The Many Ways to Use Animal Flow in Workouts

Animal Flow, bodyweight training, Motion

Scorpion

“Hmmm… Animal Flow looks a bit moving yoga. Then again, it also looks a bit like Capoeira. Well, maybe not. Maybe it looks like gymnastics. Yes, definitely gymnastics. Wait… there’s another yoga exercise, now it looks like yoga again.”

These are exact thoughts I had watching Mike Fitch demonstrating a movement flow several years ago.


Watching Mike flow seamlessly around the empty room captivated me. Even to the untrained eye, it’s unmistakable when you see someone who has complete dominance (aka control) over their body. When you see it, you know it.

I crashed head first into Ido Portal Method and Animal Flow at about the same time. Which makes sense now since they are both rooted deeply in bodyweight based movement. 

At the time, Ido Portal was growing at breakneck speed, but he had not (and still hasn’t) packaged his movement system into a product. Animal Flow did have a product, which it has now updated into Animal Flow 2.0.

Crawling patterns and primal movement were gaining traction as validated tactics to reset one’s body, improve strength, stability, core integration, body controls, yadda yadda yadda. In reflection, it makes sense Animal Flow caught my eye because Traveling Forms (Ape, Beast, Crab) are crawling locomotion patterns. For branding purposes, Animal Flow refers to these three basic forms as “animal-like” exercises which they are, but they are also crawling patterns.

Piggybacking the opening paragraph of this blog post, the most important point I could make about integrating Animal Flow into your workouts is this: Shape, mold and make it function any way that suits you.

Animal Flow is a hybrid training system constructed from many other movement disciplines, therefore it can serve you any way you need it to.

Cardio conditioning? Move fast, aggressive, lots of transitions, soft but quick floor contacts.

Recovery? Full range of motion, move slow, controlled, breathe deep, hold positions, find the stretch.

Pre-Workout Warm Up? Move through a full range of motion, activate hard at end range looking for expanded range, build the tempo up from slow to fast.

Animal Flow as the workout? Leverage lots of different tempos, explore many positions, make shapes, breathe, bring the heart rate up, lower it back down, improvise, etc.

Ground-based movement can serve an infinite number of purposes. How do you want it to serve your needs? That’s what I’d like you to keep in mind as you read through the rest of this article.

The purpose of this article is two-fold:

1) Share Animal Flow movement tactics with people who aren’t currently familiar.

2) Expand the application of Animal Flow exercises.

In we go…

I won’t pretend like it was love at first sight.

It took me a while to jump into Animal Flow. I was already working yoga steadily on non-workout days. Days when my body needed a rest but craved a sweat, range of motion, slow tempo and breath work. You know, the calming effect yoga is famous for.

Once I finally committed to mixing in Traveling Forms more seriously, I could immediately feel the difference. I felt more connected from my top half through my core to my bottom half. Shoulders opened up and felt more stable. General body awareness in space and control improved also. 

Stepping away from lifting is a major reason my body “opened up” and felt more fluid and connected. Pressing pause on lifting for several days if not several weeks (even months) is something that changed my entire perspective on daily physical activity. I recommend anyone who’s been a die-hard lifter to remove yourself from weight training for an extended period of time. Don’t stop exercising during this time, rather, seek out alternatives.

Animal Flow is a perfect place to start and explore.

Using Animal Flow exercises for Pre-Workout Warm-Up

Initially, I started by using Traveling Forms during my warm-up. Here is how I structured everything…

Pre-Workout Warm-Up (15-20 minutes)
Foam Roll + Thoracic Mobility Peanut Drills
Dynamic Stretching
Activation (using mini bands, wall slides, etc)
Animal Flow Traveling Forms (and maybe some jump rope)
The Workout

Yes, I still foam roll.  

After working through more traditional strength and conditioning stretches, activation and mobility, I’d start crawling for 3-8 minutes, sometimes followed by jumping rope, sometimes not.

In the beginning, 3 minutes of crawling patterns seemed daunting. After a month or so, I was crawling without rest for 8-10 minutes. Challenging? Hell yes, but the body acclimates quickly with consistent practice.

This pre-workout routine provided enough time to explore each of the three Traveling Forms in isolation. Isolating new exercises has always been my strategy. Isolating an exercise allows me to focus on the mechanics of the movement. 

Beast

Favoritism and familiarity lead me to practice Beast and Crab first. Beast is a prone crawling pattern (chest to the floor) and Crab is a supine crawling pattern (chest to the ceiling). Beast and Crab are essentially opposites, and therefore complement each other very well. The difference in body position changes the stress on the core and arms, front, back, and side of the body. Each movement also challenges active mobility differently.

Currently, my home gym allows for 12 feet of crawling in any one direction. Working with my training space, I would crawl 12 feet forward, reverse it and crawl 12 feet back. The first couple of workouts I programmed low volume and a much slower tempo crawl.

Beast – Crawl down and back 5 times (120 ft of crawling)
Crab – Crawl down and back 5 times (120 ft of crawling)

Start Workout.

From here, I ramped it up pretty quickly. I get antsy.

Combine Beast and Crab together, crawling down and back 6 times each without rest. This will take about 5-6 minutes to complete with a steady tempo.

Once I started to explore and understand Animal Flow Switches, I integrated them into my little Beast/Crab crawling medley…

Forward Beast + Under-Switch + Reverse Crab

Forward Crab + Under-Switch + Reverse Beast

Start Workout.

Rinse and repeat for time. This combination is simple and effective. Crawl down forward, switch, come back in reverse.

Next, I played around with longer duration for each Traveling Form, ramping it up to 1-minute per exercise before switching to the next…

Cycle 1-Minute per exercise of:
1-minute Beast
1-minute Crab
1-minute Beast
1-minute Crab

Start Workout.

… And so on.

I recommend working these patterns for as long as you like. Don’t overthink it. The risk of overdoing crawling is almost non-existent. Of course, if your plan is resistance training afterward, leave something in the tank for the training session.

Eventually, I introduced Lateral Traveling Ape to the pre-workout routine. Lateral Traveling Ape was my first real exposure to side-to-side locomotion. I struggled. What my mind’s eye thought I was doing was not what the playback on my iPhone camera showed. My technique was brutal. But the pattern was completely foreign.

I practiced Lateral Traveling Ape more incrementally than Beast or Crab, starting with two reps in one direction, two reps back to where I started. Rest and repeat. A smooth flowing Lateral Traveling Ape did not come easily for me.

Fast forward to current day, I’ll rip out pre-workout Traveling Forms almost in any structure I like. Lately, a medley I’ve been enjoying has been:

Cycle 8 minutes of:
Lateral Traveling Ape 16 ft
Switch
Beast Crawl 16 ft
Switch
Crab Crawl 16 ft

Start Workout.

Cycle through each of the 3 Traveling Forms for 8 minutes without rest. You’ll never feel more ready for a workout as you will after this effective little medley.

The badass thing about Animal Flow exercises is that your body will learn the mechanics quickly with diligent practice. Lateral Traveling Ape went from being an exercise I avoided to one of my favorites.

Personally, I think there are a lot of people dabbling with crawling patterns, which is great, but not including enough volume to see desired results. I’m not implying you’ve got crawl for a .5 mile every workout, but if you really want to get benefit from crawling patterns, play around with increasing the volume (without bending on technique).

A Tool for Recovery…

I love many aspects of yoga and typically feel great afterward, but I don’t always enjoy how stationary yoga is. Yoga sessions can feel rather restricting. Stay on the mat, you must never part with your mat.

Animal Flow takes features of yoga and transforms it into a dynamic practice. Essentially, you can move around the room until you’re ready to hold a pose or position.

Transitioning into an animal-like crawl to relocate or continue switching body positions to find the next hold.

Combining movement with elements of yoga creates a comprehensive training session pack with benefits from each.  Here is a simple recovery workout…

Lateral Traveling Ape x10 yards
Beast Crawl x10 yards
Downward Dog x 5 long breaths
Reverse Beast x10 yards
Downward Dog x 5 long breaths
Crab Crawl x 10 yards
Table-Top x 5 long breaths
Reverse Crab Crawl x10 yards
Crab with Reach x3 each side
*** Repeat the cycle for time or rounds***

This simple recovery workout seamlessly fuses yoga with Animal Flow. I’ve worked sequences like this for 20-30 minutes and felt absolutely fantastic afterward.

Or, give this more comprehensive recovery session a try, which includes drills from Kinstretch and Animal Flow.

Start with some basic Kinstretch drills to nourish the joints, finishing with some dynamic Animal Flow exercises to further open up and re-educate the body to cross-crawling patterns, reaching and positional switches.

Kinstretch:
Hip CAR’s x5 each leg
Spinal CAR’s x3
Shoulder CAR’s x5 each arm

… Followed by…

Animal Flow:
Beast Crawl x 10 yards
Reverse Beast Crawl x 10 yards
Crab Crawl x 10 yards
Reverse Crab Crawl x 10 yards
Lateral Traveling Ape x 10 yards
Crab with Reach x 5 each side
Slow Under-Switch x 5 each side
Scorpion Switch x 3 each
Slow Side Kick-Throughs x 3 each side
*** Repeat for 3-4 rounds ***

*** Sidenote: If you aren’t familiar with Kinstretch, check it out. It will change your life.

This will take 30 minutes of your time (or less). Move slowly through each of these exercises in descending order (top to bottom). Breathe deep with control, owning each movement.

This workout has a boatload of natural joint mobility and muscle activation work in it. Crab with Reach alone is a million dollar movement. If you’re activating extending the hips and reaching hard in the high position of each Scorpion Switch, there is likely to be some soreness the next day.

A gentle recovery workout like this helps to open up the joints, turn on important muscles, challenge multi-planar core stability and while getting a sweat without the beaten down feeling.

It might seem off-topic to list sweating as a benefit of a recovery workout, but considering the skin is the largest organ of the human body and sweating helps eliminate toxins from the body, support proper immune function and fight out toxin-related diseases.

Animal Flow and Kettlebells for Cardio

Virtually any exercise or series of exercises can be adjusted to create a cardio training effect.

Limiting rest, increasing the tempo and exercise complexity are all fantastic ways to further tax the cardiovascular system.

The recipe is simple: global bodyweight movements recruit more muscles plus higher intensity tempo with little or no rest in between elevates heart rate and respiration. Across time and with enough intensity, the body will head straight into oxygen debt. Huffing and puffing begin.

Ground-based movements are a total body experience. Combining various Traveling Forms (ape, beast, crab, lizard crawl variations, etc) and Switches creates a potent multi-planar training effect. 

Kick-Throughs…
Kick-Throughs are an excellent ground-based cardio exercise. Kick-Throughs, similar to any other Animal Flow exercise, can be scaled to suit any skill or fitness level. The explosive nature of faster tempo Kick-Through’s makes them ideal for cardio.

There are two primary variations: Forward and Side Kick-Throughs.

Many people will find Side Kick-Throughs to be a great entry into higher tempo ground-based movement.

Side Kick-Throughs how-to:
• Start in the quadruped position (static Beast), hands and feet on the floor, knees hovering an inch above the floor.
• Lift and slide one leg underneath your body as you pivot on the supporting foot.
• Reach with the sliding leg and open up the chest.
• Return to the quadruped position and perform the same action on the opposite side.

Gradually increase the speed of the kick-through to the point where technique remains intact but on the verge of “out of control”. 15-20 repetitions per side of Side Kick-Throughs will get the heart rate going. Another measurement of work is time. Anywhere from 30-45 seconds of exertion is a great place to start.

Kick-Throughs pair very well with kettlebells, as you’ll see below.

Select two kettlebell exercises and one variation of kick-throughs. Here are two great examples.

Workout A
Kettlebell Swings x8-10
Side Kick-Throughs x8 each side
Kettlebell Overhead Press x8 each arm
*Repeat for 6-8 rounds, rest for 45-70 seconds between each round.

Or…

Workout B
Kettlebell Gorilla Row x8 each arm
Forward Kick-Throughs x5 each side
Kettlebell Deadlift x10
*Repeat for 6-8 rounds, rest for 45-70 seconds between each round.

Or…

Mix and Match: Alternate Workout A and Workout B
Round 1: Workout A
Rest 60 seconds
Round 2: Workout B
Rest 60 seconds
Round 3: Workout A
Rest 60 seconds
Round 4: Workout B
*** Repeat for 8 rounds ***

Each round you’re performing 3 completely different exercises, using the same tool (kettlebells). If you’re tight on space, limited on equipment or looking to keep training simple and effective, this is a fantastic option.

Improvised Workouts Ground Based Conditioning Plus Animal Flow…

This is my favorite part of this article.

Animal Flow is a flexible movement discipline that can serve as little or big of a role in your training as you need to. In this section, I’ll talk about using Animal Flow as the workout, not just part of the workout.

Practicing many of the Animal Flow elements in isolation leads to stringing together longer pre-planned sequences, which eventually leads to the total improvisation of a workout or freestyle. This is the “flow” part of Animal Flow.

Flowing between various exercises for several minutes changed the game for me. It’s liberating to move around an open space without having a plan, just an understanding of knowing you can move in and out of many different positions, making shapes, increasing tempo, slowing tempo, etc. You’re in control of the session, your mind-body connection is communicating the way it was designed.

Very poetic.

Improvised flow is the highest form of training. It’s essentially movement play and exploration. I touched on this in my popular Ido Portal Method post.

I have no recommendations for improvised workouts, as they are improvised.  You make it up as you go.  Take what you know about Animal Flow: locomotion patterns, switches, transitions, etc… and build a sequence.  

There is no wrong way to flow, just start moving.  

Workouts like this can last as long as you’d like. I’ve improvised for 20-30 minutes, increasing the speed of movement sporadically throughout the session but constantly moving and changing positions.

Closing Personal Commentary…

Equipment free, ground-based conditioning has expanded my conditioning in incredible ways. I am a huge advocate of rowing ergs, airbikes, skiergs and the like, but conditioning on an open floor is entirely different than machine-based conditioning.

I’m not anti-machine.

I still use my Assault Bike and Concept2 Rowing Erg 2-3 times per week. Not for extended periods, but long enough to matter.

Taking a break from machine-based cardio will make you realize how mindless it is. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s difficult but mindless. The gears and levers of a cardio machine move through a fixed pattern/range of motion. How hard you push yourself on the machine is entirely up to you. It’s a mind game. It’s willpower.

The amount of energy required to crawl, bend, twist, lunge, reach, roll, sprawl, rotate, squat, press around an open floor intensely for an extended period of time is mind-blowing.  Especially if you are new to it.

—>  More details about Animal Flow 2.0

 

 

Cheers, 

Kyle

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Animal Flow: Movement Training for Fans of Ido Portal Method

Animal Flow

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“Animal Flow is an innovative fitness program that combines quadrupedal and ground-based movement with element from various bodyweight-training disciplines to create a fun, challenging workout emphasizing multi-planar, fluid movement.”  

If you’ve been hunting for a movement system to deepen your understanding of Ido Portal’s locomotion exercises, Animal Flow is the system to follow.  

Animal Flow’s training methodology embodies the evolution my own fitness practice has experienced over the last several years.  

The “your body is a barbell” is cliché statement, but a true statement about bodyweight training.  Everywhere you go, no matter what the circumstance, bodyweight training is a tool to be leveraged.  

Don’t stop at isolation…

A lot of people stop the bus at basic bodyweight training:  push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, etc.  I have nothing against basic bodyweight training because it’s brutally effective for improving performance, it’s free and it’s arguably the most functional form of resistance training.  

You can live a great life by hammering away on basic bodyweight movements.

However, as I mentioned in my post “Basics of the Ido Portal Method”, a lot of people have an innate desire to explore what’s beyond isolation movements.  

After a while, it’s common to feel like your workouts are being reduced down to numbers (quantified progress):  more reps, more sets, more time, etc. 

There’s nothing wrong with quantified progress.  Quantifying your workouts practice is a great way to measure improvement or stagnation.  Scanning your numbers can help you evaluate if your current training plan working the way it should.  

It’s not much different than following a recipe in the kitchen.

But there is another realm, one where you’re moving without being restricted to reps and sets and time.  

This realm explores your body’s movement capacity through space.  

Twisting, turning, reaching, pulling, pushing, shifting, transitioning, flowing.

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Some of these body positions are common and familiar, some are not.  Training uncomfortable positions is important to prepare the body for unpredictable scenarios.

Movement capacity development.  

 

Ground-based movement training benefits ANYONE and EVERYONE.  Why?  Because it is life played out through the movement lens.  Everywhere you go, your body is right there with you.  

Enter: Animal Flow…

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  • Anything in BLACK is information from the Animal Flow website.  
  • Comments in RED are my interpretation and elaboration on those points.  

What comprises the Animal Flow program?

“Animal Flow includes a wide range of exercises and movement combinations that are grouped into six components, each designed to elicit specific results. The six components can be mixed and matched in many ways, and you can incorporate one, some, or all of them in your workouts! The six components include:

Wrist Mobilizations

Wrist Mobilizations include a range of simple exercises designed to increase the flexibility and strength of your wrists, which is particularly important for any practice where you are spending a lot of time on your hands.”

– Although most of human life is spent either sitting or standing, training the hands/wrists/arms to tolerate a more robust range of motion and loading stress in various positions is important.  

Our wrists and arms aren’t designed to hang at our sides or flexed up on a keyboard for all day every day.  Hanging, brachiation, crawling, climbing are all activities humans should be able to do.  

More specific to the Animal Flow program, wrist preparation ensures your body is prepared to handle the load stress.

Activations

Activations are static holds we perform to connect the body before we start our practice. Examples include Static Beast Hold, Static Crab Hold, and Limb Lifts.”

– Activating dormant muscles is helps protect our bodies against acute injury and chronic aches and pains.  It boosts our ability to accomplish common daily tasks efficiently.

This is sometimes referred to as “pre-hab”.  Again, cliché, but important.

It’s not necessary to suffer an injury to begin paying attention to muscle activation.  Basic maintenance can keep a person functioning on a high level without pain or risk of injury. 

Imagine how much better a squat would be if your glute muscles knew they were supposed to participate in the exercise.

Isolated activation exercises remind these muscles they’ve got an active role in the exercise to come.

Form Specific Stretches

Form Specific Stretches are full body stretches that start in an animal form and then move through a wide range of motion. This increases your mobility and flexibility throughout the entire body. Examples include the Ape Reach, Beast Reach, Crab Reach and Scorpion Reach.”

Stretching is not dead, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Mis-directed, poorly performed stretches are dead.  Stretching areas that don’t need to be stretched is dead.  

Smart, intelligent stretching in combination with passive and active mobilization techniques are a smarter way to achieve a more functional range of motion.  Hello, KinStretch.

Traveling Forms

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.”

 

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The human body is designed to navigate many different forms movement.

The ability to handle your body while performing uncommon movement tasks (example: crawling) beyond standing and walking will serve you well across life.  It gives quality to your years.    

Crawling (and the many variations of crawling) is a major component of Traveling Forms.  Yes, this is a similar crawling we do as infants.  Funny how we regress back to our earliest forms of movement as a reset later in life.

Crawling is an under-estimated, challenging form of movement that trains the body to handle unique body positions, transitions, upper extremity loading and core activation.  

The other, a less scientific reason to crawl, is it’s fun.  Plain and simple.  Crawling is an uncommon activity that is fun.  Life’s too short to not have fun.  

Fact:  a person is more apt to stick to training if there is fun involved.  Prove me wrong.

Switches and Transitions

Switches and Transitions are dynamic movements that we perform one after the other, creating the “flow” of Animal Flow. You can transfer from one form to another, or repeat the same one as a drill. Examples include the many variations for Underswitches, Side Kickthroughs, Front Kickthroughs, and Scorpions.”

– Combining 2-3 exercises is a great way to create a training effect beyond what’s possible by practicing only one drill in isolation.

Transitioning from crawling, to kick throughs into hollow-body rocks will challenge your body to adapt to several different patterns and planes of movement and muscular stress.

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Here’s an example:  Animal Flow Workout – Long Cycle Ground Based Movement 

These sequences can be practiced for extended periods of time to increase the demand on endurance and cardio.

A workout becomes an experience at this stage.  Switches and transitions is where people begin noticing they’re having fun. 

Flow

Flow: Your Flow is where the real magic happens. You’ll combine the Animal Flow moves by linking them together in a fluid sequence, seamlessly transferring energy from one move to the next. Flows may be a choreographed sequence practiced over multiple sessions, or may be created freestyle!”

No secrets here, it will take dedicated practice and patience to arrive at the “flow” stage.  Those who stick to the plan will make the gains needed to begin moving freely, improvising each movement as you go.  

Like words making a sentence, exercises stitch themselves together, “flowing”. 

In sync, the mind and body connection is extremely powerful.  Flow a physical demonstration of a mind that is free.

Bringing it home…

A balanced approach of traditional resistance training, gymnastics, and ground-based exercises can make a person dangerous.  Each philosophy improves the others.

If you’re a fan of Ido Portal’s methodology, Animal Flow is a logical training system to look into.  

Ido hasn’t produced a product for the masses yet, and I suspect he will never release a product.  

The current options to train under the Ido Portal Method are private online training or attendance of a seminar.  Not ideal and both cost a small fortune. Ido is in high demand right now.  

You could always cherry-pick drills from YouTube videos (as I have done), but you’ll never progress as quickly as if you were following a system.  

Training systems are designed with an end goal:  results.

If you’re interested in expanding your movement capacity, check out: Animal Flow 2.0

 

Cheers to discovering your movement capacity, 

Kyle 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are Several Other Ido Portal Push-Up Variations

Ido Portal

The effectiveness of the Ido Portal Method is no longer a secret.  

Ido’s knowledge is quickly becoming the premier system for building body weight dominance.

Before you watch the videos below, remember that the best gains are made when following a system, which is basically a recipe.  

Keep the movement recipe simple:

Find an effective training system and practice it relentlessly.

Everything works… for a little while.  Literally everything.  Some programs are more effective than others, but people who commit themselves to any one system are going to see results from their effort.  If you’re not getting results, it’s time for a self-audit to identify what’s missing.  Chances are high the audit will reveal it’s something you’re not doing, or in some instances, not doing, that’s holding you back.

Allow me to rant on the value of practice…

Practice until you are sick of practicing.  Then practice some more.  Had a bad training session?  Come back tomorrow and do it again.  Build

There is no substitute for hard work.  You’ve got to tear up your hands, sweat and have a willingness to be sore and humbled by the difficulty of the movements.  

Practice increases understanding, awareness and insight, motor control, strength/stability/endurance/power/mobility.

The “elite” become “elite” because they practice.  A lot of athletes who are household names across the world, practice 10x more than people think.  When you’re watching them on television, you’re seeing the finished product.  Thousands of hours of behind the scenes blood, sweat and tears prepared that athlete to execute on the main stage.

Exercise #1: QDR: Beginner Rotational Push-Ups

Now, while doing something is generally better than doing nothing, it is possible to practice incorrectly, which is why receiving feedback from a mentor or a teacher so valuable.  A teacher is an advanced practitioner.  The teacher, through experience, has acquired understanding, knowledge to share with students.

The best teachers maintain the humble student mentality despite being experts at their craft.

Exercise #2:  NDA Beginner Lateral Push Ups

With movement, more specifically body position, it is very easy and quite common to think that you are practicing technique correctly when you are not.

Improper body alignment or stopping short of a full range of motion are two extremely predictable situations that a teacher has the eye and understanding to verbally cue or re-position.  

Exercise #3: Beginner Hybrid Push-Ups


A person could slip any (or all) of these exercises into their current workouts and get the full benefit.  Remember, each of these exercises is a puzzle piece that makes up an entire program.  Progress will always be faster when working inside of a system, which is a well drawn out plan.

Exercise #4:  Dive Planks

Another problem the distanced onlooker has with Ido Portal’s current portfolio of work is there isn’t a clear and defined starting point for a beginner.  Beginner in my world means someone who’s unfamiliar with all of this stuff.  Not someone who’s banging out unsupported handstands, looking to move on to an iron cross.

 
Exercise #5: Push-Ups with Toe Touch

One option a beginner has is a tedious scavenger hunt through old information on Ido’s previous blog.  Before I started to assemble the puzzle pieces, this is what I did.  It sucked.

If sifting through hundreds of blog posts seems a bit tedious, there are other fantastic training programs similar to the Ido Portal Method approach. These books serve as a logical stepping stone into the Ido Portal Method movement philosophy.

Are they identical?  No.  Are they extremely similar?  Hell yes.  Will you get results?  Hell yes.  

Here are those alternative training systems, should you decide to investigate further…

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Animal Flow (Mike Fitch)

Overcoming Gravity (Steven Low)

Ultimate Athleticism (Max Shank)

Complete Calisthenics (Ashley Kalym)

A quick word about equipment…

Whether you’re a novice or advanced trainee, a simple equipment set up can catapult your progress and increase your enjoyment.  Actually wanting to workout because you enjoy the process is just as important as training intelligently.

For the beginner, gymnastics rings and parallettes are the best starting point and will provide big bang for your buck.  There are endless exercise progressions and variations using rings and parallettes.

L-Sit progressions, tuck and push-up variations, vertical and horizontal pulling exercises, hanging challenges just to name a few.

Nayoya Gymnastics Rings

The Nagoya Gymnastics Rings (Amazon, $30) currently have a 5-star rating and over 1,007 customer reviews.  You’re welcome to shop around, but for the price and quality, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal with similar quality.

Best-selling author and movement enthusiast Tim Ferriss has raved about these gymnastics rings after testing them himself in past newsletters and blog posts.  

Gymnastics rings are an unbeatable buy in my opinion.

For parallettes, I constructed mine from PVC using these exact instructions.  It was inexpensive, simple and fast to assemble.  They work fantastic.

If you aren’t in the mood to DIY, I recommend these parallettes.

Cheers to you.

Kyle

Bodyweight Training Works, Go To The Next Progression!

bodyweight training

Just when you think bodyweight training is worthless, let me quickly restore your faith.

I know what you’re missing.  It’s the same thing most people are missing when they are looking to leverage bodyweight exercise to boost strength, boost power or burn fat.

It’s called progression.

Progression can mean a few different things:

1)  Load progression (increase in weight)

2)  Skill progression (increase in motor skill demand)

I chose to limit the progressions to loading and skill.  Could you say volume is a progression?  Of course, but I am convinced that MORE VOLUME IS NOT WHAT MOST PEOPLE ARE LACKING WITH BODYWEIGHT TRAINING PLATEAUS.

Just the thought of marathon sets of exercises that you are already good at makes me cringe.  I’m guilty of avoiding essential increases in loading or skill in favor of more volume also.  It’s soothing to your ego knowing that you can dominate a bulk set of push ups or squats.  I’ve been there, I know first hand.  Comfort feels good.

But comfort doesn’t get your stronger, leaner or more athletic.  Especially if you’ve got lofty strength or aesthetic goals and you’re attempting to leverage bodyweight training to get there.

So, progression is probably what you are lacking, but the great news is that once you have identified that proper progression is the missing link, the solution becomes rather simple.

Take the push up for example.  If you can rip out 20-30 bodyweight push ups no problem, you need to take the next step to either a)  rear foot elevated push ups, b)  externally loaded push ups c) 1-arm push ups.

In some instances, I am going to suggest going straight to 1-arm push ups to restore that faith.

Why?  Because the first time you set up and lower yourself into the bottom of a 1-arm push up, your eyeballs are going to feel like they are going to pop out of your skull, catching on your orbital bones.  Seriously, you’ll feel like a weakling.  The point of sending you to the 1-arm push up gallows is to expand your thought process to how effective bodyweight training can be if you’re willing explore new realms.

Generally, a lot of people who are great at strict 1-arm push ups also have incredible upper body strength and as a byproduct, a decent physique.

The junction where functional performance meets physique is an ideal point for most people.  It really stinks to be all show and no go or all go and less than ideal show.  But who am I to make that statement, because if you enjoy either one of those scenarios, it is your prerogative to embrace that happiness.

So as I mentioned, 1-arm push ups aren’t necessarily where I want you to start working your progressions, because the point of exercise progressions is to make one’s way from one challenging movement to the next, progressing as fast as your strength, stability and motor control can tolerate.

In school, most people don’t go straight into Calculus, right?  They have to work through the progressions of basics of mathematics before they earn the right to tackle Calculus.

Bodyweight training, heck, all forms of physical effort work in the same way.

The above example involved upper body pressing, more specifically the push up.

However, progressing the lower body, particularly the squat can be just as simple.

As a beginner, you might start with improving your technique, strength and work capacity in the basic bodyweight squat.  After improving the aforementioned qualities, you will need to move on to higher level variations of the squat.  If you’re adamant about staying true to a minimalistic fitness approach like bodyweight exercise only, the next progression might be to elevate one leg onto a bench or other form of support, and perform what many call Bulgarian split squats, or rear foot elevated-single leg squats.

RFE split squats remove one foot from the base of support while simultaneously increasing the loading on the working leg.  Instead of two legs contracting to move your body up and down, you’ve now got one leg doing the work, an obvious increase in loading.

The next progression from the RFE split squat are either assisted bodyweight pistol squats or full bodyweight pistol squats.  I mentioned assisted bodyweight pistols because it might be helpful to hold on to something while you allow your body to “feel” the mechanics of an unsupported squat.  There’s no shame in assisting yourself until you’re physically read to let go and go for the fully unsupported bodyweight pistol.

As it stands right now, bodyweight pistol squats are the greatest lower body strength exercise known to man.  That’s a big and bold statement, but I cannot dream up another exercise that accomplishes as much as the free-standing pistol squat.  A bodyweight pistol is just the beginning, because adding load and varying duration of time under tension dropping into and out of the “hole” can both work to advance your performance.

It can be quite interesting to observe the right side/left side differences in balance, strength, stability and skill acquisition.

For me personally, I have found that my right side, which is my non-dominant leg, is much stronger than my left side.

So the bottom line is this… bodyweight training is phenomenal.  Just because you don’t have access to weights or you’re simply looking to switch up your training routine, doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice results.  The key is to understand your current performance, your goals and then choose the right progression to accelerate your arrival at the next level of performance and goal achievement.

Make sure that you are tracking your performance from workout to workout.  It’s important for tracking progress and creating the next plan of attack.

 

Cheers to bodyweight movement…

 

KG

 

 

Just Bodyweight Exercise

Quick Tips

Bodyweight training is making a serious comeback in my own training habits.

It’s easy to forget about how effective bodyweight exercise is.

I’m guilty of it for sure. But I’ve recently returned to what I consider the foundation of all exercise, basic bodyweight training. “Basic” doesn’t mean easy. Single leg squats, single arm push ups, hybrid pulling movements, handstands and crawling variations are some of the most challenging movements in the exercise rolodex. Especially when you hold yourself to strict technique.

Workout equipment is always going to be evolving and innovating, but the idea that you can get a highly effective workout anywhere and anytime is incredibly valuable.

The rules of bodyweight training don’t differ much from more traditional forms of resistance based training. There are advantages/disadvantages and sacrifices to every form of exercise when you think about it, and bodyweight strength and conditioning is no different.

Nearly all of the major movement patterns are present: pulling, pushing, squatting, lunging along with various forms of cardiovascular conditioning such as running, hybrid movements like burpees, mountain climbers, and crawling.

I used the word “nearly” in the previous sentence because there is still no viable way to load the hip hinging pattern using just bodyweight. Deadlifts are still a no go, especially if you are staying minimalist with your definition of bodyweight training.

However, since the rise of glute thrusts and other glute activation drills, strengthening the backside without equipment seems feasible. Progression is the key here, especially since many strong individuals will find that the double leg versions of bodyweight hip bridging and bodyweight hip thrusts just don’t load the backside enough.

Progressing to a single leg version of the hip thrust is the ticket here. Go for increased reps, slow the tempo of movement down or hold the top (lockout) position for time.

Let’s not forget about the vast amount of abdominal focused training that bodyweight exercise has to offer. Plank variations, hollow body rocks, crawling, slow mountain climbers and hanging leg raises are all incredibly challenging exercise when performed with strict technique and adequate time under tension.

Progressing the intensity -and therefore the training effect of bodyweight exercises- can also provide a unique challenge.

Knowing when to increase reps, increase time under tension, increase the intensity and skill challenge of a movement pattern all come into play here.

Single arm push ups are a great example here. The transition from a traditional push up to a single arm push up is drastic when it comes to the increasing demands in stability and loading. There is also a grooving issue early on, where the body simply hasn’t been exposed to what’s required physically to complete a quality rep/set of single arm push ups.

In these situations, I will either break up the movement or add assistance in the form of a resistance band.

Breaking up the exercise into its segments typically involves working the eccentric portion of the exercise first.

So, for the single arm push up, I will focus on the lowering portion (eccentric) exclusively for a few weeks, or until I have developed the control, strength and stability to progress to adding the concentric (ascending back to the top) portion of the exercise. Eccentric training isn’t sexy and even 3-5 seconds of lowering can feel like an eternity, but it’s a gateway method to arrive at the next logical progression of an exercise.

If you have access to a resistance band, you can loop it around your chest and receive assistance during key moments of the lift. For a single arm push up, it can be challenging to push out of the bottom of the exercise, and this is where the band assistance technique works wonders. Since the band will be stretched to the maximum at the bottom of the push up, you’ll receive the most assistance where it’s needed most.

Band assistance is fantastic for working up to chin ups, pulls ups and single leg squats.

If you’re looking for a simple yet effective bodyweight training session, try this one…

Set #1:
10 push ups
10 squats
10 hollow rocks
—> Repeat for 5 rounds, or work continuously for 10 minutes w/o rest.

Set #2:
10 chin ups
10 lunges (right/left)
10 yards and back crawling

Conditioning:
10 burpees every minute on the minute for 10 rounds.

Adjust the progression of each exercise to fit your strength and skill level. Everything can be adapted to your needs.

Leave the workout feeling invigorated and empowered knowing that you can handle your bodyweight…

Cheers to bodyweight training!

KG

How to Build Bodyweight Strength: 1-Arm Push Ups and Pistols

Quick Tips

Almost 8 years ago now, I stumbled onto Pavel Psatsouline’s bodyweight strength based book, “The Naked Warrior”.

The Naked Warrior

It was the Summer between my freshman and Sophomore year of college, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in strength and conditioning.

I became fascinated with bodyweight training.  One quick Google search led me to Pavel’s book, and I think I read it cover to cover in two days time.

The sad part, I didn’t act on any of his strategies.  It took me a couple of years to finally pick the book back up and re-absorb his methods.  I regret that big time.

Now that I think about it, reading through Pavel’s book was the first time that I was introduced to kettlebells.  They are featured throughout the book as effective loading progressions to make the exercises more difficult.  I didn’t actively pursue kettlebell training for another two years.

Damn.

Hindsight is always 20/20, right?

The Naked Warrior, provides a much needed look at how to develop raw strength through two simple (but not easy) movements:

  • 1-Arm Push Up
  • Pistol

I can remember reading reviews on the “The Naked Warrior, where customers were angry because the entire Naked Warrior book is based off of only two exercises.  I felt the opposite.  I thought it was extremely refreshing to read a book that was so focused.  One upper body movement and one lower body movement.  Both have tremendous carry-over into the real world and athletics.

Here is a great snapshot of Pavel executing the mother of all upper body pressing exercises, the 1-Arm Push Up…

1-Arm Push Up

1-Arm Push Up

Here is a still shot of the what I believe is one of the greatest lower body movements known to man…

The Naked Warrior Pistol

The Pistol (aka: Single Leg Unsupported Squat)

Both movements require a large muscular contraction, body tension and zen-like focus for completion with great technique.

Pavel’s teachings provide an extremely valuable lesson on methods to build high level strength.

The road to executing these two movements require large amounts of body tension and muscular contraction.  It’s simple and brilliant.

Here I am executing 1-arm pushups and pistols…



Training with 1 leg or arm at a time is a great way to uncover imbalance in strength, stability and mobility.  You might be able to notice, but my left arm is the weaker of the two.

I used to think that drills like the 1-Arm Push Ups and Pistols should be reserved for like circus performers and stuntmen.  Or, maybe they were just something you show off to your friends after a few beers.  But that’s because I didn’t fully understand their value.

Now I understand their value and incorporate these movements into my own training regularly while advocating their use in the training programs of others. Pistols and 1-Arm Push Ups building tremendous strength while teaching the trainee methods that can be used squeeze more out of their training.

Progression is the key here, as it is always the key to success in building a body that is strong, lean and able to move freely.

Not many people can drop down and perform a full bodyweight single limb movement on a whim.  There’s usually a fair amount of ramping up that needs to take place prior.  I understand this completely.  Both of these moves provide amazing bang for you buck, but they are advanced movements.  ADVANCED.

How do you move yourself into the advanced category?  Keep training, that’s how.  Keep working at it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

In a future post, I will give you a road map to executing your first 1-Arm Push Up or Pistol.  It’s a lot more simple than you might think.  Successful completion of both requires dedication and consistency.  You just have to keep working at it.

—>  No mention of fitness?  Not even once?

Strong is the New Skinny

You probably noticed that this post never mentioned fitness until right now.  In my opinion, fitness is nothing without the presence of strength.  Strong is the new skinny.  Spend time working hard building up your strength and your body shape will follow suit.

Cheers to harnessing your body to build crazy strength…

KG