Most people do not think about primal movements because they occur, or at least they should occur, subconsciously. Rolling, sitting, kneeling, squatting, walking and running are ingrained in our every day mobility to the extent that they feel like a reflex. But are they a reflex or is there a more complex sequence of events between the nervous system and muscular system that allows us to move and function as an efficient bipedal wonder?

Motor control that applies to primal movements is meticulously orchestrated by the central nervous system, which directs the anticipatory and reactive mechanism essential to movement. 1Postural control is a complex task that entails an ability to create a stable environment within the body through co-contractions to regulate its position as well as orientation, which is the motor program developed for the body’s interaction with the environment such as anticipatory behaviors for example. Posture is a term, therefore, that encompasses both an intra-relationship between body parts as well as a inter-relationship between those parts and the environment. The sequence to carry out an appropriate movement pattern is arranged by the central nervous system as a dynamic response to the environmental requirements brought forward as a challenge to complete the task.

Bunderson et all reported that an absence of local stability provided by intrinsic musculature alters the pattern of muscle activation.2 In one of the recent research studies exploring the connection between chronic pain and stability, Hudges and Tucker reported that individuals with chronic back pain exhibit a delayed onset of muscle activation to perturbation, highlighting the importance of adequate motor control in rehabilitation and prevention of musculoskeletal injuries.3 According to Cook, the human body has not evolved much biomechanically since we became erect, yet the way the body has been used changed dramatically4. As a species we went from hunter/gatherers and farmers, which kept us on our feet and challenged postural control constantly to becoming primarily sedentary. When sitting, particularly supported and/or with poor posture, muscle and connective tissue become altered due to the plastic properties of the tissue that gives in to gravity. As a result we walk without proper body mechanics(specifically alignment) resulting in pain and injuries. For example, an anteriorly tilted pelvis, due to a dysfunctional hip flexor musculature caused by prolonged sitting, inhibits big posterior muscles such as gluteus maximus and medius. An inhibition of aforementioned musculature limits frontal plane stability of the knee consequently leading to lower extremity noncontact injuries.5

The evolution of primal movements in a human being is sequenced from sitting at 6-7 months old, rolling between 4 and 8 months, crawling at 8-10 months old, standing at 12-13 months old to independently walking at 14-18 month old. Those milestones occur when prerequisites such as strength and muscle synergies are met. Each milestone is a foundation for the next and provides an optimal platform upon which a more complex movement will be added. Due to altered postures as a result of sedentary lifestyle, uniplanar single joint exercise routines, and general lack of dynamic environmental challenges so common in our modern convenience based society, the platforms are no longer ideal. However, due to the adaptive capabilities of our bodies, movement occurs nonetheless albeit dysfunctional. Hence we became a society plagued by chronic pain and injuries. Basic tasks such as rolling, squatting and walking have become equivalent to a gymnastic task for many adults.

Restoring the ability to correctly sequence primal movements that would result in typical muscle activation sequences should be a basic ingredient of any rehabilitation and strengthening program. What is the function of lifting 200lbs without the capability to carry that weight? After all, what would be the purpose of catching a prey without the ability of taking it back to homestead?


1). Shumway-Cook A, Woollacott M. (2007). Motor Control: Translating Research into Clinical Practice. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

2) Bunderson, N et al. Neuromechanics: A Computational platform for simulation and analysis of the neural control of movement. Int J for Numer. Meth. Biomed. Engng. 2012; 28:1015-1-27

3) Hudges, P.W, Tucker, K. Moving differently in Pain: a new theory to explain the adaptation to pain. Pain. 152; 90-98.

4) Cook, G. (2011). Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies. Lotus Pub.

5)Lepley, A et al. Relationship Between Gluteal Muscle Strength, Cotricospinal Excitability, and Jump-Landing Biomechanics in Healthy Women. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation. 2013; 22:229-247

Author Bio: Martina is a physical therapist and a triathlon coach. Her passion is functional movement and she is en route to become a functional manual therapist. She lives in Boulder, CO with her husband and two lovely daughters. More information can be found at D3 Multisport or you can contact her directly at