The Concept of Cross Crawling

Cross crawl pattern development is an extremely important and often overlooked aspect of athlete conditioning and conditioning in general for that matter. It is one of the fundamental principles our athletic ability is based upon. It is the foundation for our walking, running, skipping, jumping, agility, stopping and starting.

In short, It is what allows us to have a remote chance of moving in a somewhat efficient manner.

Utilizing various cross crawl exercises are a brilliant way to reboot the fledgling nervous system, spinal muscles and various other systems to work optimally together.

Humans are contralateral beings in reference to their neurological organization. The automatic sequencing of our movement (crawling, walking and running) is meant to always be coordinated in the same manner. As the right arm goes forward, the left leg will do the same and when the left arm goes forward, the right leg will do the same. This is what is meant by a contralateral (cross pattern) neurological organization.

Unfortunately, like the vestibular system’s efficiency noted in a previous section “Move to Live and Live to Move” these are earned processes. They initially develop as we crawl on the ground as an infant. The complex patterns of which are stored in the nerve messaging patterns of the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum and spinal and peripheral nerves. These patterns manage the switch on - switch off co-ordination of the muscles of locomotion, posture and corrective activity to maintain balance. Without the ability to effectively turn specific muscle systems on AND off our movement would be inefficient and we would not be able to move as quickly or as freely as we desire…maybe that sounds familiar to you?

When you start new exercise programs, the nervous system begins to build new connections. The nervous system does not sit patiently waiting in an organized manner for you to use it when desired. It actually is a living presence that molds and adapts to the challenges placed upon it. As you engrain a new skill set your body lays down better neural wiring so that each time you perform the skill it becomes progressively easier and more repeatable.

As you exercise more, you create and grow a stronger series of connections. They become more active with use.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, if you don't use these nerves, and they don't get a minimal amount of stimulus, they die.

“Use it or Lose it!!!”

Most of us have lost our fundamental movement skills through either:

  • Inactivity
  • Loading a skill set prior to developing the neural network to support the skill and as such developing negative compensatory patterns as an adjustment to move the new skill under load

"The more you use it the more you get it back".

This is the reason why athletes, musicians, artists spend so much time practicing their skill sets. This ensures they have the most neural connections and functionality around the skills that they want to perform at their peak.

With respect to athletic performance we too can ignite our nervous system to perform at a peak level. BUT, to do this we must reboot our nervous system to regain the cross-crawl patterns so necessary for basic human and optimal athletic performance.

Hands and knees opposite arm and leg:

One of the initial and easier exercises to begin rebooting your cross crawl system is the opposite arm and leg while on your hands and knees (quadruped opposite arm leg).

Some people begin with either the leg moving on its own or the arm moving on its own. It is my belief, for the purposes of this series, that If you need to do these more basic progressions because you find it so difficult to do the opposite arm and leg exercise you are either just coming back from an injury or are not yet ready for the Mammal series and you should perfect your Rolling from the Reptile series or try basic crawling first.

Below we have 4 versions of this exercise.

  • In the first progression the toes are on the ground and we are using a narrow width for the hands and knees. The hands are under the chest and the knees are touching. The toes down and narrow base decreases the work required by the pelvis, shoulder and spinal stabilizers. This is a great modification for beginners of this movement as the narrow stance help form a more central base of support
  • In the second video we are performing the exercise with our hands under our shoulders and the knees are under the hips.
    Note: The toes are still down.
    This progression challenges the body’s motor recruitment more so than the previous version but is still a relatively basic exercise.
  • In the third video we are performing the exercise with the hands and knees in the same position as the second video but this time the toes are off the ground. This seemingly benign progression actually makes the opposite arm and leg exercise significantly more difficult. If you are not able to perform this version with a foam roller maintaining its position on the lower back (not falling off) it would be wise to stick with the second version until you are ready to progress.
  • In the previous 3 videos we are concerned predominantly with the extension of the hips and the horizontal abduction / extension component of the arm. This chiefly incorporates the muscles in the back side of our bodies. In this 4th video we will take the motion and position experienced in the 2nd video but add a crossing of the contralateral (opposite) elbow and knee at the front of the body to introduce hip flexion and shoulder horizontal adduction component

Video 1: Quadruped opposite arm leg raise with narrow width base of support

Video 2: Quadruped opposite arm leg raise with shoulder width base of support

Video 3: Quadruped opposite arm leg raise with toes up

Video 4: Quadruped opposite arm leg raise with shoulder width base of support with midline cross

Obtaining a relative mastery of these 4 movements is an important process to developing the neuromuscular control required for the bear crawls described in the next installment of the Mammal Series.

Final Thoughts: In the second installment of the Mammal series we will look at the upper extremity movements that challenge the Core while maintaining a push up position.

Take Home Points:

  • Contralateral Neurological Organization = Cross Crawl Patterns: Refers to the coupled movement of one arm moving in unison with the opposite leg. During walking or running this can be seen with the right leg moving behind our body at the same time our left arm moves backwards.
  • Using a variety of cross crawl exercises are a way to reboot the fledgling nervous system, spinal muscles and various other systems to work optimally together.
  • If you don’t maintain the cross crawl patterns through regular use you will lose the efficiency
  • Neurological efficiency trumps brute strength for most all athletic movements, especially the golf swing.
  • Quadruped opposite arm and leg with narrow base of support
  • Quadruped opposite arm and leg with shoulder width base of support
  • Quadruped opposite arm and leg with toes up
  • Quadruped opposite arm and leg with shoulder width base of support with midline cross

2014-15 PGA Tour Dates


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