“ Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
Leonardo Da Vinci
If you have been to a few conventional gyms throughout your life, you have probably seen the vast variety of machines there are and those little exercise diagrams attached to them showing what you can do with them.
Most of those exercises are based on the same pattern: muscle isolation, fixed range of motion.
From the machines that only train biceps and triceps to the ones that only make your calves work.
The human body has not evolved by doing bicep curls or crunches sit-ups in a chair (video).
To survive in a wild environment, we had to be able to walk a lot, sprint (hunting or running away from a predator), lift objects, jump, crouch, crawl, climb, etc. None of that is replicated with most gym machines.
In the previous post I explained how important is to have a functional body, capable of displaying all the physical capabilities of the human being.
I also detailed some exercises that will help you achieve this. Those exercises were not randomly chosen or something that just came to my mind.
They come from seven basic movements, the so-called Primal Movements.
Now you are going to learn the foundation behind these movements and why they are the key for achieving results.
Primal Movements: Maximum efficiency, minimum complication.
1. Squat: The squat is a basic movement that everyone should be able to do without problems. The “civilization”, with the invention of the chair, leads us to gradually shorten our hip flexors and lose the natural ability to bend down as when we were children.
Muscles working: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), erector spinae, rectus abdominis and obliques.
2. Hinge: This is the movement we do (or we should do if we don’t want to damage our back) every time we lift an object from the floor. It involves bringing the hip back, bending the knees and then getting up doing the opposite movement: pushing the hips forward and up, contracting the glutes and extending the knees at the same time.
The classic example is the Deadlift. Other options are hip-thrust or kettlebell swing.
Muscles working: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, calves, hip flexors, erector spinae, multifidus, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboids, rectus abdominis, oblique and even forearms!
3. Lunge: This is a unilateral movement, which means that one side of the body is worked at a time. It consists of taking a long step forward and bending down until the knee of the back leg touches or almost touches the floor. You can do them without moving from where you are or walking (more difficult) or try the tough jumping lunges. Jumping over a puddle or tying your shoelaces will no longer be a problem when you get good in lunges.
Muscles working: the same as in the squat but being unilateral movement, there is more emphasis on core stabilizers muscles.
4. Push: it basically involves applying force with our arms straight out, that is, moving away from your body axis. The push-up (horizontal push) is the best example. If you like weights, bench press and military press (vertical push) are the best options. Train your pushing force to easily put that bag in the storage cabinets of the plane.
Muscles working: pectorals, deltoids, triceps, trapezius, serratus, levator scapulae, supraspinatus and core muscles.
5. Pull: opposite movement to push, in this case you start from an extended arms position and then force is applied to bring an object closer to your body (or to elevate yourself in the case of a pull-up). Having strength to pull could save your life when you need to climb a wall to escape from a fire. We also replicate pulls in several actions of our daily life such as opening doors/drawers or when you have to change that flat tyre. Examples of exercises: Pull-ups/chin-ups, many rowing variants, etc.
Muscles working: Latissimus dorsi, biceps, trapezius, rhomboids, deltoids, Teres Major, Teres Minor, forearms and core muscles.
6. Rotation: from something as simple as walking to throwing an object, the rotation of our trunk is present in almost any movement of our daily life. In addition, there are many sports where rotation plays an important role: rugby, basketball, tennis, golf are just a few examples.
There are two types of rotational exercises:
a. Strict rotational exercises, such as throwing the ball against a wall, or the Russian twists.
b. Anti-rotational ones where force is applied to prevent rotation. In this case it can be any unilateral exercises (single leg deadlift, one-hand row) or with resistance bands you can do Pallof Press and its many variants.
Muscles working: core muscles (rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis, Iliopsoas, Quadratus Lumborum erector spinae, pelvic floor, multifidus, Longissimus Thoracis).
7. Gait (Walking): the most important of all. It involves walking, jogging or running. It is not necessary to emphasize how fundamental it is to move, since it is simply the type of movement that we use the most in our day-to-day activities. It has certain components of other Primal Movements such as lunges and rotation.
Everyone, without any specific condition, should be able to walk for hours without having any issues.
If you think a bit, there is always an opportunity to do more steps:
- Walk to work, (if this is impossible you can leave the car a few blocks away and not in front)
- Are you talking on the phone? don’t sit down, walk!
- If your job involves sitting for hours, set an alarm every 25, 30 or 50 min and walk for about 5-10 minutes. You can use an app to count your steps, how about reaching 10,000 steps per day?
Is it enough with just these movements?
As you may have noticed, with only those seven movements you train practically all the muscles of your body in an integrated and coordinated way.
This is because Primal Movements involve several joints and therefore muscle groups, not isolated muscles.
Basing your workouts on them contributes to improvements in stability, posture, and in your fundamental movement skills (source)
In short, they contribute to a strong, agile and less injury-prone body.
So, answering the question, yes, they are more than enough considering the goal of achieving a functional and strong body.
Having said that, there might be other circumstances, for example aesthetic purposes or injuries rehabilitation, where it may be necessary to add other types of exercises.
Hundreds of crunches, bicep curls, triceps pulls, and so on are all isolation exercises that have their usage, but they should not be the base of your training as they do not represent Primal Movements, those that define a healthy functional body.
A training program that includes different variants of the 7 Primal Movements is what will guarantee you the best results with maximum simplicity.
Follow Pareto’s Principle. Do not get lost in the details with minimum impact and do what it will you give you most of the results.