Crawling is seriously beneficial and is a lost element in a lot of peoples training. Crawling drills make up an essential part of my training and training philosophy. I learnt about this topic from reading and listening to Steve Maxwell and Tim Anderson, I have been using these movements for quite a while now and have seen how beneficial they are. It improves coordination, body awareness and work capacity and can have a profound effect on your body and how it functions. Crawling is a developmental movement pattern that promotes the coordination of the left and right sides of the body and the lower and upper limbs. It connects the parts of the body. Most importantly crawling develops reflexive strength. This is your ability to anticipate a movement and react as it happens. Reflexive strength is a foundational element to almost everything we do and without adequate reflexive strength we will never fully develop our strength and mobility optimally. It teaches the body to work as a unit. Especially if you have been lifting weights and focussing on body parts. Training your chest, back arms, quads, etc.; yes you most probably got stronger and bigger but it does not do anything for your coordination and movement capacity. There’s nothing wrong with a bench press or a bicep curl, the problem is in the context. Crawling is like a reset button for your movement. We get caught in bad movement patterns because of our stability and movement restrictions, crawling acts as a reset to our movement. This being said crawling is not a magical fix or the be all and end all of exercises, but it is a very beneficial thing to train and its one of those movements that ticks a lot of the boxes.
Some of the benefits include:
Coordination development and reflexive strength development
Who can benefit from Crawling?
Everyone! Seriously everyone who can, should include some form of crawling in their training. It should form an essential part of all athletes training and has even more benefits to those athletes who participate in contact sports and sports where you go to ground. So Rugby players, mixed martial artists, boxers, wrestlers, Judoka all should have some form of this in their training and many of the martial arts mentioned do.
How to crawl
There are some key points to remember when adding crawling into your training. How you crawl is important. We want to develop good movement foundations. So you should focus on the following:
Hips lower that shoulders*
Eyes up looking forward
Smooth movement first, speed second
*Bear crawls (where your hips are higher than your shoulders) are a great conditioning drill, it’s hard to do and will challenge you, but for the purposes mentioned earlier it is not effective in what we want to achieve
Types of crawls
We have various types of crawls all of varying difficulty and the lay emphasis on different areas.
This is the foundational one, if you had to do one variation it would be this one. Simple to do, just remember the cues listed above.
Commando crawl aka Leopard crawl
This is a variation where you crawl on your forearms and upper legs. This will put more emphasis on your hips, shoulders and thoracic rotation. It is also a good variation to use if you struggle to control your hip height on the Spiderman crawl.
Komodo dragon crawl
The Komodo dragon crawl is the same as the Leopard crawl only you are on your hands instead of your forearms. This is the progression of the leopard crawl
Lizard crawl easy
This is the progression of the Spiderman crawl you basically add in a staggered hand position push up on every step. Still keeping hips and shoulders level.
Lizard crawl hard
This version of the lizard crawl you stay low to the ground. Your hand and feet are the only contact points but you stay as low as possible while moving forward.
How to incorporate it into training
Crawls are versatile and can be used many ways in training sessions. They can be used as follows:
As a warm up
I like to use crawls as general warm up movements. I do between 5 – 10 repetitions of between 10 – 20m. Generally I start with the easier variations like the Spiderman, leopard or Komodo dragon crawl.
An example of a warm up would be:
1a. Spiderman crawl 20m
1b. Goblet Squats 10 reps
1c. Pull ups 3 reps
The above circuit done for 4 rounds
As an active rest station
I like to use it as a "reset" button between movements. If I’m doing a power or strength movement, especially full body.
Dumbbell snatch 3 reps each arm
Lizard crawl 10m
Rest 45- 60 sec
As a finisher
Doing crawls for a set time period with minimal rest or a set number of total lengths is a great finisher to a session. It has a high metabolic demand and it will get you right out of your comfort zone.
So try some crawling in your training. Start by adding it to your warm up, do it consistently for a month and feel the effect it has on your movement.
In our next instalment we will look at other elements of ground work: rolling, falling and getting up.