Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz published 24 May 2016
Functional training is going wild, primal and animalistic. There’s a bunch of different names for it like Animal Flow, Primal Flow, Primal Move and Zuu but idea behind it isn’t new, its actually been around as long as we have.
These are body weight movement systems focused on developing better quality movement by drawing concepts from gymnastics, yoga, martial arts, parkour and more and combining them with animalistic movements.
Lizard crawls, travelling gorilla forms, and bear walks are getting more common in gyms worldwide and people are looking at you less weirdly when you do them these days.
You’ll be seeing more and more of this stuff in bootcamps and exercise classes because of its simplicity (no equipment needed), the challenge it provides and the benefits gained.
The crawling, twisting and ground based work that primal movement systems promote are a refreshing change from your average gym or machine based workout. You’ll find yourself moving in different directions, looking for fluidity in your movements while building a foundation of strength, flexibility, stability, coordination and endurance. And its fun.
Modern life has left many of us with restrictions in how we move as well as weakness or instability because of a lack in variation in our movements (or a just lack or movement).
When we think exercise, we often think of repeated movements, usually in 1 direction – forwards. Consider running or cycling, or resistance exercises like squats and bench press.
There’s nothing wrong with these exercises, especially if they’re applicable to your sport or event, but the movements themselves offer little variation.
Our bodies quickly become conditioned to repeated movements and the challenge begins to diminish unless we change something, like intensity, duration or load.
When you start moving primally, you may notice limitations in strength and endurance (especially wrist strength – when did you last spend so much time on your hands and knees?), or joint range of movement or stability (typically hip and shoulders) that you were not previously aware of, or coordination or balance may be difficult.
As Mike Fitch, creator of Animal Flow points out, working on all fours requires simultaneous activation of your body’s four basic points of stability:
1. shoulder joint, where your arm attaches to the body
2. scapulothoracic, where your shoulder blade relates to the upper spine
3. lower back
Primal movements encourage increased joint range of motion, gaining dynamic flexibility while increasing strength in the muscles surrounding the joint.
The full body movements will increase your heart rate, fire up your nervous system, build new body/brain connections and increase awareness of how your body moves through space. There’s no chance of zoning out when you’re being primal, you’ll need to stay mindful to keep up.
As no equipment is needed, its accessible and safe for everyone and scalable to all abilities but as with any form of exercise, you may need to work up gradually, especially if you have movement restrictions, weakness or instability.
The body is designed to move and primal movements will let you unleash your inner animal.