Reclaim Functional Movements

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.

1. Squat

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!

2. Lunge

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!

3. Push

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.

4. Pull

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. 

5. Hinge

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. 

6. Twist

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.

7. Gait

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!

Posted in

Kevin English

2 Comments

  1. Dawn on September 9, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Kevin
    I’m long time listener of Dr Gabrieli Lyons. Your a great role model @ 57 in your physical appearance. Few Real people are in your camp-
    DIET D diet I = in E= Every Thing
    I am 60 yr old regular athlete in reasonably good shape. I lift & do some kind of exercise pretty much everyday since a child surrounded by athletes. 3 children all college athletes. Nutrition has always been key, 2 boys 6’2, 6’5 & 5”10 all athletes football track & lax. Serious cooking for 19 yrs. Each one of us had different requirements. I spent a lotta time in the kitchen after leaving my career at 36. I’m one of those women who couldn’t do it all and keep my sanity in mind & body. I focused on our family.
    I am not on any meds , I go once a year for a physical at an intern & dermatologist.
    I go to life screening once a year & get blood done thru life extension hormone, Small & large LDL cholesterol panels and insulin markers.
    Few if any doctors are nutrition educated or focus on physical skeletal and muscle abilities rather a pill and disease vs prevention.
    I live in Sarasota where there is a larger % of elderly .
    I believe 55- 70 & 70-80 80-90 beyond need specific prescriptions for mental & body wellness . Change is really tough for people as they get older if they just never did the work needed to stay in shape. Habits are key, discipline & nutrition education begins in elementary school.
    Muscle, movement & mind body connection as well as true HOW to cook with info on grams, ounces and a push to get off soda juices junk food ect knowing sugar is the culprit .
    Many older folks lose their actual tast for protein and substitute sweets n alcohol.
    Athletes of all ages are on top of their game. Unless the average person gets educated and moves that body you and me and all the health people will be paying in our health insurance for them. Yup it will be 50.00 for an 1 aspirin moving forward.
    Not sure if you do a you tube for 55 and over for women, show n tell full body work out regime using weights so people can see.
    Also Bob Cooley is an amazing source of info in the world of stretching for functional medicine. Do a google search.
    Enjoyed your interview with Dr Gabrielle

    Sincerely ,
    Helping one person at a time live a quality life

    Ps I’m off meeting a 96 yr old energetic former body builder in her 49’s & 50”s woman. Friended at the gym . She’s outlived her whole family

    • Kevin English on September 9, 2021 at 8:51 pm

      Dawn – thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, and I’m glad you liked the Dr. Lyon interview! Also thanks for suggesting Bob Cooley, I was unfamiliar with him but will spend some time digging into his work – who knows, maybe I can get him to come on the podcast. ? I love that you’re helping others live quality lives – keep up the great work!!!

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