What Toddlers Can Teach Us About Fitness

 Enter my greatest fear: 6 dirty diapers.

Enter my greatest fear: 6 dirty diapers.

This past Christmas break, I spent a ton of time watching my niece and nephew.  And besides reveling in their infinite cuteness, trying to decipher their words, and avoiding diaper changes, I learned a lot about how they move.  I know, it may sound odd, but there’s a heck of a lot we can learn from watching toddlers play around. 

Before I move on, I urge you to keep an open mind.  Also, let’s collectively take a second to put down all the dumbbells, kettlebells, and, for the love of all things holy, please swear to me that you’ll never again touch a bosu ball.

First, toddlers rarely have any type of mobility problems.  In fact, you don’t often hear of children ever complaining of “tight hamstrings,” shoulder restrictions, or lower back pain….ok, maybe the whole “learning to speak” barrier keeps us ignorant.  But, what does this mean?  That we’re all born with what we need, but it’s through our own fault that we develop any type of restrictions.

Next, and possibly the most important thing I learned, was how important crawling can be for adults.  Crawling, you say?  Yes, crawling!

 You may see a cute baby, but I see rotary stability!

You may see a cute baby, but I see rotary stability!

So, why IS crawling so important?  Well, if you look at your normal adult, they usually have some type of rigidity in their upper body.  Even if someone has exceptional shoulder mobility (like myself), their upper spine is usually a bit stiffer in certain parts than it should be.  Breathing patterns, working in an office, and just how we sit all play a role in this department.

When you break crawling down to its simplest form, you start to see why it’s so beneficial.  First, we work on building shoulder stability.  In fact, if you’re down on your hands and knees, it’s probably pretty safe to say that you have your shoulder in the “packed” position, and are working pretty much everything in your upper body.  Also, by having your weight on your hands and knees, you’re already in the opposite position than most people spend 99% of their day…and that’s a good thing!

Then, when you start moving, you get a ton of other benefits.  You begin to work on mobility in the shoulder and thoracic spine of your free hand, while working on shoulder and trunk stability on the arm that’s on the floor.  You’re also getting plenty of additional arm work, as your bicep and tricep are pulling your scapula over your shoulder to achieve this shoulder stability.  All of this without any equipment? Talk about bang for your buck!

 Here's the usual result when you ask someone to perform an advanced crawling progression.

Here's the usual result when you ask someone to perform an advanced crawling progression.

All of these patterns are in stark contrast to your traditional bench presses and heavy barbell squats.  While these exercises definitely do have their place, it’s important to realize that we need a balance, and overdoing it on these exercises (or not prescribing the proper accessory movements) can really decrease your mobility.

Next, crawling helps with neuromuscular sequencing.  In fact, whenever I teach crawling to a group of adults for the first time, it usually results in a ton of laughter, and failures in body coordination that rivals a newborn fawn.  But what’s the result?  Everyone gets better at sequencing their inner core, and any type of core work we perform after this drill is usually markedly better.

It’s fun to think about all the ways we move around when we’ve mastered the basics of walking.  We have all come so far, but what we really need is to get back down to where we once were.