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Are You Including These 6 Foundational Movement Patterns in Your Exercise Program?

Let’s break it all down. 

When it comes to intentional exercise, what should we be doing?


With the popularization and commercialization of fitness in recent decades, there has been no shortage of “fitness trends” or “experts” selling one form of training over all others. 


The truth is, though, that when it comes to exercise, there is no one type that reigns supreme. 

Forms of Exercise


There are many ways to get in shape and to be active. 


Whether it be going out for a walk or run, taking a Barre class, or hitting the weight room, it’s all an effort to improve your wellness through exercise.


While there is no definitive list, it is fair to say that most exercise can be grouped into a handful of categories. Below is a broad, but useful classification system: 


  1. Strength/Resistance (Power Lifting, Bodybuilding, Bodyweight Training…)

  2. Aerobic Capacity (Walk/Jog/Bike…)

  3. Speed/Power (Jumping, Sprinting, Olympic Lifting…)

  4. Stability (Balance, Core, Coordination…)

  5. Mobility (Yoga, Stretching, Rolling)


Frequently, these concepts overlap to a large degree. As with most things, it is important to engage in a balanced approach to physical activity and fitness. Just like in nutrition where a well balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from a variety of food groups, a well balanced exercise program involves a variety of activities from a variety of movement groups!

However you decide to pursue fitness, though, it is imperative that you do so upon a concrete foundation of proper movement.

The Foundational Movement Patterns


Movement is the foundation upon which all fitness and exercise rests.


Your body is built to move in specific ways. In fact, there are a handful of movement patterns through which your body is intended to work no matter the environment or activity.


These are widely known as the “Foundational Movement Patterns.”


Learning, practicing, and mastering these basic human movements are the keys to engaging in any physical activity safely, effectively, and consistently for a long period of time.


At Provision Nutrition & Wellness, we develop all of our training around six foundational human movement patterns: 


  1. The Squat

  2. The Hip Hinge

  3. The Lunge

  4. The Push

  5. The Pull

  6. Walking/Running/Carrying


These movements are considered foundational because of the very fact that your body is asked to perform them on a daily basis. 


Getting into and out of your desk each day? You’re squatting. Bending over to pick that backpack up off the ground? Hinging. Getting to class in the next building? Walking (and carrying that backpack!). 


If we want to perform at and feel our best, no matter the activity, we must have a firm handle on these movement patterns and the fundamental exercises that develop them.

Take a closer look

Squat: This is a movement pattern essential to our DNA. Squatting (properly) is how we were designed to sit – chairs, couches, and toilets haven’t always existed. Squatting and standing is one of the basic movements that is getting up and down. 

It is also a movement that can be used to improve your performance in every way. Proper squat mechanics translate into enhanced body control in a multitude of movements, keeping you injury-free and energy efficient. 

A good squat will set anyone up for a healthier life.

When many people think of “The Squat”, they think of a traditional barbell back squat. While this is one type of squat, it is only one exercise under the larger squat movement umbrella. 


The most basic variation of the squat is a bodyweight squat, often called an “Air Squat”. 


The Air Squat is the easiest squat variation due to the lack of any external load. For this reason, we should ALWAYS master our bodyweight squat first.


Once we have mastered the most basic of squat movements, we can begin to progress to more challenging variations.

Squat Movement Examples:

  • Air Squat

  • Goblet Squat

  • Barbell Back/Front Squat

  • Overhead Squat

Hinge: Every one of us performs the hip hinge movement many times throughout our daily lives. Whether it be simply picking up our backpack off the floor, or preparing to jump up for a rebound in a game of pick up basketball – we are performing this primal movement pattern whether we know it or not.


That’s why mastering this foundational human movement pattern is so important. 


Learn and train the hip hinge and you’ll avoid injury, improve performance, and open up your total body mobility and stability. It’s also absolutely vital to master if you plan on training with any sort of intensity in the future – jumping, lifting, throwing, it all requires the ability to maintain a neutral spine while bending at the hips! 


The hinge is defined as the ability to bend at the hip while maintaining a strong core, neutral spine, and stable lower body.

While the deadlift is a classic example of a hinge exercise, the hinge pattern encapsulates a greater range of movements. Instead of avoiding the movement because of a fear of something intimidating like the deadlift, we should learn the movement first in an unloaded environment.


It is critically important that we regularly work and train our hip hinge


Depending on ability, a great place to begin is a simple glute bridge on the floor or begin the simple Bodyweight Good Morning exercise and progress upwards from there.


Hinge Movement Examples:

  • Bodyweight Good Morning or RDL

  • Med Ball Deadlift

  • Barbell Deadlift

  • Clean

Lunge: Unilateral training refers to any time your limbs are asymmetrical while performing the movement in question. One limb is driving the action while the other is just along for the ride, or, often, acting as a stabilizer.


Single arm rows, for example, are a unilateral upper body pulling movement.


In this case, though, we are talking about lower body, single-leg movement. More specifically, we are referring to a group of movements we have broadly classified under the label of “Lunge”. 

While training unilaterally, you will likely discover muscle strength or mobility imbalances right away! 

Such movement is crucial to proper training, because, essentially speaking, that is the way we are intended to move. It’s the basis of your most primitive patterning, meaning it shares much in common with walking/running/carrying/etc (which is another of our foundational movement patterns). 


Training with volume and intensity in the lunge pattern allows us to highlight and erase imbalances in a pattern we use throughout our lives without even realizing it.


As with all patterns, we begin in an unloaded environment, using the body weight alternating forward lunge, and progress from there.


Lunge Movement Examples:

  • Forward Lunge

  • Reverse Lunge

  • Walking Lunge

  • Step Up

Push: In many training programs, though, the push pattern is quite often overemphasized and under-executed. Not only that, horizontal pushing tends to dominate, whereas vertical (overhead) pressing is often neglected, despite being just as important to healthy shoulder function.


To make matters worse, the press is frequently loaded up (like in the classic bench press) well before proper mechanics have ever been cemented.


Just as with all of our foundational movement patterns, we must learn to press in an unloaded environment first. 


Enter the traditional Push Up.

The push-up exists as our base pressing movement because it allows us to build up core stability, along with the shoulder and back strength needed to perform more advanced pushing movements like the Bench Press or Barbell Overhead Press. 


Push Movement Examples:

  • Push Up

  • MB Overhead Press

  • Barbell Bench Press

  • Barbell Overhead Press

Pull: The importance of pulling your own body to an object, or an object to your body, cannot be overstated. 


In fact, pulling is a physiological necessity in order to optimize results and avoid injury. We actually know that strong and stable shoulders ultimately depend on our pulling more than our pushing – so long as we are pulling properly, and doing so into multiple movement planes, that is (horizontal and vertical, just like our push). 


Thus, the act of “pulling” with the upper body is widely considered to be one of the foundational human movement patterns. 

Bodyweight pulling movements are one of the trickiest components to incorporate in a successful fitness program. 


Honestly, bodyweight pulling, like the traditional pull up, is a daunting movement for MOST people, as it is extremely difficult to perform even 1 perfect rep without first practicing and developing the requisite strength and body control. When starting out, people will often avoid the movement altogether if given the chance.

Not to worry! Instead, begin at the easily scaled horizontal pull known as the inverted row, and progress from there.


Pull Movement Examples:

  • Inverted Row

  • Pull Up (Assisted or Full)

  • DB Rows/Band Rows/Barbell Rows

Carry: it’s easy to see the foundational role walking, running and carrying plays within our day to day lives. 


Think walking, jogging, sprinting, or carrying anything at all.

The simple act of walking requires single leg strength and stability, a strong core, and full body coordination. Then we can “intensity” via the speed of the movement, aka jogging or sprinting.


To help support our locomotive patterns, we can and should also incorporate various loaded carries into our training. Loaded carries help develop our core strength and ability to move against resistance.


Such ability, in turn, supports ALL six foundational movements. 


“Gait”(or walking/running/carrying) Movement Examples:

  • Walking

  • Jogging

  • Sprinting

  • Loaded Carries

Whether you prefer to be a weight room warrior, or want to master your craft as a future E-Sport legend there is no escaping the need to perform the foundational human movements. 


The prevalence of these movements throughout life and sport is why we must ALL work to improve our ability and capacity to perform them. 


Thankfully, there are plenty of variations and progressions available, meaning you can incorporate and train each movement without ever needing to touch a heavy weight.


What is most critical is that we train ALL six movement patterns in some way, consistently. 


Doing so will not only improve your daily life right now, but it will also lead to long term health benefits, keeping you healthy, mobile, and able well as you age. 

Kelly Sherman, MS, NC, CGP, CPT, is a licensed nutritionist specializing in empowering women to reclaim their health by cutting through misinformation and ditching the diet culture. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and exercise sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!


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