Sunday, January 20, 2008

Primal Patterns and Length/Tension relationships.

Part of the Scientific Back training course I took from Paul Chek that opened my eyes to the concept of balance in the body between the flexors and extensors covered the topic of Primal Movement Patterns.
Chek taught that all movements could be broken down into seven basic "primal patterns":
1) squatting
2) lunging
3) pushing
4) pulling
5) bending
6) twisting
7 gait
This made total sense to me and helped me considerably design balanced training programs that really covered all the bases.Add in his concept of the correct order of training:
1) flexibility/mobility
2) stability
3) strength
4) endurance
5) power

And how one must be 'qualifed' in one area to progress to the other(especially for newbies and or the injured or post rehab people) and I had a solid base from which to proceed. For instance, if your ankles do not bend properly) either symmetrically or asymmetrically, then your squatting pattern isn't going to work right, nor your gait.Skipping over this point just ends up with compensated mechanics,accumulated microtrauma and,eventually injury. This I found out.
Once one has covered the basics with these qualities one still must keep them 'up' by checking their capacity regularly. For they can change, often dramatically, almost overnight.
Sit on a plane for 15 hours,sleep in strange beds, drag luggage all over and then in meetings for a few days and see what can happen to all the above qualities ( even if it is just temporary). Especially if you choose to load the body in that unbalanced state.
So, for a long time I made sure to include resistance exercises for all the primal patterns in my routines focusing on using the appropriate stretching exericses to open up any tight musculature that impeded the primal pattern before loading.So there were always some form of loaded squats and presses,even as I was working so diligently to re-open the tightness that this loading produced.
Resistance squats always overworked my already too tight abs and much stronger right leg/glute and left erector. I had used assymetrical loading( left leg only lunges, r-l only chopping motions) trying to balance things out but bilateral squats and then presses always caused problems it seemed.
Slowly I dropped all the squats and presses as I focused on the kettlebell swings and snatches more as my main movements.The kettlebell swing is almost a complete Primal Pattern array in itself comprising four of the seven patterns: squatting/bending type motions,pulling, twisting( one arm kb work) and if taken overhead a good substitute for pressing. I was always worried that my legs would dissapear if I didnt load the squat but now it seems that the swings and snatches are doing a great job of not only maintaining leg strength and functionality;size is maintained as well.
Especially for someone who is "built to deadlift", not squat.
Then it dawned on me; I still needed to do the squatting and pressing patterns I just didnt need to load them! Instead of doing stretching and release work for the individual muscles that were holding back my squat and press patterns I should use the squat and press positions as yoga like poses and develop the flexibility I needed by stretching the pattern out itself!
This has worked very well, allowing me to keep developing all my primal patterns but according to each specific muscular/motor pattern need.Squats became a timed stretch activity and overhead presses were done with the stick with a focus on opening up the tight lats and pecs,deveoping the overhead position and activating the deep rhomboids that were not allowing my scapula to rotate properly.
Stretching the squat pattern also showed me just how much the ankles and calves flexibility ( or lack thereof) really influences the deep squat position as well as importance of pelvic mobility and stability in this pattern.Same with lunging. While I could do kb lunges and used mostly left leg only lunges trying to strengthen the left leg strength imbalance it never seemed to work.
The tight left leg/calf needed stretching in that position not more loading. The standard karate stance lunge position works great.
My injuries and imbalances are pretty acute and most could build up to loading most if not all these primal patterns, but the point is , they don't necessarily have to.Plus all these patterns should be checked for ROM on a regular basis anyway.It's so easy to get tight;especially when one is loading heavily or intensely.
I read about people with back problems still trying to load their squats and I would bet dollars to doughnuts they are seriously assymtrical in their squat positions!This becomes very apparent when you are just stretching this position looking for square and plumb .
Of course it was a bummer for me to have to give up loaded squats and presses after so many years of it being my favorite and strongest movement(s). But after being in so much pain after each session I realized that focusing on loading the things that my body can do and taking a corrective approach to these still crucial patterns was the smart( and mature)thing to do. Hey, I'm 50 years old, its about time I matured a bit :))
So now I realize that Cheks Primal Patterns can and should be used by all as a base level of movement ability, it's just not necessary for all of them to be progressed simply by the idea of increasing resistance or load. Sometimes all they need is a good stretch.And how very, very important the idea of real balance in the body truly is.Ignore it at your own risk.


Sean Schniederjan said...

rif, OT, -could you take a look at my first DL video?

when the weight starts getting heavy for me, my knees tend to lock out right away (i have long legs). is there something i can do to work on to fix this?

thanks, sean

Mark Reifkind said...


you need stronger hamstrings. the hamstrings help keep the knee flexed so that glutes and back can extend the hips. when the hammies can hold their position they let the knee extend and the load goes to the lower back more.
Just working the dl alot in the correct percentages as well as special exercises( reverse hypers, glute ham raises, kb swings,etc) will go a long way.

Tim Anderson said...

Good post, I'm often think about how you focus on the things you can do. It helps me to relax and do the same... Thanks Yoda.

Mark Reifkind said...

good to hear from you Tim . hang in there bro, you will be hitting it hard again soon.some cycles last longer than others..

Tim Anderson said...

Oh, i'm doing okay. Actually trying to practice patience. Just get anxious sometimes. I get to go to R-phase next week. Excited about that...

Mark Reifkind said...

R phase? cool, bet you learn TONS of new things. let me know how it goes.

fawn said...


Excellent message! Thanks for posting it!