Introduction to the foundational movements of functional fitness

The foundational movements of an exercise program are the most basic movements you perform throughout your program, but they’re often parts of more complex movements or exercises too. Learning how to perform these basic movements correctly can help prevent injuries and enable you to perform more advanced movements as you become stronger. An example of this progression would be first learning how to perform an air squat and then progressing to a goblet squat, which requires that you hold weight at your chest, once you become stronger.

Foundational movements for the Warfighter

These consist of deadlifts, pulling, squats, pushing, carries, and lunges. They are the most common movement patterns performed during military tasks and training. By working on these movements, you potentially can increase your physical performance (strength, power, speed, coordination, etc.) and reduce your chances of getting injured. In addition, you must engage and stabilize your core to safely and effectively perform all of these movements. Below is a brief description of each movement pattern and an example of when you would typically use it.


To perform a deadlift, bend at the hips and knees as you reach down, as if to pick up an object from the ground, and return to a standing position. An example of when you would use this movement is any time you pick something up from the ground. Correct performance of this movement is especially important when the object you are trying to pick up is heavy.


This refers to movements that use your upper body to pull objects toward you (such as rows) or pulling your body towards something (such as a pull-up). You also can do more coordinated and sequential movements using your legs and hips together to pull objects up to your shoulders (such as cleans). Some examples of times you would use pulls include pulling your body up and over a wall, climbing a rope, and lifting an object to your shoulder for easier carrying.


To perform the air squat, you bend at the hips and knees, allowing your body to travel downward until the tops of your hips are below the tops of the knees, and then return to a standing position. The most common example of a squat-like movement is going from a seated to standing position (or vice versa).


Pushing refers to using your upper body to push objects away and your own body weight off something (such as with a push-up). In some situations, it is more practical to use momentum (as in pulling) from your legs and hips when pushing objects overhead or across a certain distance (such as pushing a sled).


This refers to carrying objects by your sides, on your back, at your chest, and/or across one shoulder (such as farmers carries). Some uses of carries include performing ambulatory drills, carrying a pack, and carrying other types of equipment (such as ammo cans).


The lunge involves taking a long step forward, bending your front knee, and allowing your back knee to come close to the ground, while keeping your torso perpendicular to the ground throughout the movement. You use this movement any time you have to crouch down to one knee and when stepping upward/downward throughout different types of terrain.


Learning how to perform these foundational movements of functional fitness correctly enables your body to adapt and perform them safely, effectively, and efficiently. This eventually can help you become stronger and reduce injuries throughout your career.

While the descriptions of the foundational movements in this article are very basic, future articles will provide more details, so check back often to learn more about functional fitness movements. In the meantime, you can review some of them in the USMC HITT Program.


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