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7 Functional Movement Patterns for Building Strength

When it comes to getting stronger, functional movements are the big strength builders to include in your workouts.

In this post, you’ll learn 7 functional movement patterns to include in your workouts every week.

What are Functional Movement Patterns?

Most exercises are functional to some degree; that is, they help you move around your day better or have real life application.

Functional movement patterns that include multiple joints and / or large muscle groups are called compound movements.

A compound movement example would be a squat. When you squat, you’re using the ankle, knee, and hip joints. You’re using the large muscles of the glutes and quads (thighs).

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, tend to focus on only one joint. An example is the biceps curl. You’re really only using only joint: the elbow. And you’re focusing mostly on one muscle group: the biceps.

Functional movement patterns also mimic daily motions like sitting down to a chair, picking something up off the floor, or putting something away overhead.

Why Use Functional Movement Patterns in Your Training?

The functional movement patterns are an efficient way to exercise.

1) You use multiple muscle groups. Because functional movement patterns involve more than one joint, you’re recruiting more muscle groups than you would in an isolation exercise.

2) You can load them heavier. If strength is your goal, you have to challenge yourself gradually over time with the principle of progressive overload. This can mean increasing the weight you can lift over time. For example, you can generally shoulder press more weight than you can bicep curl.

3) You challenge your whole body. Often, you’ll do functional movement patterns while standing. Even if you’re working a press motion with your upper body, your core and legs are still doing work while you’re standing.

What are the 7 Functional Movement Patterns?

Depending on where you look, you’ll see some variation in these core functional movement patterns. For example, some coaches include Rotation while others don’t.

Here are 7 functional movements to help you build strength:

#1 – Squat

Squats emphasize the lower body, particularly the quads. These are a staple for stronger legs. When you squat, your knees and hips bend. The technical term for that bending is flexion. Squats are also categorized as a knee dominant compound movement.

Squats can be focused on both legs working at one time, or bilateral. Other squats can have a single leg or unilateral bias.

Examples of bilateral squats include a bodyweight squat, goblet squat, back squat, front squat, and overhead squat. Single leg squat examples include split squats, single leg squat to a box, etc.

Daily life application for squats: sitting down and standing back up

#2 – Hinge

A hinge movement pattern is also a lower body exercise, but tends to emphasize the back of the legs – hamstrings and glutes – and even the lower back. They tend to train opening (extension) of the hip. Unlike a squat, in the hinge, you tend to see far less bend in the knees.

The knees may be softly bent but you’re not flexing them through their full range of motion. For this reason, hinges are often called hip dominant compound movements.

Like squats, hinges can be bilateral or unilateral.

Examples of a bilateral hinge include the deadlift, hip thrust, bridges, and good morning. Unilateral hinge examples includes the single leg deadlift and single leg RDL (Romanian deadlift).

Daily life application for hinges: picking up something heavy off the floor

#3 – Lunge

Lunges are sometimes included in the squat category but they’re often listed separately as a functional movement pattern. The lunge is a knee dominant pattern.

Examples of lunges are step ups and forward, lateral, reverse, and walking lunges.

Daily life application for lunges: going up stairs

#4 – Push

A push or press functional movement pattern involves moving a weight away from the upper body. You can push horizontally or vertically.

Examples of a horizontal push include the push-up, floor press and bench press.

Vertical push examples include the dumbbell press and overhead (military) press.

Daily life application for a press: putting away something heavy overhead

#5 – Pull

The pull is opposite of a push. This is when you’re moving a weight toward your body. Like a push, the pull movement patterns can also be horizontal or vertical.

Examples of a horizontal pull include dumbbell or barbell rows.

Vertical pull examples include pull-ups, chin-ups, and lat pull downs.

Daily life application: moving objects closer to your body

#6 – Carry

Weighted load carries are another functional movement pattern.

In my coaching experience, they’re the most often overlooked, but they’re highly effective. Your whole body is working to carry the load. And, depending on the type of carry, they’re also great for improving grip strength.

Examples include the suitcase carry, farmer carry, yoke carry, and rucking.

Daily life application of carries: carrying all the groceries

#7 – Rotate

The rotational movement pattern is another powerful pattern that can be overlooked.

Many sports are dominant in the frontal or lateral plane. But rotational strength and power can be an important part of a well rounded plan. Resisting rotation – called anti-rotation – is a great compliment to the rotational pattern.

Examples of rotational movements include medicine ball throws and woodchoppers.

Anti-rotational examples include the Pallof press, dead bug, bird dog plank pull-throughs and even unilateral leg exercises such as the single leg or suitcase deadlift.

Daily life application for rotation / anti-rotation: twisting / stabilizing if you start to fall

How to Use the Functional Movement Patterns in Your Training

If you’re someone who likes to plan your own strength workouts, you can use the functional movement patterns to create a foundation each week.

From there you might customize with different variations, tempo, and load as time goes on.

For example, you might pair a squat with a pull. Or you may do a hinge with a press.

If you want a longer workouts, maybe include bilateral (two arms / legs at once) with unilateral (single arm / leg) exercises.

Want to get stronger with functional movement patterns in 30 minutes or less? Check out the Made Strong Program!

To Summarize

Functional movements form the foundation of a solid strength training plan that will get you results. You’ll get stronger and build muscle. When combined with isolation exercises, mobility work, and cardio, these 7 movement patterns are all you need.

The basic 7 functional movement patterns include:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Carry
  • Rotate

Work them bilaterally and unilaterally to challenge strength, balance, and coordination.

I recommend a starting poitn of 2 to 3 full body strength sessions per week for best results.

For help with a simple strength training plan based on functional movements, get the Made Strong program.

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Steph Gaudreau

Hi, I'm Steph Gaudreau (CISSN, NASM-CPT)!

Nutrition and fitness coach for women, Lord of the Rings nerd, and depending on who you ask, crazy cat lady. My mission is to help you fuel for more: bigger muscles, strength, energy, and possibilities. We’ll do it with my signature blend of science, strategy…and a little bit of sass.


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