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A physical therapist explains the benefits of this all-fours move that strengthens your core, glutes, shoulders, hips, and more.

December 02, 2016

When you think of crawling, you probably think of adorable little rugrats. But according to Mayo Clinic physical therapist Danielle Johnson, crawling is an essential move for grown-ups too.

She actually does it every day—and she’s not alone. Health and fitness experts are raving about the benefits of crawling, and other so-called fundamental movements.

Squatting, jumping, running, hanging, balancing—they all fall into the same category. Essentially, fundamental movements are things we master as kids, but stop doing as we age. And that’s a shame because these activities engage our muscles in perfectly natural ways.

Despite the recent buzz, crawling and other “natural” exercises shouldn’t be considered a fad or the latest craze, says Johnson. “Instead, they’re a return to some of the most fundamental fitness patterns.” Below, she gives three more reasons to join the rugrats.

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Crawling tones all over

It engages your calves, quads, glutes, shoulder girdle, deep abdominal muscles, and muscles in your hips and feet. There are multiple variations on the basic form, too, says Johnson. Aside from crawling on your hands and knees, you can crawl on your hands and toes, or even facing up, in a crab crawl. No matter which type you choose, you'll be working your whole body.

Crawling builds strength for real life

Unlike many traditional fitness moves, crawling actually involves moving—and that’s important. Compare it to the classic plank, for example. Plank is a great way to engage your core, but it’s not something you ever do in the course of an average day. “It’s not as applicable to real life,” says Johnson. “In real life, we move.”

That’s one reason she's been using crawling and other fundamental movements with her PT clients for years: “Getting our bodies to move through full ranges of motion, and getting them to stabilize and hold a movement, is protective against back and shoulder pain.”

What’s more, crawling and other fundamental movements “can help us feel well and whole,” she says. While running on a treadmill is great cardio, being able to support your weight is just as important.  “If you can run a six-minute mile, but you can’t play around with your kids because you’re unable to squat down or climb with them, is your fitness regime [helping you] do the things you ultimately want to do?” says Johnson. 

“I do [fundamental movements] every single day because I really believe [they] will protect my body as I get older, and let me continue to do the things I love doing,” she says.

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You don't need a gym to crawl

Johnson doesn't like to label crawling a "workout"—because it's not something that has to be done at the gym, or during a scheduled block of time. You can crawl around any time (say, when you're playing with your dog or cat on the floor).

This goes for other fundamental movements too: “I always tell people that they can integrate jumping, running, hanging, climbing, or crawling into a very effective workout, but they can also just be done at home," says Johnson. “If you have 10 minutes in your day to get on the floor and crawl, or work on your mobility—even just by jumping up your stairs—it can have tremendous protective value on your body."

Of course, not every activity is for everybody. Modifications can be made to most fundamental movements, but it’s best to skip anything that causes pain. “Listen to your body and make sure that it feels good to you," says Johnson. And if your doctor has advised you to avoid certain types of exercise, check with her before you try a new activity, she adds.

To learn more about fundamental movements, check out this video from the Mayo Clinic's Healthy Living Program