6 Basic Movement Patterns and how to advance them


Okay, so this title probably seems a little confusing, let me break it down for you.

There are 6 basic movement patterns we do, everyday, that we don’t even think about. Things like lifting overhead, bending over, kneeling down. They all use specific muscles to get into that position.

This directly correlates to our exercise.

If we strengthen our muscles in the movement patterns we use everyday, then we will notice ourselves get stronger, yes?

Well once we get the patterns figured out, then it is about deciding what exercises to do, and then how we can make them easier/harder depending on our fitness level.

This means after learning about this, you could, potentially, write your own workout program for yourself (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Basic movement patterns and how to advance them is the topic we are going to chat about today, so get your notes ready!

6 Basic Movement Patterns

There are 6 basic movement patterns that our body does to basically perform any type of action. Sitting down, running, lifting kids, carrying groceries…it is all a movement pattern the body does, over and over again.

This also finds its way into our training, or at least it should.

To be a well rounded, fit, athletic individual, it takes repetitions of movement patterns, as well as progressing them to get stronger and better.

If we just jump around all day and never do the same thing twice, you aren’t going to gain strength or see the body recomposition changes you want to see. So let’s get smart about our training.


This can be vertical or horizontal – similar muscle groups are being worked.

So pushing is going to be pushing open a door, lifting something over your head, pushing furniture, throwing your kids into the air, pushing yourself out of a chair, catching yourself if you fall.

All of these use the pushing muscles that include the shoulders, chest and triceps.


Pulling can also be horizontal or vertical, and again, similar muscle groups are being worked.

Pulling muscles are any muscle in your back, along your posterior chain, as well as your biceps.

Movements that use these muscles are pulling open a door, pulling yourself up on something, pulling out a chair to sit, taking something off a shelf above your head, and even picking up your kids.


This one is probably one that makes the most sense as far as a daily movement pattern.

Squatting uses your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abdominals. ONE MOVEMENT.

This is why the basic compound movements are so important!

Squat movements are exactly what you assume – squatting down to pick something up, sitting down into a chair, and even most jumping.


A hip hinge is anything that has you bending at the waist.

This movement is typically used INCORRECTLY when people bend over to grab something instead of bending their legs and squatting.

Common ever day hip hinging is bending over and looking into the bottom of your fridge (without bending the knees).

Hip hinging uses your posterior chain muscles like your glutes, hamstrings and lower back.

Again, typically done incorrectly, so this movement pattern is key in your training for low back strength and safety.


Lunging isn’t used frequently in every day life, but it is a good patten to practice.

This is because it works to strengthen so many muscle groups at once, but also because it helps with balance and stability, two very important components of every day life.

Lunging muscles include the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, lower back and calves.


Something we do every single day, yet very rarely actually train to get better/stronger at it!

We carry all day long – groceries, kids, pets, purse, backpack.

Anytime you are carrying something, you are working specific stabilizer muscles.

And if you aren’t practicing and getting stronger at the right way to do it, then you likely could end up injuring yourself or causing poor body mechanics/posture from repeatedly doing it wrong!

Extra credit – Gait and Rotation

There is an importance on your gait and rotational movements, but they are not the primary movement patterns.

Your gait is simply how you walk/run.

This is obviously important because how your foot strikes the ground is going to determine how the force is absorbed by the body (heel strike comes up to your hips and stops, mid foot strike [the correct way] allows the force to travel through the body and creates more power).

Rotational movements are important because we twist and turn all day, so if we are weak in this area, we can get a back/neck “twinge” very easily. So things like reaching into the back seat, turning around to talk to someone, etc.

Specific exercises for movement patterns

Let’s get into specific exercises for each movement pattern, and how they transfer to real life.


Horizontal pushing are exercises are things like pushups, bench press, and tricep dips.

Vertical pushing are exercises like shoulder press, push press and jerks.


Horizontal pulling exercises are bent over row, inverted row, and seated row.

Vertical pulling exercises are pull ups, chin ups, bicep curls.

Squat (or knee dominant)

Knee dominant exercises are squats, bilateral or uni-lateral, and leg extensions.

Hinge (or hip dominant)

Hip dominant exercises are kettlebell swings, deadlifts, RDL and hip thrusts.


Lunge exercises include all lunge variations, step ups, RFESS, and split squats.


Carry exercises are things like farmers carry, overhead carry, front rack carry.

How to modify exercises for your fitness level

It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an advanced athlete, the movement patterns for everyone are the same.

The difference is the modifications you use.

If there was only 1 way to do an exercise, very few of us would actually be doing any movement at all.

But there are modifications for a reason, so you can start where you are and work up to more advanced options.

Most exercises require very little modification, but when it comes to using your bodyweight and specific mechanics, it can get harder!

So let’s chat through a few ways to modify exercises.

Weight selection: this is an easy way to modify an exercise. A lighter weight is obviously easier, and a heavier weight is going to be harder.

So start where you can, and as you get better (and build more muscle tissue) you will be able to increase your weights.

You also want to remember that all movements should be done correctly, and with good form, before adding weight to the movement.

• Bilateral vs. Unilateral: because of the way the human body was created (and what we do every single day) we typically have 1 side that is stronger than the other.

This means, whenever you are doing a bilateral exercise, likely the stronger side is going to take over. This is why you always want to add in unilateral movements to your workout.

Changing things from bilateral to unilateral is also a great way to advance a movement.

• Intensity: this variable can get a little tricky because people tend to use it in multiple different ways.

Intensity can mean changing the amount of reps you perform (making it easier or harder), the speed of your exercise (slower or faster), and the time you rest between sets/rounds can all play a role in intensity.

These can be adjusted workout by workout if necessary – so take those into consideration.

Just a few ways you can modify your workouts, that are dependent on form.

We obviously know that dropping to knees on a pushup is a modification. Or using bands during pull-ups.

There are so many different ways you can approach your workout, and how you can make it your own.

But if you are writing your own programming, I do recommend that you perform all of these movement patterns to a certain degree.

And if you don’t want to program for yourself, I would be happy to do it for you in the Collective!

Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates and extra tips and tricks!

Share on this blog on pinterest!


Popular Searches:

At Home Lower Body Workout

How to Modify Workouts for Your Needs and Abilities

Proper Core Engagement and Breathing While Exercising

Haley Rowe October 26, 2021