Friday, December 19, 2014

Crossing Over to Better Movement Patterns

Have you ever watched a sprinter running and wondered why the heck he’s pumping his arms back and forth like a windmill? Running is all about the legs, right? Wrong!

When we walk or run, we intuitively synchronize movement of contralateral (opposite) sides of our bodies. This means that as your right leg steps forward, your left arm automatically reaches forward with it, allowing for more energy-efficient movement, and preventing excessive rotation of the trunk. In fact, a study at the University of Michigan found that we expend up to 12% more energy (calories) when we don’t use our arms. [1] For someone who’s trying to shave .01 seconds off of his 40 yard time, this is definitely not ideal. When the body moves as one chain, as it was designed, we can move effortlessly and fluidly.

Unfortunately, many people in this desk-jockey age have forgotten how to move freely without first smashing a lacrosse ball into every tight spot they can find. Simple tasks like walking to the mailbox or going for a jog become arduous and bring about lower back pain and shin splints. Adding cross crawls into your program will help you regain mobility and may even reduce your risk for injury. [5]

Cross crawling patterns are an excellent way to retrain your body to synchronize the right and left sides seamlessly. When we were toddlers, crawling was the only way we can move from place to place. Slowly, our nervous systems built new patterns, as we better understood how to navigate our centers of mass and coordinate the right and left sides of our developing bodies. Now, you can use the same tools you used as a child to reset your nervous system and retrain yourself to move.

One example of a cross crawl, and one of the most basic regressions, is a march or a skip. You’d be surprised by the number of people get confused when I initially show them how to skip. I’m willing to bet you haven’t skipped in quite a few years! Skipping is a wonderful way to awaken the nervous system and prime your body for more complex movements. Marching can be done stationary or while moving, but I usually instruct my clients to move as slowly as possible. You want to bring one knee to your chest while the opposite arm reaches up towards the sky.

Remember, this is not a race to the finish line! The purpose of these exercises is to teach control, so it is important to make sure you execute them while focusing on stabilization, synchronization of the movement, and breathing. Usually 30-50 repetitions at a time is sufficient. You can do them throughout the day, or choose to superset them with other exercises in your routine.

From there, the next progression would be some type of quadrupedal crawl. This includes military crawls (imagine a soldier crawling through the mud), baby crawls (yep, just as your child would), and bear crawls. If you’re looking to raise some eyebrows at the gym, these are especially fun. Personally, I love bear crawls, because the athlete learns how to functionally activate his core and stabilize his shoulders and hips, all while improving his posture and mobility. I know, it almost sounds too good to be true! Believe me though, you’ll feel like a million bucks afterwards, and you’ll get a great sweat in the process. For an extra challenge, try doing backwards bear crawls.

Again, just like with the marching, you should move very slowly and carefully during these movements. Many of my clients (especially children) are inclined to try to race across the gym floor on all fours. While I appreciate their competitive spirits, it is actually far more difficult to dial down the pace and pay close attention to your positioning. To prevent your spine from rotating too much, you might find it helpful to place a book or a yoga block on your back while you crawl.

The last variants of the cross crawl are stationary as well. These movements include the bird dog and the deadbug (I promise, I didn’t come up with these names). The bird dog is very similar to a bear crawl in that you need to really activate the shoulder girdle to stabilize yourself. As one arm comes forward, the opposite leg reaches out behind you. About 10 reps on each side is enough.

On the deadbug, you will place both hands on the wall and reach your legs out in front of you, bringing one leg up while you lower the other towards the floor (again, slowly). The key here is to make sure you’re using your abdominal muscles and not your hip flexors. Try to continue breathing diaphragmatically throughout the entire movement. I have my clients perform this movement for as long as they can with control. Once I see them start to shake or compensate, I have them stop. 20-30 seconds at a time should be fine to start.

The great thing (well, one of many great things) about any of these cross crawl variations, is that you can utilize them everyday. Bear crawls are an excellent rest day exercise. While this is anecdotal evidence, the benefits these movements have given both me and my clients has been incredible. I personally aim to crawl for around 5-10 minutes per day, both forwards and backwards! I’ve found that crawling loosens up my hips and alleviates tightness in my lower back.

The more you do these movements, the greater the rewards. I believe that a strong core is the key to success in any sport. In my opinion, movements like crunches are a waste of time; how much will your sit-ups carryover into other movements like jogs or split jerks? Not very much. Instead, I’d rather teach my clients to use their cores as they were meant to use them: to stabilize the pelvis and the shoulders. These cross crawl movements are the best method I’ve found to achieve that.

If you have children, try to mimic the way they move. Kids don’t need to foam roll their quads and their glutes before they squat--they just do it naturally! They are constantly moving, and they’re not sitting at work in front of a computer for 8 hours at-a-time. We could stand to learn a few things from kids!

Works Cited
  1. Anderson, Tim, and Geoff Neupert. Original Strength: Regaining the Body You Were Meant to Have. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2013. 
  2. Blakemore, Connie L. "Movement Is Essential to Learning." Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 2013, 22-25.
  3. Chappell, J. D., and O. Limpisvasti. "Effect of a Neuromuscular Training Program on the Kinetics and Kinematics of Jumping Tasks." The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2008, 1081-086.
  4. Collins, S. H., P. G. Adamczyk, and A. D. Kuo. "Dynamic Arm Swinging In Human Walking." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2009, 3679-688. 
  5. Khalsa, Guruchiter Kaur, G. S. Don Morris, and Josie M. Sifft. "Effect Of Educational Kinesiology On Static Balance Of Learning Disabled Students." Perceptual And Motor Skills, 1988, 51-54.
  6. Mandelbaum, B. R. "Effectiveness Of A Neuromuscular And Proprioceptive Training Program In Preventing Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries In Female Athletes: 2-Year Follow-up." American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2005, 1003-010.

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