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.  

Movement Training for Beginners

Animal Flow, Motion

Movement training for beginners is MAGIC.

While the physical challenge is new, gains generally come quick.  The early

It’s my experience that the best approach to (if there is one) casting a wide net to capture and practice many different movement training techniques, ideas and methods

Mixing the better elements of yoga, gymnastics, locomotion/crawling, natural movement methods and bodyweight efforts.

Examples of Beginner Movement Patterns

  •  Crawling
  •  Reaching
  •  Twisting
  •  Balancing
  •  Rolling
  •  Climbing
  •  Jumping
  •  Movement Sequences
  •  Improvised Movement

 

Beginner Movement Training

First, “movement” can mean a million different things.

Sneezing, walking, scratching an itch and scraping ice off your car’s windshield is all “movement”.

Movement will be described for the purpose of improving physical fitness.

I’d like to share ideas for the beginner who’s looking to upgrade their workout beyond lifting weights, sets/reps/rest, racing the clock, WODs and treadmills.

Ground based conditioning, or ground based movement is how I categorize equipment free bodyweight training.  I’m not looking to pioneer any new classification of exercise by describing it this way, they simply make sense to me.

So when I refer to a piece of the workout pie as ground based conditioning, I immediately think of crawling.

Crawling is an essential part of early human development, but revisiting basic and progressively difficult crawling patterns yields many benefits as an adult.

As a Dad, I watched my daughter move through the following progression:

Helpless laying 👉 Helpless sitting upright 👉 Quadruped Rocking 👉 Crawling 👉 Standing with assistance 👉 Walking with assistance 👉 Walking independently

Obviously this is a jargon-free description of her development, and each phase overlapped the other, but in general, this was her path to independence bipedal locomotion.

One interesting thing about my daughters timeline, is even though she’s hauling ass a round the house at 18 months of age, if she trips and falls, it’s a guaranteed face plant.

And there are quite a few stumbles, face plants and tears these days.

This leads me to believe the next phase of her movement development will likely be variations of gait (skipping, running, etc) and improving her ability to catcher herself during a fall.

As a guy who writes about physical fitness, movement, etc…

… one of the most incredible experiences is having an front row seat to a baby learning how to use their body from the very beginning.

It pried my eyes wide open and gave me a whole new appreciation for the process that we adults have overcomplicated.

Ground-based movement training is missing from the average person’s workout regimen, and it’s a key element.  

Ground based training is natural movement.  Free of gadgets.  Just you and your body moving through space as efficiently as possible.

Squatting on uneven surfaces, with a staggered stance.  Pressing up from the floor, stepping through to initiate walking.  Rotation.  A lot of workout plans do not address rotation, or limit rotational training to anti-rotation exercises to improve force absorption qualities.

You’ve got to be able to PRODUCE and ABSORB force.

Injuries.  People often get hurt when the stress to a given structure is beyond the structures tolerance.

Progressively expanding movement training by introducing palatable patterns and positions can help reduce injuries.

Supplementing resistance based exercise and natural bodyweight movement with a progressive mobility focused regimen just might be gold standard in injury prevention.

With this concoction, you’re gaining strength, movement IQ and useable range of motion of the joints.

Movement Training For Life

On one hand, I believe in general physical conditioning versus attempting to mimic the exact movements of daily living.

On the other hand, conditioning the body for common everyday movements makes a ton of sense.

Exertion is daily life often doesn’t look like the average gym routine.

There are no symmetric barbells, chalked up kettlebells or dumbbells waiting to be lifted and move.

Real world movement is less predictable.

We fall into and out of weird positions, often requires a on-the-go improvised movements and body positions in environments with uneven surfaces and odd shaped objects.

This is not to say barbells, kettlebells and dumbbells are bad.  There are FANTASTIC tools to leverage.  But at some point, you’re no longer in the gym, you’re no longer pistoning a barbell up and down for robotic reps.

And how about that gym perfect, flat backed, technically sound bodyweight squat?

1 out of every 50-60 squat looking movements in my life looks resembles an air squat.

Squatting in my life looks like something else entirely.  A hybrid combination of movements and transitions.

Maybe you’ve got to navigate moving from the floor to standing without the use of your arms.

The imperfections and contortions that exist in everyday real world movement start to become more and more obvious once you know what you’re looking for.

Interestingly, years of pounding on movement patterns didn’t make me a more efficient mover in the real world.  I mean, to some extent it did, but I started to encounter a lot of different scenarios where I felt weak, uncoordinated and immobile.

We cannot train for every quirky experience in life, but I strongly believe supplementing resistance and cardio training with movement rich tasks, challenges and ground based conditioning would help a lot of people increase their

I find myself squatting out of mechanical alignment, twisting, bending, reaching, rolling, lifting and moving objects with a technique that most gym fanatics would consider unacceptable.

Picking up heavy, awkward shaped, slippery sh*t from the garage requires a creative approach, which is rarely addressed in a structured workout.

Fully flexing the lumbar spine while assuming a modified lunge stance, driving off the forefoot while my feet slide inside of my Crocs.

This is life.

 

Sometimes I’m moving by fusing 2-3 of those patterns at one time.

When it’s time to perform in life, it’s time to perform.  Sometimes we get to step up to a heavy object, get situated and lift similar to our gym lifts.  Most times, this is not the case.

Much of movement in daily life is reaction-based, rarely planned and happens quickly.  There’s no time to externally rotate the hands, pull the shoulder blades down and back, tuck the rib cage, etc.

Real-life movement is unpredictable, deviating from “flat neutral spines”, perfect posture and ideal foot placement.

It’s life.

The human body is designed to move.  

Ground-based movement drills improve a person’s movement capacity and address a lot of these in-between life moments that a barbell squat or deadlift simply doesn’t.  

Improving your ability to interact with the ground, using nothing but bodyweight will help you as a mover, and probably make your traditional lifts that much better. 

And to be completely honest, engaging in movement-based training is as fun as it is challenging.

One great benefit of practicing movement based drills is how quickly a person builds confidence in unique and unfamiliar body positions.

We knowingly (and unknowingly) avoid activities we know our body isn’t suited for.  After a few months of movement training, this starts to shift.  You begin to look at daily tasks differently.  Situations you used to avoid become worthy challenges you’ll meet head-on with a new-found confidence in your abilities.

Twisting and rotational movements are absent from most workouts.

Walk into a membership-based gym and 95% of the people exercising are going to be grinding away on cardio machines, bicep curls, and bench press.

Why Don’t Fitness Magazines Write About Movement

Linear fitness activities are constantly promoted by mainstream fitness media.

We’ve got to bring this to light.

The fitness articles being written in Men’s and Women’s Health are nearly exactly the same as the articles that were written when a young and impressionable subscriber back in 2002.

Why?

Well, a big reason is consumers keep gobbling up the minutiae.

“Oh, no wonder I’m not 5% body fat.  The new training tip on the sidebar of the latest issue of Men’s Health says adding 2 additional reps to my favorite arm blaster circuit I’ve been working 2 days a week for the last 2 years will change everything”.

The writers at Men’s Health are not great movers.  They’re muscular, free of acne, great hair, STIFF and one-dimensional.

Picture perfect bilateral squats and not a prayer with any other movement outside of that.

I USED TO BE THAT GUY, SO I CAN IDENTIFY THESE PEOPLE WATCHING THEM MOVE.

Fitness magazines have also done a superb job at convincing people they need to to “look” a certain way.

The aesthetic industry is alive and well.

Write a creative yet informative article about movement training and how it can build a resilient, strong, lean and athletic body is challenging.

These magazines know what most guys and gals want:  minutiae over the best or newest techniques to build muscle, lose fat and get lean.

I’d shred my chest and core by ramping up the volume of lizard crawl versus laying lifeless on a bench while pressing weight up and down… ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

Rotation is a basic human movement action and training it consistently can provide some noticeable benefit with regard to performance and postural integrity.  It’s quite common to have people comment on their spine feeling “locked up” or “stiff”.

Insufficient mobility at the mid-back region can cause excessive motion at the lower back, as the lower back tries to pick up the slack to make everyday movements possible.

Rotational drills are great for training mid-back mobility while opening up the hip flexors and activating the powerful glute muscles.  The stretch from the hip to the shoulder is incredible.  

Injecting multi-planar and multi-joint exercises into a workout regimen can (and will)_ bridge the gap that many traditional compound lifts simply do not address.  

More examples… 

Movement 20XX exercises and sequences can be scaled for beginners and progressed for elite movers alike.  

Sequences are a series of pre-planned movements fused together.  Like a movement sentence.

Using Ido Portal’s movement classification system, Movement 20XX programming can be used in Isolation, Integration or Improvisation.  

Isolation:  Resistance Training, bodyweight strength, reps/sets, etc.

Integration:  Combining strength, flow and locomotion elements into movement pre-planned movement sequences.

Improvisation:  Moving freely about a space without a plan.

Learn more about Ido Portal here.

If you’ve never engaged in quality ground-based movement training, start by practicing drills in isolation.  Eero does a great job advocating this, but it’s worth mentioning in this post.  

Training patterns in isolation is best for learning movement mechanics and allowing the body to adapt properly.  The range of motion of each exercise can be modified to suit what you can comfortably handle at this moment and will improve with time and consistent practice.  

The human body is a brilliant adaptation machine.   

Most of my early ground-based movement flow practice involved spending focused time on 1 or maybe 2 movements in isolation.  I like to work new exercises with a “do less but do it better” type approach.    

As my movement efficiency improved, I began to string together 2, 3 even 4 exercises in a row, flowing and transitioning between each for reps or time.     

 

Every exercise has progressions leading up to mastery.  I cannot stress this enough.  Movements can be progressed for YEARS.  

Interested in getting a cardio conditioning effect from the workout?  Great.  Increase the tempo of each exercise or add time to the work set.  Flowing around a room for 8-10 minutes will elevate your heart rate as much as traditional cardio.  With the added benefit of training more movement patterns and improvisation to increase the brain’s processing speed.  

Crawling is great for loading the upper extremities, core, and sequencing.  Extremely slow tempo crawling remains one of the most eye-opening physical challenges for people.   

10-15 minutes of ground-based movement training will leave you exhausted, particularly if you’re new to it and inefficient.  

Are you going to be sore all over from this?  Yes.  Expect soreness in the days that follow.  

Newbies to ground-based movement training should consider implementing such training after the warm-up, but before resistance training in the day’s workout.  

Movement 20XX

Movement 20XX

Movement 20XX is a program I’ve become a huge fan of across the last year.

Eero Westerberg and I have a lot of similar ideas and approaches to building physical freedom, exploring different avenues of exercise and how to integrate those methods into a pre-existing regimen.

Practice these skills when the body is fresh.  

Training total body ground movements can improve all other areas of fitness.

For more information about Movement 20XX and how it can take your workouts to another level, check out the Movement 20XX website.

Watch for more posts sharing exercises, combinations, and flow!

 

 

Cheers,

Kyle