An exercise skill is not just about learning new moves. Sometimes, it is about re-learning something you used to do, once upon a time, again. Which brings us to the first proper exercise we do as babies, crawling. At some point in the evolution from new-born to fully grown adult, we shed this skill as we learn to walk, hardly ever returning to all fours. After all, why crawl, when you can walk, right?
It's just that crawling is a skill that humans should never let go of. The most wonderful random fact about crawling is its technical name: cross-lateral locomotion. It is a developmental movement pattern that naturally occurs at a tender age. With animal flow being a popular way of working out these days, crawling is steadily making its way back into adult life.
“There’s a reason why some physical therapists include elements of crawling as part of their suggested programs. [It] has some rehabilitative and restorative effects that often go unnoticed. [It] crawling requires coordination of your upper and lower body, forcing your shoulders and hips to work together. It’s the reason why crawling is so important for babies—it’s a basic form of movement that requires a considerable amount of coordination between all parts of the body,” states a brilliant blogpost titled The Physical And Mental Benefits Of Crawling, written by Darryl Edwards, fitness coach and author of the book Animal Moves.
Edwards talks about how the nervous system is refreshed every time the body learns a new move—using dance as an example. Over a period of time, if not done regularly, one forgets these moves, precisely why older people dancing makes for cute videos as we watch them try to bring back long lost movement patterns.
But it’s not just about basic crawling (also known as the baby crawl). Like any other exercise, adult workouts need challenges and progressions. The first point is to get the form right. An NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) video on the technicalities of adult crawling says that crawling puts us in a position where we need to make sure the spinal alignment is correct and the basic kinetic checkpoints of the body are met.
This is because as adults, for added core work and strengthening, crawling will be done with the knees raised off the floor by an inch or so. This slightest of change makes your hips and shoulders work a lot more. As the video suggests, this is because “your four points of contact are your toes and hands”. Just staying in this isometric position, with little lateral and front-backwards movements will give an idea of how challenging it can get.
For absolute beginners, there is no shame in starting with something as basic as the wall crawl—which isn’t literally crawling on a wall—but getting into a standing position, resting the hands on the wall and raising them with the alternating knee. The next challenge would be to move off the wall and onto something inclined—like placing the hands on the edge of a sofa or a bed or a table and doing the same move. The lower you get, the more difficult the crawl is. The basic baby crawl on the floor is next, and once comfortable with the wiring of movements learnt from muscle memory, you can move to the bear crawl with the raised knees.
There are basic rules of form to keep in mind as you progress: the hips need to be aligned with the knees and the hands have to be shoulder-width apart. And of course, keep that core braced so that the lower back does not cave in.
“Crawling can help you tone your body and increase your strength. And the best part is—it's easy to incorporate into your life. You don't need to go to the gym or even designate a time to work out. All you need to do is crawl around on the floor either by yourself or with your pets or children,” says a health.com article titled Why Crawling Is The Ultimate Total-Body Exercise.
Research is ample on the benefits of crawling, which is classified in fitness as a ‘fundamental movement’. A paper titled Supporting Fundamental Movement Skillssays that these “are essentially the foundation for all other movements the body makes. These movements are typically learned during early child development, but it is crucial to maintain them during adulthood. Squatting, jumping, running, hanging, and balancing all fall into the same category.”
It is also a brilliant warm-up. Crawling before getting into more complicated moves will ready your brain for the challenges coming up in the gym, or outside of it.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.