To build strength, increase mobility and balance, and boost your endurance, tap into your inner animal. That’s the idea behind Animal Flow, a dynamic body-weight workout system that encourages folks to drop to all fours and get moving.
“Most people don’t spend their workouts on the ground, and they probably haven’t moved around like an animal since they were kids,” says Mike Fitch, NSCA-CPT, a longtime personal trainer who created Animal Flow.
Fitch’s system emphasizes flowing through various ground-based movements — inspired by such creatures as crabs and apes.
“Quadrupedal movements present a full-body task,” he says. “They encourage the shoulders to work synergistically with the hips as well as the muscles that stabilize and move the spine.”
The payoffs are as much mental as physical. Working from your hands and knees quite literally changes your perspective of the world around you and how your body moves within its environment.
“Moving with both the arms and legs challenges you to truly be aware of how your body is functioning,” Fitch explains. “You can’t just tune out and go through the motions.”
Because they’re equipment-free, Animal Flow exercises offer a portable, travel-friendly workout you can do in any open space, whether it’s your backyard or your favorite club or gym.
The movements are also versatile. They can serve as standalone stretches in your warm-up or be worked into supersets with strength exercises. The Side-Traveling Ape, for instance, complements Romanian deadlifts. The Underswitch pairs well with a bent-over row.
Or combine a series of movements for a challenging and fun body-weight workout, such as the circuit that follows.
“The movements are about restoring connection and stabilization throughout the entire body,” says Fitch. “The goal is to make people better movers.”
Perform three sets of each movement for the suggested number of reps or distance, striving to maintain correct form throughout.
“If your form begins to break down, stop,” advises Animal Flow creator Mike Fitch. “There is no benefit to practicing a faulty movement pattern.”
In other words, if you can complete only eight good reps when the workout recommends 10, forgo the last two. Over time, your strength and mobility will increase, and so will the amount of work you can do.
Once you’re comfortable with the exercises, try linking them together to achieve the full Animal Flow experience. “The flow,” says Fitch, “is where the magic happens.”
Safety note: If you have spinal or joint injuries, consult with your doctor before attempting this workout.
1. Crab Reach
This exercise is the antidote to tight hips and poor posture.
- Start in a crab position, balancing on one arm. Press through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you raise your hips and extend your raised arm backward.
- In the extended position, the reaching arm is relaxed, not locked out, and framing the head.
- Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps per arm, holding the stretch for three to five seconds per rep.
Pairs Well With: Pushups
2. Loading and Unloading Beast
This movement combats tightness in the wrists, shoulders, upper back, lower back, hips, knees, and ankles.
- “Load the beast” by sitting back on your heels, arms extended in front of you and knees slightly raised.
- “Unload the beast” by shifting your weight forward until your shoulders are in front of your wrists.
- Perform three sets of 15 to 20 reps, holding each position for two to six seconds.
Pairs Well With: Squats
3. Side-Traveling Ape
The hand-balancing component improves shoulder stability and core control.
- Squat deeply with your hands on the floor, right hand in front of left foot. Press your hands into the floor and jump up and to the left. Land softly in a squat, plant your hands, and repeat.
- Travel 20 yards, then switch directions. Perform three sets.
Pairs Well With: Romanian Deadlifts
4. Forward-Traveling Beast
Crawling challenges the upper body, trunk, and legs.
- Begin on all fours with knees hovering.
- Move forward, advancing opposite hand with opposite foot.
- Perform three sets of 20-yard crawls, keeping knees up and hips low.
Pairs Well With: Pull-Ups
5. Forward-Traveling Crab
This exercise improves stability and coordination.
- Start in a crab position, fingers pointing away from you, and move forward, advancing opposite hand with opposite foot.
- Perform three sets of 20-yard crawls, keeping the hips low.
Pairs Well With: Bench Press
6. The Underswitch
This move requires total body rotation, posing a serious challenge to nearly every joint.
- Start on all fours, with your knees slightly elevated.
- Lift your left leg and right arm, then rotate so your leg travels under your body.
- Rotate until you are facing up. Plant your hands and feet. Lift the same limbs and rotate to return to the starting position.
- Perform three sets of 10 to 20 reps per leg.
Pairs Well With: Bent-Over Rows
Animal Flow: Bonus Movements
Try these moves to progress your Animal Flow workout.
Why We Love It: The Side Kickthrough takes the Underswitch to the next level by extending your leg into a kick position.
- Begin in the Beast position and simultaneously lift your right leg and right arm.
- Rotate your body so your leg travels under your body.
- Land in a modified Crab position with your leg extended as if though you’re kicking it out and away from your body.
- Reverse the movement to return to Beast.
- Perform three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions per leg.
Why We Love It: This explosive movement adds an element of power and dynamism to the Loaded Beast position. This is an excellent addition or substitution for other plyometric movements, like squat jumps or burpees.
- Begin in the Loaded Beast position by kneeling on the ground with heels under hips, knees slightly flared, and your hands walked out so your head falls between your arms. Shift your hips back and stretch into a child’s pose so your arms are straight.
- Lift your right leg and step forward, quickly lifting your right hand so your foot can land in its place. Your elbow will be raised with your hand near your face.
- Reverse the movement by driving the hand down to the ground and stepping the foot back.
- Perform three sets of 15 to 20 reps per leg.
The article has been updated. It was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Experience Life and appeared as “Go Wild” in the July/August 2021 issue of Experience Life.