Episode #103: Mike Fitch – Movement Modality, Animal Flow
My guest is Mike Fitch, the creator of movement modality ‘Animal Flow’.
Mike broke out of his own training styles and traditional trainer role, to incorporate his curiosity into his personal movement practice. Mike took up gymnastics and Parkour to balance out his weight lifting regimen, which led him ultimately to create Animal Flow. Mike shares that Animal Flow is not about bears and cats but improving THE HUMAN ANIMAL. Regardless if you are a beginner in movement or a hard core workout fiend you can benefit with exposure to Animal Flow. Creating anything is not easy and Mike shares his experience of what it has taken to create the curriculum, train the experts, and adapt his fitness business during Covid. Mike is all in, and gets to bed early.
Listen to the episode here:
- Creating Structure and System [00:02:21]
- In Service to Other People [00:16:58]
- Blending Modalities [00:24:27]
- Getting Started with Animal Flow [00:28:52]
- Fluid Transition [00:32:02]
- Master Instructors [00:34:19]
- Animal Flow Components [00:39:01]
- Sleeping Early and Nutrition [00:45:45]
Mike Fitch – Movement Modality, Animal Flow
My guest is Mike Fitch. Mike Fitch is the creator of a curriculum called Animal Flow. A lot of times when we see Animal Flow or we think about it, we’re going to get on the floor and move around like a bear or something. It’s not that. There is so much thought behind this. This is about the human-animal and getting our organism to move not only more efficiently but safer and to support us in all the activities we want to do whether we want to bang iron, run, ride the bike, whatever it is. You can do it from any condition level even if you’re deconditioned at the moment or you’re fit.
Mike has thought about this. There’s even data and science about how it supports your ligaments, tendons, joints, and all of these things. They have it step by step. You can get into it gently. As you progress, you can progress with them. He is passionate about spreading the word of Animal Flow. He’s dedicated himself to this curriculum. He does come from a traditional training background and then was exploring for himself. He started taking gymnastics and parkour. Lo and behold, he created Animal Flow, something he’s been working on and has built out in a real way. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Animal Flow, you’ve been working on this for years. You put a framework around a curriculum. We can see things and all things in the past. We talked about it a lot that it’s a new application or maybe a series of ideas but you put the framework around it. You’ve created a curriculum, it has names, you have traditional names, it’s a lot of work.
What I find fascinating is from the outside looking at Animal Flow, you’d think, “Whoever created this has a looseness idea to them.” I have seen when I was doing my research on you that you get up early, which would mean you probably go to bed early. There is rigidity and I have it too so I can talk about it. You have to fight that. Do you have to fight the rigidity because then there’s no room?
To be honest, the structure is what gives us freedom as long as we’re able to realize what the delineation is. By focusing on the foundations, that gives me an even greater ability when I’m ready to freestyle or when I want to go into the expression part and be able to turn off the logical, “I need to think about what I’m doing next.”
To me, that’s what the transition into flow is, we’re relying depending upon all that time that we put into the structure and the repetition and the foundations. That gives us the freedom when we go, “My body on a cellular level has this. I’m supported. I can turn off and see where my body wants to move me.”
What led me to the movement in the first place was the exploration of movement and being uncomfortable. I’m a big advocate of going into the discomfort, exploring things that take us out of the things that we feel comfortable and confident and strong. It was through that exploration that brought me to move in the first place.
I had already spent a decade as a personal trainer doing gym-style things. I was in a constant pursuit to increase my understanding of the human body and its capabilities. It wasn’t until ten years as a personal trainer that I was a lot bigger and was lifting a lot. I felt like, “I need to change. I need to do something different. I understand this. I need to be challenged.” I put down the weights and went to an adult gymnastics class and was terrible.
Why gymnastics? Did you think it was the opposite end of the spectrum of banging iron, being tight, and all of that?
You’re almost 30 years old at this point. At 19-ish or so, you’re in New York City. Are you from New York?
Kentucky. It’s close.
You then went to New York to do that business.
I left Kentucky and moved to LA briefly and then skimmed through Miami and landed in New York.
You hit all the spots.
I went back and lived in all of them. New York was where I cut my teeth as a personal trainer.
In a lot of ways, movement is on the West Coast but there are some interesting things happening in New York City. I’ve met a lot of interesting thinking-moving people, progressive, and cutting edge in New York. It’s pretty hardcore.
[bctt tweet=”Something is better than nothing.”]
In New York, it is a competitive platform. Anything in New York City, it doesn’t matter what it is, you have to be on your game, you have to be looking to see what’s coming next. A lot of the trainers that I worked with were constantly exploring, pursuing new things, and figuring out ways in which they could increase their value so they could get more clientele. West Coast is a different vibe. It’s like, “I got six-pack abs. You can have six-pack abs. Let’s train.”
Training isn’t as brutal. Your clients got an hour, they’re spending, and they already don’t want to train. I’m fascinated though that you go to gymnastics class. You’re in New York, you’re in this competitive profession. You added parkour.
Gymnastics quickly led to parkour. Once I got into parkour, I was like, “I get this.” The reason I felt more comfortable in parkour was that the rigidity was slightly blurred. You still have these similar movements and you still have this dedication to the practice but it was much more focused on style, flair, and fluidity.
I was a skateboard for many years growing up and coming from that world, I was like, “This feels like home to me.” It was a lot of people practicing together but practicing individually at the same time. They were working on their craft but doing it almost in this team, in this group. That right away clicked with me and I was like, “I like this.” That was also the first time I was introduced to animal locomotion.
What’s great also about Animal Flow is that it is approachable like parkour. For me, I would love to fly around. I’m 6’3”. I would end up going to urgent care most likely. Even taking on something physically that’s new or a different language. If someone’s reading this, how do you get down to the floor? In Animal Flow, you talk about your 4 points or 6 points of contact on the floor. What is it that you say to people about moving into a completely different universe and movement? How do you do that?
One of the great things about the floor is it’s an incredible educator and it’s such a great teacher. For most people, there’s a sensation of safety there. The closer we can get to the ground, there’s potential for learning and there’s a low potential for risk for the most part. By us placing hands and feet and body in contact with the ground, we’re being supported by something else.
As a coach, if I introduced this concept to you with the goal of making you feel successful right away, I can always be aggressive to meet you wherever your needs are. Where there’s a bit of a disconnect is people may see some of the videos on my Instagram, my promo videos, and they’re like, “What the hell is that? I can never do that.” The thing is, that’s what this practice looks like at a high level but that’s not where you start. Like when you start any practice, you’re not going to start at the highest level.
The great thing about bringing someone into this experience of Animal Flow is we introduce it to them in pieces. If I have an athlete that I’m working with who is used to doing strength and speed stuff, I’m not going to go, “Cool. The next time you come in, we’re going to spend 60 minutes on the floor doing Animal Flow.” You’re going to be like, “This sucks. I’m never going to do this again.” We have to make them feel successful and allow them the ability to feel they’re being invited back into their body.
When we’re talking about the system of Animal Flow, we have these four pillars, connection-communication, performance, resilience, and community. It’s common especially now to see people that are disconnected from their bodies. They’re thinking about what’s going on in the world. They’re thinking about their relationships, their stress of work, their phone, their tablet, meetings.
What happens when they go and they train? They’re now still bringing their conscious awareness and mindfulness to an external object, “I’m going to move this bar from this to this, this dumbbell from here to here. I’m going to stand on the treadmill and watch TV while I run.” When you get someone and you connect them to the floor and you ask them to perform different tasks, these movement puzzles, it’s difficult for them to think about anything else that’s going on in their world other than what their body is doing and how they’re inhabiting their body.
We have these beautiful, infinitely complex bodies that we are gifted to inhabit but often, we spend all day in our heads or somewhere else. Reconnecting the body, that’s the communication connection part of the pillar. Its hands and feet in contact with the ground, bring mindful awareness back into the body, allowing your body to communicate to itself as well.
What does that mean?
We have these sensory receptors all through our bodies. They’re in our inter-fascial tissue, in our joints, connective tissue, muscle tissue, they’re in our skin. They’re always sending information about our place and space, about temperature, about all kinds of different things to our central nervous system so that our brain can get a better idea of where we are in the space. It’s our 3D map of ourselves.
A unique thing about being with people positions where we’re holding our body up against gravity’s downward pull is it’s a unique load profile that’s hard to replicate in the gym. By our hands and feet in contact and moving through space through positioning our body in different relations to gravity encourages those little satellites, those little receptors to send more information. Now, not only are we consciously connecting to our body but our body is potentially becoming a better communicator within itself.
There are a couple of things I want to go back and hit on. There’s been some great research done on cross-lateral movement and how we can increase cognitive capacity moving around on the ground. Improving cognition is a huge part that a lot of people don’t think much about. This is going to go a little bit further forward than I thought I was going to go.
What does that mean? You weren’t going to talk about it or you weren’t going to talk about it yet?
Maybe I wasn’t going to talk about it yet. Since we’re here, I’m in your home, I feel comfortable with you, we’re going to talk about Animal Flow. Whenever I think about what Animal Flow is, it is not just about the movement practice. It’s about how we not only show up in our human bodies but also how our human bodies show up in society, our relationships, how we navigate our world, and how we take care of our world.
To me, the animal flow is the human-animal and all the things that are attached to the human animal. The movement part is the beginning, it’s us connecting with ourselves again. By us connecting with ourselves again, that potentially increases our opportunity to make all connections better within our life. I’m a big believer and it seems that you guys are as well is the way in which we treat our body is mirrored over and over again in the way in which we go about our day and in which we have relationships with other people.
To me, this is part of how we inhabit our bodies. This begins the conversation of, “If this is the way that gets you into it, fantastic.” It could be anything else. I’m always the one to say that this is not the best program. Whatever you like the most and it allows you to become a more embodied person that shows up better in the world, fantastic, go with that thing.
People think of animal flow as something that you’re mimicking animals and that’s not the case. You’re talking about the human animal. Yes, of course, you’re going to study animals and learn certain things based on how they move and maybe talk about that. When I first learned about Animal Flow, which is quite a while ago, you think, “They’re crawling around on the floor.” You have a lot of videos and opportunities online for people to see or to even try in the privacy of their own homes if they were like, “No one’s here right now. I’ll try this for a few minutes.”
Doing something that you can connect the whole thing but have to be paying attention to is important. We might see you on your hands in a handstand with your knees bent and people go, “I can’t ever do that.” I don’t get it from you but that’s what this is. You’ve been talking about cognitive function, improving, and all kinds of things. Let’s go back. You get involved, you do some gymnastics, you go to parkour, where do you get the idea and the courage to say, “The creation of Animal Flow.”
There are a couple of things that I want to hit on. Because you mentioned coaches, I have to tell you the story. You stuck with me that day and challenged me quite a bit. I remember I came out of the pool at one point and I’m gasping for air and holding on to the pool for dear life. You’re standing above me and you were coaching and you were talking to me and I’m looking up at you.
Behind your head is the sun with golden locks flowing in the wind. You have this whole Nordic goddess thing going on and I was like, “Yes, Gabby Reece, I will follow you to the ends of the earth.” It was clear to me that you had been coached by some amazing coaches and you now are an amazing coach and you were all the way to the end. Even when we were wrapping up, you were nice to me.
I want people to be successful. That feels scary, by the way.
In the end, you were like, “Great job today.” I was self-deprecating and I was like, “I wish I would have gotten that other lap.” You said, “Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t minimize all the work that you did today and focus on the negative thing.” I was like, “Gabby Reece, you’re right.”
It’s important. We have to help each other. If you’re going to coach me in Animal Flow, I know that you will help me. There’s a gentleman that I liked named Rich Diviney and he wrote a book, The Attributes. He talks about being a leader and he’s like, “Leaders who are able to make decisions doesn’t mean it’s right. They just make them. They’re accountable.” Because they’re accountable, they can say, “I’m wrong. We’re going down. We need to make a left and not a right.” They’re there to set up other people to be their best.
They’re not allowed to say they’re your leader. Only the people in the group can say, “That’s our leader.” You say, “I’m in charge of this space.” It’s funny, you put a t-shirt on somebody and all of a sudden, everything blurs together. I remember that. To show your strength is to show compassion and love. In the pool, there’s air. In its own ways, Animal Flow, especially if someone was advancing through and they were going to be inverted and doing these types of things, there are elements of that in there.
I went off on that tangent. To go back to the question that you had asked me, which was how does one come about creating a system and have the courage?
We get laughed at. People doubt us, “That’s hard. Why would you do that? Who’s going to do that? They tried that before.” I’m always fascinated when I see people that pay attention and listen to themselves and say, “I’m going to give it a go.” The reasons have to be real. You weren’t sitting there and going, “I’m going to get rich off this.” Your reasons have to be real to do something like this.
The reason I got into personal training in the first part is I wanted to be of service to other people. I wanted to figure out how to help people reach their potential, whatever that may be. When I first moved to LA when I was 18 years old, I hired a personal trainer and he was inspiring to me. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to make other people feel the way that he made me feel when I was working with him. I had always come from that place of wanting to be of service to other people to help them progress through their journey or whatever it is.
Whenever I started on my own journey, I was experiencing things that I would immediately go, “I would love to share this with my clients.” Coming from the place as a personal trainer who was a super geek on all the things anatomy, physiology, and biology, I was like, “I understand systems. Is there a system that I can create that incorporates some of the influences that I’m having and that is inspiring me that I can share with my clients?”
I was taking break dancing classes at the time. I would learn a six-step and then try to teach a client a six-step. It was such a fun experiment. I started spending hours and hours on the ground seeing if there was a way that I can take some concepts that I already know, animal locomotion, floor-based movement like breaking, capoeira, all these things that people have seen before. I‘ll create a system where the true intention is to improve the functionality and connection of the human-animal. That was the part that felt not easy. I tell everyone that it took me three months to create the program or the system and it’s taken me every day since to learn it. My understanding of it is changing on a daily basis.
The thing that was quite challenging was how do you promote it? How do you endure the sneers, the laughs, the people saying that this is another gimmick or another? There’s a lot of old boys’ clubs out there especially in the fitness world where they’re dogmatic approaches and anything new, people like to shoot down quickly. For me, it was knowing that I had a purpose and thing that I wanted to share with the world. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought about it because I believed in it. I saw what it did on a small scale with my clients.
[bctt tweet=”One of the great things about the floor is it’s an incredible educator and it’s such a great teacher.”]
When we started sharing it globally, we started seeing that roll. We started seeing other people loved the practice but they love sharing it with other people and it became about the community where people wanted to get together and experience movement. Through that movement, it brought them closer together and improve their ability to communicate with each other.
It was that undying desire to need to share this with the world. I’m sure you know more than anyone that if you want to create something new that you’re trying to inject into the global consciousness of people, it’s a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week job. It’s not something you can do part-time. It’s not something you ever turn off. You are always that person and you’re always trying to share it with others. You
This has been your family. This has been your focus. What’s interesting is it’s both. If you’re going to spend this much time doing it, the realities of monetizing things, you get into all of it. Your initial reasons, your initial why’s are pure. They work for you, you’re good, and you go, “Other people could do this and benefit from it.”
You have these other steps where you go, “If I am going to put all this energy, I can create a value, then I can share but also be compensated for.” How do you learn then how to put that system in place? Now you have a business. A lot of people have ideas and they do a pretty good job of creating things but it’s hard to crossover. How was that transition for you?
Messy, hard, challenging, and all the things. My business partner and I, still to this day, say that we’re playing business.
You were part of a different business and then this is a chapter in the business. Now, this is on its own. Is this business partner been with you the whole time?
The whole time. Karen Mahar started it. She is everything that I’m not and that’s why it works well. I truly don’t believe that you can wear all the hats. You have to build a team. She was a client of mine in the beginning.
That’s smart. She knows what it was like to start. She knows what turned her on about it.
We were friends. She knew that I had a bigger vision and she supported that vision. She has a doctorate as a sociologist. She was working at this place called Camillus House in Miami. I knew that she was crazy smart and super sharp. She also had a film degree. We could do tutorials, she could shoot them and edit them. She knew how to put together a blog, which I had no idea how to do at the time. She knew how to write code. If she didn’t know how to do something, she would find out how to do it. It’s incredible to have her as a business partner.
It was the two of us that ran the show for a long time. Eventually, we found ourselves in a place where for us to expand, we needed to grow the team. Also, we now had the ability to do it financially. Getting to that point and figuring out, “Who’s our first full-time employee?” We have a team of educators and they’re what we call our Master Instructors who can teach the workshops. As far as the actual staff, we were doing so much the two of us.
There was a specific time where I was able to go full time with Animal Flow before she was able to go full time with Animal Flow. She left her job. I stopped training one-on-ones and then we were like, “This is it. We’re doubling down this. This is all or nothing.” It was super exciting and super scary at the same time.
When you see Animal Flow, I’ll be honest, I don’t care who you are, there’s something about it that you intuitively think, “I wish I could be good at that.” It’s like little kids rolling around floors and getting down there and moving in that freeway, that Animal Flow. Especially once you become proficient at it, it would allow you to do.
We’ve gotten so far. We’re sitting in chairs. We’re up. I’m speaking also for myself, the ground is far away. We want to be connected to the ground. What about your own practice now? You talked about balancing it out. Do you incorporate weight training? It looks like you do but your body weight is the hardest thing to move. Do you have a blend? How does it look?
I do. When I first got into strict calisthenics or strict bodyweight training, that was all I did for years. I would look at the calisthenics practice as my strength training. This is a strict motion to build strength and skills especially with some of the handstand and pushup stuff. I would look at Animal Flow as my free motion.
This feeds my ability spectrum. It fills it in. If I’m expressing my ability to be strong and have coordination here, this fills in all the other things. This is my speed, my power, my flexibility, my mobility, all of the other things that make our incredibly complex motor abilities. As I continue down the road of my journey towards self-mastery and figuring out what my body needs, I’ll go through phases where I’m like, “I need to pick up heavy things and put them back down.”
Is that a tough re-ignition to get the faculties moving? You’ve been doing it for so long but it’s the first few times where it’s like, “Here we go.”
You’re like, “This kettlebell snatch is easy.”
Every day I feel like I’m in my body. We have more opportunity to feel into it. Whenever I go back to weight training, I have such a different body to express weight training with now. My connection with whatever the external load is much better. For me, it’s like, “If we have the capacity to do all these different things, shouldn’t we do all these different things?” Versus getting stuck in one thing, like, “I only do free movement,” or, “I only do cycling.”
We want to be good at stuff and we don’t have a lot of time. How do you approach that when people are like, “You only have so much time.” You want them to try all these different modalities.
One way in which we can approach that topic is by looking at who are we talking about. Are we talking about the person that is already dedicated to a certain thing that they love to do? We tend to go towards the things that make us feel strong. Do we want to immediately go, “I want to go to something that makes me feel weak. That’s going to be fun.”
We want to go to the thing that we’re good at. It takes way more effort to go in the opposite direction and go, “I’m going to pause on that and I’m going to go start exploring.” It takes a lot of courage and a lot of effort. If we’re looking at that person who is doing the thing that they enjoy, the thing that they love, how can we say that that’s wrong? They’re doing something and something is better than nothing.
We’re going to end up at 70 or 60 in this one constant pattern and there are always problems with that. You’re going to pay. I’ve paid for certain repetitive motions. I’m sure you pay in your own way. I agree with you. However, if you’re going to bike and bike only or run and run only or bang iron and bang iron only or yoga and yoga only, you’re going to pay.
That was where my buck was going as well. When we do the same thing over and over again, everything in our body adapts to that. Our breathing patterns adapt. Our nervous system adapts. Our joints adapt. Our connected tissues adapt. They adapt those limited expressions of movement. One of the best things that we can do is break those patterns. That was the idea behind cross-training. It’s like, “If I played this sport for a season, I’m going to go then to play this sport so I get different low profiles and I get strong in different ways but I still maintain a certain level of cardiorespiratory fitness or whatever it might be.”
We can look at our bodies as athletes even if we’re not athletes. Having the ability to change the way in which we experienced loads is important for that resiliency that we’ve been talking about, having bodies that we can stay in and enjoy longer. Also, having that multidisciplinary approach does help resilient bodies last. If someone’s reading this and they’re like, “I’m already exercising.” That’s fantastic. Keep doing it and do it as long as you can in all different ways. We’re talking about the other 80% of people who are not.
Is that real?
I checked out this study that said that on any given day if you looked at the population of people exercising, working out, or playing a sport, it was something like 18.7%. In a ten-year period, there’s an increase of 0.7% and that was because more women were starting to exercise. There’s a natural drop-off in exercising. Go, ladies. The reason I bring that up is for the people who are already exercising, I’m preaching to the choir, how do we get the other large population of people to start something?
Let’s say somebody wants to start Animal Flow and they’re already doing something, would you say to them, “Can you give it a few weeks doing the basic fundamental moves of Animal Flow?” Would you not dare and say, “Can you get in there once or twice a week and then take it from there?”
One of the things that were important to me when I created the system is I wanted it to live as a fully integrated system that could also be taken apart and use individual tools. Whenever you’re looking at someone who has a certain style working out that has served them well over the years, they love it, they’re not going to get rid of it anytime soon. You then go, “Let’s add these two movements into your training whether it be as part of your warmup, part of your mobility, or part of your cooldown.” You’re giving them these little taster bits that are a big bang for your buck movements.
This happens a lot where you have people that you introduce these little pieces of animal flow to and then they start requesting more. That way, we know that they’re being successful at the things that we’re giving them and we’re never setting them up for failure. We’re saying, “Keep doing the thing that you love to do. Let’s do this because this is going to help you live better in your body longer. Start doing it as part of this phase of your workout.” I would never say, “Stop doing that thing,” unless it were like, “I like to jump off of a step and land on my head.” I’d be like, “Probably don’t do that.”
It does come down to belief systems within what someone is attracted to and they’re like, “This works for me. I love this thing.” I don’t want to take that away from you. I want to show you that there are other options. By me sprinkling a little bit in, you start to say, “This makes me feel differently. This makes me think differently. This opens up new possibilities to make me better at the thing I love to do anyway.”
You have over 100 moves. You talk about the importance of the transitions, which I want to get into. For me, there’s something smart when I was reading and hearing about that transition. When in life are we not in some type of transition? To do that fluidly and successfully, sometimes it makes big differences.
One of the things that I’m quite fond of with the Animal Flow system is that there is a language around it. I always say, “This language is not creative, it’s descriptive.” One of the ways in which we can play this game with somebody else is we call it freestyle call out. If someone knows the language, I can put you on the ground and say, “Set beast. Right leg under. Left leg full Scorpion. Gentle left leg front kick.” Go and go. Now, you’re responding to my verbal call out physically. Now, we have this communication with each other. Also, you don’t know what’s coming next. You’re reacting exactly. Now we’re getting back into making the brain work much harder as well.
I love that part, we call it constant various motion. Sometimes we do have these dramatic breaks in the upper level and we call these energy breaks. We also use energy rolls and redirects as a way of looking at how someone moves through space. Whenever we have someone in this scenario where we’re calling out to them, we may take them through a series of 30 movements and they know the language so they can react. It’s taught the same way all over the world.
Anywhere you go in the world, if you meet another practitioner, you speak the same language because the names of the movements are always in English but the rest of the call out like arm, leg, and direction would be in whatever languages. The cool thing about that is whenever you get to the end, we always have someone that’s like, “Where do you find balance?” It shouldn’t be left, right, left, right. This is a sequence of seemingly random movements.
Do the whole thing to the other side or you do a whole new call out because that’s the randomness of how we experience life. Hopefully, we don’t always rely on the same movements every single time. It would be tough to navigate the world if we did that. If we can better prepare you for the time that you slip off of the curb or the time and you miss a step or the nervous system doesn’t act the way that you want it to act, can we rely on the training that we’ve done to keep us safe?
What about turning your baby over to other people? What do you call your coaches?
You’re turning your baby over to your Master Instructors. No one’s ever going to understand it as intimately as you do because you started it. There’s a thing that you have that no one will ever know, which should probably give you great confidence. If they go off and they’re shiny and badass at it, you’re like, “That’s amazing. Congratulations.”
Also, this is another part of the business, which is taking something that’s yours and saying, “Here you go. I’m going to arm you.” Also, they’re going to have their own spin on it. They will do certain parts of it maybe even better than you because that’s how life is, which is fantastic. How did you reconcile that? How was that process for you?
It was tough in the beginning. I have to say, I was given such a great piece of advice by someone who I considered a mentor of mine, Michol Dalcourt. When I first started with Animal Flow, he had already spent a lot of time developing and promoting ViPR, his company. I had already decided from the start that I never wanted Animal Flow to be about me. I never wanted it to be the Mike Fitch Show. I wanted to be part of it.
When you make something all about you, you give it a timeline, you give it a ceiling. It doesn’t have the wings to continue to grow past your existence. I wanted this to be something that even if you didn’t like me, if you’re like, “I hate that guy. That guy sucks. Animal Flow is pretty cool.” Also, I want to make sure that our other educators were not carbon copy replicas of me. They were their own personalities and they had their own energy to them and their own mojo.
Especially in the beginning when I saw someone teach the same information a different way, I was like, “Oh God.” One of our guys is great at layering information, like, “You forgot this part. We’ve got this part.” That was not his process. He was going to get to that. He was going to take a different roadmap than I took. Letting go of that and easing the death grip on it was quite challenging in the beginning. We didn’t grow quickly with our team. It’s been over a decade and we have 23 Master Instructors including me and everyone’s spread throughout the world.
Do you have Russian masters?
I would love to know how the Russians teach Animal Flow. That seems hardcore.
They are good and super hardcore. Evgenia, a big shout out to you, is our MI and ex-pro acrobatic dancer. She’s insane with her abilities. Animal Flow brought something different for her. It clicked with her. Animal Flow is growing like crazy in Russia. They’re crushing it. It’s one example. To me, they’re our Justice League of superheroes. I feel lucky to be in the same thing with them. I never feel like I’m the leader, I’m the creator. I’m in this thing with them. I’m fortunate to be there.
You’re the portal. The gift is when you get to be the one who was part of the process of developing it, people don’t understand how rich that is. You don’t get to do that much in your life, if at all. It didn’t exist and now it does. It’s cool. You talk about there’s flexibility, speed, endurance, stability, and all these elements. How do they show up in Animal Flow?
You can look at this spectrum. Let’s say I’m a football player and maybe I’m on this side of the spectrum where I’m more exhibiting my abilities to be strong, have power, and have speed. If I’m a yogi, I’m maybe on the other side of the spectrum where I’m demonstrating my abilities to be mobile, flexible, and stable. In the middle, there’s coordination bridging the gap.
The thing that I loved about creating a system that filled in the pieces that became almost like an adhesive to bring all the pieces together is I could take my strength athletes, my power athlete, and make them more bendy and pliable. I could take my yogi and make them more dynamic and quicker. If we’re looking at how we do that through Animal Flow, we can take the whole system apart.
The whole thing is made up of six components. The first component is risked preparation because that’s important to your experience on the ground. That’s component number one. The second component is something we call activations. Activations are where the stability part comes in. It’s also where we invite people back into their bodies. Activations are super simple.
[bctt tweet=”Try to challenge yourself not to go to the thing that makes you feel strong all the time.”]
We have what we call the ABCs of animal movements or animal-based positions, we have ape, beast, crab, and then something that we call a loaded beast. In our activations, we’re setting up in this beast or crab position and we start challenging by lifting the limbs off the ground. It’s super simple but incredibly challenging. It’s great for increasing that communication that we talked about but also great for global full-body stability.
People don’t realize how hard that is. It’s not to have your whole hip sink down or what have you. It’s important and difficult and you can be a world-class athlete and you’re like, “Seriously?”
It’s ego-crushing. That’s part of our stability component. We then look at what we call our form-specific stretches. Those are our full-body mobilizations. You’ve probably seen someone do crab reach before or something that we call a scorpion reach. Those are full-body mobilizations. The idea and concept there is to create strength through motion. We not only look at them as our body strength-building movements but we also look at them as opportunities to build usable mobility and ranges of motion. Those are where we get more extensibility through the tissues and stability in ranges. That’s one of our components.
We do have the traveling form. That’s where we use our traveling apes, beasts, crabs, and things like that. I learned those first in parkour training and I was like, “There’s so much happening here.” We can use these as a dynamic warm-up. We can use these as cardio-respiratory training. There’s a lot of energy expended.
What is the demand for oxygen that our body is put under? We talked about road biking or cycling. If I am a novice, I’m going to burn a lot more energy because I’m not good at the thing. I’m brand new. I don’t know how to use my body properly. As I become more and more skilled at that particular pursuit, I’m able to become more efficient with energy. My cardiovascular system adapts to that and I’m better more capable of utilizing that oxygen.
Whenever we have someone who’s brand new at Animal Flow, we’re not putting them in a linear path, we’re asking them to use all of their limbs and we’re calling up the directions of which hand is left and which is right. It is a high energy expenditure not only for the brain but also because we’re moving many large groups of muscles with all of our limbs and with our spine trying to stabilize the movement of our hands and our feet. The response is high cardiovascular output or the need for more oxygen.
Even as we do become more skilled, the movements are dynamic in nature that there’s always going to be this cardio-respiratory component of it. It’s hugely a part of it when we’re moving that dynamically and moving against our own body weight through all of these different planes of motion and all these different joint angles. Even when we become more proficient and we become more skilled at Animal Flow, we can always go harder or go quicker. Make sure that we’re always challenging ourselves or putting ourselves at a disadvantage. That’s something that’s always a huge part of Animal Flow training.
Let’s say someone is pretty sedentary and they’re going to stay in the ABCs for a while and get so much benefit from that. It’s important for people to remind themselves that we don’t have to be the best at something to get the most out of it for ourselves and not to be afraid to try something, “I can’t be good at that.” Maybe that’s not the goal. Do your best.
That is something that I appreciate about this program because it’s completely approachable regardless of your condition, level, age, mobility. Do you encourage a certain type of breathing pattern or way of breathing while people are doing this? Let’s say in an ideal. In the beginning, you’re not going to throw that at them as well. They’ll be like, “Thanks a lot.” To someone progressive, do you encourage them to breathe a certain way?
We do. In the beginning, just breath and that’s it.
Everyone doing your stuff would want to hold their breath.
100%. They’re engaged with what they’re trying to do and it’s common for someone learning a new motor task to hold their breath. We’re like, “Breathe in the beginning.” Over time, as someone continues down the road of Animal Flow in their practice, we encourage something that we call breath mobility. It’s the ability to both take in oxygen and exhale oxygen at any phase throughout any movement. We can take it a step further and have the ability to take in oxygen through the nose and or the mouth and exhale oxygen and carbon dioxide through the nose or mouth during any phase or any movement. We also go into diaphragmatic breathing and upper respiratory breathing. What tool do you need at that time?
We always talk about diaphragmatic breathing but maybe you’re in a certain position where that’s not what’s happening.
To have all of those tools where your body can go, “I’m here and this is the strategy I’m going to use.”
Also, depending on what the intention is of the movement. Let’s say there’s a movement where there’s a big thoracic or ribcage opening and I want to take in oxygen when I do that. For me to do that, I’m going to go slower and my intention is to expand. Maybe I do that same movement but now my intention is to go quick and stop fast. Maybe exhale is more appropriate for that movement. It’s the same movement. It’s what I want to get out of it.
That’s interesting too because it would make it so that the practice thing could be unlimited. Why do you up so early? Who gets up at 4:30? Why? It’s dark out. It’s offensive. I live with someone like that and it’s awful.
What is that?
I’ve gone through the rabbit hole of sleeping and figuring out my sleep and what works for me and trying all the things. I realized that, for me, there’s this sweet spot where I want to start the day. I’m excited to start the day and I have to force myself to not get up at 3:30. I’ll stay in bed till 4:15 or 4:30. This is full circle back to the beginning where we’re talking about structure giving us freedom. To me, the drive is to eventually get to the point where I have the freedom to do whatever it is that I want. I don’t even know what that means right now.
Does that mean that I can get rid of everything and be like, “Do I want to end up in Amsterdam today?” It’s having that freedom. I like to think that there’s, at some point, almost like this imaginary finish line. That’s why I tell myself it needs that. It’s like, “Once you get here, you can feel accomplished.” I know that that doesn’t exist in my brain. I know that once I get there, there’s going to be another finish line and there’ll be another finish line. The drive is what drives me. Being of service drives me. If I can affect more people, that’s what I want to do. I also know that I am an intense introvert.
Do you have a secret or a trick for being someone who’s an introvert who can then go out and be an extrovert and talk in front of people? A lot of people experience that where their work might demand that they have to get out there and do a presentation or whatever? Is it that you’re fired up and sure about what you’re talking about that it’s fine?
I’m such an advocate of coaches. I have a private coach on public speaking. I’ve been doing it for years but I will continue to be coached because we can always continue to be better at it.
Do you have a certain way that you eat? Obviously, you do. What is your nutrition?
I’ve tried everything as most people have that have been in the field long enough. What works for me is high fat, mostly vegetables, smaller portions of well-sourced animal proteins. That’s what works for me. I can get away with three meals a day. Sometimes I’ll need to snack. Mostly, if I had my ratios dialed in, I can feel sustained and satiated on three meals a day and train hard as well.
Mike, I want you to tell me all the ways I can find you. Do you guys have an app? Tell me about the curriculum? If people can’t find an Animal Flow person and I know it’s tricky now with COVID and classes and what have you, tell me about the online and what that looks and how to navigate that.
We have something that’s called Animal Flow On Demand. It is an app and you can also access it on your desktop. It’s classes, tutorials, and flows. We release a new Flow every Monday. There are so many videos of classes of different duration, almost all of the tutorials, and volume movements that make up the library of the Animal Flow system. Also, flows of all varying levels, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. All that stuff is at AnimalFlow.com. We also have free videos so if anyone wants to check Animal Flow, they can go to the website or they can go to the Animal Flow YouTube. Try a class and see if it works for you.
We’re about to launch our instructor directory. That way if you’re looking for someone to do it, you can find it in that way. One more thing, if you’re reading this and you happen to go to AnimalFlow.com, we made a little mini-documentary called We Invite You To Move. It’s a fourteen-minute documentary and that’s the call to action. Start and see if you can find that thing that inspires you.
I love what you said earlier, it’s about all the movement. Everything is contributing to the benefit of someone moving. There is no one system that is perfect for everyone. Is there anything I missed that’s important to you?
We hit on a lot. The last thing I want to encourage the readers to do is to try to challenge yourself not to go to the thing that makes you feel strong all the time, whatever that means.
Are you talking to me?
Did you take that personally?
No. I need to hear this.
That is not just a movement. It’s in the relationship. It’s in the conflict. It’s in all the ways in which we experience. We have the human experience. If we do the things that always make us feel good and always make us feel safe, we are seriously missing out on the potential for growth.
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About Mike Fitch
Mike Fitch is an innovative fitness educator and movement coach with 20 years experience in the fitness industry. He is the Founder/Creator of Animal Flow, a unique ground-based movement program that has certified more than 10,000 fitness professionals in 42 countries. Mike has also developed multiple other skills-based bodyweight training programs including the Bodyweight Athlete and is a highly sought after presenter and content contributor.