Functional Movement Patterns Plus 7 Moves for Better Everyday Mobility

Functional Movement Patterns Plus 7 Moves for Better Everyday Mobility

It can be seriously challenging to figure out what kind of exercise you should be doing when you’re constantly inundated with new fitness trainers, workout styles, or equipment brands promising to meet all of your health and wellness goals. 

Take the word “functional,” for example. While functional training might be one of the current buzz phrases in the fitness industry, the concept has been around for decades (and you’ve heard Kelli and Daniel talk about it from the beginning of Fitness Blender!). However, the terms functional training and functional fitness can mean different things to different people.

So, what does functional training mean to you as a relatively healthy workout enthusiast? We’re so glad that you asked, since you’re about to find out. 

Learning More About Functional Training 
In this article, we’re talking about functional movement patterns, specifically. These are best described as large, multiple joint movements that require a collaborative effort from your entire body. Movements such as these are labeled “functional” because our bodies frequently perform them throughout the day in order to do the things we need to do.

Movement experts such as physical therapists and corrective movement specialists are huge supporters of incorporating functional movement patterns into a well-rounded fitness routine. They’re also beginning to gain traction in mainstream fitness due to their numerous benefits when it comes to your overall physical health and wellness. 

So, let’s pull on that idea quickly - what are the benefits to functional movement patterns? Well, in contrast to training your muscles to move in isolated patterns, like in a bicep curl or leg extension, functional movement patterns prepare your body for the way we move in everyday life. They teach various muscle groups how to work in harmony with one another, which is the way our bodies are meant to operate. Plus, we always need to remind ourselves how these patterns of movement affect the kinetic chain

At the most basic level, there are 7 functional movement patterns that everyone should be adding to their workout routines. Keep these movements and tips on how to move better throughout the day and how to maximize your functional strength and mobility in mind as you do your favorite Fitness Blender workout. 

The squat is one of the most foundational functional movement patterns that we perform, without even thinking about it. We move through a squat pattern every time we sit down and get up from a chair or couch, for example. But in our day to day, there are many times we actually should be squatting when we are not. Whether we think we’re saving time or energy, so often we lean or bend over from our backs instead of squatting to complete daily tasks. Need to lift a box from the ground? Squat. Want to pick up your child? Squat. When in doubt, squat it out. 

During Your Next Workout
Now that you see how often we squat or need to squat throughout our day, you’ll want this functional movement at the forefront of your training. Squats are an integral part of overall lower body strength and conditioning. They’re a quad-dominant movement that also targets your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors. As with any lower or upper body training, engaging your core will help you perform squats both safely and effectively. 

There’s an unlimited number of squat variations out there, so don’t be afraid to try them out. Some examples beyond a traditional bodyweight squat include box squats, goblet squats, and overhead squats with a medicine ball. Can you think of any others you’ve seen here on the Fitness Blender website?

Pro Tips on Squatting Technique
Proper squat form is essential for injury prevention. This applies to when you are in the gym as well as in everyday life. As you squat, make sure your knees stay in line with your big toes, and that they don’t pass your feet. Think of driving your hips back as you lower, which will help keep most of your weight in your heels. Related: Try These 5 Squat Variations to Mix Up Your Workout.

We know that we just said the squat was such an important, foundational movement pattern. But guess what? So is the hinge. Hinging is another movement pattern we perform every day that could probably use a bit of improvement. We mentioned that many times we bend over instead of squatting. Well, bending over is usually a hinge movement gone wrong. This, yet again, increases the risk of injury, especially when performed repetitively over time. So, how can we work on hinging during our workouts and ensure proper form in our daily lives?

During Your Next Workout 
Fortunately, you’re likely already familiar with hinge workouts. Popular exercises include deadlifts, glute bridges, and kettlebell swings. These utilize your hips as the primary drivers of the movement. Hinge exercises specifically target the glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles, when performed correctly. By properly engaging these muscle groups surrounding the low back, you build the necessary strength to perform this movement pattern effectively, thus greatly reducing your risk of injury.

Pro Tips on Hinge Technique
Whether you’re doing deadlifts during a workout or “bending over” at home, maintaining a flat back is key when hinging. Let your glutes and hamstrings absorb most of the force created by your movement as you keep an engaged core and neutral spine. It’s helpful to imagine a long line from your tailbone to your crown when you hinge. The only “bend” should come from your hips. 

Keeping our momentum with lower body movement patterns, the next functional move we’ll discuss is the lunge. We said these are all patterns we perform daily, so you might be thinking, “well, when would I lunge in my daily life?” but stay with us. Picture yourself walking up a flight of stairs or going on an uphill hike. Lunging encompasses the functional movement pattern executed here. Plus, many other daily activities, like bending down to tie your shoe, require isolated strength, stability, and balance on each side of your lower body. Because the lunge pattern is one-sided, meaning it targets each leg individually, it challenges your balance and strength differently than the squat or hinge.

During Your Next Workout
As lunges are unilateral (one-sided) in nature, they are a great exercise to isolate and improve any muscle imbalances you might have. Muscle imbalances are more common than you might think, in addition to being a risk factor for injury. Repetitive movements, which we’re all subject to, can lead to muscle imbalances, especially if we “favor” one side of our body. We typically use the dominant side of our bodies for these repetitive movements, for example, which only serves to further create (or exacerbate) a discrepancy in the strength and mobility between the left and right sides of our bodies. In fact, you might notice that it’s easier to perform a lunge leading with your dominant side compared to your non-dominant side. 

Luckily, incorporating variations of this unilateral move in your workout will improve muscle imbalances, as well as performance in bilateral tasks. Examples of lunge exercises include split squats, reverse lunges, and step-ups. 

Pro Tips on Lunge Technique
Feeling unbalanced with your lunge exercises? Start with a chair or a wall by your side. You can use a hand to assist with your balance as you build up your strength and stability in various lunge exercises. 

Rotation is primarily a core-activated movement pattern. We rotate or twist our bodies frequently throughout our daily lives. We rotate when we walk, run, swim, throw, and kick. Even more subtly though, we rotate countless times a day when we need to look at someone or get something that isn’t directly in front of us.

Like other mobility limitations, poor rotation can lead to pain or injury.

During Your Next Workout
Rotation is the functional movement pattern that’s most likely to be forgotten during your workouts. To target your core muscles in a functional and effective way, try rotation exercises such as plank to side plank, oblique medicine ball toss, and windshield wipers. 

Pro Tips on Rotation Technique
Many people are limited in their upper body or thoracic rotation. In addition to exercises that strengthen the muscle supporting rotation, it’s good to include rotation in your stretching routine, too. Try a side-lying thoracic spine rotation. Lie on one side with your knees and hips bent at 90 degrees. Put your top hand behind your head with your elbow bent. Then, rotate your upper body aware from your knees without letting them lift. Related video: Thoracic Mobility Stretches for Desk Posture.

Now, we’re shifting focus to movement patterns of the upper body. Push movements refer to any time you use your arms to push a load away from your body or when you push your body away from something. Examples include putting dishes away, pushing doors open, or getting up from a lying position on your side or stomach.

During Your Next Workout
Push movements target your shoulders, chest, and triceps. To get technical, pushing can be divided into horizontal or vertical movements. The classic push-up is considered a horizontal movement, along with exercises such as bench presses. Examples of vertical push movements include dumbbell shoulder presses and Arnold presses. Be sure to include a variety of horizontal and vertical push exercises to train your upper body in a functional and holistic way.

Pro Tips on Push Technique
Our shoulders are very mobile joints, making them more prone to injury. Be sure to start low and go slow when it comes to weight and reps for your push exercises. And, like with all of these functional movements, focus on proper form and engagement before increasing weight. 

Simply put, you perform this movement pattern when you pull something toward yourself, or when you pull your body toward something. Understandably, pulling is the opposing upper body force to pushing, which we just discussed.

During Your Next Workout
Just like with pushing, pulling can also be split into horizontal and vertical movements. The pull-up is an example of a vertical movement, whereas any form of row is a horizontal movement pattern. Other examples of pull exercises include lat pulldowns and pullovers. Pull movements pack a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to muscle engagement. They target your lats, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, biceps, and even your forearms. 

Pro Tips on Pull Technique
In addition to general strengthening, pull exercises are also great for posture correction. From common lifestyle habits such as sitting at a desk all day, many of us have rounded shoulders and forward posturing. This can cause pain and reinforce poor posture. Pull exercises strengthen the muscles of your back that help improve and maintain good posture. They’re a win-win.

7. WALK 
We probably don’t need to spell this one out for you, but think about how many times a day we walk from place to place. Not to mention, we always seem to be carrying stuff when we walk, right? Maybe it’s your purse or backpack, the groceries, or package delivery. Walking, and walking while carrying objects, are the most clearly identifiable of the functional movement patterns. 

During Your Next Workout
You might be thinking, “if I do this all day long, why do I have to walk and carry stuff when I work out?” But if we didn’t make it clear enough already, functional training helps make the things you need and want to do every day a bit easier. It conditions your body to better perform your daily tasks and helps reduce your risk of injury while doing them (i.e., leads to functional fitness!).

So, hit the treadmill or the trail as often as you can. Walk with purpose, and focus on your posture and breathing. Related videos: At Home Walking Workout with Warm Up and Cool Down and Dynamic Walking Workout - Light Cardio Workout for Circulation and Mobility.

You should also practice the “carry” part of this functional pattern when you’re working out. Classic examples include single and double-sided farmer’s carry, and an overhead carry, all of which can be done using dumbbells or kettlebells.

Pro Tips on Walking Technique
Keep your core engaged while you walk in order to prevent over-arching your low back. Keep your head up but chin tucked for better neck alignment. 

“Take-Home” Points

  • Pay attention to how you currently use functional movement patterns in your daily life so you learn what may need to change. 
  • Practice good form and alignment to prevent injury both during your workouts and throughout your day.
  • Training your body in a functional way might feel different than your traditional workout routine - and that’s a good thing. 
  • Try out various exercises under each functional movement pattern for a well-rounded training routine.

Do you think you'll be able to incorporate some of these tips into your workouts and daily routines? We'd love to hear which tips you try, and which ones you think you already have down.

Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla C, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist