If I could offer you a movement that has benefits of developing your shoulders – improving your control & stability – while simultaneously also addressing your core strength, would you be interested?
Enter Crawling Variations.
When we look at most of the exercises that work shoulders they require the hand to be moved around while the torso maintains its position.
In contrast, many of the crawling variations flip the situation and require the torso to be moved by the fixed hand.
This can be very beneficial for challenging the scapular muscles and rotator cuff to work on manipulating the body.
Having the ability to resist motion when undesired – motor control – is incredibly beneficial.
In particular for the spine, being able to control the position of the spine and limit motion when not desired can help with increased force production and movement abilities under load.
Crawling can help to address this as we are often being put into positions where it would be easy to extend, laterally flex, rotate, or flex the spine. Instead, by resisting these motions we can improve our proprioception of our spine and control of our movement
Hip & knee health
Crawling can be beneficial for the hips & knees in a number of ways.
By moving in various different planes we can provide a novel stimulus to the hips if we are unaccustomed to the various different movements used.
As well, exploring different ranges of motion in the hip that we often do not get into can be achieved through crawling.
Further, we challenge the knee extensors to alternate between isometric contractions and small concentric/eccentric contractions with relatively well maintained tension. This is a great benefit from getting some low load stimulus to help drive some adaptation for them – and that’s good for just about everyone!
Crawling has a lot of benefits, but where does it exactly belong in a program?
Well that depends upon what you’re chasing after for in regards to benefit.
Below are a few possible places to use it:
When warming up, our goal is to elevate the body temperature and get the body prepared for the day’s training. Crawling can fill both those requirements.
When doing crawling variations, we can get our heart rate elevated and use a lot of musculature – particularly if we keep a high pace. An example warm up might be: Bear Crawl x10 steps, Deadbug x10 reps, repeat x2, then lateral crawl x5 steps each direction, single leg glute bridge x10, repeat x2.
That would help to get the body temperature up, work on globally stability through the spine, hips, and shoulders, and also get the hips & shoulders working through a number of different directions.
Due to the format of most crawling variations, they can often be used in between main movement sets. When choosing to do supersets/filler exercises, we are aiming to increase our total work done in a time frame, but also address weak points. Crawling variations can be used very well in this regard as long as we choose a non-competing option. For example, in between sets of sumo deadlift you might choose to do lateral crawl. This would offer some benefit for developing rotary stability, shoulder stability, etc. As long as you aren’t someone who is nearing a competition and needs to have pure rest, this would be a great option.
Targeted shoulder work
As we mentioned earlier, crawling variations can be great to help develop the shoulder musculature.
We like to have crawling variations be pushed to higher effort levels, so we generally don’t preference utilizing them towards the end of a training session.
It can be a great option for addressing the shoulder blade and rotator cuff musculature in a less fatiguing format.
Due to the ability to crank up the heart rate and work a ton of muscle at once, crawling can be a great way to finish a training session.
Combining forward, backward, and lateral movements can be a good option to work on a ton of beneficial movements while keeping the heart rate high.
For instance, doing bear crawl x10 steps, lateral crawl x5 steps each direction, reverse bear crawl x10 steps, low squat walk x10 steps, repeat all 3-4 times.
Alternatively, it can be paired up with other movements as a finisher – for example, reverse bear crawl x20, walking lunge x10, jumping jacks x10, bear crawl x20, reverse walking lunge x10, jumping jacks x10.
Now for some of our favorite crawling variations:
Reverse Bear Crawl
Reverse bear crawls are a great means to get in some additional serratus anterior and shoulder upward rotation work.
Bear Crawl w/ Roller on Back
If you’re looking for a drill that will help athletes or clients “figure it out” this is one. With the roller on the back, they can feel as they make deviations that cause it to move.
Lateral Crawls w/ UE mini band
Lateral crawls work on having the shoulders function in a horizontal abduction and adduction format, adding the band encourages this and increases the demand on it.
Bear Crawl against band
With the posterior band pulling, we are forced to work more on pushing with the knee extensors and pulling with the shoulder extensors. This variation offers some unique stimulus not found in other variations.
DB Bear Crawl
Loading up the hands requires additional effort to pick up and relocate the DBs with each step. This can get extremely hard if you’re making sure to maintain positioning through the trunk.
Lateral Push Up Crawl
Its easy to think crawling means bear variations given our list, but that’s definitely not true! This variation is a perfect example of synchronizing multiple body parts and patterns into one movement.
If you like these movements and want to see how we implement them in our programs, or are looking for a workout that includes crawling – check out our training programs!