The Eight Fundamental Movements

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Finding Simplicity Out of Complexity

Every year there seems to be a new fitness fad peeking into the industry. As a consumer it is a daunting task trying to navigate and find a genre of fitness that is fun, affordable, challenging, and, most importantly, safe. But what we don’t understand for ourselves we need to rely on others for. That is why we call a plumber to fix a pipe, an accountant to do our taxes, or a fitness professional to help motivate and move our body. We may save some time, frustration, and a small headache but at the expense of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and possibly, our safety.

For the consumer, one of the most intimidating and controlling aspects of the fitness industry is choosing where to begin. There are dozens of different “genres” of fitness combined with thousands of different exercises. Equipment has grown more complex with gyms incorporating hundreds of different machines, gizmos, and gadgets. Doing some quick multiplication, you can see how difficult it can be to choose where to start. There are thousands of combinations of genres, exercises, and equipment with new ideas released each year. Things do not have to be as complicated as they seem. A common denominator exists that connects that large number into its most basic form, human body movement.

The Common Denominator

Humans have been moving the same way for a long time. A... very... long... time. We can dress it up and call it different names yet movement is still movement. What if I told you those hundreds of thousands of ideas could all be broken down into 40 or so body movements?

Them: Wait, wait, wait... 40?!?

Me: Yea. 40?

Them: That’s still way too many!

Me: Oh, okay. How about 8?

Then: Still skeptical, but deal!

The voice of public opinion always wins...

Learn to Move

Eight movements reflect eight major joints of our body:

Ankle – Knee – Hip – Pelvis - Spine/Ribcage - Shoulder - Elbow - Wrist

Focusing on these eight fundamental movements will provide you the following benefits:

1.) Safety, consistency, and efficiency with every exercise and workout.

2.) A better understanding of human movement. Learn to replicate any exercise you see in any genre of fitness safely.

3.) Apply to your everyday life to prevent acute or chronic injury or pain from surfacing.

4.) Specific muscle targeting to always engage the proper muscles and minimize compensation that can lead to injury.

5.) Full body engagement for stability, increased calorie burning, and a time efficient workout.

If you are not big on remembering technical, anatomical based terminology, that’s okay! Learning to apply verbal cues in place of complex body movements is a very effective way at remembering and comprehending advanced concepts. Just put it in your own words!

Connecting the Mind & Body: Verbal Cueing

Since starting my career in rehabilitation therapy verbal cueing has been the most important and effective way to teach individuals how to connect to specific muscles and body movements. VC’s help stimulate the brain and forces us to THINK while we WORK. Body movement requires a level of mental thought that most sacrifice in exchange for increased speed, reps, or weight. I can all but guarantee if you are not THINKING while you are WORKING you are not PROFITING!

1.) Verbal cues help connect your mind to your body.

2.) The same verbal cues can be applied across hundreds of different exercises. They help bridge the gap between a seemingly complex fitness world and your own.

3.) Verbal cues help you remember body positioning and alignment instead of exercise intricacies.

Biomechanics! Gravity! Science!

Before we go any further… a quick dive into bio-mechanics… but bear with me we’re almost onto the good stuff!

To better understand the eight fundamental body movements, we need to have a quick review on basic biomechanics, specifically the following two statements:

1.) Exercise depends on muscles moving joints.

2.) How joints are positioned relative to one another affects muscle function.

For example, how my shoulder, elbow, and wrist joint is positioned will dictate what muscles in my arms will be working.

This can be broken down into a game of inches or less. Small changes in joint positioning can have an enormous effect on muscle function. Another way of saying this is even an inch change in shoulder, elbow, or wrist positioning can dictate whether or not you even feel an exercise in the intended muscle.

You can thank gravity for this complexity. Gravity is our best and worst friend when it comes to fitness and exercise. It is the sole reason bio-mechanics even exists, among a few other things. But we’ll get more into that in another article.

The Eight Fundamental Movements

For simplicity we are going to take a bottom up approach starting with the ankles. Each section will provide a couple verbal cues to THINK about when during exercises. Experiment, practice, and feel the affect these cues can have on your body. Come up with a phrase that makes sense and you can remember!

“The Ankles” “Push Ankles Out” - “Tear Paper Apart w/ Feet” - “Pinky Toe Pressure”

Over pronation of the ankle (rolling in) is one of the leading causes of chronic foot and ankle pain. Millions of dollars are spent on orthotics and special shoes to curb the effects but body control and exercise can be a far more affordable and effective remedy. Try actively rolling your ankle out (supinate) and increase pressure on the outside (lateral) portion of your foot. Your entire foot should still remain flat as the focus is to distribute the weight in your foot to the outside. If done properly you will create alignment of the calf muscles and achilles tendon as it crosses into the ankle joint and improve sensation and activation of the gluteal muscles.

“The Knees” “Keep Knee Cap Over Pinky Toe” - “Push Knees Out”

Knee positioning is dependent on “Q-Angle” and is a measurement of the angle between the quadriceps muscle and the patella tendon. The greater the angle, the greater risk of injury or development of a chronic pain condition. Our goal is to minimize “Q-Angle” by pushing our knee over our ankle joint and maintaining alignment and stability throughout a range of motion. Not only will this help prevent injury and pain but will place leg muscles in an optimal position to be worked. Remember, efficiency is key!

“The Hips”

“Tear Paper Apart w/ Feet” - “Knees Straight; Rotate Knee Caps Out”

This is referring to hip rotation movement (rotational torque) in a closed chain position or feet firmly on the ground. When you apply these cues, you are feeling for engagement on the outside of your hips. By developing rotation through our hip joints during exercises like that squat, deadlift, and lunge we are creating increased force production and stability throughout the range of motion. This concept is what gives us the feeling of strength and control during a weighted lift. Additionally, allowing the hips to rotate will prevent compensatory pelvic and spine movement.

“The Pelvis”

“Tuck Tail Between Legs” - “Lengthen Your Low Back” - “Squeeze Your Butt”

Posterior pelvic rotation synergistically engages the gluteal, abdominal, and hamstring muscles to create pelvic and spinal stability during dynamic movements, such as a squat or dead-lift, and static exercises, such as a plank. During heavy resistance exercises the pelvis should maintain stability as we move and rotate about our hips or shoulders to create movement.

“The Spine/Ribcage”

“Pull Ribs Down to Pelvis” - “Draw Belly Button to Spine” - “Tuck Chin”

Spinal stability is largely dependent on our ability to activate and maintain abdominal engagement. This often works synergistically with pelvic stability as the abdominal muscles are used to stabilize both bones/joints. Our goal is to create a flat back or straight line from the back of our head down to the tailbone (sacrum). This is the core concept behind straight leg forward bend exercises, squats, and most abdominal exercises. For example, when performing double leg raises think about pulling the ribs down, drawing abs inward, and keeping the chin tucked. If done properly you should feel your low back and spine press into the ground while the abdominal muscles work hard to support your legs.

“The Shoulders”

“Pinch Pencil Between Shoulder Blades” - “Open/Lift Up Chest”

Incorporating the shoulder blades (scapulas) the shoulder joint is very complex and one, if not, the most susceptible joints to minor and major injury. Gravity can have a debilitating effect on the head and shoulders as it is always forcing us into a forward head and rounded shoulder posture. By lifting the chest and squeezing the shoulder blades back we are preventing poor posture and even protecting the spine and low back!

“The Elbows”

“Tuck to Your Side” - “Rotate Elbows Together”

Elbow positioning is affected by muscles above and below the joint and have a close relationship with shoulder movement and positioning. During pulling exercises, like the row, focus on pulling the elbow across the side of your trunk and maintaining strict elbow and wrist alignment during the pull. During pushing exercises, like the push-up, focus on keeping the elbows rotated together. If done properly you will engage and feel your triceps working hard to stabilize the shoulder joints.

“The Wrists”

“Point Your Wrist” - “Keep Your Wrist Straight” - “Screw Palms into Ground”

They may be last but do NOT underestimate their importance. Wrist positioning has a dramatic effect on shoulder and elbow muscle engagement during all upper body exercises and even some lower body exercises. During tricep extensions, try pointing your wrist down to the ground at the end range. With rows and bicep curls, try keeping your wrist curled and pressure through the pinky side of your palm. Push-ups? Think about screwing your palms into the ground. You should find a direct relationship between this movement and keeping your elbows rotated together!

Bridging the Gap

Whether you choose Yoga, Zumba, Cross-Fit, or BodyBuilding, dumbbells, heavy bands, or bodyweight exercises apply these eight fundamental body movements and positions to maintain consistency and safety throughout your fitness lifestyle. Remember, human movement is the only common denominator that links every fitness genre, exercise, and piece of equipment.

Please use the following link for a full-length video demonstrating and explaining each of the fundamental movements!

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