Three Animal Movements for Strength and Mobility

Today my pal Ryan from GMB Fitness is back with part 2 of his strength and mobility series. Check out part 1 here

Mother and baby doing bear crawl together in brightly lit roomWhat if you could spend a few minutes per day using nothing but your body weight to build functional upper body strength, train your core, and improve your hip mobility? No equipment necessary, and no gym membership, either.

It might sound too good to be true, but you can. We’ll show you the exact animal movements you need and how to do them. We’ll cover three specific exercises: the Bear, Monkey, and Frogger. They’re all similar in that they contribute to full body strength, control, and mobility, but they serve you in different ways.

Try These Three Animal Movements for Strong Shoulders, a Stable Core, and Flexible Hips

Why should you walk around on your hands and feet like an animal? To start, it’s surprisingly good for you.

This form of movement is called locomotion because you’re moving your body through space. Walking is a good example of locomotion. We use animal movements due to the stimulus it provides for the entire body and because it’s way different from anything else you do during your day.

For most of the day, you’re in the typical upright position with your head on top of the body. When you get down on all fours, you’re actively getting out of this posture and into a novel one where you’re inverted and your head is hanging down toward the ground.

For instance, look at Ryan’s head position here doing the Bear:

Ryan demonstrates bear crawl on hands and feet with hips piked toward ceiling.

Inverting yourself helps load your shoulders and provides traction for the spine. That allows for some decompression of the spine and neck. When you start to move around with intention, you will notice some relief in tension that we all tend to hold in our back and neck.

Another positive aspect of getting inverted is the shift in body position allows for a change in circulation and respiratory responses, counteracting a lot of the sitting we’re doing on a daily basis.

When you do these movements regularly, you’ll build a strong upper back and shoulders, which carries over to activities that require any amount of upper body strength. You’ll also strengthen your core and improve your stability as you’re forced to balance yourself while you work through these exercises.

Here’s exactly how to do each animal movement.

Getting Started with Bear Walks

Demonstrating the bear walk.

How to do the Bear:

  • Get down on all fours (hands and feet) with your arms straight and keeping a slight bend in your knees.
  • Now start to move by lifting your right hand and left foot, pushing them forward.
  • Repeat the same thing with your left hand and right foot, walking forward. You can keep up this pattern moving forward or backward.

The Bear loads your shoulders and upper back, allowing you to build strength as you get comfortable with the movement. It also gets you into spinal extension and allows for some decompression of the spine in the inverted position.

Another benefit is the hamstring and calf flexibility that will come from doing the movement more regularly. As you walk back and forth, you’ll work on core stabilization to maintain balance and keep from falling over.

The next movement that makes sense to move onto from here is the Frogger.

Stronger, More Mobile Hips with the Frogger

Ryan demonstrating the frogger.

How to do the Frogger:

  • Squat down with your hands out in front of you.
  • Reach out and place your palms flat on the ground.
  • Shift your bodyweight forward onto your hands (think of pulling your body toward your hands instead of pushing with your legs).
  • Shift forward by pulling yourself with your arms and torso, then hop like a frog to return to the starting position.

The Frogger, similar to the Bear, is good for the shoulders and upper back because you’re stabilizing your bodyweight with your hands. But because it has you in the deep squat position, you’re simultaneously working on your hip strength and mobility.

Once you’re comfortable with the Frogger, the Monkey is another good one to try.

Test Your Core and Upper Body Strength with the Monkey

Ryan demonstrates the monkey.

How to do the Monkey:

  • Begin in a squat position and then reach your hands to the right. You want one hand outside of your right foot and the other just inside.
  • Lean toward your right hand, shifting your weight to the side. Think of pulling yourself to the right.
  • With your weight on your hands, lift your hips while picking up the left foot, and hop back to the squat position you started in.

Repeat the movement in the opposite direction. Like the Bear and Frogger, the Monkey is strengthening your spine and encouraging core stability as you move from side to side. It’s also good for your shoulder and wrists as you balance yourself with your hands throughout the movement. Due to the squat position, you’ll also be working on hip strength and mobility as well.

See the full movements on YouTube

The best way to do these movements is to set a timer for anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes each and work through them doing as many reps as you can safely and with good form. You’re free to take as many breaks as you want. We really want you to focus on getting comfortable with the movements and doing them as best you can. We are more concerned with quality reps as opposed to breaking form and doing as much as you can in the time period.

Animal Movements Make You Strong, Mobile, and Athletic

Depending on your primary form of training, the way you use animal movements might differ. You can use them as part of your warmup before starting your gym sessions, or you can do them as a stand-alone workout at home.

At GMB, we use these animal movements as a way to create strength, mobility, and to build full body control for more athletic movement.

To get more animal-based movement in, check out GMB’s free 15-minute Mobility Boost. You can use it as a warm-up, or a way to destress and loosen up after a long day.

After a training accident ended his competitive gymnastics career, Ryan moved to Japan and competed in various martial arts until another injury made him reevaluate his priorities in life. As Head Coach at GMB Fitness, his mission is to show everyone that you can define your own fitness as a sustainable and enjoyable part of your life. You can follow GMB Fitness on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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