Fad Fitness: Foundations in Animal Flow
When I signed up to tackle body weight workouts for four weeks, I knew things were going back to basics. But I did not bank on things getting downright back to nature.
Nonetheless, nature is what it was all about when I showed up to Body Space Fitness for my third week of sessions with owner Kelvin Gary. In fact, it became downright primal when he explained that we were going to be doing an “animal flow” style workout. The style has been getting a surge of popularity in recent months, with even trendy fitness magazines outlining routines and providing on-theme playlists to really get you in touch with nature.
“You’re gonna hear me roar!”, anyone?
Before our session started, Kelvin pointed out that these exercises aren’t all that new. After all, what 4 year-old hasn’t done the good old crab walk? Moreover, a lot of them are exercises that won’t seem all that unfamiliar to high school football players, and other teams that had to perform endless bodyweight drills in tandem out on a big, grassy field while Coach Taylor starts talking about clear eyes and full hea…. but I digress. The point is, there are plenty of ways that we can repackage how our animal brethren move, but the fact that these movements remain an effective way to workout will probably never change.
After foam rolling and doing some basic dynamic stretches, we started out with the bear crawl. It was as basic a bear crawl as you could typically expect, in which you crouch down on all fours in a sort of very compacted plank, and move your hands and legs forward with lots of quick, short movements. It wasn’t pretty—I’m very sure my toddler self crawled much more gracefully—but the combined efforts of propelling myself forward and backwards using my arm, shoulder, back, and leg muscles while simultaneously keeping my glutes engaged and in line with the rest of my body definitely made me feel the burn almost immediately.
Frog jumps came next, and I found myself literally hopping across the floor in a jump-squat that had been extended to its full measure. After starting in a plié so deep that my butt almost touched the floor, I had to pop up, extend my hips, and simultaneously propel myself forward, only to land in that same hyper-squat. (It really isn’t so easy being green.)
It was then back to crawling, but this time I had to channel my inner feline for tiger crawls. Instead of the basic bear crawl, my leading arm was extended in front of me while my other was pulled back toward my body and bent like a triceps pushup so I could stay close to the ground. I put one foot up next to the bent arm, and in pulling my body forward toward the leading arm, I had to drag my back leg along the ground and up to the leading arm, effectively switching sides. It was everything the bear crawl was, only… er, I don’t want to say worse, per se, but I definitely felt the tiger crawl almost immediately, so it might be safe to say that it was slightly more challenging.
Inch worms, which most people consider to be the basic plank walk-out, were anything but. Instead of scuttling my body down to the ground from a fixed standing position and back up by using my hands, I walked out into a plank and then inched my legs back to my hands, only to repeat the sequence. It was here that Kelvin began having fun, by suggesting I only use one leg at a time—changing my base of support not only made the movement harder, but I had to hop my feet back up to my hands—and flip my body over into the sit-out, which was first introduced during week one. To do a sit-out, you thread one leg under your body and rotate your shoulder so that you end up with your chest facing the ceiling and your leading leg extended. It takes a lot of coordination and a lot of stability because you’re constantly changing the planes on which your body is moving. (I don’t know if any worms are going to be moonlighting as subway dancers any time soon, but if they are, this move should come in handy for them.)
Crab walks were our final move, which really did seem simple at first. I thought this would be the easiest one. I remember doing crab walks as a kid, but of course, I had less body to move then, and the more you move, the more work you’re going to have to do. After propping myself up in tabletop position, I moved my body both forward and backwards using mostly my arms to push and pull myself (though don’t get me wrong, I felt it in my legs, butt, back, and core, too—after all, it’s sort of like an upside down plank.) The thing that surprised me most here is that it was far easier to crab walk backward—probably due to the fact that my arms and head were still technically going first in the movement. Add in some toe touches in between walks by balancing on your right hand and left foot while bringing your left hand and your right foot together in the air (during which I promptly fell on my butt), and the school day memories of playing animal had all of a sudden turned into a serious workout.
I woke the next morning with all of the little muscles that we never think to target hurting something fierce. My hips were also really sore, because so many of the exercises originated from how I was bending my legs at that socket. Bears and tigers and inchworms (oh my!) may not be able to walk around on two legs the way humans do, but if this body weight workout taught me one thing, it’s that we shouldn’t totally dismiss their methods of movement.