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Monday
Jun102013

4 Moves to Master

During my twenty years in the fitness profession, one training concept that’s really stood out for me has been the idea of Primal Movement Patterns—the foundational moves behind the everyday, essential actions of our Primal ancestors. For example, a caveman/woman would squat down to start a fire. They would pull plants out of the ground to eat or use a rotation when throwing a spear or sling toward an animal during a hunt. I learned this concept from fitness/rehab expert Paul Chek, who prioritized functional movement in training design. His seven Primal Movement Patterns include:  Push, Pull, Squat, Bend, Lunge, Rotate and Gait. Today I’ll discuss the Pull, Squat, Push and Bend and offer two exercise examples of each (based on equipment options that are available to you). I’ll also describe how to incorporate them into two effective and time-efficient workouts.

PULL

This movement includes horizontal row variations such as 1-arm dumbbell rows off a bench, seated or standing cable rows and bent-over rows using a barbell. It can also include vertical pull down or pull up variations to name just a few. All of these variations will train the muscles of the back. This article will demonstrate the Standing Resistance Band Row and the Free Motion Seated Cable Row, which are horizontal variations that all readers can easily execute.

Pull Variation 1: Standing Resistance Band Row (palms down, elbows out)

This variation will work the muscles of the upper back including the rear delts, rhomboids and middle traps.  The core muscles will be activated more as it is done in a standing position.

Exercise Directions:

  • Anchor a Resistance Band on a tree, piece of furniture or even a door. (Many now have cloth door attachments.) 
  • Stand with slightly bent knees and lean forward slightly with a straight back with a natural arch.  Make sure your weight is evenly distributed on your feet.
  • Grab the handles with the palms down and elbows out.  Pull the elbows straight back making sure the forearms are perpendicular to the floor and the wrists are straight.
  • Pause for a second with your thumbs lined up right above the very top of your abs/bottom of the ribs (In line with the Zyphoid process if you know basic anatomy).
  • Extend the arms back to the starting position.

Common Breakdown in Form Breakdowns:

  • Leaning back to far with the weight on their heels.
  • Letting the back get out of its natural curve (rounded back).
  • Using the arms to perform the work instead of the back.  Often the wrists will bend if this is an issue. 

Variation 2: Free Motion Row

This variation will work the muscles of the upper back including the rear delts, rhomboids and middle traps.

Exercise Directions:

  • Sit down on a Free Motion Row machine.
  • Grab the handles with the palms down and elbows out.  Lean back slightly (Think of how far you lean back when you drive your car). 
  • Pull the elbows straight back making sure the forearms are in a straight line with the cable and the wrists are straight.
  • Pause for a second with your thumbs lined up right above the very top of your abs/bottom of the ribs (In line with the Zyphoid process if you know basic anatomy).
  • Extend the arms back to the starting position.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Leaning back to far.
  • Letting the back get out of its natural curve (rounded back).
  • Using the arms to perform the work instead of the back.  Often the wrists will bend if this is an issue. 

SQUAT

The squat movement pattern is when a person lowers their body by simultaneously bending their knees and hips.  This movement can include narrow or wide width, single leg and split variations as far as foot placement.  As far as resistance it can be done with body weight, dumbbells, barbells, machines, etc.  Regardless of the variation, this movement is great for all the muscles of the lower body, especially the glutes and quads.  In addition the muscles of the upper body often have to work hard to stabilize the weight being held (Especially with the Barbell Back Squat).  The exercises that will be demonstrated will be the Single-Leg Squat and the Free Motion Squat.

Squat Variation 1: Single Leg Squat

This variation will work mainly the quads and glutes.  Since you are balancing on one leg it will also work the stabilizer muscle of those muscles as well.  It is a good exercise to do when equipment is limited (i.e. outside or at home).

Exercise Directions:

  • Balance on one leg making sure the weight is evenly distributed on the foot.  Make sure the shoulders and hips are square.
  • Squat down by bending your knee and hip simultaneously.  Imagine there is a chair behind you, and you are trying to sit down on the chair and get up.
  • Pause for a split second, and then straighten your knee and hip and return to the starting position.
  • Regarding where to put the hands, you can place them on the hip or extend them in front your body to counterbalance your weight.
  • Switch legs when the rep goal is achieved.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Going down too low and letting the pelvis tuck under.
  • Letting the back get out of its natural curve (rounded back or tucking the pelvis).
  • Only bending at the knee and not the hip. 

Squat Variation 2: Free Motion Squat

This variation will target the glutes and quad.  A benefit of this exercise is it is simple to set up and execute. 

Exercise Directions:

  • Make sure the shoulder pads of the machine are at shoulder height.
  • Get into the machine and place your shoulders on the shoulder pads. Make sure your hips are against the back pad.
  • Grab the handles and gently lower the shoulder/back pad until your thighs are in line with the foot platform.
  • Press against the shoulder/back pads by extending your knees and hips, and raise the weight.
  • Pause for a second, and lower the weight back down to the starting position.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Not squatting low enough to get full range of motion
  • Squatting down too low and letting the pelvis tuck under.
  • Letting the weights slam down.

PUSH

The Push is the opposite of the pull.  It includes horizontal push variations such as push-ups, dumbbell or barbell chest presses and machine chest press variations.  These variations train the muscles of the chest, anterior shoulder muscles and triceps.  Vertical push movements stimulate the shoulder and triceps muscles and include shoulder press variations with dumbbells, barbells, and machines.  Side raise and upright row variations could also be included.  The three variations described in this article are the Push-Up and Free Motion Chest Press.

Push Variation 1: Push-Up

The push-up is an exercise that can be done anywhere. Most people are familiar with it from physical education classes.  It will target the chest, anterior deltoid and triceps.  It is also a good core exercise, as you have to keep an aligned spine.

Exercise Directions:

  • Lie on the floor with your legs fully extended.
  • Place your hands to the side making sure your elbows are directly above them.
  • Dig your toes into the floor, engage your core and extend your arms at the elbow and shoulder joint, raising your body away from the floor.  Keep your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears in a straight line.
  • Pause for a second on top, and bend your elbows and shoulders to lower your body to the floor.
  • Keep tension on the muscles by trying to avoid touching the floor with your chest.
  • If you can’t perform the variation from your feet, you can do it from your knees.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Having an excessive arch in the low back.
  • Not keeping the body in a straight line by allowing the hips to rise too far in the air.
  • Not getting full range of motion by bending the elbows enough.

Push Variation 2: Free Motion Chest Press

Exercise Directions:

  • Sit on the Free Motion Chest machine and make sure the back is on the pad.
  • Grab the handles so your palms are down and elbows are out.  The thumbs should be in line with the armpit crease, and the wrists and elbows should be in a straight line (parallel to the floor).
  • Straighten the arms by extending the elbows and shoulders and bring your hands together in a circular pattern. (Think half moon versus a triangle).
  • Pause for a second and then bend the elbows and shoulders allowing the hands to go back to the starting position. 
  • The forearms should be parallel (if looking down from the top) to each other throughout the entire movement.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Allowing the forearms not to be parallel (if looking down from the top) to each other by letting the hands go too far out or in.
  • Allowing the forearms to not be parallel to the floor (if looking from the side) by letting the wrists bend or the elbows to drop
  • Letting the weight slam down

BEND

The bend includes exercises that emphasize the hamstring muscles.  There are hip dominant bend exercises like deadlift variations, and there are also knee dominate bend exercises like different leg curl variations.  The exercises described will be the Single Leg Hip Raise and Free Motion Hamstring.

Bend Variation 1: Single Leg Hip Raise

This is a simple exercise that will target the hamstrings and the glutes.  If you're at a gym, the only equipment needed is a 12” step.  If at home, just use one of the steps on a staircase.

Exercise Directions:

  • Lie down on your back, and place one heel on the edge of the step.  The only part of the foot that needs to be in contact with the step is the heel.
  • Raise the hips up until the knee, hip and shoulder are in a straight line.
  • Pause on top for a second, and lower the hip back to the starting position.
  • Switch legs when the rep goal is achieved.

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Causing stress at the ankle joint by trying to keep the whole foot in contact with the step
  • Allowing the hips to get out of alignment or twisting at the waist
  • Not raising the hips high enough

Bend Variation 2: Free Motion Hamstring

This is a simple exercise that will focus on the hamstring muscles.  It is great for people who have significant differences in leg strength.

Exercise Directions:

  • Place the non-dominant or weaker leg in the foot stirrup and the other leg at the edge of the platform.  The leg engaged in the exercise should be able to swing back and forth freely.
  • At the start of the exercise both legs should be perpendicular to the floor and in alignment with each other.  The hips and shoulders should be square.
  • Bend the working side leg at the knee. (Imagine trying to kick the heel to the butt).
  • Pause for a second on top, and lower the leg by extending the knee.
  • One the rep goal is achieved, switch legs.
  • Do not perform more reps on the dominant (stronger leg) than the non-dominant (weaker leg) can do. 

Common Form Breakdowns:

  • Allowing the back to have an excessive arch while doing the exercise
  • Allowing the working leg knee to jet forward during the exercise
  • Letting the hips get out of alignment during the exercise

Sample Workouts

Workout Variation 1:  Super Sets

In this workout you will perform the pull and squat moments as a pair (also known as a Super Set). Perform a set of one of the above pull exercise variations for 12-15 reps. Rest 30-seconds and perform one of the three squat options for 12-15 reps. Rest 30-seconds and repeat that sequence two more times. Once you are done with the pull and squat exercises, pair up the push and bend exercises and perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps with 30 seconds rest between each of them. With regards to tempo of the exercises, make sure you’re doing the exercises in a controlled manner—measured enough to maintain proper form and achieve full extension.

Advanced Workout Variation:  Giant Sets

For the advanced workout, you’ll perform all four exercises in a row before you repeat them. Start with a pull option and perform 12-15 reps in a controlled tempo. After a 30-second rest perform the squat option for 12-15 reps. Rest 30 seconds and perform one of the push variations for 12-15 reps. Finally, after 30 seconds of rest perform a bend option for 12-15 reps,. Rest for 30 seconds and then repeat all four exercises in that same order for two more sequences. When the workout is done, you will have done three sets of each exercise for 12-15 reps.

Final Notes

The workouts above might not sound like much, but the key is to find a resistance level where 12-15 reps to muscular fatigue can be performed.  If you use proper progression and can perform fifteen reps for three sets, you’ll want to increase your resistance. You’ll see the exercises are upper body followed by lower body.  This is called Peripheral Heart Action training and is a great way to raise the heart rate and work in the higher cardio zones during a workout without having to use cardio machines. By using short rest periods, you’ll experience a significant increase in heart rate (and work in the higher zones of intensity as displayed in your Active Metabolic Assessment).

Thanks for reading, and be sure to offer your feedback and questions on mastering movements for workout optimization.

Written by Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer, St. Louis Park, MN

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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