Although Functional Movements Patterns (FMP) have appeared in many different adult strength based systems over the last couple of decades, they were initially discovered through the observation of infant’s growth and motor skill development. (Wu et al., 2020). If you watch the way a young child performs a deep squat to pick up a toy from the floor, you will be amazed how natural their technique is. As children get older, play less and become more sedentary, unless they practice these FMPs on a regular basis, they may lose the efficiency to perform them well.
Around 5 years old is a great time to introduce Functional Movement Patterns in to your children’s martial arts classes. These movements are focused mostly around building technique and strength rather than the locomotive based skills I previously wrote about in the article covering FUNdamental Movement Skills for children’s martial arts classes. These are movements we use in everyday life to pick something off the floor, put / take items from a high shelf or even push or pull a large item in the garden. They will sometimes go by other names such as foundational, primal or functional movements.
A paper published by Duncan and Stanley in 2012 examined the connection between BMI, Physical Activity (PA) and Functional Movement Patterns and found that overweight and obese primary school students scored significantly lower in the Functional Movement Screening process. They also found that students that scored higher in the screening also had higher levels of physical activity. The study highlighted that physical activity and weight status are important predictors in primary school aged children to perform basic foundational movements. These findings emphasise the importance that physical literacy has in the development of Functional Movement Patterns that will help prevent muscle imbalances and reduce injury in later life.
Functional Movement Patterns can be developed alongside FUNdamental Movement Skills and developing one can often aid the development of the other. As well as developing basic movements that will help the children perform real life tasks, they are also the precursor to many resistance training programmes.
Research frequently lists 7 essential Functional Movement Patterns. These are the squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, rotation and gait. UK Coaching suggest that children need to develop their ‘’Physical Movement Cornerstones” to be able to meet the tactical, technical and cognitive demands of their sport. Included in their list of key movements is ‘brace’. Although no movement takes place during bracing, in line with UK Coaching we feel it is a foundational strength exercise that if neglected, can affect the development of other movements including FUNdamental Movement Skills. For this reason, it is included in MAPLE’s FMPs.
The eight MAPLE Functional Movement Patterns for children’s martial arts classes
The squat is the daddy of lower body movements while also strengthening the core muscles. Targeting the glutes, quadriceps and to a slight degree, the hamstring, this exercise is an essential part of any resistance training programme and can also help improve flexibility and balance. In most case these movements will be performed with body weight as resistance rather than additional weight.
The lunge is a more dynamic that the squat and involves a little more balance. One of the biggest benefits of this movement is its ability to isolate one side of the body and reduce the ability of the child to compensate with a dominant side. It also helps develop stability through the foot ankle, knee and hip.
The push involves pushing something away from you or pushing your body away from a fix object (like the floor in a press up). This is usually done in a vertical or horizontal position but can also include pushing downwards in exercises like dips. The muscles targeted are the chest, triceps and front shoulders.
To pull you are either pulling something towards you or pulling your body towards a fixed object. The pull can take place horizontally or vertically and usually works the mid and upper back, biceps, forearms and the rear of the shoulders.
How many times do you think you bend over and pick something up in a day? Many times if you have children that like to lay Lego mine fields for you. The hip hinge motion is key to building the posterior chain, which comprises of the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. While the deadlift is the most common form of hip hinge moment, the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is also a good choice. The single leg RDL is specifically accessible in a martial arts class when teaching children and can easily be integrated in to drills and games.
This movement is a little different from the others in this list as rather than moving backwards or forwards, it utilises core rotation. Although this is important all children wanting to develop their functional movement, it is even more important for participants that are learning to kick and punch efficiently.
This is simply the technique of walking and while it sounds like a trivial movement that every child should be able to do, it is a Functional movement. As well as regular walking this can include jogging and even walking bearing weight (we often use a small medicine ball).
Although you don’t actually see any movement when bracing, we added it in to these FMPs due to how fundamental the ability to brace your torso is to almost all other movements. It is very difficult to perform even body weight exercises without the ability to stabilise your core muscles.
Integrating these movements in to your classes needs to be carried out in an ‘age appropriate’ way. Just performing these movements in a class could be pretty boring for young children. Where possible you should try integrate these movement’s in to fun drills. For more information on integrating strength training in to your children martial arts classes, please see our previous article on strength training for children in martial arts.