Dr. Frank Wen, DC
Active Ingredients Podcast, Episode 4 - Can crawling improve my performance?
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
In this episode of the Active Ingredients Podcast, Donny and I share our thoughts and research on whether crawling can help increase your performance as an athlete. Listen to our podcast below:
*Here's the information on horse gait and gait in general that I found to be helpful.
The Big Takeaway
Crawling itself has not been extensively studied in regards to performance and training. The one study we found that examined bear crawling found that alternating stepping with hands in a stationary position generated more activity in the core muscles that the authors measured compared to crawling with progression itself. When looking at crawling from this core training perspective, it would seem logical to compare bear crawling to existing quadruped exercises (bird-dog type) to see how it stacks up as there is some observable similarity in the movement patterns. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough information to compare it well. Other studies measure the activity of different muscles in the core, and also use different methods to quantify the activity of those muscles. Furthermore, bear crawling is also only one method of crawling that can be performed.
From what we can tell from studies that explored the coordination of crawling, we can see that it generates notable activity in the muscles of the upper and lower limbs as well as the core. There's also compelling evidence that there is an innate process that is organizing the activity between the upper and lower limbs, similar in what we observe in quadruped animals. This lends support to this type of training being "animalistic".
When viewed as a full-body training technique, we think crawling is an attractive addition to any training program to help strengthen the connection between your upper and lower body and to challenge you psychologically and physically. It also can be easily done by anyone, anywhere. Check out our video below of Donny demonstrating some simple crawling progressions he likes to do.
Our Crawling Research Article Summaries
We read through half a dozen articles to educate and inform us about our opinion about crawling. Below are the research summaries.
If you want to talk about the research with a chiropractor in Kirkland, Dr. Frank is your local expert.
Martuscello JM, Nuzzo JL, Ashley CD, Campbell BI, Orriola JJ, Mayer JM. Systematic Review of Core Muscle Activity During Physical Fitness Exercises. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins). 2013;27(6):1684-1698. The Take Away: What’s the best way to work out the core based on research to date? This systematic review pools together 17 studies to examine the effect of different core exercises have on the lumbar multifidus, transverse abdominis, and quadratus lumborum (these 3 core muscles commonly associated with performance and low back pain). For clarity, the types of exercises are listed below:
Traditional Core - Back Extension, Sit Up Core Stability - Planks, Side-Bridges Ball/Device Core - Back Extension on a Ball, Crunches on a Ball Free Weight Exercises - Squat, Deadlift Noncore Free Weight - Shoulder press, biceps curl
The authors find that free weight exercises are best for activating the lumbar multifidus with the added benefit of building general strength and conditioning of the entire body. However, no specific type of core exercise is found to be more effective at activating the transverse abdominis, and in light of this, the authors suggest to omit ball/device variations from training as they may introduce an element of risk to the exercise. No studies that the authors examined are found to have measured activity of the quadratus lumborum. All in all, there is no perfect core exercise as each is likely to have pros and cons depending on the situation.
Soraya Pirouzi, Farahnaz Emami, Shohreh Taghizadeh, Ali Ghanbari. Is Abdominal Muscle Activity Different from Lumbar Muscle Activity during Four-Point Kneeling? Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, Vol 38, Iss 4, Pp 327-333 (2013). 2013;(4):327. The Take Away: This study compared muscle activation of the internal obliques, transverse abdominis, and lumbar multifidus in single arm extension, single leg extension, and bird-dog (simultaneous opposite arm and leg extension) four point kneeling. The authors found that in general, bird-dog is able to obtain high levels of activation of the muscles of interest, but if is too difficult to perform due to being on two points, beginning the progression with single arm extensions can still produce comparably high levels of muscle activation.
Darien T. Pyka, Pablo B. Costa, Jared W. Coburn, Lee E. Brown. Effects of Static, Stationary, and Traveling Trunk Exercises on Muscle Activation. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF KINESIOLOGY AND SPORTS SCIENCE, Vol 5, Iss 4, Pp 26-32 (2017). 2017;(4):26. The Take Away: The authors have also observed an increasing popularity with crawling as an exercise and wanted to study its activity in the core. They chose to study the bear crawl (see our video above) or “beast” position from the Animal Flow training program and examined EMG activity of the rectus abdominis, rectus femoris, external oblique, and erector spinae muscles in a static, stationary, and traveling condition for the bear crawl. The static position is that of a quadruped position, but the knees are slightly elevated above the ground. The stationary position is the same as the static, but the subjects lift one hand and further bend the opposite limb knee while holding this position. The last position is same as the stationary, but with the challenge of progressing forward with diagonal pairs of limbs. Subjects were instructed to perform each condition for 30 seconds in the study. The authors found that the stationary and travelling conditions elicit the most activity out the core muscles they studied, with slightly more activity in the stationary condition.
Patrick SK, Noah JA, Yang JF. Interlimb Coordination in Human Crawling Reveals Similarities in Development and Neural Control With Quadrupeds. JOURNAL OF NEUROPHYSIOLOGY. 2009;(2):603. The Take Away: The authors study crawling of infants and adults to examine the differences in coordination between infants and adults and compare this to what has been observed in primate and non-primate quadrupeds. Although it is not completely clear how the upper and lower limbs are coordinated with gait, the authors find that we do share similar coordination patterns with four-legged animals when we crawl. One example is that human infants, like quadruped infants, utilize trot-like gaits as it offers better stability. Yet, adults demonstrate no clear pairing of limbs at slower crawling speeds as it is believed to be an attempt to maximize stability by increasing contact points with the ground. However, at higher crawling speeds human adults have more flexibility in gait and can demonstrate pace-like or galloping gaits as seen in long-legged animals as the authors think that human adults have longer limbs and better balance opening up more possibilities of coordination than infants. The transition between various gaits also occurs smoothly as seen in other animals, suggesting we share a common circuitry in the brain.
MacLellan MJ, Ivanenko YP, Cappellini G, Labini FS, Lacquaniti F. Features of hand-foot crawling behavior in human adults. JOURNAL OF NEUROPHYSIOLOGY. 2012;(1/2):114.
The Take Away: The authors studied human adults walking and crawling at different speeds and inclines while measuring EMG activity of muscles to help map the level of activity and coordination that occurs at the spinal cord. The authors found that most participants did not demonstrate limb pairing gaits, but some did utilize diagonal and same side strategies with crawling. They find that while human crawling does share characteristics with cats and monkeys, we are more flexible in how we coordinate our limbs on all fours. Our ground reaction force profiles are also different when crawling, suggesting and we demonstrate less ankle plantar flexion due to our feet being vertical while crawling, and as a result less motor activity generated from the lower part of the spinal cord.Compared to upright walking, the activity of deltoids, triceps, wrist extensors, and wrist flexors were very active while crawling, while the calves were less active. The authors suggest that crawling may demand more brain and spinal cord control as it is not habitual to humans.
MacLellan MJ, Ivanenko YP, Catavitello G, La Scaleia V, Lacquaniti F. Coupling of upper and lower limb pattern generators during human crawling at different arm/leg speed combinations. EXPERIMENTAL BRAIN RESEARCH. 2013;(2):217. The Take Away: It has been observed in prior studies that humans often maintain a 1:1 ratio between moving arms and legs when walking upright or crawling on all fours. To gain understanding of why this ratio is maintained or how it comes about, the authors tested crawling subjects by splitting their upper and lower limbs between two treadmills. This allowed the authors to play with different speed combinations for the upper and lower limbs. The authors found that when crawling, the 1:1 relationship is generally maintained but ratios of 1:2, 1:3 start to appear, typically when the treadmill for the upper limbs decreased in speed relative to the lower limb treadmill. This behavior is different from cats where the forelimbs tends to be governed by the hind limbs. The authors also note that the observation of whole integer frequency relationships are maintained when the 1:1 is broken lends support to the argument that there is a neurological origin for how our body coordinates our limbs with rhythmic movement.
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