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The 7 fundamental movement patterns in strength training

Strength training incorporating fundamental movement patterns is a science-driven approach to unlocking the body's full potential. At the heart of this methodology lie the seven movement patterns: hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, lunge, and rotation.


These patterns are not exercises but rather the cornerstone of human biomechanics, deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and daily activities. Understanding and mastering these movements is paramount for anyone looking to enhance their physical capabilities, prevent injuries, and achieve lasting success in the gym and daily life.


A personal trainer lays front-side on a incline bench as he performs a dumbbell row.

Importance of 7 fundamental movement patterns

From a scientific perspective, the fundamental movement patterns are the basic templates for all human motion. They encompass the primary ways in which our bodies interact with the physical world, whether we're performing complex athletic maneuvers or simply engaging in everyday tasks.


These patterns are governed by the principles of biomechanics and kinesiology, which dictate how forces are applied to and by the body to achieve efficient, safe, and effective movement (1).


Engaging in strength training that emphasizes these fundamental patterns does more than build muscle. It enhances neuromuscular coordination, or strength, improves proprioception, which is the body's ability to sense its position in space, and increases metabolic efficiency.


By training these patterns, we also ensure a balanced development of the musculoskeletal system, reducing the risk of imbalances that can lead to injury. Furthermore, this approach promotes longevity in training by laying a solid foundation upon which advanced skills and strength can be built.


A personal trainer lowers a weighted barbell as he demonstrates a deadlift.

Hinge exercises

The hinge is a pivotal movement pattern that emphasizes the posterior chain, or back of the body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This pattern is crucial for developing power, improving posture, and enhancing athletic performance.


Beginner: kettlebell deadlift

The kettlebell deadlift serves as an accessible entry point, teaching the fundamental aspects of the hinge. It allows beginners to grasp the concept of pushing the hips back while maintaining a neutral spine, laying the groundwork for more advanced hinge movements.


Intermediate: Romanian deadlift (RDL)

The RDL builds upon the basic hinge by adding a component of hamstring and lower back strength. Holding a barbell or dumbbells, the movement focuses on hip hinge mechanics with a slight bend in the knees, enhancing posterior chain development.


Advanced: power clean

The power clean is an advanced variation of the hinge movement that incorporates power and speed. It transitions from a powerful hip extension to a rapid catch phase, requiring coordination, timing, and explosive strength, making it a staple in athletic strength programs.


A man stands with a large amount of weight on a barbell placed on his back as he begins to decent into a squat.

Squat exercises

The squat is a major movement that emphasizes the integration of the kinetic chain, engaging muscles from the core to the lower extremities.


Beginner: goblet squat

The goblet squat, where one holds a kettlebell or dumbbell close to the chest while squatting, is an excellent starting point. This variant promotes upright posture and depth control, making it ideal for beginners to develop proper form and lower body strength.


Intermediate: barbell back squat

Progressing to the barbell back squat introduces additional load and complexity. The barbell's placement on the traps or upper back requires enhanced core engagement and balance, pushing the boundaries of strength and stability.


Advanced: overhead squat

As an advanced option, the overhead squat demands exceptional mobility, strength, and coordination. Holding a weight overhead while performing a squat challenges the entire body, particularly targeting the shoulders, core, and stabilizing muscles throughout the lower body.


A man unracks a weighted barbell as he begins to perform an incline barbell chest press.

Push exercises

Push patterns engage the chest, shoulders, and triceps, fundamental for upper body strength and functionality.


Beginner: push-up

The push-up is a versatile exercise that builds foundational upper body strength. It can be modified to suit various fitness levels, making it an ideal starting point for developing pushing strength.


Intermediate: dumbbell bench press

Transitioning to the dumbbell bench press introduces additional stability requirements and allows for a greater range of motion than its barbell counterpart.


This exercise enhances chest, shoulder, and tricep strength, with the added benefit of engaging stabilizer muscles.


Advanced: overhead press

The overhead press, performed with a barbell or dumbbells, is an advanced push movement that targets the shoulders, triceps, and core. It requires significant shoulder mobility and stability, offering a comprehensive upper-body challenge.


A personal trainer demonstrates how to perform a dual arm cable row.

Pull exercises

Pulling movements are essential for back, bicep, and grip strength, key components of a balanced fitness regimen.


Beginner: TRX rows

TRX rows provide an effective entry point for developing pulling strength. This exercise can be easily adjusted to match the individual's strength level by altering the body angle relative to the TRX.


Intermediate: dumbbell row

The dumbbell row advances the pulling complexity by focusing on unilateral (single arm) strength, improving muscle balance and core stability. It's a versatile exercise that targets the back, biceps, and shoulders.


Advanced: pull-up

The pull-up represents the pinnacle of pulling strength, requiring significant upper body and grip strength. It's a comprehensive exercise that challenges the entire back, biceps, and forearms, symbolizing mastery over one's body weight.


Lunge exercises

Lunges are a dynamic movement pattern that emphasizes unilateral (one-sided) strength, balance, and coordination.


An older man holds two kettlebells as he performs kettlebell walking lunges inside a gym.

Beginner: stationary lunge

A stationary lunge is a foundational exercise where you take a step forward, then lower your body until both knees are bent at about 90 degrees. This exercise helps build the base for more complex lunge variations by focusing on stability and strength in the lower body.


Intermediate: Bulgarian split squat

Elevating one foot on a bench behind and performing a squat with the front leg, the Bulgarian split squat is a challenging intermediate exercise. It requires balance and targets the muscles of the lower body intensely, with an emphasis on the quadriceps and glutes.


Advanced: walking overhead lunge

Taking lunges to an advanced level, the walking overhead lunge combines the complexity of walking lunges with the added difficulty of stabilizing a weight overhead. This exercise not only demands strength and balance but also exceptional coordination and core engagement.


A personal trainer demonstrates a kettlebell waiter carry while inside a gym.

Carry exercises

Carry exercises enhance grip strength, core stability, and overall endurance, simulating real-world activities that involve moving objects over distances.


Beginner: farmer's walk

The farmer's walk is a simple yet effective way to build foundational carrying strength. By walking with weights in hand, this exercise improves grip strength, posture, and core stability.


Intermediate: suitcase carry

The suitcase carry introduces an asymmetrical aspect to the carry, challenging the core to stabilize against uneven loads. This variant promotes unilateral strength and balance, crucial for functional movement.


Advanced: overhead carry

Elevating the carry to an overhead position drastically increases the challenge, requiring superior shoulder stability, core strength, and coordination. The overhead carry is an advanced exercise that tests one's ability to stabilize and move efficiently under load.


Sidebar: evidence linking grip strength to health and longevity


A personal trainer holds his grip tight as he demonstrates a seated barbell overhead shoulder press.

The correlation between grip strength and health outcomes, including longevity, has been displayed through numerous scientific studies, making it an important metric for overall health and well-being.


Grip strength is not just a marker of muscular strength but also serves as a reliable metric for evaluating physical health, predicting mortality rates, and identifying the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other chronic conditions.


Predictor of mortality

A comprehensive analysis published in The Lancet involving over 140,000 participants across 17 countries demonstrated a strong association between grip strength and mortality (2).


The study found that every 5-kilogram decline in grip strength was associated with a 17% increase in the risk of all-cause mortality, a 17% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality, a 7% higher risk of heart attack, and a 9% higher risk of stroke.


An indicator of cardiovascular health

Research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology highlighted grip strength as an independent predictor of cardiovascular events (3). Individuals with lower grip strength were found to have a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes, suggesting that improving muscular strength could potentially lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.


A man walks on a treadmill while inside a gym.

Association with chronic diseases

Studies have linked higher grip strength to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a study published in the Endocrinology and Metabolism Journal, researchers discovered an increase in grip strength was associated with reduced risks of developing type 2 diabetes, highlighting the role of muscular strength in metabolic health (4).


Connection to cognitive function

Evidence from the Journal of Gerontology suggests that grip strength in older adults is positively correlated with cognitive performance (5). This indicates that maintaining or improving muscular strength could play a role in preserving cognitive function and delaying the onset of cognitive decline.


Role in aging and functional capacity

Research indicates that grip strength is a reliable indicator of biological age and functional capacity. Stronger grip strength in older adults is associated with greater physical ability, lower risk of hospitalization, and improved quality of life, according to studies published in Age and Ageing (6).


Implications for incorporating the farmer carry into health and fitness programs

These findings underscore the importance of incorporating strength training, particularly the farmer carry, into fitness and health programs across all age groups. Improving grip strength can serve as a preventative measure against various health issues, thereby promoting longevity and enhancing the quality of life.


Given the evidence, it becomes clear that grip strength is not merely a reflection of muscular health but a vital biomarker for overall health, longevity, and functional independence.


Rotational exercises

Rotational movements are crucial for a well-rounded fitness regimen, enhancing core strength and the ability to move efficiently in all planes of motion.


A personal trainer lays facedown on turf while he holds a kettlebell over his head with one arm.

Beginner: lying windshield wipers

Start by lying on your back with your arms extended to the sides for balance. Lift your legs towards the ceiling, then slowly lower them to one side, keeping your shoulders on the ground. Return to the center and repeat on the other side.


This exercise introduces rotational movements in a controlled manner, focusing on core engagement and flexibility.


Intermediate: cable woodchop

The cable woodchop involves pulling a cable from high to low across the body, engaging the core, shoulders, and obliques.


This intermediate exercise is excellent for developing rotational strength and power, essential for athletic performance and daily activities.


Advanced: half Turkish get up

The half Turkish get-up, a component of the full Turkish get-up, focuses on the initial phase of the movement, from lying to the seated position. This advanced exercise challenges core stability, shoulder stability, and coordination, offering a comprehensive workout that addresses multiple aspects of functional strength.


Application: sample workout

Now that we’ve talked about the fundamental movement patterns, let's apply them in a week-long program. Below is a week-long program for a beginner, including additional exercises to complement the fundamental movement patterns.


This enhancement provides a more comprehensive approach, targeting various muscle groups for balanced development. Each training day consists of six exercises, designed for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday sessions.


Key terms

  • Sets and reps: The number of times you perform the exercise and the repetitions within each set.

  • RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion): A scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is very easy, and 10 is maximal effort, as described in this blog post.

  • RIR (Reps in Reserve): The number of repetitions left before failure.

  • Rest period: The time you rest between sets.

  • Tempo: The speed at which you perform one repetition, expressed in Eccentric-Isometric-Concentric format, except for time-based exercises like Planks and Farmer's Walks which do not follow the tempo format.


Monday

Sets

Reps

RPE

RIR

Movement

Rest period

Tempo

3

8-10

6

2

Goblet Squat

90s

3-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Dumbbell Bench Press

90s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Body Rows

90s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Plank

3 sets of 30-60s

N/A

3

8-10

6

2

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

60s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Bicep curls

60s

2-0-2


Wednesday

Sets

Reps

RPE

RIR

Movement

Rest Period

Tempo

3

8-10

6

2

Deadlift with Kettlebell

90s

2-0-2

3

8-10

6

2

Push-up

90s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Farmer's Walk

1 min walk

N/A

3

8-10

6

2

Russian Twists

60s

2-0-2

3

8-10

6

2

Leg Raises

60s

2-0-2

3

8-10

6

2

Tricep rope extension

60s

2-0-1


Friday

Sets

Reps

RPE

RIR

Movement

Rest Period

Tempo

3

8-10

6

2

Bulgarian Split Squat

90s

3-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Cable Woodchop

90s

2-0-2

3

8-10

6

2

Walking Overhead Lunge

90s

3-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Tricep kickback

60s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Face Pulls

60s

2-0-1

3

8-10

6

2

Calf Raises

60s

2-1-2


 

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References

  1. Elvan, A., & Ozyurek, S. (2020). Principles of kinesiology. In Comparative Kinesiology of the Human Body (pp. 13-27). Academic Press.

  2. Sayer, A. A., & Kirkwood, T. B. (2015). Grip strength and mortality: a biomarker of ageing?. The Lancet386(9990), 226-227.

  3. Ding, N., Ballew, S. H., Palta, P., Schrack, J. A., Windham, B. G., Coresh, J., & Matsushita, K. (2020). Muscle strength and incident cardiovascular outcomes in older adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology75(9), 1090-1092.

  4. Hamasaki, H. (2021). What can hand grip strength tell us about type 2 diabetes?: mortality, morbidities and risk of diabetes. Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism16(5), 237-250.

  5. Zammit, A. R., Robitaille, A., Piccinin, A. M., Muniz-Terrera, G., & Hofer, S. M. (2019). Associations between aging-related changes in grip strength and cognitive function in older adults: a systematic review. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A74(4), 519-527.

  6. Syddall, H., Cooper, C., Martin, F., Briggs, R., & Aihie Sayer, A. (2003). Is grip strength a useful single marker of frailty?. Age and ageing32(6), 650-656.

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