Bodyweight training is not new and it’s certainly not a passing fad. People have been figuring out ways to move their bodies around since the dawn of time. It’s a great way to improve our strength and health, and we can do it anywhere we have a bit of room.
But some ways of approaching it are better than others.
There are many bodyweight disciplines and training systems around these days.
Some are based on ancient practices like martial arts or yoga, while others are more or less forms of calisthenics, dance, and gymnastics. While these systems may seem quite different from each other on the surface, in reality, they share many of the same elements when broken down into their most basic parts.
There are many different ways of combining different whole body motions, but there are only so many ways each joint can move on its own.
For that reason, although each specific system may have been designed by a particular individual, there is probably no specific movement that was invented by anyone alive today.
We’re Not “Creating” – Just Reorganizing
What are the chances that throughout all of human history no one ever thought of swinging, jumping, and contorting their body in a particular way?
Pretty much, zero.
No single person can own any single movement – or even movement combination – but there are certainly individuals who excel at cataloguing sequences of movement, putting them together so they can be taught to others in a manageable way.
In this post, we’ll take a look at what separates one movement system from another, and we’ll give one particular example of a system that has drawn from many different approaches to create a well-taught and defined movement structure anyone can learn.
Defining Different Bodyweight Training Systems
Most bodyweight systems include some elements of strength, flexibility, and body control, with varying emphases on one or another of those traits. And of course there is a lot of overlap in movements and exercises across all bodyweight modalities.
What separates one system from another is its primary intent and rules for practice.
How Intent Defines a System
Whatever movements and transitions are included in any one system, that system’s intent is what makes it unique, and is what dictates the rigidity or fluidity of the rules by which it plays.
Some disciplines, such as yoga and many of the martial arts systems, were primarily designed for inward development of the individual practitioner, and therefore concentrate heavily on breath, focus, and body control. Other disciplines, such as calisthenics and gymnastics training, are primarily devoted to developing strength and skill.
The focus of the particular practice plays a role in determining whether they have rigid structures and sequences, like Ashtanga yoga sun salutations, or if they are more open to interpretation and improvisation, such as modern dance and other systems that pride themselves on creative expression.
Of course, when it comes to bodyweight training methods, one cannot forget about the artistic component of many of these disciplines. Within their structures are aspects of performance art either for spectators or aimed for the approval of its own practitioners.
Once again, this really depends on the intent of the movement system.
Systems that are purely devoted to building strength in certain basic movements and planes of motion are generally not too concerned with transitions between moves, outside of maintaining safety; whereas movement systems that are primarily designed for their artistic appeal may be more concerned with transitions between movements, movement sequences, and details of body alignment.
This would include all sorts of dance, some forms of yoga, hand balancing, and many of the martial arts. And there are disciplines that place an emphasis on both strength and art. Competitive gymnastics is the main system that comes to mind.
Combining Different Systems to Suit Your Own Needs
One thing we never do at GMB is push any kind of dogma or claim to be better than anyone else.
We’ve got things we’re great at (some movement-related, and some teaching-related), and we’ve got things we leave to others who can do them better. But that doesn’t mean we think you shouldn’t practice them.
- So, what if you want to blend some of the different elements present in these disciplines for your own needs?
- What if you want more strength, flexibility, balance, focus, body awareness, and you also want to express yourself artistically through a practice that turns your body into a moving piece of art?
Well, you can spend thousands of hours studying different disciplines, trying to balance what each one has to offer so you can figure out how to blend them into a single practice. Of course, you would probably have to give up your career because this would be a full time job.
In the end, you may or may not be successful.
Personally I feel it’s better to turn to someone who has already spent those many hours exploring and studying different systems.
And if that person has put together a scalable, teachable system that incorporates these elements into one movement discipline that can be used by people who are not elite athletes or movers, then that’s a no brainer.
One guy who’s done a great job of this is Mike Fitch with the movement practice he calls Animal Flow.
Why Animal Flow is a Great Combination of Disciplines
Animal Flow is a movement system designed to help people improve strength, flexibility, body control, and coordination. These movements and transitions fit together in a way that emphasizes artistic, fluid practice as well.
From the very beginning, Mike has made it clear that he did not invent any of these movements. Rather, he has drawn from his varied experiences in yoga, gymnastics, parkour, break dancing, and other movement styles, to select the elements that go into Animal Flow.
What really makes Animal Flow unique is the way the movements are catalogued, sequenced, and taught to string together the system as a whole.
Mike designed the system to be taught to people of almost any level so that, at its most basic, a beginner can string together at least a few movements into a beginner flow on their very first day, and at its most advanced, it could be used to challenge high level athletes to work on athletic traits they may have neglected.
Subtle changes in leverage and speed allow the jumps between skills to be small enough so that people can use the system to continue to progress for a long time without getting stuck at a certain level.
Basics and Transitions in Animal Flow
The basic forms of Animal Flow are Ape, Bear, and Crab (the ABCs of Animal Flow), and all movements and transitions stem from those.
In every moving form and transition, the emphasis is on contralateral movement, meaning the movement occurs across the body. So in a traveling bear, you would move your left arm and right foot forward at the same time, then vice versa.
Performing these contralateral movements with control helps to build better body awareness and coordination.
The benefit of working with a system like Animal Flow is, rather than being locked in to one discipline – such as yoga, martial arts, dance, or gymnastics – you are able to learn something from many different disciplines, making your practice more well rounded and adaptable.
This well-rounded approach fits very well with how we at GMB look at training.
GMB and Animal Flow Work Very Well Together
Animal movements – namely the bear, monkey, and frogger – play a big role in our program at GMB.
We’ve seen the benefits of incorporating these fun movements that are likely not part of our normal daily routines. While we do teach and train with other skills, the so-called “animal” movement patterns are a great way to work on improving your strength, flexibility, and body control.
What speaks to us most about Animal Flow, though, is the simple, easy-to-learn way Mike has set up the system. Many of our clients have supplemented their practice with Animal Flow in various ways, and have seen a lot of benefit from combining our material and his.
Which shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’ve been collaborating for quite a while.
A Few GMB and Animal Flow Collaborations So Far
We’ve also worked with Mike on several projects at this point, because we just love collaborating with likeminded individuals who embrace movement, not dogma.
- When we released Floor Two, we asked Mike to put together a bonus tutorial for us, and he obliged with a handbalance flow. A series of fun movement patterns that was a great introduction to his style of instruction.
- Mike then asked us to come up with a bonus video for Mike’s hand balancing DVD. It’s great to be able to work with someone who’s open to different movement approaches and is always looking to learn new things.
- In fact, this year, Mike and I also taught a seminar together in Miami, FL, where we took our different backgrounds and ideas, and came together to create four unique movement flows.
I don’t want to make any promises, but chances are good you’ll see Mike and I working together again in the future.
In any event, all this should be a pretty good indication that what we do at GMB and what Mike is teaching fit together extremely well if you are willing to experiment a bit.
If Nothing Else, Remember That Your Movement is Your Own
When you remember that moving your body and practicing needn’t be attached to any particular dogma, your world becomes much more open to learning from any discipline that will help you.
Explore all that’s out there, and practice the aspects of different systems that appeal to you.
Some of it you’ll have to put some time into before you understand what will be helpful for you, but frankly some you’ll just know isn’t what you want to do.
And that’s okay.
Don’t be Afraid to Explore and Experiment
Everyone has something a bit different to offer and approaches and attitudes will likely fit you better in some than others.
This may change too as your own circumstances and situation change. There’s so much valuable information out there, it’d be a shame to miss out on something that could help you.
Be critical, but open.
When you start seeing the art of physical skill as belonging to nobody and everybody at the same time, your practice and abilities will be free to take off and soar.
Animal Flow is a great example of a bodyweight movement system that draws from many disciplines, to address strength, flexibility, and body control.
If you’re looking to improve your overall movement abilities, we highly recommend adding Animal Flow into your practice.
Of course, you might find something else that interests you, and that’s fine too.
Got a question or comment in this post?
Image via chiarashine