Animal Flow: Moving with purpose, grace, and power
Animal flow is a Bodyweight Strength and Mobility Training system which combines multi planar movements and you should absolutely be incorporating it into your training program. MOTIVNY’s coach and class instructor, Lexa Henwood, discusses why she loves it and incorporates it into all her training, classes, and clients programming.
Animal Flow: What Is It?
Animal Flow is a mix of a couple of things. Its activation, its stability, its control. It touches on everything that is needed before we are to load your body. So I usually say, Animal Flow is like bodyweight strength training, because you're using your own load as the resistance. It's a full body, multiplanar movement system, as well as a full body assessment. It challenges you both physically and mentally and lets you get in touch with your body in a strong, fluid, and graceful way without having to actually add anything externally.
It has really helped me to understand my client’s and my own movements and how to move with more intention. It's free flowing and lets you be creative as you build flows, but it also gives you a lot of feedback about your body. Whether it's just holding beast ( a 4 point tabletop position) , or going into something more dynamic like scorpion, side kickthrough, or crab reach.
What are some of the moves?
The two main starting positions I take someone through are Crab and Beast. These are the foundational movements and where all other movements are built off of. Beast is very similar to your traditional tabletop, just a different name and a slight change to set up and overall focus. Beast is where I tend to start a lot of people and then introduce the concept of limb lifts and creating demand on the trunk. By having your knees lifted to start and then lifting one hand or foot 2 inches off the ground, this forces your body to fight for stability and resist the natural urge to give into rotation. This is called anti rotation, which is just a fancy way of saying how you resist twisting through your trunk and a skill our body uses daily.
Beast also can show me a lot about a client's shoulders, if they can pronate, and keep tension through their arms without sinking into their joints. I can pretty quickly identify a clients’ greatest areas of opportunity for strength and mobility gains, which helps me to design effective programs.
The second foundational move is crab, which is loaded on the posterior side of your body. Demanding activation from the glutes, hamstrings, lats and overall shoulder. The set up requires your hands to be behind you and facing away from you forcing you to keep an open chest. Crab really helps to teach people about scapular depression and shoulder packing, which tends to be the biggest challenge. By creating scapular depression and activation in the lats and pushing into your feet we can then hover your glutes off the ground. Just programming this movement to hold for time can be a challenge in and of itself.
In my programming I make sure to balance working both the anterior and posterior sides of your body which is beast and crab and any of the other movement patterns that stem off them, such as side kickthroughs.
How do you use Animal Flow in Class?
In class, I like to use animal flow as an activation drill and a way to get your mind and body working together, then I tie it in a little bit later as active recovery in between sets. It’s also a great way to add a more dynamic movement, especially when we pair it with loaded, sagittal plane moves like deadlifts and squats.
In one of my classes you'll see animal flow in between heavy loaded movements. We always prep the pattern at the beginning to start to understand form and by the end of class, we can put it to action with the rest of our work. Too much load on the body does not promote the best progress and intentional movement so its important to watch how much volume is accumulated and using unloaded patterns as built in light work while tieing in coordination and stability lets us get the most out of our work.
Although I program it as an accessory it can still be its own full workout. Often best used as an active recovery day, because it allows one to have some fun, work through some loaded mobility and create just enough strain to promote recovery. That being said, some of my most mentally challenging workouts have been when I use Animal Flow alone as I have to maintain proper form when I'm fatigued while being able to generate power and absorb power through patterns and lots of time under tension (or that burn your muscles feel during long periods of work).
But at the end of the day when using Animal flow I feel that it just comes down to what you're looking for with your goals and how it can apply to them. When it comes down to making progress as I mentioned before you need to make sure you are accumulating too much volume and letting your body recover. Especially when paired with kettlebell training we want it to create less demand but still keep your body moving and promote recovery actively. I want to have a mix of loaded and unloaded patterns, which is why these two work so well together, yet even though they are so different they both require you to have control of acceleration and deceleration. This principle applies to us as humans daily, just walking down stairs for example where we must decelerate our weight through our legs to control our body while we take the next step. So I think by doing both skills and learning full body control we are better setting you and your body up for success.
Is Animal Flow for me?
I think Animal Flow is something that is beneficial for everyone. Not necessarily everyone's going to love it just because it does require more coordination. But I think that the things that are good for us aren't always what we like to do (for example stretching) . It promotes the body to get to a position that it is not necessarily comfortable in, and coordination is such a huge part of our daily lives. My motto is that it is good to get comfortable being uncomfortable and just because you may not be great the first time doesn't mean you can't learn and own it with practice!
I'm very big on telling everyone you should always put yourself into situations that force you to grow and progress, even if it’s a little uncomfortable, because that's where you make progress. And that's where you'll walk away from it feeling that much better, because you know you worked hard and earned it. So take it at your own pace, because animal flow isn’t about who can lift the most or run the fastest, it’s really about getting in touch with yourself and your body. It’s really all about you.