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Opinion

Animal Flow and The Benefits for Powerlifters

Add animal flows to your warm-up and watch your big three lifts improve.

Figuring out how to improve your powerlifting routine without taking away from your recovery or program specificity can be tough. Adding new moves for the sake of it won’t necessarily amount to much, and you want to make sure that anything you integrate into your training won’t take away from overall gains.

Fortunately, animal flow for powerlifters can help maximize your lifting gains without taking away from your recovery. It also won’t add an absurd amount of time and stress to your routine.

Animal Flow
Image via Shutterstock/Just dance

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

What Is Animal Flow?

The trademarked version is a creation of fitness educator Mike Fitch, but fundamentally, animal flow is also a study in movement practices as wide-ranging as yoga, martial arts, parkour, and calisthenics.

We’ll be discussing a variety of positions used in animal flow throughout this article. One of them is the crab position, which consists of moving on all fours with your chest facing the ceiling. You can see a variation of it below:

Animal Flow
Image via Shutterstock/Viktoriia Hnatiuk

This is the opposite of active beast position, where chest faces the floor. Basically, animal flow is a series of ground-based movements of varying intensity, put together in a yoga-esque flow. Each move will challenge your full body coordination, stability, and strength. Combining them in sequence taps into your muscular endurance and mental stamina.

Stationary Animal Flow

When first learning animal flow, start by staying pretty still. For these basic (but not easy) moves, like active beast and crab, you’ll be stationary, down on the ground on all fours. In beast position, for example, you’ll be in the same position you would be to get into a cat-cow pose in yoga, but with your spine neutral.

Brace your core and transfer your entire body weight into your hands and toes, lifting your knees only high enough off the ground to imagine slipping a single sheet of paper underneath it. Hold that and breathe — and there you have it. You’ve learned a basic, stationary animal flow position.

Even if you’re unaccustomed to these movement patterns, you’ll get better at bracing with these types of isometrics.

Traveling Animal Flow

Other animal flow movements are, well…movements. You’ll “travel” on all fours in unique patterns that human adults don’t usually travel in. To continue our beast example, you can beast crawl forward, backward, and side-to-side by getting into active beast position (with your knees barely raised off the ground).

Then, with contralateral limb movements — move your left hand and right foot at the same time, and your right hand and left foot at the same time — try to crawl in multiple directions (one at a time). Make your “steps” as small as needed. You can learn to crawl or leap forward, backward, and side-to-side in crab, ape, and even lizard configurations (we’ll talk about what those latter two are shortly).

Transitional Animal Flow

Once you’re accustomed to the basics of animal flow movements, you can include transitioning laterally from one move to another. For example, starting in a beast position and transitioning — while keeping your core tight and your body close to the ground — so your chest faces up toward the ceiling, landing in crab position .

You’ll have to move laterally to get there, challenging your body to hold itself not just horizontally or vertically, but truly in all directions at the same time. Check out this video below from Move With Mya’s YouTube channel to see what the ape position looks like in action.

The multi-planar aspect of animal flow transitions can be challenging to learn, especially if you always have to concentrate to remember which side is left and which side is right (that sounds dumb, but it can be tricky for beginners). The best advice I’ve ever received is to trust your body and the cues you’re hearing — it may not be pretty for a while, but you’ll get there eventually.

Why Powerlifters Should Learn Animal Flow

When a competition is coming up, powerlifters need to keep training routines as specific to the big three — squat, bench press, deadlift — as possible. This might make it a hard sell to integrate something completely new into your program, but here’s the case for animal flow:

  • It’s low-impact like yoga, so there won’t be any tax on your central nervous system,
  • It’s helps build power and control.
  • It helps build strength and stability in ways specifically beneficial for the big three lifts.
  • It helps expand ranges of motion that can take your big three to the next level.

Additionally, there is some crossover when it comes to bracing. When keeping your core engaged throughout the entire flow, experiment with mimicking the breathing of a lift.

Better Warm-Ups

Moving through your warm-ups mindlessly is a big mistake of many, if not most, powerlifters. Integrating animal flow as a fundamental part of your warm-up can help change that. Why? Because it is exceptionally difficult to move through animal flow movements mindlessly if you’re doing them properly.

Below is a video Pooja Kothari’s YouTube channel that covers beginner switches, transitions, and displays what the ape, crab, beast,  and scorpion positions look like as part of a sequence:

The full body activation involved in building your flow from beast to crab and back to beast, into a lateral beast kick through, into a loaded beast and front step — the combinations are endless. Basic flows can warm up your entire body, activate your muscles, and improve the range of motion needed to crush your big three lifts.

Improve Your Range Of Motion

It is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to open up into active ape — let alone lateral ape leaps — without having the ankle and hip mobility needed to get into a deep squat with your toes pointed straight ahead. Animal flow can help you open up the range of motion needed to get deep into your squat and improve your starting deadlift position.

There are plenty of crab-style moves can help you get through multiple heavy benching sessions without massive shoulder pain. The better your range of motion, the less force you leak; the less force you leak, the move effective your lift (and the less likely you are to injure yourself).

Enhance Strength In Unexpected Places

Animal flow challenges the entire body across multiple planes of motion in ways that activate muscles and stabilizers that might otherwise not receive attention through typical accessory exercises.

Sure, your grip strength gets pretty solid from all those heavy deadlifts, but if you’re not paying specific attention to your lower arms as a whole (your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, and elbow joint), you’re missing out on immense potential powerlifting gains.

Since you’re always on the ground, on all fours or all threes (so to speak) in animal flow, it will promote the development and maintenance of better wrist health. That doesn’t only mean better wrist flexibility (although it does) — it also means enhanced finger and forearm strength, which are going to work wonders for your bench and deadlift.

Improve Full Body Coordination And Stability

As powerlifters, we have a lot of cues to balance, but really only one direction we’re driving toward: is the bar moving up down? Yes, the focus is an ideal bar path, but it’s ultimately… up, or down. 

Animal flow constantly sifts through movement patterns that require you to think in a multi-planar fashion. This requires you to think about your body in a holistic, coordinated way that you just don’t have to do when you’re greasing the groove of the same big three lifts all the time. You’ll have to break out of the movement patterns that squatting, deadlifting, and benching put you in.

Before you start worrying that animal flow might negatively impact your gains, remember that improving your range of motion is going to help you leak less force and therefore lift better. 

In a similar way, being forced to pay attention to the full range of your body’s motion and capabilities — improving your mental focus and kinesthetic awareness — can make it easier for you to understand where your form is breaking down in your squat, for example. Coordinating your body better can increase the effectiveness of even the most basic lifting cues because you’ll develop a better, more intuitive sense of how each of your body parts work together to create movement.

Animal flow also improves the ability to stabilize in a wide variety of compromising positions. Suddenly, the bottom range of your squat might feel more stable (especially after warming up with some lateral ape leaps). It’s not just about increasing your range of motion — it’s about developing strength and security in those deeper ranges, and animal flow can do just that.

Correct Imbalances And Asymmetries

Since ground-based movements mean that all compensations will be extremely visible and tangibly felt, you’ll have no choice but to correct your form — hold yourself even more accountable by filming your flows just like you do with your big three lifts. All the active movements require the completion of flows on both sides, so you’re likely to become more aware of deficiencies, such as which hip flexor is tighter or which shoulder is weaker.

Asymmetries and strength imbalances that might be hidden in a powerlifter’s barbell work will come right out when practicing animal flow. Continued practice over time can help your body even out those side-to-side weaknesses.

Build Strength

This might seem both obvious and not-at-all obvious, but animal flow can help you build strength in a big way. It might be tempting to think that you can definitely hold your knees a mere centimeter off the ground for minutes at a time in quadruped position — you can squat over 400 pounds, after all. But that’s just not how it works.

Animal flow will help you build pound-for-pound strength, because it’s all based on your bodyweight, since that’s the only implement you’ll be manipulating. It’ll strengthen your whole body in multiple directions, instead of just strong at one or three movement patterns that you practice almost daily.

That overall increased and coordinated full body strength can translate nicely into your powerlifting gains. Animal flow helps build strength without taxing your central nervous system like a heavy lifting session will. That means you can work more and recover faster — a great combination for treating your body right and becoming a stronger powerlifter.

Get More Creative

If you’re a powerlifter, let’s be real — you’re not in it for the constant change of pace. You’re in it for the grinding discipline of the same routine, week after week after week. How often do you get the chance to integrate a low-impact and highly effective form of exercise into your routine? Especially when it can be used as a warm-up and as a cool-down? You should jump on the opportunity. Or, perhaps, you should… flow into it (I’m not at all sorry).

Animal flow allows you — even encourages you — to get creative with your powerlifting training in a way that doesn’t add yet another cool-looking yet draining accessory move to your plate. You can spice up your regimen without having to worry that it will redirect energy reserves away from recovering for your next big lift. That proverbial spice might be just what your routine needs this cycle.

Improve Mental Toughness

If you think it doesn’t require a high degree of mental discipline to maintain solid control of your bodyweight across multiple planes, flowing through a wide variety of complex movements…you haven’t tried animal flow. It’s easy to drop your knees down or rest out of your crab position — and you definitely should if you need to — but it takes a lot of mental stamina to keep going after your break instead of calling it done for the day.

Animal flow requires you to sink into uncomfortable positions again, and again, and again, in patterns your body might not have moved in since you were a kid…or, you know, ever.

The discipline it takes to move a barbell is one thing — the discipline it takes to manipulate your bodyweight in all sorts of odd but powerful contortions is quite another. Don’t believe me? Try it. It’s exactly as cool as it looks if you think it looks cool, and much cooler than it looks if you think it looks silly.

Get Flowing

Animal flow might be the coolest thing you’ve introduced to your warm-up and recovery days since actually hydrating like you should. You’ll be stronger when sinking into deeper ranges of motion in no time — and you’ll likely watch your lift numbers go up along with it.

Feature image via Shutterstock/Viktoriia Hnatiuk

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