Beginner Lizard Crawl Exercise Variations

Ido Portal

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The goal of this article is to present several of my homemade lizard crawl regressions to get a newbie acclimated.  Most of these drills were designed to help myself better understand the mechanics of the lizard crawl, and I’d like to share them with you…  

The Lizard Crawl exercise, from my point of view, is the king of the ground-based locomotion drills.  It’s a monster of an exercise, best broken down into digestible segments if you’re a beginner to such training.

Lizard crawling is jam-packed with physical benefits that spill over into all other areas of one’s physical practice.  The lizard crawl will test joint range of motion and stability, muscular endurance and strength, core strength/stability/endurance and motor control all in one shot.  

Another positive side effect of lizard crawling is conditioning.  It’s pure work when you’re inefficient and learning.  Expect to be winded with heart rate will be soaring after several yards.  

Although a successful lizard crawl is a total body effort, the upper body is tested to a great degree.  The lizard crawl elicits a similar training effect to more common crawling variations (bear, crab, etc) and progresses it a step further.  

Remaining in the low position for the duration of the crawl is what does most people in.  

A full blown lizard crawl is deceptively difficult.  Watching someone like Ido Portal lizard crawl (a world class movement practitioner), it’s easy to think, “Doesn’t look too bad, it’s just crawling, I could do that”.  And maybe you can.  If so, good on you.

But for most people, the mechanics are complex.  As mentioned earlier, joint position and range of motion, the timing of the hands and feet, core activation in difficult positions may completely foreign.  

Foreign = struggle bus.     

I do suggest you watch several of these videos and test abilities to give yourself a baseline for improvement.  

Even if you’re able to crawl several feet on both sides, the next challenge is to add some distance to the movement.  

Without further ado, here are few more lizard crawl variations to slip into your workouts demonstrated by yours truly…

Lizard Crawl Variation #1 – 2 Hands + 1 Foot

In this variation, keep two hands in contact with the floor while practicing hip range of motion and foot placement.  Softly move the knee up beyond waist height and place the ball of the foot on the floor.  Lower into the bottom of the push-up, chest hovering roughly 2 inches above the floor. Pause, looking forward, return to the start position.

Lizard Crawl Variation #2 – Soft Arm Reach

Introduction to reaching with the lead arm.  We will remain stationary for the time being.  Expect the complexity to ramped up significantly once movement is introduced.  This variation involves a soft slide of the lead arm, straight out and back in.  This also provides some sensation of what it will feel like supporting the body on one arm, another challenging aspect of the lizard crawl.  

Same exercise cues as the previous variation, lower step with the leg, plant with the ball of the foot, lower down with control, but now slide the hand out softly.  Breathe. 

Lizard Crawl Variation #3 – “Alligator” Arms and Legs

To give you a taste of some dynamic movement, here is the short-arm variation of the lizard crawl.  

I refer to it as an “alligator” progression.  The idea is to reach with a limited range of motion, keeping the elbows flexed and close to the rib cage.  This elbow position is far more manageable versus reaching out into full extension.  

Also, notice the limited range of motion on the foot placement.  Plant with the ball of the foot, stabilize and gain control, breathe, now move the hands and support.  Slowly move forward, don’t rush it.  

This variation is a humbling introductory training stimulus to the full lizard crawl.  Many will begin to understand the sheer complexity of the lizard crawl pattern after trying this.  

The path to improvement is practice.  Don’t be discouraged by your initial attempts.  It may be a frustrating experience, even if you consider yourself to well conditioned.  

It’s common to find joint mobility, stability, core strength and endurance to be lacking, all of which can be practiced using the three progressions I’ve shared.  

Practice the progression that allows for technique achievement.  

Each will lead you to the next and continual progress will be made.    

If you’re interested in learning more about the Ido Portal Method training philosophy, check out this popular article I wrote several years ago…

 

Cheers…

Kyle 

Ido Portal Method| Lizard Crawl For Beginners

Ido Portal

 

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Progression to the lizard crawl…

 

Arguably, one of the most confusing aspects about the Lizard Crawl, a ground-based locomotion drill brought to fame by Ido Portal, is where the heck is a true beginner supposed to start?  

To be clear, when I say “true beginner”, I am not talking about a person previously a competitive gymnast, high-level athlete or even a person who’s just completed the Gymnastics Bodies 12-week course and moving like a champ.

I’m describing a person who has an average capacity to move (but is motivated to learn) and interested in learning more about these fantastic drills.  Or, maybe a “true beginner” is a person who’s looking to re-establish a workout regimen and hasn’t moved purposefully in a great while.  

Either way, I applaud you for stopping by and learning how to crawl like a lizard.

The goal of this article is to provide several launching points to use as a gradual work up into the full Lizard Crawl.  Each successive Lizard Crawl progression is purposed to provide a gentle introduction to the body position and loading, in order to prevent overwhelming the body (and the mind) with the complexity of the full Lizard Crawl.  

A full-blown Lizard Crawl has a deceptive number of parts moving simultaneously and requires a combination of mental processing and physical capability.  There’s an incredible amount of mind-body connection needed to crawl in this position.  So, rather than rushing into the sexy dynamic variations, tripping over yourself or becoming frustrated, start by breaking up the movement into sections and training each section exclusively.

Personally, I believe it’s best to start by practicing static exercises first.  By training in one place, you’re removing some of the heavy thinking on how to move next in the Lizard Crawl, which believe it or not, is half the battle.  First experiences in this low position can leave a person wondering how they’re supposed to move an inch, much less 15-20 yards.

If you’re addicted to motion, static training can be a boring rinse and repeat activity, but it’s important to pound on the basics before moving on.  Give each of these exercises a shot, even if you think you’re beyond the progression.

[All of the exercise progressions listed below assume you’re able to do 15-20+ traditional body weight push-ups without issue.  If not, certainly continue to read on, but hammer away on upper body resistance training first to establish a base of strength.  

Ido often refers to traditional resistance training as “isolation training”.

 

Lizard Crawl Progression #1:  Push-Up with Alternating Foot Placement

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The goal of this first drill is to practice the feel of the lizard crawl while reducing the amount of strength needed to do so.  Using two arms into the descent accomplishes this.  

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  1.  Step the foot up to the outside of hand and plant.
  2.  Lower down into and out of a push-up.  
  3.  Return to high plank position.

Sets/Reps:  3-4 sets of 6-10 per side

When to progress:  If you’re technically sound with 10 reps per side, move on to progression #3.  

*** Using a pair of carpet slides will assist this simple exercise. Carpet slides are a valuable training tool.  Besides being useful for a wide range of bodyweight exercises (and resistance training), carpet slides help to provide a fundamental understanding of ground-based crawling technique, with relatively low-friction.

Lizard Crawl Progression #2:  Carpet Slide Upper-Body Reach and Press

Carpet Slide Reach and Press

The lizard crawl requires respectable upper body strength.  Lifting the arms with grace, placing them softly on the floor in a low crawl position is an uncommon pattern of movement.  It requires strength through a fuller range of motion.  The strength needed for lizard crawling is very different from the strength needed during an isolation exercise like a push-up.  Push-ups will help you will lizard crawling, but only to point.  

Anticipate the arms feeling heavy in the low crawl position. 

The premise of this next drill is to introduce load the working arm while practicing the arc range of motion using the carpet slide.  Over time, decrease hand pressure on the carpet slide, eventually removing the slide completely.

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Sets/Reps:  3-4 sets of 5-8 per arm.

When to progress:  If you’re technically sound with 8 repetitions, move on to progression #3.

Progression of this exercise:  Tempo changes everything.  Slow down the descent to the floor and also the arm moving through the arc.

 

Lizard Crawl Progression #3:  Alternating Lower-Body Step and Reach

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Step, lower down, reach and breathe…

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  1. Starting in a high plank position, step one foot to the outside of the same side hand.  (The side you step to will be opposite of the working arm)
  2. Slowly lower your chest to 1-2 inches above the floor.
  3. With soft pressure, slide the unloaded hand out into full extension. 
  4. Pause for a moment, breathe, feel the position.
  5. Slide the hand back in, return the foot and press up to the high plank.  
  6. That’s one repetition.

Sets/Reps:  3-4 sets of 8-10 reps on each side. 

When to progress:  If you’re technically sound with 10 repetitions on each side, move on to dynamic crawling variations (video).

Progressions for this exercise:  Slow the tempo, add weight to the exercise in the form of a light weight vest or body conforming sand bag or progression to dynamic bear crawling (video).

Bringing it home…

***  One of the best cues in movement training is to move quietly.  Less noise through a robust range of motion implies full control over the movement.  

One last important training tip: all of these drills can be performed with stretch band assistance.  Stretch band assistance allows reduces body weight loading to encourage technique execution.

Some folks have steered away from using stretch bands to assist exercises like chin-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, single leg squats in recent years, but I am a HUGE advocate of using stretch bands for gradual load progression.  Any stretch bands will do, though RubberBanditz bands are spreading like wildfire.  

Give these exercises a shot and be mindful of what’s taking place as you’re inside of the training session.  

The secret sauce to progress is disciplined effort and consistency.  Practice and you will experience results.

Cheers, 

KG