Plank, Crawling, and Other Core Strengthening Progressions


Over the past five years, there has been a growing sector within the fitness world that proclaims that crawling is a fundamental movement pattern that sets us up as sitting, crawling, cruising toddlers to walking and running adults. But should we as adults continue to add crawling variations into our training programs? If you are in the military, police, firefighting communities, you will use a variety of crawling in your job.  Whether you are low crawling for cover from danger or baby crawling (on all fours) while in a burning house as a firefighter, crawling has specific uses in the tactical population. There is little argument on the benefits to crawling in these situations, however, is crawling a foundational movement pattern for humans? Does it actually reset our central nervous system?

Moving in The Plank Positions

In our training groups, we have created a crawling progression that actually starts with plank poses – a static position held for time that isometrically flexes the entire core musculature. From the basic plank, you can move to side plank poses and challenge your stability with lifting a foot or hand off the floor. We focus on the plank as you will find your ability to do pushups, longer duration at crawling, as well as lifting weight off the ground will be enhanced by working the core this way.

Once you apply any movement to this planking position, it requires you to move opposing arms and legs together in a coordinated effort – cross pattern movement. This requires your left and right side of your brain to create connections (synapses) to help build coordinated movement. We do this in every movement from walking, throwing, swimming, running, and crawling as well as other athletic movements and skills. Our workouts, practices, and training help build these "habits" of movement. Our left arm swings forward as our right leg moves forward and the opposite occurs for the other sides of our arm and legs – that creates movement, power generation, for both vertical and horizontal positions.

Baby Crawl –Crawling on all fours is the first movement in this progression. Add sets of crawling to a full body workout. We typically will add crawling to and from different areas of a workout. For instance, do pullups under a pullup bar, but do your pushups and other exercises about 20 meters away. Do variations of crawling or carrying to and from both places. A favorite movement position for firefighters in hot and smoky rooms, the crawl on all fours with some variations is a tactical and functional movement to surviving these situations. (video)

Spider Crawl or Bear Crawl – Unlike the baby crawl, instead of using your knees to balance yourself, these methods place the weight of your body on your feet and hands. (video) Stair Crawl – Advancing the crawl to move up and down a flight of steps may sound potentially dangerous, but if done slowly and deliberately with people who can crawl / plank for at least 10-15 minutes is another progression. This works the core / shoulder girdle even more especially when traveling down the stairs head first, but up the stairs feet first. (video)

Adding Fundamental Movement Patterns

First of all, what are fundamental movements? These are nothing fancy, however, they can become quite difficult if neglected over time to a point of inability to perform at or correctly. A fundamental movement pattern allows coordination of the body to occur doing simple movements such as weight transfer, forward motion, lateral motion, up and down motion, full body movements, and creating power. All require left, right, top, bottom parts of our body to work together and all stimulate the central nervous system for growth and creating movement memory. The most basic of all movement patterns are the following: Crawling, Walking, Bending, Reaching, Grabbing, Squatting, Running, Swimming, Kicking / Punching, Lateral shuffling, Avoiding Objects, and hand-eye coordination to name a few of many. If you notice, these involve moving through multiple angles and planes.

The crawling drills are advanced core movements that require a foundation of core strength as well as shoulder and hip mobility. The body works together in a cross pattern movement. Adding a variety of basic movements is an idea for the tactical athlete. Some ideas for integration into workouts:

1 – Walk (proper arm swing coordinated with leg movement) as rest periods in between sprints. 2 - Bear crawl to and from exercise areas. 3 – Stair crawl when and where appropriate when traveling up / down a flight of stairs. 4 – Do dynamic stretches of many of the above movement patterns prior to workouts. 5 – Static stretching after workouts involving bending and crossing of multiple joints.

Last Comment on Fundamental Movement Patterns

One of the best quotes of the day at the National Strength and Conditioning Association's - Tactical Stretch and Conditioning Annual Training was by former Navy SEAL Jeff Nichols of Virginia High Performance. Jeff stated, "If you think fundamental movement patterns are not important, try loosening the lug nuts of your car. Driving slowly, it may not be that noticeable, but pick up speed and you will better understand the need for proper movement."

Links to More Studies on The Topic Building Reflexive Strength Through Crawling

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