Crawl Like A Baby For Better Spinal Health

By Dr. John Rusin

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Stronger, Leaner, Healtier, FOREVER

Introducing Functional Strength Training: 
The Monthly Membership Training Solution For People Who Want To Look, Feel And Function Their Very Best, Forever.

Join FST NOw

Here’s What You Need To Know…

1. Primitive developmental positions such as the all-fours quadruped and crawling positions will link up our muscular and nervous systems to keep you highly healthy and functional.

2. The quadruped position is versatile and can be utilized within dynamic warm ups, within specific neuromuscular activations drills, and in metabolically crushing conditioning work.

3. Crawling is the most primal form of locomotion practiced by all mankind.  It simultaneously loads every single joint in the body, challenges global dynamic stability and mobility, and will have your heart beating out of your chest in the process.

Basic Neuromuscular Development

As human beings we are all alike, at least from a developmental standpoint.  However, after basic foundational development, we tend to differentiate.  Depending on our physical, mental, environmental and social influences, the development of our physical prowess on an individual basis will vary.

People develop primitive patterns early on in life as a form of function and ultimately survival. The goal throughout neuromuscular development is to get us up on two feet and walking, having already mastered and hard wired primitive positions such as supine, prone and half kneel in the process.  Though we have largely lost our once fundamental abilities to utilize these primitive movement patterns, the motor control and abilities are still present in our brains.  We simply need an efficient and effective way to release this data so it will enhance our long term function.

Some of us have lost the ability to use that movement software through years of disuse and dysfunction.  Others have flourished through the years physically and have reaped the benefits of athletic achievement and a bill of clean orthopedic health.  No matter what group you fall into, with a few simple movements we will be able to get back to our movement basics that we were all born to utilize.  The goal is to reteach, re-pattern and regain our authentic primitive movements.  Sounds pretty complex, doesn’t it?

Correct Primitive Movement Patterning

Between the age of six to eight months, we are able to assume a quadruped position (up on all fours).  From this motor milestone, upper and lower extremity reaching, along with reciprocal patterning of the trunk and extremities improve in both motor control and rhythmical and smooth displays of strength.  Once these patterns becomes more efficient, the end result is locomotion.  This ability to move our bodies from one place to another is first demonstrated through CRAWLING.

To regain this skill set, lets start by taking a page our of our own books and revert back to the basics.  Primitive developmental movement foundations will enhance our ability to utilize our musculature and neural system to keep us not only functioning at our highest level, but healthy in the process.  What to do when you are facing a complex problem? Break it down, make it simple and retrace your steps, literally.

When To Program Out of Quadruped 

As with any great position or exercise the programming options are limitless.  The quadruped position is versatile and can be utilized within dynamic warm-ups, within specific neuromuscular activations, and for an absolute metabolically thrashing conditioning work.

An important point to remember is that the position does not dictate the movement or activity.  Just as you would properly warm up, activate and condition based upon foundational principles of exercise science, you must also use these guiding principles when in the quadruped position.  Quadruped is not an excuse to go rouge with your programming, it is a way to enhance your training methods to yield advanced results!

Dynamic Warm Up

One of the most advantageous times to program exercises out of the quadruped position is the dynamic warm-up.  If implemented properly, a dynamic warm up will not only increase global tissue temperature and tissue extensibility, but also address and activate core stabilizing musculature through the pillar (shoulders, core, hips).


Loading of the upper quadrant (shoulder/arm) along with the lower quadrant (hip/leg) will enhance positioning of these large joints.  This increase in joint centration will fire up stabilizing musculature through the shoulders and hips, in preparation for heavier loads and increased speed of movements being challenged through training.


Moving from a four point stance to a three point stance (shown below) will unilaterally load the spine and extremities, activating deep spinal stabilizers in the process.  As the extremity moves further away from it’s base of support, the stabilizing muscles are further challenged.

Quadruped Reach To Arm Circle

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Key Coaching Points:

  • Stabilize the shoulders, core and hips and maintain this posture throughout the movement.
  • Keep a pronated hand position with your palm facing the floor
  • Replace the hand directly under your shoulder and reset before repeating
  • 3 Sets of 10 Reps per Side – Non-Alternating

Quadriped Hip Extension To Circle

Key Coaching Points:

  • Lock in your shoulders by externally rotating your hands into the ground
  • Stabilize the core and hips, similar to the above exercise
  • Drive your leg straight back, maintaining a dorsiflexed foot position
  • Skim the floor and squeeze the glutes, hamstrings and quad hard into extension
  • While maintaining all stability points, circle your hip around and replace the knee position
  • 3 Sets of 10 Reps per Side – Non-Alternating

Neuromuscular Activation

As we touched on before, a properly programmed dynamic warm up should involve neuromuscular activation to a certain degree.  Depending on the emphasis of a specific training session, various primitive movement patterns and active musculature must be the focus.


For a general activation of the CNS (central nervous system) full body reciprocal patterning is a powerful tool.  A majority of humans have lost their ability to move in a properly sequenced reciprocal pattern between their upper and lower extremities while stabilizing the core.  The reintegration of reflex stabilization will show up with repetition of these movements.

The activation techniques below will also address corrective patterning for the dysfunctional clients, and maintain satisfactory patterns in others.

Quadruped Arm Then Leg Reach

Key Coaching Points:

  • Position should be pretty good by now, so lets get both your arms and legs moving
  • Bring your arm into flexion first, then drive your leg back into extension
  • Replace the hand position followed by the knee position
  • 3 Sets of 5 Reps per Side – Non-Alternating

Quadruped Reciprocal Reaching

Key Coaching Points:

  • Only change from above is now you are moving arm and leg simultaneously
  • This movement is the one that gets butchered the most, so focus on core, hip and shoulder position
  • 3 Sets of 10 Reps per Side – Non-Alternating

Quadruped Reciprocal Stepping

Key Coaching Points:

  • Time to put it all together, stepping one step at a time!
  • As the arm moves forward, the opposite side knee will also move into flexion smoothly
  • The same pattern is used for backwards stepping
  • 3 Sets of 5 Reps per Side – Alternating ( One Step Forward then Backwards = 1 Rep For That Side)

Program Crawling For Conditioning

One of my favorite ways to program out of the quadruped position is through the use of metabolic conditioning and finishers.  For clients that have shown functional ability to both reciprocally step and reach from the quadruped position, it’s time to kick it up a notch.

Crawling is the most primal locomotive movement once practiced by the human race.  It simultaneously loads every single joint in the body, challenges dynamic stability and mobility globally, and will have your heart pumping out of your chest and the sweat pouring down your face.

Just because we are using crawling for conditioning doesn’t mean we can slack off on our form and technique.  Deliberate, stabilized reciprocal motion is a necessity to both challenge your cardio-respiratory system, but also not to trash your joints and non-contractile tissues in the process.

Here are a few keys to enhance your crawling form:

  • Assume neutral position in your upper extremities (hands, elbows, shoulders all in alignment), lower extremities (knees under hips) and core (spine parallel with ground)
  • Limit deviation of the spine from neutral while reaching and stepping
  • Short, controlled steps will maximize your joint angulation and positioning (keeping you healthy)
  • Only go as fast as you can control your body position.  The more time under tension (TUT), the more challenging it is, so slow down!
  • Do not limit your crawl to just forward.  Try backwards and side stepping!

Quadruped Crawling Forward And Backward

Key Coaching Points:

  • This should come together pretty easily if you have progressed through the previous movements
  • Focus on the basics, keeping a neutral spine and moving smoothly through all steps
  • Never sacrifice form for speed or duration, this is about neuromuscular retraining not spinal insult

Time To Start Crawling on All Fours!

It’s time to get back to the basics.  Programming out of the quadruped position will do more than brush burn your knees.  It will give your body the stimulus that it has been seeking for optimal motor performances ever since you decided to stand and walk!  With endless possibilities of movement and exercise options out of this position, there is no excuse not to work these movements into a warm up, activation technique or conditioning session.  Quit being a baby, and get crawling!

About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is a sports performance specialist and injury prevention expert that has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes including multiple Olympic gold medalists, NFL and MLB All-Star performers, and professionals from 11 different sports. He has also managed some of the most successful barbell sport athletes in the world including world record holding powerlifters, CrossFit Games athletes, and IFBB professional physique athletes.

His innovative pain-free performance programs have been successfully implemented by over 25,000 athletes worldwide including his best selling training system Functional Power Training, which has revolutionized the way coaches and athletes develop strength, muscle and performance pain-free. Dr. Rusin’s work has gained him the reputation as the go-to industry expert for rebuilding after pain, injuries or plateaus.

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