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Primal Movement: A Modern Approach to Fitness

Primal movement is causing quite a buzz in the fitness world. And with it has come a new type of workout. Primal movement workouts use natural movement patterns to improve fitness. These simple yet powerful movements are part of basic human nature and can be traced back to primitive lifestyles. So, let's get back to the basics and see how primal movements improve flexibility, strength, and range of motion.

Key takeaways:

What is primal movement?

Primal movements are based on our ancestors' natural motions while hunting, gathering, and surviving daily life. These movements have been a part of human nature for millions of years. Chances are, you have been doing many of these movements your entire life — no one had to teach you to do them. They are part of what makes us human.

Activities like bending, squatting, and lifting are part of our everyday life. However, these movements can become more difficult as we age — not because our bodies aren't equipped to continue these motions. The reason is that we spend much less time moving in today's world. Our sedentary, modern lifestyles are quite different from our ancestors.

The good news is that it’s not too late to revisit these natural movements. Our bodies are designed to move in these primal ways. Therefore, adding primal movements into your workout routine may help rebuild some of your youthful strength and agility.

What are the 5 primal movements?

Primal movements are the foundation on which almost all other movements are built upon. There are five basic movements used in primal workouts.

The squat

There is a reason squats are used in almost every fitness program: they work. Squats help build strength, stabilize the core, and protect spinal health. The muscles used in squatting help with everyday activities such as climbing stairs, sitting in a chair, getting in or out of a vehicle, and basic walking.

The muscles involved in squatting are crucial to everyday life. Luckily, there are many variations of a squat used in fitness. However, the primal squat is very deep and requires proper form.

Primal squat

Remember these key points for primal squats:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing out slightly
  2. Bend at the knees and hips to lower your body
  3. Maintain proper posture with your back straight and chest up
  4. Squat as low as possible while keeping your knees slightly outward
  5. The main goal is to get the buttocks lower than the knees
  6. Try to hold for at least 60 seconds or longer as your fitness increases
  7. Aim for 3–4 reps

The push

The push movement is one of the first movements used as an infant. It is useful when learning to lift our heads, roll over, and stand up. As we age, the push can be useful in daily life for things like putting a heavy box on a tall shelf, pushing yourself up from a lying position, and doing chores like moping or vacuuming.


The traditional push-up is ideal for this movement. You literally “push” your body up from the floor.

  1. Start in a full plank position with feet hip-width apart
  2. Hands placed directly under the shoulders
  3. Tighten your core and glutes for more stability
  4. Slowly bend your arms to lower your body toward the floor and back up
  5. Aim for two sets of 5–7 reps with a minute of rest between sets

The pull

The pulling motion is used to bring something closer to your body. It is used when opening a cabinet door, starting a lawnmower, or picking up a toddler. Strengthening the muscles used for pulling helps build stronger back muscles, improve posture, and prevent common injuries related to lifting heavy objects.

Pulling motions can be either vertical or horizontal. Both motions engage the muscles slightly differently, so incorporating both types of movement is essential.


The pull-up is a vertical pull motion. It focuses on your back, shoulders, and core muscles.

  1. Start in a dead hang position with your hands shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip
  2. Bend your elbows as you pull your chest toward the bar
  3. Make sure your core is tight, and avoid swinging your lower body
  4. Lower yourself back down to the dead-hang position

Since the pull-up is a more advanced exercise, do as many reps as possible. Even one rep adds benefit to your fitness routine.

Bent over row

The bent-over row is a horizontal pull focusing on the middle back and arms muscles. While this row can be done with a barbell, dumbbells allow for a more natural and functional pulling movement. Also, with weight in both hands, your muscles engage to balance your body better.

  1. Using medium-sized weights, grip a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Stand with feet hip-width apart and slightly bend your knees
  3. Hinge at your hips until your chest is almost parallel to the floor
  4. With a tight core and flat back, bend your elbows to row the weights up to your hips
  5. Lower the dumbbells and repeat. Aim for three sets of 8–10 reps

You can lower the intensity by using less weight or switching to a single-arm row using a bench. Then, increase your intensity as your fitness level increases.

The hinge

Hinging, or bending over, is one of the most common primal movements used daily. You utilize this movement anytime you bend to pick up something from the floor or a low shelf. It is also important for other movements like lifting and carrying heavy loads.

Hinging uses the core, lower back, and upper leg muscles. Try performing one of these two exercises for bending.

Good mornings

Good morning exercises can be done with a barbell, a single medium dumbbell, or without added weights. Try to master the movement before adding weights to ensure you maintain proper form.

Without weights:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart
  2. Place fingertips behind your ears
  3. Engage the core muscles and maintain a flat back as you hinge at the waist
  4. Lower your chest until it is almost parallel to the floor, then return to the starting position
  5. Repeat for three sets of 10–12 reps

With dumbbell or barbell:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart
  2. Rest barbell or dumbbell weight at the base of the neck and shoulder area
  3. Engage the core muscles and maintain a flat back as you hinge at the waist
  4. Lower your chest until it is almost parallel to the floor, then return to the starting position
  5. Repeat for three sets of 10–12 reps

Make sure to maintain a flat back throughout the whole movement. Rounding the back can cause added stress to the vertebral discs and supporting ligaments.


Although this movement can look rather simple, the deadlift engages almost all the muscle groups in your body. While there are many variations, let’s go over the basic deadlift.

  1. Start with feet shoulder-width apart with a barbell on the floor in front of your toes
  2. Hinge at the waist with arms reaching down toward the bar
  3. Maintain a flat back and balance your weight through the heels, not the toes
  4. Grasp the bar just outside your legs
  5. Push your hips forward and squeeze your buttocks as you lift the bar
  6. Slowly reverse the steps to lower the bar back down
  7. Repeat for 2–3 sets of 8–10 reps

Bending to pick up objects can strain the back muscles. Several studies suggest that strengthening these muscles helps reduce lower back pain and prevents serious injuries.

The lunge

Lunging is a dynamic single-leg movement vital in everyday activities like walking, running, going uphill, climbing stairs, or stepping over obstacles. It uses balance, flexibility, and strength.


Lunges are one of the most useful movements in sports. Here are the basics for a simple forward lunge:

  1. Start in a split-leg stance with one leg in front of your body and the other behind
  2. Your chest should face forward with your shoulders relaxed away from your ears
  3. Engage your core with your hands resting on your hips
  4. Bend your knees, lowering your back knee toward the ground
  5. Keep your front thigh parallel to the ground
  6. Your weight should be evenly distributed between both legs
  7. Get as low as possible. Ideally, your back knee should be a couple of inches from the ground
  8. Push your weight back up through the front foot's heel to the starting position
  9. Repeat for 10–12 reps before switching leg positions

Lunges are versatile and can be done in any direction: forward, side-to-side, or backward. It is important to maintain proper form in any variation to prevent injury.

Benefits of primal movements

Primal movements are simple yet diverse. Because primal movements are part of our basic nature, our bodies can thrive with these motions. Here are five reasons to incorporate primal movement into your fitness routine.

  • Uses compound movement. Primal movements engage multiple muscle groups and joints with each movement. Many trainers believe compound movements can help build muscle faster than single-muscle group movements.
  • Improves everyday movements. Primal movements are normal movement patterns used in daily life. Therefore, improving our ability to perform these motions can help make daily life easier.
  • Needs little or no equipment. Most primal movements can be done without any special equipment. Motions and body weight are enough for most people to begin seeing results. As fitness improves, adding weight helps increase fitness progression.
  • Prevents other injuries. Primal movements are natural motions our bodies are designed to use. Maintaining these natural abilities helps prevent common injuries in our daily lives.
  • It’s fun. Primal movement is how our bodies are designed to move. Running, jumping, climbing, and crawling like our ancestors can bring fun like no other fitness routine.

Primal movement can be a simple yet effective way to maintain the natural abilities our bodies were born to do. Our bodies thrive with movement. Interestingly, many of these primal movements are the first motions we master.

No matter where you are in your fitness journey, getting back to the basics of primal movement can help you build foundational strength, improve agility, and maintain your most primal ability to move.

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