And now, a fantastic article by Original Strength Instructor, Aleks Salkin.
Not a long time ago in a Philly suburb not far, far away, I found myself placed before two very different populations: a group of high school wrestlers, and a collection of kettlebell enthusiasts.
Different as they were in age, interest, experience, and no shortage of other things (the wrestling group in particular – these kids didn’t get ANY of my pithy pop-culture references or jokes! At least their parents laughed) both groups had a few things in common: they were intrigued by Original Strength’s bold promise of moving better, getting stronger, and increasing their athleticism in leaps and bounds, all by doing what seemed (to them) to be rudimentary movements on the floor.
My time with each group was limited, but nevertheless I made good on Original Strength’s bold promises, and to great effect. Squats got deeper, toes got touched (some for the first time), vestibular systems got dusted off and put to good use, and most importantly, the fundamental birthright of human movement got reclaimed in some way, shape, and form by every person.
It was a thing of beauty.
There were, however, a few things of somewhat less beauty that took place in both groups; things that I’ve come to look for and expect when teaching people to crawl for the first time.
And I’m gonna get to those things in just a second. Before I do, let me make two things perfectly clear:
This is not some “everybody gets a prize” approach, either; it’s just a fact.
At OS, we recognize a clear distinction between levels of performance in any given reset. Those distinctions are good, better, and best. While this may not be an appropriate outlook for EVERY system or EVERY type of movement, when it comes to practicing the fundamental movements found in the human developmental sequence (i.e the OS resets), the fact is that even if you’re quite far off from the ideal, you are still making progress, and progress is good. So don’t beat yourself up if you read the following list below and recognize that you have one or more things that you could be doing to level up your crawling game. You’re already at “good” at the very least!
1. Heads up! This is probably the biggest one, because to most people it’s just a little detail that they’d rather forget once the going gets tough.
Keeping your head up allows you to gently strengthen the neck and postural muscles (which normally make a big question mark shape since we sit and slump all dang day). Don’t be a question mark. Be an exclamation point! Keep your head up at all times.
An easy way to ensure that you’re doing it right is to tap the opposite hand and knee together, and then place those opposite limbs down one step forward. Repeat on the other side of your body. Once you get the rhythm, you can skip the tap and just crawl!
3. Crawl smoothly. I also notice that people just reflexively try to turn crawling into an exercise, and in so doing make it more mechanical than it should be. This usually manifests itself in pauses at each step.
But consider this: crawling is the foundation for your gait (i.e. walking) pattern. Do you take a step, pause, take a step, pause, etc. while you walk? I didn’t think so. Be smooth when you crawl. Pretend you’re a cat and you’re hunting something. Don’t ask me why, but it just works.
4. Relax! This is another place where crawling doesn’t exactly resemble exercise, and strength exercises in particular. In the world of strength training we need to be tense in order to perform just about any movement safely and effectively.
In crawling, you need the exact opposite; you need to remain as relaxed as possible. Doing this will allow you to get reflexively strong, so you can learn how to express your strength at a moment’s notice and without a ton of preparation.
Reflexive strength/stability is a secret weapon for adding more strength to your Soft Machine. It helps your body to anticipate and react to movement as it happens and even BEFORE it happens. As you’ll see momentarily, it has a great carryover into your “feed forward strength” (i.e. the type of strength we call upon when doing traditional strength training).
Oh, and 5 ½) Test out your crawling strength! Try out your favorite exercises or exercises you haven’t done in a while after a long, strong bout of crawling. I think you’ll be amazed. Sometimes you’ll notice an immediate improvement in things, other times you’ll notice a long-term improvement. In any case, improvement is practically guaranteed – especially if you’re routinely practicing the other resets, such as breathing, neck nods, rolling, and rocking.
Case in point: one of my online students, Marek from the Czech Republic, told me recently via email the following:
“…during the weekend I like to “play” with stones, carrying, deadlifting, cleaning, and pressing. I took 1 stone I know it was quite hard for me to press overhead 1 time before holidays. You know what? I pressed it 4 times ! :-)) I could not believe it. if this is what crawling can do for me, then I am really looking forward to the journey 🙂”
Pretty cool, huh? I’ve definitely had similar experiences with crawling (went from 10 double 24 kg front squats to 20 front squats in 2 months without squatting at all – only crawling) and so have many of my students.
The caveat, of course, is that you have to crawl right. So follow the above bits of advice and you’ll go far
Of course, you don’t have to abandon your other kettlebell and bodyweight training once you decide to crawl. You can build positively freaky levels of strength when you combine them both intelligently. Consider the OS resets kind of like an amplifier for all of your favorite traditional strength movements. If you know which knob to turn, you’d be amazed at how much faster, easier, and simpler you can build up your press, squat, pullup, and a litany of other fan favorites.
Give these 5 ½ tips a shot next time you get on all fours and see what difference you notice. I’m willing to bet you’ll see a big boost not only in how well you move, but also in how well you express your strength in your favorite bodyweight and kettlebell movements.
Feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you do. And in the meantime, have fun and happy training!
Aleks Salkin is a level 2 StrongFirst-certified kettlebell instructor (SFG II) and an Original Strength level 2 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 the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA and spends his time teaching clients both in person and online as well as spreading the word of better performance through better movement. When he’s not teaching or writing, he also enjoys traveling, learning foreign languages, and playing bass. He is the author of The 8-Week Kettlebell and Bodyweight Challenge (https://alekssalkin.leadpages.co/8weekchallenge/ ).