Using Animal Movements to Build a Broad Base of Skill and Strength

We use a lot of “animal movements” at GMB, and these kinds of movements are becoming more and more popular in the fitness world.

What’s with the obsession with “animal movements”? People get really caught up in the naming of these movements, and who “invented” them, etc. Are they really any better than any other types of movement?

In short, here’s Andy’s answer:

It’s just movement!

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(2:05) Where Ryan first learned some of these movement patterns.(3:27) How to do basic animal movements(6:55) The strength and motor control concept of animal movements.(9:40) The biggest benefit for these movements.(11:10) How versatile are these patterns?(12:06) It is more than just moving around on the ground.(17:15) Animal movements for stamina and conditioning

Andy: All right.

Ryan: That’s how we’re going to start from now on. I like that.


Andy: All right. So welcome to ye olde, with an E, GMB Fitness Show. This is Jaunty Ryan and I’m Andy and we’re going to be spending the next 20 minutes plus or minus talking about animal movements.

Ryan: Animal movements.

Andy: And pole movements.

Ryan: My dog had a huge movement this morning by the way.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: Is that what we’re talking about?

Andy: It is. It’s very important, very, very important – in the fitness industry, we all know you have to give credit to the person who invented the exercise and so that’s why animals. Animals invented all of the exercises. So animal movements is what we’re going to be talking about and seriously, locomotor movement patterns that we use a lot actually. We use in many of our programs and a lot of our teaching and coaching and in all of our seminars. Very useful. We did not invent them. Neither did anyone else. Animals did.

Ryan: Yes, they did.

Andy: And so we’re going to be talking about some of our favorite ones, why we use them, how we use them, some of the things we think are dumb about the way some people use them because I mean what would a GMB show be without us talking about how something besides us is dumb and we talk about how we’re dumb too. So I think that’s OK. It’s there, right?

Ryan: You got to have that balance.

Andy: You got to have the balance. I mean we can’t be 100 percent positive all the time. We like to be encouraging but some things are dumb and everyone should stop doing those things.

Ryan: And we will let you know.

Andy: Yes. So Ryan, why don’t you kick it off? What are some of – let’s start with some of your favorites. OK? We’ve talked about some of them lately, but yeah.

Ryan: Well, just even before we go into some of my favorite movements, I’m sure you did too back in gym class way back when I remembered doing some of these movements. As a matter of fact, even over here in judo, these are a big part of the warm-up over here and to be honest, you start off with those here in judo as a warm-up and then they turn into a partner drill, which is pretty cool.

But going back to some of my favorite movements, I like the bear, the bear walk and just to let you know for those of you who aren’t aware of some of these animal movements, the bear walk is basically where you have your arms straight and your legs straight with your butt up into the air. It kind of looks like an A and that’s why when we teach it, we say to start off with the A frame. That’s just kind of the position you want to do.

Andy: We should just go on at this point and say that a lot of these have different names in different place.

Ryan: Yeah.

Andy: Ryan will be teaching the bear and somebody will say, “That’s the monkey, you idiot!”

Ryan: Exactly right. So I mean whatever. This is just a name that we put on it. Feel free to call it whatever you want. OK? It’s just movement. So anyway, I like to call that the bear walk. Now, recently – actually I think it was – it was on the forum, actually our forum. Someone was talking about bear crawls in the discussion. What’s the difference between the two?

Well, in the bear crawl, apparently the bear crawl has your legs bent with your butt – and it’s lowered. I actually call that the catwalk. So again, it really doesn’t matter what it’s called just as long as you understand what is happening within the movement. So we got the bear walk, which your legs and your arms are straight and we will talk about some variations later. But there are many different variations.

The second one that I absolutely love, what I call the monkey. So you’re sitting in as deep as a squat as you can. You place your hands to the side and you put weight on to your arms in order to jump your body to the side and land in a squat again. So you’re traversing laterally, performing the monkey.

Something that’s very similar to that, which is also one of my favorite movements, is called the “frogger”. Now for those of you our age, you will probably remember the Frogger video game. I remember playing that in a Godfather’s Pizza all the time when I was young.

Andy: Yes.

Ryan: Frogger, baby. So basically all you’re trying to do is you’re just hopping forward. So it’s just like the monkey but you’re going forward or even backward, depending on what you’re after.

Andy: Can we just stop talking about locomotor patterns and start talking about like those tabletop video games from the pizza joint? Because that’s a much better show topic.

Ryan: Seriously. And we would – oh, let’s just – OK. We’re done talking about animal movements. Galaxy, baby. That was just – that was it. That’s where it was. Anyway, we probably should go back to it.

Andy: Sorry to interrupt.


Andy: OK. So yeah, so the bear, the monkey, the frogger, these are the ones that we use a lot and we use a lot of other ones. But these three, we use a lot of. So let’s talk a little bit about why those three – maybe why we use these locomotor patterns instead of just a more traditional callisthenic movement or exercise. Maybe more generally and then let’s get to the specific moves.

Ryan: OK. OK. Well, the way that we like to look at it is we break things into three groups. We have the strength. We have the flexibility and then we have the motor control. So in the very beginning when you’re starting a movement, we first want to see if you can actually get into one of these movements. So looking at the bear, why would we want to use the bear?

Well, the bear is a good way to check and see how a person’s flexibility is in their hamstrings and their lower back, even their wrist and their shoulders and to prep them to actually start to get them ready to train other things. So it can be an assessment of sorts, right?

So this is kind of how we like to use it. So imagine a person who has been sedative [0:06:10] [Phonetic] for quite a while and this could be a person who up through high school and even maybe a little bit in university played some sport. But they took a break. They go and they start working again and maybe they’ve been sitting in their chair for the past 10 some years. They want to get back into working out.

Just jumping right into a workout might not be the best thing for them. Well, using these animal movements, you can kind of work your way back into being able to get your body, so that it’s prepared to move. That’s just one example. Of course there are tons of different examples of how to do it. But this is how we like to use it.

So again, we have the strength, flexibility, and the motor skills. The strength portion of it is loading the body by just using your body weight and then putting it into motion which is the motor skill component, the motor control. Basically do you have control over your body? Are you able to basically walk and move around in these animal patterns?

So very broad way of looking at it is that way. Another thing too, they’re kind of fun and so when you’re performing them, you don’t have to worry about repetitions.

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: Right? So we like to do this and look at it in time, so setting your clock for a specific amount of time and just moving your body. Not even worrying about repetitions, but just trying to work towards a particular amount of time. So that’s just one example of why we like to use them.

Andy: Yeah. I also think there’s – there are other benefits too. I mean not to any specific move but locomotor movements in general. Well, one, you’re coordinating your whole body. We always like to talk about you practice movements, not muscles, and some people will say, “Well, the pull-up, yeah, you don’t really use your legs,” and yeah, it’s debatable. You can use your legs in a pull-up or whatever.

But when you talk about crawling around on the floor or rolling or sliding around or whatever, any of these movements you can see very quickly and very easily how it uses the whole body in a coordinated fashion, right? You’re talking about leg and arm strength, flexibility and control, all of them happening at the same time and there’s something very cool about that.

People can see not just if I squat a lot, then I will have stronger legs which will make me more solid for anything I’m doing standing up. All right. That’s great. Squats are wonderful for that. But being able to squat down and then jump and crawl around on the floor, people can see easily and feel how they might apply that in a situation where they have to crawl under something, duck under a table and grab something. You know, crawl behind something to – you know, anything.

But these movements resemble – well, they are, but they resemble movements that we will probably use at some point in life and one of the things I love about teaching these is that people can see the applicability a lot faster than they can with something like a muscle-up.

Ryan: Exactly.

Andy: I mean muscle-up, they say, “Well, if you ever need to pull yourself up onto a ledge.” How many times have you ever pulled yourself up onto a damn ledge?

Ryan: But how many times do you have to get up and off the ground, right?

Andy: Yeah.

Ryan: So yeah.

Andy: If you do parkour, you pull yourself up on the ledges a lot. If you’re a firefighter, yeah, whatever, great. That’s wonderful. It’s important for those situations.

Ryan: Yeah.

Andy: But like a muscle-up does not have the obvious applicability of something like a bear crawl, right? So that to me I think is maybe the biggest benefit for anyone. You can try these movements, feel how strong, how flexible, how coordinated you feel, and know in similar movements, similar motions and similar applications how strong, flexible, and coordinated you might be in the real world.

So it gives you a great, like you said, assessment. But it gives you just a great way to benchmark and know where you’re personally at. I think that is maybe the most valuable part from the perspective of someone training.

Ryan: I love that. Yeah. I mean it’s practical, right? And then because – you mentioned you can take it into crawling and going behind things. It’s also very tactical.

Andy: It’s very tactical.

Ryan: It’s very tactical and yeah. I won’t get into that. Yeah, a good point though. I mean – and this is the thing. You don’t need anything of course to do this but like you mentioned before, it’s going to be a good gauge as to what’s going on with your body. You will know. I mean you will get down and you’re on your knees and you’re on your hands and you try and crawl around. You’re going to feel like, “Oh, you know what? I’m not able to really maybe do something,” or maybe you find that you’re able to do something that you didn’t think you could.

Andy: You might find that you can do something but you can’t do it for more than 60 solid seconds.

Ryan: Sure.

Andy: That’s something that surprises a lot of people who say, “Oh, this is easy.”

Ryan: Yeah.


Ryan: These are some things – I mean we cover these in our seminars and of course like everything, we start with the basics. But there are so many different variations of this movement, of these movements. Why? Because it’s really – it’s endless. I mean you can create …

Andy: Well, it’s evolution.

Ryan: That’s right, exactly.

Andy: Look at all the animals. All of them move.

Ryan: Yeah.

Andy: So therefore animal movements are extremely varied. We’ve got my favorite that I think is underserved is the penguin walk.

Ryan: The penguin walk very – when you’ve had too much to drink, it will really help you out.

Andy: Well, people don’t realize it’s an excellent way to improve dorsiflexion. It’s a straight leg strength.

Ryan: Just trying not to laugh, man. You ruined it. You ruined it.

Andy: Oh, that, sorry.

Ryan: No, but that’s good. We’re joking around but the thing is really it’s – it would be very easy for us to just say, “Yeah, just get on the ground and move around and do,” kind of thing. But of course we do need to show you a few things and explain how to do it in order for you to get some good results out of it. So …

Andy: On the other side of the coin, we could also contrive like a thousand variations of esoteric movements and that’s useful because you never run out of things to do and that’s handy. It’s good to have certain codified things where you can say, “OK. Given this bear pattern, what happens if we bend our legs now? What happens if we bend our arms? What happens if we change the timing or move in a circular arc pattern instead of a straight pattern?”

All of these variations are really good but instead of getting too complex with things to the point where your goal is to do the most complex version, instead we would like to start with the basics where your goal is to really control that basic and really feel like you’re at home in it. Then you add other things.

Ryan: Right. Just like you said, the feeling part of it. I mean this is a great way to see where you are that day and let’s say you just use the bear and you’re working on the bear and you just decide to use it in your warm-up every single day from now on.

So when you first start off, you might not be able to feel really what’s going on. You might feel stiff or something like that. But over time, in using this every single day, just a little bit, just a little bit, maybe 30 seconds or something, you’re going to start feeling things in your body and your body is going to start talking back to you and giving you feedback.

And that, that is a good thing because it’s going to let you know where you are that day, and you can use that to judge everything else really. I think that’s really cool. This is something that we do over here in all of my classes of course and that is we always start off with these three movements, the bear, monkey, frogger, no matter what, after a warm-up.

But – and this is the way not just for the people in the class but also for me to see where those people are that day. So it’s an assessment for both of us,


Ryan: Yeah, let’s actually get into like how can we use these movements. How can we kind of train these movements? So …

Andy: Yeah, there are definitely a few approaches. Obviously our friend Mike Fitch has Animal Flow and so in that case, the entire training session is based around some locomotor patterns, either sequenced or improvised or whatever. So that’s definitely one way to do it where the entire thing is all these animal movements. The other one is like you mentioned actually at the very beginning, judo and when I was doing martial arts as a kid too, we would start out every class with laps around the entire dojo in like five or six different locomotor patterns. It’s great for a warm-up.

What are some other ways? So assuming that you don’t want to go full animal, and you don’t want to start growling when you work out like …

[Crosstalk] [0:15:16]

Ryan: Well, let’s actually go back and look at using some of these movements as a warm-up for specific exercises. So …

Andy: Great.

Ryan: I’m just going to look at this completely outside of the body weight world. Let’s look at barbell squats. OK? So let’s say you’ve got a barbell squat session. So what could be a good way to warm up and hit the hip flexors, but also work on your squat in order to get you really prepped and ready for the squat is to use the monkey and the frogger.

So as I mentioned before, the monkey is traversing laterally. So what this is going to do is help on the twist and of course loading each side of your body equally. So you kind of get prepped, get the blood flowing for that and then you finish up with the froggers which is actually very similar to the actual squat component where you’re equally loading the hips and the lower body as well as the back of course when performing this movement.

So not overdoing it but just doing this enough to get the blood flowing, maybe get a little bit of a sweat going on, so that you’re good and ready for your barbell work. So that’s just one example of how to do that.

Another example would – if we’re looking at the bear. I’m going to go back and let’s look at the body weight kind of world. Let’s say that we’re working on the handstand. Let’s throw that out there, the bear. The bear can be a great movement to help you prep for your handstand work. Why? Well, you’re going to be working on your wrist. You’re going to be working on pushing away from the ground, so you’re going to be working on that shoulder elevation, which is going to be warming up the shoulder caps – the joint caps of the shoulder.

You’re also going to have your butt up into the air. So it’s going to get you upside down and get your whole body in the mindset ready to start working on the handstand. So that’s just an example of how you can use that before you do some of the other exercises. If you look at it just as in a workout sort of thing as well, you can take these movements and put them at the end of your workout in order to use them as a stamina set, more of a conditioning sort of thing.

So let’s say you set your clock for three minutes. That’s a long time, right? I mean if you’re doing these movements for three minutes, that’s pretty heinous and finishing up with three minutes of bear walk or maybe even taking those three movements, the bear, the monkey and the frogger and using them within those three minutes. It’s a great finisher.

So maybe start off with the bear. During those three minutes, you start to get tired. So you shift into the monkey. Your hips are starting to get tired and so you move back into the bear and then from there, you go into the monkey – or pardon me, the frogger, and then maybe back to the monkey. So you can switch things up but you can keep going.

So you’re continuously working on your stamina, working towards those three minutes. But because you have three movements, you’re able to go in and out of them and I don’t want to say give yourself a break but take the focus to another part of the body, to allow that other part to get a little bit of a rest before you go back into it.

So those are just two big – actually three, the squat, the barbell squat, the handstand and then using these movements at the end of your workout as examples, so three examples there,.

Andy: Yeah, I think that’s really good and depending on why you’re using them, you might choose to use them in different ways. We like to talk about progression of skills in some cases and there are some skills that they have a clear linear progression. Like, this skill is more than this skill. But some of them, a lot of these locomotor patterns, one might be a more complex version of this one. But that doesn’t mean that this one is always better to use, right?

Ryan: Exactly.

Andy: So if you’re using for example froggers for your squat warm-up, that’s really great because it’s helping you not just sink down into the squat but moving your hips in and out of the end range of motion, right? You’re warming up around that bottom position, not just in it. So that’s really good but we also have advanced variations on the frogger where you might extend your legs. You might go into almost a handstand. You might do these other things, but you’re not going to use those as part of your squat warm-up.

They’re not useful or appropriate for it. So if that’s your application, well then complexity isn’t the goal. Just doing the right version for that situation is the goal, right?

Ryan: Very good point.

Andy: But if you’re using these for skill practice, for motor control improvement and things like that, well then complexity is your friend, right? And you want to continually increase that with good form and smoothness and we haven’t really touched on this too much. But when you’re doing these things, you want to try to do them quietly, smoothly.

You don’t want any – well, depending on the movement, you might not want any hard breaks in the movement. You might want it to smoothly flow through. There are all these things, the transitional aspect, but the key though is that you’re not always trying to – if you’re doing it for skill work, you do want to increase your level but you’re not always trying to increase complexity, depending on the application.

So that may be – as coaches – earlier I said as maybe a student or an athlete, I like it because it gives you a chance to see where you’re at. But as coaches, one of the things we like about this is that they’re so versatile and like many exercises. But we can use the same exercise and use it in different ways. We can use it as an assessment. We can use it as an exercise for different purposes, as a warm-up, as a cool-down or any kind of different thing.

That’s part of what makes these just so useful and why so many people use them, I think.

Ryan: Yeah. Nailed it.

Ryan: Something else I want to just kind of add to what you said is looking at the complexity portion of it, the cool thing about these movements that I like is even if you are working on a complex portion of it. Let’s say you’re working on getting your hips as high as you can when you’re performing the frogger.

As you start to tire and you drop down into – I don’t even want to say the lower levels because it’s simply just a variation of it, right? Because actually we will find that some of the more complex versions of these skills might be easier for you.

So then it might be a matter of motor control or strength or flexibility. So that’s kind of a different topic. But getting back and looking at dropping down a few notches, the cool thing is, is when you go back and you’re focusing back on the basis as your form drops from the higher levels, you’re still working on that skill on your flexibility, on your strength and on your motor control, so that next time you come back to it, there’s a great chance that you’re going to be much better at that higher level.

Andy: Yeah, and just to completely take this just another step further, you can take the same movement and you can work on it and you can drop the level of motor complexity and still be working at the same degree of strength development.

Ryan: Yes. Yes.

Andy: You still will be requiring the same degree of flexibility. So strength flexibility, motor control. No matter where you’re at, no matter what you’re trying to develop, the same movement can work at the – it’s not like here’s a variation which is a level five of all three attributes, right? It might be a level five, a level three, and a level eight of strength flexibility and motor, right?

So you can vary each of those independently for a lot of these movements. Not all of them of course, but for a lot of them. You can always make sure that you’re – if you get to the point where you can’t do something at a certain level of complexity, with good form anymore, but you still feel like you can get more out of it strength-wise, well then you can drop the complexity level and keep working on it. So I hope that was fairly clear.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s clear. Just to maybe clarify just a bit more, so we’re talking – let’s look at the bear, the A frame that we were talking about earlier. So within this, when you’re in this position, of course you’ve got the strength. Maybe in the very beginning, you can only keep this position for so long before your shoulders tire out.

But maybe your hip flexors are tight. OK, that’s the flexibility portion of it. Then when you put it into motion, that’s the motor control, right? So dropping back down and actually keeping the same position, but simply bending your arm, that’s going to take more strength.

So that’s kind of what we’re talking about as far as changing things up and then when you go back after working the bent arm bear, because that’s such a strength-oriented movement, as you go back and straighten your arms, you’re still going to be able to work on strength. But it’s just going to be at a different level. So you can take your focus maybe more towards the flexibility side of it or the motor control. So just a broad example and I think it’s obvious that you and I can talk about this for days and days.

But basically it comes down to everything. You should be mimicking animals in nature and so it’s just an excuse to go outside and so the next time you see a bird fly off of a power line, I think you should climb up and try and see if you can jump off of that power line and fly yourself. So that’s how we can spend more time working on animal movements. Do you agree? Is that OK? I mean …

Andy: That’s realistic fallacy, but it’s a sure thing.

Ryan: There we go.

Andy: So yeah, great – this is obviously, like you said, something we talk about a lot. But it’s very useful and so if you want to practice these things, just start practicing and explore and you will probably find a lot of things. We also are around to try to teach more different ways to use these effectively.

So definitely play with them. If you’ve dismissed them before or if you’ve gotten stuck with them before or whatever, try some different things again. Look around YouTube for some videos and get some inspiration and then try things and start seeing if there are different ways you could use them from how you tried to use them before.

Ryan: Yeah.

Andy: They’re pretty valuable.

Ryan: Yeah, sounds great. All right. And when looking at some of those videos online, be sure to check out our YouTube channel because we have quite a few videos on there about these movements. So …

Andy: And ours are better than anyone else’s.

Ryan: They’re the mostest bestest out there. I think we can end with that.

Andy: We can.

Ryan: Thanks for listening everybody and we will catch you next time. See you.

[End of transcript]

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