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Primal bodyweight exercises for increased mobility.

There’s an underground movement happening with bodyweight exercises. It’s primal and beautiful and complex. It’s called ANIMAL FLOW®—or primal movement—and incorporates functional training and animal-like stances and flows. Aside from the sheer cool factor, animal flow movement is designed to help you learn to move your body in ways you never thought would be so therapeutic.

Primal movement and animal flows are based on mobility. Imagine doing everything better, and eliminating pain in certain movement that has plagued you and held you back from your full physical potential. All of your daily movement can be radically improved by working on your mobility. 

Here’s a quick-paced video that shows how animal flows intermingle with yoga really well.

What is mobility?

Mobility isn’t just flexibility, although they are obviously linked. The fact is, even if you are someone who stretches regularly and considers themselves flexible, you’re still likely missing out on full mobility.

“Mobility is the ability to move a limb through its full range of motion. This is not to be confused with flexibility which is simply the length of the muscle.” Specifically training for mobility, using animal flow moves, is a very unique way of obtaining that full mobility, and beginning to feel completely alive in your vessel.

Francheska Martinez in a weighted deep ape.

ANIMAL FLOW® movement offers a very dynamic and sophisticated way of pushing your joints through a deeper range of motion, often undoing what our daily movement habits force onto our body (like sitting at work or in the car for long periods). You can start simple and you’ll find that even the simplest moves should be consistently incorporated. But you can also completely immerse yourself in this functional training, and take your mobility straight to beast mode if you really love how your body reacts to imitating animal movements.

This style of training isn’t new, but it is niche and harder to find locally, say in classes or clinics. A few animal flowists on Instagram have found a cult following as they share the beauty of this style of movement. As we talk about mobility training, we’ll share advice from functional movement coach and ANIMAL FLOW aficionado, Francheska Martinez.

FrancheskaMartinez.com Animal Flowist

Defining primal movement, animal flow, and functional training.

Primal movement goes back to the caveman—early man—and the way they moved to reach, hunt, climb, hide. It is essentially about reconnecting with how our bodies were truly designed to move and perform. It encourages us to explore new directions to move, getting closer to the ground and taking full advantage of the natural freedom of movement that we have evolved to be able to do.

ANIMAL FLOW® is actually a complete movement and fitness program, using primal movement techniques, that was created by Mike Fitch. Trainings and workshops are offered to amateurs but what you’ll typically see is fitness professionals getting acquainted with this type of mobility training and, once certified, bringing it into their classes or private instruction. ANIMAL FLOW® is an extremely adaptable training methodology pulling ideas from several different movement disciplines, but focusing on mobility and strength as the outcomes.

Functional training is defined as anything that relates to your daily movements. It has its origins in rehabilitation, and can look different for everyone, depending on what you daily activities require your body to do.

“Without good movement skills we cannot become athletic and without being athletic we will never be great athletes.” — Andrew Read, Coach of Endurance Sports, Kettlebells, Strength and Conditioning

While primal movement and animal flows are mainly performed using just your bodyweight, functional training often employs a variety of training tools, such as:

  • 
Dumbbells
  • Medicine balls
  • Kettlebells
  • Bodyweight training
  • Resistance band or tubes
  • Slide board
  • Balance disks
  • Suspension systems
  • Foam rollers
  • Benches 

Digging into ANIMAL FLOW® with Francheska Martinez

While this form of movement may look daunting, it’s not—it’s just like anything else in life: you just have to start, educate yourself, and give it your best effort.

“A lot of us want to be more mobile. We want to have more strength and more flexibility and not necessarily keep working through our same compensations. So if you want to be more conscientious and strive toward your goals in a more mindful way I think the best way is to be more aware of those tight areas and focus hard on articulating the best form to build that full mobility.”

 For a taste, watch Francheska in the groove...

Say yes to your primal desire and try your hand at animal movements. Go ahead and follow @francheskafit and get inspired.

Mobility training will improve your physical and mental capabilities. Let’s dive into advice from a pro and lay out the information that will allow you to start incorporating pieces of ANIMAL FLOW® into your fitness routine. Find Francheska’s library of information here.

How to get started with mobility training.

1. Just begin—choose a few moves you like that would complement your current training program.

“Pick 3 moves you already like and incorporate them into your normal exercise routine.” 

2. Record yourself—it allows you to look at multiple sets and notice bad habits or areas of strength.

“Recording yourself is huge because then you don’t have to be distracted by watching yourself in the mirror. If you’re trying to focus on your breathing and your form, you don’t want to add watching in the mirror as well.”

3. Believe in the movements—learn about what the specific movement is doing for your body. It will help you focus on the specific joints and muscles that are most impacted.

“Believe in the force of the flow. You have to channel your inner dancer. Start one move at a time, and you’ll feel motivated when you master that.”

4. Stay in tune with your breathe—as you warm up to the moves, you’ll be able to use your breathe for additional force and momentum.

“Tuning into the breathe and recording yourself is huge in attaining great form.”

5. Embrace regressions—learn to master the foundational movement, knowing that the full movement will become better once you are strong in your foundation.

“In ANIMAL FLOW®...you have to learn how to own the positions.”

Movements included in ANIMAL FLOW® training:

Six major components make up the ANIMAL FLOW® Level 1 series:

  1. WRIST MOBILIZATIONS: moving through full movements of the wrist in order to warm up for activations and more.
  2. ACTIVATIONS: Static Beast Hold, Static Crab Hold, Limb Lifts
  3. FORM-SPECIFIC STRETCHES: Ape Reach, Beast Reach, Crab Reach, Scorpion Reach
  4. TRAVELING FORMS: Ape, Beast, Crab
  5. SWITCHES: Under Switches, Side Kick Throughs, Front Kick Throughs, Scorpions
  6. FLOWS: Putting it all together.

Instruction on 3 animal stretches and forms

As shown above, your wrist activations are critical to avoiding injury. Take 5 minutes to warm up your wrists before attempting any primal movement.

Francheska Martinez in beast

Then, start getting comfortable with Beast Hold. Watch this quick intro—an A,B,C explanation of animal flow—from Francheska Martinez, that includes the beast hold, or stance, which is an often-visited position in this practice.

The other two moves from the A-B-C video are broken down in detail below, with lots of great commentary from our time speaking with Francheska.

Crab reach:

It kind of looks like a backbend with an arm extension. But it’s not about the arch, it’s about the length—hence the name, crab reach. This move will really engage your glutes and abs. Francheska lights up when she speaks to this popular animal movement, “When you see a beautiful crab, you’re soul’s just like {gasp}’ “so much intention!” That person’s dying on the inside right now, but it looks beautiful!”

Francheska Martinez in crab reach

The crab reach action: 

  1. Start in crab position, basically making a capital letter “M” with your body. Hover your hips off the floor and bring your left elbow to your midline.
  2. Push through your feet, keeping heels down and focusing on the backside to raise your hips as high as possible.
  3. Once hips are at their highest point, reach your left arm above your face towards the floor. At the same time, think about “screwing” your right arm into the floor in a clockwise direction, “gripping” the floor with your hand. This sets the shoulder in a nice, strong position. Turn your head to look down towards the right, and hold this position for 2-5 seconds.

For each crab reach, focus on: squared hips, keeping your heels down, stretching the T-spine, and engaging your glutes and abs throughout the move.

“Think about the strong foundation of your hips, keeping them squared not turned. Remember, it’s not a backbend—it’s like a hip thrust, just imagine your shoulders are still on the ground.”

In many of Francheska’s videos, she calls attention to the importance of straight arms. You’re working on shoulder mobility in a crab reach, so the straight arm allows you to properly torque your shoulder.

“Most of us haven’t reached the point in our fitness journey that we’re focused so much on torque but then some people are just natural movers and they don’t even have to be taught how - their bodies are just great at creating torque. I think that most people, when they start doing crab reaches, there isn’t torque in their shoulders, and they risk injury to the scapula.”

"It’s really important to keep your heels down. Don’t lift on the toes. It’s not about the range - it’s about the glute engagement. Try to lengthen through your hip flexors, and with that base arm aim for more lat engagement and lighting up your scapula in a dynamic range. I like to tell people to look back toward your base hand, stretching only through your T-spine.”

Ape, or Deep Ape:

This is a static or moving, super low squat. Your bottom is down low, near the ground, with your hamstrings essentially touching your calves. Think about how toddlers sit close to the ground, with only their feet actually touching the ground. It’s like they’re primed for explosive movement. For those with hip mobility issues, this is a form-specific stretch that should be part of your daily living.

Francheska Martinez in deep ape

“Start with just static deep apes. We teach it static first in animal flow because you have to learn how to own that position. People who have a fitness regime going on will benefit tremendously from spending time in the bottom of a squat. Literally, live down there a couple times a week, shooting for 2 minutes solid or reps of 20-30 seconds. Proper posture and spine orientation is key. I think this is where a lot of the body awareness and body control starts to cascade.”

The deep ape action:

  1. Start with and maintain a neutral spine.
  2. Feet hip width apart, drop into a standard squat, then drop your bottom further down with your weight all in your heels.
  3. Keep your arms bent in front of you, elbows just inside your knees.
  4. Ensure your tailbone doesn’t tuck under, even at the bottom of the move.
  5. For mobility work, you can begin by swaying side to side a bit.

Once you feel comfortable in your ape, you can begin to travel around in it. This will relieve some of the pressure that might build up from just holding in an ape. Traveling also helps further warm up the hips with light movement. The video below starts with traveling apes...

Front Kick Through

“I always teach a regression to the front kick through. On this move it’s important to think walk, jog, run. Finesse the foundation and you’ll see the full move explode, skyrocket. My foundation got so strong by doing front kick through regressions.”

Francheska Martinez front kick through

The front kick through action:

  1. Go into loaded beast position.
  2. Come forward with a front step with one leg, placing your foot just to the side of your hand.
  3. Slowly bring your leg through.
  4. Hold this position, letting your leg hairs just graze the floor, keeping your core tight and back supporting arm straight.
  5. Then slowly bring your leg back under.

“Once you nail that, you’re front kick throughs will be beautiful.”


BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT SIDE KICK THROUGH, FRANCHESKA?

“Super dynamic move. When you do it right, you feel it. That power stretch that you’re supposed to feel, and with full engagement even through your toes... there’s a bell that goes off when you hit it right.”

The side kick through requires an additional rotational element and can also include a levitating step in between. When you reach the point of trying side kick throughs, you’re likely hooked on animal flows for life.

“They never get easier - they feel more comfortable and they feel stronger but the difficulty level is still up there.”

You can start with all of these primal movements today. It’s a bit challenging to find a comprehensive program, unless you go straight for the official training. We recommend starting with Francheska’s free introductory program, and growing from there.

Her mission? To provide mobility inspiration in one place, for the novice and the athlete.

“Learning how to get to a more sophisticated way of moving and feeling better all around. Actually performing and training better. Even basic things like having better posture...I want all of that in one place. There is value in the program for everyone. You don’t have to be a super badass crossfitter to do this. But if you are, you’re going to see your capabilities truly increase.”

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