Why Crawling Is the Ultimate Total-body Exercise

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

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

Johnson does it every day. Why? Many benefits of crawling, and other so-called fundamental movements, exist. Fundamental movements are essentially the foundation for all other movements the body makes. These movements are typically learned during early child development, but it is crucial to maintain them during adulthood.

Squatting, jumping, running, hanging, and balancing 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.

Crawling and other "natural" exercises shouldn't be considered a fad, Johnson said. "Instead, they're a return to some of the most fundamental fitness patterns."

How To Crawl

There are more ways to crawl than you may think. For the most basic crawl, follow the steps below:

  1. Get on your hands and knees.
  2. Make sure your hips align with your knees and your hands are shoulder-width apart.
  3. Move your right hand and left knee forward and then vice versa.
  4. Brace your core as you move forward.

Besides the basic crawl, there are more complicated ways to crawl that can involve:

  • Keeping your limbs straight while you crawl
  • Crawling on the balls of your feet, known as a "bear crawl"

If you are considering participating in some crawl exercises, Johnson had three reasons to join the babies:

It Tones Your Body

Crawling 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, Johnson said. 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.

It 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 an average day. "It's not as applicable to real life," Johnson said. "In real life, we move."

That's one reason Johnson'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."

Moreover, crawling and other fundamental movements "can help us feel well and whole," Johnson said. While running on a treadmill is great cardio, supporting 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?" Johnson said.

"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," Johnson said.

You Don’t Need a Gym

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 (like when you're playing with your dog or cat on the floor).

This goes for other fundamental movements: "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," said 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."

A Quick Review

Fundamental movements, like crawling, are necessities for moving around in your everyday life. Crawling can help you tone your body and increase your strength. And the best part is—it's easy to incorporate into your life. You don't need to go to the gym or even designate a time to work out. All you need to do is crawl around on the floor either by yourself or with your pets or children.

Of course, not every activity is for everybody. Modifications can be made to most fundamental movements, but skipping anything that causes pain is best. "Listen to your body and make sure it feels good to you," said Johnson. And if your healthcare provider has advised you to avoid certain types of exercise, check with them before you try a new activity, Johnson added.

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  1. LibreTexts Social Sciences. Supporting fundamental movement skills.

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