The Benefits of Animal Flow’s Crab Reach Exercise

Motion

Animal Flow’s Crab Reach is ground based exercise loaded with benefits ranging from being a potent movement to activate the posterior chain, stretching/lengthening of the anterior body , thoracic rotation, shoulder stability and general body awareness in space using an uncommon body position.  

Benefits of the Animal Flow Crab Reach

The benefits of the Crab Reach are many, but here are some notables…

  • Posterior chain activation and hip extension
  • Active Thoracic Mobility
  • Anterior body stretch (hip flexors, quads, torso)
  • Shoulder stability/endurance emphasis in loaded shoulder
  • Trunk rotation
  • Right and Left Side 
  • Low-impact

A Tool to Off-Set Sitting Posture 

The Crab Reach is a great exercise to battle/off-set the negative effect long duration sitting.  It’s not the only tool or the “best” tool, but a good one to implement on a regular basis.   

Reversing aches and pains caused by primarily long duration sitting requires dedication, discipline and volume.  There is no quick fix.  

A quick hip flexor stretch, thoracic mobilization and glute bridge is not going to cancel out 8+ hours of sitting in the same turtle-like, wound up position.  

Body restoration takes time, effort, consistency and volume.  Lots of repetitions, likely lots of time and an aggressive mindset.  Assuming you’re doing everything right, expect improvements to occur steadily, but slowly.  

  Sitting for long durations often evolves into a slumped forward posture.  Despite how inactive sitting might seem, maintaining posture in a chair across 8 hours is not realistic.  

At some point, the head starts to migrate forward,  shoulders turn in and slump forward, the back rounds, the pelvis gets stuck in anterior tilt, the low back extends to make up for it, the powerful glute and hamstring muscles lay dormant as they are smashed into the chair, the anterior body often shortens (abdominals, hip flexors, quads, etc).  

Sounds depressing and it is.  Sitting when you’re body is tired of standing/walking and ready to rest in a seated position is normal.  Sitting because you’re job forces you to is another thing.  

Ok, so why is the Crab Reach a good exercise for helping with the negative effects of sitting?

Quite simply, the Crab Reach is the reverse position as slumped over sitting posture.  

Nearly every shitty side effect brought about by sitting is worked in opposition during the Crab Reach exercise.

The Crab Reach recruits the posterior chain to drive the hips up into extension, tilting the pelvis to a neutral or maybe a posterior position, the hip flexors open up, the back arches and extends through the thoracic region, torso rotates actively, the shoulders open up (weight supported shoulder stabilizes while free shoulder reaches diagonally), head posture is back and rotated, the hip flexors/quads fall into stretch while the torso elongates and rotates.  

Reading the above paragraph is a lot to take in, but in slang summary, the Crab Reach is the opposite position of sitting and a damn good tool to use every single day.  

The end range motion (the high position with arm reaching over the top) of the Crab Reach is an active position.  You have to be active to get to that high position and remain in that high position.  

  Making range of motion progress requires active involvement of the muscles.  Many popular mobility and flexibility drills are passive.  Static stretching is passive flexibility.  The muscle is elongated and maybe range of motion is increase, but very little of the gain is useable.  The downside to passive mobility and flexibility drills the range of motion gained isn’t necessarily useable, since the body wasn’t actively pursuing and “coding” in that range of motion, acknowledging the motion as “Yes, ok, I actively went here and I know I can go here safely again”.   

The Crab Reach is active the entire of the way.  

Uncommon Movement

The Crab Reach is an uncommon exercise.  

Including an exercise into your program simply because it’s “uncommon”  may not seem like a strong enough reason to practice a new exercise pattern, but ongoing exposure to progressive movement patterns and positions is an effective strategy for training the Central Nervous System, improving movement IQ, capacity and confidence.  

The concept here is simple: if we do what we always did, we will get what we always got.  

To make yourself a better mover means exploring movement.  So, when you’re body is craving an unrestricted, multi-planar approach to your next workout, feed it with some ground based conditioning.  

Practicing postures and movement patterns that are less common to daily life improves physical and mental confidence.  Improving strength, mobility and stability in uncommon movements makes everyday exercises feel easy.  Performing basic tasks around the house or at work becomes more of a game.  

Training Rotation

When we look at the average person’s “workout of the day”, it’s generally packed with linear resistance training and cardio. 

The objective for those who find themselves stuck in a linear dominant training program, should consider adding some multi-planar movement into the mix.  

The Crab Reach is a multi-planar exercise.

Each rep moves the body through the Sagittal, Frontal and Transverse Planes all in one shot.  

Most (not all) workouts are lacking rotation.  Lots of squats, upper body pressing, jumping, pulling, deadlifting… but very little deviation from linear exercise.  

Take quick audit of your training regimen.  Are you twisting, turning, rotating on a regular basis?  If not, integrating simple movements like the Crab Reach will fulfill the rotation element, effectively opening new doors to your movement training.  

Including an exercise into your program simply because it’s “uncommon”  may not seem like a strong enough reason to practice a new exercise pattern, but ongoing exposure to progressive movement patterns and positions is an effective strategy for training the Central Nervous System, improving movement IQ, capacity and confidence.  

Over time, if you’re like me, you’ll likely find yourself executing basic tasks with some creative flare, versus bending, squatting, reaching, twisting movements like it’s a pain in the ass. 

I don’t have all day to workout.  So, with the time I do have to train, I prefer leverage exercises that kill many birds with one stone.  Being a multi-planar exercise, the Crab Reach is an ideal pattern.  Every repetition activates the posterior chain and stretches the anterior body while reinforcing thoracic rotation, shoulder stability and breath.  

How to Incorporate the Crab Reach

Ground based bodyweight movement is extremely versatile, so don’t assume how I suggest using the Crab Reach is how you have to use the Crab Reach.  Use this article for ideas, or, maybe as the blueprint for your next workout.     

In the spirit of keeping it simple, there are several primary ways to start practicing the Crab Reach:  in the warm up, as part of a lifting session or as part of a flow sequence (organized or improvised).  

Of these three ways (warm up, workout or flow), the Crab Reach can be practiced in isolation or as a combination.  I always recommend practicing new movements in isolation to increase focus on technique while getting in tune with your senses while moving.  I believe isolating an exercise to better understand the mechanics and demands is best.  It allows you an opportunity to “feel all of the feels”, pay attention to breathing, tightness, etc.  

Isolated Crab Reach

For the intermediate or advanced, combining the Crab Reach with other Animal Flow exercises keeps training challenging and fresh.  

Here are a few worthwhile combinations:

Side Kick Through + UnderSwitch + Crab Reach

Crab Reach + Spider Man Stretch (aka:  Elbow to Instep)

Slow and Controlled Improvised Animal Flow Workout

Warming Up with the Crab Reach

Animal Flow exercises are perfect for pre-workout warm ups.  The movements are dynamic, full range of motion and take the body through just about every position.  Increasing the tempo raises core temperature and increasing respiration.  All great things.  

As part of a warm up the Crab Reach is an effective, low impact and full range of motion exercise.  Driving the hips hard recruits the posterior chain, diagonal reaching reinforces thoracic rotation while unwinding the spine into extension, the spinal erectors flip on to further arch the back, the loaded shoulder stabilizes the weight of the upper body all while the anterior body (quads, hip flexors, torso) gets a nice stretch.

Crab Reaches serve as a valuable closed chain movement drill prior to deadlifting, kettlebell swings or any other hip dominant exercises where expressing hip/thoracic extension and mobility is important to technique, strength and power.   

Crab Reach as Part of the Workout

Positioning the Crab Reach as part of a Tri-Set is a great way to isolate and practice the exercise while staying active/productive during a strength training session.  

Here’s an example a simple Tri-Set:

Exercise A)  Front Squats 

Exercise B)  Chin-Ups

Exercise C)  Crab Reach

The Crab Reach fits nicely in this Tri-Set and doesn’t take away from the Front Squat or the Chin Ups because, again, it’s low load complimentary to those exercises without sucking away valuable energy.  

Crab Reach Reps/Sets/Time and Practice Recommendations 

Starting out, I worked 6-8 reps per side and I tend to recommend keeping the reps lower in the beginning while focusing a slow and controlled tempo through the range of motion.  

After you are feeling good about the technique, increase the volume.  

Don’t be shy about bumping up the reps to 15-20 reps per side, or even setting the timer for 2-5 minutes and alternating the right and left side continuously until the timer sounds.  

The Crab Reach is a low-impact exercise with a very low risk of injury.  Adding more repetitions (volume) is a nice way to hone in on movement efficiency.  

Example… 

A small open space on the floor can provide hundreds of different options to organize a bodyweight based training session, even with no equipment available.  But I’ve found that acclimation to the mechanics of bodyweight patterns pre-workout warm ups or in combination with traditional lifts works best.  

Over time, I began practicing longer duration improvised flows using nothing but bodyweight movements, transitions, flows, locomotion, etc.   

Example… 

Flow Training with Crab Reach

Create a simple bodyweight flow circuit, emphasizing the Crab Reach periodically throughout the flow.  

Structure several exercises in a row.  Start with two main exercises separated by a switch to keep it simple.  The video above, “Side Kick Through + Underswitch + Crab Reach” is an example of a simple movement sequence.

For an added challenge, increase the number of exercises to 4, 5 or maybe 6.  Of course, doing this will make it more of a challenge to remember the sequence, but it will also challenge the body move through many different patterns.  Adding more exercises to create longer flows is great for the mind-body connection.  

The tempo of your thinking must match the tempo of your body’s movements.  

Whether you pre-program the sequence or improvise the flow, will likely depend on your movement IQ and knowledge of  basic options (exercises, transitions between patterns, etc).  

The ultimate goal of movement training is improvisation.  This idea was plucked right out of the Ido Portal Method.  Ido Portal Method teaches movement using the following hierarchy:  

Isolation —> Integration —>  Improvisation

Following this operating system will give your workouts a new purpose.  

Improvised Movement

Improvised, seamless movement, is the ultimate goal of physical activity.  

Moving however you want, whenever you want without thought is an amazing destination of ground based movement flows.  

Bodyweight flow workouts only need a plan if you want one.  

Otherwise, make it up as you go.  Be creative.  Explore the possibilities.  Move all around the room, explore positions.  

Do it all.  

Syncing thought processing speed with movement tempo is an integrated approach to building the human body.  You’re not just reading a book trying to absorb knowledge or pedaling a stationary bike for hours without thought, you’re bringing together the cognitive with the physical.   

Warning:  Expect to suck during the first couple of attempts at improvised movement flow.  It’s likely to feel and look sloppy and segmented, nothing like you pictured it.  Practice makes progress, volume makes progress.

Here’s another cool, unscientific benefit of practicing progressive improvised movement flows… 

… daily exertion starts to feel like a movement game.  

I’ve had this feeling playfulness toward physical exertion of any kind since limiting linear resistance training in favor of movement based training, and I know others have had similar an experience.  

The idea of moving sucks when you aren’t moving.  If you’re a couch potato, your body adapts to the lack of exertion and falls into the pattern of wanting to remain in that state.  But when you’re proactively practicing movement, making progress and seeing/feeling improvement, you begin to crave it outside of the workout as well.  

What’s happening during improvised movement progress?

I’m starting to get off topic, but real quick, here’s my take… 

Reaction time to various physical stimuli decreases and uncommon patterns and ranges start to become second nature.  It’s a pretty neat feeling to own more and more patterns, angles and positions without taking time to think if you’re able.  This constantly expanding approach to movement creates limitless possibilities.  

What do you need to do this?  If you have some open floor space or a yard, get creative and perform a variety of crawls, transitions, switches in any order for as long as your fitness can handle it.  Transition quickly and as seamlessly as you can.  

Inside of a flow workout like this, consider isolating the Crab Reach from time to time.  Hold the high position, dig in for more hip extension, more diagonal reach, relaxing the breath and the neck.   

I mentioned getting off topic a bit, I apologize for that.  The main message is that exercises like the Crab Reach are cash money when practiced in isolation, but they are also small (but valuable) puzzle pieces in a much larger movement picture.  

Programs like Animal Flow emphasize the value of each individual movement pattern, but clearly recognize the bigger picture.  The result is a human being that is more physically prepared.  

I hope I’m making some sort of sense here.

In Summary…

  • Bodyweight ground based movements are effective for building strength, mobility, endurance and movement IQ
  • Animal Flow’s Crab Reach a versatile exercise that can be performed anywhere and anytime.  
  • Benefits of the Crab Reach include posterior chain activation, anterior body lengthening, thoracic mobility, body awareness in space.
  • The Crab Reach is great include in warm ups, during the workout or as flow training.  
  • The Crab Reach is an effective exercise to help mitigate aches/pains from sitting, restore function.
  • Improvised movement flow is the end destination of all movement. 

Animal Flow

Naturally, Animal Flow is referenced throughout this article because the Crab Reach is an exercise within the Animal Flow program.  Animal Flow exercises are progressive, unique, and scalable for the beginner all the way up to folks who are seeking movement mastery.   I’ve written a few other Animal Flow related articles covering basic principles, exercises (and progressions) and flow combinations.  

Animal Flow is one of a only a few premiere fitness programs I’d ever suggest to anyone and I highly recommend seeing if it fits your fitness goals.  My YouTube channel is loaded with Animal Flow demonstrations.  

If you’re interested in bodyweight strength training, “Bodyweight Athlete” is worth your time. It’s another Mike Fitch creation (the creator of Animal Flow) and offered under the parent company Global Bodyweight Training.  “Bodyweight Athlete” goes in-depth on effective bodyweight strength training, which compliments Animal Flow’s ground based movement perfectly.  Read more about it here.  

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Benefits of Animal Flow| Traveling Forms

Animal Flow, Motion

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Animal Flow is an innovative, gap bridging movement system built around fundamental bodyweight exercise, organized in a readymade package.  

The movement system is comprised of a wide range of exercise progressions to get a beginner flowing in their first workout, leading up to advanced movement mastery.

Animal Flow exercises and workouts are designed to help people improve strength, flexibility, body control and coordination.

At the end of the day, Animal Flow is a playful expression of what your body can do.

The most impressive aspect of Animal Flow is how well the movements and transitions fit together to create an artistic, fluid practice. 

For many reading this, starting up with Animal Flow may serve as a long overdue body reboot. The movements will ignite a re-discovery of what your body is capable of doing when it’s just you and some empty space on the floor.

The brilliance of Animal Flow is that it’s a melting pot of movement disciplines.  Instead of being locked into one movement discipline, Animal Flow draws the best from several practices like yoga, martial arts, parkour, break dancing, and gymnastics to name a few.

Training concepts taught in Animal Flow have become increasingly important as we learn more about modern-day physical activity, expanding movement capacity and improving movement I.Q.

Natural ground-based movement is as functional as it gets. The shift away from sets, reps and weight lifted represents the evolved, expanded idea of what it means to be “fit”.

Traveling Forms make up 1 of 6 components in the Animal Flow training system. 

What are Traveling Forms?

From the Animal Flow website:
“Traveling Forms are exercises that mimic the movements of animals. You’ll start with the “ABCs” – Ape, Beast, and Crab – to get you going on these full body conditioning moves. The traveling forms are essentially how we move like animals to improve the function of the human animal.”

Each of these moving forms has an emphasis on contralateral movement, which means the movement occurs across the body’s midline. For example, during Beast and Crab, the opposite hand and foot are going to move together. Contralateral movements are great for building body awareness and coordination.

Ape, Beast, and Crab are the “big three” Traveling Forms. These three exercises can be categorized as ground-based locomotion patterns. Locomotion, in laymen’s terms, means moving from one place to another. Walking, skipping, running, pushing a heavy sled, farmer walks are all variations of locomotion.

Traveling Forms are mainly performed in the quadrupedal position, with hands and feet interacting with the floor to create movement from one place to another.

Benefits of Animal Flow Traveling Forms?

Humans are bipedal creatures. We move most efficiently using our legs, placing one foot in front of the other to get where we need to go.

Practicing locomotion patterns with the body and head in unique positions other than upright walking position (head on shoulders, eyes forward, arms hanging at the sides, etc) challenges the body to re-orient itself to those uncommon positions.

Quadrupedal, animal-like movement patterns expand our movement capacities, making our body a more complete piece of machinery.

Sure, one could argue that life happens on two-feet and that’s partially true.

However, starting right now, pay close attention to how often you aren’t on two-feet. It’s a lot more frequent than you realize. Playing with your kids on the floor, reaching for an object under the couch or rolling out of bed are all simple examples of activities that happens in positions other than standing or walking.

One simple reason to supplement a training regimen with Animal Flow is to make life’s known and unknown tasks that much easier. A great goal of any fitness program should be to create a higher level of efficiency across a broader range of positions, whatever those positions may be.

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Practicing quadrupedal locomotion patterns doesn’t mean you have to stop being a bipedal creature and begin moving on all fours at work or around the house. Maybe you will, but I highly doubt it.

Traveling Forms articulate joints that rarely see any range of motion most days.  They also stimulate the provide a gentle loading for the upper extremities and demand the core musculature sort out new stimuli (cross-crawling)

Many people rehabilitating from nagging chronic dysfunction or acute trauma are often prescribed basic rolling and crawling patterns to re-establish movement integrity.

Other benefits of Animal Flow:

  • Establish neuromuscular links throughout the kinetic exercise chain.
  • Movements are multi-planar, preparing the body for different planes of motion.
    • Up and down
    • Side to Side
    • Transverse (rotational)
  • Flexibility through movement and the opening of fascial lines and slings.
  • Full articulation of joints to reinforce mobility.
  • Reconnecting the brain-body activity with contra-lateral movements.
  • Exposure of asymmetries and energy leaks as you move closer to the ground (versus standing).

Here’s another great reason to implement Animal Flow style drills… They aren’t boring.

Does this look boring?  


Yes, some might say it’s superficial to start a new exercise venture solely because it’s new and exciting, but we shouldn’t act like it’s a bad thing. If you’ve been going through the motions or near giving up on working out because you’re bored to tears, it’s absolutely worth exploring new training methods to re-ignite feelings of excitement.

Or, maybe your gut’s telling you there must be something other than counting sets, reps and chasing numbers in the gym. Trust your gut, it’s accurate. Traveling Forms satisfy the free movement craving quickly, which is often a much-needed breath of fresh air and departure from the traditional.

Let’s take look at each of the three basic forms taught in Animal Flow…

Ape

Of the three foundational Animal Flow Traveling Forms, it’s likely Ape will be the most challenge technique-wise. Timing, force absorption, core compression, and flexibility are all important to a smooth Ape.  

Traveling Ape Variations:
– Forward Ape
– Reverse Ape
– Lateral Ape

Beast

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Cross-crawling patterns have long been hailed as a re-calibration activity for rehabilitation specialists. But you don’t have to suffer an injury to reap the benefits of crawling. Beast, is an ideal crawling exercise for anyone and everyone. Beast is fantastic as a warm-up or as part of the workout. Traveling Forms like Beast are important for reinforcing and building reflexive strength along with connecting the left side of the brain with the right side.

Small space? No worries.

Beast is an adaptable exercise to fit the space you are training in. In my basement, I’ve got no more than 10 feet in any one direction. I make it work by perfectly by making more trips. Reverse Beast is a challenging variation because the eyes aren’t seeing where the feet are being placed, it’s all by feel.   

For people that find themselves traveling a lot, stuck in hotel rooms, Beast is PERFECT. If you’ve got 8-10 feet of space, Beast is in your wheelhouse.

Beast can be modified to suit a wide variety of training stimuli and goals. Ramp up the tempo for cardio, slow it down for movement control and an emphasis on core and joint stability.

I suggest practicing Beast crawling slow and controlled establish a familiarization with technique. But once you’re acclimated to the demands of Beast, ramp up the intensity to initiate a more potent cardio conditioning effect.

Traveling Beast Variations:
– Forward Beast
– Reverse Beast
– Lateral Beast

Crab

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The opposite of Beast is Crab, literally. Crab positions the front of the body toward the ceiling with arms supporting behind the back and inches in front of the glutes. Each hand placement is performed without sight and many will find out how good their shoulder extension is. Crawling in a modified supine position engages the backside muscles of the legs along with loading the shoulders in a unique extended position.

Crab is a unique exercise because of the way it engages the lats, traps and external shoulder rotators, opens up the anterior chain while simultaneously activating the posterior chain.
Of the three basic Traveling Forms, Crab is the most difficult to modify for higher intensity work. The mechanics of crawling fast in a modified supine position is not ideal. However, Crab serves a valuable purpose inside of Animal Flow, especially with flow workouts.

Traveling Crab variations:
– Forward Crab
– Reverse Crab
– Lateral Crab

Workout applications for Traveling Forms

Traveling Form exercises can be used as warm-up drills, recovery from the previous day’s training stress, included into a workout circuit or practiced inside of a flow for long durations. Because we are dealing with natural bodyweight movement you can practice these anytime. Warm or cold, go for it. Practice means progress and if you stick with it long enough, movement mastery.

Personally, I prefer to practice fewer skills in a “less but better” training format. Do fewer things but do them better. Early on, I practiced Ape, Beast, and Crab in isolation with extremely slow tempos to lock down motor control, a range of motion and timing.

Slowing down exercise tempo is a great way to reveal areas that need more attention, along with a simple assessment of ownership over the movement.

In isolation, I would work each basic form across 10-15 yards, mainly because that is the length of the space I had to work with. Many times I would slow the crawl to last 2-3 minutes across that distance. It’s brutally challenging and exhausting, yet great for building strength, stability, and endurance.

Traveling Forms can also be brilliant for improving cardio conditioning. Simply increase the tempo and intensity. Move faster. 

Take that slow Beast crawl I referred to earlier and speed it up. Don’t lose control of your technique or core. Aim for soft hand and foot contacts.

Change of direction, body position, loading the upper extremities, tension, crawling, sprawling will jack up your heart rate as fast as any other form of cardio. All without any equipment.

Expand Movement with Animal Flow

Currently, Animal Flow is now in version 2.0. The videos have been reshot, edited with a streaming format available. 

Animal Flow 2.0 includes 26 total exercises and 20 example flows.

The basic Traveling Forms we talked about in this article make up 3 out of those 26 exercises.

If you’ve been looking for the next realm of movement, Animal may be what you’ve been searching for.  I’ll continue to post updates over the coming months. 

I’ll continue to post updates over the coming months.  Exercise progressions, flows and other details about how I supplement Animal Flow into my own training.  

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Cheers, 

Kyle