I love barbells. I love lifting heavy weights and feeling like a bad ass. I want everyone to feel this way. Which is why we stress strength training. There is nothing more satisfying than to see a student get stronger, leaner, and moving better.
However, even though I have a deep love for barbells and dumbbells, they aren’t as effective at making us move better as they are for sculpting our bodies. Movement is key. Have you ever watched a group of kids during their warm up for a sport, say soccer? You’ll see some kids who skip, side shuffle, and generally move athletically and with ease. Then you’ll be able to spot the kids who… well, there’s just something off. Their movement just doesn’t look right. And many of us adults, even if we were stud athletes in high school, now fall into the awkward, something ain’t rightcategory of movers.
As we go through life we become more sedentary. On top of that, we stop skipping, running, jumping, crawling, and rolling around. These are all movements that our bodies are suppose to do. And I think it’s safe to say everyone wants to be able to move well; because eventually, you’re gonna have to play a game of pick up football and you don’t want to be that guy that looks like a new born giraffe trying to karaoke.
We have all seen the picture of the Vitruvian man: the naked guy in the circle. That is a straight forward illustration of how our bodies are a huge “X”. Our right hand is connected to our left foot through our core and vice versa. The core is the center of force production as well as its reduction and transference from one body part to the other, from one side to the another. If we want the rest of our body to be strong and function well, our core first must be strong.
Animal movements are an insanely effective way to both strengthen the core while also strengthening midline crossing also known as contra-lateral movements. Various crawls not only strengthen the core but also increase the efficiency of our Central Nervous System (CNS) through increasing neural connections. Crawling involves moving the right upper limb simultaneously with the opposite lower limb. Thus directly working on that cross sectional force production and increasing neural connections between both sides of our brain. Hence improved CNS efficiency and improved movement.
Ever slip and almost fall but don’t? That is an example of the body automatically using both strength and stability in the “X” pattern to not let you bust your ass. However, have you ever tripped, still caught yourself but pulled your back or other body part? That is an example of a disconnect in cross sectional efficiency and strength, on top of a weakened core.
I have a special place in my heart for animal movements not only for quality of movement sake, but because they’re damn fun and make me laugh. Animal movements not only improve CNS connections, core strength, and cross sectional force production, but can increase strength, mobility, flexibility, metabolic conditioning and can also serve as corrective exercises. When you get on the ground and crawl, every muscle from your eye lash to your ingrown toe nail is working, and working together. And because we don’t often put ourselves in that position, it becomes metabolically taxing. We start breathing heavily, sweating and probably cursing whoever’s idea it was to do this.
As we become more accustomed to the movements and our “X” gets stronger, the body stops fighting it and the compensations begin to fall away. This is when mobility increases. This then allows our body to gain fuller ranges of controlled motion, which leads to more body control and strength gains you weren’t even expecting. When mobility increases, our muscles are finally able to access every muscle fiber allowing them to do their job to full capacity. Which leads to increased force production. (a.k.a. increased strength)
Not every type of animal movement is a right fit for everyone, yet. Many people’s bodies may not be ready for the more advance crawls like the low alligator or tiger. When crawling, it’s important to keep a stable core and avoid rotating the hips and spine from side to side. A stable core will ensure proper strengthening. It will also ensure we protect our back, especially our lumbar spine from overcompensating, which can lead to injury. Begin with starter crawls like the high bear or low frog hops.
Crawling once was automatic. When we were fresh from the womb we slowly grew our strength and stability everyday. We increased the efficiency of our CNS and slowly mastered how to hold ourselves upright and run around to eff shit up. Crawling was once essential and I believe it still is. It allows us to develop mind-body awareness, strength, and coordination. Plus it’s damn fun! Don’t believe me? Ask your training partner to do them with you. I dare you not to crack a smile or laugh your way through a good animal warm up.