How to Move on All Fours: Basic Crawling and Quadrupedal Fundamentals of Natural Movement for the Purposes of Strength Training and Fitness

Moving on all fours should come naturally to humans. Personal trainers and strength coaches tend to label it as an animal exercise or animal movement, when in reality, it’s just natural human movement. Humans learn to crawl even before they learn to walk, and children are adept at moving on all fours in a variety of ways. We tend to lose this natural ability as we grow older and don’t practice or play on all fours anymore. The truth is that moving on all fours is our birthright, and we are completely entitled to being able to master this physical skill even throughout adulthood.

Moving on all fours is great for a lot of reasons…

1) It can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any equipment
2) It is an integrative movement, not an isolation movement that can improve strength, endurance, power, balance, coordination, and agility.
3) It can be used for fat loss, muscle building, or general conditioning goals.

Here is a quick tutorial on how to begin to rediscover the value of moving on all fours. Pretending like you’re an animal stalking prey makes it all the more fun…

How to Move on All Fours: Basic Crawling Fundamentals

That is literally just a sampling of the huge array of possibilities when it comes to moving on all fours. The bear crawl and the crab walk are the most popular, and most useful, but there are infinite variations to explore.

Remember the key points:

1) Maintain a mostly flat back when you can do so without straining.
2) Keep your weight proportioned equally on all four of your limbs. Don’t sit too far back on your feet, and don’t lean too far forward on your hands. Find the sweet spot in the middle, where you could hold the position for a long time.

You’ll want to make it a goal to treat crawling as an exploratory exercise – not so much training as it is practice. Try to crawl with very little effort. Focusing on your breath will help with this. With each compression of the lungs, exhale. Focus on the exhale, and the inhale will take care of itself. When perfected, the movement will breathe your body for you – you won’t even have to think about it. You should be able to carry on with a normal conversation while crawling after you’ve mastered it.

Just like running and jumping, you’ll want to try and crawl softly, quietly – move like a ninja or a panther. This will teach your body to absorb shock and distribute it all throughout your body, instead of catching all of the shock in a local joint or soft tissue.

After you’ve got these fundamentals down, you can go off in so many different directions with crawling, and I think it’s best to crawl in a more natural environment. Try crawling on grass, sand, pavement, and gravel – on flat, uneven, and hilly surfaces. You can crawl forwards, backwards, laterally, and diagonally. You can move very slowly, as a grinding strength exercise, or you can hop and skip on your 4 limbs, too.

Here’s a 100 yard bear crawl test I did last year for some of the members of the Burn the Fat: Inner Circle.

Bear Crawl Test – 100 yards

And here are a couple more videos demonstrating quadrupedal movement from some parkour athletes:

And two great tutorials by my coach, Scott Sonnon. The real value here is not just in the detailed exercise instruction, but with the inclusion of example Flow Chains to play around with. Just keep in mind that these drills were crafted for very specific purposes:

The Kong

The Ape Step

Do keep in mind that there should be an element of discipline employed when you try any new exercise, especially a sophisticated one like most quadrupedal movements. In the same breath, I do want to recommend that you PLAY with these movements moreso than you train with them. They’re natural, and they’re fun, and should be enjoyed. If you like focusing on very specific technique cues, then go for it, but please don’t let the seemingly complicated nature of these movements scare you out of trying them. Self-exploration is the key, and there’s really no right or wrong way to explore your natural expression of human movement.

If you like these natural human movements, then you’ll love the biomechanical exercises from Scott Sonnon’s Tactical Gymnastics program.

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional and Natural Movement Enthusiast


11 Responses

  1. Andy Sifferman

    I knew even when you were an infant, John, that you would go far.

  2. hahaha :D

    It’s sad to think that naturally moving on all fours is actually a step forward for most people. Not all of civilizations progress is forward, I’m afraid.

  3. What about running on all fours. How fast could one actually move?

  4. Hi Vincent,

    Thanks for your comment, but I’m not quite sure what you mean. Moving on all fours quickly is still quadrupedal movement – not running, which is bipedal.

    Potential top speed would be dependent on too many factors to estimate – ie skill level of person, strength-endurance level, cardiovascular capacities, terrain, weather conditions, stress level, etc. Each one of these will have an impact on the end-result performance.

  5. Has there been any research comparing the health benefits between say running / jogging for 100 metres and crawling for 100 metres. I do the dumbbell crawl execise and normal crawling as a form of basic fitness work and naturally crawling seems to exert you far more.

    Say for diabetics, you’re recommended to walk 3 -4 kilometres a day, what would be the equivalent in terms of crawling?


  6. so do you know how to run on all fours. am been trying but I cant get it I know im doing it right. can you help me out here please.

    thanks for your help conrad

  7. Wow, I didn’t know it was an exercise. I do it all the time at my house!

  8. I do 10km quadrupedally, n my core is chisseled, that’s what u call running.. I try to move as fast as I can, then I mix it up with galloping.

  9. The dog is not very impressed.

  10. Adam Gallyot

    I have calculate my speed to run with all fours is 648 metres per hour. It’s pretty slow!

  11. Hey I have been doing this ever since I was a kid I was running on all fours and now I still do it but My back or “butt” is not in the air my back is balanced as I run and I run really fast and I can walk on all fours with amazing stamina.
    I run like a dog or any other animal.
    I have no idea if this is normal.

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