Animal Moves – Free your body

Every time you watch one of those fascinating animal documentations on Discovery Channel you might think, that the variety of animal movements are almost limitless. Animals crawl and meander, walk and run, jump high and leap far, do somersaults, back somersaults or roll to the side, brachiate, contort their bodies and much more. Most of us don’t really wonder about it or don’t even give a thought to this art of movement. However, others are plagued by joint pain and muscle cramps as soon as they see such scenes. And as this is not enough, watching animals moving around you easily get the feeling that they really enjoy doing it.

For us, this is almost unbelievable as the largest part of the population is not physically active at all or insufficiently. And those who are physically active often overdo it. It seems as we have forgotten everything that is in our genes and in our bodies. Either we are only able to do basic movements, like getting up, walking straight and sitting down, or we train our muscles excessively in monotonous and unnatural sequences. It is not unusual that some people have the flexibility of a concrete slab due to their big and stiff muscles.

When watching animals you can recognize that they move intuitively. They don’t follow a certain training plan that determines number of repetitions, breaks between sets and weight to be used. However, they are true artists of movement and model athletes. A monkey is swinging smoothly from branch to branch and a cheetah runs in perceived speed of light trough the steppe. This blog post will introduce you in the world of Animal Moves. Get to know what they are all about and why they should be incorporated in every training routine. The intention is not to create or to support a new, strange fitness hype. It’s more about understanding certain basic principles of Animal Moves and of our early ancestors in order to stay fit and agile as long as possible.

Natural movement intelligence

Honestly, how broad is the variety of our daily movement patterns? Most of the day, we spend sitting or lying. That means: zero activity. During our actual activity time our movements are limited to walking straight and not too fast. And if it happens that we really have to run after the bus or to take the stairs to the third floor, adrenaline shoot through our bodies and we feel like an Olympian who should get a prize for his outstanding performance. At this point, we don’t even talk about movement patterns that go beyond simple walking. Or when was the last time you did a somersault, a cartwheel or walked like a crab as you did in elementary school?

Not only animals move naturally without any instructions. The same is true for our early ancestors living in stone ages. Activity was a necessity in their daily lives just as eating, drinking and sleeping. Why? Because it was indispensable to life. However, modern adults can protect their lives in other ways than through running away or fighting. We get our food in nearby supermarkets using cars. We impress sexual partners with other qualities than athletic. The result? We lose our natural movement abilities, our natural movement intelligence.

From discoverer to observer

For everyone who thinks comparing us with animals is inappropriate (it isn’t!): Also as children we had this natural drive to learn how to walk, to climb everywhere and to run as far as our feet carry us. Not later than in our adult years we totally forget about it. We develop from an active discoverer, who embraces the world through activity, to a passive observer. We watch the moving world conveniently sitting on our butt. Physical activity becomes a must-attend appointment in our schedule. If at all, we train exactly the same movement at fitness machines over and over again. Every exercise, every weight and every break is meticulously timed and recorded. This has precious little to do with the natural interplay between our muscles, tendons and joints. And beside of all that, what is actually about having fun during exercising?

Free your body

What would the world look like if animals would think and act like humans regarding their “training routines”? From early on they train their muscles while playing. It is necessary to ensure that they survive in their adulthood. We can often watch birds running on the ground, and indeed, flying costs a whole lot of energy. However, no bird that is able to fly would come up with the idea: “From today on, I will never fly again, but run on the ground instead.” No monkey would sit on a branch and think: “Nope, no brachiating today, since I have already trained my back and arms yesterday.” And also no human child would stop its attempt to walk after the third try to cry out for a protein shake in order to optimize muscle growth. All these movements and whole body exercises are vital.

As soon as the basic functions are working fine humans tend to stop doing holistic and compound movements. We keep our bodies on a pretty short leash. With all the training plans, meal timing and compartmentalization of movements we imprison ourselves. Though, for our Stone Age ancestors activity was the key with which they discovered the world. Nothing is so naturally connected to freedom as our two legs. Why we limit ourselves that much, seems contradictory. Our body is a miracle of nature. It is capable of such a huge variety of movements that you can really call it a shame if we don’t use this potential.

Animal Moves – Learning from animals

What’s the advantage of arms like tyres if your legs are barely able to carry your body? What’s the advantage of legs like trunks if a lack of core strength leads to postural defects and pain? And even a body that looks muscular from top to toe is useless if it is lacking the endurance to carry the muscles under harder conditions like running up some stairs. Furthermore, the natural movement intelligence is often missing. This means, that the single muscles never learned how to work together. Thus, the body cannot unfold its full strength and movement variety.

Animal Moves belong to the concept of functional training and thus follow a holistic approach. That means, that it is not about building up isolated strength which is useless in everyday life but it incorporates a broad range of abilities. Besides strength and stability this includes also mobility and flexibility, coordination, endurance and speed. That’s also how it is among animals. Even a strong bear will leave a stream without catching fish if he lacks power and coordination. Or let us have a look at big cats. Speed is one of their most important assets but without skill and strength they will starve.

To train like animals also means that your “training” is never identical. For example a koala, while it climbs in trees it has to deal with thick and thin branches. Some of them are closer together than others. That’s an important difference to gyms. Here we train at machines which lead to almost identical movements every time we use them. Thus, we are not able to use our skills and abilities flexibly in order to react to diverse requirements effectively. For instance, we train biceps curls for years with the palm of our hands facing up. If we turn the dumbbell 90 degrees we have to use much lower weights, since our strength is not enough, even though the movement is very similar.

Why Animal Moves are real all-rounders

Just as other functional training concepts Animal Moves follow a holistic approach. Thus, this bodyweight training (training without equipment and only with your own bodyweight) trains a broad range of skills. All movements are natural and functional. This means that they are useful in our everyday life and they exploit the maximal potential of our movement abilities. We create new training stimuli during each session because movements aren’t identical or isolated. For example, while doing exercises in all-fours position the position of our hands is always a bit different. Due to varying ankles and forces Animal Moves stimulate all muscles and require them to work together.

A big advantage of animal moves is the strengthening of small, deep muscles, especially around joints. The weaker these muscles are the more strain is on our joints. In the long term, this can lead to pain and drastic limitations caused by wear of the joints. Holistic training concepts like Animal Moves can prevent these damages.
Furthermore, Animal Moves aim at performing movements in their complete range of motion and thus increasing mobility. Mobility is not just about flexibility, but rather about the interplay between muscles and joints. High mobility not only leads to better performance but also prevents hardening and paints of our muscles.

 

In a nutshell

A rolling stone gathers no moss. I guess everyone knows this saying and not without reason. On the one hand, a lot of people are not sufficiently physically active. On the other hand, monotonous trainings in gyms don’t provide the necessary range of movements our bodies are capable of and our bodies need to stay fit and agile in the long-term.

What’s the problem?

  • We are not sufficiently physically active
  • Our movements are too monotonous
  • We train muscles isolated not together
  • Our bodies lose their natural movement intelligence

Subsequently, most people lack:

  • Endurance
  • Power
  • Stability
  • Flexibility
  • Mobility
  • Coordination

This leads to:

  • Higher strain in everyday life
  • Postural defects and malalignments
  • Pain
  • Injuries occur more often and severe
  • Premature wear of joints
  • Limited movement patterns early in life which further enhance the other problems

Solution:

If you don’t just want to grow old but want to be fit and agile in your old ages you have to lay the foundation early in life.

The earlier you start using your body holistically, the better your chances of staying fit as fiddle throughout your entire life. Isolated exercises are good foundation but are not sufficient enough to train all skills. Thus, functional training should be part of your regular training routine. In this matter, Animal Moves are one of the best – because natural – methods. But you can also try other whole body trainings like Crossfit, Calisthenics or Yoga. Even classic sports like kitesurfing/surfing or climbing activate and promote the interplay of our muscles. And even if you are in your older ages it is important to stimulate your body as holistic as possible, but don’t overdo it.

Functional Training– What is it actually? (Part 2)

 

In the first part of this post, we closely examined the philosophy behind functional training. Today we will look at the practical aspects. We’ll look at different exercises and training equipment. Have fun!

 

Strength exercises

The great thing about functional training is that you can do it almost anywhere and that you don’t need to be outfitted for it. For example, just with your own body weight, you can complete these fundamental strength exercises for the whole body:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Planks and side planks
  • Various sit-up variations
  • Chin-ups

For every exercise, there is actually a regression and a progression. That means that there are variations for each exercise, some that are good for beginners and some that are good for those who are advanced. Let’s look at some examples:

Push-ups

Beginner variation: support hands on a raised surface

Advanced variation: place feet on a raised surface

Squats

Beginner variation: fewer repetitions, don’t go so deep

Advanced variation: squats on one leg

Planks

Beginner variation: put knees down

Advanced variation: hold longer, on one leg

 

Training equipment and aids

For more variety, you can find some great training gear and aids. In contrast to the traditional gym, this gear can be used in many different ways and provides for good fun.

 

Some of the typical equipment includes:

  • Suspension Trainer (TRX)
  • Medicine balls
  • Kettlebells
  • Mini bands
  • Gym balls
  • Ropes
  • Bosu

Even though I can only briefly explore all of the possible training equipment and aids here, I hope that it is clear that functional training is very versatile. Functional training offers a great variety of exercises and equipment, many of which can often be implemented at home. Your work outs can be varied and boredom is rare. In future posts, I will go into more detail on some of the gear. I welcome your comments. 🙂

 

Workouts: short and sweet

Regarding the length of your workouts, functional training also beats the competition. Above all, it is about efficiency, meaning going full throttle in a relatively short time frame: 30-60 minutes. So you see, a functional training work out really fits into any schedule. After a short warm-up, during which you stimulate your circulation, the actual work out starts. Depending on your training goals, one set lasts about 30-120 seconds, or 10-40 repetitions, and rests times are kept very short.

 

Functional training is also part interval training. This means that working very hard alternates with relatively short recovery, so your pulse stays up the whole time, and you really burn calories, even after your work out. A well-known example is the Tabata-Principle, that I have already talked about in another blog post. In a Tabata, 20 seconds hard work alternate with 10 seconds recovery, and the whole cycle repeats 8 times. But other combinations are possible, like 45 seconds hard work and 15 seconds rest.

 

Alternatively, you can also work out based on repetitions instead of time. For instance, you could do antagonist training or circuit training.

 

Antagonist-Training

In this type of training, one set of exercises in one movement direction, for instance, a pulling exercise like a chin-up, is followed by a set of exercises in the opposite movement direction, for instance a pushing exercise like a push-up. The advantage is that you can use the rest times effectively, while the worked muscles recover. But the circulation continues to run a full blast.

 

Circuit Training

Circuit Training usually consists of 10-15 exercises that work out the entire body. After one set of an exercise, you switch immediately to the next exercise. After completing a set of each exercise, you rest for two to three minutes. Then you start the next circuit round with the same exercises. The goal is to complete three to five rounds.

 

My Experiences

Earlier in my life I also went to the gym regularly, diligently lifted my weights, and was bored from counting my repetitions. Functional training won me over based on the variety and range of exercises alone. Using a timer, I don’t even have to look at the clock any more. Instead, I just go full bore for each set until I hear the beep. It’s impossible to turn your brain off more. So try it for yourself, or tell me about your experiences.

Functional Training – What is it actually? (Part 1)

Functional training is currently experiencing a downright boom and is turning the fitness world completely inside out. You have probably already heard of CrossFit, Freeletics and Calisthenics. Ultimately, these are about holistic and functional training, usually with your own body weight.

 

Put an end to monotone work on weight machines, which looks, for some gym patrons, to be about as exciting as were folding laundry. They make themselves comfortable on the leg press for three sets, and switch after 45. Repetition is boring, even for the machine. Is it any surprise then, that working out isn’t fun?

 

What exactly is functional Training?

The basic principle of functional training is: train movements, not muscles. The isolated targeting of single muscles is non-functional, meaning that there is no equivalent for it, neither in normal everyday life, nor in any kind of sport. Bicep curls or working on the leg extension machine at the gym are great examples of this. It is highly unlikely that we will ever have the opportunity to use those 2 muscles in isolation in real life. Our body doesn’t function through muscles. It functions through movement.

 

In functional training, therefore, the priority is on basic movements and the improvement of basic skills that are universal to all sports. It also includes abilities like stabilizing joints, speed and having good body awareness.

 

An essential component is the completion of these movements with good quality, for two reasons. First, completing movements incorrectly usually leads to compensating movements, which, over time, can lead to problems with posture, muscular imbalance and signs of wear and tear. Second, completing movements incorrectly usually means that we don’t complete the movement in its entire scope, and lose important training results. We could actually train much more efficiently.

 

Training muscle chains – movement instead of muscles

Functional training is based on the natural fact that, for almost all body movements, a wide variety of muscle groups have to work together. Therefore, functional training comprises especially movements that work as many joints and muscles as possible. In many gyms, it is customary to work isolated muscle groups. Functional training is different: it always demands complex interaction of muscles. This especially improves the coordination of muscles and is a much better approximation of natural movements of humans in everyday life and in many sports.

 

Stability

Whereas on traditional weight machines, various cushions give you support, in functional training, movements are completed without support. In normal life outside the gym, we will rarely find guide rails and cushions to stabilize the execution of our movements. This means that functional exercises are decidedly harder in the beginning. But ultimately, every small, stabilizing muscle and every deep muscle around the joint is trained in every work out. And also the core muscles, which are important for good posture and the correct execution of many exercises. I really want to highlight the importance of the core muscles at this point. Strong exercises for abs and back are part of almost every functional training work out.

 

Balance and coordination

Functional training distinguishes itself also in the improvement of balance and intermuscular coordination. On the one hand, complex movement patterns demand that a wide variety of muscles work together. In order to increase performance, muscles have to communicate better and work together, so that strength can be transferred efficiently. On the other hand, movements in open space and uneven surfaces strengthen the stabilizing muscles around the joints. The training of balance and coordination lowers the danger of injury to ligaments and tendons. In old age, this kind of training can clearly reduce the risk of falling.

 

Second Part

Stay tuned for part 2 which will be about exercises and training equipment.