What if I told you that crawling on your hands and knees could make you stronger, increase your balance, and maybe even give you a six-pack? Ok, fine. That last one is a bit of a stretch. But the first 2 points are solid – you can definitely improve your strength and balance with crawling exercises.
Crawling exercises are multi-joint movements that engage the entire body, while emphasizing the core and shoulder muscles. But they offer a lot more benefits than just working your abs and shoulders.
Basic crawling patterns train the coordination between your upper and lower body, which is hugely important for pretty much every single physical activity you do.
Crawling also trains your central nervous system, increasing your kinesthetic awareness and core control. This is such a valuable benefit because the nervous system is the master regulator of the body. If it senses instability, it will put on the brakes to avoid injury.
A lot of the flexibility issues that people experience are not necessarily due to tightness of specific muscle tissues, but rather a stability issue in the core. In other words, because people lack core stability, the nervous system limits the range of motion in specific parts of the body. It’s a protective mechanism. Confused? Watch master trainer Dean Sommerset increase the “flexibility” of one of his students without doing any stretching at all.
By adding these crawling patterns into your workouts you can improve your core stability, which can translate into increased joint range-of-motion and improved flexibility. The more control you have over your spine and torso, the more the nervous system will allow you to get into various positions. In other words, by training a few basic crawling patterns, you could simultaneously improve your movement mechanics in every other movement you do, giving yourself more room to work with.
Crawling is also the foundation of our walking pattern, which is arguably the most “functional” exercise we do on a daily basis. Hopefully, you’re taking at least 7,500 steps (or more) per day, so it’s vital that you have proper walking mechanics. Doing crawling exercises can help you pinpoint certain problems with your walking pattern, and over time help to make you a better, more efficient walker.
Before you start crawling, let’s start with a basic movement that will teach your body the correct way to stabilize the spine and while moving opposing limbs.
The bird dog pattern ensures you can stabilize your torso on two points-of-contact (opposite arm & leg) as you reach one arm forward and the opposite leg backwards. You want to avoid over-arching your lower back. Instead, focus on using your butt muscles to extend your hip and reach your leg behind you. Once you can confidently balance with opposite arm-and-leg extended, slowly bend your arm and leg towards one another to touch underneath you. Then, with control, reach the arm and leg out again. Continue to bend and extend for a few reps on each side. The idea with bird dog is to fight rotation, so keep both hips and shoulders square to the ground the entire time.
Once you can do 8 reps of elbow-to-knee bird dog with control and without rotating too much, move on to these more advanced crawling patterns.
These exercises are ordered from beginner to advanced. Start with the most basic pattern. If it’s easy for you, then move on to more advanced variations.
This is the most fundamental crawling pattern. If you have trouble getting up from the ground, have mobility restrictions, or experience back pain, I would start here. Just as it sounds, keep 4 points of contact with the ground (both hands and knees) as you slowly crawl forward, moving opposite hand and knee forward at the same time. Keep your spine long and your core tight as your crawl.
This exercise loads you on your hands and feet, and it’s one of my favorite crawling exercises. Expert strength coach Eric Cressy recently summarized the benefits of this exercise, saying “Bear crawls: serratus recruitment, scapular upward rotation, shoulder flexion, anterior core, and more. What’s not to love?” What he means, in plain English, is that the bear crawl has a lot of going on, and it’s all really good for you.
While you might see different variations of the Bear Crawl, I like to keep my spine neutral (flat back) and hips slightly above my shoulders. Start on your hands and feet, elevating your knees off the ground. Get long through your spine by packing your shoulders and reaching your chest forward. Keeping your knees off the ground, slowly crawl forward, moving opposite arm-and-leg at the same time.
The lizard crawl is a more advanced crawling pattern, made famous by the movement specialist Ido Portal. This crawling variation demands both stability and mobility in the two joints that a lot of people experience inadequate range of motion – the hips and shoulders.
Start in a similar position to the bear crawl. As you bring your foot forward, drop the hips and chest so that they are close to the ground. Instead of simultaneous hand-foot movement, in this exercise you move your foot forward first, then your hand. Stay low to the ground and keep your spine long as you slowly crawl forward.
There you have it. Hope you add some of these crawling patterns into your workouts. Let me know how it goes in the comments below!