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Zuu: Animal Training


Can ambling around on the floor like an iguana replace a weights workout? ShortList investigates

“When was the last time you did this?” asks Zuu creator Nathan Helberg as we join him in doing a ‘bear crawl’, which is exactly how it sounds, along the floor in Aldersgate Virgin Active. “At the end of a night out?” But we don’t have the breath or energy to make jokes for long. Zuu is a weight-free functional-training workout comprising animalistic movements that has been implemented as part of training routines for elite athletes, the military and the RFU. It turns out pretending to be a bear is surprisingly hard.

Functional Training

It’s a buzz term often thrown around in gyms, but what does it actually mean? “Functional training is moving the human body the way it was designed to move,” says Helberg. “The body consists of integrated systems working together, so Zuu’s primal movements are ones that people get into in everyday life.” By improving the functionality of your body, you increase strength, reduce the risk of injury and help recover from existing injuries.

Sense of Community

Going against the grain of many workouts that encourage a sense of competitiveness, Zuu is a communal, team experience replete with pats on the back and high-fives. “I believe I can get the best out of athletes using positive affirmations,” says Helberg. “This comes from elite sports. We bring that interaction into a Zuu group where, by the end of it, you build friendships quickly. We call that policing group dynamics. When you’re training hard, you need a pat on the back from someone saying ‘good job’ – it’s an aspect that’s been lost in society and I believe there’s a massive need for it to come back.”

The Moves

The Bear Crawl

“This is one of my favourite moves; you just hop on the ground and crawl – don’t overthink it – just crawl like a bear forward and reverse. The benefits of a bear crawl are endless, because all your joints and muscles are moving and you elevate your heart rate. In reverse, if you want to make it more intense do it quicker – push hard to build top-half strength. As it elevates the heart rate so rapidly, it’s like doing sprint drills, yet it’s low impact.”

The Frog Squat

“Start with your feet a little bit wider than shoulder width, squat down and tuck your elbows, inside your thighs. Then go through a deep squat and stand up repeatedly, arms pinned against the inside of your legs. The deeper you go, the more you open up your hips, which is where your power’s transferred from in your legs. On top of that it also lengthens your quads, which is awesome for building muscle strength.”

The Iguana

“Lower your body on to all fours with your legs stretched behind you on the balls of your feet. Move your left hand forward and your right leg up a bit – foot off the floor – and slightly bend it with the knee facing outwards. Then push your body down into a press-up position. As you come up from this position, put your right hand in front, bend your left leg with the knee facing outwards and place the right foot back on the floor. Then do a press-up on this side. Continue this moving forwards. It works your arms, legs and core in one dynamic motion, and will also increase your range of motion.”

Zuu is available exclusively at selected Virgin Active clubs now and at branches nationwide from mid-summer; virginactive.co.uk

(Images: Virgin Active)



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