Workouts gone primal

The latest fitness trend has you acting like an animal—well, lots of animals—in the gym.
Kira Stokes primal workout
For three years, Kira Stokes has had New Yorkers crawling on all fours and leaping like frogs in Stoked Primal. (Photo Credit: Rachel Neville)


Panther. Crab. Gorilla. No, this is not an inventory list for the Bronx Zoo. It’s a list of fitness moves you may encounter in a workout soon.

With the nationwide launch of Animal Flow this month at Equinox clubs, primal workouts—where exercises are based on animal forms and movement patterns—are entering the spotlight more than ever.

Mike Fitch Animal Flow primal workout
Mike Fitch’s Animal Flow approach will be taught as a group class and a personal training method at Equinox, starting in January.

The trend is part of an overall shift to back-to-basics health philosophies: These include exploding modalities like HIIT; using your own body weight for strength training; and favoring functional movements, like pushing and pulling. Plus, everyone loves the idea of tapping their inner beast.

It’s like the Paleo version of fitness—except you’re acting like an animal instead of eating one.

Fitness expert Kira Stokes designed her popular Stoked Primal class around the concept, which she teaches at Reebok Sports Club NY. Top trainer Will Torres also incorporates movements like flamingos and bullfrogs into his WillSTRIKE class (formerly WillTKO) and Raise the Bar.

“These kinds of moves have been around forever, for hundreds of years,” says Stokes, citing martial arts disciplines like Budokon that often use them. “What’s important is the way they’re taught and the intelligent way it’s all put together.” (You can check her out in the jaw-dropping video, below.)

Mike Fitch, the creator of Animal Flow, agrees. After years of “picking up and putting down heavy things,” he began a process of experimenting with modalities like parkour, gymnastics, and breakdancing.

“I saw the animal movements being used across a lot of these disciplines, so that resonated with me,” he says. “I wanted to take the movements, apply my knowledge of biomechanics, and figure out how to get the most out of training with them.”

The result is a class that has you almost exclusively on all fours, transitioning between “ape, beast, and crab” variations. Crawling may be something babies do, but not this kind. “Every muscle is engaged,” says Fitch,” and you’re simultaneously building flexibility, strength, endurance, and power.”

These types of moves can be so difficult, in fact, that Stokes’s class—which involves more across-the-room movements like ostrich (walking lunges without coming up) and side gorillas—is only 30 minutes long. “People are totally soaked in sweat and say ‘I never knew my body could work this hard,'” she says, “and the best part is that they can literally feel and see themselves getting stronger every week. Once you feel yourself improving, you feel powerful and agile and strong.”

It could be that you’ve unleashed your inner animal. —Lisa Elaine Held

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