Your body is an amazing machine! It was designed to move in many different ways. Your body should be capable of walking, running, jumping, hinging, squatting, pushing, pulling, lunging, climbing, picking things up and putting them into overhead spaces, bending, twisting, balancing, swimming, and even pirouetting! You should be capable of short intense bursts of energy, as well as longer slower efforts.
Unfortunately, many of us in the over fifty crowd have lost the majority of these abilities. There are several reasons for this, but the most prevalent reason is inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. Experts in movement agree that humans have seven functional (or primal) movement patterns. The seven functional movement patterns are: Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Hinge, Twist, and Gait.
Way back when our ancestors had to master all these movements simply for survival. If you couldn’t make the long trek to the hunting ground (Gait), then throw your spear (Lunge, Twist, Push), then lift and carry (Squat, Hinge, Pull, Gait) your prey back to camp… you were going hungry that night. While most of us no longer need these types of survival skills (Uber Eats will bring whatever you want right to your door), your body has not caught up to these modern times, and the inability to correctly move in these functional patterns can severely impact our health. Take another look at each of these movements and evaluate where you are today, and where you could use some improvement.
You should be able to perform a bodyweight squat. To do this stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Start the movement by sending your hips back and down while maintaining a neutral spine. Your knees track over your toes and you lower until your hip crease is parallel with (or lower than) your knees. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings and rise back to standing. If you don’t have this movement available to you, try squatting to a chair or other raised surface and work on getting a little lower as you progress. The problem could be mobility related (as opposed to strength related), in which case see the Improve Mobility section above. If you can do body weight squats, it’s time to add some load and get stronger!
The most common version of this is the forward lunge. Keeping the back and spine neutral, simply step forward with one foot and bend your back knee until it gently touches the ground. Push off the forward foot explosively to return to the original position and lunge forward with the other leg. If you can’t complete a full lunge, practice partial lunging until you’ve mastered the movement. Once you’ve mastered the forward lunge, it’s time to add load to get stronger in the movement!
The best test here is the humble pushup. Most people are familiar with this movement. To perform lay on the ground with your hands next to your chest. Brace your core and push your hands into the ground until you’ve raised your body and your elbows are locked out. Your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders should be in a straight line. Lower yourself with control. If you can’t do a pushup, try to do them from your knees until your strong enough to do them from your toes. Once you’ve mastered the pushup, you’re ready to graduate to the bench press to increase your pushing strength.
The gold standard for this movement is the king of body-weight exercises – the pullup. This is fairly straight-forward: hang from a bar and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar and then lower with control. If you can’t do a pull up, you can use a heavy band to assist (or there are machines in many gyms that mimic this), or you can do pullup negatives to practice. To perform a pullup negative, stand on a stool or bench to get your chin over the bar. Remove your feet from the bench and lower slowly. Once you’ve mastered a set of 10 pullups (congratulations!), you can add weight to you body for added resistance.
The best test of the hinge is a deadlift, which is simply lifting an object from the ground. Place an appropriate object on the ground in front of you (this is often a barbell). With feet shoulder-width apart, unlock your knees and hinge forward until your hands reach your knees. From here, keeping your back neutral, hips and shoulders sink down together until you reach the barbell (or object). Now we’ll reverse those motions. Keeping our core braced and our arms straight, hips and shoulders will rise together until the hands reach the knees (your barbell should stay close to your body, even lightly grazing your shins on the accent), at that point stand fully erect. As you get more proficient with this movement, add more load to increase your strength.
Twist refers to trunk rotation, and one of the best body weight tests for this is called the wood chop. To perform this movement, start with your feet should-width apart (a little wider is ok) and unlock your knees. Keep a neutral spine (see a pattern here?) and the chest up, clasp hands and lift both straight arms diagonally across your body toward the ceiling, then bring them down to the other side of your body. You should be able to remain stable throughout this exercise; both feet stay planted and the spine is straight.
Gait refers to walking, jogging, running, sprinting, etc. This is perhaps the most common of the movements and you should be practicing some form of this daily.
These essential movement patterns have deep and primal roots and affect your health and wellness in profound ways. Look for opportunities to improve these seven functional movement every day and your body (and your mind) will thank you!