Crawling your way to stable shoulder and an indestructible spine

If I could offer you an exercise that has benefits of increased shoulder stability and a more stable spine, while also addressing a number of other benefits, would you be interested? That’s where crawling comes in.

Shoulder health

When we look at most of the exercises that work shoulders they require the hand to be moved around while the torso maintains its position. In contrast, many of the crawling variations flip the situation and require the torso to be moved by the fixed hand. This can be very beneficial for challenging the scapular muscles and rotator cuff to work on manipulating the body.

Spinal health

Having the ability to resist motion when undesired - stability - is incredibly beneficial. In particular for the spine, being able to control the position of the spine and limit motion when not desired can help with increased force production and movement abilities under load. Crawling can help to address this as we are often being put into positions where it would be easy to extend, laterally flex, rotate, or flex the spine. Instead, by resisting these motions we can improve our proprioception of our spine and control of our movement.

Hip health

Crawling can be beneficial for the hips in a number of ways. By moving in various different planes we can provide a novel stimulus to the hips if we are unaccustomed to the various different movements used. As well, exploring different ranges of motion in the hip that we often do not get into can be achieved through crawling. Following that, by doing so in a shortened position (often done in crawling) we challenge the hip to increase its proprioception and control of movement as well.

Programming considerations

Crawling has a lot of benefits, but where does it exactly belong in a program? Well that depends upon what you’re chasing after for in regards to benefit. Below are a few possible places to use it:

  • Warm up

When warming up, our goal is to elevated the body temperature and get the body prepped for the day’s training. Crawling can fill both those requirements. When doing crawling variations, we can get our heart rate elevated and use a lot of musculature - particularly if we keep a high pace. An example warm up might be: Bear Crawl x10 steps, Deadbug x10 reps, repeat x2, then lateral crawl x5 steps each direction, single leg glute bridge x10, repeat x2. That would help to get the body temperature up, work on globally stability through the spine, hips, and shoulders, and also get the hips working through a number of different directions.

  • Superset/filler

Due to the format of most crawling variations, they can often be used in between main movement sets. When choosing to do supersets/filler exercises, we are aiming to increase our total work done in a time frame, but also address weak points. Crawling variations can be used very well in this regard as long as we choose a non-competing option. For example, in between sets of sumo deadlift you might choose to do lateral crawl. This would offer some benefit for developing rotary stability, shoulder stability, etc. As long as you aren’t someone who is nearing a competition and needs to have pure rest, this would be a great option.

  • Targeted shoulder work

As we mentioned earlier, crawling variations can be great to help develop the shoulder musculature. Utilizing them towards the end of a training session can be a great option for addressing the shoulder blade and rotator cuff musculature.

  • Finisher

Due to the ability to crank up the heart rate and work a ton of muscle at once, crawling can be a great way to finish a training session. Combining forward, backward, and lateral movements can be a good option to work on a ton of beneficial movements while keeping the heart rate high. For instance, doing bear crawl x10 steps, lateral crawl x5 steps each direction, reverse bear crawl x10 steps, low squat walk x10 steps, repeat all 3-4 times.

Exercise examples - check out the video below for options to get going

A few additional examples that were not shown in the video above -

Move well, lift heavy, stay healthy,

The Strength Therapist

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