The Animal Circulate Exercise
First and foremost – this is not yoga. It's not capoeira. It's not break dancing, parkour, or gymnastics. While you can see some familiar shades of these practices here, Animal Flow is an animal in itself.
"Animal Flow is about understanding how to move from a truly pristine plane," says Venus Lau, a certified Animal Flow instructor, trainer, and level 2 exercise trainer based in Los Angeles (venusfit.com). She credits Mike Fitch, her personal mentor and creator of Animal Flow, for changing her understanding of movement. “He created a system that helps people, step by step, to connect to the ground, to connect to their bodies, to connect to their brains,” she says. "It's about typing and not typing."
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Animal Flow only uses your muscles and the ground, and while it sounds calm, "flowing" it is a huge challenge as it engages your entire body, neuromuscular system, and brain on a whole new level. Well, maybe not as new as forgotten: Animal Flow helps us reconnect with the original movement patterns – how we learned to move as a child and how we see other mammals move in space – by using bodies and use the brain as a whole instead of breaking it down into parts for training.
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As adults, we've lost most of that level of coordination, or more precisely, it's stunted while sitting at our desks, in our cars, and on all of those stand-alone machines in the gym. Animal Flow re-introduces us to those deep, dormant muscular patterns that – while once innate to our ancestors of hunter-gatherers – are now a novel way to challenge our neuromuscular system and overall motor IQ.
Traditional exercise programs mostly move in the sagittal plane (front to back) – think of squats, deadlifts, cleanses, and lunges. Animal Flow offers the challenge of controlling the rotation in different planes of movement, especially from the ground with hand balances and quadrupedal positions. "Power lives in rotation," notes Lau. "Every sport is rotation, even running."
Animal Flow doesn't just improve athleticism. "Change one or two variables and suddenly it's about mobility or cardio, strength or fitness," says Lau. "There is so much you can do and you don't even need equipment. Once you focus on performance, exercise, gentleness, and flow, these other things just happen."
Find your flow
There are a number of different primordial movements that together create an animal flow. First of all, it's best to drill them one at a time to learn the nuances, pressure points and balance aspects before putting them together. When you are comfortable with the basics and can rely on your core stability and impulse control, let go of your creative expression. Combine movements into new patterns or amplify them and try an advanced version to push your limits.
So if you get bored of squats and bicep curls, watch the call of the wild. Falling in love with movement again could be key.
Monkey traveling sideways
Start in a deep squat with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, with your torso as vertical as possible. Place your left hand on the floor in front of your right foot and your right hand shoulder-width apart outside your left. Imagine your hands and feet are on parallel train tracks. Keeping your elbows straight, drive into your palms and "pull" the floor under you as you hop your feet to the side and land your left foot behind your right hand. Reverse the movement to go back the other way.
Tip: Use your core to hold your hips and knees in place as you move, and reach into your slants to pull the floor under 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 towards the ceiling to eventually incorporate a hidden handstand into your sideways monkey.
Forward traveling beast
Start on all fours in a table position with your hands just below your shoulders and your knees below your belly button (not your hips). Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the floor so you are balanced between your toes and hands. This is the beast position. Lift your left hand and right foot off the floor a little while actively pressing into the floor with your right hand and left foot. Keeping your core tensed, take a small step forward with your hand / foot and gently bring it down. Repeat this with the other opponent's arm / leg combination and repeat this forwards and backwards.
Tip: Coordinate your hand and foot so that they raise and kick at exactly the same time. Seems basic, but this is important in building stability into your neuromuscular system.
Advanced: Play with your speed. Going faster will challenge your coordination and balance, and as you change your cadence (a few steps fast, a few steps slow) your brain and muscles will get harder.
Your "other" legs
You probably haven't used your arms as "legs" since crawling around in diapers. As such, your hands and wrists will likely need extra care before you start the flow. Use these dynamic stretching and activation exercises to prepare them for going wild.
Figure 8: Bring both hands together and use your knuckles to draw a large 8. Perform five repetitions in each direction.
Open-Palm Circle: Put your palms and wrists together, and extend your arms at shoulder height. Open your hands apart and keep your wrists together. Now roll your wrists over and around each other as you bend your elbows and pull your hands underneath and then over the top, rotating them in a large circle. Do several repetitions in both directions.
Floor press / lifting: Kneel on the floor and place your hands on either side, palms down, so you can feel a good stretch in your wrists. Actively press your palms into the floor and hold the floor in place with your fingers until five. Then try to lift your fingers off the floor without moving your wrists or palms up to five.
Dynamic wrist stretch: Bend and straighten your wrists back and forth, side to side, and sideways. Then open and close your hands, clenching your fists first, and then extending your fingers as wide as possible. Do multiple repetitions for each movement.
Sit with your knees bent and a comfortable width apart, and place your hands on the floor behind you with fingers pointing away from your hips. Open your chest and press the floor with your hands to lift your hips slightly off the floor so that you are floating between your hands and your feet. Raise your right hand in front of your face, elbow down, then press your feet and left hand into the floor and bridge them as high as you can – past the tabletop if possible. Turn left, stacking your shoulder, elbow, and hand, and look down at your left hand. Bring your right arm (elbow bent) over your head and stretch your fingers toward the floor. Reverse the steps and return to the start. Repeat on the opposite side.
Tip: Keeping your chest and shoulders open, push your weight evenly into your hands and feet. This will prevent you from dropping your weight in your shoulder and elbow and putting strain on your joints instead of developing strength in your muscles.
Get into the starting position for Beast. From there, lift your right leg and left hand off the floor, twist the ball of your left foot, and flip your hips over. Plant your left heel and keep your hips low while extending your right leg directly from your hip just above the floor and pulling your left elbow back behind your shoulder. Stop, then reverse the steps to return to Beast and repeat on the other side.
Tip: This push / pull combination prompts your neuromuscular system to coordinate opposing movement patterns.
Advanced: Increase the burn by doing this movement quickly and forcefully. Just make sure your leg stays parallel to the ground – no can-can kicks in the jungle.
This is the step used to switch between the others, such as from Beast to Crab – and back again. Once you master the sub-switch, your flow will be smooth. Get into the starting position for the Crab Reach. Lift your left hand and right foot off the floor, then lift your left heel and press the ball of your foot into the floor (imagine stepping on an accelerator pedal). Wave the ball of your left foot and twist your right leg under your body so you are in Beast. Reverse the movement to return to Crab. Practice this on both sides until you can transition smoothly.
Tip: Keeping the support arm and shoulder steady and stacked, press your weight evenly across the palm and fingers. All panning is done on the toes.
The Animal Flow Workout
Animal Flow can be done as part of your warm up, cool down, or as a workout on your own. Just change the speed, number of repetitions, or time to suit your style.
First, warm up your wrists (see sidebar) and do a light cardio and / or dynamic stretch. Then slowly practice each movement for a few repetitions until you can perform them smoothly, then link them together (see sample flow chart below) or practice them in an order that is natural to you.
Monkey traveling sideways
2 any direction
Forward traveling beast
4 steps forward, 4 steps back
Switch to Crab Reach
1 (each side)
Switch to Side Kick-Through
1 (each side)
Repeat three times.
See Venus Lau demonstrate these movements here in real time, and watch our Editor-in-Chief Lara McGlashan receive a lesson in being beastly here!