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Regress to Progress

Scaling Movements of Animal Flow to Increase Your Success
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Author- Bryan Wither

Animal Flow is a complete, and versatile, full-body training system. Using its Six Components, you can build strength, mobility and coordination through many planes of motion. You can also build a resilient body that can perform any task you need it to. And because it’s strictly a bodyweight system, an Animal Flow practice can follow you wherever you go.

Sometimes it can feel like you already have to be ‘in shape’ in order to reap the benefits of the practice. Some positions might feel like they require a lot of flexibility to settle into. Some movements might feel like they require more strength than you have right now while other moves might feel a bit complicated. In situations like this, I like to remember a quote I heard from one of my first movement coaches (and one also used liberally within the Animal Flow community), “Regress to progress.”

When we understand the goals of each movement, we can work around our limitations. This lets the individual continue to build strength and mobility, and gradually “master” positions that may currently be a struggle. With a bit of creativity and patience, this is possible with just about every Animal Flow movement. In this way, you can build resilience in your body and improve your performance over a broad range of movements.

Demystifying the Deep Ape

By way of example, let’s examine some movements that begin from Deep Ape.

Deep Ape, or Ape for short, is simply our term for your best deep squat, where your heels are on the ground, your spine is long and your eyes are looking towards the horizon.

From Ape, we can do:

But what if you can’t easily find a deep squat? Maybe you have a tight hip, maybe your ankle dorsiflexion is insufficient, or your spine rounds a lot. Does this mean that these particular parts of the practice are lost? Absolutely not. With a few different strategies, you can work around the obstacles and gain the benefits of the movements.

Regressing the Ape Reach

The Ape Reach is a Form Specific Stretch that is practiced from Ape. As you reach and open, you’re working internal and external rotation of your shoulders. You’re training some thoracic spine mobility as you move from a fully flexed-forward position to an upright, open position. Depending on the variation you perform, you’re also training your hip abductors and adductors, (the muscles that pull the thighs open and closed respectively), and the muscles that flex and extend your hips.

Ape Reach positionApe Reach.
Open phase of Ape ReachOpen phase of Ape Reach.

There’s a lot going on which is why it’s such a useful movement to practice. But what do we do if we can’t yet access that deep squat? We regress to progress.

Regression 1: Standing Ape Reach

One option is to take the movement higher off the ground. From standing, start by opening your arms with your palms facing the sky. With your arms at shoulder height reach in opposing directions as if trying to stretch your arms as long as possible. Your chest should be proud and you’ll be standing tall with your hips extended. Then, to reach, hinge at your hips with a soft bend at your knees, connecting the backs of your hands together as you reach out ahead of you.

Regression 2: Kneeling Ape Reach

Another option comes from kneeling on your shins. In this option, reach as far forward and down as you can without touching the ground. Open by extending your hips and pulling the arms outward, in the same way as both the conventional Ape Reach and the standing version covered above.

Regressing the Lateral Traveling Ape

The three versions of Lateral Traveling Ape (Version 1: Low Hip, Version 2: High Hip, and Version 3: Reaching) are also highly valuable movement tools.

They are wonderful full-body movements that develop coordination and build strength in your arms, legs and core muscles. They can also be excellent cardiovascular conditioning exercises when performed for time.

If you can’t achieve a Deep Ape position or find it highly challenging to support yourself on your hands, a simple strategy to regress these movements is to ‘bring the floor up’ to you. We can use elevated surfaces around us to make it easier to correctly position our hands and practice the movement successfully.

Animal Flow Deconstructed

These adjustments and adaptations are just a few examples of how you can change one particular position to suit your body. Everyone who starts an Animal Flow practice will show up with their own unique body. This body will have its own gifts, strengths, and struggles.

A Certified Animal Flow Instructor will be ready to modify any movement to meet the needs of you as an individual, based on where you’re at on your own journey. If you’re practicing on your own at home or don’t have access to an AF Instructor, there is another option.

The Animal Flow On Demand app is a digital movement studio with capable teachers in your pocket. In the past two years a substantial amount of content has been dedicated to the ‘AF Deconstructed’ series. This is a collection of tutorials with regressed versions of a selection of the Level 1 and Level 2 movements. There are also full classes in-app, allowing you to practice complete Flows with these movements, plus some moves that aren’t strictly AF but can help you fill in the gaps of your practice.

Movement for EveryBODY

On every Animal Flow workshop banner, next to the Master Instructor demonstrating a movement, there’s a slogan. That slogan is “Movement for EveryBODY.” It’s a noble goal, and one that we treat seriously as Animal Flow instructors. This is why there has been a serious effort to create solutions for people who aren’t already amazing movers so that they can also enjoy the practice.

All Six Components of the Animal Flow system can be regressed, or ‘Deconstructed’, to suit almost any mover. This creates opportunities for people across broad populations to be able to enjoy movement and reap the benefits of an Animal Flow practice.

If you want to train with Bryan, either online or in person in Miami, FL, USA, you can reach him here. If you’re looking for an Animal Flow Certified Instructor in your area, search the Instructor Directory at animalflow.com/instructor-directory