By John Odden, BS, SFGII, CSCS, CEP, FMSII
When was the last time you crawled on the ground?
Now, you’re probably thinking:
“Crawling … seriously? That’s for babies!”
Yes, crawling is for babies. And, it may be one of the best things you can ever do for your bodily health and strength, whether you’re a baby or not.
Here’s how to crawl: (Knees off the ground is the next step after mastering this one)
Amazingly, the rest of the world seems to be catching on, with crawling becoming a relatively mainstream trend. The Washington Post even published a recent article titled, “Crawling is the New Plank.” However, I am not a super trendy individual or even into most mainstream fitness stuff.
My adventures with crawling began at my StrongFirst SFGI certification in 2014 in San Diego. There, I saw a few of my fellow comrades crawling between our rest periods and thought it seemed interesting. For the most part, I like to think I have a very open mind to new exercise ideas, but this seemed a little too weird. I mean, crawling? Really? Bear crawls, on occasion, were definitely something I could appreciate for the conditioning benefits, but what the heck were these guys doing moving around like leopards stalking their prey?
Soon after returning from an inspirational weekend full of “ah ha” moments, I decided to read more about this “Original Strength” a few of the guys were talking about at my cert. I was instantly intrigued by the information and delivery of the content from Geoff Neupert and Tim Anderson. Their book was exactly what I needed, when I needed it.
So, I took the information and applied it.
At first, I couldn’t even crawl backwards to save my life and my hips looked like the spirit of Elvis Presley had possessed them. But, Tim and Geoff mentioned in their book that DAILY practice was essential. So, I didn’t miss a day. And, for just a few minutes on those days, I crawled and also applied the other “RESETS” Geoff and Tim described as foundational movement patterns: rocking, rolling , head nodding and diaphragmatic breathing.
As Dan John always says, this was, “Simple, but not easy.”
Within a few weeks, I was crawling off of my knees and it was around then that I began to notice some interesting side-effects with my new found crawl-ability. After almost twenty years of suffering from low back pain, which included two blown discs and feeling like something was “missing” in my training, my back was starting to feel more solid and tied together than it ever had before. In fact, every time I moved I started to feel better and better! Imagine that, doing something as prescribed with consistent practice and intention can actually work.
Tim and Geoff’s book “Original Strength” claimed that these movements would help bring the whole body back together and rebuild my reflexive strength. But, this was really working. I almost couldn’t believe it! On top of that, my strength started to climb on seemingly unrelated movements like pressing and deadlifts.
Around the same time I started, I introduced these concepts to my patients, coworkers, and friends to help put crawling to the test. So, it was almost no surprise that they all agreed with me. Crawling daily had some very real benefits. These guys were really on to something
Fast forward three years, I still crawl, rock, roll, head nod, and breath diaphragmatically daily and so do my gym members, friends, and family. I now can crawl for ten minutes continuously without my knees touching the ground, crawl backward up a hill, and also crawl with 100lbs of chains for a good distance.
My back has been pain free for nearly two years, I have managed to break several world records in my sport of Highland Games, and I also conquered the Beast Tamer Challenge all at the ripe old age of 37. Everyday I continue to improve with other physical pursuits and crawling definitely is part of that process. Never have I found a movement that feels as tied together and balanced on my joints than crawling. Just as well, everyone who has immersed in this system for several months has also had the pleasure of seeing similarly massive improvements.
Crawl Like a Beast: Become a Beast
Just simple crawling will change your life with all of its potential possibilities. But, if you want to become even stronger than you thought possible, this where the money is.
I played around with some loaded sled crawls from time to time in my facility, but it wasn’t until I bought a OS Infinity Strap and 100lbs of Brookfield chains last summer that I really had my breakthrough. Leading up to this moment, I had been trying everything possible to get my Scottish Hammer to improve. It was an event that was just stuck.
Before my disc herniations, it used to be my best event. I had thrown well in the past, but something was disconnected and I just didn’t have the ability to “lengthen out” during my throws. Within a month of adding loaded crawling two times week, I was throwing as well as I ever had and finally felt like my body was connected again.
Loaded Crawling: (apologies for the windy video)
If you have ever seen the throwing of the Scottish hammer, it’s easy to appreciate the expression of mobility, stability and power involved in this event. Having my reflexive strength back, along with some finishing touches, I managed to throw a world record a few weeks later breaking 100ft with the 22lb hammer at under 200lbs bodyweight:
World Record Heavy Hammer Throw: (apologies for no sound; original video could not be found)
So, in summary, here are some of the potential benefits of crawling:
- Lowers overall training stress to improve recovery
- Develops or “reprograms” a fundamental moving pattern
- Improves walking gait
- Builds or reclaims “reflexive strength” and rotary stability
- Ties the body back together (i.e. Reteach the body to function as one whole)
- Minimizes eccentric load (i.e, minimal to no soreness)
- Unites sensory, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems (basically, improves overall coordination)
- Burns fat like nothing else! Literally uses every muscle in your body!
- Strengthens your core better than just about anything (without being a gymnast)
And, here are the potential gains from loaded crawls:
- Significantly strengthens gym-related tasks from pressing to deadlifting
- Burns even more fat without excessive strain
- Unlimited capacity to load this pattern (Forward, backward, lateral)
- Improves performance in any sport or physical activity.
- Builds a layer of “armor” around your body and joints.
- Leaves you feeling restored, not beat down from training (Crawl to exhaustion with minimal soreness after!)
I know this upcoming competitive Highland Games season I will be crawling more than ever and keeping my gym training to a minimum since it is so effective and safe. Crawling will be a mainstay no matter what my goals may be in the future. Why would I want to stop?
The question is: Will you take on the challenge and open your mind to this awesome exercise tool?
Here’s an easy way to break it down:
Want to get stronger? Do loaded crawls.
Want to burn fat? Do crawls for distance.
Want to explore and restore your “reflexive strength”? Do crawls in all planes of motion.
John Odden is the owner of Empowered Strength in Bend, OR. Click the logo below to learn more about Empowered Strength!