The Top 7 Functional Movements You Need to Know

Functional movement is our ability to move the way we want to, through full ranges of motion, with good mechanics and without pain. Functional fitness simply means doing functional movements that mimic everyday actions, using multiple muscle groups at the same time.

WHY BUILD FUNCTIONAL FITNESS? 

Functional movements build strength, stability and mobility across the body, making us more efficient human beings not only inside the gym but outside as well. Basically, they make us fit for real life - which makes it easier for us to do the things we want to do.

Chances are high that there is an area of life, a movement, or activity you would like to do with more ease and less discomfort. We can feel a sense of frustration and disappointment if our bodies hold us back from the activities we enjoy or those that help us connect with others. 

Here's a crazy statistic: between the ages of 30-80, our muscle mass and strength can decrease by up to 40.9% if we're not actively countering this loss with training. 

Fortunately, common everyday injuries, from picking up our kids or bending over wrong, can be greatly reduced by building up the muscular strength needed to support the joints and spine well and learning to move throughout life correctly and efficiently. While we do not all have to be athletes, we can improve and preserve our bodies at any age by working on our ‘functional movement’.

It's as simple as incorporating and strengthening the seven key functional movement patterns our bodies were designed to do. Our daily routines may incorporate some but usually not all of these movements.  

Learn how to easily incorporate these seven functional movement patterns to help you improve muscle and joint function, reduce pain, and move the way you were born to. 

THE 7 FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT PATTERNS:

1. THE HIP HINGE

Bending forward is hinging from the hip. How often do you bend over every day? Done incorrectly, bending can place unneeded stress on a weak lower back. One of the best ways to reduce or eliminate lower back tweaks, tightness, dull pain and flare-ups is by learning how to correctly perform this hinging movement. 

When you hinge at the hips, your spine stays neutral and the bend should occur right at your hips. Yes, this requires you to stick your backside out. This is the primary movement pattern you see in a deadlift done properly. 

2. SQUAT

Being able to do a proper squat will keep your knees safe and can literally strengthen your entire lower body. We have tons of opportunities to squat in everyday life however, people who are scared to squat because of bad knees will often just lean over instead. And as you just read, leaning over is often a hinge-gone-wrong and can exacerbate lower-back pain.

In reality, many times that we bend over to pick something up, we should probably be squatting instead. Examples would be picking up your child, or a large/heavy box.

3. LUNGE

The lunge movement pattern is actually a single-leg cross-over between the Hinge and Squat movement patterns. Lunge exercises can quickly point out weaknesses and imbalances from side to side. 

If you feel insecure about your balance during any lunge movement, try lightly touching (not leaning on) a chair, pole or wall near you. A very light touch on a stable surface will do wonders for improving your balance, and you can wean away from it slowly over time. They are a great way to ensure similar strength on each leg, as well as improve your balance. 

woman doing lunges

4. PUSH

In everyday life, this movement pattern comes into play when you are getting off the ground from a stomach-down position, or putting something heavy away on a top shelf. The pushing movement is divided into two groups: pushing in front of you (think pushing a stalled car) and pushing up above you. 

Both types of pushing require a strong and stable shoulder. Shoulders are especially susceptible to injury due to their great mobility (and inherent instability).

Also, posture plays a big role here. A rounded back, slumping shoulders and tight chest muscles could mean your shoulder mechanics are impacted, making you more susceptible to injury. This could be a simple fix - like just being generally aware of how you are standing - or it could require more intense work, like mid-back mobility exercises and releasing tightness in your chest muscles, combined with strengthening the upper back.

woman pushing weighted sled

5. PULL 

In everyday life, this would be pulling something towards yourself or pulling yourself towards something else. Similar to the two categories of pushing, pulling can be separated into horizontal pulling (any type of row) and vertical pulling (pull-ups and pull-downs).

Pulling can often be a neglected movement as so many activities we do are in front of us. It's a key movement needed to strengthen your back and can improve your posture and help to prevent back injuries over time.

young girl pulling another girl in little wagon

6. CARRY/GAIT (WALK/RUN)

This is probably the most functional and practical movement pattern of all of them. We walk. Sometimes we carry things when we walk. Sometimes we carry our kids when we walk, on only one side of our bodies. Sometimes we run or play sports.

There is something incredibly foundational and logical about being able to move your body through space, in all planes of motion, with ease, strength and ability. Focus on walking with correct posture and core engagement.

illustration of two people carrying groceries

7. TWIST/ROTATE

Think about lunging to throw a ball, or jogging, or even turning to talk to someone behind you in line. These are all examples of how common rotation is in your daily life. Twisting can be classified into two separate categories: rotational and anti-rotational. In rotational, you initiate the twist. In anti-rotational, your core is resisting a twist. Imagine somebody pushing you aggressively on one shoulder, and you resisting that push with your core - this is anti-rotation.

girls passing rugby ball

SIMPLE WAYS TO GET MORE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT INTO YOUR DAY: 

  • Stand on one leg while putting on socks and clothing
  • Use an active form of transport for commuting 
  • Stretch/rotate every hour at your desk
  • Walk while talking on the phone
  • Use sneaker meetings or walk over to a colleague instead of emailing them
  • Walk as a household for short commutes or weekend hikes
  • Take the stairs at any opportunity 
  • Squat when you are getting up from the chair, toilet or picking up anything
  • Carry your own shopping/luggage/children when you can 
  • Brush your teeth or talk on the phone with your non-dominant hand
  • Do calf raises when you are standing 
  • Play with your children and pets as much as you can

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