Primal time – a workout for your inner animal
If you want to be fitter, stronger or more flexible there are plenty of ways to get you there – High Intensity Interval Training, strength training, Pilates, yoga or CrossFit classes are just a few. But how about a program that develops muscle strength, cardio function, flexibility, power and core strength all at once – and looks like a kind of primal yoga with some break dancing and acrobatics thrown in?
That’s my best shot at describing Animal Flow, a new workout now taking off in Australia that grew from one fitness trainer’s search for a way to improve how his own body functioned.
When you watch its creator, US-based Mike Fitch twist, bend and kick his way through one of these workouts you’re likely to think ‘I could never do that’ – so the first thing to know about Animal Flow is that handstands are optional and that it’s a program that can be modified to suit anyone of any age.
“I’d been training with kettle bells and Olympic lifting and as much as I knew about technique I still had some minor injuries and I wanted to find ways to use my body better,” says Fitch, who’s worked as a strength coach and post-rehabilitation specialist training people recovering from injuries.
So rather than using weights, he turned to building strength with exercises that used his own bodyweight and, after trying different ways of moving such as acrobatics, breakdancing and parkour, he came up with Animal Flow, a series of flowing, linked movements which include, among other things, stretches, static holds, rotating planks and travelling movements like ‘Ape,’ ‘Beast’ and ‘Crab’ that mimic the way some animals move, prowl or roll.
Most of these exercises are done on all fours – the advantage here being that you’re involving more muscles when you move, Fitch explains.
Although Animal Flow can be a stand-alone workout – and is already appearing on some Australian gym timetables including Virgin Active’s – it has a broad range of uses says Alisha Smith, Learning and Development Manager for Australian Fitness Network who trains fitness instructors in Animal Flow.
“It can be incorporated into other programs or training sessions as a warm-up or a cool-down and as conditioning or corrective exercise,” she says. “Trainers and clients alike are realising that you don’t have to thrash your body in a workout to make huge improvements to the way it looks and functions.”
“A fitness trainer can mix Animal Flow with strength work or it can be integrated into a yoga class, for example,” adds Fitch. “If you’re already strong and powerful, it can help you develop more flexibility and if you’re already flexible from yoga, you could benefit from building strength with Animal Flow.
But what stands out about this program is the way it forces you to move your body in so many different directions – something that Fitch sees as an antidote to the restricted range of movements imposed by modern living.
“Most people spend each day in very similar positions. Even if they go to the gym some people stick with the same movements by just using the treadmill or by exercising single muscle groups – and when people become limited in their movements it can lead to pain and injury over time,” he says.
Animal flow also stimulates the fascia (pronounced ‘fasha’ or ‘fay-sha’), the connective tissue that, encloses muscles and links muscle to bone.
“Fascia loves to move but it gets locked down if we only have a limited range of movements,” says Fitch. “But anything that allows your body to move in all directions and use all joints promotes fascial mobility.”
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