Movement Patterns…Can they really be standardized?

Movement is the new buzz word sweeping across the fitness industry, with fans, believers, and devoted followers.

Not a day goes by without an Instagram post, a blog or Youtube video saying “it is about movement” and “train movements”  etc.

In my attempt to lookup movement patterns, I found some references saying it is 5 patterns, others referred to 6 patterns and finally references to7 patterns.

Based on those movement patterns, movement screens were also developed and regularly conducted on clients and athletes, outcomes are then used to determine patterns needing work or improvement, so trainers can focus on them, at least in theory.

Based on movement patterns we are expected to squat in a specific form, push in a specific form, deadlift in a specific form etc. This line of thinking, of course, makes life easy for us trainers as all we have to do is look for a few reference points and judge if the move matches a pattern dictated to us.

It is no wonder in the age of prepackaged everything, trainers jump all over the idea, we really do not need to think, we just need to follow protocols or some pre-determined motions while sounding intelligent! rather than analyzing and getting down to the bottom of issues. The later is hard work and dedication.

Yes, I am going to rush into a conclusion and already tell you that I am not a big fan of the idea of movement patterns, and for the rest of this blog, I am going to explain why.

 Movement Patterns for Human Kind

The idea of movement patterns is rooted in the “functional training” world, as functional training became more popular, random movement and programming became the norm, trainers, unfortunately, felt less of a need for the understanding anatomy limitations, force outputs, resistance against the motion and many other exercise basics.

Some “experts” stepped in and developed some structure to the madness, and created movement patterns, some called them primal, others called them fundamental, while the idea of moving away from randomization sounds logical, it runs into problems of its own.

To start with, movement patterns are based on the concept of “if a movement kind of looks like this, then it is a part of that movement pattern”, for example stepping up on a box is considered a part of “lunge pattern” because one leg steps forward while the other stays back, there are many arguments against this notion, here are a couple of them.

First of all, there is no standard lunge, for example, you might press more on the front foot, while I press on the back foot, and another individual presses on both, you can have a straight foot alignment while my foot rotates outwards, and another has 2 different feet alignment, and so forth, therefore resistance distribution is not the same, the way we generate force is not the same, and the center of gravity is not the same, a lunge pattern is actually many lunge patterns!!

Second, when you step up you are performing a different move from lunging forward, because as you are stepping up, you are creating a movement that is vertical in both challenge and direction, at least partially, while in a regular lunge you are moving in a horizontal direction, these are 2 different moves.

The very idea that human function can be summarized in patterns with standard forms is limiting, it takes the function out of functional, it leaves all human functions equal across the board, in that case, we are addressing biological movement patterns rather than functional movement patterns, while poorly accounting for biological variation.

Functional Pattern vs. Biological Pattern

The moment you speak about function you immediately create diversity not unity, the only thing that is unified about human function is possibly the need for survival and maybe the urge for reproduction, the rest is variable.

The world population is full of IT specialists, engineers, surgeons, construction workers, we have nurses, professional athletes, lawyers etc.… each of those professions daily functions differ in types, intensities, volume and tools available.

While a movement may look the same across some of them, the force output is not, the way each person recruits muscle fibers is different, the way each brain cuts corners is specific to what each individual capability is. The brain of each person is smart enough to deal with the individual structure and ability, but how variable can the human structure be? Are we truly individual and unique?

Human Structure Variability… Bigger than you think

We normally look at people and think tall, short, stocky, thin, long legged etc, this simple look alone creates so many variables and debunks the idea of standard movement patterns,  however, a deeper look into human anatomy gives human variability a much deeper dimension and necessitates movement uniqueness beyond simple imagination.

Each bone in the body has variability in length, shape, orientation, and articulation position… for example, your hip sockets may be oriented to the side or forward angled, and any degree in between… Your femur (the long bone of thigh) can have a neck that is long, short, angled horizontally in almost a straight line, or angled downwards, it also can angle forward or backward… Now take this one example with all possibilities and apply it to the rest of the body, and keep in mind that people generally do not even have identical left and right structures.

You get the picture different bone structure needs different movement patterns tailored to individuals. The idea that we can pattern movement and model it for the human species severely neglects the fact that we have more structural variety than we would like to account for. There is a huge difference between us looking at a motion and thinking “oh… this looks smooth” and our brain getting around our structure to create a move, this is really the main goal of the brain, figuring out our motion.

Development of movement through a lifetime

Many “movement experts” keep referring to developmental patterns (how humans learn to move, the rolling the crawling etc.) as the reference of how we are supposed to move … they keep suggesting we regress back to them and pick up again. Although this sounds like a simple and logical way to progress it fails to account for structural changes as a part of human growth and development.


Babies come to this world, start moving their hands feeling their way around, moving their legs, start rolling, try to pick themselves up, crawl and so on. The reason babies go through crude movements is to discover how to best utilize their force output, to manipulate gravity as it acts on their bodies, for example, babies tend to lead a role with their heads, simply because the head is heavier in babies relative to their total weight, it constitutes a big center of mass… this is simple physics and brain biology, the baby throws the head in, succeeds in rolling, the brain registers it, next time it happens, the brain registers it again and eventually it becomes a learned pattern.

As babies grow, the proportional size and weight of the head reduces in relation to the rest of the body, so as a relative center of mass it becomes less effective, that makes rolling leading with the head a much less efficient movement, adults have heavier limbs, and tend to lead with them, this is adaptation to create efficiency, once again simple physics and a natural process of learning.


Movement patterns fail to account for variability, goals, and abilities. Any movement pattern or screen should be based on individual structures and desired goals

I do not claim to have movement patterns figured out for the masses nor do I think it should be, however, I do know that movement patterns should be tailored for every move for every individual in relation to desired goals & abilities, and most important never force structures into moves they were not intended for.

One thing to keep in mind… training general population for “general” fitness and health, is a whole different animal than training athletes, we should stop mixing them, specific movement patterns for specific sports maybe valid, just remember in sports we are willing to take a higher risk on injuries to achieve external goals.  My true concern is training the general population using basics, keeping it simple, healthy and appropriate for their goals.

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