What Are Primal Movements and What Are Their Benefits?

Need a change in your workout routine? Do you struggle to stay motivated and engaged in your fitness journey? It might be time to tap into your inner beast and explore primal movements.

Primal movements or animal movement exercises offer a unique approach to functional fitness that can help bridge the gap in our innate need for diverse yet functional movements.

The idea is to train for movement rather than focusing on a singular aspect of fitness, such as strength, mobility, or endurance. The ultimate goal is to have the different elements of physical fitness complement the bigger goal of creating graceful movement patterns.

In this article, we’ll delve into the science behind animal movement exercises and how these movements can offer a scalable and adaptable approach to fitness.

Primal movements are based on the natural, functional movements that our ancestors used for survival and that are still innate to our bodies.

Primal movement patterns are fundamental movements humans have been performing for millions of years, such as crawling, climbing, walking, running, jumping, pushing, pulling, and squatting. These movements engage multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously, promoting full-body strength, stability, and coordination.

These exercises mimic the natural movement patterns of animals like bears, crabs, frogs, and gorillas, among others. By performing these exercises, we tap into our primal instincts and engage our bodies in ways not typically addressed in conventional workouts.

1. Functional fitness

Primal movement exercises prepare the body for real-life situations by enhancing functional strength, mobility, and coordination, making everyday tasks and physical activities easier and more efficient.

Unlike weight lifting, primal movement involves different planes of motion and is often done to accomplish a goal rather than moving weight from point A to point B.

Unlike isolation exercises that target specific muscle groups, primal movements engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Often targeting both the upper and lower body, these full-body engagement routines lead to improved overall strength, stability, and calorie expenditure, providing a time-efficient and effective workout.

Since these exercises often engage multiple muscle groups, they tend to result in a higher calorie burn compared to traditional exercises, making them an effective tool for weight management and body recomposition goals.

Primal movements can be easily modified to suit various fitness levels and abilities. Exercises can be progressed or regressed by adjusting the intensity, speed, tempo, or complexity of the movement, making them accessible to anyone.

Primal movements challenge the body to coordinate complex movement patterns that train your mind-muscle connection to be more efficient and effective. Over time, this could lead to improvement in balance, agility, and body awareness, which are beneficial both for daily activities and athletic performance.

Primal movements require a full range of motion in various joints, including the hips, shoulders, ankles, and wrists. Regularly practicing these exercises can help improve mobility and flexibility, reduce the risk of injuries, and enhance overall physical performance.

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Some athletes who regularly include primal movement exercises in their workout sessions see a dramatic improvement in complex physical movements such as handstand pushups due to increased shoulder range of motion and overall mobility.

Traditional strength training and repetitive cardio exercises can sometimes lead to overuse injuries due to the repetitive stress placed on specific joints and muscles. Primal movements, with their varied movement patterns and full-body engagement, can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries by distributing the load across multiple muscle groups and joints.

Primal movement exercises can be fun, challenging, and engaging. They are an excellent alternative to traditional gym routines. Their novelty and variety can help increase motivation and adherence to a regular fitness program.

Primal movement exercises can be seamlessly integrated into your existing workout routine, providing a dynamic and engaging way to enhance your overall fitness. Since they engage your whole body, you can insert them in any part of your routine.

Use primal movements as active recovery exercises between sets of strength training or high-intensity intervals. For example, perform a set of bear crawls or crab walks during your rest periods to maintain elevated heart rate and engage different muscle groups, promoting better circulation and faster recovery.

Include primal movements in your dynamic warm-up routine to prepare your body for more intense exercises. Movements like the inchworm walk, ostrich walk, and leopard crawl can help increase blood flow, mobilize joints, and activate key muscle groups, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing performance in your main workout.

Incorporate short bursts of primal movements throughout your day as "movement snacks." These brief sessions can help break up sedentary periods, boost energy levels, and improve mood. For instance, take a 5-minute break from your desk to perform a series of frog jumps or duck walks, promoting better posture and increasing overall physical activity.

Create a primal movement circuit by combining various exercises into a continuous, full-body workout. For example, perform a series of bear crawls, followed by crab walks, frog jumps, and crocodile crawls, with minimal rest between exercises. This type of training can help improve cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and overall fitness in a time-efficient manner.

Here is a plan for men that will help you get strong:

And for women:

Since they are designed to be functional, primal movements works well as outdoor workouts, allowing you to build better body awareness and proprioception while enjoying fresh air and natural surroundings. Use park benches, trees, or other outdoor features to perform exercises like the gorilla walk or scorpion crawl, adding variety and fun to your routine

There are virtually unlimited ways to train using primal movements, and the term “primal” has no standard basis in fitness. However, several exercises can definitely improve your fitness and allow it to translate into your athletic performance and daily activities.

Focusing on full-body movements and exercises that engage the core can make you even more athletic and potentially prevent injuries.

Studies have found that exercises that are done on quadruped (all fours, crawling & bridging) lead to improvement in overall function, range of motion, muscular strength, and endurance.

Here are some of the examples of primal movement exercises:

Bear crawls help develop full-body strength, stability, and coordination while improving shoulder and hip mobility. When you crawl, your body is under continuous tension throughout the exercise. This allows better stimulus for muscle growth and strength building.

Main muscles involved: Shoulders, chest, triceps, core, quads and glutes

How to do it:

  1. Start on all fours. Place your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips
  2. Lift your knees slightly off the ground and move forward by alternating your right hand and left foot, then your left hand and right foot
  3. Keep your back flat and core engaged

Crab walks help strengthen the upper body and core, improve wrist and shoulder mobility, and enhance overall coordination and body awareness. They also work the endurance of hip extensors and spinal postural muscles.

Main muscles involved: Shoulders, chest, triceps, core, quads and glutes

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the ground with your hands behind you and your feet flat on the floor
  2. Lift your hips off the ground and walk forward by moving your right hand and left foot, then your left hand and right foot
  3. Maintain a straight line from your head to your hips

Frog jumps help develop lower body power, improve leg strength and coordination, and enhance overall cardiovascular endurance.

Main muscles involved: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

How to do it:

  1. Start in a deep squat position with your hands on the ground between your feet
  2. Explode upward, extending your arms and legs out to the sides
  3. Land softly back into the squat position

Crocodile Crawl The crocodile crawl is a low-to-the-ground movement that uses push-up movements with a greater range of motion and stretches on the shoulders and hips.

Crocodile crawls help develop upper body strength, enhance core stability, improve hip mobility, and increase total-body coordination.

Main muscles involved: Chest, shoulder, triceps, and core.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet together.
  2. Lower your hips and chest towards the ground while keeping your core engaged and your body in a straight line from head to toe.
  3. Move forward by simultaneously bringing your right elbow towards your right hip and your left knee towards your left elbow, creating a stretching sensation in your right shoulder.
  4. Then, alternate sides by bringing your left elbow towards your left hip and your right knee towards your right elbow, stretching your left shoulder.
  5. Continue alternating sides as you crawl forward, maintaining a low body position throughout the movement.

Main muscles involved: Shoulders, chest, core, quads, and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a deep squat position with your hands on the ground in front of you.
  2. Walk forward by moving your right hand and right foot forward simultaneously, then your left hand and left foot
  3. Maintaining a low squat position throughout the movement

This exercise engages multiple muscle groups and requires a high level of coordination, stability, and mobility. The whole movement pattern in scorpion crawl resembles a scorpion’s tail striking motion.

Main muscles involved: Shoulders, chest, triceps, core, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors

How to do it:

  1. Start in a bear crawl position with your hands shoulder-width apart, feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly off the ground.
  2. Keeping your core tight and back flat, lift your right foot off the ground and bring your right knee towards your right elbow.
  3. As you bring your right knee forward, extend your left leg behind you, keeping it straight and lifting it as high as possible, resembling a scorpion's tail.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement on the opposite side, bringing your left knee towards your left elbow and extending your right leg behind you.
  5. Alternate sides with each step, maintaining a controlled and fluid motion throughout the exercise.

Primal movement exercises offer a unique yet comprehensive approach to physical fitness that traditional exercises often overlook.

These exercises engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, promoting full-body strength, stability, and coordination. By mimicking natural movement patterns that our ancestors used for survival, primal movements help develop functional fitness, preparing the body for real-life situations and making everyday tasks easier and more efficient.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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