The Animal Circulation Exercise
First and foremost — this is not yoga. It’s not capoeira. It’s not break dancing, parkour or gymnastics. Though you may see some familiar shadows of these practices here, Animal Flow is a beast unto itself.
“Animal Flow is about understanding how to move from a really primal level,” says Venus Lau, a level-2 certified Animal Flow instructor, trainer and movement coach based in Los Angeles (venusfit.com). She credits Mike Fitch, her personal mentor and the creator of Animal Flow, with changing her understanding of exercise. “He created a system that is very step by step to help people connect to the ground, connect to their bodies, connect to their brains,” she says. “It’s about tapping in and not tapping out.”
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Animal Flow uses only your muscles and the floor, and though it sounds serene, “flowing” is supremely challenging, using your entire body, neuromuscular system and brain on a whole new level. Well, maybe not so new as forgotten: Animal Flow helps reconnect us to primal movement patterns — how we learned to move as a child and how we see other mammals move about in space — using the body and brain as a whole instead of dissecting it into parts for training.
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As adults, we’ve mostly lost this level of coordination, or more accurately, it has atrophied while we sit at our desks, in our cars and on all those single-station machines at the gym. Animal Flow reintroduces us to those deep, dormant muscle patterns that — though once innate to our hunter-gatherer ancestors — are now a novel way to challenge our neuromuscular system and overall movement IQ.
Traditional training programs move mostly in the sagittal plane (forward to back) — think squats, deadlifts, cleans and lunges. Animal Flow adds the challenge of controlling rotation in different planes of motion, particularly from the floor with hand balances and quadrupedal positions. “Power lives in rotation,” Lau notes. “Every sport is rotational, even running.”
But Animal Flow doesn’t just improve athleticism. “Change one or two variables and all of a sudden it’s about mobility, or about cardio, strength or conditioning,” Lau says. “There’s so much you can do and you don’t even need equipment. As soon as you start focusing on performance, good movement, being gentle, having flow, those other things just happen.”
Finding Your Flow
There are a number of different primal moves that, when done together, create an Animal Flow. Initially, it works best to drill them individually to learn the nuances, pressure points and balance aspects before putting them together. Once you’re familiar with the basics and are confident in your core stability and momentum control, let loose your creative expression. Combine movements into new patterns, or step it up and try a more advanced version to push your limits.
So if you’re bored of back squats and biceps curls, heed the call of the wild. It could be the key to falling in love with movement again.
Lateral Traveling Ape
Begin in a deep squat with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, torso as vertical as possible. Place your left hand on the floor in front of your right foot and your right hand shoulder-width distance outside your left; imagine your hands and feet are on parallel train tracks. Keeping your elbows straight, drive down into your palms and “pull” the ground underneath you as you hop your feet sideways, landing with your left foot behind your right hand. Reverse the move to travel back the other direction.
Tip: Use your core to keep your hips and knees tucked during the movement, and engage your obliques to help pull the ground beneath you. This develops rotational power and shoulder stability and helps keep your landing soft and controlled.
Advanced: Add some inversion by lifting your hips higher toward the ceiling with the goal of eventually integrating a tucked handstand into your lateral traveling ape.
Forward Traveling Beast
Start on all fours in a tabletop position, hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your bellybutton (not your hips). Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the floor so you’re balanced between your toes and your hands. This is Beast position. Lift your left hand and right foot a little off the floor while pressing down actively into the ground with your right hand and left foot. Keeping your core braced, take a small step forward with your hand/foot and place them down softly. Repeat with the other opposing arm/leg combo and repeat forward and backward.
Tip: Coordinate your hand and foot so that they lift and step at the exact same time. Seems basic, but this is essential for ingraining stability into your neuromuscular system.
Advanced: Play with your speed. Going faster challenges your coordination and balance, and changing the cadence (a few steps fast, a few steps slow) gets your brain and muscles firing harder.
Your “Other” Legs
You probably haven’t used your arms as “legs” since you were crawling around in diapers, so your hands and wrists will probably need some extra care before beginning your flow. Use these dynamic stretching and activation drills to prep them to go wild.
Figure-8: Clasp both hands together and draw a large figure-8 with your knuckles. Perform five reps in each direction.
Open-Palm Circle: Put your palms and wrists together and extend your arms out at shoulder height. Open your hands away from one another while keeping your wrists together. Now roll your wrists over and around each other as you bend your elbows and pull your hands underneath, then over the top, rotating them in a large circle. Do several reps in both directions.
Floor Press/Liftoff: Kneel on the floor and place your hands on either side of you, palms down, so you feel a good stretch in your wrists. Actively press your palms into the floor and grip the ground with your fingers for a count of five. Then attempt to lift your fingers off the ground without moving your wrists or palms for a count of five.
Dynamic Wrist Stretch: Flex and extend your wrists forward and back, side to side and laterally. Then open and close your hands, first clenching your fists, then extending your fingers open as far as possible. Do several reps of each move.
Sit with your knees bent, feet a comfortable width apart, and place your hands on the ground behind you, fingers pointing away from your hips. Open your chest and press down into the floor with your hands to lift your hips just slightly off the ground so you’re hovering between your hands and your feet. Lift your right hand up in front of your face, elbow down, then press your feet and left hand into the ground and bridge up as high as you can — past tabletop, if possible. Rotate to the left, stacking your shoulder, elbow and hand, and look down at your left hand. Bring your right arm (elbow bent) over your head and reach your fingers toward the floor. Reverse the steps and return to the start. Repeat on the opposite side.
Tip: Keep your chest and shoulders open and drive your weight evenly into your hand and feet. This prevents you from dumping your weight into your shoulder and elbow, placing stress on the joints instead of developing strength in the muscles.
Get into the start position for Beast. From there, lift your right leg and left hand off the floor, pivot on the ball of your left foot and turn your hips over. Plant your left heel and keep your hips low as you extend your right leg straight out from your hip just above the floor and draw your left elbow back behind your shoulder. Pause, then reverse the steps to return to Beast, and repeat on the opposite side.
Tip: This push/pull combination challenges your neuromuscular system to coordinate opposing movement patterns.
Advanced: Amp the burn by making this move quick and powerful. Just be sure to keep your leg parallel with the floor — no can-can kicks in the jungle.
This is the move used to transition between the others, say from Beast to Crab — and back again. Mastering the Under-Switch will make your flow smooth. Get into the start position for the Crab Reach. Lift your left hand and right foot off the floor, then raise your left heel and press the ball of your foot into the ground (imagine stepping on a gas pedal). Pivot on the ball of your left foot and rotate your right leg underneath your body so you’re in Beast. Reverse the move to get back to Crab. Practice this on both sides until you can transition smoothly.
Tip: Keep the support arm and shoulder stable and stacked, pressing your weight evenly across the palm and fingers. All pivoting happens at the toes.
The Animal Flow Workout
Animal Flow can be done as part of your warm-up, cool-down or as its own workout; just change the speed, number of repetitions or amount of time to suit your style.
Start by warming up your wrists (see sidebar), and do some light cardio and/or dynamic stretching. Then practice each move slowly for a few repetitions until you can do it smoothly, then link them together (see Sample Flow table below) or practice them in a sequence that feels natural to you.
Lateral Traveling Ape
2 each direction
Forward Traveling Beast
4 steps forward, 4 steps backward
Under-Switch to Crab Reach
1 (each side)
Under-Switch to Side Kick-Through
1 (each side)
Repeat three times through.
See Venus Lau demonstrate these moves in real time here, and watch as our Editor-in-Chief Lara McGlashan gets a lesson in being beastly here!