Animals inspire us in many ways and exercise is no exception. Various schools of exercise — from ancient to modern — have readily drawn inspiration from the animal world. So much so that there is an entire style of workout called Animal Flow. Also, some of the most common exercises we do today not only mimic animal movements but also bear their names. Since animals do not lift weights or use bands, these are all body weight movements. Here are seven of the most effective exercises inspired by the movements of animals that you should look to weave into your regular training routine.
Downward Dog: This is one of the most popular stretches no matter what kind of exercise routine you follow. It is also a basic yoga pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) that is an integral part of sun salutations or surya namaskaras. While this inversion recruits muscles and joints literally from head to toe, its primary function is to stretch your hamstrings and calves. The secondary muscles that are engaged here are your upper back, shoulders, arms and core—all of which gain in strength. The downward dog is one of the most commonly performed exercises by long distance runners who are constantly plagued by tight hamstrings and calves as this move brings them relief.
Bear Crawl: Another whole-body exercise that engages your upper body, lower body, all limbs and core, this one requires you to move like a bear on all fours. Start on all fours on the ground with your hands in line with shoulders and knees under your hips. Now, raise your knees off the floor while maintaining your spine and hips in a straight line parallel to the floor. Move forward, using the opposite hand and legs at the same time, pretty much like a bear walks. At no point should your knees touch the floor. Though the move engages the entire body, it is a great mobility move during warm-ups and is particularly good for the core. Furthermore, this is a great exercise to improve your balance and coordination.
Crab Walk: Crabs have a smooth and quick dance-like gait. But when you attempt walking like them, it is going to be anything but graceful. Start with sitting on the floor, placing your hands on either side of your hips behind you, shoulder width apart, fingers pointing out sideways. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and lift your hips and body up towards the ceiling while engaging your core and knees bent at right angle. Now, start walking forwards. You are doing the crab walk now. It is a great shoulder and upper back opener as well as an exercise that engages your glutes and core. It is an ideal mobility move and great in warm-up and mobility routines.
Cobra: A static move, this one is as much a stretch as it is a lower back strengthening move that has its origins in yoga. This is a relatively easy stretch that can be done by almost everyone no matter their level of fitness. Its benefits include better flexibility of the spine, strengthening the lower back and stretching the upper body, mainly chest and shoulders.
Dead Bug: Despite the name, there is nothing dead about this dynamic exercise that improves coordination and improves your core strength. Start with lying on your back and then raise your arms towards the ceiling forming a right angle with your shoulders. Now, bend your knees and raise your legs to the ceiling such that knees and feet are in a straight line parallel to the floor resembling a dead bug. Move one arm behind your head in a straight line while simultaneously straightening and lowering the opposite leg to the floor in front. Hold for a second or two while engaging your core, return to the starting position and repeat with the other set of limbs. Add some weight if you want to make this more challenging.
Cat-Camel: This dynamic move is as much a stretch as it is a mobility exercise for the entire trunk including the spine, back and core. Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Squeeze your abs and while exhaling arch your spine pushing the tummy to the floor while lifting your head up towards the ceiling. Hold the pose and feel the stretch. While inhaling, starting lifting your entire back by rounding it and push it as much as you can, towards the ceiling, just like a cat stretches. Hold it here for a few seconds. Alternate between the two for 10 reps. Simple.
Bird-Dog: This is a fun balance and coordination exercise that enhances your core strength and also doubles up as mobility work to some extent. And the best part? Your arms work to fulfil the bird part of the exercise while the legs perform the dog bit. Talk about compartmentalising. Start on all fours and while engaging your core, in a controlled manner lift one leg off the floor and straighten it behind you till it is parallel to the floor. Simultaneously, push the opposite arm forward and straighten it till it is parallel to the floor and the bicep is next to your ear. Hold this pose for a few seconds and return to the starting position and repeat it with the other set of limbs. Start with 10 repetitions and once that gets easy, you can add a weight to the routine.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.