Bodyweight training may be as old as time, but a new ground-based approach rejuvenates the genre to develop strength, endurance and agility in a truly fluid system of movement.
When a new program takes its influence from a wide range of established and much-loved bodyweight practices such as martial arts, capoeira, gymnastics and parkour, people from all corners of the alternative fitness world take notice. And when the juggernaut of the US fitness industry, Equinox, buys the exclusive rights to the program for its first year, the wider fitness world starts to pay serious attention, too.
This is the case with Animal Flow – an incredible ground-based, bodyweight workout that develops strength, power, endurance, balance and agility while encouraging total body communication and fluidity.
Animal Flow creator, Mike Fitch, was inspired to create the program by his own personal journey into bodyweight disciplines. After more than 12 years of working as a strength coach, personal trainer and post-rehabilitation specialist, Fitch started feeling unchallenged in his own training and, frustrated by niggling joint pain, felt the need to head in a different direction. Enter bodyweight training. After experimenting with various disciplines Fitch discovered that the more he did, the more he wanted to do: ‘It’s a constant learning and progression process’ says Fitch, ‘and one with infinite possibilities once you start to combine them.’
‘Bodyweight training is 100 per cent progressive and skill-based, so with every workout you are attempting to advance your personal progress. It’s a pass/fail scenario, you can either perform the exercise or you can’t, there’s no middle ground.
I believe that translates into a greater sense of accomplishment when you reach your goal – for example, it might be great to add a few kilograms to your bench press, but you’ll never forget the day you get your first muscle-up, or nail your first human flag.’
The bodyweight difference
Fitch continues: ‘The way you achieve results is different with bodyweight training. Since you’re not adding external loads, you have to challenge yourself by adding complexity or figuring out a way to take a higher percentage of your own weight. For example, just changing the angle of your body can make an exercise much more difficult.
You can also improve any specific ability like strength, endurance or power by manipulating your tempo, volume, reps or complexity. If you just want to focus on mass, you can choose a bodyweight variation that will keep you in a certain rep range to elicit that response. It’s an incredibly versatile method of training.
But I think the real advantage of bodyweight training is the neuromuscular challenge. You’re forcing the body to communicate with itself, ‘linking’ all of your stabilisation systems and truly synergising the muscles of the entire body.’
Pretty compelling stuff, but of course, bodyweight training is hardly new. Fitch is quick to acknowledge this: ‘I never take credit for inventing an exercise. There are only so many movements that the body is capable of, so I’m sure that everything has been done before’ he humbly offers up. Yet while the Animal Flow movements themselves may not be unique, Fitch’s approach to compartmentalising the practice most definitely is.
Animal Flow comprises six components:
1. Wrist mobilisations to increase the flexibility and strength of your wrists
2. Activations – static holds to connect the body before the commencement of the practice
3. Form-specific stretches that increase the mobility and flexibility of the entire body through wide ranges of motion
4. Travelling forms that mimic the movements of animals (such as Ape, Beast and Crab)
5. Switches and transitions (such as Scorpions and underswitches) that dynamically link the movements together
6. Flow – the ultimate goal of Animal Flow is the fluid linking of moves to create choreographed or freestyle sequences.
A key to the program’s growing popularity is its versatility, with individual components able to be integrated into existing fitness programs or delivered as stand-alone workouts. Personal trainers can use the various moves for active recovery, activation or conditioning, or it can be offered as an engaging, fun and challenging group fitness class.
With the instructor training program successfully launched in Sydney and Brisbane this February, Fitch is excited to see Animal Flow receiving such an overwhelming response and is positive about its future in Australia.
‘Animal Flow’s goal is to make someone a better mover. And if we can do that, those abilities will transfer over to the person’s other athletic goals, whether that would be to get bigger, get smaller, improve in a specific sport, excel as a weekend warrior or, importantly, just avoid injury,’ he explains; ‘And, with more instructors sharing the practice, we’ve got a real opportunity to help more people move better, feel better and live better lives.’
Animal Flow Level 1 Workshops are held nationally. For more information or to book, visit animalflow.com.au
5 MINUTES WITH ANIMAL FLOW CREATOR MIKE FITCH
What’s your favourite Animal Flow move and why?
I’ve been known to claim every move to be my favourite at one time or another but if I had to pick one, I’d say the Alternating Full Scorpions. It’s an excellent rotary movement for all of your joints, and it really opens up your shoulders, hips and spine. It’s also a very hypnotic, circular pattern that feels incredibly intuitive to the way our bodies move. It almost feels like active meditation – you can just get lost in it.
What recovery methods do you use?
Since so much of my day is spent working out and playing with movement, I am careful to spend equal amounts of time on repair and rejuvenation. I am a huge fan of rejuvenative bodywork. I see both a chiropractor and bodywork specialist (i.e. massage therapist) once a week. Every evening, at around sundown, I begin a full bodywork routine that includes self myo-fascial release, stretching, trigger point therapy and breath work. I perform these modalities throughout the evening, alternating them with whatever else I’m doing until it is time for me to go to bed. For example, if I’m watching a television show, I’ll be stretching while I watch. If I’m working on an article, I take regular breaks from writing to perform some of this work.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
I approach my ‘workouts’ as ‘practice’. I practice six days a week, incorporating skill work and pattern training. ‘Skill work’ means that I’ll be working on the more advanced bodyweight training moves including static skills (such as handstands, human flags and planche work) or dynamic skills (such as handstand push ups, muscle-ups, pistol squats and single-arm push ups). I mix this in with more traditional resistance training such as push up and pull up variations, plyometrics and trunk work. I also incorporate some type of flow training into every day as well. I don’t try to squeeze all my training for the day into one or two hours – I’m an advocate of continuously moving throughout the day, so I tend to break it up into segments all day long.
What is your personal nutrition philosophy?
I don’t adhere to one strict ‘diet’ but I eat real, unprocessed food. I eat all types of animal proteins, root vegetables and rice, and tons of veggies and fruit. I also eat good fats like coconut oil, avocados and nuts. I try to eat a lot of nutrient-rich food, which takes extra preparation on my part, particularly when I’m travelling, but it is well worth it. When I land in a new city, I usually try to stop at a Whole Foods-type store on the way to the hotel so I’ll have a supply of healthy options.
Other than Animal Flow and the many bodyweight disciplines that influence it, what other activities do you enjoy?
Skateboarding! I have a couple different kinds of skateboards and try to get some skating in every day. I also love stand up paddleboarding, and have lots of options for that since I live so close to the water in Miami. And I take a lot of long, leisurely walks where I engage in reflection, think through new ideas and just let my mind wander.