The 7 Primal Movements

The body is capable of some amazing things.  Powerlifters, gymnasts, football players, and ballerinas all have something in common - they know how to use the natural movements of the body to build strength, power, grace, and flexibility.  Although there are literally thousands of exercises that can be done with or without weights, bands, or machines, they all fall into one or more basic, primal patterns.  Primal patterns are the simplest types of bodily motion - push, pull, squat, bend, lunge, twist, and gait.  

The Paleo Diet sparked the "primal" movement wherein people looked to past cultures and lifestyles in order to achieve optimal health.  For diet, this meant dropping processed man-made foods not found in nature, and for exercise, this meant eschewing conventional gym equipment. The notion of training with basic bodyweight exercises, however, predates this craze.   

The benefits of focusing on these patterns include: symmetry, strength, range of motion, flexibility, and structural integrity.  In addition to helping prevent or recover from injury, mastering the following moves will yield better workouts in less time! 


A push move is any exercise that involves moving an object away from yourself, or yourself away from an object - push ups and hand stands are obvious examples.  Weighted push patterns include bench pressing, shoulder pressing and deadlifts if you imagine pushing the floor away with a barbell in your hands.  These exercises primarily work the muscles of the upper body, specifically the chest, shoulders, and triceps.  


In opposition to pushing is pulling.  Pulling is the act of moving an object closer to yourself, or yourself closer to an object.  The king of pull moves is the free form pull-up.  Other pull based exercises include lat pull-downs, arm curls, and all rowing variations.  The biceps, lats, and nearly all back muscles are worked with these exercises.  


The squat is any exercise where you bend the knees and sink the hips.  This natural movement has become very difficult for many people due to tightness, pain, and range of motion issues stemming from injury or a sedentary lifestyle.  With proper form (and in the absence of injury) squatting is perfectly fine for the knees.  More than that, it is beneficial for knee and hip health.

The bodyweight squat should be mastered before any weighted variations.  This is simply squatting with good tall posture, feet just outside of hip width, until the elbows touch the knees. Variations include front squats, back squats, and even pistol (one-legged) squats.    


The bend pattern primarily relates to flexing from the hips. The deadlift is the most formalized bend exercise, with kettlebell swings close behind. 


Lunges are essentially squats on one leg.  All lunge patterns involve bending with one knee and hip while stabilizing and extending through the opposite.  Walking lunges, reverse lunges, and step ups fall within this pattern.  


The ability to safely rotate the body is an essential element of core training.  Twisting is any movement that involves crossing over different planes of motion - this includes any type of throw or reaching across one's body.  In the gym, common twist exercises are cable wood chops and Russian abdominal twists.  


Gait is human locomotion.  Walking, jogging, running, and sprinting.  Of course, the processes involved in gait also include many of the other patterns as well!

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