‘Primal Movement’ is Trending. Go Back in Time for an Ideal Future Body.

Rachel MacPherson - The Upside Blog

by | Read time: 7 minutes

With all the fitness trends, tips and techniques available at your fingertips today, choosing how to train can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, as with most things, it can be best to get back to the basics. In the case of fitness, primal movement patterns will help you learn (or re-learn) how to move the way your body is designed to through millions of years of evolution.

Woman Doing Primal Movement Workout Squatting in Modern Living Room

What is primal movement training?

Primal movement is not just a fitness trend; it’s a collection of basic fundamental movement patterns that come naturally to humans. Think of a baby or small child crawling on the ground, deeply squatting to play with toys, or pushing themselves up from the floor during tummy time.

“These exercises often involve movement and play, which can be fun and a welcome change from traditional exercises that can feel repetitive or monotonous,” says Andrew Slane, Sports Conditioning Specialist and instructor at Fiture. “They are also effective at improving functional movement, often involving everyday moves such as squatting, lunging, pulling, hinging, rotating or pushing.” They can also be adaptable and modified to suit a wide range of fitness levels.

Why include primal movement in your training

Primal movements work with your muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, bones and fascia to produce optimal, functional ways of moving around and accomplishing tasks.

“Primal movements are essential for our body. Everyone routinely performs at least some version of these movements, but training them, allows them to be strengthened and perfected to increase longevity and performance while decreasing the risk of injuries,” says TJ Mentus, certified personal trainer and mobility specialist with Garage Gym Reviews.

Those that do not incorporate a lot of primal movements in their routine tend to move worse and suffer from issues with posture and joints, according to Mentus.

Unfortunately, what may have come naturally to you as a baby or child can be lost due to long periods of inactivity, sedentary lifestyles spent sitting, crouched and hunched in awkward positions, and neglecting to train for strength, mobility and functional movement.

Recovering these youthful, primal movement patterns takes a bit of work and consistency, but the payoff is immeasurable. You can achieve more functional strength and mobility that helps ward off the aches and pains typical of aging, and you can feel more confident and sturdy in your daily movements, training and tasks. What’s more, focusing on these primal movement patterns can help you achieve a functional, fit body that looks and feels youthful and strong.

The 7 primal movement patterns

There are seven primal movement patterns you should know if you want to include this type of training in your routine. “Ideally, these movements should be trained in some capacity every time you work out, whether they are the whole workout or part of the warm-up to prime the muscles for other movements. I would recommend three to five times a week,” advises Mentus.


Squatting is a very popular movement in the gym, but in daily life, it is often neglected. When you watch a child for any length of time, you can see how deep squatting is a natural and effortless task. Losing the ability to squat correctly can lead to back pain and tightness.

Squats are a primal movement that humans are capable of from a very young age. The movement consists of having both feet planted on the floor, usually wider than hip distance apart, and lowering the torso with a straight back and chest held high. How deep you can squat depends on your anatomy, including your hip sockets and your mobility at the ankles, calves and hips. Examples of squatting movements you can try include:

  • Goblet squats
  • Barbell back or front squats
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Yoga squats


Lunges are another common gym exercise, but it’s also a movement you do in everyday life whenever you step forward to climb stairs, step over an object, or lunge forward to catch or throw something, for instance. It’s a unilateral movement, meaning one leg does the bulk of the work at a time. During lunges, you plan one foot in front, behind, or to the side of you and lower your torso, placing your weight in one working leg using the other for balance.

Unilateral movements are excellent for addressing imbalances on one side of the body and building balance and stability. Some examples of lunging movements you can try include:

  • Walking lunges
  • Barbell or dumbbell lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Lateral lunge
  • Reverse lunge
  • High and low yoga lunge
  • Crescent pose
  • Warrior I


Hinging or bending is a primal movement pattern you will likely use daily. It’s also a movement that can cause a lot of pain and tightness for many people who do not keep this movement in their exercise routines. Hinging is performed at the hip, not the waist. Think about shooting your bum behind you rather than bending at the spine.

Hinging is a primal movement pattern humans use to pick things up off the ground, like a child, grocery bag or suitcase. Your hips, glutes and legs are primarily responsible for helping you achieve this movement, and if not performed correctly, it carries a high risk of injury. This is not a reason to avoid training hinges, but it is the best reason to train it consistently. You are far less likely to injure yourself if you know how to brace and hinge properly.

Some examples of hinge movements include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Single stiff leg hinge/deadlift
  • Back extensions
  • Kettlebell swing
  • Snatch
  • Barbell clean
  • Good mornings
  • Forward fold (yoga)


Pushing movements are those help you push things away from your body or your body off of the ground. They most often involve your shoulders, the back of your arms (triceps) and your chest. You use this primal movement when you push yourself off the ground, push an item back on a shelf, or shove something away from you. Pushing can take place horizontally and vertically.

Exercises you can try to work on pushing include:

  • Bench press
  • Push-ups
  • Shoulder press
  • Cobra pose
  • Chaturanga


Pulling movements are the opposite of pushing ones. Pulling things toward your body like a heavy object off the floor, starting a lawnmower, or reeling in a rope or fishing line all use pulling movements. These movements rely on your shoulders, arms, and back, but typically the opposing muscle groups you use for pushing, such as your biceps.

You can increase your ability to pull by working on these exercises:

  • Pull-ups
  • Barbell rows
  • Single-arm dumbbell rows
  • Lat pull-downs
  • Cable pushdowns


Rotational movements are those that help you move in multiple directions. This type of training is often neglected but can be a surefire way to protect your spine from pain and injury. Although the other primal movements above work in two planes of motion—the frontal and sagittal planes, rotational or twisting movements work in the transverse plane, which makes them a very functional movement pattern.

Consider all of the patterns you’ve learned above. Any time you are pushing, pulling, lunging or hinging, you may also need to rotate. This is likely where an injury or strain can occur. If you practice rotational movement patterns with control and build core strength and spinal stability, you will be much less likely to have a bad back, sore knees or hip pain. Try these movements:

  • Pallof press
  • Woodchops
  • Russian twist
  • Revolved side angle pose
  • Rotated triangle pose
  • Seated spinal twist

Carry and gait

Carries are a primal movement that, once you understand, you can see how humans have relied on for thousands of years. You perform a loaded carry whenever you carry a heavy load of groceries, a suitcase, a bucket of water or another object.

Carries are a variation of another primal movement pattern, simply gait or locomotion. This movement pattern is merely walking, running, jogging, and moving your body in space. While it might seem easy and natural, many people have dysfunctional gait patterns that can cause muscular imbalance, dysfunction, and pain. Try these movements:

  • Walking
  • Plyometric jumping and leaping
  • Jogging
  • Farmer’s walks
  • Suitcase carry
  • Bear crawls

How to get started with primal movement

You can add any of these movement patterns into your current routine, and you likely do them already if you work out regularly. “Specific workout and benefits will vary depending on each person’s goals, physical condition, and preferences and can include a variety of exercises, like cardio, strength and flexibility training,” says Slane.

Forget about how much weight you are lifting and instead focus on your form and execution. Perform the actions slowly and with control, and ensure you achieve a full range of motion. “The easiest way to get started with these movements is to do them using just one’s body weight as resistance,” advises Mentus.

If you are not lifting weights already, then body weight is the safest option so that the body can master the movement patterns before adding external resistance to work against, according to Mentus. “Once you’ve gained confidence in your body to successfully perform the movements with good form, then weight can be added to make them more challenging,” he says.

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