Off Season Fitness: Understanding Basic Movement Patterns

by John Josephs, MS, CSCS
It’s that time of year again.  The days are getting shorter and the naps are getting longer.  You find yourself spending more time on the sofa than on your bike.  It sounds like a bad thing, but really isn’t.  It’s nature’s way of protecting you from yourself.  The body is just reacting to your DNA. You are programmed to sleep and eat more as winter approaches.  Therefore, it is important that you understand the dynamics of the changing seasons and the affects it has on you.  Be smart, be prepared and have a plan for the off-season. 

First and foremost you should allow yourself adequate time to rest. You do not, however, want to lose all the fitness you worked so hard to acquire.  Take a few weeks off and enjoy some free time.  Read, listen to music, go for walks or just sit around and do nothing.  Try to relax completely and take a break.  Reward yourself and let your body recover.  You deserve it!  More importantly, let your mind recuperate and regain the passion to train.  Do not underestimate mental fatigue.  It is real and it can be harmful.  Think of it as recharging your battery.

On the other hand, do not overextend or prolong your hiatus.  If you do, you might be headed for trouble. Winter depression may be considered a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD).  SADs develop as part of the body's response to changes in season and a reduction in exposure to light.[1] 

Some of the common symptoms of winter depression include the following:

·         Increased appetite with weight gain
·         Increased sleep and daytime sleepiness
·         Less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon
·         Loss of interest in work or other activities
·         Social withdrawal
·         Unhappiness and irritability

Next, begin to exercise with a variety of different aerobic activities such as jogging, hiking, mountain biking, etc.  But whatever you choose, have fun. In addition, start a functional, movement-based, strength training program.  Start your training slowly.  Allow your body to adapt.  Your muscles are usually stronger than your connective tissue at the joints and this is where most injuries occur. In order to avoid injury, use body weight resistance before progressing to weighted resistance.

At the most basic level, your training goals should be focused first and foremost on function and movement fundamentals.  You should start by using your time in the gym to make sure your body becomes 100% functional. You should be able to perform all of the movements that are necessary to function safely in your environment that accommodate your lifestyle or sport(s) preference.  Everymovement the body performs can be broken down into a specific or a series of movement patterns. The Seven Primal Movement Patterns, developed by Paul Chek[2], identifies specific movements that mimic actions performed in ancient times.  Man, at one time, was primarily a hunter/gatherer. Therefore, Chek’s philosophy holds a different view from the conventional approach to exercise and focuses on stimulating the body and the mind in an environment similar to nature.  These movements were not invented. They are part and parcel to every human being. You can use your imagination to see how these movements were applied by our ancestors to hunt, survive and sustain life.

The Seven Primal Movement Patterns are:

1.       Squatting– Bending at the knees and the hips, while keeping the back straight. 
2.       Lunging-Stepping forward with just one leg, and bending that leg downward.
3.       Pushing-Using the arms, chest, and shoulders to force away or up from the body.
4.       Pulling-Using the arms, chest, and shoulders, as well as the legs, to pull a weight towards the body.
5.       Bending-Flexing and extending at the waist in a standing position. 
6.       Twisting-Involves turning and rotating with the torso to apply a force, usually in combination with other primal movement patterns such as pulling, pushing, or lunging.
7.       Gaitor locomotion-Involves moving by walking, jogging, or sprinting.

Everyone should be able to perform each of the movements listed above in order to accomplish basic activities without the risk of injury.  An athlete has to perform at an advanced level and combine multiple movements at faster speeds.  The basic movement patterns can be viewed as building blocks. Once they are learned, they can be combined to become more complex skills used in sports like cycling, swimming, running, etc.  Therefore, it is essential that your body is trained in a specific manner in order to handle advanced movements without the risk of injury.   The off season is an excellent time to reconnect with basic movements and build the foundation to be a stronger athlete.

All human movements are patterned and organized.  They have predictable and repeatable elements as seen in most sports and games.  A movement pattern is a specific sequence of muscle activation. Any movement can be described as a normal or an abnormal pattern.  These patterns are stored in the central nervous system (CNS).   If a person develops a faulty movement pattern, they will be less efficient and are more likely to get injured.  Faulty movement patterns can result from poor posture, muscular imbalances or a recent or previous injury.  Through multiple repetitions, a faulty movement pattern can become established and replace the normal pattern. 

What is a normal movement pattern?  Most often, we judge a movement pattern by a joint’s range of motion and the combined participation of the correct muscles to activate a movement and the correct muscles to balance and stabilize a movement.  Dr. Vladimir Janda, in his research of movement patterns, established the norms for certain movement sequences using EMG technology and working out ways of recognizing, facilitating and reinforcing efficient patterns of movement[3].  If a person is injured, they often compensate and develop a faulty movement pattern. When the muscle groups are not functioning properly, they would use "trick" movements or “muscle through” a movement as a survival mechanism using the wrong muscles in the wrong sequence.  This pattern, if repeated often enough, would become imprinted in the CNS and then develop into a normal pattern and become potentially injurious.

Primitive movement patterns are one way of describing fundamental movements most humans discover during growth and development.[4]  Cook and Burton recommend using the functional movement screen as one of your tools to uncover an individual's dysfunction and then work to correct it.  Every personal trainer or fitness facility should offer a static and dynamic assessment to every client prior to the initiation of training to identify limitations and asymmetries.  Paramount in this assessment is identifying muscular imbalances, immobility and instability. Many individuals/athletes have basic movement pattern asymmetries and limitations without associated pain. The identification and correction of these patterns will not only improve their ability to excel in his or her sport, but may also reduce their risk of injury in the future. Once a basic postural and functional movement screening is performed, the client is ready to be trained using the information obtained from the assessment.  For example, if a person cannot stabilize their core properly, they should not perform exercises that will load (i.e. squat, dead lift, etc) their trunk.  If a person has tight hamstrings, they should not perform hamstring curls.  If the fitness facility does not offer this service and/or your trainer does not understand how to perform or interpret an assessment, I would recommend that you take your business elsewhere and seek out a competent, professional trainer and a facility that does.

Start your off-season strength training plan now with basic movement patterns.  Emphasis in functional movement training should be placed not only on movement patterns, but also on pattern quality and pattern efficiency. Correct movement patterns should be accomplished before more resistance is added. This will build a good foundation to improve your overall body strength safely and improve your chances of achieving a higher level of fitness next season without the risk of injury.

John Josephs has a MS degree in Exercise Science and Cardiac Rehabilitation. He is a USA Cycling Level 1 with Distinction and Power Based coach as well as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. John is a two-time finisher of the Hawaii Ironman, in addition to, several ultra-endurance cycling events such as the Mont Ventoux Triple, the Death Valley Double Century, and the Triple Bypass. He is currently a staff perfusionist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center and the owner of KONA Human Performance in
Jacksonville, FL.

[1] PubMed Health,
[2] Chek, Paul, Movement That Matters, 2001, C.H.E.K. Institute, San Diego, CA
[3] Page, P, et al, Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach, 2010, Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois.
[4] Cook, G and Burton, L., The Importance of Primitive Movement Pattern,