I was first exposed to functional movement training (and strength training in general) after partially tearing my PCL in eighth grade. As a previously avid runner, I was devastated to have my movement so restricted and found biweekly physical therapy appointments tortuous.
More enjoyable was my time in a local gym, building upon the work done in physical therapy to further rebuild the strength of my knees and surrounding muscles.
I must admit, I found the choice of exercises tedious at first and hated the fact that each movement exploited my weaknesses. I spent weeks carrying kettlebells from one end of the gym to the other and laying on the floor with my lower back pressed to the ground to “activate my core.”
As frustratingly slow as it was for someone who found identity in fitness, I did begin to gain strength. More than that, I established healthy movement patterns that form the foundation of my workout routines today.
It wasn’t until college that I truly recognized the significance of what I had been doing at that point in my life. Not only that, but I finally had a name that defined what was now my training philosophy: functional movement training.
What is functional movement training?
At first glance, it may appear like a string of buzzwords, but in reality it forms the foundation for all movement and exercise.
Functional movement training focuses on establishing healthy movement patterns and core function. These movement patterns mirror activities of daily living (ADLs), and by learning correct form will help to prevent injury and muscle imbalances.
Focusing on full-body movement patterns, rather than individual muscle groups, enables you to build strength holistically and train the body to move as a singular unit.
The bottom line is, with improved movement comes improved quality of life. And isn’t that what we’re all going for?
If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend focusing on the five basic movement patterns. Once core strength and proper form is established, you can look to add resistance to each exercise.
What may seem tedious at first will be well worth it down the road - functional movement training forms the foundation for a happy, healthy life of physical activity!
What are the Five Basic Movement Patterns?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s dive into each:
Bend and Lift
This movement pattern involves hinging at the hips and bending at the knees. The most common examples are squats and deadlifts. Examples of ADLs include sitting down in a chair, or picking something up off the floor.
If the bend and lift movement is performed incorrectly, there is a high risk of injuring the back. To prevent this, the core should be engaged and the “lifting” part of the motion should be driven by the lower body.
This can be a hard concept to grasp if the bend and lift movement has been performed incorrectly for many years - start by working with body weight exercises such as squats and good mornings.
One trick to make sure your core is engaged is to hold a pvc pipe along your spine, and maintain contact with your entire back as you lean forward!
The first thing that probably comes to mind here is pushups - and you’re not wrong! Another exercise using this movement pattern is the bench press, and pushing open a door is an example of an ADL.
Like many movement patterns, this one starts with engaging the core. You’ll also want to make sure that your shoulders are rolled back (not hunched forward!) so that you are balanced and prepared for the movement.
One way to practice is beginning by doing your pushups against the wall. Start with your hands shoulder-width apart, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and core engaged. Over time, progress to doing push-ups on the floor!
While seemingly the opposite of “push,” this movement pattern uses many of the same cues. In the gym, rows and bicep curls are both examples of pull movements. One ADL is opening up the fridge or car door!
With your core engaged and shoulders rolled back, you are protecting yourself from injury and engage each muscle that is intended for that movement.
While it may be hard to practice with your bodyweight, ease into pull movements with resistance bands or TRX Straps!
This movement pattern doesn’t necessarily mean that only one leg is on the ground - only that one side of your body is being targeted. So, single-leg RDLs are certainly an example, but so are lunges and step-ups. A few ADLs that fit this mold are stepping over a curb and walking up stairs.
When it comes to single leg movements, balance is key. And when it comes to balance, your core is essential. Also important to maintaining good balance is making sure both sides of the body are equally as strong and muscle groups are evenly engaged. If one side of the body is weaker than the other, muscle imbalances create a high risk of injury.
The rule of thumb for single leg movements is to start slow and steady. Injury can also occur if you lose balance and fall over! Begin with stationary lunges, or step-ups with a low elevation. As you gain strength and feel more stable, ramp up the difficulty to continue challenging yourself.st
The last movement pattern is any movement that involves rotation of the torso. Think Russian Twists or Wood Chops in the gym, or putting on your seatbelt as an ADL.
Like all other movement patterns, this requires engagement of the core. Full-body stability will ensure that you don’t lose balance or control while performing rotational movements.
Start with low resistance to ensure you can move throughout a full range of motion; this movement pattern requires control, stability, and flexibility!
The Common Variable
I’m sure you’ve noticed, but a common thread throughout each of these movement patterns is an emphasis on engaging the core
Remember when we talked about building strength with a full-body approach? This is what allows us to do that!
Your core is so much more than just your abs – it also includes deep muscles that support your lower back, the muscles surrounding your hips, and your pelvic floor muscles.
Having a strong core ensures that your entire body operates safely and effectively. By paying attention to these deep inner muscles, you reduce your risk of back pain or injury.
Since the core is so much more than just your abs, you’ll need to do other exercises besides crunches to strengthen it.
Start simple by laying on the ground and pressing your lower back into the floor. Hold for a few seconds, and then release. As this gets easier, you can up the challenge! Check out bKYND Socials for more tips and tricks this month on strengthening the core and preventing back pain.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to get serious about your health and wellness, functional movement training is a great place to start.
By strengthening your core and solidifying healthy movement patterns, you will reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall quality of life!