There are endless fitness routines and exercise options available as methods of keeping fit and healthy –  Pilates alone has several different varieties including Pure Pilates, Mat Pilates, the currently-trending Wall Pilates and even Lazy Girl’s Pilates, to name a few.  But believe it or not, there are only seven basic movement patterns that your body relies on to get things done every day.  These are the squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, twist, and the walk.  Think about how you move to take a box off a shelf, to squat down to pick something up, or simply your gait as you walk around during the day.

These movements have deeper roots in our wellbeing, as we used to have to use them all just to survive - lunging to hunt, squatting to make a fire, or pushing to throw a spear. Today, things are very different, (for most of us) which is reflected in our movement patterns and our ability to perform the most basic of moves.

So, fundamentally, the seven movement patterns to be comfortable executing are: 

1. The squat.  Start by testing yourself. Lower into a squat, hips back, knees tracking over ankles and heels kept on the ground. Ideally, you would be able to lower into a full squat with your hips almost touching your heels. If you feel joint restriction as you go down, you may have a musculoskeletal imbalance, like tight calves.

Imagine you are sitting back on a chair,  so you are preparing to “sit” instead of “squat,” and which can help you maintain the right position throughout the move.

2. Lunge.  To test yourself in the forward lunge, step forward with one foot and bend your back knee until it’s almost touching the ground. Are your knees and ankles stable — or are they shaking around? Does your knee drop in or out away from your body? Are you hunched over and unable to hold your chest or head up? None of these are great traits and can end up in injury – in work-outs and every day life. 

Watch yourself in a mirror to look for the deficiencies above, and practice lowering only half way down before practicing the bottom half of the movement — then put it all together. Also, be sure to stretch tight hamstrings, glutes and calves regularly.

3. Push (Push up).  Test yourself by getting into a push-up position, lower your body to the ground and push back up. If you stick your head out or your lower back sags, that’s a sign of lack of stability in your core and weakness in the stabilizing muscles of your back and pelvis.

Remedy this by working on holding high plank position (the top of your push-up) to build strength and stability. From there, you can progress to a variety of push-up modifications — from wall push-ups to knee push-ups — before moving on to your toes for a full push up.

4. Pull. I still want to be able to do a proper pull up - and it still eludes me.  To test yourself, find a suitable bar (and not one serving alcohol) and try a pull-up (palms facing out) or chin-up (palms facing in). Chances are, if strength isn’t an issue, this movement will reveal some postural issues, people tend to go into a dysfunctional posture with shoulders forward, spine  rounded, and head is tucked in.  This is similar to the “hunched” position enhanced by using a mobile phone, and not only can that contribute to back pain, it can also inhibit breathing, and lower mood (as it replicates the position adopted when in a depressed state).

It is often easier to start with other pulling exercises to build strength. For example, try horizontal bar reverse pulls (also called an inverted row). Using a bar that’s close to the ground, lie under the bar with feet straight out in front of you. Take hold of the bar and pull your chest up to it.

5. Hinge.  This can be one of the toughest movements to master, but also the most important and rewarding. Take a weighted bar or a dumbbell in each hand and attempt a deadlift by keeping feet slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart as you hinge forward from your hips with a straight back to pull the weight up from the floor. There are numerous demonstrations online.  If you don’t feel this move fire up your glutes, your knees aren’t bent enough. It can also reveal a muscle imbalance, most commonly too-strong quads and weak glutes.

Hip extensions are easier to master on the floor by getting on your hands and knees and raising one leg up behind you (keeping hips level) to build up that essential glute strength. Glute bridge variations are also worth exploring.  Weak glutes are responsible for a whole host of muscular problems, especially for runners.

6. Twist or trunk rotation.  To test your ability, start with a ‘bodyweight wood chop’. Stand with feet a bit further than shoulder width apart, bending knees slightly and keeping your chest up. Lift arms diagonally across your body toward the ceiling and bring them down to the opposite side of the body. Are your ankles stable or do your feet roll off the floor? Can you maintain an aligned spine? Does anything hurt? If so you will benefit from working on your truck rotation – which will also massage your internal organs, and how often do we think about those?   Keep practising the bodyweight wood chop or have a look for alternatives online.

7. Gait/Walking.  How your posture? Is your head pushing forward (my Nan always used to say, ‘Here’s my head, the rest of me is following).  Are your shoulders rounded and hunched? Walk forward in front of a mirror. Does one foot flare out to the side just a bit? Or do your hips rock from side-to-side?  All these things are postural imbalances and can cause all sorts of other health problems when not addressed.  

Awareness is half the battle with this one. As you move, keep focussing your attention on bringing your shoulders back, keeping your chest up and feet pointed forward with each step.

So, seven basic – and relatively simple – movements to master; they may not have you ready for next year’s London Marathon or a Strongest Person competition but they will definitely help you accomplish every day tasks more easily and with less risk of injury.