Primal movement is all about crawling, hopping, squatting and jumping the way our forefathers did, long before the advent of laptops and desk jobs. Could it be the key to getting stronger, fitter and more physically resilient?
In recent years, the fitness industry has become increasingly interested in mobility. Our warm-ups have gone from half-arsed leg swings to walkouts and world’s greatest stretches. We’re taking stretch and strengthening classes. We’re suddenly concerned with how well our wrists rotate and our spines function. And now, it’s time to take that mobility momentum up a notch – by getting involved with primal movement.
“Primal training is a style of movement that allows your body to move how it evolved to move,” MK explains. “Naturally, we are dynamic, fluid, quadrupedal (four-footed) animals. We would crawl, jump, twist and pounce in the wild and that’s how our bodies evolved to let us move.”
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Primal training is all about “reconnecting with our roots and allowing our body to move how it’s designed to move.” MK believes that the reason so many of us are living with aches, injuries, sciatica and muscle imbalances is because “we live such rigid lives and we train in a way that doesn’t encourage longevity. Primal training is all about keeping your body strong, functional and mobile.” At a time when most of us are chained to our desks and barely make it out of the house for a quick jog, it’s not hard to believe that our bodies are creaking because of our static lifestyles.
One of the main movement patterns involved in primal training is the crawl. You’ve got bear crawls, gorilla crawls, cat crawls, and these are all compound movements that get every muscle in our upper body working while helping us to hone bilateral coordination. “All crawling patterns are fantastic for so many reasons. You’re able to improve your body awareness and full-body strength while also improving your mobility, agility and balance,” MK explains. While yoga is “fantastic and there’s definitely a time for standard mobility work,” primal training gives you everything in one go.
So what about cross-training? Few people do mobility work for mobility’s sake; we do it to make weight training easier or more effective, to bulletproof our bodies ready to run or lift heavy. Primal movements are a great form of cross-training, as boxing instructor and martial artist MK proves. If you can become a better mover, she says, you become better at your sport.
“It’s not just the injury prevention aspect – keeping your joints and stabilising muscles happy and healthy – but (primal movement) can also improve your coordination, agility, speed and strength and balance.”
Go onto Instagram to watch how MK moves and you might start thinking that you’ve got to be hard as nails to even begin the process. After all, doing a single full press up is hard, let alone doing the kind of effortless, continuous flow from child’s pose into press-up – after umpteen single lateral kicks. But MK insists that you don’t have to be strong or fit before you start primal training because the training is designed to get you strong.
“Sure you’ll struggle with bearing your own weight for the first few sessions if you haven’t really done that before, but if you are willing to get past the first few sessions of being slightly confused and very sweaty, there’s a whole new world of exercise for you to explore that doesn’t include a single burpee!” Sweet relief!
How to include primal movement into your workouts
You don’t have to turn all your workouts into primal parties but you might want to start adding a few movements into your everyday workouts. Use them in your warm-ups to really get the body working or see them as the main part of a bodyweight workout on the days when you don’t feel like using external loads.
MK’s top four primal moves:
- Lateral kick (AKA side kick through): begin in an all-fours position before taking one hand off the ground and rotating to bring the opposite leg out on the side you’re turning towards. If you start by taking the left hand off the ground, you’ll be rotating towards the left (keeping that right arm straight and grounded) while the right leg comes through to kick out straight. Return arm and foot to the start and go again on the opposite side.
- Forward ape: crouch on your heels with your arms out just in front of you, fingertips on the ground. Hop both feet forwards so that they’re now in line with your hands. Extend arms again and hop forwards again. Keep it controlled – you shouldn’t be able to hear the hop.
- Lateral ape: start in a deep squat with your hands on the floor in front of your feet. Press down through your hands and arms to raise your hips, take your feet off the floor and swing your legs to one side, landing on one leg and then another. Once both feet are down, return to that deep squat position.
- Bear crawl: start on all fours and lift your knees an inch or two off the floor so that they’re at a 90° angle. Keeping your back flat, move one hand forwards and the opposite foot forwards. Then repeat on the opposite hand and foot. After a few steps, go backward – maintaining the same distance between your arms and legs, and knees and floor throughout.
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Images: Miranda Fox.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.