Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 May

The “Grok Crawl”

One of the more underappreciated developmental milestones in an infant’s life is the act of crawling. First words, walking, reading – these get all the attention, but it’s crawling that helps kids develop the important upper and lower body strength that will serve as a foundation for later activity and basic movement. Some pull and push with their arms while scooting along with their knees. Others crawl with their elbows like soldiers slogging through a battlefield. Whatever their methods, when compared to kids who skipped crawling and went straight to walking, early crawlers seem to have better motor skills. They understand bilateral coordination (using the arms and legs in reciprocal movements), they have a better sense of depth perception, and all that time spent on their hands gives crawlers better grasping strength.

For today’s workout, let’s take a cue from babies. Your motor skills are already developed and I imagine your depth perception is fairly accurate. You can probably grasp pens all right, and when walking you’ve learned not to swing your left arm as you step with your left leg. A baby crawling is about getting a total body workout and developing every muscle group for later use in life. We don’t need to crawl to develop basic skills anymore, but we can still hone them. Incorporating crawls into your workout routine can train your body to work in concert with itself while increasing overall strength. Legs pushing, arms supporting, back pulling, abs twisting, core maintaining, body balancing: the crawl – done correctly and intensely – hits everything.

So what makes a Grok crawl different from your basic bear crawl?

The Grok crawl is ultimately about crawling, and it does use the classic bear crawl as a starting point, but the similarities stop there. To perform the Grok crawl, get in the bear crawl position – on all fours, back straight, butt slightly raised, core tight – and crawl quickly, using your arms and back to pull you as your legs drive you forward. After ten or so paces, leap as far as you can using your legs and arms to collect power, as if you’re pouncing on a small animal (if you see an actual small animal, feel free to pounce on it). Maintain the pace and repeat the leaping. Mix it up with a series of successive leaps, or a stretch where you simply sprint-crawl for 40 yards. Just let go. The great thing about crawling is that letting go allows instinct to pretty much take over, so you can focus on going hard and fast.

So that’s the basic Grok crawl, but there are tons of other quadrupedal motions you can use to switch it up. In fact, switching it up is absolutely essential to getting the most out of your Grok crawl workouts. Keep your body on its toes and constantly surprise it with new motions and new angles to optimize results and make exercise interesting and sustainable. A few suggestions include:

  • Keep your butt down and your body as close to parallel with the floor as possible to focus on your arms. You’ll almost be doing moving pushups.
  • Raise your butt up high, forcing your legs to do most of the work; your arms will support you, but they won’t be driving you forward.
  • Let your legs drag behind you and pull yourself forward using only your hands. Imagine both legs are completely broken and useless. For an added kick, hold kettlebells in each hand as you plod along (kettlebells make everything better).
  • Learn from the gorilla. Instead of using your open palms, which can make your wrists sore, crawl forward on your knuckles.
  • Crab walk. Flip over and crawl on your back; alternate between bear crawling and crab walking.
  • Instead of the usual alternating arm/leg crawl, try moving both arms to vault yourself forward, drawing your knees to your chest – almost like you’re performing the butterfly stroke on land.
  • Hit the sand, or find a hill or staircase. You’ll find crawling in sand or up an incline (or both at once) will increase resistance and give you a better workout, and a downhill Grok crawl adds another level of difficulty (great for shoulders and triceps).
  • If you have joint issues but don’t have access to a pool, Grok crawling is a fairly low-impact anaerobic replacement for sprints (just take it easy on the leaps and bounds).
  • Strap on a weight vest or wear a backpack full of books for extra work.
  • Make like a soldier and keep your body against the floor, using your elbows to crawl forward.

Treat the Grok crawl as you would any intense cardio exercise. Try Tabata intervals or my beach sprint routine (except with crawls), or anything at all, really. It’s a completely adaptable workout that’s good for beginners and experts alike.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. The inclusion of bear crawls in an exercise program is crucial in that, in addition to a great work out, its function can benefit people in potentially urgent situations that require getting down, taking cover, or crawling to safety in a burning building.

    John wrote on May 21st, 2009
  2. Great example of Primal exercise. I’m a big fan of this kind of movement, as it’s great for building relative strength. If you can’t control your body in space efficiently, why would you pick up an external weight?

    I posted another great example today of very “primal” bodyweight exercise from one of my coaches, Scott Sonnon:

    Hope you enjoy.

    Adam Steer - Better Is Better wrote on May 21st, 2009
  3. Funny this is the post today. I have been doing a workout routine inspired by Ross Enamaite’s Never Gymless book and my routine last night was the following:50 yard sprint, 25 yard bear crawl, and 25 yard crab walk. Repeat as many circuits as possible in 15 min. It was hard work. Crab walks crushed me.

    Reid wrote on May 21st, 2009
    • hehe, I know that one rather well…
      also found crab walk to be toughest.

      as for the grok crawl, just for clarification, without variations, is it any different from a regular bear crawl?

      Vasco wrote on May 21st, 2009
  4. There are so many variations, that it’s no problem getting on all fours to have fun and build general conditioning.

    You can make games out of crawling too – the crab walkers try to trip the bear crawlers and vice versa. Hip bump wars, red light/green light, etc. etc.

    John Sifferman wrote on May 21st, 2009
  5. This will make for a great workout that I can do with my three year old.

    jpippenger wrote on May 21st, 2009
  6. Would Grok use kneepads and gloves?

    gcb wrote on May 21st, 2009
    • of course! Grok, after crawling around, would realize, with his/her superior brain, that some protection on post-paleo surfaces is quite all right!

      Mary Anne wrote on February 9th, 2011
  7. I sneak up and pounce on my roomates dog, except the dog isn’t small. Its better when the dog wrestles you, then it gets really primal!

    Ryan Denner wrote on May 21st, 2009
  8. Thank you Mark!

    Rob wrote on May 21st, 2009
  9. Today parents quickly pass over the crawling stage with upright aids and walkers to keep the ‘little’ one from crawling, proudly announcing to friends that the little guy/gal only crawled for a few days before dashing around the house upright. No wonder- he never had a chance to do what’s natural.

    pjnoir wrote on May 21st, 2009
    • … right before they whisk them off to soccer, hockey, & little league. Without finding out if that’s what the kid really even wants to do.

      oops, up on a soapbox again…

      Peggy wrote on May 21st, 2009
  10. Mark why do you have to be such a badass 😉

    – Justin

    Justin from GymJunkies wrote on May 21st, 2009
  11. It is eluded to, but never mentioned, that the real magic of the crawl (belly on the ground army crawl first) occurs in the brain. A well developed cross pattern crawl is one of the first ways in which we express use of both hemispheres of the brain. An infant crawling on the floor sees the world in two dimensions which allows the brain to develop and perfect convergence (the ability of your brain to perfectly overlap the two images it receives from your eyes in order to create dimension). This prepares the infant for the next stage in which he lifts himself onto knees and straighted arms. Of course, now the 3rd dimension becomes important because his face is now arms distance from the floor. Each neurological step prepares the infant for the next.
    If you are one of the many people fall asleep when you read, spend some time crawling and you will see dramatic improvements.

    Chris Dunkin wrote on May 21st, 2009
    • that’s interesting. I’ll have to try it.

      hiker wrote on August 23rd, 2010
  12. My son developed his full crawl and went right to pulling himself up to a stand holding on to things. The crawl while important, is still just an intermediate phase to walking. If it it were vastly important, we’d use crawling just as much as walking.

    I think pediatricians try to scare parents too much if their kids don’t do what is “average”. Every child is different and they will figure out things on their own eventually. Lets not go out and scare parents if their child isn’t the perfect little crawler, and went right into standing and walking. We are bipeds, not quadrupeds…

    George wrote on May 21st, 2009
  13. Hi! We do bear crawls to drill quickness on the ground if you ever get taken to the floor on a self-defense situation. Thanks for the crab crawl drill ideas btw, we’ll have to start doing those as well.

    Incidentally if you’re going to use a weight vest for this sort of thing, keep it light! 20lbs in one on the crawls darn near killed me! (I weigh 140)

    Mark the Weight Vest Freak wrote on May 21st, 2009
  14. Tried the bare crawl last night, chased my son around the yard. My shoulders and arms feel well worked out. I had fun with this one. Thanks for the suggestion.

    jpippenger wrote on May 22nd, 2009
  15. You’re sharing brain-waves with my boot camp instructor. Last night we spent about half our time doing what he calls “bear-with-me”s. Bear crawls interspersed with push-ups, mountain climbers and crab walks. My poor triceps are still sore.

    dragonmamma wrote on May 22nd, 2009
  16. Great exercise, i’ve also read that crawling serves to cross-over the energies of the body aswell. Apparently in infants before learning to walk they’re energies operate in a unilateral pattern not crossing over. Once crawling comes into the picture energies start to cross from right to left and vice-versa, and the childs ability to learn improves ten fold.

    paul wrote on May 22nd, 2009
  17. We use a lot of similar stuff in Parkour/Freerunning training, although for us it’s normally just called Quadrupedal Movement or QM. A fun game you can play if you have a couple friends is QM Tag, the basic rules being the same as tag except you have to have at least 3 limbs (hands or feet) touching the ground at all times and your chest can never get more than a foot or two above the ground.

    There’s a good article here at American Parkour ( too talking about making your QM as apelike and fluid as possible.

    Adam wrote on May 22nd, 2009
  18. Wow, this one takes me back!

    When I was no longer *that* young I used to revert to crawling on hills of varying steepness. Even when a lot older I’ve been known to do this on steep hills and not-so-steep cliffs, using techniques not too dissimilar to rock climbing, three limbs and sometimes only two limbs on the ground depending on conditions

    Haven’t unleashed my Inner Child (or Outer Child) for a while now though

    Trinkwasser wrote on May 29th, 2009
  19. This is great, we used to have to do century’s in football if we were late, or drew a penalty during games. The century consisted of a 50yd bearcrawl and 50 yard crabwalk,

    joe bob skidrow wrote on June 25th, 2009
  20. If anyone pounces on an outdoor house cat, I won’t be happy. ;p

    fritchbeetle wrote on August 12th, 2009
  21. Interesting about crawling and building strength and coordination, but you left at an even more critical component than that! Brain development!

    A friend of mine is a child development specialist and we had a talk about this years. As it turns out, children who skipped crawling often have learning disabilities, including but not limited to dyslexia! She told me that the first thing she does with new kids – and adults! – with learning disabilities is get them down on their hands and knees and over a period of a few months, they must crawl for up to 100 hours! The cross-lateral movement connects the 2 hemispheres of the brain and literally builds that grey matter!

    – Wngdwolf

    Wngdwolf wrote on May 12th, 2010
    • I’ve heard about that. Easier to do if you’re the CDS, not the teacher.

      hiker wrote on August 23rd, 2010
      • Well, I don’t know. My MIL was a 1st grade teacher until around 1977 when she retired. She used to take her new class to the gym and watch them move around and then created her reading groups based on what she saw. She also spent recess and p.e. with the children and insisted on all kinds of movement, including crawling, elephant walking, etc. Maybe teachers who are not CDS aren’t allowed to be that involved anymore. I don’t know. But I do know that the highest reading scored high school students in the district during that time all had had her as their first grade teacher; that was the only commonality. I wish she could have been a Yoda. 900 years of her teaching. very special lady.

        Mary Anne wrote on February 9th, 2011
  22. Wow, Wngdwolf, that’s really cool…!

    Shaleah wrote on May 12th, 2010
  23. One thing I love about this Primal approach is its truly holisitic nature. It emphasizes the health of the entire body.

    Wngdwolf wrote on May 12th, 2010
    • amen to that.

      Mary Anne wrote on February 9th, 2011
  24. Is there a good Grok Crawl video? I can’t find one on YouTube. It seems the same as a bear crawl.

    Rob wrote on May 18th, 2010
  25. It’s funny. You never hear about crawls and hand walking as an effective exercise tool, but the most sore I have ever been was after a boot camp class that focused mostly on crawls.

    They work

    Nathan wrote on May 23rd, 2010
    • your post just reminded me that my grand-niece’s dad one day decided to mimic her baby movements. you know, the flailing arms and legs business. She kept it up for quite some time but he (very slim and ‘in shape’) was exhausted after less than 5 minutes.

      Mary Anne wrote on February 9th, 2011
  26. Two years ago I broke my right foot and was at home recuperating for six weeks. I was quite overweight at the time, so I found getting around on crutches to be very difficult. I took to crawling, because it was the easiest way to get from one place to another. When I was able to go back to work, I found that climbing the stairs from the subway was not as exhausting as it had been before. I attributed that to the “workout” I got from crawling around the house for six weeks.

    Paula wrote on May 23rd, 2010
  27. sounds like fun!

    Tupou wrote on August 24th, 2010
  28. I never thought about leaping forward while grok crawling… I will have to try that next time!

    Primal Toad wrote on September 17th, 2010
  29. Years ago, my aunt told me about a teacher she had in college. This nun told her that, the night before a test, she should spend a half-hour crawling around her dorm room. Study as much or as little as she wanted, but the crawling was mandatory. Aunty tried it, and it seemed to work. She swears it made her PhD board a breeze. I did it back in the day, and it worked for me. Now that I think about it, that explains the urge I feel to crawl around scrubbing floors or cleaning baseboard molding when stressed.

    As a side note, I believe my husband to be THE most awkward and uncoordinated male on the planet. Seriously. And I blame his mother. She was so afraid of germs that she carried him everywhere, until the next one came along. He never crawled.

    Nannsi wrote on March 14th, 2011
    • Oh I hear you! My husband’s mum is a germaphobe too, and my husband couldn’t dance or have rhythm to save his life! Might have to make him crawl :)

      ana wrote on October 17th, 2011

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