By: Bo Stansell, SPARC Specialist & Coach
With so many strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers, and group fitness instructors out there you are bound to see some differences in training philosophy. A difference in training style also brings preferences for different exercises, equipment, and all the other variables that are part of creating a program (how to load, volume, etc.). Despite typical variation you’ll see between trainers and coaches, there are fundamental movement patterns that should always be present in a good program. Other professionals may have a slightly different list than I do, but based on what I have seen and read these are the movements I consider vital to a successful program. The movements are as follows: Lower push (Knee Dominant Lower), Lower Pull (Hip Dominant Lower), Upper Push, Upper Pull, Core (more specifically anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-flexion), and some type of complex movement (either Olympic lifts or regressed variations). I did not list it, but unilateral lower body exercises are often given their own category due to the differences in training effect vs. bilateral movement.
Both pulling and pushing movements are needed to ensure symmetry and to prevent overuse of particular muscle groups and muscle asymmetry and/or compensations that over time can lead to injury. Pulling and pushing movements usually involve opposing muscle groups. For example, the bench press (push) relies heavily on the triceps and chest to complete the push whereas in rowing movements (pull) the biceps and back perform most of the work. It is important to maintain balance by including equal amounts of both in your program.
The lower push is so called because it involves essentially pushing your body away from the ground or pushing something away from you with your legs as in the leg press. A good example of a lower body push is a squat. There are numerous variations of the squat that can fill this category in an exercise program such as a goblet squat, barbell front squat, and barbell back squat. Lunges and split squats are also considered lower pushes but require more stability due to performing the movement over a narrower base. Both unilateral and bilateral variations of the lower push should make their way into your program.
Deadlifts are the most famous of the lower pulls. During the deadlift the hips start back in a flexed position with the back being straight and the torso facing toward the ground. The lifter contracts the glutes to extend the hips forward and lifts the weight straight off the ground until the hips are fully extended. There are many deadlift variations including conventional, sumo, trap bar, and straight leg deadlifts, which can emphasize each of the different “pulling” muscles. The glute bridge is another popular lower pull in which the lifter is on his/her back and extends the hips up directly against a load (usually just gravity or a barbell in weighted glute bridges). As with the lower pushes, unilateral hip dominant exercises are useful when you want hip extension exercises that also develop stability.
The upper push movement can occur when you are either pushing a load away from you (e.g. bench press) or pushing yourself away from a surface (e.g. pushup). The upper pushes can be further subdivided into horizontal and vertical pushes based on what direction you are pushing the load (some variations such as the incline bench press are somewhere in between). The bench press and standard pushup are examples of horizontal pushes. The most common type of vertical push is the overhead press, during which the lifter pushes the weight directly over the head. A good mix of both vertical and horizontal pushes will help add variety to a program.
As with the upper push, the upper pull has both horizontal and vertical variations involving pulling weight to the body or pulling your body toward something. The most common are pull-ups (vertical pull) and row variations (horizontal pull). A good program will strike a balance between pushing and pulling and in both the horizontal and vertical directions.
The word “core” is used to refer to the group of muscles primarily responsible for stabilizing the spine during movement as well as providing a stiff object to generate force against and/or transmit force through. Different authorities in the strength and conditioning industry will give different answers when asked exactly which muscles comprise the “core”. The core is a group of muscles that form a column around the spine and it includes the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, the diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and spinal erectors (muscles that may also be included are the pecs, the psoas, the glutes, and the lats). All of these muscles act together to protect the spine, as well as to enable the transmission of force from one part of the body to another. Thus the type of core training we prescribe involves resisting loads on the spine coming from multiple planes. It is important to note; however, that virtually any exercise can become a core exercise when you are actively engaging the core musculature to generate or transmit force in the extremities.
Each word following “anti-” represents the direction of the load on the spine or the type of movement in the spine we are resisting. We group our core exercises into anti-extension (e.g. front plank), anti-lateral flexion (e.g. side plank), anti-rotation (e.g. rope cable chops), and anti-flexion (e.g. isometric hip extension holds). For complete core development, all of these different types of core exercises must have a place in our program.
Last but certainly not least are complex movements. Olympic lifts (the snatch, power clean, hang clean, clean and jerk) are more technical lifts that require coordinated effort in the proper sequencing to move a weight through a range of motion. They are excellent at building power and increasing proprioception. We also implement other slower complex movements such as the Turkish Get Up to achieve more stability and body control. Both athletes and non-athletes can benefit tremendously from performing complex movements. Due to the technical nature of the exercises as well as the inherent risk in moving a relatively heavy load over great distances, it is imperative that the individual learns the proper technique before attempting to perform these lifts.
A good strength and conditioning coach will address every one of these types of movements patterns and will know how to balance them effectively to create a well-rounded program. These serve as the basic building blocks of any program regardless of how any other variables are manipulated. Detailing all the different