Focus on Function

The six main functional patterns that complete every well rounded workout.

Health and wellness has become one of the top grossing industries in the US, yet back injuries are the cause of nearly 20% of all days lost at work, coming second only to the common cold.

How can that be possible?

Most people have an unbalanced lifestyle that leads them closer to the brink of pain and injury.  The biggest surprise here:

Your workouts are only causing you more pain and pushing you closer to injury.

The bright side …you can change all of that TODAY!

The most effective training programs include 6 functional movement patterns:

  1. Squat Pattern
  2. Hinge Pattern
  3. Lunge Pattern
  4. Upper Body Push Pattern
  5. Upper Body Pull Pattern
  6. Carry Pattern

Why is it important to include all six patterns into your training program?

Too much of one pattern and not enough of another will lead to asymmetries within the body.  Over time, these asymmetries can lead to inefficient movement and dysfunction, which increases the risk of pain and/or injury long term.  While there are general rules of thumb for how much to train each pattern optimally, ideally, it is best to balance of movement patterns to fit your individual lifestyle.

Each movement pattern plays an integral role in the daily functions of life, and should be included in every program you perform.  Let’s take a deeper dive into the six functional movement patterns.

1. Squat Pattern

The squat is the king of all lower body movements.  Squatting is important for many aspects of life, but to keep things simple, I want you to think about how you sit down and stand up from a chair.  Without proper function of these two actions, your life would look very different.  

A squat is, in essence, sitting down and standing up.  The squat pattern mainly strengthens every muscle group in your lower body, including: your quads, hamstrings, adductors (inner thigh), abductors (outer thigh), and calves, although there is some upper body gains as well.

Building a strong foundation in your lower body will reduce your risk of injury at the hip, knee and ankle joints, and allow you to be independent of others as you age, maintaining your quality of life.
As far as volume (reps x sets x training days), squat early and often.  I personally try to include some sort of squatting movement in at least 3 training days per week.  Remember: EVERY DAY CAN BE LEG DAY! Some examples of squat pattern movements include: kettlebell goblet squat, kettlebell rack squat, and steel mace switch squat.

2. Hinge Pattern

The hinge is another lower body dominant movement pattern, but incorporates some major upper body muscle groups as well.  Primarily the hinge pattern targets the muscles on the posterior (back side) of your body (hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, and lats).

When you think of the hinge pattern, I want you to pretend your body is the door of your house, where your upper body becoming the door, your hips becoming the hinge the door hangs on, and your lower body becoming the door frame.

Remember how a door works:  The door frame is never moving through space.  While some movement may occur here, the frame acts as a stable base.  The door frame in this example is your lower body (legs). Your feet stay glued to the ground (unless performing a single leg movement) creating tension through the floor.

Your hips act as the door hinge in this example.  All movement occurs at the hinging point aka your hips.  Allow your hamstrings and glutes to use the tension created by the lower body to propel you back to a standing position.  I can not state this enough… ALL MOVEMENT IN THE HINGE STARTS AND ENDS WITH THE HIPS!!!!

Your upper body acts as the door.  While the door may swing open and closed, it does so in one piece.  Your torso should remain rigid, spine straight (minimal back rounding), with your shoulders pulled back.

Just like the squat pattern, I try to incorporate the hinge pattern into my workouts a minimum of 3 days per week.  Some examples of a hinge pattern include: kettlebell deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and steel mace paddle swing.

3. Lunge Pattern

Training the lunge pattern is key for proper movement for many reasons.  The lunge pattern is essentially a single leg squatting pattern. Most of your daily activities require some level of ability to function off of a single leg.  

When you walk, you are moving from one single leg stance to an opposite side single leg stance.  Are you a runner? Then you propel yourself dynamically through space from one single leg stance to another as you run.  Same thing if you participate in sports. Most, if not all, sport activities, require a great amount of single leg power, strength, and control.  Single leg movements should be trained frequently with varying degrees of intensity. A strong single leg foundation is vital for successful performance in and out of the gym.  

As I mentioned earlier, over time, our bodies adapt to specific movement patterns, creating asymmetries that can lead to dysfunction of a specific area over time. Training from a bilateral stance (as seen in a kettlebell goblet squats) can allow these asymmetries to develop.  Our bodies are more dominant on one side compared to the other, therefore asymmetries will always be present. 
Your workouts should focus on limiting these asymmetries.  Including the lunge pattern into your routine can help balance the right and left sides of your body.  Some examples of lunge pattern movements include: rack split squats, goblet lateral lunges, and steel mace dynamic lunges.

4. Upper Body Push Pattern

No doubt you will see an over-emphasis of this pattern in the majority of workouts.  The upper body push pattern, sometimes known as the pressing pattern, develops the areas commonly referred to as our “vanity” muscles: the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Efficient pushing capabilities are important skills to obtain, as the ability to push ourselves off the ground when we fall, or press an object above or away from our bodies becomes more of a necessity with age. All pushing movements fall into two main types: horizontal pushing and vertical pushing.  Common injuries can occur without the ability to efficiently move in the pushing pattern, including shoulder pain when moving the arm into an overhead position, as this position is not easy for most people to achieve.  

Developing proper movement in the thoracic spine, shoulder blade (scapula), and shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) will be key to optimal movement within this pattern.  Common examples for this pattern include: kettlebell floor press, kettlebell single arm overhead press, and steel mace extended press.

5. Upper Body Pull Pattern

When building out your workouts, the major of your upper body work should fall within this movement pattern.  In life, you will use the anterior (front) side of your body more than the posterior (back) side. In order to limit any asymmetry that may become present over time, it is important to over-emphasize the pulling pattern in your workouts.  

A solid rule of thumb is to pull 3 times as much as you push.  That means if you perform 30 repetitions of bench presses and overhead presses in your weekly workouts, you should include 90 repetitions of pulling movements. Focus on pulling more than you push.  The two types of pulling include: horizontal and vertical subpatterns.

With that being said, not all pulling movements are created equal.  As stated in the push pattern section, it is common for most people to lack the necessary shoulder mobility to obtain a proper overhead position.  As a general rule, you should horizontally pull twice as much as you vertically pull.  That means, for every 10 repetition of lat pulldown or pull ups, you should perform 20 repetitions of seated rows.

Common movements for the pulling pattern include those described above as well as: kettlebell bent over row, and steel mace renegade rows.

6. Carry Pattern

In my opinion, this is the most “functional” pattern of the six.  Throughout your day, there are potentially hundreds of instances you move within this pattern.

Any time you carry an object from one point to another, you are utilizing the carry pattern.  Think back to hauling groceries from the car into your house or when you are holding your child.  Both scenarios are the carry pattern in full effect.

Training this pattern is important for healthy bodily function.  The ability to move load (a weighted object) through space with greater control occurs, by strengthening the connectivity of your pillar complex, or the summation of your hips, core, and shoulders.  With increased control of motion through the pillar complex, you will be able to absorb and redirect force between your lower and upper body more efficiently, which is essential for optimal force production and movement.

Not only will the carrying pattern strengthen your pillar complex, but it will also challenge your grip strength, which translates to potentially being able to train the other patterns with greater loads.  This increased ability to handle greater load will, in most cases, lead to greater strength gains. Examples of movements that fall under the carry pattern include: loaded carry variations such as the farmer’s carry and bottoms up carry.

Bringing it all together

The inclusion of each major functional movement pattern is crucial for overall longevity and performance in life.  A balanced approach to training will allow you to train harder for longer periods of time, without the worry of breaking down or causing serious injury.  Remember the general rules of programming and over time you will find greater success in your training. To recap, those rules include:

  1. Training your lower body as much as possible. A strong foundation starts with your legs.
  2. Focus more on the muscles you can’t see more than the muscles you can see.
  3. Incorporate the lunge pattern to limit bilateral asymmetries.
  4. Pull 3 times more than you push.
  5. Carry load through space with control.