As a theater nerd, I relished my high school friends’ praise, even as I trotted out the same four poses—hands on hips, crossed arms, wagging finger, shrugged shoulders—to play an ingénue in a painfully outdated 1930s musical. I also dove into drama-class exercises like the “Animal Game,” in which an actor studies an animal as a means to get deeper into a character that has some of the same traits. I was not very good at it, but I figured if Robert De Niro could channel a crab to inform his role in Taxi Driver, the least I could do was try to be a chipmunk.
Fast-forward several decades, and I am (shockingly) not on Broadway, instead mimicking the movements of the Ape, the Crab, and the vague “Beast” during a fitness class called Animal Flow with Atlanta coach Jordan Coburn.
Created in 2011 by celebrity trainer Mike Fitch to improve multi-directional mobility and decrease injuries in key areas like the wrists and hips, Animal Flow is made up of “the Six Components:” wrist mobilizations (circles and stretches), activations (static holds), form-specific stretches, traveling forms (“animal locomotion movements”), switches and transitions (dynamic movements that link into combinations), and flows (where all components come together).
There are five poses in this bodyweight workout. The Beast begins on hands and knees, with knees lifted an inch off the ground. You might travel forward, in a tight crawl, or kick a leg under and through (kind of like a breakdancer) to flip over into the Crab. In the Ape, you are in a low, squatting crouch. An Animal Flow class takes you through these poses, using transition moves like the Underswitch, Side Kickthroughs, Scorpion (kind of like “Wild Thing” in yoga), and Front Kickthroughs.
This kind of functional exercise is said to recruit a greater number of muscles than traditional weight training while also stimulating the central nervous system. It’s like a solo game of Twister; you have to think about where each limb is going, and that helps forge a strong mind-body connection.
Surprisingly, my heart pumped and my muscles shook after fewer than five minutes of movement. Unsurprisingly, my performance wasn’t the stuff of acting legend. But that’s OK. I’ll keep trying to be a better Ape, Crab, and Beast, and I’ll happily channel their strength in my workouts and my everyday life.