Ever noticed how babies and four-legged furry friends instinctually crawl, climb, and jump their way around? They don’t need a trainer, routine, or Youtube video to tell them how to move–they just do. It turns out we can learn a thing or two from the way they work their muscles, and fitness trends are taking notice. According to the Pinterest Predicts 2023 report, primal movement–or moving our bodies in the manner they were built to–is the fitness trend of the year. Known as primal movement or primal fitness, the back-to-basics approach to getting your heart pumping focuses on movement patterns we’ve naturally been doing for hundreds of thousands of years.
The end goal? To feel your best and improve strength, cardiovascular health, and endurance in the way your body was actually meant to. With WFH life staying put (looking at you, tech neck) and diet culture (and the draining fitness fads that come with it) finally making its exit, it’s no wonder we’re following our instincts and going back to what naturally feels good, making the expert what it should’ve been all along: our own bodies. Read on to learn the ins and outs of primal movement and how to get in on the workout.
What is primal movement?
Forget fancy workouts with complicated exercises that you’d never do in everyday life. Primal movement encourages moving away from the sedentary life we’ve become accustomed to by practicing fundamental movements the way our ancestors did to improve our physical function. “Primal movements are the foundation for any movement that occurs in the body and are essential to building and maintaining, a strong, resilient, and pain-free body,” explained Hollis Tuttle, a lululemon studio trainer, lululemon ambassador, and marathoner.
“Primal movement is how we bend, rotate, push, pull, and walk in the most intuitive way,” conveyed Thea Hughes, a strength training coach and Founder of Max Effort Training. “They are the movements that we practice daily, subconsciously. When translated to exercise, primal movement patterns become a pull, push, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation, and walking. Each incorporating a need for stability, adequate mobility to move through the range of motion with ease, and strength.”
In other words, the workout method is no new concept. It’s the OG way we were designed to move. “The human body is wired to move in basic patterns,” said Dr. Richard Joseph, a certified personal trainer and Chief Medical Officer at Restore Hyper Wellness. “We’re born to do these movements naturally. We see kids do them with ease, but as we age they can become more difficult to do. These movement patterns can become restrictive in certain ways over time, and if they aren’t done properly, there’s a higher risk of injury.”
What are the benefits?
Don’t let the simplicity of primal movement fool you: It targets your full body, while helping your body run more smoothly, akin to your car after getting a tune-up. The workout directly translates to activities outside the gym, giving you a leg up in better and more easily performing everyday actions you don’t think twice about: sitting, walking up and down stairs, lifting an object off the floor, or pushing open a door. “Primal movements are particularly great at improving mobility, strength, coordination, and movement patterns,”described Louis Chandler, an Alo Moves instructor and Alo Wellness Club Head Trainer. “They’re able to do all these things simultaneously, creating a deep mind-body connection.”
But it doesn’t stop there. By mimicking how your body moves IRL and training muscles to efficiently work together in your workouts, you increase your awareness of how your body moves, teaching you how to move safely and purposefully. “There’s a decreased chance of injury with proper primal movement,” Dr. Joseph expressed. “You’ll also see an improvement in your exercises, workouts, and what your body can withstand when training. Therefore, increasing your strength overall.”
How do you practice it?
As with starting any new wellness trend, talk with your doctor if you’re unsure primal movement is safe for you, and start slow. “The best way to start practicing primal movement is to improve the mechanics and ease of getting up and down from the floor or low positions,” Hughes spelled out. “Starting with squats. Squats turn into lunges, into walking lunges. Then, try inchworms that walk out into a long plank, push up, walk back in and roll up, or any exercises that move you through rotation, flexion, stabilization. Most importantly, have fun.”
The best part about working out the primal way? You don’t have to hit the pavement or go all-out in HIIT classes on the reg. There’s no shortage of modalities to carry primal movement out: Take your pick from a shorter, more intense strength training sesh to a 3-hour long hike. Tuttle provided examples of functional movement exercises based on the seven movement patterns the body is meant to do. Add a variety of exercises from each movement pattern into your routine to reap the benefits of primal movement.
- Squat: bodyweight squat, kettlebell goblet squat, dumbbell front squat, barbell back squat
- Lunge: forward lunge, reverse lunge, lateral lunge, step up (bodyweight or with load)
- Push (vertical and horizontal): dumbbell strict press (vertical), push-up (horizontal)
- Pull (vertical and horizontal): pull-up (vertical), kettlebell gorilla row (horizontal)
- Twist (rotational and anti-rotational): medicine ball throws (rotational when standing sideways to the wall), plank with alternating shoulder taps (anti-rotational)
- Hinge (also referred to as bending): barbell deadlift, kettlebell single-leg Romanian deadlift
- Gait (also referred to as locomotion): walking, hiking, or running