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‘Crawling is the new plank’: Improve strength and mobility by moving like a baby

Original Strength co-founder Tim Anderson first wrote about the benefits of crawling in his 2011 book, “Becoming Bulletproof.” There’s a reason kids learn to crawl before they take their first steps, he explains. It helps them develop a healthy gait pattern. (Got Your Back Total Health)

Most adults don’t remember learning how to crawl. But Alexandra Greeves, 31, will never forget.

“I had to concentrate on it,” recalls the Bethesda resident, who struggled with keeping her head lifted and gaze high. She had to fight the urge to move too quickly, and constantly remind herself to drag the opposite leg forward after placing a palm on the ground. Her best teacher? A playmate who could propel himself across the floor no problem — her 6-month-old son.

That’s because it was just a year and a half ago when Greeves had her first appointment with chiropractor Justin Klein, who declares that “crawling is the new plank.”

He prescribes it to practically all of his patients, including Greeves, who hadn’t worked out since giving birth and didn’t know how to deal with her pain.

"I'm looking at a 60-year-old woman who was in a car accident crawling right now," Klein says while chatting on the phone from his Spring Valley facility, Got Your Back Total Health.

Klein's unconventional approach to treating pain comes from his belief in Original Strength, a fitness system that encourages people to practice the movement patterns found in young children. In Original Strength parlance, crawling is a "reset." And by "pressing reset" on your body — the way you would on your phone — you can bring back the strength and mobility you've lost over the years, he explains.

To help spread the word — and get a lot more folks on their hands and knees — Klein is hosting the first ever Crawl on the Mall. It's free for anyone who wants to show up on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., between the White House and the Washington Monument. The plan is to teach participants to "press reset," and then challenge them with crawling races (including one just for babies).

On hand will be Original Strength co-founder Tim Anderson, who wrote about the benefits of crawling in his 2011 book, “Becoming Bulletproof.” There’s a reason kids learn to crawl before they take their first steps, he explains. It helps them develop a healthy gait pattern. “It should take four limbs to walk,” he says. His message is that too many adults have forgotten this, and are in pain as a result.

The ideas in the book formed the basis for what would become Original Strength and the Original Strength Institute in North Carolina. Original Strength-certified coaches are now in fitness settings around the world, and professional athletic teams are starting to embrace the teachings. (Anderson recently trained the coaching staff of the Cleveland Cavaliers.) Company vice president of business development Dani Almeyda is looking forward to expanding into the medical realm with a presentation in December for physical therapists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Despite this rapid success, Almeyda and Anderson predict that anyone crawling outside should be ready for some strange looks. “They’ll think you’re injured,” Almeyda says. “Or that you’re looking for your contacts,” Anderson adds.

But engaging in some child’s play is no reason to be embarrassed. Anderson says he never has a problem persuading athletes to do their best baby impressions. When he has worked with someone who is hesitant about crawling, “usually it’s a sedentary person or one who doesn’t smile a lot,” he says. (Or in many cases, both: “Your joy and movement are integrated.”)

The exercise is accessible to all ages and body types. As Almeyda says, “The cool thing is pretty much everyone has crawled before.” Some may want to start with the standing version, called a cross-crawl — you walk in place while touching opposite elbow to knee. There’s obviously the baby-style crawl, and that lends itself to trickier variations where you’re on just your hands and toes. And to make it really tough, you can crawl for time or distance, or drag a heavy chain or sled.

So when are you going to see crawling at your gym? Chances are, you already have, says Cassia Denton, director of personal training and group exercise at Balance Gym Foggy Bottom. Maybe you just didn't realize it because it wasn't called "crawling." It was "bird-dog," a core strengthener in which you get on all fours and then extend an opposite arm and leg.

Any “contralateral” exercise like this derives from crawling, Denton says, and they all test two important skills: balance and ability to sense where you are in space.

As the fitness industry has been thinking smarter about how to improve people’s movement, there’s been more focus on this type of move, adds Denton, who notes that there’s more crawling than ever at her gym.

“What’s funny is when people encounter it, they’re really bad at it,” she says. At least, at first. After some practice, the coordination comes back, and that’s when Denton sees overall improvements in how people perform at the gym — particularly among those hitting road blocks because of injury or age. “Your movement in space just becomes better,” she says.

That’s certainly part of the allure of crawling for Klein, the chiropractor. He also finds that it gives people a way to check in with how their bodies feel — like someone might do in a yoga class. “It’s mindfulness in a way every human being can understand,” he explains.

For Greeves, crawling has become a part of her nightly routine. “I’ll usually turn the lights down and concentrate on myself, just calm myself down,” she says. As Greeves moves, she examines how she feels and notes any pain. It’s a strategy she credits with helping her stay active day to day, which is more important than ever, now that her son is 2.

He gave up crawling a while ago. Instead, if he sees her on the ground, he jumps on her back. (“That’s why I do it in the evening now,” Greeves jokes.) But it’s never too early to relearn.

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