Even the most dedicated woman feels the need to break away from the gym once in a while. Getting outdoors provides new motivation. But can you get a good workout using only your bodyweight? Absolutely.
In fact, one new bodyweight workout, Equinox’s Animal Flow, takes the concept to a whole new level. With names like the scorpion reach, static beast and the traveling ape, the workouts mimic the way animals move — and it’s not easy. “The key to the program is movement,” says Mike Fitch, Equinox’s Animal Flow creator. “We challenge the attendee to move through multiple planes of motion, using the entire body as one unit, rather than just isolating joints like most traditional programs.”
Fitch explains that by having both feet and hands on the ground, every muscle in the body is “on” and active. “If we are using more muscles, that means more oxygen, which also means more calories are being burned,” he says. “In short, Animal Flow devotees become better movers, increase their cardiovascular demand, burn more calories and have the potential to build perfectly symmetrical physiques.”
Bodyweight training is part of the current “back to basics” fitness trend, says Neal Pire, MA, CSCS, FACSM, founder of Inspire Training Systems in New Jersey and author of Plyometrics for Athletes at All Levels (Ulysses Press, 2006). “It’s simple, cheap, can be done almost anywhere, and is non-intimidating for beginners.”
We typically don’t move our bodies enough through these types of movements, says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets — Without the Personal Trainer Price Tag (William Morrow, 2011). “Bodyweight workouts are a great way to use our muscles in a natural way. It also keeps the connections to muscles that we lose with age. It’s 3-D, functional and anyone can do it.”
These exercises are designed as a total-body progression that works muscles from several angles, Pire says. “For example, Japanese push-ups stress the same muscles as military push-ups but through a broader range of motion with multiple directions of load. The progression ‘connects the dots’ from the core stabilizers to the limbs.”
The following workout is a hybrid of traditional bodyweight workouts melded together with contributions from Fitch’s original Animal Flow plus variations from Pire and Holland. Try this workout on alternate days from your regular weight workout, or choose a couple of moves as part of a dynamic warm-up. “It may help you lift better, improve flexibility, prevent injuries and fix muscular imbalances,” Holland says. The entire routine takes about 30 minutes, depending on the number of reps and time spent in the isometric modes. Expect to torch between 400 and 500 calories an hour.
Setup: Get on all fours with your feet slightly wider than your hips, your hands about 6 inches in front of your head, your hips hiked up and your head down toward the ground; prop up on your toes.
Action: Lower your head toward the ground and then immediately bring your head and chest up into an arc, as if diving toward the ground, as you simultaneously lower your hips toward the ground and raise up your chest; your hands and feet remain in place. Then push back up to the starting position, lifting your hips and straightening your arms in a modified Downward Facing Dog. Continue this flowing push-up for 10 to 15 reps.
Setup: Roll on to your side and prop yourself up on your left elbow, keeping it directly under your shoulder with your forearm on the ground in front of you.
Action: Keep your body in a straight line, right leg stacked directly on top of your left leg, and raise your hips off the ground, arm down to your side. Shoulder, hips, knees and ankles should form a straight line. Raise your arm up toward the ceiling while maintaining good form; repeat five times and switch sides.
The Underswitch (From Equinox’s Animal Flow)
Setup: Start by sitting on your glutes with the your feet and knees hip width and your hands shoulder width (not shown). Your fingers should point in the opposite direction of the toes, and your hips should be roughly equal distance between the hips and heels and hips and hands so the body resembles a capital “M” from the side.
Action: Lift the hips an inch above the ground. Now you are in a static crab position. Next, lift a foot and the opposite hand at the same time. Then lift the heel of the foot that is still in contact with the ground to start the rotation. As the leg travels underneath the body and the body over top of the traveling leg, you’ll then bring the traveling arm and leg down to meet the ground in a perfect static beast. You can then repeat the process to return to your start position (static crab). Try performing the underswitch to both sides.
Crazy Crab Walk
From the underswitch, raise your hips into a high bridge and then perform a crab walk front and laterally.
Setup: Balance on your hands and feet with your front facing the ceiling and your hips pushed upward.
Action: Keeping your hips raised, “walk” forward and back using your hands and feet, then move 10 steps to the right and reverse 10 steps to the left.
Scorpion Reach (From Equinox’s Animal Flow)
Setup: Begin in a push-up or straight arm-plank position, hands shoulder width, feet together and shoulders slightly in front of the hand placement. (Consider the moving leg your “scorpion tail,” while the leg that stays in contact with the ground will be your base leg.)
Action: Start by bringing your scorpion tail leg underneath the body, pulling the knee toward your opposite wrist. Keep the toes of the scorpion leg pointed. From here, the leg travels out and up in a circular pattern as you push your head between your straight arms, hips drive up toward the ceiling, while your eyes are focused on your base leg.
The scorpion tail (leg) will continue to travel up and around until it arches over the top of the body. Once you are in the full reach position, the base leg should be slightly bent at the knee, the heel should be off the ground, with the base heel rotated outward. You can hold the end position for a couple of breaths before bringing it back around and underneath the body to the scorpion load position. Then return the leg back to the push-up position and repeat on the other side.
Setup: Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart, hands on hips and core engaged.
Action: Shift your weight to the left leg and step out sideways with your right leg and land gently, knee bent (keep left leg straight) with your toes and knee aligned, pointing to 2 o’clock. Keeping your feet in this position, shift your weight evenly between both feet as you stand back up and then lower into a wide-stance squat; rise back and shift back into a left side lunge while keeping your feet stationary. Repeat the side lunge to a wide squat five times on each side and return to the starting position.
Setup: Get on your hands and knees on the floor, knees directly under your hips and hands under your shoulders; toes point away from your body. Engage your core and position your spine in a straight, neutral position. Do not allow your spine or rib cage to sag or arch.
Action: Reach forward with your right arm and right knee and pull yourself forward as you prepare to use your left arm and left knee. Alternate the movement from left side to right, pulling yourself forward over the planted arm and knee each time. Continue “crawling” for 15 times on each side.
Static Beast Reach (From Equinox’s Animal Flow)
Setup: Start on your hands and knees with your toes tucked under and digging down into the ground. The hands should be shoulder width, while the knees and feet are hip width.
Action: “Activate” your beast by engaging the abs, squeezing the glutes and raising the knees exactly an inch off the ground. Work up to a minute holding this position, being sure that the knees stay an inch from the ground and the hips remain level with the shoulders. Increase intensity by lifting one foot up slightly (high enough to slide a piece of paper underneath it), without rotating the body.