Contrary to the belief of time-constrained lifters, stretching and warming up are not the same thing, and passive stretching is not enough to ready the body for weightlifting. A proper warm-up increases your body temperature, prepares you for general activity, and then activates the specific muscle or muscle group the workout will target, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault.
“The biggest mistake is to go into a lifting session without preparing your nervous system, muscles, and joints for the demands you are going to place on it,” says Wickham. The result, he says, is increased risk of injury. But a good warmup does more than prevent injury, it also helps you perform better in the weight room or box. Which is why Wickham has his athletes go through a dynamic warm up, which by definition is a warmup that gets your body moving. “A proper dynamic warm up will hit the entire body and whole nervous system. Which is why my go-to for myself and my athletes is crawling,” he says.
What Is Crawling
Crawling is a multi-joint, close-chain locomotive exercise that requires reciprocal movement patterns, engages the entire body, and prepares the whole body for movement, Wickham explains. When we were babies, we crawled around until we were strong enough to stand on two feet. But once we graduated to walking we never really looked back. But it turns out that spending time on the floor as an adult as part of an exercise regime can make you a better athlete overall.
Top 6 Benefits of Crawling
1. Incredibly Efficient
Crawling is an incredible bang for your buck: it will point out your weaknesses, highlight your strengths, and can be used as a diagnostic tool all while activating the whole body for the rest of your workout. All kinds of crawling engage your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulder, abdominal muscles, and all muscles in your hips and feet. By combining the different kinds of crawling and moving forwards, backwards, and laterally, you can hit nearly every muscle in your body. Moreover, you can work through these movements slowly for strength, stamina, and flexibility, or you can do them explosively for speed, power, and agility.
2. Increases Coordination
Crawling requires coordination between your upper body and lower body, which is hugely important for almost every activity we do at the gym. When we walk or run, our bodies create an X-shape, where the opposite foot and hand swing forward simultaneously. We don’t even think about it when running or walking. But when we move to all-fours the ground, most of us have to relearn that movement pattern. Most athletes make the mistake of stepping their right hand and right leg forward, and then left hand and left leg, until they’re able to correct their pattern to keep the opposite hand and leg moving together. Most are surprised that they have to make such a conscious effort to coordinate their hands and feet to move in reciprocal movement patterns. But with practice comes increased bodily coordination.
3. Improves Mobility
Crawling requires both stability and mobility of the shoulder, which most people can improve upon, explains Wickham. If you can increase the control you have over your scapular movements and improve shoulder stability, you will undoubtedly see improvements in most of your upper-body movements like the bench press and push-up, he adds. Plus, for athletes with tight runner-hips, crawling will over-time lubricate joints in the hip that take on a lot of repetitive stress in running. The result of better-lubricated hip-joints is a stronger, more efficient running and walking pattern.
4. Increases Stability
When you crawl, walk or run, the stabilizer muscles in your spine and pelvis light up to keep your torso from rotating. The more control and stability you have over your spine and torso, the easier it will be for you to improve your movement mechanics for lifts inside the gym. For example, explains Wickham, the deadlift, squat, clean, and snatch all require core strength and stability.
5. Activates The Central Nervous System
Crawling also trains your central nervous system, increasing your kinesthetic awareness and core control. This is such a valuable benefit because the nervous system is the master regulator of the body. If it senses instability, it will put on the brakes to avoid injury.
6. You Don’t Need A Gym
Whether you’re using crawling to warm up for your lifting session or as a workout, it’s not something that has to be done at a gym. You can do it when you’re playing with your pet or child on the floor. You can do on the grass outside your house, for example.
3 Different Ways To Crawl
1. Bear Crawl
The bear crawl is a cardiovascular and total body exercise that targets the shoulders, glutes, hip flexors, abs, calves, chest, forearms, groin, hamstrings, middle back, obliques, triceps and lats.“To begin forward bear crawling, get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your keeps. Then, crawl forward by taking small steps with your right arm and left leg, and then left arm and right leg,” Wickham says.
As you begin moving forward 6-10 inches at a time, try not to arch your back too much, turn your hands out slightly for increased stability, and get your form right before picking up speed. “Quality over quantity or distance for all crawling is key,” says Wickham. While forward bear crawls are most common, you can also move backward and laterally, which will activate the shoulder slightly differently.
2. Crab Crawl
The crab crawl is a total body exercise that targets the shoulders, abs, biceps, chest, glutes, middle back, traps, triceps and hamstrings.“Like the bear crawl, the crab crawl is a great way to activate the whole body and shock the central nervous system into alert. Plus, it really works the chest, abs, triceps, and hamstrings,” says Wickham.
To begin, sit down with your butt on the ground and palms on the ground, fingers facing towards your feet. Then raise up so that only your hands and feet are touching the ground. Begin to walk on your hands and feet backwards so that one hand moves, then the other with your feet following. As you walk, don’t allow your butt to slump down. The goal for the crab crawl is to stay controlled and tight throughout your entire body.
3. Pike Crawl
The pike walk is a alternative, calisthenics, and pilates exercise that targets the abs, chest, hamstrings, lats, shoulders and glutes. “Because pike crawling emphasizes smaller range of motion (you should only moving 4 inches at a time) it is going to be way more demanding on your shoulders and scapulas, which makes it a great warm up specifically for shoulder-to-overhead movements like the push press or clean and jerk, and also handstand holds, walks, and push ups,” says Wickham. The goal for this movement is to keep your legs straight the whole time without letting your hips sag down, and to keep your core tight and engaged once you start moving.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image: @movementvault on Instagram