One of the questions I get asked the most is how to incorporate animal movement exercises like the Animal Flow Workout into bodyweight training and fitness routines. So I’m really excited to write this post providing more information about what the Animal Flow workout is (and what it is not!) with some explanations about the variety of ways you can make use of the movements to achieve your own results. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer all of your questions. The important thing to keep in mind is that Animal Flow can be used in many different ways, and is really what you make of it!
Before I get into the workout details, though, I have to say that I’ve been overwhelmed by the incredible response from everyone whose purchased the DVD and adopted the workouts, during the three months since we first released it. We’re particularly happy to see that so many of the sales have been to persons living all around the globe – so we’re well on our way to meeting our original goal of creating a truly worldwide community that’s practicing the GBT and Animal Flow systems.
THE ANIMAL FLOW DISCIPLINE
The Animal Flow Workout was created by fusing elements of multiple bodyweight training disciplines, intended to increase mobility, flexibility, stability, power, endurance, skill and neuromuscular development. As I’ve mentioned before, animal movements have been used for thousands of years to improve health and vitality. I by no means take credit for creating animal movements and recognize the valuable contributions from other practitioners who have developed similar programs.
The Animal Flow that we’ve come up with at Global Bodyweight Training presents our own take on the age-old practice. In conceptualizing the specific flows, I draw upon my own training in a mix of disciplines such as parkour, breakdancing, hand-balancing, and strength training. And then I’ve spent a lot of time observing the movements of animals in the wild, followed by countless hours on the floor, practicing and testing and figuring out combinations and progressions that allow the follower to create an endless flow of energy with limitless possibilities.
One of the most important aspects of the Animal Flow program is that it can be altered to achieve specific results. I encourage you to think of Animal Flow as a practice even more so than a workout. Much like yoga or a martial art, it is a discipline that requires perfect practice to achieve perfect results. Even once you feel like you have a solid grasp on the basics you would benefit from always going back and repeating them with the goal of performing them as fluidly and efficiently as possible.
MAXIMIZING YOUR ANIMAL FLOW
So, once you know the movements, how can you use them in your own workout? There are many options for how you can use Animal Flow. Here I’m going to cover the three primary areas for integrating some Flow: as a dynamic warm-up; as entire workout; or as a targeted component of circuit training or interval training. You can also check out this article I wrote a little while ago talking about the many benefits of Animal Movements.
1. Using the Animal Flow for Your Dynamic Warm-Up
Animal Flow is perfect for your Dynamic Warm Up. The goal of any warm up is to increase core temperature, improve joint mobility, increase flexibility in chronically tight muscles, lubricate the joints, elevate the heart rate and mentally prepare for the upcoming workout – and Animal Flow achieves all of these. Even if you are performing a pure strength training workout, the Animal Flow is a great way to prepare the body for the upcoming workload.
Commonly you may see someone warm up by jumping on the treadmill for a couple minutes. While this is good for increasing heart rate and core temperature, it is a very non-specific warm- up with little carry-over to a workout unless your workout is going to be a run or sprint intervals. Another type of warm up commonly seen is performing the exercises that are planned for the workout but at a lower percentage of the workload. Yes, this is more of a specific warm-up, but it still isn’t ideal because you’re not really addressing any mobility or flexibility issues.
By starting any workout with an Animal Flow warm-up you are bringing in a lot of truly dynamic, specific benefits. By moving your body through multiple planes of motion while supporting your own bodyweight, you’re increasing joint mobility, which is extremely beneficial for lubricating the joints and allowing full ranges of motion which will drastically cut down on potential risk of injury.
You can also work on chronically tight muscle flexibility by “actively” stretching through motion. Over the past few years we’ve begun to realize that static stretches before a workout are not necessarily beneficial, since we are getting a relaxation response from the neuromuscular system and could possibly create too much length in a muscle. This can negatively affect the amount of power that the muscle generates during the workout. Additionally, dynamically moving while supporting the body against the pull of gravity activates all of the stabilization systems, including the shoulder joint, shoulder girdle, spine, and hips, as well as the wrist, elbows and ankles. Thus, these important areas are activated and prepared for the workout.
Finally, the mind-body connection cannot be overlooked. Moving through some of the animal flows will increase your mental awareness, increase proprioception and increase the neural drive to all of the muscles of the body. The results will be great for the rest of your workout.
You can get very creative in using Animal Flow for a warm-up that not only brings the benefits described above, but that also brings an element of something different and fun. Try some of the following warm-up options. You will be your own judge of how long your warm-up should be, but I recommend dedicating at least 10-15 minutes when using these methods:
Basic Dynamic Warm-Up:
Use the Dynamic Warm-up from the Animal Flow Workout video. The warm up that you’ll find at the beginning of the video is designed to address all of the goals mentioned previously. Just following this routine is a great way to begin any workout, no matter what kind it is.
Take the first ten to fifteen minutes before a workout to practice a new form, switch or flow that you’ve been wanting to perfect. Remember, it’s a practice and a discipline that requires lots of repetitions to perfect form and fluidity, even with the basic movements. This is also a great opportunity to practice an advanced flow that you’ve been wanting to improve while you are nice and fresh. This will cut down on faulty patterns that are affected by fatigue if you leave the more difficult flows to the end of your workout.
Simple Traveling Forms:
Perform several rounds of the traveling Beast, Crab, and Ape, going back and forth in each direction. Undertaking even just the basic forward, backward, and side traveling versions of these forms will challenge all of your joints and once, and get your heart rate racing. You’ll be doing wonders for your endurance just while warming up!
The switches can be very challenging when they are used alone and repeated for more repetitions. Whether you choose underswitches, scorpion switches, side kickthroughs or front kickthroughs, when they are repeated at any tempo, you’ll increase your heart rate and prepare the body for workload very quickly. Not to mention that you’re moving through multiple planes and performing lots of rotation at the spine and shoulders.
The beginning of the workout is a perfect time to work on your freestyle. One of your goals with animal flow is for the movements to become so automatic that you don’t even have to think about them. Of course, it will take some time to get to this level, but practice is key. Attempting to put together your own moves is also an excellent way to increase your mind-body connection, which is perfect for preparing you for your workout.
2. Using the Animal Flow as an Entire Workout.
Animal Flow makes for a great, complete workout all on its own. In our Animal Flow classes we perform an entire hour of the Flow. This is an excellent opportunity to get some serious cardiovascular conditioning in as well as muscular endurance. This has serious carry over to any sport or activity that requires continuous movement in all directions. You are also getting way more shoulder and wrist stability than in almost any other sport. And it is a really fun alternative to another boring cardio session (and it doesn’t involve any choreographed dance moves you have to master in order to work out!). So to answer a question that we’ve received quite a bit: Yes, this can be used as cardiovascular training as well as muscular endurance training.
We’ve found that the following class format makes for a challenging workout that can be easily modified to accommodate persons of many different skill levels:
Dynamic warm up:
Similar to the warm-up provided in the video, this includes wrist and hip mobility movements, crab and scorpion reaches, loaded beast stretches, and other dynamic stretches.
Next we get going with some forward, backward, and sideways animal forms, starting with the basic apes, beasts, and crabs. If you have room, this is also a good time to use some of the cone and box drills from the video. If you’ve mastered the basic animal forms, you can also incorporate some of the other forms I’ve introduced elsewhere, including frogs and baboons.
Switches and Transitions:
Practicing your underswitches, scorpion switches, and side and forward kickthroughs can be done through timed intervals, by counting your reps, or just practicing your form.
Moving from regular switches to traveling switches is a natural transition to make, while increasing the difficulty and intensity of your workout. Here you’ll be combining animal forms with the switches, such as going from a forward crab to a scorpion switch back to a forward crab. You will also be able to incorporate specific traveling switch moves like the traveling kick-throughs. Mastering the traveling switches is essential to perfecting your combos and flows.
Now that you’ve gotten through practicing all of the individual movements, you can put them all together into combos. You can practice the combos from the video, and begin to design your own. This is where the flow and fluidity comes out, working your whole body.
In the class format, the instructor calls out combo moves which students follow along. If you are working on your own, you can put together all those movements you’ve been practicing into a great flow. Keep it going as long as you can without your form breaking down.
The above format takes approximately one hour, but you can tailor to your own needs. Remembers to always take more time to rest if needed! If your form breaks down due to fatigue, your practice will become counter-productive.
3. Using the Animal Flow in Circuits
Animal Flow can be integrated into a circuit-based workout, as just one of the components in the overall workout. For example, in the GBT System we usually perform four exercise circuits, and it works great to integrate the Flow as one of the exercises within the circuit. Your own goals for what you want to achieve will dictate how you integrate the animal movements. For example, if you want to work on your cardiovascular or muscle endurance, you could incorporate some timed intervals. Set the clock for two movements, and then perform some travels, combos flows, or even free style for the allotted time. I find that using animal movements as one of my circuit exercises makes for a great workout.
4. Using Animal Flow for Interval Training
Animal Flow can also be used for high intensity interval training. Remember, interval training is not just about sprints! Here, you could do timed intervals, attempting to perform a switch as fast as you can for a given amount of time. The exact interval time is up to you and depends on your current skill and fitness level. For example, let’s say you want to perform a 1:1 ratio: you could perform jumping side kickthroughs as fast and explosive as possible for thirty seconds, followed by a thirty second rest time, and then repeat.
Ultimately, Animal Flow is yours to use how you wish. The important thing to remember is to treat it like a practice and a discipline, striving to perfect your moves with every practice. It will add a challenging and fun element to your workouts, and, most importantly, will produce great results.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. How often can I do the Animal Flow Workout?
You can use Animal Flow with your workouts as often as you like. Technically, you could perform parts of the flow every day. As described above, you could use it as a dynamic warm up one day; use it as a super effective alternative to your regular cardio and stretch routine on another day; integrate it into your resistance training workout as a single exercise or timed interval in your circuits; or use it for high intensity conditioning and anaerobic training another day. You can also simply use it as an active rest day when you are recovery from a heavy workload. It’s all in how you want to use it. Many of my own clients attend an Animal Flow hour-long class twice a week, and then I incorporate it into our one-on-one personal training as one exercise in our GBT circuit for that day. And, they may use it for their dynamic warm-up when they work out alone.
2. How do you (Mike Fitch) personally use the Animal Flow in your own workout?
All of my training is entirely bodyweight training. As I’ve described elsewhere, the GBT system I’ve designed and practice daily draws upon a wide range of bodyweight disciplines. The Animal Flow program I developed is an important subset of the overall GBT system. I use animal movements in nearly all of my workouts, although I use them as one element amongst many.
3. Will I notice increased muscle gain with the Animal Flow workout?
While this does depend on your body type, nutrition and many other factors, I can say that yes, Animal Flow can help in muscle development. I’ve seen noticeable arm and shoulder development as well as an increase in symmetry with the majority of our clients. Most importantly, I’ve seen an incredible increase in strength, which I attribute to a couple of things. First, you’ll see an increase in your joint stability, and the more stable a joint is, the more power the neuromuscular system will allow to pass through to that joint, leading to increased strength. And, of course, the workout itself is challenging, with many of the higher-level movements requiring muscle strength and power.
4. Can older persons do this workout?
I believe that Animal Flow can be beneficial to persons of all ages. I like to say that if you can do yoga, you can do Animal Flow. Of course, you should always speak with your doctor before starting any new fitness regime. Animal Flow has a lot of benefits for joint mobility, which can be a particularly important issue for older individuals. It is essential, however, that you embark on Animal Flow as a progression, taking on new moves only at your own pace. When you move into traveling forms, switches, and combos, it becomes an intense cardio workout and you’ll need to be your own judge of what works best for you. I have clients in their 50s who love this workout.
5. Do you offer an Animal Flow certification that would allow me to officially incorporate the practice into personal training with my own clients?
We will begin offering our first Animal Flow certification workshops in January 2012. We’ll be teaching it through two-day workshops, in cities all around the country. So, keep your eyes open for upcoming events, and drop us a line if you’d like to see us bring it to your city soon!
Where can I get Animal Flow?
Don’t have the Animal Flow Workout yet? Get it here.
You can also check out Animal Flow classes or train with a certified Animal Flow trainer at Equinox Fitness clubs.