If you are into strength training, you’ve heard about the fundamental movement patterns—the natural human movements that most trainers believe all humans would, ideally, be able to demonstrate and load.
According to Dan John, there are five fundamental movements:
Depending on how much you want to split hairs, there are probably fifteen or more fundamental movement patterns for which you could make an argument.
Furthermore, you could create subcategories, splitting presses and pulls into vertical and horizontal, and single-leg exercises into linear, lateral, and vertical movements.
Such categorization schemes are helpful for understanding training principles and building balanced, well-organized training programs.
But these schemes also run the risk of confining us to a needlessly limited exercise set.
There are many apparent exercises that nearly every human would engage in in a natural environment, but which do not extend from a superficial commitment to any fundamental movement pattern models.
What Most Strength Programs Feature
Most programs exclude the loaded carry and add general core work in its place, such as:
The decision to sub out loaded carries speaks to the problem. This choice is usually substituted because core work accomplishes many essential effects the same as the loaded carries. And, like the rest of these typical exercises, you can do them in a confined place. But that’s the problem.
The reason fundamental movement patterns are basic is that they contribute to accomplishing a once-essential human job.
Exercise should serve a purpose, and it’s what makes training interesting and relevant. Think about the sort of strength and power-related jobs in which humans would naturally engage.
They probably wouldn’t do three rounds of picking up heavy things (deadlift) or squatting them five to ten times. But they would pick up heavy items, walk them to a different location, and set them down, just as we do whenever we have to move houses, unpack groceries, or participate in a construction project.
Likewise, as any parent who has taken young ones to the park without a stroller knows, humans have spent an enormous amount of time and energy carrying young children.
And, most humans throughout time probably wouldn’t hang from a branch and pull their chest to it repeatedly—a pull-up.
But, they would frequently climb trees, pull themselves over obstacles, and pull against other people. For most of history, whenever humans applied strength and power, they would combine it with some form of locomotion.
They wanted to move their body or an object.
Spice Up Your Training With a Few Simple Substitutions
Thus, adding locomotion and a job is a great way to enhance your training and apply it to your life.
I suggest a few simple substitutes. You’ll note that these movements are typically excluded from workouts that focus on the fundamental movement patterns, yet they are all fundamental movements by any logical definition.
- Instead of squatting: Try sprinting, jumping, sled pushing, or sled pulling. Do you not have a sled? Load up a wheelbarrow, and be careful not to spill.
- Instead of typical deadlifts and anti-rotational core work: Try picking heavy items up and moving them. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, loaded barbells, sandbags, bags of bricks, paint buckets, garbage cans full of odd items, or try carrying other people—a once vital skill. Carry things upstairs, across parks, or wherever.
- Instead of presses: Try throwing med-balls and other objects, adding crawl variations, or moving heavy objects by pushing them. If you’ve ever tried to move a power rack or remove a stubborn tree, you’ll know how exhausting this last one can be. We can simulate this exercise by loading the hell out of a sled.
- Instead of rows and pull-ups: Try climbing ropes, trees, and odd objects, connecting a rope to something heavy and pulling it towards yourself hand over hand, swinging between bars, and pulling yourself on top of and over obstacles.
- Instead of rotational core work: Try hanging from a bar or tree branch and pulling your feet to either side to hook a leg over the bar. MovNat’s hanging side foot lift is a great place to start. Try throwing med-balls and heavy items rotationally.
Most of us begin lifting as athletes seeking a targeted manner of adding strength and power for our sports.
In that context, the sport provides real-world chaos, and we want the best plan possible for adding strength that we will learn to apply in practice. But once sports stop, our workouts need to fill in that gap.
We can make our workouts more fun and beneficial by including elements that apply strength in natural human situations.
None of this is novel. The man who gave us those five fundamental patterns, Dan John, now talks about a sixth movement, which he calls Integrity With the Environment. John recommends splitting this sixth movement into two categories:
1. Get on the ground: Engage in the horizontal Environment
- Get-up variations
2. Brachiating: Engage in the Vertical Environment
- Monkey bars
- Rope climbing
- Any climbing variations
The point of all of this is to prompt you to expand the bounds of your typical lifting plan, even if just one day a week at first. I have a few work-outs that are an excellent place to start:
- The Locomotion Workout
- Three Summer Challenges
- Fit for the Holidays Challenge Week 3 (Outside the box training challenges and a Turkish get-up tutorial)
These may make you sore and tired in new exciting ways.
But, more importantly, they’ll stoke your creativity and reconnect you to your environment. Strength training will have a purpose again. This purpose tends to breed creativity, fun, and motivation.