In the midst of working on a lizard crawl, a complicated series of movements that involves balance and core and shoulder strength, I remembered that the ground — more specifically, gravity — is the best free training tool you have.
I was at Judkins Park in the Central District with local trainer Kyle Long to learn more about crawling. Yes: on hands and knees.
Crawling is a foundational movement for all sports, Long says, and any athlete can benefit. Working with your hands and feet on the ground helps you isolate different body parts for better body awareness, teaches you to engage your core and presents plenty of challenges.
We did a few wrist warm-ups, then Long had me stand straight to focus on core engagement and form. After a plank hold and some rhomboid pushups to work my shoulder mobility and strength, we started with an inchworm. From a plank, I walked my feet forward in tiny steps to my hands, bending my knees as needed to get to a forward fold, then went back to a plank. It was a good warm-up, and I soon felt the intensity in my shoulders.
After the inchworms, we worked on hands and knees on a bear crawl. Long told me to dig into my toes, and keep my hips level, as I moved forward with opposite hand and opposite knee. He increased the challenge by putting a half-full water bottle on my lower back. If it rolled off or the water sloshed, it meant my pelvis wasn’t level.
I moved slowly, and heard sloshing. I tried harder, and still there was sloshing. (Try it at home; you’ll see.) You can add reversing, or switching to moving your right hand and foot at the same time, then left. All the variations require coordination and concentration.
Next, I straightened my arms and legs for an inverted V bear crawl to walk forward and back, head down, core engaged. Long added variations, including bending my elbows as I crawled (hard), and moving sideways, crossing ankles and wrists (very hard).
Throughout, he reminded me to breathe.
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I was ready for beginner lizard. Long demonstrated first, placing his right hand and left foot on the ground, and bending his other foot toward his lower back, his left hand floating by his side. He reached his free hand forward to the ground, shifted forward and twisted, bent his free leg into his chest in a side plank variation, then put his foot down in front of his knee. He bent his lower foot this time, picked up his right hand, reached forward and returned to the starting position.
My brain went into overdrive; it looked like the game Twister, without any colorful dots for help.
It was easier than it looked, with Long cuing me forward. It also was fun, pushing my body far more than the previous crawls.
But of course, there was more. He showed me how to work a one-arm-style push up into the lizard, which I could barely execute. I asked whether this was advanced lizard.
No? He showed me advanced lizard, hovering a few inches off the ground while moving forward with the same movements. I made one attempt, lost all bearings, then decided I would work on mastering beginner lizard first.
Any of the crawls can be used as a warm-up, or as a daily exercise to strengthen core and improve body awareness. After an hour of crawling, I had gotten a full workout. After years of building strength, I have learned the little things often can make the biggest difference.