Essential Exercises: The 5 Basic Movement Patterns & Why You Need To Do Them All

By John Papp

Designing efficient workouts doesn’t have to be complex. If you get overwhelmed with all the exercises and variations and worry you're missing the essentials, we have you covered.

Unless you are an elite bodybuilder or physique athlete, it is usually best to categorize your essential exercises by movement patterns vs. individual muscles worked. 

Good programming starts by selecting the main movements that will form the foundation of your training sessions. These are movements that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.  

So what movements are essential?

1) Knee Dominant

Here we will place all of our knee dominant movements, where the most change in the joint angle occurs at the knee.

  • Squats, lunges, and step-ups of all variations.
  • Primary muscles working hardest here will be the quads & glutes.

2) Hinge

Hinges are a bit different than the knee dominant category. A minimal movement will occur at the knee joint but there will be a big change in joint angle at the hip.

  • Deadlifts and good-mornings of all variations go here.
  • Primary muscles targeted will be the hamstrings, glutes, and low back.

3) Upper Body Push

Upper body pushes will do just what you would think, a pushing motion away from the body in either a horizontal or vertical fashion.

  • Push-ups, bench presses, and overhead presses of all varieties go here.
  • Primary muscles targeted (depending on type) will be the pecs, delts, & triceps.

4) Upper Body Pull

Upper body pulls are just the reverse of the upper body push category. Pulling either vertically or horizontally towards the body.

  • Rows and pull/chin up variations are at home here.
  • Primary muscles targeted (again, depending on the type) will be the lats, traps, biceps, and smaller muscles of the upper back.

5) Loaded Carries

The often forgotten and overlooked movement that can build massive traps, big forearms, and perhaps provide a bigger return in keeping you pain and injury free than any other movement out there.

  • Farmers walks, suitcase carries, overhead variations, and front rack carries belong here.
  • Primary muscles targeted are the traps, forearms, lats, and the entire core. But in reality, heavy loaded carries force everything to work in unison.
  • Carries can be included on upper or lower days if you are running an upper/lower split.

So how do you make sure to do these main movements in your workouts?

This principle is easy to follow regardless of whether you are following a full body or upper/lower split. Below are a few examples. Of course, reps/sets can be adjusted based on your personal goals. 

Full Body Split

Vertical Press: 1-Kettlebell Overhead Press

Squat: Barbell Front Squat

Hinge: Romanian Deadlift

Horizontal Pull: Chest Supported Row  

Vertical Pull: Chin Ups

Horizontal Press: Barbell Flat Bench Press

Carry: Heavy Farmers Walk x Down & Back 

Upper/Lower Split (Lower Day Example)

Knee Dominant: Barbell Front Squat

Hinge: Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Accessory 1: 2-DB Step Up

Accessory 2: Glute-Ham Raise

Carry: 2-Kettlebell Front Rack Carry 

Finisher: Sled Push

As you can see, it really doesn’t have to be that complex! If you are interested in learning more about how simple effective training really can be I recommend you check out anything from Dan John or Pavel Tsatsouline.

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