Primal Movement Patterns…Back To Basics!

Every time I open my Instagram feed or Facebook feed I see fancy exercises, complex moves that require A LOT of skill and YEARS of practice. Moves that would even intimidate me, someone who has been training for almost 2 decades. In today’s fitness industry, its all all about the hardest moves you can do, the 1000 push ups, that single arm wall plank, those flip squats…all this can leave most feeling really overwhelmed and intimidated. Making them feel that to achieve their fat loss or fitness goals they have to be able to move their bodies this way else they won’t get results.

Well I’m here to tell you..this is NOT TRUE! You don’t need to be able to do fancy moves to achieve your fitness goals. It’s all about the basic movements, it’s all about being able to engage the RIGHT muscle groups through your movements. We  have 6 primal movement patterns that we perform during our daily activities and if we choose exercises that mimic those patterns, strengthening the both the primary and secondary muscle groups used through these movements,  then that’s all we need! 

Primal Movement Patterns:

1) The Bend:


We bend all the time, be it to pick something up, to change diapers, to lift items etc. However, many of us perform this pattern wrong, we don’t engage the right muscles. We let the back of our core take the hit and the front of it slack. The main activation that need to happen here is the Glutes  and your core, by core here I mean that Diaphragm. There are various exercises that you can perform help you learn how to activate the right muscles when you bend. My favorite one is the oh so loved  Deadlift! The Deadlift is king of full Body compound exercises. It works your  glutes, core, legs as well as upper body. Doing deadlifts in bad form will cause back pain so please be careful. Begin with just body-weight deadlifts and add weights once you’re comfortable with the form. If you can perform the perfect deadlift and apply that to your natural bend pattern and engage the right muscles EVERY TIME, then you’d be working your muscles all day long! Once you’re comfortable with the different variations of a two leg deadlift, you could add in 1 leg deadlifts, low cable deadlifts etc. The next exercise which is great at activating your glutes is Glute Bridges. Again, watch your form here. Squeeze those glutes, engage that TVA (Transverse Abdominis) and feel the burn. Once you are comfortable with the basic bridge you could add weights to them, do single leg ones etc. 

2) The Squat:


Again we squat all the time. Getting up and down from a chair, sitting on the toilet, picking something up from the floor, picking up a baby etc.  The issue is that many of us squat wrong. We fail to activate the correct muscle groups and in this case its the glutes. They are the primary movers. Diaphragm engagement is crucial here too. Secondary movers include the Quadriceps and Hamstrings. If when you squat, the first muscle to give out is your quads, then check your form!. Your glutes should be burning first. Most of us knee load ( pressing on the balls of our feet causing our weight to press on our knees) and straining our knees. When we squat, we need to hip load instead (weight on your heels, chest up as you squat down). Learning how to squat properly will allow you to again, engage the right muscle groups which will allow you to perform your chores more efficiently and eliminate any unnecessary back and knee joint pain. Once you get the hang of the standard squat, add in some variations with weighted squats, single leg squats, sumo squats, ballerina squats. Also add in some high impact stuff if you’re comfortable so exercises like jump squats, pop squats, step ups and downs.

3) The Lunge:


The lunge is another basic movement pattern that we perform daily. Its more or less like the Squat, it engages similar muscle groups i,e glutes, legs, core. Getting in and out of a car, stepping over an item on the floor, when you trip and catch yourself…all types of lunges. Again, many perform this wrong by not activating the correct muscles. When you lunge, your glutes and core are activated. Lunges, side static lunges, back lunges, front lunges, split squats…all this will help you achieve the activation you need and once you get the hang of them, add in some variations with weighted lunges, lunges with twists, jumping lunges etc.

4) The Twist:


Whether we are looking behind us, twisting to grab something or put something away, throwing a ball….we perform this pattern all day. In fact, it may well be one of the most important of all the Primal Movement Patterns because it’s an integral part of most functional activities. Combining the wrong movement pattern of a twist and a bend is the source of many back problems. Your main movers in a twist are your obliques, so you need to engage them while breathing correctly (diaphragmatic breathing) through the movement patterns. Those who perform this movement wrong will feel soreness on their back because they are activating their lower back as well as their lats (Latissimus Dorsi).   Every time you twist, brace your core, engage your obliques, this will allow you to use the muscles you’re suppose to. The best exercises to help include Standing Dumbbell Wood chops, barbell dowel twists (start with body weight twists first to feel the correct muscular activation), Standing Cable Wood Chops, lunges with twists etc. 

5) The Push:


Push the pushchair, push items in a shopping trolley, push..push..push..we perform this movement all day. Do we engage the right muscles? Not all the time. The correct muscle activation needed for pushing are the chest, core and of course you need that overall core stability . Those who perform this pattern wrong will mostly over activate their Trapezius muscles leading to neck pain. Learning how to activate the correct muscles will save you from a lot of aches and pain. The best chest exercise for training yourself include Push ups, yes I know many of us LOVE to hate push ups but believe me, activating the right muscles, will make that push up a whole lot easier! Chest presses, Over head dumbbell press..are also great exercises for training your chest. Other secondary push muscles are your triceps so basic floor Triceps Dips, will do those triceps some good!  

6) The Pull:


Again, another standard movement that we perform everyday. Pulling clothes from the washer, opening doors, opening car doors, picking up your baby or items off the floor. The primary muscle groups deployed during the pull movement include glutes (if picking up baby), the biceps, the shoulder muscles and of course your core! ALWAYS!  To strengthen these muscle groups so we can perform this movement pattern more efficiently, exercises like Deadlifts and Bent Over Rows, Shoulder exercises, Bicep curls (more isolated though) are excellent! When you get comfortable with the correct engagement then add in some Pull Ups (assisted for modification), They call in all the right muscle groups. Again, the weight you choose doesn’t have to be heavy, you can go light and just increase the number of repetitions.

Squat, Lunges, Deadlifts, Oblique Twists (Dowel twists, Russian twists), Triceps Dips, Bicep Curls, Plank, Push Ups, bent rows. Are really ALL the exercises you need to remain functional! Of course the more variations you have the better as it will allow you to pull in and work on different muscle fibers allowing you to work your body at different angles but they really are all you need.

The stronger you get, the more complexity you can incorporate into your workout but you DON’T have to! If you’re a beginner, just start here and you’ll be good to go. The best place to start is to LEARN how your body moves, TEACH it how to move efficiently by working on how to engage the correct muscles. You’ll also want to include some cardio to keep that heart nice and strong and to speed up your fat loss. Again, the moves here don’t have to be fancy and you can modify as and when necessary. My quick go to cardio moves are:

Jumping jacks, 
High knees, 
Low switch kicks, 
Low Impact High Knees, 
Mountain Climbers, 
Lateral Jumps (both low and high impact).

I like adding these at the end of my sessions, usually do 100 reps of each without or with minimal break in between. Of course you don’t have to do it that way, you could do 10-15 reps each and repeat 3 times and done!

So the next time you see someone doing fancy moves, don’t get intimidated! That person was once a beginner just like you. They can now do all those fancy complex moves because they’ve mastered the basics, they KNOW how and when to engage the right muscle groups through basic exercises and through practice. And that is where you need to start too. Jumping into something complex when you’re fairly new to exercise could lead to Injury so please don’t. Go back to the basics and master the basic moves and then take it from there!

PS: I know I have mentioned the Diaphragm and Diaphragmatic Breathing without giving too many details. I will have a separate article for this with detailed information soon 🙂

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