You’ve probably noticed that crawling has recently been coming up a lot more in fitness websites and magazines.
Perhaps you’ve seen someone crawling around at the gym, and you’ve wondered, “What in the world is that person doing?” If you’re lucky, you work with a coach or trainer who already includes a bit of crawling in your warm-ups or training sessions.
Whether you’re already doing some crawling, or the idea of crawling as part of your workout is new to you—or you’re thinking it’s downright weird — if you’re curious to know what this crawling is all about, keep reading!
Crawling is highly beneficial for humans of all ages and ability levels, and as a big proponent of natural movement, I couldn’t be more excited to see fitness enthusiasts and professionals alike embracing these movements.
It wasn’t that long ago that we (humans!) either enjoyed getting our hands dirty to navigate over and under obstacles as we played outside with our friends, or we regularly needed to crawl when we lived in a more natural environment and had much more physically demanding lives—long before we even knew what conventional exercise was! As adults, most of us tend to avoid getting down on the ground because our modern day lives and environments don’t demand this type of movement from us anymore.
We tend to associate crawling with baby's and child’s play. But crawling is not just about playing. Our environment dictates our movement habits.
When we don't need to crawl...we don't. As a result, we lose the ability to be skillful and efficient in this natural movement, and the ground environment becomes challenging and unfamiliar.
It’s time to reconnect with our inner drive to move more naturally—and start crawling. My goal is that you’ll take away from this article a few fundamental crawling techniques that will complement your quest to become stronger, fitter, and leaner, and help you move more efficiently in real-world environments. When you reintroduce crawling movements into your daily life and workouts as an adult, you will reap a wealth of physiological benefits such as improved shoulder stability, core function, hip mobility, as well as stimulating your vestibular and proprioceptive systems, helping you move more confidently and efficiently.
One of the first crawling techniques we practice as developing human beings is the Knee-Hand Crawl. The Knee-Hand Crawl is a contralateral gait pattern that helps us move on the ground with six points of contact (hands, knees, and toes), making it very stable and beginner-friendly. If you watch babies crawl around, you’ll see that they are the perfect example of natural movement because they rely on crawling to navigate their natural environment before standing upright and walking.
Feeling comfortable with this movement comes in handy in a lot of common situations from getting into (and moving around in) a crawl space, to crawling to a nearby object for support to stand back up if you fall. It’s also helpful if you need to crawl underneath a table to search for and retrieve something you dropped.
Check out this video to learn how to do the Knee-Hand-Crawl.
Progressing to the Foot-Hand Crawl adds more intensity and speed to the movement. It is the same movement pattern as the Knee-Hand Crawl but with the knees about one inch off the ground. Because there are fewer points of contact with the ground, this progression will challenge your strength, stability, and coordination more than the Knee-Hand-Crawl.
Unlike the types of crawls most often taught in fitness and performance training, like bear crawls with the hips up in the air, the Foot-Hand Crawl is a very human movement that requires lower hips to support optimal positioning for climbing on and under obstacles found in real-world environments like getting under something quickly, or lowering your center of gravity to cross a log or narrow bridge while hiking. It is also helpful when crawling over tough terrain like rocks or sticks.
In this next video, I break down the Foot-Hand-Crawl for you with some tips for correcting common inefficiencies.
This technique will probably bring back some fun memories from P.E. class. Do you remember doing the crab walk? I remember how much fun it was to race against my peers or try to keep a ball in the air while in this inverted position. What I didn’t realize then was how practical this crawl is and how many times I’d rely on it in my life in real-world situations such as moving down a steep slope or scrambling down a hill with loose rock. I also didn’t realize how much it helps to open the chest and shoulders while strengthening the whole body.
Here’s a video tutorial to teach you how to do what we at MovNat call the “Inverted Crawl.”
These are just three basic human crawls out of a long list of many more—each with its own set of practical applications and purposes. Considering how much you stand to benefit from these types of movements, I recommend practicing these three crawls as often as you can.
Crawling movements are great as part of your warm-up, or between sets for active recovery. You can also add crawling to a circuit style workout to ramp up your conditioning or include some crawls as part of an intense metabolic finisher at the end of your conditioning training session.
Once you have established a solid baseline of crawling, you can increase the intensity or the complexity (or both). Challenge yourself with weighted crawls, balance crawls, and elevated crawls (log, rail, a 2x4, etc.), or by weaving around obstacles, or adding some contextual demands like crawling in mud, sand, or on rocky terrain.
Here is a fun circuit that incorporates the three crawling techniques in this article along with a kettlebell swing.
Note: If you don’t feel super confident about your kettlebell swing technique, continue to work on that skill independently or with a qualified instructor, and modify this circuit by substituting the swings with goblet squats.
Watch the video for a demo, then set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and perform this workout as a descending ladder. Start with 10 swings followed by a foot-hand crawl, and then an inverted crawl back back to the kettlebell for the next set of swings (nine this time). Try to work down to one swing before the buzzer goes off. You can adjust the length of the workout by changing the number of swings in the descending ladder (10,8,6,4,2 for example, to make it shorter).
Whether your goals include improving athletic performance, reducing your risk of injury, or simply moving well and pain-free, crawling is not only a fun and effective movement to add into your training, it is also an extremely practical movement. As a mother to a two-and-a-half-year-old I find myself on the ground now more than ever, and this has given me a greater purpose to train more naturally so that I can feel my best as well as keep up with the unpredictable physical demands of motherhood.
If you’re ready to explore the world from a different perspective, and enjoy different ways of moving and challenging your body while becoming stronger and fitter, start crawling!
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