The Seven Human Movements You Absolutely Need To Know [2018 Update]

Before we get into the seven human movements, I want to recommend the most comprehensive guide on athletic training for people over thirty: The Strength Matters System of Athletic Development.

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Why does it matter? What are the movement patterns? How can you use them?

The human body and the functions it can perform are an amazing amalgamation of millions of years of evolution and adaptation. I often read about the incredible physical feats of soldiers during WWII, which puts the most elite of modern soldiers to shame. The capabilities of Spartans, Centurions and Vikings were even more superhuman in the eyes of today’s armchair athletes. Why is today’s typical body less superior? Because 2,000 years isn’t long enough for devolution to occur at the same rate that our physical performance has deteriorated. We’re still born with the same musculoskeletal system as our recent ancestors.

Like a baby, our grip should be one of the strongest things about our body. We should be able to remain in the deep squat position comfortably for long periods as we socialize and eat. We should also revisit the squat position multiple times per day to get up and down and occasionally pick up heavy things. The organs of our digestive system are perfectly adapted and aligned to pass waste while also in the deep squat.

We spend so much time sitting in chairs that our entire bodily structure changes and adapts becoming more efficient at sitting.Click To Tweet

We should be able to walk long distances where swinging arms and upright head posture are key components for efficiency, awareness and injury prevention. This facilitates the ability to sprint explosively over very short distances when required for the sake of feeding or avoiding danger. Our feet are perfectly adapted to react instantaneously to the ground beneath each step. The fluidity of actions and movements at all joints throughout the entire body are highly dependent on the sensory feedback from foot contact. We can even use our entire body to climb for food, build a shelter or escape from danger.

Many times per day we should be able to bend over from any position, pick things up (of various loads) and carry them without risk of injury. We should be able to push and pull on things in all directions and sometimes throw or catch them. Sometimes we fall over and tumbling to break the fall and getting back up again without difficulty should be part of the process.

The human body is the great adaptor and will acclimate to any stimulus that is regularly applied. The powerhouses that should be our hands and all the structures that are neurologically connected become weak. We force our feet to live in tight shoe prisons so there’s no need for the bones to splay and absorb. The foam or rubber soles eliminate all valuable sensory input. The arches collapse, ligaments stiffen and the feet become concrete blocks perfectly adapted to living in a shoe at the end of an inactive leg.

The brain learns that there’s no need to maintain neural pathways with the biggest and most powerful muscles so our butts go to sleep. The ability to maintain a strong and stable midsection, which protects the lower back and transmits forces throughout the body is no longer required. We stare at digital screens for hours every day bringing the position of the heavy object that is our head forwards. This leads to a plethora of crippling reactions further down the chain. In older years, it’s highly likely that many of us will fall over. If the fall itself doesn’t break us, at some point we’ll lack the strength and mobility required to get back up again. Deploy violins. Wait—there’s hope!

Regardless of age, your body will adapt to any stimulus you regularly and frequently apply. The rate of adaptation may take a little longer for more senior humans, but it’s never too late. If you regularly perform each of these movements every day, you’ll never lose the ability.

The Seven Fundamental Human Movements

At Strength Matters, we have categorized the ways in which the human body should move. Human movement patterns have been broken down a number of times in the past by pioneering industry leaders such as Paul Chek, Dan John and Steve Maxwell (a big thanks to all of you for your inspiration). We don’t think our version is any better, but the following movement categories make more sense to us when programming for the Everyday Athlete. All daily movement and training programs should include the following patterns:

  1. Locomotion. This is the most important, but often most neglected movement. It includes crawling, stepping up, walking, walking while carrying something, sprinting.
  2. Hinge. When we hinge (bend over), we use the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body, the glutes (or at least we should). Movements include the prayer movement, bridge variations, bending over to pick something up, deadlifts.
  3. Squat. This is the original human sitting position. Includes rocking, single leg squats, goblet squats.
  4. Anti-rotation. This means eliminating movement through the torso while the shoulders and hips move. It also means having the ability to stabilize the spine in the event of external forces being applied. Includes steering a shopping cart, countering an external force in the form of an accidental push or a nudge, single arm or single leg resistance training.
  5. Rotation. This is very similar to anti-rotation, but in this case, the torso produces movement instead of resists it. Includes reaching for something, throwing, boxing, windmill.
  6. Push. This pertains to the upper body’s ability to press in all directions. Includes putting a suitcase into an overhead locker, getting up from the floor (or from an armchair), a push-up, a dip or military press
  7. Pull.  This pertains to the upper body’s ability to pull in all directions. Includes opening a door, picking something up from the floor, pulling yourself up onto something, climbing or hanging from a ledge.

Next two paragraphs (geeks only!):

Where does the lunge fit in? We believe that the lunge is a combination of two movement patterns. The first is locomotion because of the way the oblique slings contralaterally work with each other in order to locomote the body. It is very similar to that of walking. Depending on the situation, the torso position and the degree of knee flexion, the lunge is either locomotion-hinge or locomotion-squat. If the torso is leaning forward during the lunge, as it might be in order to pick something up off of the floor or reach for something at knee height, it’s likely the anterior knee will only be flexed up to 45 degrees. It’s, therefore, a hip-dominant movement thus a locomotion-hinge. If the torso is upright during the lunge, as it might be when carrying something or when stepping up or down, the anterior knee is more likely to be flexed closer to 90 degrees. When the hip and knee work together to the same or to a similar degree during the lunge pattern, it’s a locomotion-squat.

In bodybuilding circles, the upper body movements are broken down further to vertical pushing and pulling and horizontal pushing and pulling. Locomotion and anti-rotation are often not considered. You don’t need locomotion or stability to grow big muscles. I’m not knocking bodybuilding. A muscle mass cycle features annually in my own training, but consider the physiques of the 100m sprint line-up. Regularly putting a weekly speed and power session of the locomotion family (i.e. five to 40-meter sprints) into your program will increase the number of fast twitch fibers (larger) and will have a positive effect on your body composition and hypertrophy goals. Expert sprinter and Strength Matters Instructor Franz Snideman has put together an entire certification teaching the progressions, drills and correctives to get anyone sprinting. Check out Primal Speed.

Where are we going with this?

We all possessed almost perfect movement patterns as small children (before the chair and inactivity screwed everything up). Re-establishing good movement will not be like learning a new language from scratch. You’ve already learned the language in the first six years of your life. The neural pathways haven’t died completely. It’s just a case of reminding your brain what should be happening.

Each of the seven movement patterns has a continuum associated with it; a full spectrum of movements and exercises ranging from the most basic and fundamental to the most explosive and advanced. We all possess an ability to some degree to carry out each movement, but our goal is to help you identify your weaknesses and create balance. Anyone of any age can start somewhere on each continuum and we’ll show you where and how.

What Now?

If you’re keen to start owning your own movement, I’ll leave you with some tips to get you started. These will not only help new starters, but are also extremely beneficial for the advanced Everyday Athletes. DISCLAIMER: Don’t do anything that causes or increases pain. If in doubt, seek medical approval.

  1. Get up and down from the floor ten times per day. If you’re in the habit of watching TV during the evening, watch it from the floor. Play games with your kids or partner on the floor. Hang out on the ground as much as possible. Have a roll around while you’re down there. The floor is not just a place a place for pets and children. It’s sacred. It’s the learning ground for all good movement.
  2. Walk for at least 30 minutes, uninterrupted, every day. Swing your arms. Be aware of your surroundings. Focus on breathing into your abdomen (inhale: tummy goes out, exhale: suck tummy in). For humans of all levels of athleticism, this is essential. Make it a habit by working it into your commute or meet a friend for a morning walk.
  3. Go barefoot wherever and whenever possible. (I’m not saying run barefoot—that’s another blog entirely). Balance on one leg every time you brush your teeth. Left leg in the morning. Right leg in evening. While brushing, play around with the position of the non-supporting leg and hip. Try hip raises. Make small circles with your supporting knee. As you advance, try doing it with your eyes closed. Before leaving the house, put one shoe on at a time while balancing on the other leg. We should all be able to balance on one leg with our eyes closed for at least 30 seconds. People who run regularly should pay particular attention to this tip because running or jogging is, statistically, the most dangerous activity.
  4. The root of almost all modern musculoskeletal injuries is spending too much time seated in a chair. If producing a medical note is what it takes to persuade your employer to provide a stand-up work station, most private physical therapists worth their salt would happily testify to the damage that being seated is causing. If standing really isn’t an option, take all calls standing.
  5. Spend some time every day in the deep squat position. For the majority of people this is uncomfortable and awkward so try
    the supported deep squat. Hold onto something sturdy such as a sign post or a door frame, keep your feet pointing straight forward with heels planted and lower yourself down as far as possible. Hang out there. Try to keep your chest up and breathe. Try several deep squat holds, several times per day—especially if you spend more than a couple of hours in a chair. For those who can already squat deeply without support, do it while you wait for a bus, while you read an article or send a text message.

May the Force be with you.

The High-Performance Handbook for Everyday Athletes Over 30

Learn the world's most effective training system for people over thirty who want to look better, feel better, and perform better.

FREE Digital Download


The Seven Fundamental Human Movements You Need To Know
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The Seven Fundamental Human Movements You Need To Know
In this article, Phil McDougall covers the seven fundamental human movements that you need to know.
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