Being a parent of an active child means that there are plenty of opportunities for movement. Keeping up with our active kids can make us feel younger and help us reconnect with our primal movement roots. This keeps us happier, healthier, and helps us bond more with our little cubs. Everyone goes home a winner.

Now, I should point out that there is a lot of confusion about what exactly is “primal” when it comes to movement. The common understanding is that there are seven primal movement patterns—squat, lunge, hinge/bend, push/press, pull, twist, and gait. The truth, however, is that only two of those would really qualify as primal movement patterns: squat and gait. The others are all really compound movements for building muscle. Primal people didn’t really do sets of push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, Russian twists, or even deadlifts. Sure these movements are beneficial for us to do, but they aren’t truly primal. If you want to see true, primal movement, simply watch a 3- or 4-year-old play at the park.

Three-year-olds have perfect posture and move effortlessly, without restriction or pain. Try playing with a 3-year-old and copying his movements. Most adults can’t even squat fully, and would dislocate a shoulder trying to swing on the monkey bars—and that’s the easier stuff! This doesn’t mean you can’t get back to that sort of movement ability. It’s just going to take some work. However, rather than seeing that as mere deconditioning that can be reversed via training, many have bought into the prevailing wisdom that this loss of function is a natural part of aging. Adults aren’t supposed to move like kids, because our joints are old, stiff, and worn-out. But the truth is that our movement capabilities are supposed to continue to improve into adulthood. Modern, sedentary life has made us weak; the reason we can’t move like that is that we don’t move like that anymore. Our society and technology may be evolving, but from a movement perspective, we are devolving.

Let’s start by defining the kind of movement we are pursuing here. To really understand primal movement, we can look at our own physical development as children. Early child development offers us a clear glimpse into the evolutionary movement roots of mankind. We start by moving our limbs around and getting to know them, and then we progress to rolling over, sitting, crawling, kneeling, squatting, standing, and then walking and running. In our first year to year-and-a-half of life we replicate millions of years of movement evolution—from reptilian, to quadrupedal-mammalian, to quadrupedal-primate, to the bipedal-primate movement patterns we use today. While other animals are born mostly pre-programmed, we come partially coded with a base program—and our environment does the rest. This unique development is due to the fact that we have larger brains, with higher capacities, which develop through learning and do most of it after we are born.

Think of our brains as the only open-source operating systems in nature. By the time we are toddlers, we should be experts at rolling around, sitting up straight, squatting, crawling, standing, and running; we have pretty much all our movement capacity available to us to expand our movement library. We are born with this incredible movement potential—and what does society do with it? It sits our kids down in chairs, car seats, and in front of books and screens to squander it. We then grow into adults who are stiff, injured, broken, and diseased because we did not properly value and prioritize the movement our bodies needed. The result is that we have become mostly disconnected from how we are meant to move.

To reconnect with your primal movement birthright as an adult, you will literally need to go back and redo the developmental process. That means you need to crawl before you can walk. Seriously. You might have heard or read about the importance of the crawling phase for a child’s development, but becoming a proficient crawler is really important for human development in general. Being a skilled crawler makes you a better mover, across the board. We’re about to get down on all fours and crawl on the ground with some pre-primate movement patterns. Not being able to perform these movements well and fluidly exposes huge deficiencies in your movement, so if you struggle with these movements, work to master them and you will reap huge benefits in your bipedal life.

Bear Crawls

This is not quite like crawling for an infant. Think of it as big-boy/girl crawling. It starts the same way, though, which is on the hands and knees. Shoulders should be directly over the hands and hips over the knees. Now lift your knees an inch or 2 off the ground. This is the “bear position,” which you will want to remember for the next movement. You can move forward, backward, and sideways in this position; keep your knees hovering 1 to 2 inches from the ground at all times, with hips and shoulders even, and your back so flat that you can balance a cup of water on it. You do this by counter-balancing, meaning the right hand moves with the left foot and the left hand with the right foot. Keep your steps small, roughly 6 to 10 inches, and take your time. You can challenge yourself by going for distance or doing timed sets of one to two minutes in each direction (forwards, backwards, and sideways).

Side Kick-Through

Start in “bear position” with palms flat on the floor. If your wrists are injured, make a fist. Pivot both knees to the right, and kick your left foot straight out, with your ankle dorsiflexed and toes pointed up; simultaneously lift your right hand off the floor and place your right heel on the ground. The finished position should see your left palm and right heel on the floor, and your left leg kicked out straight. Transition to the other side by bending the left knee and turning it sideways. Now, place your right hand back on the floor, while simultaneously coming up on the right toes and pivoting back to the middle on them. When the left leg is back under, you pivot both feet to the left, kick out with the right leg, while transferring onto the left keel and lifting the left hand off the ground. Then repeat back and forth. The key to the transition is getting good at pivoting on your toes. Make sure your hands and feet are not getting too far away from each other, by keeping your knees about 1 to 2 inches from your wrists when transitioning through bear position and staying low. Inhale when retracting and exhale while kicking out. These should be done for one- to two-minute working sets.

Lunge to Front Kick-through

Start in a plank and step the right foot forward, close to the outside of your right hand. You should be in a lunge, with your left leg back and as straight as possible and your right knee forward and level or slightly higher than your hip crease, with hands flat on the floor. If you have trouble with this, you can place your back knee on the floor. Start by lifting your left foot, bending your knee, and lifting your right hand off the ground. As you bring your left leg under, turn it sideways for clearance. As you kick it straight out in front of you, lean your upper body back to counter the weight; lock the left leg out, with the ankle dorsiflexed and toes pointed straight up. To go back retract the left leg, turn it sideways for clearance, and then return it back to the lunge position while placing your right hand back down. At this point you can either a) repeat the movement on this side for one to two minutes or b) return to plank and alternate sides for one to two minutes. In either variation, make sure to exhale when stepping through and inhale when stepping back.

The best way to practice these movements is to get the technique down, then set the clock for one minute of work followed by 30 to 45 seconds of rest; do them in succession for three rounds. In 15 minutes you will be soaked in sweat, your core and hips will be on fire, and you will feel much more mobile. This is the first in a series in which I’ll explore some primal movement progressions that are aimed at restoring function and getting you better connected with your body. Next time we will progress to the next stage of our evolution with some kneeling movements, before moving on to standing.