This is a Whole9 guest post by Peter Hirsh, a nationally certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor who has been teaching and training with kettlebells for over ten years.
The Paleo diet follows the premise that doing what is most in sync with your unique biology will keep you the healthiest. It isn’t difficult to see that the standard western diet is completely alien to anyone’s biology and health is sacrificed greatly as a result. This philosophy can also be applied to exercise. If you have been following Paleo nutrition, you probably have come across primal movement or functional training. About ten years ago, one of my biggest influences, Mr. Paul Chek, identified and educated me on the seven primal movements. Since then, I have seen this concept utilized and expanded by almost every functional fitness professional.
The Seven Primal Movements:
1. Bend to extend
Bending with a hips back movement, back straight, feet flat and forward. It can be performed bodyweight or in dozens of other variations including the deadlift. Bend to extend movements work your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
This is a hips down motion. Keep your bodyweight in its neutral gravity line with your back flat, developing range of motion that will take you to “rock bottom.” You will not use much forward lean here as your hips are more directly under you. This is all about strength and flexibility and works every muscle in your legs and core.
This is a long, linear stride, lowering your back knee to just above the ground, with a completely upright torso. Lunges will make your quads and hip flexors sore from the long range of motion and will require more core strength to stand up out of than the squat and deadlift.
This is your ability to twist in your core, from your pelvis to your ribcage. Every step you take has rotation in the thoracic spine, as a matter of injury prevention, train it in your practice. Not only will it keep your core strong and mobile, unifying your body, but it will also tone up those midsection muscles!
This is your upper body muscles pushing things in various directions. In the real world, you would have to do this with different objects, in different ways, quite frequently. Depending upon the lift this trains your chest, shoulders, and triceps differently.
This is your upper body muscles pulling weight toward you. This is often seen in a row or pulling your bodyweight up in a pull-up. Pulling trains your upper back, biceps, and grip. There is a version of pulling out there for everyone. This movement can also help correct the forward shoulders that have become so common among people today from spending so much time at computers and smart phones.
Walk, jog, run or sprint. I truly believe that we should all be able to enjoy the freedom to run. Training strength and mobility in the first six primal movements will allow you to enjoy exercises such as running with less of a likelihood of injury. I always tell people to get fit so they can run not run to get fit. A generous amount of research has also shown that shorter interval runs such as sprints are more in sync with human biology and give better results than long distance running. Long distance running is more likely to stimulate unwanted stressors and overestimate your sympathetic nervous system.
Training the Seven Primal Movements in your workouts:
Now that you know what the movements are, let me help you determine how to use them in your workouts. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to work all seven movements in every workout in order to train your body evenly. You may feel that there are certain exercises or movements you naturally gravitate towards and that is fine as long as you don’t see negative side effects from over training. Personally, I like bend/extend movements the most, the the kettlebell swing and kettlebell snatch, are two of my favorites. However, in my weekly kettlebell workout videos on Kettlebell Movement, I always try to maintain a balance of these primal movements.
Another important consideration when training the seven primal movements is that you can combine them with each other. Squats and lunges work very well with press and rotation exercises and bend/extend movements work well with pulling exercises. As my mentor pointed out, throwing a ball is a combination of a lunge, a rotation, and a push! Combining the primal movements in various ways can give you the ability to vary your workouts almost infinitely. By learning different variations and combinations of these movements, you will always see great results when you train. This methodology will simultaneously develop coordination, balance, stability, flexibility, strength, power and stamina.
After exploring the many basic variations and combinations of these movements, you can add in even more challenging progressions. Using the power phase (jumping, throwing, running) is one way to take a muscle group to the next level, the clapping pushup is a power phase pushing exercise. Using a stability ball, half ball, or foam pad is another option for progression. Using weights that are unbalanced or uneven can add variation and challenge to your workouts. You will find kettlebells and dumbells require more stability in your shoulders than barbells. Unless you use the barbell one handed, in which case you will have to stabilize way beyond the kettlebell or dumbell. Practice your overhead presses while holding the center of a barbelll and observe the stabilizers firing like nothing else! Performing exercises from the plank position, on one leg, or using suspension trainers are yet more examples of the infinite ways your workouts can be varied.
I have put together a video workout for you to follow of the seven primal movements. In this video, I will perform six of the seven (I exclude gait) for three rounds. Each movement becoms progressively more challenging as the rounds go on. If you see me demonstrate an exercise that you do not feel ready for, simply regress to the previous round and build strength in that area. By the end of the workout, you will have learned eighteen variations of the primal movements! Have fun and listen to your body to ensure safety and efficiency.
Long gone are the days of sitting in chairs, repping out exercises that train individual muscles in ways that they will never be used in the real world. The concept of training muscle has slowly given way to training movement. When we stop using machines and sitting in chairs to workout, our overall muscle stimulus goes up significantly in the same length workout. By training your body as a whole you also stimulate the deep stabilizers in your core, which in the real world, are the basis for everything. These muscles are turned off when we train muscle isolation exercises such as bicep curls.
Training your body functionally will also show you how unnecessary (and often how detrimental) using the various cardio machines on a regular basis are. In fact, a quick circuit of functional exercise challenges your cardio far better than the machines ever could. Those machines often lead to bad posture as they train short range of motion for a great deal of repetitions. This will cause inflexibility like nothing else and inflexibility is one of the biggest causes of injury in daily life and in the gym.
There are many different progressions and tools you can use to train the primal movements. Kettlebell workouts are a great way to train these movements and can also be combined with many other forms of equipment and functional exercise. Always remember to have fun and enjoy your practice!
Peter Hirsh is a nationally certified personal trainer and kettlebell instructor who has been teaching and training with kettlebells for over ten years. Peter has dedicated his life to the enrichment and well being of others and currently owns Peter’s Personal Training where he teaches classes and trains students one on one in San Diego, California. Wanting to reach a larger number of people with his teachings, Peter started Kettlebell Movement, a website dedicated to maintaining the authentic teachings of kettlebell training and promoting a simple and effective holistic lifestyle anyone can follow. Connect with Peter on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or Instagram.
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