04 Sep How To Design Workouts Around 5 Basic Movements

Fundamental movements.

What I want to explain is a simple concept that came from the work of the great Dan John.

It’s workout design based on 5 fundamental movements.

If there’s one coach who’s had the greatest impact on me personally, it would be Dan.

Since I was asked about this approach recently (thank you Brad), I’ll explain how you can take this concept and put it into practice immediately.

Workout design (*for the record, I much prefer to call “workouts” – training sessions, but that’s another story) can be as simple as building around the 5 fundamental movement patterns.

WHAT ARE THE 5 MOVEMENTS?

The 5 movements that Coach Dan outlines is his books are:

1-PUSH

A push is, well, a push. It’s a press of any kind or any movement where you are “pushing” something away from you. A push-up is a push. A press is a push. It’s pretty simple.

2-PULL

A pull is where you are pulling an object close to you or demonstrating some type of pulling motion. Think of rows here as the classic example. For me, I also think of Deadlifts as a key pull movement, however, we can debate that a deadlift is also a hinge. It is. While a deadlift is both a pull and a hinge, I tend to preferentially classify this movement in the PULL category, but it depends.

3-HINGE

This is the movement category that gets a little more confusing for most people. That’s because if you were to tell the average person to show you a hinge movement, they’d probably respond by saying “what do you mean hinge?” Well, as Dr. Eric Goodman would point out, the author of the book True To Formthe hinge is the most important human movement to optimize performance and keep us out of pain.

For a simple. practical definition a hinge is a movement pattern that occurs around the axis of the hips, without stress or compromise to the spine. A hinge movement is a safe, highly effective, and potentially powerful movement pattern for the human body.

A hinge is a movement pattern that occurs around the axis of the hips, without stress or compromise to the spine. -Rdella TrainingClick To Tweet

A well executed single leg deadlift or kettlebell swing is perfect example of the hinge pattern. But before loading a hinge pattern, it’s wise to learn how to hinge with no load at all. As I’ve said many times now, learn the movement, then load the movement.

4-CARRY

Out of the 5 movements listed here, a carry is the most simple. You pick up a heavy object and you walk with it. That’s a carry, my friend. It’s “self-corrective” – meaning that it’s hard to do this wrong because the body figures out how to move through the gait cycle by carrying a unique loads. There are different ways to carry heavy loads. Heavy Farmers Carries are one of my favorite because they are so taxing on grip strength, trunk stability, and “conditioning.” You don’t have to worry about technique, you just pick up something heavy and go. Pretty amazing.

Why is a carry a fundamental movement? A carry is a gait pattern. Gait is walking. There is nothing more fundamental than going for a walk.

For a complete guide on carries, see my previous article here.

5-SQUAT

We all know how important a squat pattern is, don’t we?  A squat is a true expression of function and performance in life and sport, is it not? There are many ways to squat, but it starts with the most basic level – a bodyweight squat to assess this movement pattern. As fundamental, basic, and required as this movement is, there are many who cannot exhibit a good movement pattern here. Then the question becomes, should we load it – or address the limiting factor? A squat pattern is fundamental to human function.

See the image below to reference each type of movement (and you will use this to design your training session).

DOES THIS REALLY WORK?

Of course it works!

There’s been this saying going around – “train movements not muscles.

This makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

In thinking about this statement, training movements not muscles, the reality is that we are certainly training our muscles by training essential movement patterns.

The differentiating point in this statement is that we are not training “muscles in isolation” (which is impossible to do anyway).

We are training our muscles – and our bodies – to move in a useful and functional way.

That is the essence of the statement.

HOW TO USE THE 5 MOVEMENTS (3 EXAMPLE TRAINING SESSIONS).

Here are 3 training session examples.

This is not a program (a program is a specifically designed progression to achieve a specific goal).

These are simply workout ideas to apply the 5 movements.

Take away the concept and apply the exercises and training variables that are appropriate for you.

TRAINING SESSION #1 (PULL Focused)

  • (PULL) Deadlifts, 2 warmup sets to prime the movement, then 4 sets of 5, progressively loading up to top-end set
  • (PUSH) KB Press, 3 sets of 5
  • (HINGE) 2 Hand KB Swing, 2 sets of 10
  • (SQUAT) Goblet Squats, 2 sets of 5-8 reps
  • (CARRY) Farmers Carries, 2 rounds for distance

[For reference, one round of Farmers Carries means walking as far as I can with heavy weights, setting them down for a brief rest, then walking back to the starting point. That makes up one round.]

TRAINING SESSION #2 (HINGE Focused)

  • (HINGE) 2 Hand KB Swing, 5 sets of 10 reps, rest as needed
  • (PUSH) Barbell or KB Push Press, 3 sets of 5
  • (SQUAT) Front Squats, 3 sets of 5 (progressive load increase)
  • (PULL) Pull-ups, 2 sets of 5
  • (CARRY) Asymmetrical Load Farmer’s Carry, 2 rounds

TRAINING SESSION #3 (SQUAT Focused)

  • (SQUAT) Barbell Back Squat, 4 sets of 5, progressive load
  • (PUSH) One Arm Kettlebell Floor Press, 3 sets of 8
  • (PULL) Bent Over Row, 3 sets of 8
  • (HINGE) Kettlebell Snatch, 2 sets of 10
  • (CARRY) Suitcase Carries, 2 rounds for distance

The possibilities are endless and the sets, reps and other variables will be dependent on the training goals.


You can see that 5 basic, fundamental movements can be the basis for peak performance.

As much as we like to make exercise complicated, it’s really not.

Stick to the basics and be consistent.

If there’s ever an obvious truth about exercise, that would be it.

If you have any questions about this, I’d be happy to answer your questions below.


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Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS, CISSN, SFGII, USAW, CACWC

Scott’s background as a coach, athlete and former clinician are the basis for his one-of-a-kind approach to teaching strength, human movement, and peak performance. Scott is dedicated to helping serious fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and lifters all over the world, regardless of age, background, or training experience, become the best version of themselves through improved strength and skill development for a lifetime of health, happiness, and high-performance.

Scott is the passionate host of The Rdella Training Podcast, a leading fitness podcast in Apple Podcasts where he interviews the most brilliant minds in the industry. Finally, he is the author of The Edge of Strength, available in Amazon. To learn more about Scott, please visit the About Page.

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