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What Are the Functional Movements? Are You Doing Them?

Stew smith

What Are the Functional Movements?
Are You Doing Them?

Are the movements you do functional? Are they helping you move in your personal and professional life? What exactly is functional training or the functional movement patterns of the human body?  Personally, I break down workouts into the following events: push, push, full, leg, core, cardio (run, ruck, swim).  However, the more widely accepted seven functional movement patterns are explained with more detail versus my over-simplified explanation.  You will see my five exercises placed into the seven functional movement patterns however.

The Functional Movement Patterns are the following:

Hip Hinge – The hip hinge is done every day as we bend over to pick up something from the floor or shelf. Learning to do this properly will save you countless hours with a sore lower back. The hinge exercise is an exercise where you bend forward with more movement of the hip and less motion at the knees. This is often also referred to as a deadlift.  Other exercises are kettlebell swings, glute bridge, or Romanian dead lifts.


Squat – Though most people use the squat for leg days, it is actually the most common movement we do – sitting down and standing up each day.  It requires mobility of the hips, knees, and ankle joints as well as large muscle groups of the legs (quads / hamstrings) glutes, hip flexors, but with added weight can work the entire body. As we age, if you quit being active, the ability to sit down and stand up without assistance becomes more challenging. Keep moving and get good and sitting and standing. Some variety of this exercise would be the calisthenics squat, barbell (front/back) squat, goblet squat, and overhead weight hold squat.

– The lunge mixes the above two movements into alternating single leg versions of the hip hinge and squat.  From balance, knee strengthening, quads / hamstrings / hip flexors, glutes, as well as ankle / foot, knee, and hip mobility, the lunge does it all – especially if adding weight in barbell or single dumbbell form. Walking lunges calisthenics, overhead weighted lunges, one hand dumbbell lunges, wood chopper lunges, to Bulgarian Split Squats – all are forms of the lunge that emphasize the wide ranges of joints and muscles used for this movement.  

Push – Our shoulders are quite versatile and we should developing pushing in all planes of direction. Upper body pushing exercises are some of the most popular movements people do. From pushups, dips, over head press and bench press, as humans we typically have the push movement covered in multiple planes of motion.  In fact, we tend to focus some much on the push that we neglect to work corresponding muscles groups of the upper back, read deltoids and create weaknesses in the shoulder joint. One method the Army is trying to fix the internal rotation from too much pushing is with the hand release pushup. My personal balance to the push exercises are a series of pulling exercises known as the PT Reset.


Pull – Up there with the PUSH, the pulling movement is a challenge many try to master in the form of a pullup. But there are rowing movements that will work the pull in another direction and help you balance out much of the push from above. Pulling will require the muscle groups of the lats, traps, rhomboids, and biceps, but also very important pulling will strengthen the grip which all tactical athletes need to develop as well.


Twist – All movements and power generation will travel through the core muscular system.  The “core” is not just the abdominal muscles, but muscles and joints from the hips, throughout the spine, shoulder girdle, and neck. Staying mobile and strong in this movement involves all the exercises of the other six movement patterns. There is not one that does not affect the core systems of muscles.  Being able to twist, avoid twisting (anti-rotational), between the hips and shoulders is what makes this movement one of the most important for any athlete when generating other movements of power. From a throw of a baseball to the punch of a boxer, all require the hip, spine, shoulder twist.  Some exercises to practice are windshield wipers (hip twists), TRX atomic pushups twist, side planks pull-throughs, hanging knee ups with twist, Russian Twists, and many more.  


Gait/Carry – Carrying equipment is what people do especially those in the tactical professions. From one handed, two handed, to shoulder carry this movement gets the job done working the entire body plus grip in most cases.


Are Any Other Movements Bad For You / Waste of Time?

I think any movement that works a range of motion of a joint is a natural movement. Is that movement necessarily functional? Not all of them. For instance, are isolation joint exercises (like bicep curls) functional? Here is a way to classify what functional is versus natural full range of motion movements are: 

When we really work, play sports, or live a life of motion, we rarely do movements that isolate a muscle and a joint. The entire body gets involved. That is functional. What I call full body movements, many of the seven functional movements represent those exercises because they work everything or near everything in the body together in a systematic way. As part of the full body movements, I would also add in crawling as a functional exercise in the tactical professions as well. 

Are Isolation Movements Non-Functional? 

Do non-functional movements have a place in training?  Sure. Isolation movements are common ways to treat imbalances, work around injuries, as well as rehab previously injured joints and movements. They maybe classified as a non-functional movement but useful nonetheless. 

When preparing for a fitness test that tests rather non-functional movements, should you still practice them? Yes! Just make sure you also balance out any movement you do with equal and opposite muscle groups strengthening and flexibility when needed. 

A prime example is the situp or crunch, still used by many tactical units within the military, police, and fire for testing purposes. Work the hip muscles and lower back with hanging knee up and plank poses or lifts off the floor to help develop the muscles that will make situps less painful for you. Adding a variety of exercises from flutterkicks, leg levers, knee ups, crawling, and planking will create a solid foundation for you and situps won’t hurt you when done in moderation and in balance with other movements and exercises.

Learn how we mix these movements with a wide variety of exercises into a Seasonal Tactical Fitness Training Program

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