As babies, we crawled until we were strong enough to stand, walk and run. Most of us never looked back, until now. Apparently, crawling is creeping into adulthood. Long used in physical therapy, scrambling around on all fours is increasingly showing up as a strength-builder in gyms and fitness classes.
“When you crawl, you revisit mobility patterns you learned as a baby and press reset on your nervous system,” says Tim Anderson, founder of Original Strength, a training system that’s been an advocate behind the crawling comeback. “Man is designed to be on two feet, but it’s good to crawl a little bit every day because it ties the body back together. It should take four limbs to walk, but because we sit so much, we’ve lost that connection to our body.”
Crawling proponents argue the exercise improves balance and mobility, boosts coordination, stabilizes and strengthens the core and engages the shoulders, abdominals, glutes, hips, quads and calves.
Crawling for fitness isn’t as easy as the toddler set would lead you to believe. “You have keep your head up, breathe and crawl while keeping your pattern,” says Anderson. “It’s harder than it looks.”
Anderson suggests clients start with a basic forward crawl — hands and knees on the ground and head level with the horizon. Once crawling forward is comfortable, play with moving backward and side to side with a contralateral movement — the right hand and left knee move together. Eventually you can lift your knees off the ground like a bear crawl, crawling on hands and feet or add resistance with a weight vest or by dragging something.
Jon Hinds, founder of the Monkey Bar Gym and a former strength trainer for the LA Clippers, plays with seemingly endless variations.
“Mimic animals,” he says. “Get really low like a crocodile or crawl like a frog with two hands and feet. Crawl upstairs and walk down. Crawl backward up the steps with your feet first and belly down. Put your feet into a power wheel and crawl forward and backward in that plank position.”
Both agree, crawling is great movement prep.
“Use it as a warm up to any workout,” says Anderson. “Runners will really see an impact on their gait and they’ll become more efficient. Or use it in the weight room between sets to help clean up your movements.”
Just to practice, I set a timer for 5 minutes and crawled back and forth in my office. The most difficult part is the hardwood floor on my knees so I am foolishly confident I’m ready to crawl with Hinds.
I join him for his noon class at Monkey Bar Gym, a bare-bones, one-room space tucked into a strip mall in Madison, Wisconsin. With no machines, but plenty of jump ropes, kettlebells and boxes of different heights, it’s easy to imagine Rocky training here.
We line up and Hinds shouts out an exercise, we do it to the opposite side of the room and then jog back for our next command. We crawl forward, jog back; walking lunges, jog back; crawl backward, jog back; side-shuffle down, jog back; bear crawl down, jog back. I am definitely warm.
Hinds leads us through that day’s workout, which includes pushups, box jumps, power wheel crawls and a lateral crawl, which tests my brain as much as my body. Hinds adjusts the intensity, giving the group different levels, which he kindly calls Stability and Power instead of Can’t-Even-Crawl-Like-a-Baby and Tough Guy.
Dripping with sweat, I am gassed at the end of the hour. Simplifying and getting back to the basics definitely does not mean easy. I realize I need to add more functional movements into my routine and vow to use a few crawling exercises to warm up before my weight sessions.