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As intense and rewarding as weight-training, long-distance running or even spending time on a cross-trainer can be, they can get boring and dreary - especially if you’re only in it to lose weight or to follow a fitness regime.

Of course, some of us may not like going to the gym or playing sports at all. But the beauty of exercise and physical movement is that there is a no "one-size-fits-all" approach to fitness.

Example: a training routine inspired by animal movements. Remember those ancient martial arts based on animal movements that made Jackie Chan's kung-fu movies so enjoyable in the 1970's? You can add them to your daily fitness routine at home, and reap tremendous benefits!

Animal movements have been a constant feature in the world of fitness. (Standing upright gives us the advantage of multi-tasking, but incorporating other movements using all four limbs make for an intense workout, too.) You won't need additional weights or access to a gym to perform these movements.

Benefits of animal movements for exercise include strengthening of muscles and joints, and improved flexibility and balance and greater stamina. Because most of these are compound movements (they include more than one movement and work out multiple parts of the body), they can be very useful to build more muscle and burn more calories.

  1. Types of Animal Movements for Exercise
  2. Donkey Kicks: benefits, how to do them, common mistakes and tips
  3. Duck Walk: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  4. Bear Crawl: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  5. Crab Walk: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  6. Frog Jumps: benefits, how to do them, common mistakes and tips
  7. Monkey Shuffle: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  8. Crocodile Walk: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  9. Crouching Tiger: benefits, how to do it, common mistakes and tips
  10. Things to keep in mind and Progression for Animal Movements

Isolated exercises in the gym usually aren’t functional (functional movements are those that we are likely to use in real life). Think back to the bicep curl. When was the last you saw someone using their arm in that exact same motion outside the gym? Of course, there are many such examples.

Many trainers now emphasise functional training, and with good reason: they strengthen, stretch and mobilise the muscles and joints by repeating what is essentially a natural movement for the body.

Mimicking the movements of animals allows us to engage our entire body. Because we use our body weight for the workout, there's no need for equipment or a gym. Whether you are in a park or at home, you can try many of the animal movement exercises to strengthen, stretch and mobilise multiple parts of the body at the same time.

There are several exercises based on animal movements. Read on for eight such exercises, in increasing order of difficulty:

  • Donkey kicks
  • Duck walk
  • Bear crawl
  • Crab walk
  • Frog jumps
  • Monkey shuffle
  • Crocodile walk
  • Crouching tiger

The quadruped bent-knee hip extensions or Donkey Kicks are among the easier animal movements to perform during a workout or individually. They are an extremely effective exercise to activate and strengthen your lower body.

Benefits

  • Mobilise and strengthen the hips: Donkey Kicks are great for mobilising and tone up the buttocks, while also working on your hip flexors and the lower back at the same time. The gluteus maximus, one of the largest muscles in the body, is constantly engaged during this exercise.

Donkey Kicks target the glutes even more effectively than other compound exercises like the squats and deadlifts.

  • Stretch and strengthen the thighs: Stretching your legs while performing the exercise also keeps your hamstrings - the muscles at the back of your thighs - engaged, strengthening them along the way.
  • Weight loss: Both the glutes and hamstrings are big muscle group. Toning these has a domino effect on weight loss.

Sets & reps: Three sets of 10 reps

How to do the exercise:

  • Come down on all fours, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees in a straight line with the hip.
  • Keeping your back straight, tighten your core and straighten your right leg back and upwards in the direction of the ceiling.
  • Take the right leg as far up as possible, while making sure your back doesn't arch or rotate.
  • Slowly return to the resting position. Repeat the same motion for the left leg. This is one rep.

Common mistakes:

  • It's easy to forget about the position of your back when you're focusing on the legs and hips. But it is extremely important to make sure your back isn't arched and your elbows aren't bent to get a proper leg workout and avoid injuries.
  • If you find yourself looking up or tilting the head with every kick, stop. This can cause unnecessary strain on the neck and head. Instead, keep your upper body as relaxed as possible. Breath.

Tips:

This exercise doesn’t require upper body strength, but it acts as an anchor for your lower body while you lift one leg up at a time.

  • Keep your head pointing down while performing the exercise, as lifting it will result in an arch in your back.
  • Keep your back straight while lifting the leg upwards. Focus on your form and ensure that you feel the pressure only your glutes, and not on your back.

There are many variations to this exercise, but it is advisable to first perfect your form and movement for the basic version before moving on to other versions of the same workout.

Rock ‘n’ roll aficionados, you can sit down. Guitarists Chuck Berry and Angus Young would hop around on one leg with the other one flapping in the air, but their antics while shredding the six-string mercifully remained restricted to the stage. The Duck Walk exercise, however, is unique in its own right, along with being an intense workout for your legs. Think of it as a moving squat, down in the position and walking along while doing so.

Benefits

  • Stronger legs: Duck Walk is designed to make your legs feel like jelly once you’re done with them. Much like squats, the Duck Walk involves the use of all your leg muscles, particularly and front thigh muscles (quadriceps) and hamstrings, along with strengthening your glutes as well as the calf muscles.
  • Flexible hips: But unlike squats, which require you to keep your hip muscles firm and centred, Duck Walks will add flexibility to your hips as you walk along on your haunches. You would have seen young military cadets sat down on their haunches walking along during training, as it is a workout designed to improve strength in your ankles as well.

While it may look like a simple exercise, the Duck Walk is well-known as a strong exercise to build up leg strength.

In addition to being a strong workout in itself, Duck Walks can also be used as a warm-up exercise before a weight-training session.

Sets & reps: Three sets of 20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Squat down on your haunches with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Keep your hands above your knees and joined to keep your body’s balance and your weight in the centre.
  • Start "walking" in the same position, without letting your knees touch the ground.
  • If you’re trying it for the first time, your balance may feel a bit wobbly. It is more important to focus on keeping the right form while performing the exercise.

Common errors:

  • You may be tempted to come on your toes during the workout. Fight the urge to get the maximum benefit from the workout.
  • In an attempt to keep your balance, you may tip your weight forward or back. Both will end up having the opposite effect.
  • If you are a beginner, try not to overdo it. Remember, DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness is real and painful. Take it slow, and steady.

Tips:

  • An exercise like the Duck Walk puts pressure on the knees. If you have a history of knee problems, it is advisable to take it slow and reduce the repetitions in each set.
  • If you feel the slightest discomfort while performing the exercise, it is better to stop immediately.
  • Soreness in the muscles is a common after-effect of this exercise, but the pain goes away as your muscles get used to the movements. Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the best ways to keep muscle soreness under control as the muscles feel less burdened. 
  • Exercises that involve animal movements are usually complicated and physically intense, but the Duck Walk is a simple movement to get used to before moving on to more intense exercises.
  • This exercise may be harder for people with flat feet.

We have all seen toddlers around us crawling around curiously to get to the shiny thing across the room, and we have done so ourselves. What if you were to make it a little more challenging?

One of the simplest forms of exercise involving animal movements, the Bear Crawl takes the same movement, removes the support of the knees, and turns it into a neat bodyweight exercise that works your arms, shoulders, legs, glutes as well as core muscles. 

Benefits:

  • Full-body mobility and strength: An exercise that requires you to work your upper, core and lower body muscles together is sure to be a favourite among fitness enthusiasts. Practically putting the pressure on your entire body, the bear crawl is also a great way to mobilise your muscles quicker before a workout routine. As the exercise is performed using only the arms and legs, both those muscle groups are constantly activated, as are your chest, shoulders, core muscles as well as hips.
  • Minimum complexity, maximum reward: A vital exercise in cross-fit training as well as part of various obstacle races around the world, the Bear Crawl is a hit thanks to his simple to perform movement-to-rewards ratio.
  • Great cardio: With your upper body feeling the pressure as you move forward, the Bear Crawl is also a rigorous cardiovascular exercise. Keeping the entire body weight up against gravity while moving along is sure to burn a lot of those calories.

Sets & reps: Three sets of 20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Come down on all fours on the floor. Now lift the knees up a few inches, to prop your body up with the help of your arms and legs. Keep the back straight and parallel to the ground.
  • Keep your elbows straight. Your legs will be slightly bent at the knee. Keep your stomach sucked in.
  • Move your left hand and right leg forward, followed by the right hand and the left leg to mimic a "crawling" motion while keeping your back straight.

Common errors:

  • Initially you may get confused and move the same-side hand and foot together. Be patient, with time, the movement will come more naturally to you.
  • It's natural to try and look up when you're moving forward. But fight the instinct. Trust yourself to clear the floor before you start the exercise.

Tips:

  • While performing the exercise, ensure that your back stays straight at all times.
  • As you begin to tire, your hips will naturally begin to rise up, tipping the weight onto your arms. The key is to distribute the weight across your arms and legs and keep the core engaged during the movement.
  • For those starting out, the Bear Crawl is a great way to get into animal movement-based exercises.

Trainers around the world are drawing on movements from different sports and techniques to create newer, more functional forms of exercise. While blending different exercises can add new levels of intensity to any workout, there are few exercises more intense than the crab walk.

Benefits:

  • Full-body conditioning: While standard push-ups work your upper body and squats work on your back, hips and legs, the Crab Walk puts an interesting twist on both. It reverses the form factor to give you a solid core workout, all the while making your arms, shoulders and legs stronger. What more can you ask for from a single exercise?
  • Weight loss: The Crab Walk is an absolute full-body calorie burner. A great addition to circuit or interval training programmes, the crab walk is an exercise that can be performed just about anywhere, including indoors. There are a few variations of the exercise, but you can burn enough calories by performing the basic one, and master it first before moving onto more unconventional methods

Sets & reps: Three sets of 15-20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Sit on the floor with your feet slightly apart and knees up. Place your hands on the floor behind your back.
  • Prop yourself up, tighten your core by sucking in your bellybutton, balance your entire body on your hands and feet. Remember, you are facing the ceiling at this point.
  • Start walking ahead with your left hand and right foot moving at the same time. Repeat the move with the opposite limbs.
  • Walk to the end of the room and then walk back without letting your buttocks touch the floor. One 20-second round is one set.

Common mistakes:

  • Remember to warm up and mobilise the arms, back and legs before you do the workout.
  • Don't drop your head back
  • Don't bend your elbows
  • Try to make the movements more controlled, rather than rushing through the exercise.

Tips:

  • Keep your core tight and your hips high to get more intensity in your workout and workout the most number of muscle groups in your body.
  • To prevent shoulder injuries, find a pace that suits your movements and coordination. Don't rush. It's okay if you can just hold the starting position in the early stages of trying this movement.
  • For those not used to bodyweight training, it is likely that you will feel your limbs shaking by the second or the third set - this is perfectly normal. Much like the Bear Crawl, which is an inverted version of this exercise, the Crab Walk will exercise your legs and torso. Walking backwards will work on your arms and triceps.
  • If you have any prior injuries to your shoulders or think your movements could be affected while performing this exercise, it is wise to stop and seek a trainer’s assistance.

A regular feature of many warm-up routines, especially in martial arts such as aikido, the Frog Jump is an exercise to strengthen your legs as well as improve your cardiovascular function. The powerful lower body exercise finds its way into most workouts designed for building explosive leg strength.

Benefits:

  • Boost metabolism: The high-intensity workout burns calories, and quickly at that. While it is imperative to maintain good form and posture during the workout, exercises like Frog Jumps are a terrific way to boost metabolism.
  • Improve blood circulation: One of the best exercises for losing weight, Frog Jumps also keep the blood circulation going in legs, along with keeping them in good and strong shape.
  • Build endurance: For those who play sports that involve a lot of running and changing direction, Frog Jumps are the way to go if you need to add endurance and stamina into your performances.

 

Sets & reps: Three sets of 20 seconds each

How to do the exercise:

  • Squat on your haunches, keeping your back as straight as possible, hips out and arms either between your legs or behind your back.
  • Jump forward from your position with the force coming from your feet, trying to push the ground away as much as possible, without swinging the arms.
  • Try to achieve as much air time as possible, stretch out your legs in the air before landing on your toes. This is one jump.

Common errors:

  • Don't swing the arms. Small jumps are perfectly okay; your leaps will grow as you get used to the movement.
  • If you are beginner, keep your arms in front but don't use them to support your weight unless you're about to fall.

Tips:

  • Those with prior knee or joint trouble should consult a doctor before performing this exercise.
  • As important as it is to keep the back straight and focus on “pushing” the feet into the ground while jumping, landing softly on the toes first is equally important to prevent any injury.

While the majority of animal-movement exercises focus on moving forward and back, the Monkey Shuffle mixes things up by adding a sideways element to your workout. We may have evolved from them, but it is now time to mimic them back.

There are several variations of the Monkey Shuffle, depending on the kind of primate you’re focussing on. Try the most basic movement, before you graduate to more complex versions that require you to build up your strength and endurance levels.

Benefits:

  • Strengthen the wrists and shoulder blades: The sideways movement of the Monkey Shuffle strengthens the wrists and fingers, along with mobilizing their shoulder blades and hips. The Monkey Shuffle is also a great way to improve your upper body strength to perform handstands.
  • Improve body coordination and balance: The “shuffle” movement of the monkey tests your body’s balance, coordination and flow. It also adds an element of fun to your workout
  • Stronger hips: The shuffle adds to your mobility by stretching and strengthening your hip as you shuffle from one side to the other.

Sets & reps: Three rounds of 20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Begin by assuming a deep squat position, with your hands resting on the ground between your legs. You can use your palms, fingers or even knuckles, depending on your comfort level.
  • Now, lift your hips, put your right hand further to your right and move your legs to the right. Rest for a second before repeating.
  • Repeat the same movement for 20 seconds in one direction, then shuffle in the opposite direction for the same duration.

Common errors:

  • Do not attempt to go too fast as you can lose balance.
  • Do not put the entire weight of your body on your hands and wrists, which can result in an injury.

Tips:

  • Because this exercise relies heavily on your body’s coordination, focus on bringing a smoothness to your movement.
  • This movement is supposed to be fun. Be loose as you shuffle, as opposed to stiff and concerned about the length of your sideways stride.

Whether it is for building the perfect physique or just to get into your favourite pair of jeans, a flat stomach is high on everyone’s list of achievements, especially as you settle into a sedentary life that involves a lot of sitting. (No workout is complete until you have worked on your core and abs.) The Crocodile Walk can do this for you.

Benefits:

  • Strong core: The Crocodile Walk (or the Alligator Walk, depending on the geographic location you’re in) is an advanced full-body workout for a stronger core.
  • Strong back and legs: While crunches tend to engage the front and sides of your stomach region, the Crocodile Walk also keeps your back engaged. It work on your hips, thighs as well as making your pelvic stronger. 

Sets & reps: Three sets of 20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Assume the push-up position with your stomach strong, and arms and legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your elbows to come as close to the floor as possible. Now, bring one knee up towards the elbow and take the opposite arm ahead in the same motion.
  • Keep going forward by repeating the motion on the other side.

Common errors:

  • Try not to bring your upper body up during the exercise.
  • Check your form, to make sure your back remains straight and your hips don't rise or slump too much.

Tips:

  • While performing intense exercises, it is important to focus on two things the most: keeping the form intact and focus on your breathing. A good form ensures you get the maximum out of each workout and reduces the risk of injury, while consistent breathing will help you gain strength and improve your performance with every set.
  • The crocodile walk is an exercise that engages multiple muscle groups in your body, like your core, back, thighs and arms as well as your shoulders. It may not be the easiest animal movement-based exercise out there, but it sure is one of the most effective.

Tigers are known for their graceful movements, as they crouch and prowl through dense jungles. The Crouching Tiger (not referring to the Oscar-winning film) is a workout that has multiple variations, but even its simplest movements engage your entire body.

You would have seen military personnel or even obstacle runners wading through muddy waters under barbed wires and other obstacles, and the crouching tiger will spring to mind. It is also another movement that can be categorised under "crawling", which allows you to build a stronger core and gives you functional mobility.

Benefits:

  • Body coordination and strength: The Crouching Tiger works on your shoulders, arms, hips, back as well as glutes as you mimic the majestic animal moving forward, forcing your body to counter-balance and engage your core at all times.
  • Add variety and intensity: If you have become accustomed to the plank, moving onto the crouching tiger is a great way to add some variety to your workout routine.

Sets & reps: Three rounds of 20 seconds each.

How to do the exercise:

  • Assume a plank position, facing down with your elbows and toes holding the rest of your body up, with your back straight.
  • Use your left elbow and right leg to move forward, and repeat with the right elbow and left leg.
  • Stay as low and close to the floor as possible for the best results.

Common errors:

  • It's easy to let the hips slink or raise them when you're tired. Keep an eye on your form.
  • Work out on a soft surface, like on grass in a playground or a wooden floor. A hard floor can lead to pain or injury of the elbows.

Tips:

  • While performing the Crouching Tiger, always remember to keep the body-weight resting evenly on your elbows and feet to avoid tipping over.
  • Stay low and do not allow your back or hips to rise up as you get tired. Taking the weight off the core will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
  • Because you are going to be using your elbows during the Crouching Tiger, it is better to have some cushioning to keep your elbows from bruising.

Animal movements draw on nature. Sure, they seem hard in the beginning but our bodies are equipped to take the pressure - provided we increase the intensity gradually.

  • Make sure you train with an experienced professional, at least in the beginning, and always-always warm-up before doing any exercises.
  • If you have a chronic condition or if you are recovering from a sports injury, make sure to ask your doctor before attempting any movements.

While all of these movements are excellent for working out (they even to the muscles that are otherwise hard to get to, like the side waist) without weights, they can take some getting used to.

Different progressions might work for different people basis their strengths, but it might be a good idea to start with Donkey Kicks and then work your way through the list until you get to the Crouching Tiger.

Remember to mix your routine up and do different movements on different days. The body is very good at learning things. So long as you keep throwing new challenges its way, it will keep growing and getting stronger!

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