Functional Movement Patterns in Strength Training

Written by: Holly Eckert (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

Have you heard your Exercise Physiologist talk about functional movement and patterns in regards to strength training?

Wondering what that is all about? Let me help you out.

Functional movement are movements based on real-world situational biomechanics.
They involve multiple joint movements across different planes of the body utilising the whole body’s musculature.

They are movements that prepare you to live your life by enhancing and supporting your body to perform every day activities.

Say you are walking to get your morning coffee and see a $2 coin on the ground. You whisper to yourself “score” and then you proceed to reach down and pick up the coin.

To do this you squatted down, leaned over from your hips or even bent one knee to get down to pick up that lucky coin.

You just performed a functional movement.

Image Source: Functional Training & Movement

There are seven functional movements which everybody uses every day from toddlers to elite athletes.

1. Squat

If you have to change vertical levels throughout the day with both feet planted on the ground, you are squatting. The squat is a movement that requires several muscles in your upper and lower body to work together simultaneously. Many of these muscles help you through daily tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, bending, or carrying heavy loads

2. Lunge

If you’ve ever knelt down to tie your shoe or got down on one knee to ask a question of your loved one, you know what a lunge is. It is a single-leg movement that targets your lower body including your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core in multiple directions and angles. Lunging is an essential movement that allows you to kneel down, react and change directions when walking, running, chasing kids or playing sports.

3. Hinge

The hip hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that helps you perform essential tasks such as bending over and picking things up. It targets your posterior chain, “your backside” including glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Additionally, it can help strengthen your core which may lead to reduced back pain or injury, improved balance, and better flexion, extension, and rotation of your trunk.

4. Push

You will push something EVERY day. You could push open a door, push a pram, or push yourself up off the floor; at some point you will be pushing. So learning how to push effectively and efficiently using the right amount of force to complete the movement is important.
Pushes are divided into two categories: horizontal or vertical.  
Horizontal pushes involve pushing a weight straight out away from your body like performing a push up or executing a chest pass in netball.Vertical pushes involve pushing a weight away from you in an upwards motion in relation to your torso like putting away groceries on the top shelf in the pantry or lifting a tennis racquet above your head for a serve.

5. Pull

A pull movement, the opposite of push, is performed when you pull a weight toward your body such as pulling your car door open or that delicious hot coffee towards you. Another everyday essential movement and like the push learning to utilise the right amount of force is important to not cause injury to yourself. The pull movement is also divided into two categories: horizontal and vertical.
Horizontal pulling is pulling a weight/object towards you like your dinner plate and a vertical pull is pulling a weight down in relation to your torso such as pulling down the mark of the century or grabbing something of the supermarket shelf.

6. Rotation

Bending, twisting, looking over your shoulder, running, dancing, fishing, I could go on. Nearly every movement has some sort of rotation in it. Rotating your body requires head-to-toe stability and teaches your body and muscles to work as a single unit rather than as separate halves. It is the best way to transfer motion and power from the upper body to the lower and vice versa.

7. Carry/Gait

How do you get from A to Z, from the car to work, from the couch to the fridge? You walk right? And when we walk we carry things, like handbags, kids or groceries. This requires your body to have strength, coordination and balance. That’s a lot of things for your brain and muscles to concentrate on. Training your body in way that replicates this is going to allow you to develop better control and efficiency in your movements.

What are the Benefits of Functional Movement Training?

1. Improved Movement Efficiency

Functional movements emphasise a wide range of motions that we perform every day, and each one makes you start and finish in a position where your muscles are working in their natural range. This allows you to perform movements more easily and efficiently.

2. Increased Coordination and Balance

Functional training promotes the use of your own body weight to perform various movements. Just like in the real world, there are no machines or equipment to support your body so you need to rely on your own control, strength and balance while coordinating your body through movements.

3. Increased Flexibility and Mobility

During this day and age, everyone is sitting down for longer periods due to the increased use of technology in the workplace or for leisure. This negatively impacts your body’s biomechanics and posture causing muscles to shorten and reduce their flexibility. These movements allow your muscles and joints stretch back to their full range which can help increase posture, balance, strength and reduce injuries.

4. Prevention of Injuries

Training through movements that you utilise every day, making them stronger and safer, allows your body to adapt better to cope with the physical stress you go through reducing the likelihood of injuries occurring. This is because you are not only training your muscles but the soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments surrounding your joints to become stronger.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists at Inspire Fitness use functional movement patterns in the design of individual strength training programs. As we have written about within many articles in this Exercise Physiology Blog: Strength training is vital in the treatment and prevention of many chronic diseases including Type 2 Diabetes and cancer: and in the prevention and treatment of injury.