It’s mid 2012, and I get a link to US gym chain Equinox’s signature group exercise class range, asking what I’d like to teach in their first UK club. My reply was pretty much:
This wasn’t simply because of its incredibly sexy marketing video starring program designer Mike Fitch –
– although obviously, that helped.
It wasn’t just because I regularly crawl around on all fours anyway (it’s a fitness instructor thing – this is a job than can leave you too knackered to even get up your own stairs, people).
It wasn’t even because it had that imaginative element* that hooked me into classes like Body Balance** and Body Combat*** in the first place.
* Animal Flow = pretending be an animal. Totally easier than pretending to be an adult.
** Body Balance = pretending to be zen and graceful. Winning.
*** Body Combat = pretending to beat the crap out of bad dudes, like a super hero. Won.
It was because animal flow – whether Mike Fitch’s program or any freestyle version – is a movement concept – which is so much more interesting for me than a ‘how many sets/reps can you do of X/Y/Z to time’ class format.
These are effective classes, but they don’t engage intellect and imagination and so for me, they fail on the essential exercise Fun Factor. No word of lie: I simply don’t have the masochistic streak a lot of fitness fanatics have (though my classes, one expects, would argue that I have the pre-requisite fitness instructors sadistic streak refined to an art form). If it isn’t fun, I have many, many better – and less painful – things to be doing.
^ this, however, ranks competitively on my Fun Things To Be Doing list ^
Let me pass on a piece of wisdom I recently heard:
Saying you haven’t found a form of exercise you enjoy is like being a desperate single who doesn’t go on many dates.
Exercise comes in as many variations as members of your dateable gender, and while you might be lucky and find something you like straight away, chances are you’ll have to look around a while to find your perfect match.
And to be fair, the ‘need’ to exercise is a fairly recent phenomenon. Historically, the life of man was a protracted and practical workout, one where falling behind was a terminal condition. In today’s sedentary world, people can exist with as little exercise as walking around their house and place of work, while eating food which is essentially toxic.
Today, the term ‘exercise’ refers to an optional vocation which is largely equated with running or hitting the gym. When you think about how many forms exercise can come in, it seems statistically reasonably likely you will tolerate one of these but love neither.
Exercise has also become equated with weight management, blindsiding the many other mental, emotional, physical and social benefits it brings, and this is a real shame. People only want to know how many calories they will burn, rather than being interested in how it could improve their wellbeing. Many kinds of exercise will help manage your chocolate addiction, but a few will bring you joy as well, whether it’s a sport or running or dancing or particular fitness classes.
Now me: I’m fitter than average. I’m pretty strong. I’m lean and toned. But I can still give Matt Smith a run for the title of Moving Most Like A Drunken Giraffe. My hips are belligerent buggers which won’t go where they’re told, ensuring that I have as much aptitude for alluring styles of dancing as a rhinoceros.
And so movement fascinates me. ‘Good’ movement eludes, taunts me. At my ninjastics school, I.C. Movement’s Skilltown, I bring sunny enthusiasm and frustration to the tutors in (hopefully more or less) equal measure. Animal Flow challenges me. It’s a game. It’s play. It’s hard but rewarding and at the end of a session I haven’t any status-worthy workout statistics, but I’ve moved differently and hopefully better (and generally have an interesting/entertaining photo to update Facebook with).
This kind of movement patterning encourages my body to co-ordinate as a unit. My shoulders feel looser and after the next day’s inevitable you made us do WHAT? protests, they’ll be stronger too. I’m standing straighter. My hips are stretched. Therapeutic clicks run down my spine during the first few scorpion switches. Pushups are far easier in all my other classes. I’ve had to add weight to my overhead press. Handstands start to hold themselves.
Exercise like Animal Flow does not destroy people the way a cycle or circuits class can. You’ll know you’ve worked out straight after, and you’ll certainly know the next day, but you’ll make it down the stairs to the changerooms on legs that can still bear your own bodyweight. You’ll attempt movements you cannot yet achieve, and most people will have moments of acute self consciousness as they crawl, leap and climb the room, but it’s a social class where you experience, confront and overcome these challenges together.
Equinox will only allow teachers with the best form to launch Animal Flow FX in their London club, and I’m training to damn well be one of those teachers. I have until July to impress Mike Fitch on his return with outstanding form and I’m looking forwards to seeing what changes occur in my own body and strength over the next six weeks.
Exercise can be looked upon as a frustrating foe, but is best considered an adventure, one undertaken one step at a time – whether on your feet, your hands, your knees or in this case, a combination of all three…