The best exercises for each movement pattern
For years I used to think of all my training programs for clients as well as myself by body part. For example, chest, back, legs, shoulders, etc. I would design all my programs according to body parts. A few years ago as I learned more and more about the body and started incorporating what is called more “functional training” I started thinking of training more in terms of movement patterns instead of body parts. Functional training can basically be described as training with a purpose. The body operates and moves in various different movement patterns with there being several major movement patterns. I started training the body more so in the way that it moves and performs rather than by body parts. For example, you can do leg extension exercises for your legs (in particular your quadriceps) but how often do you perform a leg extension each day? Rarely, if ever. Your body does the leg extension movement pattern but it is done in combination with other movement patterns of the body at the same time. The body rarely moves in isolation. An example would be a squat. The body extends the knee during the squat but it also hinges at hip, plantar flexes at the ankle and does various other movements throughout the exercise.
So, if you think of your body and how it moves and the major movement patterns the body performs on a daily basis you can break down and devise your training programs around those to make it much more functional and translatable over to real life as well as performance. The major movement patterns the body moves in can be broken down as follows.
1️⃣ Hip hinge or lower body pull (extending at the hips as in a dead lift motion)
2️⃣ Lower body knee dominant or lower body push (exercises that involve primarily movement at the knee such as squats and lunges. These movements do involve a lot of hip movement as well but are usually classified as knee dominant.
3️⃣ Upper body vertical push (bringing the arms overhead such as in a military press)
4️⃣ Upper body horizontal push (bringing the arms forward as in a bench press)
5️⃣ Upper body vertical pull (bringing the arms downward as in a chin-up or lat pulldown)
6️⃣ Upper body horizontal pull (bringing the arms back toward the torso as in a one-arm dumbbell row or barbell row).
It can be broken down even further to include the core of the body which works more in a stabilization role to prevent movement of the trunk and spine rather than to produce movement. The core, in particular the abdominals can perform trunk flexion (the movement in a sit-up or crunch) but it rarely does so in everyday life. It works in a stabilization role most of the time so that is how it should be trained. The body works to stabilize the core in 3 ways. The 3 ways the body works to stabilize the core are listed below.
1️⃣ Anti-extension (working to prevent the core and trunk of the body from over-extending the back such as in a front plank or ab wheel roll out)
2️⃣ Anti-lateral flexion (working to prevent the core and trunk of the body from flexing over to the side as in a side plank, unbalanced carry or any exercise performed in a half kneeling position)
3️⃣ Anti-rotation (working to prevent the core and trunk of the body from rotating away from body in either direction as in a push-up tap, lateral bear crawl or any chop exercise.
Now this is not to say that you can’t train according to body parts. I still train some clients that way depending on their goals, in particular bodybuilders. It also isn’t to say you can’t train using isolation exercises (exercises working the body at only one joint) such as leg extensions, leg curls and bicep curls. They can be especially useful when trying to target a certain area of the body, especially when there is muscle imbalance. For most people’s goals (especially athletes) I feel training according to movement patterns tends to work best. They work the most muscles, are the most functional and get you the most bang for your buck when exercising.
Like my article 2 weeks ago on the My top 5 foods for fat loss, this list is a combination of what I feel are the best exercises for every movement pattern as well as my own personal favorites. There are many great exercises to choose from and that one can perform for every movement pattern. This is a list based on if I had to train myself or a client and I had just one exercise to choose for each major movement pattern.
1️⃣ Hip hinge = Hex bar/trap bar deadlift
The hex bar deadlift is my favorite bilateral (using both legs) type of dead lift for many reasons. With the grip being at the side of the body, as opposed to in front of the body as in a barbell deadlift, it is much easier to keep the back in a straightened position throughout the movement. It is very easy in a deadlift to start to round the lower back when executing it. The hex bar makes that much easier because with the hands being at the sides it is easier to keep the shoulder blades back thus helping keep the entire back straight. Getting people to learn how to deadlift, including those who have never deadlifted before, I find is much easier with the hex bar as opposed to other type of deadlift variations too. Another plus to the hex bar is you can lift heavy with it and load the bar up with as much weight as you need. The hex bar dead lift is a great total body exercise as it works the glutes, hamstrings, back, upper traps and many other muscles.
Click the link to view how to perform a Hex bar deadlift
2️⃣ Lower body knee dominant or lower body push = Rear foot elevated split squats
If I had to pick one exercise to do for a lower body knee dominant movement it would be rear foot elevated split squats, sometimes called Bulgarian split squats. The rear foot elevated split squat is a unilateral movement (using one limb at a time). This is great because it allows someone to focus in on one leg at a time. This can be great for balancing out the body and eliminating any muscle imbalances that may be present. It is also great for athletes as rarely are they using both limbs in the same way when they play their sport so unilateral training is a good form of training for them.
Another benefit to rear foot elevated split squats is it takes advantage of something called the bilateral deficit. The bilateral deficit basically means that if you do a unilateral movement like a split squat and added up the weight you did for each leg it would equal more that what you could do in a regular bilateral squat (the bilateral equivalent is the barbell back squat). For example, if you did 200 lbs for 5 reps on a bilateral barbell back squat and did 120 lbs per leg for 5 reps on a split squat and added up the weight you did on the split squat it would be more than you did on the barbell back squat (200 lbs on the barbell back squat as opposed to 240 lbs on the split squat). This means you can lift more weight per leg which could lead to greater strength and muscle gains.
For people with lower back problems the barbell back squat because of the load being placed behind the body on the upper back and shoulders can cause compression forces on the spine making it not a great exercise for those with lower back problems. The rear foot elevated split squat, or any split squat for that matter, is much easier on the lower back because the amount of weight you can do for each leg is less than the weight you would use in a barbell back squat thus causing less compression forces on the spine. If you use dumbbells as your resistance in split squats the compression forces are minimal because the load or resistance is being held at the side of your body as opposed to on the upper back. The rear foot elevated split squat is an advanced progression from the regular split squat so it offers another level of challenge and offers you the opportunity to really focus on one leg at a time because the back leg that is up an elevated is contributing less to the execution of the movement. The rear foot elevated split squat is great for working the quadriceps as well as the hamstrings and glutes.
Click the link to view how to perform Rear foot elevated (RFE) split squats
3️⃣ Upper body vertical push = Half kneeling kettlebell one arm overhead press
There are many great exercises to choose from here but my favorite is the half kneeling one arm overhead kettlebell press. This exercise is great for a number of reasons. Because it’s a unilateral exercise, like the rear foot elevated split squat, it allows you to focus in on one arm at a time helping balance out the body and potentially eliminate any muscle imbalances (for some people one arm or one leg is stronger than the other). It is also performed in a half kneeling position giving you the benefit of working the core as well as the shoulders and arms. Any half kneeling exercise requires the core ( the glutes and abs in particular) to work to keep you upright and from tipping over to the side or over extending at the lower back.
The kettlebell presents other additional benefits as it can be performed different ways. If you perform the movement with the kettlebell bottoms up (holding the kettlebell with the ball of the kettlebell on top) it requires a lot of shoulder strength and stabilization helping strengthen the entire shoulder musculature. If you hold the kettlebell with the ball of it behind your hand this gets the rotator cuff muscles more involved and helps to strengthen them. This is important because many people have weaknesses in their rotator cuff muscles.
Click the link to view how to perform a Half kneeling kettlebell one-arm overhead press
4️⃣ Upper body horizontal push = Dumbbell bench press
This is another exercise with many options to choose from but I prefer the traditional flat (no incline) dumbbell bench press. One of the reasons I like the dumbbell bench press is as opposed to the barbell bench press you get a further range of motion. In the barbell bench press once the bar hits your chest you can’t go any further. With the dumbbell bench press you can get a little extra range of motion helping recruit or use more muscle fibers. The dumbbell bench press because it is a more unstable exercise than the barbell bench press requires more key stabilizers to work and get involved in the movement too. This is a great exercise for working the pecs, shoulders and triceps among other muscles. A very close second for me would be the push-up as it works so many muscles besides just the upper body.
Click the link to view to view how to perform a Dumbbell bench press
5️⃣ Upper body vertical pull = Neutral grip chin-up
If I had to pick only 3 exercises to live with the rest of my life the chin-up would be one of those. Many consider the chin-up the greatest upper body exercise you can do. Any exercise requiring one to lift their entire body up and down is going to require a lot of strength and the work of a lot of muscles. This is one of the reasons it is such a great exercise. It is a great exercise for working the entire back as well as the shoulders and arms. A chin-up also involves a tremendous amount of abdominal strength and is thus a great abdominal exercise. There is no exercise that gets my abs as sore after training as chin-ups.
I like to use a lot of variations of the chin-up with my own training and with clients but my go to is the neutral grip chin-up. A neutral grip chin-up is performed with the palms of the hands facing each other. This along with the underhand grip (palms facing you) are the 2 variations where the body is strongest. The neutral grip chin-up is also performed in the most natural line of pull for the body making it easier to do than other variations as well as, like previously stated, making it one that you can probably do more reps with and weight with because you are stronger in this variation. It is also probably better for anyone with shoulder problems especially when compared with the over hand grip chin-up (or pull-up) which can put strain on the rotator cuff for some people.
Click the link to view how to perform a Neutral grip chin-up
6️⃣ Upper body horizontal pull = Inverted rows or TRX rows
An inverted row is basically the exact opposite motion of a push-up. You are lying on your back directly underneath a secured barbell or smith machine bar locked into place and pulling yourself up with your feet still on the ground. Like the chin-up, anytime you are lifting your bodyweight up and down you are going to be working a lot of different muscles and expending a lot of energy. This exercise is great because of the large number of different muscles involved. The lats, mid back muscles like the rhomboids and mid traps, shoulders and arms are all involved. The core engagement in this exercise is also an additional benefit to it as the abs, glutes and quadriceps all have to work hard in a stabilization role to keep the body in correct form throughout the movement.
Another benefit to inverted rows or TRX rows (suspension straps that inverted rows can also be performed on) is you can regress or progress them very easy making it an exercise almost anyone can do. If you want it easier you just stand your body more upright. If you want it harder you just start moving your feet in closer to get your body at more of an angle. This will make it harder. The hardest angle to do an inverted row is when your body is parallel to the ground. You can also load this exercise too with a weight vest or chains. The TRX or suspension bands, because of their instability, offer another level of challenge to an inverted row.
Click the links to view how to Perform Inverted rows
For the core I am going to pick just one exercise instead of one for each of the 3 ways the core works.
Core = Half kneeling cable rope chops
A chop exercise is an exercise performed in a chopping manner like if you were chopping down on a piece of wood. They are a great core exercise. The benefits of the half kneeling cable rope chop begins with performing the movement in a half kneeling position. In a half kneeling position, like previously discussed above with the half kneeling one arm kettlebell overhead press, you get a lot of work from the abdominals and the entire glute musculature to keep you correctly in the half kneeling position. When performing the chopping motion of the movement you get the benefit of working the shoulders and arms along with a lot of involvement from the abdominals. This really makes it more of a total body exercise rather than just a core exercise. It is great for thoracic spine mobility as well. Many people have movement issues with their thoracic spine due to so much of our lives being slouched over looking at our phones, tables or computers creating tightness and mobility issues.
Click the link below to view how to perform half kneeling cable rope chops. A note, this video is an in-line half kneeling cable rope chop. This is a progression from the half kneeling cable rope chop. A half kneeling cable rope chop is performed with the feet at hip width apart. An in-line chop is performed with the back foot directly behind the front foot. This makes the exercise much more difficult (thus being the reason it is a progression) and really increases the involvement of the glutes and internal hip rotator muscles.
Click the link to view how to perform half kneeling cable rope chops
Like I said before, there are many great exercises one can choose from for each major movement pattern but I feel these are some of the best, if not the best exercises, for each major movement pattern. Try incorporating these exercises into your training program and see if they make a difference with your fitness goals.
Before going on any specific diet or exercise program it is important to consult your doctor before starting.
Thank you for reading my blog article and if anyone has any questions or is interested in personal fitness training or sports performance training reach out to me via email = Dan@eidensfitness.com or you can contact me directly at 702-521-6012