Gorilla squats and crab walking: The five animal exercises for a total-body workout

Exercise like an animal
Trainer Jake Dearden takes Phil Hilton hrough some animal-style floor exercises - Geoff Pugh for the Telegraph

As someone who considers themselves relatively fit and strong, animal-style exercise is shockingly and humiliatingly hard.

Jake Dearden, a trainer, influencer and fitness racer is taking me through some floor moves and instantly I’m reduced to a puce-faced beginner. In my head, I’m aiming for the fluid motion of a cat or the contained power of a primate but instead, I’m a retiree who’s lost their reading glasses under the sofa.

‘Animal’ or ‘primal’ movement is having a moment. Chris Hemsworth has been seen making his way across the floor on his hands and feet. Conor McGregor, an MMA fighter, trained in this way many years ago and now social media is abuzz (440,000 Instagram posts on the animal flow hashtag).

Dearden is a keen advocate: “You don’t need any kind of weights, you can do the moves anywhere, they are full body and they require mobility. If you do conventional resistance machine workouts, you’re not engaging the core, you’re not having to think about the movement.”

Phil Hilton (right) with fitness pro Jake Dearden
Phil Hilton (right) with fitness pro Jake Dearden - Geoff Pugh

Nick Brewer is the founder of Primal Moves based in Ibiza. His system is one of a number of approaches which all share an element of moving on all-fours. He developed his practice at a moment when he was very short on equipment but gifted with a lot of time to experiment. He was serving a lengthy sentence in prison for drug smuggling. He was in isolation for 20 hours a day and started to work with yoga and meditation and that evolved into what is now a hugely popular approach.

I ask Brewer why my weight training and conventional workouts still leave me shattered by a floor-based workout routine. “Weight training is good because it helps maintain muscle and bone density but when you get down all fours you are experiencing time under tension across your whole body.” This gives you an all-over workout involving every part of your physique. His oldest client is 69 and can hold a handstand for over a minute.

I found animal movement to be much closer to child movement; it took me back to a time when I lived on the carpet watching television, and playing with cars. A time when my back and my knees were untroubled and I enjoyed my physicality without too much self-consciousness. My brief taste of animal flow left me wanting more and feeling that some of that youthful looseness could be regained.


This is walking out from your feet with your hands, keeping your bottom high in the air and edging your feet back towards your hands and repeating so that you are making (very slow) progress across the floor. This builds strength in the arms, shoulders and core and is a great pre lifting/running activation. I’m tight in the hamstrings and my hip hinge is fairly limited so I had to bend my knees a little. Having your head under your body weight is also quite head-rushy, if you’re not used to it.

Low bear crawl

This is basically crawling as you would have known it in childhood – back flat, knees off the ground, right arm moving as the left leg moves, left arm moving as the right leg moves. A very whole-body test and very quickly exhausting. The idea is to imagine a glass of water balanced on your back.

High bear crawl

This is a straight-legged, straight-armed crawl with your backside high in the air. Great for posture and core strength. I found this the hardest, testing hamstring and hip flexibility. The effort needed to keep limbs straight and glutes high was extremely taxing. Will definitely be keeping this in my routine.

Crab walk

This exercise is a reverse of the bear crawl in that your back is facing the floor, with hips as high as possible, arms fully extended. You walk backwards and forwards with your head up and your eyes on the ceiling. Great for shoulder and hip mobility and core strength.

Lateral ape

This begins in a low squat, both heels on the floor if you can. You place your hands on the ground either to the left or the right, transfer your weight onto your arms, move your feet across in line with them and repeat. This felt like the most convincingly animal (you really do feel like a gorilla) and opened up the hips. My arms and shoulders really felt the strength requirements.

Spiderman crawl

If you place the debate about whether Spiderman counts as an animal to one side, this is a great upper-body strength move. You begin on all fours and, as you lower yourself into a press-up position, you bring alternating knees up to elbows. Staying fairly low throughout, you drop as the knee comes up. I enjoyed this hugely as it’s an enhanced press-up and really tested hip flexibility, arms, chest and shoulders.

Jake Dearden wears 247 by Represent.