Part 1: What are Basic Primal Movements and why are they important?

There is much confusion today in the world of training. Questions like: How do I get started? How many days should I train? How many sets? How many reps? What movements should I be doing? All these questions and uncertainty can derail a well-intentioned person right out of the gate. 

As humans, we tend to make things more complicated than they have to be, and our tendency to overcomplicate extends to training the human body. With that being said, in this article, I would like to take a step back and talk about getting back to the basics and understanding how we are built to move.

First, what does primal mean? According to the dictionary, the adjective primal describes something essential or basic. A primal movement would then equal essential/basic movement. If you ever watched a child play outside, which is becoming rarer and rarer, you would mostly see the following movements or a variation of these movements: squat, sprint, push, pull, jump, throw, twist and hinge all done at various angles and various movement plains.

You would also notice the movement order to be very random and almost automatic. You would not see a child stop to think before they sprinted or pushed themselves up off the ground after falling. Every movement just flows together. Beautiful. Primal. Why? Well, these primal movements and movement patterns are encoded in our DNA. We have been doing them since we have been walking the earth—millions of years.

Now let's go into any local gym and watch how adults move. You will see them go from guided machine to guide machine, usually sitting or lying down. You would notice the movement to be very mechanical and unnatural. Take, for instance, the common leg extension machine: Here, you would have a person sit down (which is unnatural) with their posterior chain (i.e., back, glutes, hamstrings) supported, and they would proceed to exert force only at the quadriceps by extending only the knee joint. 

Where else do we see this movement pattern in nature? Nowhere. How long have humans needed to perform this movement pattern? Well, probably since we invented the leg extension machine, circa the 1950s. About 70 years. Definitely not primal. From there, that person would probably go to the leg curl machine to isolate the hamstrings and so on. They spend all their time treating the body as if it were many pieces instead of one unit. As soon as they try to sprint in the real world, they pull a hamstring. There is a huge discrepancy between how we try to strengthen the body and how we need to use our strength in real-world situations.

In the next part, we’ll discuss in greater detail what a primal movement workout would look like and how to implement it in your training schedule.

Thanks for reading!

By Dominick Harwood BSE CSCS

Related Articles

Basic Primal Movements: What are they and why are they important (Part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we explained what primal movements are and why they are important to incorporate in our training. This second part will look at what movements...

Feb 2, 2021.

Setting Up Your Home Gym: The Essentials

Maybe the COVID pandemic has caused you to feel uncomfortable going to your local gym. Or maybe it has shut down your local gym. Or maybe you’re just getting into...

Jan 26, 2021.

How to Do Online Personal Training

Being an online personal trainer is a great way to expand your training business, reach more clients, and have more flexibility in your schedule. However, virtual training is very different...

Jan 14, 2021.

Exercise Benefits, Part 6: Why You Should Stretch

In the final part of this six-part series on the benefits of exercise, I’ll close with a discussion of what I close all my classes with: stretching. While it may...

Jan 4, 2021.

Exercise Benefits, Part 4: Why You Should Do Intervals (If You Can)

I might be a bit of an anomaly (after all, I love burpees—and I don’t say that sarcastically; I truly love them), but I love HIIT (high-intensity interval training). I...

Dec 28, 2020.

Exercise Benefits, Part 3: Why You Should Do Strength Training

I'll be honest: I hate strength training. Well, "hate" is maybe a little strong, but I definitely I fall solidly into the cardio camp. Give me an open trail and...

Dec 28, 2020.

Exercise Benefits, Part 2: Why You Should Do Cardio

In all my years of teaching group fitness, I’ve found it pretty universally true that everyone falls into one—and only one—camp: you’re either a cardio person or a strength person....

Dec 28, 2020.

Tried and True Training Advice

We get it. Online fitness training and online fitness coaching are hard. You have preparation to do, plans to make, follow-ups to conduct, and clients to recruit. On top of...

Dec 20, 2020.

Personal Training: Tips for Success

What makes a good personal trainer? That’s a loaded question, because there are a lot of factors in play. Some people hire a trainer simply for accountability. Others want someone...

Dec 20, 2020.

New to Exercising? Start Slow

If you’re new to the world of fitness, it can be overwhelming. There are so many options of what to do and so many experts telling you what to do...

Dec 19, 2020.

Exercise Benefits, Part 1: Why You Should Aim to Be Active

With how much the fitness industry has grown in recent years, you’re probably well aware of the fact that exercise has many health benefits. But why? How? What specifically does...

Dec 19, 2020.