The Jungle Gym

Animal Flow X uses beasts and critters as exercise inspirations

February 5, 2013

Instructor Mike Babbitt leads his students in a crab reach, one of many Animal Flow X moves that put pressure on the wrists.

Ray Taylor, 48, is a beast at the gym. Literally. When he was at Equinox Tysons Corner last Wednesday night, he got down on all fours and then lifted his knees just off the ground to be in “beast,” a standard position in Animal Flow X.

The class, which debuted at Equinox in January, uses animal-inspired movements to increase strength, flexibility, mobility and coordination.

“I was lifting a ton of weights and wanted to be jacked,” says creator Mike Fitch, who’d been in the fitness business for a decade before he realized his goal was just making him hurt. After a journey that included gymnastics, parkour, circus arts and break dance, he came up with this wild way to work out.

Fitch admits he’s not the first person to crab walk or pop up in the air like a frog. But by integrating these kinds of movements with break-dance transitions and a dash of yoga, he developed the entirely new discipline of Animal Flow.

The first lesson for new practitioners is how to get wrist relief: With your fingers dangling down and your arms at chest height, push the backs of your hands together. That’s a necessary antidote to the stress you’ll be putting on your wrists when crawling around the floor.

“We’re trying to get people used to being on all fours,” instructor Mike Babbitt said at the class Wednesday night. Babbitt, who fittingly has a tiger tattooed along his right arm, eased the students into the routine by teaching them how to sink into a deep squat, walk their hands out into plank and return to standing.


Next up was beast, which isn’t easy to hold for more than a few seconds. It got even harder when Babbitt instructed the room to try lifting a hand, a foot and then both at the same time. For another challenge, he had everyone transition into “loaded beast,” which requires sinking back. From there, the students sprung forward into lunges with one hand out, mimicking a claw.

Soon there were scorpions (a bit like a three-legged dog in yoga) and ape jumps (from a deep squat, place your hands on the ground to one side and push off while leaping your feet over to the other side). And along came balance exercises, core conditioners and cardio bursts.

It’s a workout that “sneaks up on you,” Taylor says. “Halfway through class, you think, ‘Oh my God.’ ” But it still puts a smile on his face to get to ape, well, apes.

Animal Flow X is at Equinox Tysons Corner (8065 Leesburg Pike) and Equinox Bethesda (4905 Elm St.). See Equinox.com for schedules.

The Evolution

To be able to put the flow in Animal Flow, students need to know enough of the movements to follow along in a “Simon Says”-ish game. “The instructor becomes a DJ of movement,” creator Mike Fitch says. Animal Flow X has elements of that, but it’s really a conditioning class that’s a prequel to straight-up Animal Flow. Equinox expects to launch the advanced classes later this year.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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