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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

7 Primal Movement Patterns Explained

Have you ever wondered how our ancestors used to move? How they were able to survive and thrive in harsh environments? How they developed strong, lean and agile bodies that could handle any challenge?


The answer is PRIMAL MOVEMENT, and in recent years, the fitness world has seen a huge surge in interest. Primal movement is essentially patterns that our ancestors performed in order to survive and thrive in the wild. These include squatting, lunging, crawling, pushing, pulling, and twisting; and they not only develop strength and mobility but also enhance overall athleticism and functionality.

By incorporating these patterns into our workouts, we can improve our posture, balance, and coordination, and develop a greater range of motion; resulting in a well-rounded fitness routine and can be a lot of fun! These workouts often involve the use of bodyweight exercises, but can also include weights like resistance bands, medicine balls, and kettlebells.


Join me as we explore the foundational movements of our ancestors and how to weave these into our daily fitness routines.


woman performing a back squat with barbell


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRIMAL FITNESS


The history is traced back to the 19th century when a French naval officer Georges Hébert developed a system of training that emphasized natural motions like running, jumping and climbing; this was further developed throughout the years. In 2017, the highly respected Strength & Kettlebell fitness coach Peter Lakatos began to form the Primal Movement Workout with a focus on core values like injury prevention, improved coordination, energy flow while seeking to develop physical and mental sharpness in a fun way. Thus, Primal Movement Training (aka Ground Force Method (GFM)) was created!

 

THE 7 PRIMAL MOVEMENT PATTERNS


The Primal Movement is based on 7 primal movement patterns and each routine is designed to be fun and playful; symbolic of those used by children when in play. You use your body weight to smoothly flow from one motion into the next. I like to imagine it as a combination of Yoga, Animal Locomotion, Calisthenics and Functional Strength. A great resource to begin learning some of the techniques is at Peter Lakatos Ground Force Movement website.


You can practice these primal patterns using your own bodyweight or adding some resistance such as dumbbells, kettlebells or bands. You can also incorporate other elements such as crawling, climbing, jumping or rolling.


One example of a primal exercise pattern is to perform a figure 4 position while sitting on the ground. This position can be transitioned into a figure 4 lunge to a half heel sit.


The key is to make it fun and challenging! Try different variations, speeds, directions and combinations. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Be creative and playful.


Below is a deep dive into the 7 foundational exercise patterns. They are not only the groundwork for primal movement, but also for any comprehensive fitness routine. Primal movement will weave these foundational patterns into a unique flow.


 

woman performing a push-up
Push-Up

PATTERN #1 - PUSH


The push is one we are all naturally wired to perform. It involves extending the arms away from the body, thereby generating force to push an object or bodyweight away from oneself.


The push motion is fundamental to everyday activities such as pushing a door open or carrying a heavy object. It also plays a crucial role in many athletic activities such as pushing a sled, performing a bench press, or a handstand pushup.


It is essential for building upper body strength, particularly in the chest, shoulders, and triceps muscles. By incorporating push movements into your workout routine, you can improve your overall physical health, increase your strength and power, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.


PUSH EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. PUSH-UP (CLASSIC & VARIATIONS)

The push-up is a classic exercise that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Begin in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart, lower yourself towards the ground by bending your elbows, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.


Variations of the push-up include decline push-ups, diamond push-ups, and one-arm push-ups. These exercises add variety to your push workout routine and challenge your muscles in different ways


2. DUMBBELL CHEST PRESS

Lie on your back on a bench or mat, holding a pair of dumbbells at chest level, with your elbows out to the sides. Extend your arms upward, pushing the weights away from your body, then lower them back down to the starting position.


3. OVERHEAD PRESS

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height. Press the weight overhead by extending your arms, then lower the weight back down to shoulder level.


4. INCLINE BENCH PRESS

Lie on an incline bench with your head higher than your feet, holding a barbell or dumbbells. Lower the weight down to your chest, then push it back up to the starting position.



 


Chin-up
Chin-up


PATTERN #2: PULL


The pull is another essential movement pattern that humans naturally perform. It involves pulling an object or weight towards oneself by contracting the muscles in the back, arms, and shoulders.


The pull motion is critical to everyday activities such as opening a door, picking up objects from the ground, or climbing a tree. It also plays a crucial role in many athletic activities such as rowing, chin-ups, and deadlifts.


It is essential for building upper body strength, particularly in the muscles of the back and biceps. By incorporating pull movements into your workout routine, you can improve your posture, strengthen your upper back and arms, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.


PULL EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. PULL-UP

The pull-up is a classic exercise that targets the muscles of the back, biceps, and shoulders. Begin by gripping a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, then pull your body up towards the bar until your chin is above it, then lower your body back down to the starting position. Play around with different grips, including reversing your grip for a chin-up.


2. LAT PULLDOWN

Sit at a lat pulldown machine with your hands positioned shoulder-width apart on the bar. Pull the bar down towards your chest by contracting your back muscles, then slowly return the bar to the starting position. No machine? Anchor a band up high and use that as your pull-down resistance.


3. BENT-OVER ROW

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell or dumbbells with your palms facing down. Hinge forward at your hips, then pull the weight up towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. Lower the weight back down to the starting position.


4. SEATED CABLE ROW

Sit at a cable machine with your feet securely placed on the footrests and grab the handles with both hands. Pull the handles towards your chest by contracting your back muscles, then slowly release them back to the starting position.


 

Back Squat
Back Squat

PATTERN #3 - SQUAT


The squat is one of the most fundamental movement patterns that humans are naturally wired to perform. It involves bending at the knees and hips to lower the body towards the ground while maintaining a neutral spine, then returning to the starting position by pushing through the feet.


The squat is critical to everyday activities such as sitting down and standing up, picking up objects from the ground, and climbing stairs. It also plays a crucial role in many athletic activities such as sprinting, jumping, and weightlifting.


Training the squat is essential for building lower body strength, particularly in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. By incorporating squats into your workout routine, you can improve your overall physical health, increase your strength and power, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.


SQUAT EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. BODYWEIGHT SQUAT

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Bend your knees and hips to lower your body towards the ground, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.


2. BACK SQUAT

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell across your upper back. Bend your knees and hips to lower your body towards the ground, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.


3. FRONT SQUAT

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your body, with your elbows pointing forward. Bend your knees and hips to lower your body towards the ground, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.


4. GOBLET SQUAT

Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell close to your chest with both hands. Squat down by bending your knees and hips, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels. Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels.


 

Lunge
Lunge

PATTERN #4 - LUNGE


The lunge is a fundamental movement pattern that involves stepping forward with one leg, bending both knees to lower the body towards the ground, and returning to the starting position.


Lunges are a great exercise for developing lower body strength and stability, as they target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Additionally, lunges can help improve balance, coordination, and flexibility.


There are many different variations of the lunge, including forward lunges, reverse lunges, and walking lunges. Lunges can be performed with bodyweight alone, or with additional resistance such as dumbbells, barbells, or resistance bands.


By incorporating lunges into your workout routine, you can build lower body strength, improve single leg balance, improve your overall physical health, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.


LUNGE EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. FORWARD LUNGE

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Take a large step forward with your right foot, bending your right knee to lower your body towards the ground. Your left knee should also bend, with your left heel lifting off the ground. Return to the starting position by pushing through your right heel, then repeat on the other side.


2. REVERSE LUNGE

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step back with your right foot, bending both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Your left knee should bend, with your left heel lifting off the ground. Return to the starting position by pushing through your left heel, then repeat on the other side.


3. WALKING LUNGE

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Take a large step forward with your right foot, bending both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Your left knee should bend, with your left heel lifting off the ground. Push through your right heel to step forward with your left foot, bending both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Your right knee should bend, with your right heel lifting off the ground. Continue alternating sides as you walk forward.


4. SIDE LUNGE

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your right foot out to the side, bending your right knee to lower your body towards the ground. Your left leg should remain straight. Return to the starting position by pushing through your right heel, then repeat on the other side.


 

Deadlift
Deadlift

PATTERN #5 - HINGE


The hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that involves bending forward at the hips while keeping the spine straight and the knees slightly bent. This motion primarily targets the muscles of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.


The hinge is essential for many everyday activities, such as picking up objects from the ground or lifting heavy items. Additionally, the hinge can help improve posture, increase mobility, and prevent lower back pain.


There are many different exercises that involve hinging, including the deadlift, Romanian deadlift, and kettlebell swing. By incorporating hinge exercises into your workout routine, you can build lower body strength, improve your overall physical health, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.



HINGE EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. DEADLIFT

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a loaded barbell in front of you. Hinge at the hips, keeping your spine straight, and grip the barbell with both hands. Push through your heels to lift the barbell off the ground, keeping it close to your shins and thighs. Straighten your hips and knees to stand up, then lower the barbell back down to the ground.


2. ROMANIAN DEADLIFT

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a loaded barbell in front of you. Hinge at the hips, keeping your spine straight, and grip the barbell with both hands using an overhand grip. Keep your arms straight as you push your hips back and lower the barbell towards the ground, keeping it close to your body. Return to the starting position by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips.


3. KETTLEBELL SWING

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell in both hands between your legs. Hinge at the hips and swing the kettlebell back between your legs, keeping your arms straight. Drive your hips forward to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height, then hinge at the hips to lower it back down between your legs.


4. GOOD MORNING

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a loaded barbell resting on your upper back. Hinge at the hips, keeping your spine straight, and lower your torso towards the ground while keeping your knees slightly bent. Return to the starting position by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips.


 


Plank Rotation
Plank Rotation

PATTERN #6 - ROTATION


Rotation is a fundamental movement pattern that involves twisting or rotating the torso. Rotation primarily targets the muscles of the core, including the obliques, rectus abdominis, and lower back muscles. Rotation is an essential movement pattern for many everyday activities, such as reaching for objects or twisting the torso to look behind you.


Additionally, rotational movements can help improve athletic performance, increase mobility, and prevent injury. There are many different exercises that involve the rotation, including the Russian twist, wood chop, and cable rotations.


By incorporating rotational movements into your workout routine, you can improve your core strength, enhance your overall physical health, and enhance your ability to perform daily tasks with ease.


ROTATION EXERCISE EXAMPLES



1.RUSSION TWIST

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Hold a weight or medicine ball with both hands and lean back slightly, keeping your back straight. Rotate your torso to the left, bringing the weight or ball towards your left hip, then rotate to the right, bringing the weight or ball towards your right hip. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


2. WOOD CHOP

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a weight or medicine ball with both hands. Rotate your torso to the left and lift the weight or ball up and across your body to your right shoulder, as if chopping wood. Rotate back to the starting position, then repeat on the other side.


3. CABLE ROTATIONS

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a cable or resistance band handle with both hands. Rotate your torso to the left, pulling the cable or band across your body towards your right hip. Rotate back to the starting position, then repeat on the other side.


4. PLANK ROTATIONS

Begin in a high plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet hip-width apart. Rotate your body to the left, lifting your left hand off the ground and reaching towards the ceiling. Keep your feet in place and your hips stable. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the other side by rotating to the right.



 

High Knees Exercise
High Knees Exercise

PATTERN #7 - GAIT


Gait refers to the pattern of movement when walking, running, or jogging. It is a complex motion that involves coordinated action of multiple joints and muscles in the lower body, including the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Proper gait mechanics are essential for efficient movement, as well as preventing injury and optimizing performance.


When walking or running, the body's weight is transferred from one foot to the other, and the muscles of the legs work together to propel the body forward. Gait analysis is often used by physical therapists (like myself) and sports medicine professionals to evaluate and improve gait mechanics in individuals with movement dysfunction or injury.


By improving gait mechanics through exercises and training, individuals can enhance their overall physical health and optimize their ability to move efficiently and safely.


GAIT EXERCISE EXAMPLES


1. HIGHT KNEES

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise one knee up towards your chest, then lower it back down and repeat with the other leg. This exercise helps improve hip and knee flexion, which is essential for proper gait mechanics and efficient mobility.


2. LATERAL SHUFFLE

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a large step to the right, then bring your left foot to meet your right foot. Take another large step to the right, then bring your left foot to meet your right foot again. Repeat this motion to the left, shuffling back and forth. This exercise helps improve lateral movement, which is essential for proper gait mechanics and avoiding injury.


3. INTERVAL RUNNING

Interval running involves alternating between periods of high intensity running and periods of lower intensity or rest. Examples of interval running workouts include running sprints for 30 seconds followed by a 30 second recovery period, or running at a high intensity for 2-3 minutes followed by a lower intensity or rest period. This type of exercise can improve cardiovascular health, speed, and endurance.


4. HIKING

Hiking involves walking or trekking on uneven terrain, typically in a natural outdoor setting such as a trail or mountain. Examples of hiking workouts include hiking up a steep trail or mountain for an extended period of time, or hiking with a weighted backpack to increase the intensity of the workout. This type of exercise can improve cardiovascular health, strength, endurance, and mental health.

 

woman standing in a field with her arms open

PRIMAL MOVEMENT TRAINING BENEFITS


As a physical therapist, I see great value adding Primal Movement workouts into one’s workout routine. Our bodies are designed to move in complex and varied ways and are not meant to sit for hours, perform repetitive actions and follow rigid routines; we lose touch with our natural abilities and potential and become weak, stiff, prone to injuries, creating muscular imbalances and postural impairments.


Adding functional exercises that naturally replicate tasks we do on a day-to-day basis is a great way to improve longevity, health and independence in our function as we age. Additional benefits include:


IMPROVED FLEXIBILITY

Allowing the body to move in different, non-conventional ways, which can improve the range of motion of both muscles and joints. Additionally, by combining stretching with strengthening, the body can more effectively gain more range of motion and extensibility.


IMPROVED POSTURE

With the focus on moving the body as a whole, rather than through isolated joint movements, you posture can be improved by preventing muscle imbalances. Additionally, the foundational exercises tend to engage extensors and the core which can correct slouching from prolonged sitting through improved stability and alignment.


INCREASED STRENGTH

Exercises like squats and lunges are great for building strength, particularly in the core, legs, and upper body. The movements have a biased towards functional strength which directly translate into real world activities. The natural aging process is against through degradation of muscle, cartilage and collagen tissue. Incorporating functional activities help us as we age maintain our independence and vitality into our golden years.

BETTER BALANCE AND COORDINATION

Primal movement exercises often involve balancing, jumping, and other motions that challenge your balance and coordination. By practicing these exercises regularly your nervous system adapts, and your mind-body connection is enhanced allowing for more graceful and efficient mobility.

MORE FUN

Let's face it, traditional workouts can be boring. Primal movement workouts, on the other hand, are often more fun and engaging, as they involve a wide range of body motions and challenges. By making exercise more enjoyable, primal movement can help you stay motivated and committed to your fitness goals.


 

TIPS AND STRATEGIES TO GET STARTED


1. START SLOW – It is important to start slowly and work your way up to more challenging movements as you progress with your fitness.

2. FOCUS ON FORM – As a physical therapist, I can’t emphasize this enough. Proper form and technique are essential to maximize the benefits and avoid injury.

3. PRACTICE OUTSIDE – Practicing outside allows for more space and natural obstacles to incorporate into your workouts. Consider finding a park or other natural areas to practice.

4. MIX IT UP – Mix up your workouts by incorporating different motions like crawling, jumping and balancing to optimize all the challenges this workout philosophy has to offer.

5. HAVE FUN – Primal movement is meant to be fun and engaging, so don’t take it too seriously! Embrace the playful, animalistic nature and enjoy the process of exploring your body’s capabilities.
 

Primal movement is a form of fitness that involves moving as our ancestors once did, and it has gained popularity in recent years. By incorporating the seven foundational movements of primal fitness - push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation, and gait - into our workouts, we can improve our overall physical health and functional fitness.


Through exercises such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and running, we can strengthen our bodies, prevent injury, and enhance our ability to move efficiently and safely in all areas of our lives. The key is to start with proper form and gradually increase intensity and difficulty as we build strength and endurance.


Primal movement is not just a form of exercise, but a way of life that encourages us to move as our bodies have evolved to. So, let's embrace our primal roots and move as our ancestors once did, to develop strong, lean, and agile bodies that can handle any challenge life throws our way.


So why not unleash your inner animal and give primal movement a try? Your body will thank you for it!


 

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