Hand Walking/Crawling Exercises: Demanding More From Your Upper Body

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6 years ago I watched Jon Hinds strap his LifeLine Power Wheel to his feet and proceed to walk on his hands 100 yards down entire length of a football field.

I have to admit I thought the entire sequence was pretty badass.  The feat also seemed like something I could achieve… wrong.  It’s way harder than it looks.

The LifeLine Power Wheel boasts that it’s core activation is top notch, and that is supported with a study composed by CSU-Sacramento students.  The two other training tools that were compared to the Power Wheel were quite weak in my opinion (Ab Revolutionizer, ab straps).  

However, it appears that based on muscle activation (through surface electromyography (EMG), the Power Wheel performed extremely well.

When you watch YouTube videos, especially how-to exercise videos, it can be hard to find value in what the performer is showing you.  You watch it, roll your eyes and move on the the next suggested video.

I did exactly that with Jon’s hand walking video 6 years ago.

It’s a damn shame.

But, fast forward 6 years and I am an advocate spending more time loading the upper body via static/dynamic various of crawling, handstands and hand walking.  I think we need to stress our upper extremities in a similar fashion that we do our lower extremities.

Battling ropes are an example of a tool have added tremendous value to the average trainee’s tool box.  Battling rope drills are primarily executed in a standing position, involving timed (or rep based) work sets that are highly metabolic, recruit a ton of muscle for completion and train the upper body to produce repeated effort force in a way that is extremely unique.

But, battling rope drills don’t require our upper extremities to support the weight of our body.

Sure, the shoulder is not a load bearing like the hip or the knee, but we should be able to support and stabilize a percentage or even our entire body with our hands and arms.  Please don’t ask me to give “functional” examples of how drills such as handstands transfer over into real world activities until you yourself perform a series of 1-minute inverted holds yourself.

Doing so might make you feel like you like a weakling whether you are an avid exerciser or not.  I sure did.

—> What can you attribute to the difficulty of a hand walking/crawling/stands?

New stimulus?  Yes.  Very challenging regardless?  Absolutely, every single time.

The average workout just doesn’t stress the upper body in the same way that it tends to stress the lower body.  It makes sense since humans are bipedals.  Keeping our lower extremities strong, mobile, stable, and capable of sustained and high level repeated physical effort serves us very well.

But we need to be strong, stable and mobile movers in many different positions, not just with walking and running.

Hand walking, crawling, handstands and other upper body support drills stress the upper body much differently than push ups, overhead pressing, Turkish Get-Ups.  In the past, most hand walking drills were exclusive to gymnasts and other tumblers.  It’s amazing that it has taken so long for this type of training to leak out to the general population.

But, it’s here now and we need to leverage it.  It’s a tool (or maybe a strategy is a better description), and like all training tools, it serves a purpose in our physical development.

Handstands.  I have been a huge fan of hand walking and crawling for years, but have more recently begun to see amazing value in practicing handstands.  Simply kicking your feet up to a wall and holding that position with assisted support from your feet is extremely challenging and beneficial for overall physical improvement.

Ido Portal Handstand

Try it for yourself.  Go.  Now.  Try it.

It feels unnatural to support yourself vertically and I believe this is a good thing (unless you are experiencing pain).  You’re acclimating yourself to a new movement skill.  I am all about safety in training because it keeps us moving for life, but exploring uncharted territories of movement will bring you back to your childhood roots, where exploring is encouraged and crucial for overall development.

Fast forward to our adult years.  People who are hesitant to participate in certain physical tasks haven’t exposed themselves to that stimulus before.  They haven’t explored, so the movement seems risky, difficult or in some cases unfathomable.

Much of this handstand talk is probably coming from Ido Portal’s training philosophy, which is fine because I love the tenacity that Ido is bringing to the movement community.  He doesn’t dabble with movement, he is movement.  That’s pretty cool.  Devoting your life’s work to becoming the best mover possible, and then teaching the progressions on how to get to that level to others, is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Kudos to Ido Portal.

In my own training, I have divided my hand walking/crawling into two different categories:

  • Horizontal walking/crawling
  • Vertical walking/crawling

Both of these have two sub-categories that can be broken down even further:

  • Static (not moving)
  • Dynamic (moving)

I haven’t felt the need to progress any further than the bulleted points to be honest.  Hand walking/crawling is a supplement to my current training regimen, not the entire training regimen itself.  It’s a skill that I am looking to develop starting from ground zero.  The decision to keep hand walking/crawling as a supplement to the whole is based on my current goals.

My warm-ups have proven to be prime time for practicing and experimenting with various progressions of hand walking/crawling.  80% of the time I am crawling, which is what I would consider to be a horizontal-dynamic drill.  Something like this…

If you slow down while performing a basic bear crawl and do it properly, you may notice that you aren’t as connected as you thought you were.  Timing and an upper/lower body connectedness are two main keys to crawling properly.  The core serves as the conduit between the upper and lower body.  You’ll also notice that crawling isn’t as easy as it looks, as it can be extremely taxing even at shorter distances.

If you’re looking for a core workout, start crawling.  Start with a basic static hold.  You’ll find that  supporting yourself in this position activates your torso musculature like the 4th of July.  Progress to dynamic crawling slowly, working on the the timing of your opposite hand/foot.  Again, feel the burn in your stomach.

Here is Dewey Nielsen working through the ladder of crawling progressions…

—> Why should you incorporate more crawling and hand walking into your training?

1)  It’s fun.

I never thought that I would tout “it’s fun” as the top reason for crawling and hand-walking, but it really is.  Both provide a unique challenge that we can look forward to.  Pursuing specific goals in your training will keep the fire going in your belly.  Otherwise, it’s easy to begin flaking out on training.

I have recently dropped a few barriers with regard to my viewpoints on training, and what it means to “workout”.  For sometime, I felt unfulfilled in my workouts.  It seemed there was a piece that was missing.  I felt like a robot going through the motions.  Start a set, do the reps at a particular tempo using a particular weight, stop, rest, rinse, repeat.  It was nauseating.

Crawling and hand-walks scratched that itch.  Now intentionally incorporate warm-ups packed with plenty of crawling and hand walks.  It’s open new doors for me as I know it will for you.

2)  Loading the upper extremities uniquely

Moving yourself around using your hands/arms is a new training stimulus for many.  Even holding yourself against a wall for a brief period of time puts a valuable stress on your upper body to support the weight of your body.

3)  Balance

Horizontal or vertical crawling/walking are activities that require constant body correction.  Reflexive stability is a hot topic right now, and crawling/walking works reflexive stability nicely.  Keeping the hands connected to Mother Earth is advantageous, creating a closed-chain training scenario.  Crawling is both simple and more complicated than we think, especially when we realize how dysfunctional we have become from our lack of movement.  Holding a wall supported handstand requires stability, strength and balance.  A free-stranding handstand is the perfect expression of balance.

4)  Connecting the core

Not six-pack abs.  Chasing six pack abs should be furthest down on most people’s list.  The torso musculature’s main job is to protect the spine.  Our core is supposed to activate when it senses that the spine might be in jeopardy.  Our torso lights up (activates) to keep our bodies stabile and in control during these movements.  Lightly palpate (touch) your stomach while in the assumed basic bear crawl position, tell me what you feel.

5)  Primal movement

We had to crawl before we could walk.  Crawling isn’t a fitness progression, it’s a human life progression.  Regressing back to crawling can help to restore lost movement patterns from which we can build a bulletproof body.  The body’s wires can easily become crossed, don’t make the mistake of blowing a fuse by skipping the crawling section of the progression book.

6)  Low impact

Crazy is the craze right now.  Extreme, hardcore, tenacity and intensity!  But not everyone wants crazy workouts, and crawling fits the bill nicely for those who seek a bodyweight challenge without the risk of injury.  Although it’s possible to hurt yourself doing just about anything, crawling/handwalks are extremely low on the injury potential ladder.  Your joints will applaud your choice.

7)  Movement

To take an unofficial idea from Ido Portal’s training philosophy…  Just start f’ing move people.  Stop over thinking it and engage in full fledged movement.  Explore what your body can do in space.  If you’re embarrassed to do it in the public gym, do it behind closed doors in your basement or garage.  As I have said before, movement is the benefit of moving.  So keep moving every which way.  Caution… be prepared to be humbled at first… you might need to lubricate your joints and blow off the cobwebs for a few sessions before it starts flowing and feeling natural.

So there you go, the most un-organized 1600+ word article ever written on crawling/handwalking.

Stay tuned for how to get started with crawling/walking and where to slip it into workouts…

 

 

Cheers to exploring the upper body’s ability to move!

KG

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