Balance in Training: 6 fundamental movements you must know

Are you always looking for the next little technique improvement?

The next invaluable tip that will move you and your training forward?

It is frustrating to tread water in training and to get the feeling that there is something missing. And this is the reason why I have written this post. I want to share something with you that has changed my whole training for the better. The ultimate tip.

For many years I was used to training each muscle individually. I knew every machine in the gym and knew the right exercise for each muscle to bombard it from any angle. And still I had the feeling that there was something missing. The right balance.

It wasn’t enough to train the biceps, the triceps wanted some action as well. It was the same with the chest and back and other muscles of the body. After a while I knew the drill. Even though I preferred some exercises to others I still made sure that I was training evenly balanced.

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Then, there came a turning point.

I stumbled upon the term ‘functional training’ in the internet. I quickly realized that this form of training had little in common with the isolation training that I was used to. Integration training was the magic word. The goal: to train as many muscles at once in movements that resemble daily life situations as close as possible.

Since I was increasingly occupied both familial and professionally I instantly liked this approach. Train everything at once. In addition, I was growing tired of training just for looks. I wanted to become more capable. And functional training promised exactly that. So the first thing I learned was that isolated training doesn’t make sense when I wanted to become stronger in my daily life or a certain sport. Training muscles individually has benefits when it comes to looks but almost no benefits that can be transferred to the daily grind.

But again I had the same problem as before:

How do I find the right balance when training movement patterns?

I took a step back and looked at the body as a whole. It was funny and exciting at the same time to see how few benefits I had from training muscles individually in my daily life. I wasn’t curling shopping bags and I didn’t push away any weights while sitting. Instead I lifted my daily shopping, carried things from A to B, stood up and lay down or pushed and pulled things while I had to stabilize myself.

I quickly realized there were some movements that were always there. On the homepage of Dan John (a well-known and successful strength and conditioning coach) I read about fundamental human movement patterns in training for the first time. Each of the movement patterns covered a certain area. Upper and lower body. Front and back, high and low, back and forth. What they all had in common was that they all challenged the body as a whole.

Here is an overview of the six fundamental movements and a few examples:

  1. Squat (quadrizeps dominant): front lower body – pressing from down to up.
    Example: Zercher squat with sandbag
  2. Hinge (hip dominant): back lower body – pulling from down to up.
    Example: single leg deadlift with sandbag.
  3. Push: front upper body – pushing forward or upward.
    Example: Push up (pushing forward), sandbag press (pushing upwards).
  4. Pull: back upper body – pulling backwards or pulling downwards.
    Example: aeroSling rowing (pulling backwards) pull up (pulling downwards).
  5. Carries (carrying, dragging, pushing): interplay of upper and lower body.
    Example: sandbag farmer’s walk, pushing and pulling a sled.
  6. Groundwork (basics and everything else): interplay of upper and lower body.
    Example: Turkish get up with kettlebell or sandbag, throws (medicine ball or similar), one-sided ballistic exercises with kettlebells (swing, clean, snatch) – everything where the body rotates in a controlled matter or has to withstand rotation.

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So I had the movement patterns. Now I needed to apply them in a reasonable training. I wanted to train as balanced as possible, just like with the isolation training. Especially in the beginning this was harder than I thought. Especially when you are used to completely split up your body and split the weekly training sessions into units like chest and biceps or legs and shoulders.

How do you divide movement patterns that always incorporate the full body in order to avoid one-sided training?

It took a while but now I have a good concept of how to implement all movement patterns effectively and in a well-balanced manner. This results in a sequence that I successfully include into my own training and the training with my clients.

  1. It makes a lot of sense to start with exercises that demand a high amount of stability or where you have to move a lot of weight explosively. In general these are also exercises where the upper and the lower body work together and where the interplay of both is improved.
    From our examples this would be: Turkish get up, sprints, throws, heavy and explosive one-armed swings, cleans, and snatches.
  2. After that strength should be in the focus. Depending on your goals the focus could also be on muscle growth. To make this part a little more effective I like to combine movements of the upper and lower body and front and back.
    Ideal combinations from our examples are: Zercher squat and aeroSling rowing as well as one-legged deadlift and sandbag press.
  3. In third place there is carrying. Exercises like farmer’s walks with weights in one or both hands as in our examples are ideal.
  4. To conclude the training session you can use a finisher (movements that are less complex and can be done fast in low intensity with short breaks). Intervals with Battle Ropes, rope skipping, kettlebell swings with light weights or less complex bodyweight exercises are a good fit.

An example for an A-B plan could look like this:

Day A (e.g. Monday and Thursday)

  1. Turkish get up
  2. a. Sandbag Zercher squat
  3. b. Pull up
  4. a. One-armed deadlift with sandbag or kettlebell
  5. b. Sandbag press
  6. Farmer’s walk with sandbag or kettlebell in one hand (offset)
  7. Battle Rope interval

Day B (e.g. Tuesday and Friday)

  1. Loaded kettlebell cleans (clean a heavy kettlebell to rack position)
  2. a. Lunge with rotation and sandbag
  3. b. Sling trainer rows
  4. a. Barbell deadlift
  5. b. Push up
  6. Sandbag shouldering and carrying
  7. Kettlebell swing interval

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This is only one possibility to integrate the fundamental movements into a training plan. From my point of view and supported by the experiences with my clients this split works perfectly. This approach will offer you a well-balanced training. I intentionally left out the number of sets/rounds and repetitions. These will vary depending on your individual goals. Independent of sets/rounds and repetitions you should make sure to train all fundamental movements even if, in your daily life, certain movements dominate.

Especially pushing and quadriceps-dominant movements predominate. So if you have to sacrifice some of your training time cut these movement patterns first.

In addition to the movement axes and planes (forward-backwards and upwards-downwards) you should pay attention to the balance of exercises in one leg stand or on both legs and to single- and dual-handed exercises.

I’m a big fan of doing something slightly differently in each training session.

Instead of throwing the whole training plan overboard just add a little variation to your exercises. So in place of single leg deadlifts you can do single leg bridge variations or replace Zercher squats with the sandbag by goblet squats with the kettlebell.

‘Everything works for six weeks’ – this sentence by Dan John gives you a good guideline on when to implement variation into your training plan at the latest.

Your Sebastian

    Author: Sebastian Müller

    Sebastian Müller is certified teacher for rehabilitation and fitness trainer. He is the founder of Kettlebell Weimar and Kettlebell Fitness Athletics in his basearea Thueringen in Germany. For more than 13 years now, he is an active fitness enthusiast, but it was only three years ago that he revolutionized his training and decided to teach the functional training philosophy. Since 2014 he is CEO of KRABA-Erfurt where he teaches several classes in Kettlebell Training and Calisthenics. Click here to visit Sebastians homepage and here to follow him on Facebook.

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