When I first started working out in high school, I had a dog-eared copy of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Bodybuilding for Men” that had been passed down through the years from one “in the know” senior to the next.
Like most people, I followed the instructions to the letter, splitting up my exercise by body part: chest one day, then legs, then arms, etc.
Bragging rights belonged to whoever had the biggest bench press, and everyone spent endless hours working the “show muscles” — biceps, chest, and abs — while mostly neglecting the “go muscles” — legs & back.
Fast forward a lot of years and if you walk into most gyms in America, you’ll still see people bench pressing on Monday and spending endless hours doing bicep curls.
This approach may work for bodybuilders who can train 3 hours a day, six days a week, but most of us just want to get fit and look great (in the shortest amount of time possible).
Enter training legend Dan John and The Fundamental Human Movements.
After decades coaching athletes, powerlifters and plenty of “average” people, he came to the realization that instead of trying to train all of the 650+ muscles in the human body, he should be training movements.
“If you train muscles, you’ll miss movements. If you train movements, you’ll never miss muscles.” ~ Koko Advisory Board Member Drew Massey, CSCS.
It turns out that the entire body is designed to do five basic movements, and by exercising these fundamental movement patterns, you can work the entire body — faster and more efficiently than those long bodybuilding routines designed to hit every muscle individually.
The movements are the push, the pull, the hinge, the squat, and loaded carries.
When people think of pushing movements, the push up immediately comes to mind. But pushing can be static (planks) or dynamic (clapping push ups), horizontal (bench press) or vertical (overhead press.) By focusing on the push movement as a whole, you work not only the pectoral muscles of your chest, but your triceps, deltoids, serrates and a whole host of other stabilizer muscles.
The classic pull movement is the pull-up. Just grab a bar and pull, right? But pulling is actually a much more common movement than pushing — think opening a car door or the refrigerator, for example.
By including pulling movements like rows or shrugs in your workouts, you not only engage the biceps, your entire upper and lower back get engaged, including your lats, your rhomboids, your trapezius, your spinal erectors, and so on.
The hinge might be the most misunderstood but most powerful movement of them all. The hinge is simply bending at the hips. Not the waist using your spine, but hinging forward at your hips while keeping your back straight.
The hinge is the foundation of all jumping. Dan John likes to joke that if you’re running down a trail and see a snake, you don’t squat down to the snake’s level and then jump over it — you snap your feet up and hinge over it — and then keep running all the way back to your car!
The classic hinge exercise is the deadlift — just picking up something heavy off the floor — but there are other ways to work the hinge including kettle bell swings.
The squat is something we all learned to do as babies. Just squat down until it looks like you’re sitting on your ankles. Unfortunately, the more we sit, the less we squat, and our bodies forget how to do it.
While it’s easy to be scared of the squat if you look at competitive powerlifters squatting with over 1,000 pounds on their back — in spandex — squatting is easy to start. We all carry around the perfect amount of weight — our own bodies.
The bodyweight squat is a great introduction to this movement, and you can quickly progress to the goblet squat, the lunge, the split squat, and eventually, the overhead squat.
When was the last time you went grocery shopping? Remember how it felt when you tried to bring in that one last bag and it turned out to be the heavy one with the soup cans? That’s a loaded carry.
Carries are your body’s ability to resist weight and maintain position.
Dan John calls these his magic exercise. They’re magic because no one does them, and yet they’re fundamental to our ability to move well and build fitness.
Pick up something heavy in each hand and walk for 30 seconds. Better yet, pick up something heavy in just one hand and walk for 60 seconds.
You can do tons of setups, but you’ll never get a better core workout than a heavy loaded carry.
THE SIXTH MOVEMENT
It has been pointed out that there is a sixth fundamental movement — the Twist. Whether you play golf, tennis, baseball, soccer or some other sport, you’re probably familiar with the need for the body to generate rotational force.
It’s an amazing, complicated sequence to get every muscle in your body to fire in perfect harmony — from your toes to your eyes — to generate the level of force required to hit a golf ball 300 yards, or to knock a fastball into the stands.
But, like the squat, rotation isn’t something we do often and our body simply discards what it doesn’t use.
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