Do you wake up stiff and sore or in pain every day? Have you ever asked yourself “am I going to be stuck living like this for the rest of my life?” If so, you’ve lost the ability to perform one or more of the fundamental movement patterns well. The idea of “fitness” these days isn’t what it used to be and just “exercising” won't make you better. Learning about and exploring movements through their full range will enable you to regain control of your body and eliminate the pain and barriers holding you back.
The fundamental movement patterns are movements that are fundamental to our development. As we develop from a newborn baby we learn to roll over, as we grow into a toddler we learn to lift and walk. School age children learn to run and we finally learn to climb and swing in our teenage years.
Why are they important?
At each stage of our development there are “milestones” that are suggested to be essential for developing the next skill. For example, our Cervical spine curve is developed as we lift our head to look up at the world, then our Lumbar spine curve is developed as we learn to weight bear on our hands in a pushing action. Rolling/twisting helps to develop the cross-core “X” pattern we see with our internal and external obliques which helps us to develop bi-pedal connection & co-ordination when we get to crawling. Our core strength is developed as we crawl and resist gravity pulling us back down.
Learning to stand, hinge, squat all develop the strength, coordination and balance required to walk, jump and run. If these movements are lost in our adult years due to a sedentary lifestyle, trauma or poor movement habits then the body will look for other ways to compensate. This is the most common cause of back and shoulder pain.
What happens if we skip one of the movements in our development?
If one pattern is missed, this has the potential to put more strain on the tissues of the body during later pattern development. As an adult this might be experienced as tightness, asymmetry, dysfunction or pain. If one pattern is missed in this process it’s not the end of the day as it can be taught but fundamentally, humans should all develop these skills autonomously.
What happens as we get older?
Naturally, gravity is the only constant physical stress on our body and over time, it will win if we aren’t pro-actively working to resist it by developing a strong frame/posture. At the same time, old injuries can impact function, so rolling an ankle 20 years ago may cause a dysfunction in your squat pattern which is now expressing itself as back pain. Why does this cause an issue?
The habit of sitting on the toilet, performing a partial squat, everyday, thousands of times over, will cause muscles to develop strength in certain ways depending on what dysfunction it’s holding onto, a movement repeated daily will cause an adaptation to occur to keep the system moving optimally and efficiently given it’s task parameters. If you say you want to go to the toilet but you have back pain, your brain will get you there the most efficient way possible while causing the least stress or trauma to the body as possible. Survival. Do this over and over and you’re strengthening a bad pattern.
Pushing is the first movement pattern we attempt as babies. When a baby lifts their head up to see the world for the first time, they’re developing the spine, shoulder and torso muscles required to roll, crawl, and eventually walk upright. It’s also the time our spine begins to develop it’s unique S curvature.
A common pushing based movement we see adults lose with age is the Push Up. Commonly NOT done so well, so here’s a step by step checklist for a great push up.
Hands underneath your shoulders with the top of your shoulder inline with your knuckles.
Legs straight with your quadriceps squeezed tight.
Buttocks squeezed tight.
Abs squeezed tight.
Grip the ground with your fingers.
Pull your chest to the ground by pulling your scapulas together.
Keep your elbows between 0-45 degrees from your torso.
Stop 1 inch from the ground and press back out, thinking about your elbows doing the pushing.
Don’t let the elbows flare out.
Don’t forget to breathe out as you press out.
The shoulder and torso strength you gain from the push leads to the ever important twist. When a baby begins to twist their torso, they’re developing the relationship between the pelvis and ribcage, two big bony structures that protect our vital organs. In conjunction with this relationship the spine’s develops it’s ability to rotate, which is a key component of walking, running, swinging and throwing movements. A common twisting based movement we see adults lose with age is running.
Here’s a checklist for your running pattern.
Land toe first.
Both arms should swing in front of and behind you.
Both stride lengths should be similar distance.
Arms should be at 90 degrees when in front of you.
Your front leg should come up to 90 degress in front of you as your opposite leg extends fully behind you.
There should be a “flight phase” between steps.
After a baby can push and twist, rolling around freely, they’re ready to take on the next developmental step: Pulling. As a baby begins to push themselves back onto their knees, into a squatting position, they then begin to develop their pulling muscles to enable them to pull themselves forward one hand at a time. Eventually they develop the strength to start climbing up objects and hanging, then brachiating (monkey bars). A common pulling based movement we see adults lose with age is hanging. Here’s a checklist for hanging.
Grip with your pinky fingers
Hands shoulder width apart
Collect 60 seconds passively (relaxed hang) then collect 60 seconds active hang (scapulas depressed down to the back pockets).
Maintain core tension by tucking your pubic bone up at the front.
Once they have spent the time developing their push/pull strength, they can now begin to develop their coordination and strength between hip and rib cage (your “core”) in a loaded quadruped position eventually allowing them to crawl. The rhythmic relationship of left hand/right leg moving in coordination is what builds the foundation for us to walk bipedally (on 2 legs). A common “core” based movement we see adults lose with age is their ability to hold a correct plank. Here’s a checklist for the straight arm plank.
Hands underneath shoulders with knuckles in line with top of shoulders.
Legs straight with quadriceps squeezed tight.
Buttocks squeezed tight.
Abdominals squeezed tight.
Pushing away from the ground so your shoulders are protracted.
Hold for 60 seconds.
Otherwise known as bending over, this is when a baby learns what it feels like to balance on two feet. Developing the confidence to not fall over is a big step towards taking the first step. Hinging uses the big muscles of the hips and thighs, and the stabilizers of the spine. It’s a complex pattern that requires coordination, balance, rhythm, mobility and strength. It builds the strength through the Posterior Line which enables us to pick things up and eventually builds the confidence that will allow us to take a step without falling. If the Hinge becomes weakened it opens the door for all sorts of musculoskeletal issues as gravity (stress) continues to pull us down as we age.
A common hinge based movement we see adults lose with age is their ability to Deadlift. Here’s a checklist for the Kettlebell Deadlift.
Stand directly over top of the Kettlebell with feet just wide enough so they don’t touch the kettlebell, this might be between hip-shoulder width depending on the size of the bell.
From a tall standing position, maintain a neutral spine as you sit the hips back until you find hamstring tension.
If you cannot reach the kettlebell yet, bend your knees slightly to take yourself lower, but ensure to keep tension through your hamstrings so you don’t turn it into a squat dominant pattern.
Once you can grip the kettlebell, keep your chest up as you push the earth away. (like a leg press action).
At the top, stand up as tall as you can.
To return the bell to the ground, repeat the same process, slide your hips back to find hamstring tension, keep your chest up as you bend your knees until the bell is resting back on the ground.
Breath in at the bottom and breathe out only 25% of your air at the top of the movement so you maintain torso tension until you get back to the ground.
Once a baby has built the strength and confidence to stand on two feet, then move rhythmically up and down to pick things up, the next stage is to move with the object. From a caveman perspective this is the animal we’ve just caught for dinner or the fruits and grains we’ve picked for the tribe.
Consider every step we take as a controlled fall, requiring every skill developed previously to ensure we don’t fall over every time our heel strikes the ground. Once proficient at taking a step, walking will eventually become the most efficient locomotive pattern we use to get from A to B and will almost become effortless as our relationship with the ground under our feet becomes more familiar.
A common component of walking adults lose with age is the mobility through their feet. Here’s a process to check your foot mobility and improve it.
Wedge your toes up against the corner of a wall with your foot flat on the ground.
Take a knee on your other leg.
Slide your front knee as far forward as you can
You’ll feel tension through your toes, foot, achilles and/or calf.
Notice where your knee stops. This will tell you how far your knee can travel over your toes in the “toe off” phase (propulsion) of walking. A small but significant element of the walking gate.
Everyday find something soft you can gently roll your feet out on. In time you can use harder tools but start soft.
You should notice a difference immediately but think long term. The feet are made of dense tissue that takes time to adapt.
Survival is the name of the game, the human species has not just survived but thrived for millions of years because of our ability to find food then bring it back to the tribe so everyone can benefit. As a toddler, exploring new objects is fun and key for their development.
Learning how much things weigh, how much effort is required to lift it and if they’re able to take it with them to where they want to go, are the key questions going on in a young toddlers developing brain. As a member of the tribe, if you’re not able to carry, you cannot contribute to the success and survival of the tribe. If you cannot contribute, you’re a liability.
A common carry based movement we see that causes issues in adults is carrying bags from the shop to the car. Here’s a checklist for how to carry bags for extended periods of time.
Try to have even load in each hand.
Keep arms straight and squeeze your triceps.
Pull your shoulder blades back.
Remember to stand as tall as possible, don’t slump into a short posture.
Rotate your hand position from palm facing forward to neutral to facing backwards, this helps to distribute load through different muscles of the shoulder.
Squatting is an essential skill for the most basic of human needs, the need to excrete. Before the toilet was invented the common way to excrete our waste was via squatting. The mobility of the ankles, knees and hips will determine the depth, the deeper the squat the more optimal passage there is to excrete waste through our digestive systems. Similarly, before hospitals, the traditional way to deliver a baby was in a deep squat position.