The Crab Walk May Be the Perfect Whole-Body Warm-Up Exercise

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You may associate “crab walks” with gym class relay races, but they’re not just for elementary schoolers. In fact, the benefits of scuttling across the floor like a crustacean can go beyond achieving victory in P.E.

Crab walks, as an exercise, are a surprisingly effective warm-up for a workout. They engage multiple muscle groups (including in the lower body, upper body, and core), and can help you get your heart rate up as well. And they put your balance and coordination to the test as well.

Here, get acquainted with the crab walk exercise, its benefits, and how to modify the movement.

Experts Featured in This Article

Jenny Liebl, certified personal trainer and senior product developer at the International Sports Sciences Association.

Schuyler Archambault, DPT, physical therapist, personal trainer and owner of Arch Physical Therapy and Fitness.

Jen Widerstrom, NASM-certified trainer and co-host of the podcast Every Body Talks.

What Is a Crab Walk?

“The crab walk is a unique whole-body exercise that encourages natural, instinctual movement, challenges the core, and is kind of fun,” says Jenny Liebl, certified personal trainer and senior product developer at the International Sports Sciences Association.

To try the exercise, you begin in a reverse tabletop position, then use your hands and feet to “walk” forward or backward to travel across the floor, Liebl describes.

What Muscles Do Crab Walks Work?

The bodyweight exercise can strengthen multiple muscles, including your glutes, lats (muscles in your back), triceps (located at the back of your upper arms), and core, says Schuyler Archambault, DPT, physical therapist, personal trainer and owner of Arch Physical Therapy and Fitness.

Targeting said muscles through exercise can pay off. “Strengthening your glutes is important for everyday activities such as walking, stairs, and running,” Archambault says. “Strengthening your lats and shoulders helps with posture.”

Apart from strengthening muscles throughout your body, crab walks can provide a cardio challenge, promote shoulder and hip stability, and increase coordination, Archambault says.

In other words, it really is a fantastic warm-up, because it recruits your entire body, gets your blood pumping, and even helps you get your mind engaged as you struggle to stay stable during the exercise. “The crabwalk is ideal at the beginning of any workout to get warm while opening up a bunch of important angles in your body that aren’t normally addressed,” says Jen Widerstrom, NASM-certified trainer and co-host of the podcast Every Body Talks. “Plus, it doubles as a mind to muscle coordinator.” That said, crab walks can also be a good addition to a full-body strength workout.

How to Do Crab Walks

When attempting a crab walk, it’s important to maintain an open chest and avoid holding your breath or stepping too far forward with your feet, Widerstrom says. Maintain a steady inhale-exhale, and focus on using your hamstrings to pull you forward as you move to avoid over-stepping, she suggests. You should also avoid shrugging your shoulders up or craning your neck forward.

Here, Widerstrom walks you through how to do crab walks with proper form:

  1. Sit on the ground with your heels resting about six inches in front of your butt and your hands about one foot behind your hips, with your chest open and your chin lifted.
  2. Maintaining a micro bend in your elbows, engage your core, lats, triceps and glutes to lift your butt a few inches off the ground. Push off your right hand as you step your left foot forward.
  3. Pause briefly, then step forward again, this time stepping forward onto your left hand and right foot.
  4. Continue to walk forward, alternating which hand and foot you’re shifting your weight into.

Try taking 20 total crab-walks forward, resting for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeating for three full rounds, suggests Widerstrom. For an added challenge, she suggests completing three more rounds, this time traveling backward.

Crab Walk Variations

You can adjust the classic crab walk exercise whenever you’d like to switch things up. “The crab walk can be done in any direction to make it more dynamic and challenging,” Liebl says.

Crab Toe Touch. A toe-touch variation can provide an extra ab challenge, Liebl says. Get into the starting, reverse tabletop position. Raise your right hand and straighten your left knee to raise your left foot, bringing your hand around to touch your knee or toe. Return the hand and foot to the ground and repeat on the opposite side.

Crab Hold. If you don’t have room to travel across the floor, you can simply hold the starting position for a few seconds before lowering your butt to the floor. To add a challenge, you can add in tricep dips or leg raises, Liebl says.

The crab walk may feel like a blast from the past, but it offers a range of benefits and doesn’t require any equipment. With one exercise, you can simultaneously challenge your strength, cardio fitness, and coordination.

Renee Cherry is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty and wellness. Her writing has appeared in PS, Women’s Health, Glamour, mindbodygreen, and Well + Good, among other publications.

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