A Visual Introduction to (Foot-Hand) Crawling Skills

By Peri Zourides, MovNat Team Instructor

 

“You have to crawl before you can walk.” Yes, but why? Anyone familiar with MovNat and the Natural Movement practice will see online how much crawling we do. You can call us crawling crazy. But more than a good photo on Instagram, there is so much benefit in the movement that carries over to strengthening your body & mind (yes, your mind), and is also practically useful in so many environments and contexts.

Before we go further, here’s a quick distinction about which crawling we’ll look at.

Within MovNat we have a number of crawls:

We delve deeper into these and more in our MovNat Certification Program, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the Foot-Hand Crawl.

You will notice the names of the crawls are not animals. We don’t Bear Crawl, Monkey Crawl, Scorpion Crawl, Crab Crawl, etc. Why? Because we are human! As you can see the names are straight forward and self explanatory relating to human Natural Movement.

Now there are movement systems that do these “animal” crawls, and I myself have attended some courses as experimental training. There is nothing wrong with having them in your movement practice. But remember when we are looking at things through a MovNat lens, one key principle separates Natural Movement from “Animal” Movements: PRACTICALITY.

If you are out in nature and need to get over some slippery rocks in a river, or have to get across a mossy fallen tree branch, will you try and pretend to be a Bear or Scorpion? Or, will you lower your Center of Gravity (COG), apply more Points of Contact (POC) with your hands, and safely transfer your weight to a more stable Surface of Support (SOS)? Being human, you should choose the latter.

Note: If these terms seem foreign to you, you can learn more about the unique language and methods of Natural Movement in The Practice of Natural Movement book and in the MovNat Certification Program.

Why Crawling is Critical for Humans

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move onto why crawling is so important for us.

Our bodies are a wonderful tapestry of muscles, bones, ligaments, fascia, tendons, nerves, organs and cells from top to bottom.

From a movement perspective, the “slings’ in the body are key in how we move and how a contralateral (opposite sides) pattern such as crawling is critical in how we walk and run.

We are aware that with walking and running, the opposite arm moves forward with the opposite leg. The faster we walk and run, the faster this exchange between the 2 limbs should take place. If this is news to you, I encourage you to try walking and running with the same arm and leg moving forward at the same time and let me know it works out for you. #ineffecient

The slings at play here are your Anterior (front) and Posterior (Back) Oblique Sling. Essentially, think of the body as a big moving X.

Now the modern fitness industry likes to talk about the core and core exercises. Well, I challenge you to find a more complete “core” movement than crawling. We’re looking at the bigger picture than just your abdominals. Because in MovNat, we don’t focus on just one body part, or just the aesthetics. It’s always about your body and movement as a whole. So, when you crawl, regardless of which way your arms and legs are oriented, your torso must always be stable. Don’t “tighten your core!” You still have to move!

This is why we have the formation of technique:

Again, this is something we go into much deeper detail about during our certification program, but know that in every technique, these six points are always fundamental in the efficient execution of a movement: position, breathing, timing, sequence, tension and relaxation.

Our hands and feet are high sensory points in the body. And in our development from birth, when we start on the ground, our touch with them is very important in giving our brain feedback to our environment. Hence, why we want to touch, grab, pick up, lick, eat, squash, bash, step and do so much with our hands and feet as we start to understand the world around us (remember when I mentioned the mind at the beginning?).

How to Foot Hand Crawl

As with all techniques in MovNat, we either progress or regress the movements when teaching. Regardless of your skill and fitness level, beginner or master, we can always come back to the basics. And those who master the basics become strongest and most adaptable.

As we look at the initial steps of this introduction, I’ve used baby photos to illustrate the importance of these positions in our crawling development. As we age, we should be able to continue to get into these position, which provides a good diagnostic for the health of our neck, back, hips, wrists, and other joints.

Please choose the appropriate surface and clothes for practicing. You DO NOT have to be barefoot, bare kneed, outside or exposed. All of these techniques can be practiced safely indoors, on a mat and with appropriate clothing; or even with bolsters (e.g. pad or yoga block).

Prone Lying

This is one of our first weight bearing positions as you develop upper body strength and lift your head.

Get onto the floor and place your hands out in front of you.

Lightly lift your head and chest to look around your environment just like a baby would. A healthy spine should have some level of extension in it.

Breathe slowly and deeply though your nose. At no point should you force your position with tension.

Go ahead and give it a try!

Reaching

Reaching is a huge part of our development as we explore our surroundings. Good range of motion comes from comfortably reaching and rotating to different positions.

Get onto your hands and knees and simply reach to various points around you. If you can add some objects around you like pens, marbles, stones, etc. to pick up, even better. Again, always move from a place of ease without excessive tension, especially in the neck, jaw and shoulders.

Knee-Hand Crawling

Our patella doesn’t fully form until we’re about 3 years old. Hence, why we have the ability to drag our knees across the ground when we’re young. For many adults, this is not feasible as years of misuse and disuse may mean your knees are very sensitive. Hence, the recommendation to practice on an appropriate surface.

From your knee hand position, simply step your right hand forward and move your left knee up behind your left hand.

If you pause and look at yourself, you will see that you have an open side and closed side; or, a short side and long side.

This contralateral sequence will always need to be correct for you to move efficiently. Remember what we said about walking or running with the same arm and leg forward?

Looking Back

With so much time spent looking at devices, this leads to the inevitable “text neck,” headaches, and limited range of motion in our neck. Like how a healthy spine should be able to extend to a certain point, so too should our head be able to look around and over our shoulders.

As you are working on your hands and knees, take a step forward or back while slowly looking over a shoulder. You should find that your range of motion is greater over the shorter side than the longer side. But there should be a healthy range of motion in both directions.

Keep breathing through the nose, and don’t clench the jaw as you look around.

Pushing Up

Yes, this is less practical from a movement efficiency perspective, but it does give you feedback in how much harder you need to work if you stick your hips too high in the air.

The goal is to move with our Center of Gravity (COG) closer to the ground and closer to our Points of Support (POS). That is, our hands and feet.

Crawling Skills & Perception Drills

The following crawling skills and perception drills can be done on their own or in a sequence.

Your aim is not to train to fatigue and severe exhaustion, but rather a comfortable challenge.

All of these drills are meant to reinforce the stability we want in our midsection, the breathing we have to maintain, and the ease of movement through our limbs.

STATIC DEAD BUG

Hold for 5–10 breaths.

Emphasize deep breaths in the mid-section while keeping the hands, feet and jaw relaxed.

 

DEAD BUG CROSS TOUCH

5-10 touches each side.

Touch your hand to the opposite knee, coordinating your inhale with arms up and exhale as the arm crosses and touches.

 

DEAD BUG

5-10 reps each side.

Alternate extending the opposite arm and leg out, coordinating your arm and leg extension with inhaling and exhaling to each movement.

Exhale as your limbs extend out.

 

KNEE HAND CROSS TOUCH

5-10 touches each side.

Coordinate lifting your arm and opposite knee, while balancing on the opposite limbs.

As you lift the hand off the ground, touch your opposite shoulder.

 

KNEE HAND CRAWLING

5-10 steps each side.

Move forward and backwards by crawling on your hands and knees. Depending on your space, take a few steps forward then a few back.

Moving forward, your hand leads the movement. Going backward, your leg leads the movement.

 

STATIC FOOT HAND CRAWL

Hold for 5–10 breaths.

Emphasize deep breaths in the mid-section while keeping your jaw relaxed.

 

ELEVATED FOOT HAND CRAWL CROSS TOUCH

5-10 touches each side.

Coordinate lifting your arm and opposite foot, while balancing on the opposite limbs.

As you lift the hand off the ground, touch your opposite shoulder.

 

BANDED FOOT HAND CRAWL CROSS TOUCH

5-10 reps each side.

With a light resistance band, wrap it around your wrist and opposite knee.

As you take a step forward, the band will pull the opposite leg to help reinforce the sling and X pattern in crawling. Also, the added tension will help increase the trunk, shoulder and hip stability that’s needed in full crawling.

 

BANDED DEADBUG

5-10 reps each side.

With a light resistance band, hold it in one hand and loop over the opposite foot.

Extend the opposite arm and leg out, keeping your back flat.

The added tension will help increase the trunk, shoulder and hip stability that’s needed in full crawling.

 

ELEVATED FOOT HAND CRAWL LOOK BACK

5-10 looks each side.

Take a step forward, and as you do, look over the shoulder of the short side (knee and elbow closest to each other). Take a step back and look the other way.

 

INLINE HANDS CRAWL HOLD

5-10 breaths.

Trying using a timber plank. Otherwise, place hands in line on the ground.

The narrower Base of Support (BOS) will challenge your stability.

As you hold this position, make sure you don’t have excessive tension through your neck and jaw.

Keep breathing through your nose and move your head around.

 

INLINE FEET CRAWL HOLD

5-10 breaths.

Trying using a timber plank. Otherwise, place feet in line on the ground.

The narrower Base of Support (BOS) will challenge your stability.

As you hold this position, make sure you don’t have excessive tension through your neck and jaw.

Keep breathing through your nose and move your head around.

 

INLINE FOOT HAND CRAWL LIFTS

5-10 lifts per side.

Continue using a timber plank or placing hands and feet in line on the ground.

Alternate lifting the hand and opposite foot while balancing on the plank.

If this is too hard, then go on the ground with the limbs slightly split.

Conclusion

So, that wraps up our introduction to Foot Hand crawling. There’s a bit more than you thought, right?

That’s the great thing about the MovNat system. We can identify movement inefficiencies by deconstructing movement in this way. Then we can appropriately progress your practice to increase strength, volume, complexity or intensity.

I trust you’ve found this intro worthwhile, and we’d love to see your feedback (and photos) online.

Happy crawling!

About the Author

Peri Zourides is a MovNat Team Instructor and the owner of MovNat Africa where he brings Natural Movement to people all over the continent.

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