its form, you will be free to reap the amazing benefits of training this movement in varied weight and duration!

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