Fundamental Human Movements and Why They Are Important

Humans are not made to be stationary – we are made to move, and move in particular ways. In fact, there are six fundamental movement patterns which every person should be able to perform in order to live a healthy, active life:

  • Squats
  • Hip Hinges
  • Lunges
  • Push (upper body)
  • Pull (upper body)
  • Rotation

These movements act as the building blocks of more complex movements and actions, and because of this, mastering these can help to ensure that you are able to perform most any motion you can imagine.


Squats are a common exercise among those in physical therapy and the population at large. They involve the trainee lowering their hips from a standing position, then returning to a standing position. Squats can be performed with or without extra weight depending upon the desired outcome of the exercise. This exercise engages many muscles in the legs as well as other areas including:

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Erector Spinae

As with nearly any exercise, the benefits of squats are largely dependent on the form one uses to perform the movement. In general, trainees should ensure their feet are about shoulder width apart, that no part of their feet leave the floor during the motion, and that they keep their chest up.

Squats have a multitude of potential benefits for daily life including improved balance, strength, posture, ability to jump, and so much more!

Hip Hinge

Hip Hinges target the body’s posterior chain. This includes the Gluteus Maximus, several lower-back muscles, and hamstrings. The exercise also utilizes the abdominals for stability.

Hip Hinges involve the trainee bending forward at the waist then returning to an upright position while keeping the lower back and legs in a neutral position. It is absolutely imperative that when performing this exercise the motion comes from the hips and not the back – the back must remain neutral. To achieve proper form, one should: 

  • Maintain a neutral spine
  • Pivot from the hip joints
  • Engage your core muscles

Many other exercises incorporate the basic hip-hinge motion like deadlifts and the kettlebell swing. Benefits of performing a proper hip hinge can include injury prevention when lifting items from the floor, increased flexibility, and increased strength.


Lunging is a common exercise that can be performed with or without additional weights, and targets the lower body. In particular, lunges target the quadriceps and gluteal muscle groups. Lunges simulate rising off the ground and help to improve leg strength as well as balance.

As with any exercise, proper form is essential to ensure you maximize the benefits of doing the exercise. Keys to performing a proper lunge are: 

  1. Maintain a neutral spine through the entire movement
  2. Keep your hips, knees, and ankles lined up with each other through the entire movement

While lunges are a relatively simple exercise, there are some common pitfalls in technique when performing them. These include a too-narrow stance which can greatly reduce stability, taking too short of a step forward which can allow your forward heel to rise off the ground, and rounding your back as you descend which can place additional stress on the low back.


Pushes involve pushing weight away from your body. This movement comes in two basic varieties:

  • Pushing weight horizontally away from the body
  • Pushing weight vertically away from your body

Pushes primarily target the upper body including the pectorals, shoulders, and triceps. In particular, horizontal pushes, commonly called a push-up or press-up, target the pectorals, shoulders, and triceps while using the abdominals and erector spinae for stabilization. Meanwhile, vertical pushes, commonly referred to as shoulder presses or overhead presses, target trapezius and deltoids while using several other muscle groups for stability.

Pushes (both vertical and horizontal) simulate very common movements like lifting an item onto a high shelf or pushing a shopping cart. There are a variety of common exercises that use the fundamental push movement including:

  • Push ups
  • Overhead presses
  • Military press
  • Dips


Pulls involve pulling weight toward your body in either a horizontal or vertical fashion. A multitude of common activities utilize this fundamental movement including opening a door, picking something up off the floor, and pulling yourself onto something. There are several common exercises that incorporate the basic pull movement like pull ups (vertical pulls) and barbell rows (horizontal pulls).

In general, pulling motions target the back, arm, and shoulder muscles including the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus, biceps, and shoulders. Depending on the intent of each exercise, emphasis might be placed on different muscle groups. For example, vertical pulls (pull ups) target the latissimus primarily while horizontal pulls (rows) target the back and shoulders.

Proper technique is important to maximize the benefits of performing either a vertical or horizontal pull. When performing a pull up, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder width apart
  • Keep your lower back in neutral
  • Avoid rolling your shoulders forward

When performing a row, keep the following in mind:

  • Keep your lower back in neutral
  • Lead the movement from your shoulder blades


While the other items on this list involve movement in the sagittal plane (forward and backward) or the frontal plane (side to side), rotation involves the movement of the body in the transverse plane. Rotation can take place at several points in the body. For instance, when you check your blind spot while driving, it involves rotational movement of the neck; when you throw a ball it can involve rotational movement of the torso, hip, shoulder, and arm. It is important to have the ability to create as well as limit rotation through each individual segment of the body to control your body the way you want.

Several exercises and stretches utilize rotational movement including: 

  •     Open Book Stretch
  •     Woodchops 

Exercises involving anti-rotation for better midline control include: 

  •     Palloff Press
  •  One-sided Push/Pull/Carry
This is just the tip of the iceberg for basic, foundational human movements we train in the clinic every day at One To One Physical Therapy. Our goal when working with you is to prepare your body for the things you will have to do outside the clinic. If any of these daily activities are hard for you, we’d love to help make it easier! Contact us today by giving us a call at (253) 396-9001 or send us a message here