When we are babies, the only thing we want to do is learn to stand up and walk around so that we can more easily obtain food or bright and shiny objects. It’s something we don’t think about as adults. Going from crawling to standing to walking to running. We think it’s a natural progression that has always happened but is that necessarily true?
Homo erectus, or the upright man, was not always so. Researchers believe that there was a time when man once crawled, similar to a bear or wolf and that our skeletal structure is still evolving to meet our ever-changing movement patterns. The perfect example is the lower back pain and weak musculature that results from so many people performing computer-related tasks at their office day jobs.
Is there something that we’ve left behind in our crawling stages? New research is suggesting that we may need to take a step back if we want to see real health and fitness benefits. Let’s take a look at the history of crawling and why you may want to start doing it to improve your fitness results and overall wellness.
What is Crawling?
Aside from rolling back and forth, crawling is technically the first real movement pattern that we perform as humans. Most importantly, crawling is a developmental form of movement. This word shouldn’t be taken lightly as everything starts with crawling. When we are babies, we crawl. It’s cute and funny but there’s so much more going on behind the scenes.
When babies start crawling, they begin developing their neuromuscular connections, building strength in their muscles and connective tissue, and learning movement patterns. Crawling requires that the entire body starts to work together to move you forward, backward, and side to side. In other words, crawling is the foundation for all of the other movement patterns we learn as humans. Standing, walking, and running begin with crawling.
The Science of Crawling
There may be some of you out there that skipped the crawling stage or your own child was promoted to walking before they could crawl. Currently, there is a debate going on in the medical community as to whether crawling is a necessary developmental stage. Most experts are leaning towards the Yes camp. There are a number of reasons behind this.
Aside from what we talked about above with crawling being important for physical development, it is also essential for brain development as well. Doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Well, here’s what it comes down to:
In our brains, we have a left and a right hemisphere. When we are babies, we have a lot of room for development. In fact, there are critical developmental stages that we should pass through if we want to develop healthy minds and bodies.
Crawling helps both hemispheres communicate and work together since the left side of the brain has to move the right side of the body and vice versa. Not only does crawling boost brain development but it’s also where we begin to learn hand and eye coordination. When you’re an adult, you take for granted that there was a time when you had no idea how to move, let alone run!
Aside from improving and building hemisphere communication, crawling will also allow a baby to learn speed and depth. They’ll develop the ability to understand a begin point and a destination point. Best of all, that smile on their face as they crawl is a tell-tale sign that they are building self confidence in their ability to move.
All this is great for babies but what about adults? Can crawling have the same, if not better, benefits for adults?
Adults and Crawling
Can crawling be beneficial as an adult? After years of walking, jogging, and running in an upright stance, can adding a few crawling movements to your workout program be beneficial? The answer is an absolute “yes!”
Admittedly, you won’t have to put on a diaper and crawl on your hands and knees. You’ll be taking more of an animalistic style approach to crawling but the benefits are numerous.
- Crawling is the original full body workout. When you engage in crawling, you are utilizing all of the major muscle groups. Your core is kept tight as your legs and glutes push you forward. Your chest, back, shoulders, and arms guide you through the range of motion. It won’t take long in a crawling position before you feel all of these muscles start to light up, signaling to you that they are working hard.
Balance and Coordination
- Believe it or not, babies aren’t the only ones who can improve their balance and coordination through crawling. We all have something called a vestibular system that is responsible for taking in sensory information and adjusting our bodies accordingly to meet the demand of that sensory input. It’s how we know where to go without over doing it or falling short. For example, if someone throws a ball to you but you can see that’s it’s going a bit over your head, your vestibular system will take in this data and allow your body to move accordingly to be at the right point to catch that ball. Crawling can improve the vestibular system of humans from the time we’re babies until well into old age.
Nerves and Movement
- There is an extremely important nerve called the Vagus Nerve that is present in the top of the head and runs down the spine through the throat and into the abdomen. What makes this nerve so important is the fact that it has such an extensive reach throughout the body. In other words, it’s essential for basic bodily function, especially those functions that we never think about. For example, the Vagus Nerve is responsible for supporting a consistent heart rate and, more importantly, it helps you breathe! Crawling is an excellent way to support and strengthen the Vagus Nerve, thereby, improving all of the functions that it’s responsible for.
- For babies, crawling gets the brain and body moving. The first few times a baby crawls, the brain is firing to build synapses, understand sensory information, and improve upon all cognitive processes. While an adult’s sensory input understanding is already fully formed, we can all use a boost in our neural connections. Crawling may be beneficial in improving the health of our current neural connections while supporting the creation of new cells.
- Continuing with the idea above, crawling may also be able to improve your working memory. Crawling demands a lot from your body. It requires that all of your muscles work together to perform the movement. This is pretty obvious. What may not be as obvious is the fact that crawling is a form of proprioceptive exercise. In other words, you need balance, coordination, and proper length-tension relationships between muscles. A recent study concluded that those exercises with a proprioceptive demand improved overall working memory.
- This one shouldn’t be a surprise as numerous studies have confirmed that consistent exercise and physical activity is a natural and effective way to boost your mood. When you perform exercises, like crawling, your body releases those feel good chemicals such as serotonin. Scientists still haven’t confirmed the connection between exercise and the release of these chemicals but who needs the reason when the benefit is clear?
Top 4 Crawls You Need to Do
Now that you’re convinced about the benefits of crawling, I want to introduce you to four of my favorite crawling exercises that I use in my personal workout program. These crawls will build serious strength and coordination while reducing common aches and pains.
- Let’s begin with the easiest of the four movements: The Lateral Crawl is simple but that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. This movement demands that you move across the floor while switching hand and feet positions. We take for granted the learning curve for new exercises and this is a beginner’s movement that is sure to trigger those neural connections. Perform this first, see how you feel and if you are able to complete it with perfect form, I’d suggest moving on to the next movement.
Spiderman Pushup Crawl
- The Spiderman Push-up Crawl combines a forward crawl with a push-up and the hip flexor-focused forward leg extension. While all muscles are required to pitch in, like the Lateral Crawl, this movement couldn’t be any more different. If this one is a challenge for you, I’d recommend sticking with it until it feels comfortable. Once you can confidently perform both the Lateral Crawl and the Spiderman Push-up Crawl, then I’d say you’re ready for the next one.
Cross Crawls with Kettlebell
- The first thing you’ll notice is that the Cross Crawls with Kettlebell isn’t what you’d consider a crawl. While you aren’t on your hands and knees, your muscles are still mimicking a crawl-like movement. The twisting and turning that you’ll be performing with this exercise is going to demand a lot from your core so I’d recommend perfecting your form without weight first then upgrade to a kettlebell when you feel comfortable doing so. Have you mastered all three movements? If so, it’s time to graduate to the advanced class with our final exercise.
Weighted Bear Pushup Crawls
- If you have ever performed a push-up row, then you’ll be familiar with Weighted Bear Push-up Crawls. The idea here is to move a set of dumbbells, one weight at a time, while hopping your feet forward. The catch is that you can’t bend the knees. Once you’ve graduated from the previous three movements, give this one a try. Start with a small amount of weight and upgrade gradually as you become more confident with the exercise.
Have you tried crawling before? What benefits did you notice? Are you just starting out with the exercises I’ve recommended above? What questions or comments do you have for me? Let me know in the comments below!
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