Movement is Medicine: Practice these Primary Movements

Movement begins in utero and steadily progresses from infancy through early adulthood with the development of seven primary movement patterns. As babies, we progress through specific stages of movements that are pre-programmed and build upon each other until we achieve the seven basic patterns.

The seven patterns

  • Gait (walking, running)
  • Squatting
  • Lunging
  • Pulling
  • Pushing
  • Pressing above the head
  • Twisting

As we grow, we progressively develop movements that build and refine the seven primal movement patterns that are repeated many times over throughout life. For example, we learn to walk, run and sprint. We can modify these patterns by running fast or slow or going up or downhill.

Our brains are constantly recording the information and taking notes on how to improve and make the pattern more efficient. It is estimated that it takes 300 repetitions to ingrain a new movement pattern and scientific evidence that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become proficient or an expert at something. However, performing the movement right is more important that getting it done.

Becoming proficient or an expert in movement does not happen just by performing the movement. The movements must be performed accurately if we are to develop skill. Toddlers are a great example of the perfect practice scenario. Ever watch a child squat — first, they start in the down position knees fully bent with thighs resting on their calves and back perfectly straight. This position is important because it is in perfect balance. Once the child finds balance, they stand up. It is important to note that once the brain has formed the pattern, it will repeat the pattern over and over.

These seven basic patterns of movement are not performed in isolation and require orchestrated movement and stability across multiple joints and muscles. Everything must work together in a synchronized fashion to accomplish the primary task.

As we age, we all continue to use the same seven basic patterns. However, we start to develop inefficiencies and compensations over time. Sometimes this is due to prolonged positions (sitting), or repetitive movements performed in shortened ranges of motion. In each scenario, the same problem occurs — inefficient movement as a result of either lack of range of motion, loss of ability to stabilize, loss of strength, or some combination of the three.

The more you practice a poor movement pattern, the more compensations. Start loading or moving quickly through these poor patterns and you are setting yourself up for the possibility of injury.

Two ways to identify if you are performing the seven basic movement patterns correctly:

  • Get a functional movement screen (FMS). This screen is designed to specifically look a movement patterns and score you based on your ability to perform the movement. The screen also looks at symmetry right to left and will identify if one side of your body does not move as well as the other. And the FMS also will assess your ability to stabilize your trunk for the performance of the movements.
  • Videotape yourself performing movements such as squats, lunges. pushing and pulling then watch in slow motion. Look at the video and observe if the body is performing the movement pattern well. Review video you find online of proper performance of the movement and compare it the video of you performing the movement. Identify where you see your errors. Seek out a movement professional such as physical therapist or a fitness professional to help you regain proper movements.

In the long term, the most efficient movers will be able to move long into the aging process.


Dr. Maria Fermoile is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Alliance Health in Fresno. She will be happy to answer questions submitted to Learn more about movement, fitness and health in this space each week, on our Facebook page, by going to, or calling 478-5833.


This article first appeared in the Hanford Sentinel, Movement is Medicine column, written by Alliance Health.

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