Go to the Ground to Improve Your Strength and Mobility

Strength and Mobility May23rd 2015

Nick Lucius SPT, CSCS

If you were to ask anyone what constitutes someone as “strong,” most would think of the man squatting 800 pounds or the 225 bench press test. While these are great measures of raw strength, they do not paint the full picture of that individual’s ability to move in a dynamic and fluid fashion. Far too often we get stuck on the “big lifts,” including the bench press, squat, deadlift, and countless shoulder/arm workouts. While the classic strength training movements are effective and involve a great degree of motor recruitment, it does not provide a dynamic environment to make mistakes and learn better movement. If you have eight hundred pounds on your back, the room for error is small. If you are un-weighted and performing dynamic movements, a mistake is relatively pain-free and it provides you with ample information to correct the movement.   You have to move wrong in order to find out what is right.

A book I would recommend to anyone looking to improve their quality of training or to challenge their ability to move better is Original Strength by Tim Anderson. In this book he completely re-vamps the standard belief of strength, trading the bench press for rolling patterns and a heavy squat for a crawling progression. This is not to say however that you should not participate in more traditional strengthening movements. If anything these crawling movements will amplify your training, if done responsibly.

Below is a short video describing some basic progressions of the crawling pattern. In the clinic I love to incorporate these movements for patients of all physical impairments. It’s an incredibly challenging movement that can go great as a recovery day during your training week or in combination between your sets of standard lifts. In the video I begin by demonstrating the prone crawl, which will resemble the “army crawl” that some may have done in gym class. Remember how easy it was back then?

The second progression is the forearm bear crawl. Cues I keep in mind while coaching this movement is to keep your forearms at a 45 degree angle to mimic a child crawling and to maintain a slight posterior pelvic tilt throughout the exercise. A posterior pelvic tilt is best described as “tucking your butt”.   This provides a stable thoracic spine and pelvis, improving our quality to complete the movement without too much side-to-side sway.

The final progression is a full crawl. In this movement the goal is to stay as low to the ground as possible while bringing each leg forward. This crawling progression definitely tests your hip mobility and trunk motor control. Once you feel comfortable with a crawling movement forward, begin to incorporate backwards and side crawls. Maintain the same positioning and reverse your movements. This is testing not only mentally, but I can promise you it will challenge you physically.

As with any movement, if you feel any pain or instability it is recommended to consult a Physical Therapist for conservative musculoskeletal care. In the state of Michigan we now have direct access, meaning that you are able to directly seek a Physical Therapist for any musculoskeletal pain/deficit. Check with your insurance provider if your plan covers the direct access Physical Therapy Evaluation and subsequent treatment.

Thank you for reading and good luck!


Nick Lucius SPT is completing his final year in the physical therapy program at UM-Flint.  Nick is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and also works as a strength coach at Barwis Method in Plymouth, MI.  After graduation Nick plans on returning to Barwis Method to work with patients affected by orthopedic and neurological conditions.

Nick played Linebacker at Grand Valley State University in his undergraduate days, and now enjoys anything active from running to weight training, and is always going through a good book.

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