It’s midday on a Sunday, and I’m a crab. A crab that has just transitioned from a beast, and one that will soon be an ape.
This is Active Beast – Gymbox’s take on the globally popular fitness programme, Animal Flow. It combines ground-based movement with elements of bodyweight-disciplines - from calisthenics and yoga to breakdancing and martial arts. The focus is on controlled movement and fluid transitions between forms to improve strength, stability, mobility, endurance, power and flexibility.
The first thing I’ll say is that instructor Aaron really knows his stuff. He goes through what we’re there to do, the benefits, the things to watch out for, and he explains and demonstrates every movement incredibly clearly. He also spends the whole class adjusting people’s form, and laughing with the rest of us as we topple out of poses.
Speaking of which, there is a lot of laughter. The movements are a lot harder than they look, and everyone - from the yogis to the dancers to those with all the muscles - struggles to hold most of them for the full time. The class is a great leveller, putting everyone through movements they’ve never done before and demanding great attention to detail. The emphasis on slow movement is to make sure you can’t just breeze past your instabilities – you have to work on them. As Aaron points out, if you can move slowly, you can move fast – but just because you can move quickly doesn’t mean you can move slow.
The second thing about the class is what I’ve just mentioned – it looks easy, but it’s really tough. It’s based around three basic forms – Ape, Beast and Crab. We come back to Beast frequently – a pose set on all fours, with the knees slightly lifted, transitioning into Crab (think back to crab football at school), while Ape is the low squat that yoga-fans will be familiar with. I’m grateful for the lengthy wrist warm-up – while the whole class is low impact, the forms put a lot of pressure on the wrists and we’re encouraged to regularly roll them out, working “through strain, not through pain”. Wrist mobilisations are included to build strength and flexibility quickly, which I’m also hoping will improve the handstands I’m working on outside of the class.
The forms themselves and the transitions are an incredible abdominal workout – it feels like moving in and out of a modified plank, and when you concentrate on slowing it down, it shows up exactly what you need to work on. The quads, ankles, forearms and shoulders don’t escape either – all fire up as we move through the workout and flow through the forms.
I can’t imagine anyone that wouldn’t benefit from this class – no matter what your chosen type of fitness, mobility and body-awareness are so key to avoid injury and get the most from every activity, and those elements are at the very forefront of this class.
September classes are going to be spent going through the basic poses and movements, after which the class becomes, according to Aaron, “more complicated and more fun” as they centre on linking the movements together in increasingly intricate ways and with increasingly impressive control (though to be fair I had a lot of fun in this initial class, embracing my inner Beast). To get an idea of where Active Beast can lead, look up Animal Flow creator Mike Fitch on YouTube, and head down to a class in the next few weeks to get the basics down before things really kick up a notch!
Want even more Active Beast? Gymbox have a 2 hour Active Beast workshop happening on Saturday 20th October at Gymbox Farringdon, tickets are available here and make sure you get in early for animal face & body paint and goody bags!