Another one of the many ways of categorizing weight training exercises is in terms of their movement pattern.
You see, while there might be hundreds of different exercises in existence, there’s really only a few basic movements the human body is capable of doing during an exercise.
For the most part, these movement patterns are:
- Horizontal Push
- Horizontal Pull
- Vertical Push
- Vertical Pull
- Quad Dominant
- Hip/Hamstring Dominant
- Elbow Flexion
- Elbow Extension
- Accessory Movements
Now let’s take a look at each and see which exercises fit which movement pattern, how it should affect your exercise selection, and why it all plays a key role in preventing injuries and imbalances.
Horizontal Pushing Exercises
A horizontal pushing exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight straight out in front of you so that it’s going away from your torso horizontally (think bench press).
Specifically, the most common examples of horizontal pushing movements are:
- Bench Press
- Low Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Flat/Incline/Decline Chest Press Machine
- Flat/Incline/Decline Flyes
Horizontal Pulling Exercises
A horizontal pulling exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight in towards your torso horizontally from straight out in front of you (think rows).
Specifically, the most common examples of horizontal pulling movements are:
- Bent Over Rows
- Seated Cable Rows
- T-Bar Rows
- Chest Supported Machine Rows
Vertical Pushing Exercises
A vertical pushing exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight up vertically in relation to your torso so that it goes straight over head or at least in that direction (think shoulder press).
Specifically, the most common examples of vertical pushing movements are:
- Standing Overhead Shoulder Press
- Seated Overhead Shoulder Press
- Lateral Raises
- Front Raises
- High Incline Bench Press
Vertical Pulling Exercises
A vertical pulling exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight down vertically in relation to your torso so that you are pulling down from over head (think lat pull-downs).
Specifically, the most common examples of vertical pulling movements are:
- Lat Pull-Downs
Quad Dominant Exercises
A quad dominant exercise is any exercise where the primary mover is your quadriceps (think squats).
Specifically, the most common examples of quad dominant movements are:
- Front Squats
- Split Squats
- Leg Press
Hip/Hamstring Dominant Exercises
A hip/hamstring dominant exercise is any exercise where the primary mover is your hamstrings, glutes, or posterior chain as a whole (think deadlifts).
Specifically, the most common examples of hip/hamstring dominant movements are:
- Deadlifts (all variations)
- Glute-Ham Raises
- Leg Curls
Elbow Flexion Exercises
An elbow flexion exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight towards you by flexing at the elbow (think bicep curls).
Specifically, the most common examples of elbow flexion movements are:
- Standing Biceps Curl
- Seated Biceps Curl
- Preacher Curls
- Cable Curls
Elbow Extension Exercises
An elbow extension exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight away from you by extending at the elbow (think triceps extension).
Specifically, the most common examples of elbow extension movements are:
- Laying Triceps Extension (Skull-Crushers)
- Triceps Cable Press-Downs
- Overhead Triceps Extension
The 8 types of exercises described above (especially the first 6) are considered the major movement patterns and the ones that should get the most attention. However, there are other minor movement patterns that I like to lump into one general “accessory” type category.
This mostly includes the leftover isolation exercises that don’t fit into any of the other categories. For example, calf raises, ab exercises, rotator cuff work, shrugs and things like that.
But Why Should I Care About Movement Patterns?
Now, you may be wondering why the hell anything I just told you is of any importance to you or your workout routine’s exercise selection. I have 3 reasons.
For starters, your overall weight training program should be comprised of exercises from EVERY movement pattern. If it isn’t, it means you’re missing something and failing to properly train your entire body.
Second, certain workout schedules and programs are designed in a way where the movement patterns play the largest role in how you select exercises for each workout.
For example, the most generic way of setting up an upper body workout (as part of an upper/lower split) is by combining 1 horizontal push, 1 horizontal pull, 1 vertical push, 1 vertical pull, 1 elbow flexion and 1 elbow extension exercise. And just like that, your upper body workout is good to go.
In the case of a full body split, you might take 1 exercise from every movement pattern category for each workout.
See what I mean? Depending on the exact routine you use, movement patterns could be a key part of the exercise selection process.
Even still, it’s the third reason that may be most important of all.
Balancing Opposing Movement Patterns To Prevent Injuries
The third reason you should care about movement patterns is for the purpose of preventing common weight training injuries and imbalances caused by typical crappy exercise selection. Let me explain.
If you “push” more than you “pull,” something will almost always eventually go screwy with one (or both) of your shoulders. This is extremely common, as most people (hi guys!) are much more interested with getting a big chest and huge shoulders than they are with getting a big back.
This means there tends to be more of a focus on pushing exercises (chest/shoulders) than there is on pulling exercises (back). And this lack of balance around the shoulder girdle is an extremely common cause of shoulder related injuries.
I’ve personally been there and done that myself, so I know exactly how common (and not fun) it is.
I also now know that the way to prevent it is by balancing the opposing movement patterns. How so? Like this…
- For every horizontal push, you should have a horizontal pull (and vice-versa).
(Example: For every bench press, you should have a row.)
- For every vertical push, you should have a vertical pull (and vice-versa).
(Example: For every shoulder press, you should have a pull-up or lat pull-down.)
- For every elbow flexion, you should have an elbow extension (and vice-versa).
(Example: For every biceps curl, you should have a triceps extension.)
It gets a little trickier with the lower body as there is a lot of overlap between quad dominant and hamstring dominant movements. But, generally speaking, for each quad dominant movement there should usually be a hip/ham dominant movement too.
And not only should the amount of exercises for each opposing movement pattern be equal, but the amount of volume (sets/reps) done should be pretty close (if not exactly) the same as well.
This doesn’t necessarily always have to balance out during each individual workout if that’s not how your program is set up.
For example, if your workout routine is designed in a way where you ARE training opposing movement patterns in the same workout, then the amount of volume and exercises for each should indeed be pretty equal and balanced in that specific workout.
But if your workout routine is designed in a way where you are NOT training opposing movement patterns in the same workout, then the goal is to ensure that the amount of exercises/volume for each ends up being pretty equal and balanced over the course of the week.
Meaning, if you have X sets of bench presses at the end of the week, you should usually have X sets of rows too. Y sets of overhead presses? Then there should be Y sets of pull-ups/pull downs. You get the picture.
There are some rare exceptions to all of the above recommendations, but for most people, most of the time, here’s the moral of this story:
Setting up your weight training routine in a way that ensures there is balance around the joints (shoulder, knee, elbow) and balance between the different movement patterns (horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, etc.) is KEY to injury prevention and building a balanced body.
Don’t ignore that.
At this point there’s really only one remaining way of categorizing weight training exercises, and that’s in terms of the muscle groups/body parts they target. So, let’s get to it…
(This article is part of a completely free and awesome guide to creating the absolute best workout routine possible for your exact goal. Check it out: The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine)