Crawling Drills for Fighters: Laying the Foundation for Total Body Strength

by Corey Beasley

Most people have a love/hate relationship with crawling.

Typically used during warm ups, this simple drill is the foundation of a lot of our movement.  As babies, we learn to lift our heads, roll, rock back and forth and eventually crawl to the stuff we want.  This basic movement pattern helps us develop body awareness, coordination, strength and stability throughout our body.  As a coach, there is a lot to be learned by having your athletes crawl.

Let's Start with the Basics:

  1. Army Crawls - entire body is on the ground, head up.
  2. Baby Crawls - hands, knees and feet on the ground
  3. Leopard Crawls - hands and feet on the ground, knees stay inside the elbows
  4. Spider Crawls - hands and feet on the ground, knees outside the elbows
  5. Alligator Crawls - hands and feet on the ground, body close to the floor.

Here's a few things to watch for...

  • Toes and Feet - Crawling forces our feet and toes into more extension that walking or running, so some people may have problems.  Lack of flexibility and range of motion in the big toe or arch may limit someone's ability to crawl efficiently.  They may experience pain or simply compensate by raising their hips up or taking shallow steps.
  • Knees - Depending on the type of crawl that you are using, the knees may be on the ground, close to the ground and either inside or outside the elbows.  In a basic baby crawl, the knees stay on the ground (easiest).  The next step is the leopard crawl, where the knees are slightly off the ground and track in between the elbows during the movement (Intermediate).  Once you've displayed control with the first two, you can progress onto the spider crawl, where the knees are slightly off the ground and the knees track outside the elbows.
  • Hips - Most people gravitate toward bear crawls (hips high), which is a great exercise.  If you are using the baby, leopard or spider crawl, then I would recommend that your hips are always lower than your head, knees close to the ground, and limited movement in the hips from side to side.  This control will force the rest of your body to work harder, so you get more out of the exercise.
  • Head - When performing the baby, leopard or spider variations, always keep your head higher than your hips.  Keeping your head up allows you to see where you're going, but also activates the neck, upper back and core muscles.  The body follows the head, so this little tweak can add a lot of benefit to your crawling.
  • Hands - When we walk, our feet provide vital feedback, helping us stabilize, react and move in our environment.  When we are crawling, the hands become very important.  Make sure that the fingers are spread and lightly grip the ground with your fingers.  This will activate the muscles in your hand and provide a more solid foundation.

Why is Crawling beneficial?

Contra-lateral Movement that challenges the entire body.

What the heck is contra-lateral?

Very simply, our right arm should work in coordination with our left leg.  The left arm with the right leg.

The right side of our brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa on the left.

Bottom line, because of our sedentary lifestyles, many people have lost this basic function and move inefficiently.

In order to make a better mind body connection and develop as an athlete, its vital that you groove this movement pattern correctly.

When we crawl, our left arm should move at the same time as our right leg.  Right arm, left leg.

A common mistake is moving the right arm and right leg together.

Be on the lookout for this and correct it immediately.

Why is this so important?

Ever seen anyone step with their right leg and throw with their right arm?

It just looks funny.

Crawling correctly will help train your body and mind to work together as one unit.

Over time you will move more efficiently, muscles will fire in coordination and you will become stronger.

Who doesn't want that?

So here's how to get started.

Step 1 - Crawl During Your Warm Ups

Focus on good form and use this time to introduce the movement pattern.  You won't crush people with a ton of volume,  you simply want to give them a taste and get them moving correctly.

Step 2 - Increase Time

Once you have learned proper form, then its time to increase the time under tension.  Try crawling for 30 seconds, then 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes and 10 minutes.  They key point here is to challenge your body and mind to continuously work for longer periods of time.  Increase the work load slowly over time, focus on good form and you will notice an increase in strength.

*If you experience acute pain, regress to an easier movement pattern or stop and seek help from a professional.

Step 3 - Increase Difficulty

Try more advanced crawling patterns as you become comfortable.  If you are performing baby crawls, move onto leopard crawls.  Leopards move onto spiders.  Spiders into alligators.  Etc.

You can also start to load or add resistance to these patterns.  Bands, chains, sleds and more.  It doesn't take much, so start light and increase the intensity slowly over time.

Crawling is a foundational movement pattern that is safe for almost any person.  You can use it to help that uncoordinated guy and it is challenging enough for the most advanced athlete.  Needless to say, crawling should be a part of every class, training program or workout.  It ties the body together, makes us stronger and more athletic.

Here are some more complex variations from our friend Dewey:

Step 4 Mixing It Up

We live in a 3 dimensional world.

You can crawl forward, backwards, sideways, diagonals, spin in a circle and more.

Changing the direction will dramatically change the movement.  For example, when we are crawling forward, our legs are the primary drivers.  When we go backwards, the arms become the primary driver.  Spin in a circle and the entire chain is challenged in a new plane.

Mix it up, use your imagination, and force the body to become efficient in a variety of situations.

If you'd like more information about the benefits of crawling, check out the book called Original Strength, by Tim Anderson.  He does an incredible job explaining how kids develop and how it affects our bodies and minds.  Its a simple, yet powerful read for anyone that is looking to improve this year.

Always improving, always evolving.