You wait, just wait, crawling is going to be all of the rage in the fitness industry. It’s going to spread through the websites, blogs and then infect it’s way into print media like Men’s and Women’s Health, etc.
It’s coming, and there is probably little that anyone can do to stop it.
Why? Because it is NEW, and as consumers, we love ideas that are NEW. We are fascinated and engulfed by new ideas, trends and material goods. The editors of big magazines know this quite well. They know that we get weak in the knees for what is perceived as the latest and greatest.
But, does crawling actually hold up? Or is it just another “new” trend that will temporarily satisfy the thirst of the average fitness enthusiast.
My personal opinion…
… crawling is going to hold up for the long-term.
Why? Well, because crawling is a ground based, deconstructed and completely stripped down activity that is fundamental to a young human being’s (infant’s) progression to more advanced activities like walking and running.
As infants, we literally had to crawl before we could walk. We had to learn how to walk before we could run, etc.
Tim Anderson has recently coined a term that he calls “reset”. I love the term, because by calling for a “reset” he is asking for humans to re-establish lost function by going back to our roots, ground based movement. Crawling, rolling and planking are all forms of ground based movement. Tim is asking for us to leverage our body’s natural interaction with gravity and the ground surface.
Ironically, shortly before finding out about Tim and his efforts to endorse low load ground based movement done properly, I got on the same kick.
I started to notice how physically challenging it was to perform what are normally fast paced exercises, slow. Slowing it down and moving through a full range of motion was- and still is- extremely difficult, and it seemed to be very effective at highlighting weak points throughout range of motion of any given exercise. Identifying these weak points gave me some valuable insight about what I was missing in my training by blasting through all of my exercises and workouts.
The world is stuck in an “extreme”, “high tempo”, “explosive power” and “fast paced” vortex of fitness right now. Except for “extreme”, I believe in the three other phrases. They have a valuable place in a workout and a program, at the right place and the right time. Everything has some value it seems, it just a matter of how it (and when) it is applied. If you apply the world’s greatest exercise to a person that isn’t ready for it, you’re putting them at risk. If they are ready for it, you’ll take there performance to the moon.
We trick ourselves into thinking that we are moving properly when we rush through exercises. Even if the exercise is being executed technically sound at a fast pace, that DOES NOT mean that you are going to be able to execute it in a technically sound manner at a slower, more controlled tempo.
Watch a pro football player work through a session of yoga, many of them cannot hold positions longer than a split second. They are all fast twitch with very little stability and grace. Gray Cook proved it when he made a bunch of NFL guys perform a 50lb/50yard slow and controlled overhead carry. Most of the players involved failed to complete the challenge, yet can overhead press 1-1.5x their bodyweight without batting an eyelash.
The mountain climber was the lightbulb moment for me. I’ve done my fair share of mountain climbers. I greatly value the mountain climber in my work capacity training sessions, using it primarily as a “filler exercise” to actively recover in between two more demanding movements. Before, I had hardly paid attention to anything but how fast I could whiz through 30-50 reps of mountain climbers, driving my knees to my elbows without breaking at the lower back junction in the process.
One day, I slowed it all down. I attempted to “pull” my knees through to my elbows as opposed to violently driving them forward.
You know what I found? I was ridiculous weak once I flexed my hips beyond the prone/horizontal 90 degree mark in the range of motion. I was weak, and I could pinpoint the exact point in the movement where I was weak. The only way that I could complete the movement in full was to compensate, and I wasn’t about to stroke my ego by cheating the movement.
After my run in with mountain climbers, I really started to gain interest in dabbling with other low load movements that are primarily ground based. These movements were typically isolated to a lateral, supine or prone position. Sometimes the movements were transitional/segmented, moving from a supine to prone to lateral all in one shot. This, to me, is the progress of things. You start working isolated movements, gaining control of these movements in an isolated fashion and then you slowly begin to integrate the patterns to work more complex movements.
More complex movements require a greater recruitment of muscles, dynamic stability and mobility and thought. Integrated movement takes integrated thought, which is a rarely spoken of benefit of complex movement training. We exercise our mind as much as we are exercising our bodies.
So, the movements slowly evolve from isolated to complex, all the while we must learn to turn our muscles on and off gracefully as we maneuver our bodies through space.
Gymnasts have mastered this type of movement expression, and I am growing to value practicing it more and more every single day. Movement is second nature for a gymnast. They have established high level movement through consistent repetition.
Drills like crawling, dynamic planking, slow frog hops and turkish get ups make me feel more like a human capable of executing 3-dimensional movement and less like a robot lifting weights to no end. I enjoy knowing that my traditional weight lifting is translating to something more valuable than six-packs and bulging biceps. Both of which mean absolutely nothing in the real world. Well, I guess you’ll look cool in those Summer time still shots, but it doesn’t mean you can move.
All of that weight lifting should translate into something greater than, well, lifting more weight.
Translating isolated resistance training into improving your ability to move with grace, strength and unwavering stability is a noble endeavor. It can be hard to stay on this path, especially when our society provides so much temptation to build the perfect body, or what we perceived as the perfect body.
This is obviously my personal opinion, don’t let it stop you from leaning out.
Crawling is a reset movement activity. The first time I really started to employ crawling patterns into my own training and encourage others to do the same, it was about 4 years ago. We used to have our group athlete training sessions crab walk and high crawl as a fun warm up. I saw it as a time to get the core, shoulders, and hips firing all at once. The crab walk would be performed with forward motion until I said “stop! hold!”, at which point the athletes would drive their hips to the ceiling, effectively creating a “human table-top”. Creating a level table top required that the athlete actively contract their glute muscles while actively stretching their pecs and anterior shoulder. There is some core activation hidden in their also, as the torso muscles work to protect the spine.
Quite honestly, I think that the crab-walk+tabletop combination is one of the best warm up drills out there. Crab walking, to me, is a supine variation of a prone crawl. Infants move around frequently on their butts. They push with their arms while pulling with their heels, supporting the weight of their body with both upper and lower as they “scoot” across the floor surface. There is value in training this movement pattern in adults who have lost the ability to do so.
Sometimes we have to take a developmental step backwards to regain control and start to take steps forward in present day.
We’ve discussed- almost at nauseating length- that sitting causes a lot of metabolic and structural issues with humans. The longer and more frequently we sit, the more our body seems to take on the shape of the sitting position, even in the standing position. We start to hunch our shoulders, our hips remain tilted forward and our lower back gets creased like a bi-folded letter home to Mom.
Once in this position, we attempt to walk, run and do other physically demanding activities while being confined to these un-ideal postures.
Is it more complicated than this? Of course it is, but what most people really need to know is that sitting is slowing breaking our bodies down to nothing, sometimes beyond the point of any ability to repair. One day you might even find that surgery is the final intervention to fix years of poor alignment and compensation.
Attempting to express athletic-like qualities such as strength, explosive power through forced ranges of motion with poor posture many times requires compensatory movement be present as a temporary solution to completing such activities. If you remember, compensatory movement compounded with high reps and high load can rip a person to shreds over the long term.
It been said that workout injuries are just “unfortunate”, when in reality, they were staring us in the face from the beginning, looming in the darkness waiting to be identified. Obviously, those who feel the pain of that disc exploding in their back will one day wish they would have taken the time to identify movement flaws. But the damage is done.
The next time you engage in a warm up prior to a workout, try prone crawling for 1 minute straight with ideal crawling posture. Shake it out for 30 seconds and then complete that 3-5 more times. It might scare you how challenging crawling really is. The stress placed on the upper body is tremendous, especially if it is a new stimulus. It’s easy to fatigue quickly from the waist on up while crawling, in my experience.
Not to be gross, but if you’re someone who gets off on working the core muscles to exhaustion and that “deep burn”, crawling is definitely for you. Keep your back flat and your belt line zipped up and tight, and you’re going to feel every synchronized step of the hand and foot ripple right through your torso.
In fact, I would recommend trading that marathon abdominal training session for about 10 minutes of dedicated crawling. If you’re rolling your eyes, stop. Try it and report back to me. Let me know what you think.
I recently watched a video where Tim Anderson crawls an entire mile without breaks, in a low crawl position. That’s incredible, as you’ll soon find out when you give it a shot. If you make it to the end of his video, he remarks that his ipod shut off right from the start but he was too mentally focused to quit and reset it. Nothing like crawling for nearly an hour straight listening to yourself wheezing from fatigue.
My cues for ideal crawling posture are simple:
– Keep back parallel to the ceiling, stomach parallel to the floor.
– Keep eyes looking down or roughly 12 inches forward toward direction being travelled.
– Keep spine in a neutral, braced position, pulling your stomach out of anterior tilt.
– Simulate a full glass of water on your back as you crawl, preventing any spillage.
– Make each hand and foot contact as quiet, soft and graceful as possible.
– Have fun and work at it.
Start crawling. Use it as a tool not an entire workout.
Leverage it’s ability to be a safe alternative to core training, and a important developmental step to restoring your body’s desire to move without compensation and pain.
Start slow, build from there, and remember that it is process.
Cheers to crawling around like an infant!