Create Your Own Workout - Part 4: Categorizing Movement

By now, the importance of viewing exercises in terms of movement patterns it should be drilled into your head.  Isolation exercises certainly have their time and place, but we want to develop the strongest, most resilient body that we can.  This demands that we use it as the sophisticated, interwoven organism that absorbs and generates force as a single unit.

Previously, we've introduced the basic human movement patterns that include: Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Carry, and Locomotion. Today I'll break them down even further, lay out the prime movers of each movement pattern, and help you categorize common exercises into their proper movement categories.


Basic Human Movements

Lower Body Movements:

  • Squat: Essentially every muscle in our lower extremities; Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, and Hip Flexors.
  • HingeLike the squat, hinge movements such as the deadlift utilize a large amount of lower body muscle mass, but place a major emphasis on the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors.

Some people typically categorize squatting movements as "Lower Body Push" exercises, and hinge movements as "Lower Body Pull" movement, but for our purposes we use denote squat and hinge to emphasize the following:

During a hinge movement, like the deadlift, we want to predominantly see HIP FLEXION during the eccentric phase, making the movements primarily HIP EXTENSION exercises during the concentric contraction of the involved musculature.

Squatting movements normally involve a large amount of HIP AND KNEE FLEXION, resulting in more involvement of the knee extensors (read: quads) during the lifting phase.

From Greg Nuckols at:

From Greg Nuckols at:

Upper Body Movements:

For the upper body, we typically separate exercises into "Upper Body Push" and "Upper Body Pull" exercises, but we can divide them further as well.  It's useful to note the vector in which you're pulling and pushing, for instance, is the exercise a vertical pull or a horizontal pull? This slight difference in direction will result in changes in muscle sequencing and the prime movers will vary.

  • Vertical Push: Anterior/Middle Deltoids, Triceps.
  • Horizontal Push: Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoids, Triceps.
  • Vertical Pull: Latissimus Dorsi, Biceps, Triceps-Long Head.
  • Horizontal Pull: Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, Posterior Deltoids, Biceps.

Keep in mind I am strictly listing the muscles that play the largest part in each movement, the prime movers.  Yes, the pecs (especially the clavicular fibers) play a synergistic role in an overhead press, but you'll be sorely disappointed if you decide to choose it for your main chest-builder.  Horizontal pushes will give you the most bang for you buck if building a barrel chest is your goal.

You also need to be aware that the lower body lifts will cause muscular growth in your upper body because of the large amounts of tension being placed on the muscles.  Your forearms and lats will absolutely grow as a result of gripping a heavy deadlift, and your shoulders will grow as a result of a heavy barbell loaded on your shoulders in a heavy front squat.

Locomotion and Carrying:

Locomotion and carrying movements are variable, and can be manipulated to emphasize different training adaptations.  A Single-Arm Bottoms-Up Overhead KB Carry will be targeting shoulder stability to a much greater degree than a heavy Farmer's Carry, which will be placing the emphasis much more on hip stability and overall strength.

Final Thoughts and Example Exercises:

You can break most of the categories up in bilateral and unilateral variations, and we'll touch on the difference between the two later on in the series.  They each provide unique training adaptations, therefore it's important to always decide on your training goal before choosing an exercise.

Below I'll leave you with a few example exercises of each movement pattern.  These all serve as perfectly reasonable choices for your workout.  Try them out before the next part in our series!

  • Squat: Goblet Squat, Back Squat, Front Squat, Zercher Squat, Split Squat, Pistol Squat.
  • Hinge: Deadlift, RDL, Glutebridge, Single-Leg RDL, Goodmorning.
  • Vertical Push: OH Press, Single-Arm Bottoms-Up OH Press, Z-Press, Handstand Pushups.
  • Horizontal Push: Bench Press, Floor Press, Pushups, Single-Arm Variations.
  • Vertical Pull: Chinups, Lat Pulldown, KB/DB Pullovers, TRX Ys.
  • Horizontal Pull: Row variations, Rear Delt Flys, TRX Ts, Face Pulls.
  • Locomotion: Leopard Crawls, Prowler Push, Bear Crawl, Bounding.
  • Carries: Farmer Carry, Goblet Carry, DA KB Racked Carry, Crossbody Carries.