10 Primal Movement Exercises That'll Improve Your Mobility

Get ready to squat and crawl.

Originally Published: 
Primal movement exercises that'll improve your overall mobility.
Getty Images/LaylaBird

The healthiest things you can do for yourself are often the most basic: drinking water, eating your greens, and moving your body are just three examples. It’s the latter that’s at the core of the primal movement trend, a fitness modality that’s gone viral on TikTok and is influencing what workouts are going to look like in 2023. And primal fitness is really simple — rather than a workout that requires a Megaformer or kettlebells or advanced skills to do, it’s all about functional exercises. Think squats, lunges, and twists.

These count as primal movement exercises because they mimic the natural movements your body performs throughout the day, says Andrew Lenau, an ISSA-certified personal trainer. The seven primal movements include squats, hinges, and lunges, as well walking/running, pulling, pushing, and rotating. They cover all your bases, which is why they’re considered the foundation of functional fitness, Lenau tells Bustle.

Primal movements not only get you up and moving in all different planes, but they also help improve your overall well-being. “They can be used to train the body as a whole, not just isolated muscle groups, and they can improve balance, stability, coordination, flexibility, and strength,” he says. So you’ll have better mobility and a stronger mind-body connection, which aids in every movement that you do.

Another benefit? Primal movements don’t require any equipment, Lenau adds, so they’re easy to do wherever you are. Here, trainers share 10 examples of primal movement exercises that’ll help get you started.



Crawling motions are perfect when you want to increase your core stability, shoulder mobility, and upper body strength, says Lenau. One such example is the inchworm or walkout. “This is a bodyweight exercise that targets the core, shoulders, and legs,” he tells Bustle. Here’s how to do it.

- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

- Bend over at the waist.

- Place your hands on the floor in front of you, keeping your legs straight.

- Walk your hands out while maintaining a straight line from hands to feet.

- When your body forms a straight line, pause for a moment.

- Walk your feet towards your hands.

- Keep your hands on the floor.

- Once your feet reach your hands, stand up to the starting position.

- Repeat for 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.


Bear Crawl

The bear crawl is another full-body exercise that strengthens your core, arms, and quads, says Sandra Gail Frayna, PT, a physical therapist and founder of Hudson Premier Physical Therapy & Sports. It’ll also improve your mobility and stability.

- Start on all fours in a tabletop position.

- Lift your knees off the ground.

- Move one hand and your opposite foot forward to take a step.

- Alternate sides as you continue to crawl.

- Repeat for 30 seconds to two minutes at a time.

- Aim for 2 to 4 sets.


Jump Squat

Frayna recommends doing jump squats to work your glutes, core, and hips. As a plyometric move, they also provide a boost in cardio.

- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

- Jump straight up.

- Swing your arms up for momentum.

- Land on slightly bent knees.

- Squat down and repeat.

- Jump for 1 minute.

- Aim for 2 to 4 sets.


Russian Twists

According to Julia Stern, CFSC, a certified functional strength coach with Fiture, this move works your oblique muscles to help stabilize your core. It’s also a functional movement pattern that helps you bend and twist with ease.

- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.

- Keep a slight bend in your knees.

- Lean back to engage your core.

- Twist your torso/arms from side to side.

- For a challenge, lift your feet up.

- Do 3 sets of 20 to 30 twists.



Another exercise that mimics the functional movement patterns from everyday life is the deadlift, says Dr. Dave Candy, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy and owner of More 4 Life. Here is how to do it.

- Stand behind a lighter barbell, set of dumbbells, or kettlebell.

- Step your feet as close to the weight as possible.

- Push your hips backwards and allow your knees to slightly bend.

- Grab the weight and lift it to waist level.

- Drive your heels into the floor and squeeze your glutes.

- Push your hips forward.

- Keep your abs engaged.

- Lower the weight back down.

- Aim for 15 reps.


Alternating Lunges

Lany Herman, a strength and conditioning coach and trainer at Title Boxing Club, is a fan of the classic lunge. “This exercise is great for lower body strength, stability, and balance as it targets the hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves,” she says.

- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

- Lunge one leg forward.

- Transfer your weight to your front leg.

- Bend both knees 90 degrees.

- Align your front knee over your second toe.

- Hover your back knee just above the floor.

- Push off from your front leg and bring it back to your original stance.

- Alternate legs and repeat.

- For a challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand.

- Do 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps.


Walking Lunges

To add more cardio to the mix, try a walking lunge that takes you around the room. “This is beneficial as it can increase your flexibility and mobility, and also strengthens your thighs and core,” Frayna says.

- Take a step forward with one leg.

- Lower your hips until your front knee and back knee are bent 90 degrees.

- Gently touch your back knee to the ground.

- Straighten your back leg.

- Continue walking and repeating the movement.

- Lunge for 2 minutes and repeat 2 to 3 times.



This simple exercise trains the lower and upper back muscles, which are crucial for everyday movements like squatting, lunging, and pulling, says Andrew Slane, a sports conditioning specialist and instructor at Fiture. It’s also a good go-to for better posture.

- Lie face-down on the floor with your arms and legs out straight.

- Keep your neck neutral.

- Engage your torso and glutes.

- Lift your arms and legs a few inches off the ground.

- To modify, just lift your arms.

- Hold for a few seconds.

- Lower back down with control for one rep.

- Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Air Squat

A basic air squat strengthens your legs and glutes, which in turn helps you run, climb stairs, and lift heavy things, Stern says.

- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

- Lower your hips as if sitting back in a chair.

- Keep your chest up and your weight in your heels.

- Push into your heels to raise back up.

- Engage your glutes.

- Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.



Push-ups strengthen your arms, abs, and back. They also train your push muscles — aka all the functional muscles that help you push open doors, get up off the ground, etc.

- Start in a plank position with your legs extend behind you.

- Place your hands shoulder-width apart.

- To modify, keep your knees on the ground.

- Lower your body until your chest almost touches the ground.

- Keep your core engaged.

- Press into your hands to raise back up.

- Do 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Studies referenced:

Hefzy, MS. (1997). Co-activation of the hamstrings and quadriceps during the lunge exercise. Biomed Sci Instrum. PMID: 9731386.


Sandra Gail Frayna, PT, physical therapist, founder of Hudson Premier Physical Therapy & Sports

Andrew Slane, a sports conditioning specialist, instructor at Fiture

Andrew Lenau, ISSA-certified personal trainer

Dr. Dave Candy, PT, DPT, doctor physical therapy, owner of More 4 Life

Julia Stern, CFSC, certified functional strength coach with Fiture

Lany Herman, strength and conditioning coach, trainer at TITLE Boxing Club

This article was originally published on