Remember your last burpee?
To do that burpee you essentially did a squat, then a pushup, then a frogger, then a jump squat, chaining all four movements together in rapid succession. That swift and seamless connection of a variety of exercises is known as “flowing,” and it’s an exercise style that can fry your muscles, stoke your metabolism, and make you more athletic with just a few reps a week.
Flows can grow far more complex than burpees, and they can do far more than get your heart racing. Trainers like GetPrimal’s Eric Leija (known better on Instagram as @primal.swoldier as a flow expert) use powerful kettlebell flows to help you pack on muscle, while MikeFitch, creator of Animal Flow, will have you owing to improve your mobility.
Dance to Flow
When you flow, you’re poaching from yoga, gymnastics, martial arts, and break dancing. Like those disciplines, owing pushes you to do more than reps; your body must make small transitional movements to get in position to, say, do a pushup after the squat as part
of the burpee. Few training programs cover those transitional movements, says Fitch. Flows can work in surprising ways.
A recent study in Human MovementScience that followed subjects who performed training similar to Animal Flow for four weeks found that their ground-based movements improved proprioception (your sense of where your body is in space) and cognition.
Other trainers are focusing more on flows that build strength. Leija posts kettlebell flows you can do for multiple rounds for a short workout or for one round as a finisher.
“With moderate to heavy weight in your flows, you can stress your muscles to induce gains,” he says.
Whatever you use them for, you can expect them to be more fun than counting to 20 on another set of curls, says John Wolf, chief fitness officer at Onnit Academy Gym in Austin. “Which is more popular: lifting or dancing?” he asks. “Dancing. So you end up doing that more often. People want to do things they enjoy.”
Get the Flow Down
One of the best parts about flows: You can build them yourself, combining a variety of exercises in ways that work for you. Always aim to do one leg exercise (such as a squat, deadlift, or lunge), a pulling exercise (such as a row or clean), and a pushing exercise (such as a pushup or shoulder press) in your strength flows. Follow the rules below to build your own.
1. Start with the basics
Don’t start flowing until you’re comfortable with some basic exercises, like squats, pushups, and bear kick-throughs (start in a plank, then lift your right arm off the ground and kick your left leg through to your right side), as well as kettlebell, moves like the row, press, deadlift, and clean. If you’re not comfortable with an exercise, don’t use it in a flow.
2. Keep it tight
As in never flow with more than 5 exercises, never do more than 5 reps, and never do more than 5 rounds of a flow. Flows build up fatigue more quickly than, say, a set of pull-ups,
so your conditioning can improve even with just a few reps.
3. Be conservative
If you’re flowing with dumbbells or kettlebells, only use as much as you would with your weakest exercise in the flow. And in general, you should use half the weight you would use if doing an exercise by itself.
4. Don’t overflow
Flows are a changeup to your regular workout, not your workout’s foundation. Flowing daily can lead to sloppy form. Use them just once a week to prove to yourself that you own the exercises within them. Onnit’s John Wolf says, “You’ll walk away feeling like an animal.”
Ready, Set, Flow
Get started with these two flows from Leija, who’s been creating kettlebell and bodyweight flows for the last six years. Do 3 to 5 reps of each flow. Do 3 to 5 rounds, resting at least two minutes between rounds.
The Bodyweight Ripper
Get on all fours and raise your heels. Your hands should be inline with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. Twist to your right side, raising your right hand and extending your left leg out straight. Continue turning until your butt touches the floor and you’re sit-ting upright. Reverse the direction and repeat on the opposite side. Then return to all fours.
From that quadruped position, rock your weight backwards just slightly, then jump your feet forward; lift your hands from the ground as you do this. Land in a squat with your feet just outside shoulder width and your toes turned slightly outward. Make sure to land with your knees bent and your weight in your heels. Work to keep your chest up and your core tight.
As soon as you complete the frogger, jump as high as you can, throwing your arms backwards to generate maximum momentum and power. Land with your knees slightly bent, cushioning the impact, and then immediately lower back into another squat. That’s 1 rep. Return to quadruped position, ready to begin the next rep of the flow sequence.
The Single-Kettlebell Crusher
Place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Draw your shoulder blades together and down and bend your hips back to reach down and grasp the kettlebell with your right hand. Your shoulders should be parallel to the floor and directly over the weight. Push through your heels to extend your hips and stand tall. Bend your hips to return the kettlebell to the floor.
Keep your back flat, contract your abs, and once again squeeze your shoulder blades. From this position, draw your shoulder back and downward as you row the kettlebell with your right arm to your right side. Pause for a moment, then lower the weight so your arm hangs naturally. Don’t let it rest on the floor, though, and fight to keep your back flat.
From that position, rotate your hand inward so your palm faces your shin. Perform the same deadlift motion explosively, and simultaneously pull your elbow back close to your body. The momentum will help you muscle the weight up to shoulder height. “Catch” the weight at your shoulder with the handle just under your chin and your forearm vertical.
Squat to Press
From the clean position, turn your toes out slightly, then bend at your knees, lowering your torso until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your chest up as you do this. Stand back up and press the kettlebell overhead explosively, keeping your core engaged. Return the kettlebell to the floor, then repeat the entire flow with your left hand. That’s 1 rep.
By Sean Hyson