Learn How Your Body Works (Interview With Mike Fitch, Founder of Animal Flow)

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
October 28, 2015

This week’s interview is with Mike Fitch, a superstar coach and master of movement.

Mike has 18 years of fitness experience, culminating in his 2010 decision to move all bodyweight.

Since 2010, Mike has been involved with a wide variety of bodyweight fitness disciplines, including parkour, gymnastics, and even breakdancing.

mike fitch

Now, he passes on his deep experience to thousands of students, both in person and through his video programs.

In this interview, Mike will talk to us about motivation, his daily schedule, and his programs, among other things. Enjoy!

But but before you go any further, I’d just like to let you know that Mike has been kind enough to share his new Animal Flow 2.0 program with the SOA tribe with 15% off. Just use the code “BODYWEIGHTTODD”. The code is only good for one week so harry up and check it out here.

I hear you’re coming out with a new program called the Bodyweight Athlete, what’s that all about?

mike fitch flag

The Bodyweight Athlete is an accumulation of the things that I’ve learned over the past five years of my life using strictly bodyweight training, but really it’s an accumulation of the past 16 years of my life as a fitness professional. If Animal Flow is our movement program, the Bodyweight Athlete is our Calisthenics program. I see it as more of a complete system than just a program though.

The focus is on helping people achieve nine of the big bodyweight skill exercises, which we refer to as the Pinnacle Exercise in the system. These include the Handstand Push-Up, strict Muscle-Up, Human Flag, Pistol Squat, Single-Arm Push-Up, Back Lever, and a few others. The tenth pinnacle is integrated movement or “flow”. That could be anything, whether it’s Animal Flow, trail running or dance.

The Bodyweight Athlete builds upon the concept that all of those exercises are obtainable. You just have to know the proper progressions to get there. The power is all in the progression. So often you’ll have someone who wants to learn one of these big exercises and they’ll just go and try that particular exercise. What they don’t realize is that they’re placing a tremendous load on the system, both muscularly and neurally, that they haven’t built the foundations for. Now they’re looking at serious potential for injury and a set up for failure. Most people will get discouraged quickly and pick a new goal, only to have the same experience. Now in their mind, serious calisthenics are only for a small percentage of individuals and it’s time to go back to the comfort of the bench press.
We want to use this program to empower people at any age to get to know their bodies a little bit better, and get better at using them. Each of us has the incredible ability to adapt to any consistent challenge as long as the stimulus is not too great. So the key to this program is first assessing your current abilities in each exercise or in what we call the Pinnacle Line. Then you’ll have a systematic approach to achieving that goal. Consistency and proper progression is the key.

Knee Health Score 2

But it’s not just about the Pinnacles, it’s also about recovery. The Bodyweight Athlete is an entire philosophy, that takes a multi disciplinary approach to self mastery. We look at recovery tools like Self Myofascial Release, Mobility and breath work.

And the last thing that I bet a lot of your readers out there will like, is it doesn’t require you to drop the weights all together. In this system, we show you how to use weights strategically and specifically to improve your bodyweight practice. You can tailor it to your individual needs, so if you wanted to continue to focus on muscle mass, or you need power for your sport or you just like to lift heavy shit, you still can!

The program itself will be pretty dense with both video and text, providing a detailed roadmap for your training program over a long period of time. We’ll offer the program itself online, and we anticipate conducting just a few workshops each year for people who’ve been working on the program and want to come hone their skills more in person.

The Bodyweight Athlete will launch January 1st, 2016

Can you talk about Hand Balancing and how someone starting out could get to the level of doing a handstand push-up?

mike fitch hand balancing

Any time I cover hand balancing in a workshop, I always open up with the same line, “We can spend an entire week together on Hand Balancing alone. It does not mean that you’ll be able to do a handstand at the end of that week. It simply means that you’ll have all of the tools needed to then go spend an incredible amount of time practicing.”
Hand Balancing is an elusive art. One day you may have it and the next it has escaped you completely. My biggest thing is that you have to put perspective on it, establish some realistic expectations. I always encourage my students to think about it in terms of how long it took for them to walk on their feet. You’re looking at 8 months to a year and that’s with some seriously consistent practice. Plus our feet are designed to walk and stand on, they have the luxury of a heel and a long rigid lever which is the rest of the foot. You have to ask them realistically, are you willing to take on a goal that will most definitely take over a year to even build a foundation for and a life time to master? A student that wants it Now may be in for a rude awakening.

The Handstand Push-Up is a completely different beast all together. I sometimes use it as an example of the perfect skill. You have to obtain so many attributes to make it work successfully. One, of course is having a solid handstand. Second, it’s having the maximal strength to take 100% of your body load in that position. Third, you have to look at the joint stability at the wrists, shoulders, spine and hips. Next you need to have the available range of motion to keep the mechanics clean. And then lastly, you have to be able to coordinate all of those attributes while dealing with the balance challenge of a constantly changing center of gravity. Sounds like a lot, because it is.
All that doesn’t mean, however, that you have to wait until you get a solid handstand to begin conditioning the strength portion of the press. There are multiple lead up exercises.

One example is an exercise called a Floor Pike Press. That’s where your hands and feet are both on the ground and your hips are high in the air. From the side you would look like a capital “A”. The motion is basically an inverted push up, but it’s the elbow position that’s so unique. Instead of allowing the elbows to flare out like in a shoulder press, you have to keep the elbows pulling tight in towards each other. It’s this alignment that is essential to maintaining your balance while doing a free standing HSPU. It’s a deceivingly challenging exercise but an essential progression.

We cover the entire process in our Hand Balancing for the bodyweight Athlete DVD. After we released that last year, it took about 10 months before we started getting emails from people telling us they’d gotten their first HSPU from following the progressions. It took that long, even for people starting out in great shape.

Can you discuss the benefits of Climbing & Swings vs a static pull up movement?

mike fitch pipe

I’m a huge advocate of hanging, climbing and swinging.  But it’s not just about the actual hanging (which is hugely beneficial), it’s about load variability.  This is something that author Katy Bowman talks a lot about in her book “Move Your DNA”.  We spend our entire lives under the constant vertical pull of gravity.  The load that our body experiences every single day is that of our bodyweight in either a standing or seated position.  Over a lifetime, that’s a pretty one dimensional way of experiencing load.  It would be like eating only sweet potatoes for every single meal.  You’d be missing out on all sorts of other nutrients.  The same way that you would cross train or balance your stretching with your strengthening, you would want to have a similar approach with how your body experiences gravity.  Hanging and swinging from an object, as well as being inverted, are completely different loads that you would benefit from greatly.

I like to tell people to hang, climb, swing, crawl and do handstands.  In our groups we call it getting your H&H time in: Hanging and Handstands!

Do you have anyone who inspired you to get to the level you’re at?

animal flow workshop

I get inspired every day by other people out there who are on their own movement journey.  At the beginning of this year I started a project called #WhatMakesYouMove.  The idea was to invite people to use that hashtag whenever they post a video of themselves doing any kind of movement on social media.   The response was incredible.  We saw videos of everything from dance, acrobatics, sports, gymnastics, yoga, kettle bells, weight lifting, as well as people just jamming out to their favorite song.  It’s the constant striving to get better that I see in other people that really inspires me. They can be at any level as long as they’re pushing themselves forward.  I get up every morning and check that hashtag on instagram before I start my workouts.

What is a typical training schedule (how many hours, days per week)?

mike fitch rings

I’ve been religiously following the Bodyweight Athlete program for the past year.  In that program you have multiple options for how you break up your training split.  As I had mentioned earlier, there’s a strong emphasis on recovery.  People sometimes forget that you don’t get stronger while you train, you get stronger as a response to your training when you allow the body to rest and catch up.  So I’ll either do a one day on, one day off (1:1) or a two days on, one off (2:1).

On the training days, you have a few options.  You can either do an hour training session, or you could do a “train all day” approach.  That sounds way more intense than it actually is.  Each training day, you’re trying to get in some movement exercises, some practice exercises and some conditioning exercises.  Yes, all of those could be condensed into one hour or maybe you do smaller sessions that are spread throughout the day.  For example, in the morning you do some movement like some mobility work, or go for a run or do some Animal Flow; then in the afternoon you’d practice that day’s Pinnacles, like your Handstand Push-Up and Pistol progression; and then in the evening you’d do some lower skill level exercises that are still specific to those pinnacle goals, like weight training.
The most important part of that program is it is incredibly flexible while still being insatiably systematic.  If my schedule allows, I’ll use the train all day approach.  If I’m on the road, I’ll get my movement, practice and conditioning all into one workout.  My performance is a great indicator of whether I’m training too much or could possibly step it up. Of course, while that’s what works for me, I like the saying that the best program or training schedule is the one that you’ll actually do.

I saw that you just released an Animal Flow 2.0 video. Is that all new moves?

mike fitch kick

We released Animal Flow 2.0 last week and I’m really proud of it. Think of it as a new edition or upgraded version of the original Animal Flow video, rather than something with all new moves. We released the first video over four years ago, and the program has been evolving since then so it was time for an update. After teaching the Animal Flow workshop to thousands of individuals all over the world, I was able to figure out ways to communicate the information even more effectively. So we took that knowledge, along with feedback from people who’d bought the video, and created a much stronger product.

If you already have the first video, you’ll notice there have been some changes to the original moves, along with the addition of a few new variations. But we also added some new features we’re pretty excited about. First, we included 20 sample flows, performed by myself and by our Master Instructors. That was a direct response to all our previous customers and fans telling us they really wanted more sample flows they could follow along with. We included them not just as video instructions, but also as downloadable mp4 audio files of myself calling out the flow, in a slow version and a real time version. That way you can take them to the park or where ever you like to practice, throw your headphones in and get your flow on. We also made this version available to stream online, so people can watch the instructional clips on their phones wherever they are.

Some people just want to watch the instructional section to learn the movements, and then go make up their own flows. And that’s great. But one of the things I learned over the past 4 years is that a lot of people love doing Animal Flow, but would rather have someone else come up with the flows so they can just follow along. We wanted to meet people wherever they’re at with this edition.

Do you see Animal Flow as the next big thing in fitness?

mike fitch swinging

The next big thing in fitness or better yet, the current big thing in fitness is movement. Animal Flow is one movement program, amongst many great options. Hopefully it will play a part in opening the door for other movement programs that are still to come. I think it’s important to recognize that people have been using animal movements and bodyweight training in general for thousands of years, and every program that is popular today is built on the strengths of all those that came before.

It’s my opinion that we are in the most exciting time in fitness history. There are things that are existing now that wouldn’t have had space 5-10 years ago. The industry is changing in every way and I think it’s certainly for the better. People are exploring movement in innovative ways, and I’m seeing more of a focus on skills building and self-improvement. It’s becoming more fun, but also more effective. I don’t know what the next big thing in fitness is, but I’m honored that we’ve secured our place in the history of it.

Do you have some words of advice for people struggling to get to the next level in their bodyweight workouts?

mike fitch v-sit

Yes, stay consistent, there’s no rush.  The greatest thing about bodyweight training, is that something that seemed absolutely unattainable to you at one point, with enough consistency, will eventually be your warm up. Adjust your goals, and think about training today for the you that you want to be 10, 20 years from now.  You have one body – learn how it works and how to use it.


Thanks, Mike. I really enjoyed this and I’m sure the SOA tribe will enjoy the interview as well. I can’t wait for January to check out the Bodyweight Athlete program.

-Bodyweight Todd


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Mike Fitch on Youtube

Don’t forget to go here to grab your copy of Animal Flow 2.0 at 15% off with the “BODYWEIGHTTODD” code.





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