CALL US TODAY (864) 280-7272

Patterns Not Parts

Rarely do complex systems, like human movement; work in isolated parts. However there are times where isolation is critical. Those times include post-surgical weakness in a muscle group. For example post ACL reconstruction we know we have to get the quadriceps muscle group strong and strong fast to avoid delays in the rehab timeline and anterior knee pain down the road. Isolation could take the form of seated leg extensions. If you have had any surgery, at some point in the rehab process you will have to and need to isolate something.

The big problem with parts is not isolation. It’s the assumption that training isolated parts will change movement without adequately understanding the multitude of different roles that part may have in many different patterns. Have I confused you yet?

There’s a case study coming so stay with me.

A movement pattern is a way of categorizing exercises based on biomechanical demands. Classifying movement patterns makes it easier for strength and conditioning specialists and rehab experts identify and select which exercises can accomplish a certain task or provide this stimulus for a trainee, athlete, patient.

For decades gym-based training has revolved around the concept of training muscle groups in isolation. We can name movements based on parts. Monday is chest day. Tuesday is back day. Wednesday is leg day. Thursday is shoulders. Friday is arm day.

We can also name and segregate movements based on other variables like:

The movement direction of the exercise (e.g. flat bench press is a horizontal press)… (a pull-up is a vertical pull).

The primary joint lever like hip dominant or knee dominant (e.g. during the knee extension, the knee joint is the primary lever). During a banded pull through the hip joint if the primary lever making it a hip dominant movement.

Or, by the joint deemed to experience the largest ‘relative’ forces (let’s suggest that a front squat places a high demand on the hips and the knees. However if we analyze the biomechanics we can see how the knee joint has the largest amount of work necessary to overcome the external load therefor more is demanded from that joint.)


The idea of regional interdependence aims to identify unrelated impairments in remote anatomical regions that may contribute to the primary source of pain or movement dysfunction

Looking at patterns allows us to be more organized and comprehensive with our assessments of the human movement system.

STEP 1: Identify the primary impairment in the movement system.

STEP 2: Consider impairments at remote regions above or below that may be associated with the primary issue.

STEP 3: Consider the many components of the movement from a joint, soft tissue, and biomechanics standpoint; and how they all synergistically work together to accomplish the task.

We can’t just say that the lat muscle is the reason for your shoulder pain. We have to look at the role of the lat in certain patterns, especially patterns that are painful (i.e overhead, rowing, isometrically during a deadlift). The problem may be within the pattern not the part.

Patterns really leads well into the idea of functional training.

Functional training has been a hot topic for several years now yet no one seems to be able to define what exactly functional training is. Far too many people on the Internet sit around and debate semantics, when we all know that functional means something carries over to other aspects of life. “Functional” for a swimmer is not functional for a basketball player. Both need strong quadriceps, but the patterns that need to be trained are entirely different. If we can reverse engineer the activity and sports and analyze the biomechanics needed to be successful, healthy, and pain free we can program the right movement patterns. In basketball players we needed the quadriceps to function in many different ways; especially eccentrically to help with force absorption to avoid abnormal loading to passive structures like ligaments, cartilage, bones, and tendons. With swimmer I’m not entirely sure its a priority to address eccentric control of knee flexion seeing as in they never have to do that.

We really only have 4 fundamental movement patterns with 3 being invited to the party but they really don’t know anyone at the party so it’s kinda awkward. I’ll include three examples of each so you can visualize and understand.


  • Overhead Press
  • Bench Press
  • Push Up


  • Pull Up
  • Row
  • Horizontal Cable/Band


  • Deadlift
  • Hip Thrust
  • Kettlebell Swing


  • Back/Front Squat
  • Hex Bar
  • Split


  • Forward/Reverse
  • Curtsy
  • Side


  • Farmers
  • Suitcase
  • Trap Bar


  • Chops and Lifts
  • Med Ball Toss
  • Landmine Rotational Press

EVERYTHING can be distilled into one of those categories. From an everyday functional standpoint, bending down to tie your shoes is a HINGE. Putting your luggage into the overhead compartment on a plane is a PUSH. Sitting down on the toilet is a SQUAT. Bringing the groceries in from the car is a CARRY.


Chest, push, press; whatever you want to classify it as. In its most basic bro form it’s a chest movement. We can then break that down into a PUSH movement. We can get even more specific by saying it’s a horizontal push. But if we look at the pattern itself we can see the big differences between a bench press v. a push-up. In the push up our hands are connected to the ground serving as the anchor point. In a bench press our hands are connected to just a bar with our spine/rib cage being the anchor points. The primary difference is how the shoulder blade is moving and oriented.

Two entirely different patterns consisting of the same exact parts.

With the pushup we can encourage more upward rotation of the shoulder blades, which is very important for people that frequently bench press. During a bench press the shoulder blade primarily is downwardly rotated and depressed to be give more stability to the humerus, elbow, forearm, and wrist; all of which are moving.

If someone had symptoms irritated by scapular depression or primary causes of injury/pain as a result of being unable to properly get into a full overhead position a bench press may only exacerbate the issue. We could train a very similar movements/muscle but with an entirely different pattern. Knowing patterns once again helps us with prescription and understanding.


Functional simply refers to practicality and usefulness. Therefore, during program design and rehab exercise selection; it is essential that exercises are selected based on their function, pattern, and usefulness to the athlete and not on the attractiveness, difficulty of movement, or body part being loaded. If you start taking some time to consider how all of the parts of a movement are working together you can better program for yourself and consider how habitual movements may be leading you down the road of pain or injury. It is super important for overall athletic development and rehab to find someone that understands these details. Knowing patterns helps us with prescription and understanding which helps you get of pain and recovered sooner and back your act


Dr. Bryan Keith

Myomuv PT

We help active adults and athletes return to the activities they love without pain, without taking time off, and feeling more confident and capable than ever before.