7 Functional Movements: Progressions, Regressions and Modifying around Pain - Never Too Old to Lift (2023)

You should consider the 7 functional movements when choosing your strength training exercises.Many people ask me what the best functional exercises are for seniors to do.The answer is the same as it is for any adult, you should pick exercises that incorporate each of these movement patterns.

7 Functional Movements: Progressions, Regressions and Modifying around Pain - Never Too Old to Lift (1)

All of the 7 functional movements can beprogressedto make them harder,regressedto make them more manageable, andmodifiedto work around pain. Your current physical ability level will determine which variation of each exercise you start with.

After reading this post you will have a better understanding of the following:

  • What each of the 7 functional exercises are.
  • What the options are to progress and regress each of the functional exercises.
  • How to adapt your workout program around pain that you might be experiencing.

Functional movements are often referred to by a multitude of terms and phrases.Throughout this article you might see these terms used interchangeably to describe the same concept:

  • Functional Movements
  • Functional Exercises
  • Compound Exercises
  • Compound Movements
  • Functional Patterns

Start Getting Stronger Today

What is a Functional Movement?

If you were to examine all the activities that you do on a day to day basis you would begin to see common patterns emerging.These functional patterns can be replicated during strength training.

The aim is that building strength in each of these exercises will carry over and increase your ability to do your day to day activities. The stronger you are with these movement patterns in the gym, the more robust and resilient you will be when you perform these basic movement patterns outside of the gym.

When you create your strength training program, you should imagine how each of the exercises will benefit the specific activities that you do on a day to day basis.This will help to increase your motivation and keep you from getting bored and giving up.Read this post onGoal Planningto learn more.

Functional Movement Patterns in Everyday Activities

This video from Copperhead CrossFit illustrates this perfectly.

What are the 7 Functional Movement Patterns?

The following list of resistance training exercises incorporates the 7 functional movements that are used within strength training.

  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Rotate (includes anti-rotation exercises)
  • Gait

We will now explore the progressions and regressions for each exercise.

Exercise Progressions and Regressions

Before going into the specific exercise progressions and regressions it is worth mentioning that these do not follow a linear model.There are many ways to progress each exercise. Different progressions will make an exercise more challenging in different ways.

One method of progressing an exercise is not necessarily more difficult than progressing that exercise in a different way. Each progression is more challenging in its own way and will be experienced differently by each of us depending on where our weaknesses lie.

For that reason, I can’t give you a one size fits all guide to progress from one exercise to the next to the next.It is unfortunately not that simple.You might progress by adding weight, you might make the exercise unilateral, you might combine it with another movement pattern or choose another method.

The progressions and regressions are not limited to those mentioned below. There are too many to mention.This article will discuss some of these options and aims to increase your awareness of the exercise variations available to you.The progressions and regressions that you choose should be based on your individual circumstances.

Functional Movement Patterns and their Variations

We will start with the functional movement exercises for the legs.

Types of Squats and Hip Hinge Exercises

I will begin by talking about squats and hip hinge exercises together.This is because both of these functional exercises require working the muscles around the hip and the knee joints.

Hip Dominant and Knee Dominant Exercises

The exercise you choose will determine whether the muscles around the hip are required to do more work than those around the knee, or vice versa.These can be referred to as hip dominant exercises or knee dominant exercises (also known as quad dominant exercises).

The different variations can be placed on a scale with hip dominant exercises at one end and knee or quad dominant exercises at the other.

7 Functional Movements: Progressions, Regressions and Modifying around Pain - Never Too Old to Lift (2)

Thank you to Tony Comella for giving me permission to use the above image. You can find more from him here.

The scale above is useful if you experience any pain when lifting.For example, if front squats exacerbate your pain you could pick an exercise that is less of a knee dominant exercise and more of a hip dominant exercise instead.

This would reduce the stress on your knees to a level you could tolerate and would allow you to continue to train.This is preferable to stopping completely which would lead to your muscles deconditioning.

ReadKnee Pain When Squatting: What Should I Do?to learn more about this.

Click to Get Started

Squat Exercises

What is a Squat Exercise?

A squat exercise is similar to the action of sitting down on a chair and standing back up again.The squat involves movements at both the hip and the knee joint, with the majority of the movement happening around the knee.

Squat Progressions

The simplest way of progressing any squat variation is toincrease the resistancethat you use.Generally, the resistance you will use for a squat will be provided by using weights, usually in form of a barbell but you can also use kettlebells or dumbbells.

Rather than squatting with both legs, you could progress bysquatting with one leg.You can do this by working through pistol squat progressions.

Squatting deeperinto the squat movement pattern is another option.

You canslow down the movementduring the squat exercise so that you increase the time that your muscles are under tension.You can also hold your position for a few secondsat the bottom of the squat.

Alternatively, you could progress by training for power andincreasing the speedat which you perform the movement pattern, such as performing a squat clean.

You can progress the squat by picking a variation that is more of a knee or quad dominant exercise (such as a front squat or overhead squat).

Squat Regressions

Sometimes performing a single body weight squat is more than you can manage.This is nothing to be ashamed of and does not mean that you should give up the idea of being able to squat.In fact, the opposite is true, it is sign that you lack strength and should be taking steps to get stronger.

In this case we need to initially make the squat easier for you.This will allow you to build strength in the targeted muscles with the aim of progressing back to the point of doing multiple body weight squats.

7 Functional Movements: Progressions, Regressions and Modifying around Pain - Never Too Old to Lift (3)

You can start witha shallower squat.You can squat down to a raised surface behind you (box squat). This allows you to use weights to load the shallow squat with a safety net of being able to sit down to the surface.

You can try tooffload your bodyweightto make the squat easier.Using a suspension training equipment, such as a TRX system (TRX Squat) is one way to achieve this.In this case you hold the handles and lean back into the TRX system to allow it to take some of the weight of your body.This results in the muscles in your legs having to do less work, which might allow you to perform a squat through the full range of movement.

Leaning back into a wall (wall squat) or leaning into a gym ball against a wall (ball squat) reduces the forces placed through your knees.If knee pain usually limits you, this can allow you to squat into a deeper range of movement.ReadKnee Pain When Going Down Stairsto better understand the physics of this concept.

A leg press machine mimics the squat movement pattern.The advantage of this is that you can set the resistance to a weight that is less than your bodyweight.This too allows you to work through the full range of movement.

HipHinge Exercises

What is a Hip Hinge Exercise?

A hip hinge exercise refers to any exercise where the hip joint moves in and out of flexion, like a hinge.Whilst there may be some flexion occurring at the knee during a hip hinge exercise, the vast majority will occur around the hip.

The ‘default’ hip hinge exercise is considered to be the deadlift movement pattern.To learn more about deadlifts, read Are Deadlifts Dangerous?

Hip Hinge Progressions

As with a squat, the hip hinge exercise can be progressed byincreasing the resistanceused.Once again, the deadlift is most commonly associated with a barbell (ideally with bumper plates to keep the height of the bar consistent).However, you can also use a kettlebell or dumbbells.

The Romanian deadlift ismore of a hip dominant exercisethan the conventional deadlift.This is considered a progression as it will allow you to focus more of the load lifted towards the hip.

You can make a hip hingeunilateralby lifting the rear leg, i.e. a single leg deadlift.

Increasing the speedat which you perform a hip hinge is another method of progression.You could do this by performing a clean movement such as a hang clean or power clean.

Exercises such as kettlebell swings also utilise the hip hinge movement pattern at a greater speed.

Slowing down the deadlift movement patternincreases the time undertension.

Hip Hinge Regressions

Raising the start position of the barduring a deadlift can make the movement easier.You can place the bar on blocks or on the squat rack (rack pull) to do this.

For some, performing a Romanian deadlift rather than a conventional deadlift is a regression.This allows you to change the lowest part of the movement.Going through asmaller range of movementcan be more manageable.

Performing ahex bar deadlift(otherwise known as trap bar deadlift) will utilise more flexion around the knees and therefore reduce the load around the hip.For some this will make the exercise more manageable.

A hip hinge exercise doesn’t need to be a deadlift variation in a standing position.You can do other hip hinge exercises in a morehorizontal position.A bridge or hip thruster exercise starts with the hip in flexion and moves back into a neutral position before lowering back into flexion.

Lunge Exercises

What is a Lunge?

A lunge exercise refers to a stepping motion of the front leg where both knees bend to absorb the landing.There are many lunge variations that can be considered progressions or regressions of the standard forward lunge.

Lunge Progressions

Increasing the weightthat you use is the first way of progressing your lunge.You can do this using dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell.

By using one kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand during a lunge you canadd an anti-rotation elementto the movement pattern.Your core muscles need to engage to prevent the weight of the dumbbell/kettlebell from rotating your body.

Alternatively, you could purposelyadd a rotation of the upper bodyduring the lunge.Hold a powerband that is anchored to an immovable object to the side of you.You can also use this band to combine a lunge with a Pallof press.

You could step into the lunge atvarious angles(multidirectional lunges or reverse lunges).

Lunges can be made moreexplosive or plyometricby performing jumping lunges.

The split squat, a lunge variation, can be progressed byraising the rear footand resting it on a surface (Bulgarian split squat).

Lunge Regressions

You can take out the stepping action of the lunge byperforming a split squat instead.This also allows the movement to be slowed down to work on the control of the movement.

Offloading your body weightwill make a split squat more manageable.This can be done by leaning on a surface placed next to you or by utilising a TRX system.

The lower part of a lunge can be difficult or painful, so working through ashallower range of movementmakes the exercise more manageable.

Push Exercises

What is a Push Exercise?

A push exercise (also known as a press exercise) refers to you pushing a load away from your body.It can also refer to you pushing your body away from a fixed surface, such as a press up.

Push Exercise Variations

Push exercises (or Press exercises) can be done in many different ways and each variation can be its own separate exercise rather than a progression of another exercise.For that reason, I will list some common push exercise variations and then discuss some general ways in which push exercises can be progressed or regressed.

  • Chest Press
  • Incline Press
  • Shoulder Press
  • Press Up (or push up)
  • Floor Press
  • Tricep Dips
  • Hand stand press ups

Push Exercise Progressions

These can be progressed byincreasing the resistance used.You might be using a weight, or you might be using a cable machine.The advantage of the cable machine is that the force acting upon you can be applied in different directions depending on the height that you set it, whereas a weight can only be pulled in a downwards direction by gravity.

Changing the angle at which gravity is workingcan be a way of progressing a push exercise. For example, you can change the angle of the bench during a chest press to either an incline or decline.This challenges the muscles in different ways.

Single armpush exercises will require additional work from your core to avoid movement of your trunk.

Combining a push exercise with another exerciseis another good progression. For example, you could perform a shoulder press at the top of a squat (known as a barbell thruster) or you could combine it with the gait functional movement pattern (by performing a sled push).

Changing thespeed of the movementis a form of progression. Slowing the movement down increases thetime under tension, whilst speeding the movement up adds aplyometric element.

Push Exercise Regressions

The press up can be regressed bychanging the angle of your body.This could be done be placing your hands on a raised surface, such a bench, to perform your press ups. This could be regressed further by leaning into a wall whilst standing and performing a press up.

The press up can also be made easier by using your body to form ashorter lever. This can be done by doing them with your knees in contact with the ground rather than your toes.

Pull Exercises

What is a Pull Exercise?

A pull exercise is one where you pull a load towards you. Alternatively, a pull exercise can refer to one where you pull yourself towards a fixed object, such as a pull up.

Pull Exercise Variations

Just like with the push exercises, the pull exercise can be done in a wide variety of manners.Here are some examples:

  • Pull Up
  • Bent Over Row
  • Upright Row
  • Seated Rows
  • Lat Pull Down
  • Inverted Rows
  • Renegade Rows

Pull Exercise Progressions

Adding loadto the object you are pulling is the easiest way to progress.

A pull up progression would be to perform a pull up usingadditional weight, such as a weight belt or a weighted vest.

Another pull up progression would be to useOlympic ringsrather than a fixed bar.This would also be applicable to other exercises like inverted rows.

You can perform many of the pull exercises withone armat a time which is often more challenging than with both at the same time.An example would be a Renegade Row.

Try increasing thetime the muscle is under tension. Alternatively, try beingmore explosivewith the movement.

Changing yourhand positioncan be a form of pull up progression. Options include wide grip, narrow grip and neutral grip.

Pull Exercises Regressions

A pull up can be made more manageable byoffloading the weight of the bodyduring the movement. This could be done using a resistance band or an assisted pull up machine, if there is one in your gym.

You can also replicate the movement pattern in a different way.Alat pull down machine, allows you to perform the same functional movement pattern as a pull up but give you the option of choosing a weight that is less than your body weight.

Rotation and Anti-Rotation Exercises

What are Rotation and Anti-Rotation Exercises?

A rotation exercise is one in which your torso rotates during the exercise.Alternatively, an anti-rotation exercise requires your muscles to contract to prevent an external force pulling you into rotation.

Rotation exercises commonly utilise cable machines and/or resistance bands as they can be set so that the resistance pulls in a variety of directions.

Rotation and Anti-rotation Exercise Variations

Some examples of rotation and anti-rotation exercises are listed below.There are many more that are not included here.

  • Woodchopper
  • Reverse Woodchopper
  • Core rotations
  • Russian Twist
  • Landmine Rotations
  • Pallof Press
  • Medicine ball throws or slams

Rotation and Anti-rotation Exercise Progressions

Any of the exercises can be progressed byincreasing the resistance used. This could be by adding weight to the weight stack on the cable machine or by using a thicker resistance band.

Exercises can be progressed bycombining them with another functional movement pattern.

Generally, by performing one of the other movement patterns with a weight used in onlyone arm, adds an anti-rotation component to that exercise.

Thespeed of the movement can be manipulatedto progress the exercise.Med ball slams tend to be done at a higher velocity, making it more of aplyometricexercise.

Rotation and Anti-rotation Exercise Regressions

Usingless resistancecan make the exercises more manageable.

Changing the start positioncan make the exercises easier.For example, a Pallof press can be performed in standing, kneeling or sitting positions.

Gait Exercises

What is a Gait Exercise?

A gait exercise refers to any exercise that involves a walking action during the movement.

Gait Exercise Variations

  • Farmers Carry
  • Suitcase Carry
  • Sled push or pull
  • Zercher Walk
  • Overhead Walk

Gait Exercise Progressions

Carryingmore loadwill be more strenuous than using a lighter load.

You canincrease the distancethat you walk.

Carrying adifferent load in each armbrings in an anti-rotational element to the exercise.

Gait Exercise Regressions

Walking ashorter distancethan planned will create a good starting point to progress from.

Start with alighter weight.

If a single arm variation is too difficult, start with thesame weight in each arm.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

You can see that within the 7 functional movements discussed above there are a lot of exercises mentioned, several of which you may not have heard of before. This post is not intended to intimidate you by overwhelming you with too many choices.

Instead this should give you the confidence that there is always a way to adapt each movement pattern to meet your current ability level.

Exercise Regressions are Temporary

The exercise regressions of each functional movement should be used as a way for you to start training a particular functional movement pattern.You should not settle for this.Too many people find a safe exercise that works for them and forget to progress that exercise again.

Progression should always be part of your longer-term plan. As soon as an exercise begins to feel easy, you should be looking for a way to make it more challenging.

To learn about more of the basic principles of strength training readWhat are Reps and Sets? A Beginners Guide to Strength Training.

Find Your Free Resources Here

What are your favourite exercise progressions?

There are many more exercise progressions and variations that aren’t mentioned above.What other methods have you tried to make any exercise more challenging?

Comment below to let other readers know.

This article has mentioned several pieces of equipment that you can utilise in your training. Go to the Recommended Products page for a full list all the products and books that I recommend.

7 Functional Movements: Progressions, Regressions and Modifying around Pain - Never Too Old to Lift (5)

This post was written by myself, Chris Tiley, a physiotherapist based out of Movement Therapy Clinics in Harborne, Birmingham. For more information on how I can help you visit christileyphysiotherapy.com

Related Articles

Best Drills for Improving Squat Depth – The Barbell Physio


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dean Jakubowski Ret

Last Updated: 02/07/2023

Views: 6005

Rating: 5 / 5 (70 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dean Jakubowski Ret

Birthday: 1996-05-10

Address: Apt. 425 4346 Santiago Islands, Shariside, AK 38830-1874

Phone: +96313309894162

Job: Legacy Sales Designer

Hobby: Baseball, Wood carving, Candle making, Jigsaw puzzles, Lacemaking, Parkour, Drawing

Introduction: My name is Dean Jakubowski Ret, I am a enthusiastic, friendly, homely, handsome, zealous, brainy, elegant person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.