A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Kalamazoo, MI to teach Craig, a former student of mine, and some of his kids. While training the crew at a local gym, I got to witness Craig’s baby learning how to crawl. As a parkour athlete and coach, I was fascinated by watching a baby learn to propel itself quadrupedally across the floor. Luckily, Craig’s wife had a camera on hand to capture this movement skill milestone.
One reason I find it so interesting is even though crawling is one of the first forms of movement that we learn, teens and adults at my gym commonly struggle to learn all sorts of quadrupedal techniques. How could we possibly forget such a basic human movement? The answer is easy; a lack of creative and exploratory physical movement in our every day lives. Use it or lose it! Quadrupedal movement (QM), is one of the most underrated skills in movement arts, martial arts, and many other sports. Even though it can be tricky to remaster the skill of QM, most people get the hang of it after just a few parkour classes. Some doctors have even gone so far as to say that QM is the single most important thing that we teach people in our level 1 parkour program. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should start crawling around like a baby more often:
#5 Movement Transitions
To be a smooth mover, it’s not always about the moves themselves. It’s about what’s in between the moves. Having good transitions between moves will bring you into additional moves with greater ease. In parkour, you often find yourself in a position with 4 limbs in contact with the ground. Some of the fastest and most aesthetic movers are those people who can mesh brief QM techniques with running, rolling, landing, and more. For example, it is easy to see QM being masterfully incorporated into freerunning by King David, and parkour by Dim Monk.
#4 Walk Before You Run
Or rather, I should say creep (belly-crawling), crawl (hands & knees), roll, and/or scoot (on butt) before you walk. Babies go through a specific order of motor skill milestones in order to develop a fully functioning body and mind. In some cultures, infants skip over creeping and crawling, but that doesn’t mean these phases are not beneficial. Studies have shown that babies who spend more time on their stomachs achieve creeping, crawling, rolling, and sitting milestones faster and with more mastery. Additionally, studies have documented much variation in the methods and progressions that babies follow while learning to crawl. It is worth noting that infants who do not skip belly crawling are able to master hands and knees crawling with greater speed and efficiency. While similar studies into adulthood and the practice of parkour are non-existent, we can hypothesize that adults who crawled as babies may have more familiarity and practice with prone positioning (stomach to ground) and may therefore learn QM techniques with greater ease and mastery.
Beginning parkour athletes who do not master basic movements like ground kongs, basic QM, and QM gallop (see below) can have a harder time learning other parkour movements such as vaults and other transitional movements that rely heavily on weight transfer skills and full body coordination. Because of this and other reasons like QM’s low-impact and low to ground nature, QM is the first general movement we teach beginners at APEX Movement.
#3 Real World Application
The real world applications for QM in parkour, and life in general, are endless. All QM variations can be used to get under and through tight spaces. Specifically, army crawl and inch worm can get you as low and compact as possible. Crab walk can be useful for descending uneven surfaces like boulder fields and other precarious slopes. Cat balance is an extremely stable and controlled way to get across high, narrow surfaces like rails and I-beams. Quadrupedal gallop is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to move on all fours and transition between other movements. In addition, QM can be creatively and effectively incorporated into bboying, capoeira, freerunning, and other movement arts. The video below, while not extremely polished, shows how effective QM can be in a movement style that resembles raw, frantic pursuit or escape.
#2 Full Body Fitness
I don’t think I need to do much convincing here that QM is a great full body workout. All you need to do to feel the burn in your shoulders, quads, and core is get down on your hands and feet and move around for 20-30 seconds. By moving forwards, backwards, and sideways in all kinds of ways, you can hit nearly every muscle in your body. Additionally, you can work through these movements slowly for strength, stamina, and flexibility or you can do them explosively for speed, power, and agility. There are plenty of QM techniques that have little real world application but are phenomenal strength and conditioning exercises. Some examples are backwards QM up stairs (see below), push up crawl, piked ground kongs, and uphill crab walk.
#1 Mental Fitness
While the research in this area is limited, it has long been thought and accepted by occupational therapists, pediatricians, and others that crawling is one of the most basic and important skills needed to give your mind a workout. Because each side of the brain controls opposite sides of the body, cross-crawling and other forms of reciprocating QM are excellent ways to exercise your full body and mind. In fact, exercising these neurological pathways has been shown to increase memory function in infants. In another study, the brain activity of 14- to 16-month-old babies was recorded while they watched videos of walking and crawling. Brain activity was highest when the babies watched crawling videos and the strength of this activity was related to the infant’s own experience crawling. This same idea, applied to adults, suggests that adults who didn’t crawl much as babies may have a harder time conceptualizing and learning QM movements and ultimately, all the other movements that QM serves as a building block for.
From beginning movers to the advanced, we can always improve by revisiting our fundamentals. Fundamental movements like QM help train our body and mind to be better prepared for everything we encounter along our journey movement. For more ideas on how you can incorporate QM into your training, check out this playlist:
Ryan Ford is the author of Parkour Strength Training and founder of ParkourEDU & APEX School of Movement.