A tremendous guest article by Aleks Salkin and Josh Halbert:
“I said look you need to crawl before you ball”
– Kanye West
Every exercise has a standard to accomplish before you can rightfully say you’ve gone from “suck” to “entry level good.” For the deadlift it’s double bodyweight. For the one-arm press it’s half your bodyweight. And for crawling it’s moving your bodyweight non-stop for 10 minutes.
Why 10 minutes? Simple: it’s daunting, but doable. No matter what variation(s) you’re using, you've hit a new level of ability both physically and mentally after crawling for that amount of time – and unlike other 10 minute challenges, such as the Secret Service Snatch Test, crawling for 10 minutes non-stop can ostensibly be done daily with zero ill effects. 10 minutes non-stop of a lot of other things is more of a gut-check than anything and the training required to get you there is where the benefits lie. With crawling, the benefits lie in both the training to get you to that 10 minute mark AND in the test itself. Win-win.
So no matter what your goals were before, here’s your new goal: get mentally and physically prepared to crawl for 10 minutes.
What are some of the advantages of crawling for long periods?
Quite simply, long periods of crawling provide unique advantages over shorter bouts.
First of all when you know and accept that you're going to be crawling for long periods of time you have no choice but to relax and settle into the experience. It has to happen or you just aren't going to make it. This is one of the best things that can happen because it encourages your reflexes to take over. You learn to get the job done by using less. Ultimately this will increase your reflexive strength. The better your reflexive strength, the better your brute strength. The better your brute strength, the easier it is to accomplish other athletic goals. In our opinion, there’s no reason any athlete, recreational or professional, should NOT be able to crawl for 10 minutes. Better yet, it won’t get in the way of your other goals; it will scaffold them (how, exactly, we’ll mention in a second).
Long periods of crawling increase your movement and work capacity, making you a more useful human being. They also foster heightened awareness within the movement as there is no auto pilot in crawling.
Forward crawling has almost zero eccentric stress and even reverse crawling has very little eccentric stress. The nature of the movement is not very taxing to the central nervous system but quite the opposite; it's actually refreshing after the fact. These distinct traits lend crawling to high amounts of volume and make it hard to overdo. Best of all you can wake up the next day without feeling like you’ve been hit by two trucks and a train carrying trucks. Any exercise that increases both your work capacity and strength while improving your movement without taking more than it gives to you is a rare gem. We truly believe it’s in a league of its own.
(Before going any further, we would like to point out that people with wrist or big toe issues may need to tread with caution. High amounts of crawling can be stressful for the surrounding connective tissue and capsules of those joints. As with anything else in life you need to be smart and realistic with what your body is telling you.)
Two things that tend to give people problems are high volume on unstable surfaces. Sand, soft AstroTurf or even grass can cause weight bearing load to be distributed at awkward angles on the tiny bones in the hand and wrist.
Another is improper hand posture. The hand is much like the foot and when it needs to weight bear, it should have some semblance of an arch.This is achieved by attention to weight placement and literally “grabbing” the ground.
Quick video on hand posture:
So once you have committed to the goal of being able move on all fours for 10 minutes straight, how do you train for it?
Let’s go over some recommend perquisites.
You should be able to competently leopard or spider crawl for at least 1 minute. If you can’t, stop reading this, hit “favorite” and come back and finish the article when you can. No sense in putting the cart before the horse…or however that saying goes.
The standard for crawling through any variation means you can keep your head higher than your butt and have minimal to no hip drop in your hips while doing it. If that's not the case work on your baby crawls and other resets. Slowly incorporate leopard crawls until you can meet the criteria comfortably. Another recommendation is to work on as many varieties of crawling as you comfortably can, such as backward crawling, crawling in circles, crawling at angles, and crawling up and down hills. This too will be explained in more detail momentarily, but for now just know that limiting yourself on your crawls is unnecessary and boring.
You need to mentally want to do it. Once a good baseline crawl pattern has been established, the biggest limiting factor will be your mental fortitude for the uncomfortable.
So to simplify this journey, one of the most obvious ways to reach this goal is to do more of it. Find ways to incorporate crawling into your training and daily routine. Not just in your warm up but use it as a form of active rest between strength sets or make it a station in a conditioning circuit. It can be your training for the day, or in the case of Josh it can be the main bulk of all your training. The bottom line is that the more you do it the stronger you get and the less daunting the 10 minute goal becomes.
Another way to overcome the mental block (which will be the biggest block for most people) is by regularly following the advice of Alon, a tough-talking army officer in one of Aleks’s favorite Israeli comedy films, Operation Grandma:
Sergio: Alon, can you give these swimmers a tip on how to improve their swimming?
Alon: Swim as fast as you possibly can and then slowly but surely swim faster.
In other words: crawl as much as you can, and then crawl a little more. As we mentioned earlier, this carries no ill effects and can be done regularly. Let's say your “threshold” is 5 minutes. If you squeeze out just one more minute you’ll start to see that your thresholds are mostly in your mind. Your body is waiting for you to get over it.
Enough talk. Let’s crawl.
Aleks’s personal favorite strategy is to pick a few varieties of crawling and put them together in a circuit. Why? For two reasons: 1) it reduces the monotony of doing 10 minutes of anything, and 2) as Pavel Tsatsouline has pointed out, a change is a form of rest. If you’re switching from crawling backward to crawling forward, you’ll be amazed at how much extra gas you’ll “find” in your tank when the going gets tough. Even if the activity is more or less the same, the presence of a slight variation will distract your mind just enough to get your body to forget about its whining and keep going.
Another effective strategy for getting to 10 minutes is to make the current time you can crawl for harder. Here we are going to apply the time tested concept of progressive overload to crawling. So if you can crawl for 4 minutes straight, trying crawling for that time while dragging weight behind you. It can be a sled, chains, a heavy bag attached to a rope around your waist. It doesn't have to be super heavy, 25-35% of body weight will be sufficient for the weary. For the brave 50-75% of body weight will do the trick. If equipment isn't possible find a steep hill and hit various crawls up and down without stopping.
As Aleks's antidote alluded to, when you get to the point where you can't go any longer, go a little further. Using a mixed approach of both overload strategies propelled Josh to the point of being able to forward and reverse spider crawl with 115lbs (70% of Bodyweight) for 15 minutes straight. Well, with a 1 minute rest at the 8 minute mark.
Just to give you an idea of what resisted crawling looks like:
So to sum up before moving on, you have two strategies:
1) A continuous circuit of crawling variants
2) Working up toward crawling at your current limit with anywhere between 25%-75% of your bodyweight added.
And now comes the question we’ve all been waiting for…
“But how do I program this?”
And here’s our answer – don’t! Don’t program anything, you don’t need to. Keep in mind that one of the take away messages of Original Strength is the importance of play, and play you must. If you’re not convinced, keep in mind what we mentioned earlier in the article: unlike some of your favorite strength exercises, crawling induces no eccentric stress on your body. While all those awesome traditional strength exercises require a thought-out approach to keep your endless ambition and your body’s finite ability to handle stress from meeting in a dark alley and having a nasty altercation, you won’t find this problem in crawling, so programming is always going to be mercifully simple. The name of the game here is play, exploration, variety and a fun challenge. So try this on for size:
Day 1: Crawl with weights for your current limit (or thereabouts)
Day 2: Crawl past your limit with a variety circuit
Repeat days 1 and 2 ad nauseum until you hit 10 minutes or more. If you focus on having fun while doing it and constantly ask yourself, “I wonder how many ways I can crawl between here and there” or “I wonder how far I can crawl if I load myself up with X amount of weight” and you make enjoying the experience your goal, you’re going to hit your mark. The point here is the journey, not staying up late at night and mapping out what you think might be the fastest, easiest route to get there.
The above suggestions may seem very basic, but think of all the variety you have in front of you to keep moving boldly forward.
1) Crawling variations: baby, leopard, spiderman, narrow, wide, axial crawls, angled crawls, backward for any of the aforementioned crawls, up or down hills for any of the aforementioned crawls, BACKWARD up hills for any of the aforementioned crawls
2) Add weight to any of the crawls listed above. How much weight? A lot, a little, via chains, chains dragging an object, a weighted vest, a little person on your back, etc.
3) When to do your crawls: before your strength/sport training, after your strength/sport training, between sets as active rest, whenever you’re feeling bored, whenever you want to show off randomly to your friend, etc.
If you can’t find a place to do the dozens and dozens of crawling variations and combinations listed above, then read the above list again and get crackin’. The faster you get rid of the mental block of “but I don’t know where/when/how to fit the crawls into my programming,” the faster you’ll start to get rid of other mental blocks, among them the challenge of crawling for 10 minutes. We’ve left the options wide open simply by virtue of the fact that the benefits of crawling have such wide implications and applications that being too specific obscures the purpose behind the exercise and unnecessarily restricts you and your ability to explore what works best for you and what gives you the fastest and best results.
Your goal now: Go forth and find the maximum amount of time you can crawl – any which way you like. Every day, add a little variety into the mix and enjoy yourself. What seem like drops in the bucket now will help your cup runneth over in time – and probably less time than you might think.
Your only limits are the ones you impose upon yourself. Go forth and be awesome!
Aleks Salkin is an StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG), StrongFirst-certified bodyweight Instructor (SFB), and Primal Move Fundamentals Instructor. He grew up scrawny, unathletic, weak, and goofy, until he was exposed to kettlebells and the teachings and methodology of Pavel in his early 20s. He is currently based out of Jerusalem, Israel and spends his time spreading the word of StrongFirst and calisthenics, and regularly writes about strength and health both on his website and as a guest author on other websites. Find him online at https://www.alekssalkin.com.
Josh Halbert is a StrongFirst Level 2 Kettlebell, Barbell and Bodyweight Instructor. He is also an Atheltes' Performance Internship graduate and holds a CK-FMS certification. Josh trains predominately high level professional and youth athletes out of Columbia, Maryland. His passion is to inspire people as much as they inspire him. He can usually be found inverted in a handstand or horizontal in a human flag on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/getchimpy
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