By Andrew McGunagle
[Original published on Shredded By Science]
Trust me, I was as skeptical as you. Crawling? That’s for babies, I thought. I’m a man who lifts to get bigger and stronger, so why would I waste my time shuffling around on the floor? I believed crawling was silly and useless - until I read more about the benefits and gave it an honest go.
Now, I’m a believer, and a bit of a crawling fiend. Crawling, in conjunction with a few other movements, makes my body feel better than it has in years. Over time, as I lifted more and moved less, I began to lose my movement capacity, and my pre-training warm-ups got longer and longer.
I would do foam rolling and other self-myofascial release techniques, a variety of stretches and mobilizations, and I would need a number of work-up sets to get my big lifts to feel right. I often spent over 30 minutes getting my body ready to move, only to find the same tight spots the following session. I was sick of doing all the movement prep bullshit, as I was not seeing significant lasting improvements.
I wanted to find the root cause of my restrictions and employ a few high-yield movements that would address my issues efficiently. Luckily, as I researched and discussed my dilemma with other strength coaches, I stumbled upon the book Original Strength. The authors, Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert, introduced me to the concept of reflexive stability, and suddenly everything I was dealing with made sense.
Reflexive stability, in the words of the authors, is your body’s subconscious ability to anticipate movement before it occurs and prepare the joints and muscles involved in a particular movement to execute the maneuver. On the other end of the spectrum is feed forward tension, which is the voluntary motor control to prepare muscles and joints for anticipation of a movement, or create purposeful tension for a movement.
You see, over the years I’d gotten great at utilizing feed forward tension. I could brace and power breathe and lock down all of my joints, but I couldn’t move naturally anymore. My body seemed to sense I was overriding my original movement mechanisms to pursue maximal strength, and it didn’t want me to explore ranges of motion I could no longer control. All of my warm-up drills were addressing symptoms, but the root cause of my stiffness I needed to confront was a lack of reflexive stability.
Since learning how to use basic human developmental movements to address my personal movement issues, I’ve been incorporating a variety of crawling variations into my clients’ training programs. In addition to the reflexive stability benefits, I’ve learned that crawling is fairly easy to learn, rarely contraindicated by existing movement restrictions, and can be used as an enjoyable low-impact full-body conditioning tool once a person achieves competency and can begin to build capacity.
Crawling is not nearly as cool as a big deadlift or bigger arms, but it can be used to support the pursuit of those goals. Substantial specific adaptations are built on a bedrock of general development, and it doesn’t get more general than the developmental movements. Movement capacity and movement skill enable you to avoid injury and train harder more consistently, and I’ve yet to find a handful of exercises that promote these qualities more effectively than crawling and other drills outlined in Original Strength. So, get down on the floor and crawl like a baby, a bear, a leopard, or even Spider-Man. You might feel stupid at first, but you’ll thank me later.
Thanks for reading!