Most people dive straight into training the specific attributes they think they need to hit their goals. But if they don’t have a solid foundation in place they often get stuck or hurt, and it can be really hard to see why.
As a coach, I’ve talked to countless people experiencing this exact problem.
That’s why I developed this series of 5 movements that every healthy, active person should be able to do. You might struggle with some of them, and that’s okay. Most people do. The goal is to notice exactly where your body gets in the way, whether you can accomplish each move or not. Those are the tension points that will invisibly stall your progress and nudge you towards injury.
I’ve also included links to resources you can use to address common challenges. Because getting past these basic limitations makes your body better at pretty much everything you do.
Why These Moves?
There are many movements we could have chosen for this diagnostic, but your ability, or inability, to do these 5 bodyweight skills is a good gauge of your level of fitness for daily life and all the responsibilities that go along with it.
Basic household chores, like crawling into that packed closet to grab the one thing you need all the way in the back, carrying groceries and jumping over a puddle, or even simply reaching behind you to grab something out of the back seat of your car – these everyday tasks can either be easy to do, or unnecessarily difficult.
It all depends on how you can move. And if you can’t move well enough, then your life is likely just a little bit harder than it needs to be.
The 5 movements and how we use them to assess your abilities are as follows:
Cartwheel – measures how well you can align and orient yourself while being upside down and moving your body through spaceSquat – demonstrates mobility, strength, and ability to control your body in the lower body end rangesCrab Walk – shows whether you are able to support yourself on your arms in a stretched positionRoll – assesses your body control when space orientation is shiftedBear Crawl – helps to see how well you can control your body when moving on all fours
I will outline how you can use these 5 movements as a quick “checkup” for insights into your capabilities, and give you some ideas on what you’ll need to work on to improve them.
Movement Checkup #1 – The Cartwheel
This fundamental schoolyard trick assesses your balance and spatial awareness and your ability to link your upper and lower body together. It requires a base level of upper body and core strength that may seem minor, unless you aren’t able to do it!
It also reveals a “strong side” in coordination very quickly as you perform the move. For some, one side will be relatively easy, while the other side will feel nearly impossible.
The basic method of performing a cartwheel is as follows:
Put your hands on the ground, one in front of the other on a straight line.Turn upside down and put your feet on that same straight line, and stand up again.
It sounds simple, but the trick is in the control between your upper and lower body, and keeping your posture upright and tall even when you are downside up.
This video tutorial will help you get those details in check:
Click here for a more complete tutorial on the cartwheel.
Before you work on skills such as handstands and other handbalance skills, see how your cartwheel is first, it’s a fundamental first step. Like anything, if you have trouble with the cartwheel it will likely take some practice to make this movement smooth and effortless. Be patient and have fun with it!
Movement Checkup #2 – The Squat
This is the quintessential human movement pattern. Just look at the nearest baby and see how they move in and out of a deep squat with ease.
It’s hard to think of another move that informs so much about your hip/ankle mobility in one simple action.
Still, many people have trouble with the squat.
The basic squat can be performed as follows:
Stand shoulder width apart.Bend your knees and drop your upper body right down between your hips.Hang out there a second then stand back up again.The lower you can go the better, but maintain your tall posture and don’t lean forward.
You may find you have limitations in your range of motion with the squat. This tutorial will help:
Click here for a more complete tutorial on the squat.
Don’t be discouraged if your squat checkup doesn’t turn out the way you’d like. Work through the tutorial above and you’ll be able to improve your strength and mobility for the basic bodyweight squat.
Movement Checkup #3 – The Crab Walk
Though not necessarily a “strength” move, the crab walk does require shoulder and arm strength from an odd angle. In this shoulders stretched position, if you aren’t used to pushing in these directions your shoulder muscles are in for a big surprise.
In addition, you’ll be alternating hands and feet in coordinated movement as a test for your skill in dexterity at various speeds.
Crab Walk Instructions
There are many variations of the crab walk, but the basic variation you should be able to perform goes like this:
Sit on your butt with your legs in front of you and your hands behind.Lift up your butt, and move your body forward at a good pace, alternating hands and feet as if you were walking upright.
Here you can see the crab walk in action (I threw a little twist in there but just pay attention to the basic crab walk at the beginning and end of this short clip):
For help with your crab walk, I highly recommend checking out Animal Flow from our friends at Global Bodyweight Training. It’s one of their fundamental movements and they do a great job teaching the form for the crab, as well as how to integrate it with other movements.
Movement Checkup #4 – The Roll (front and back)
These full body movements assess your sense of body position in space, especially as complicated by decreased flexibility and/or strength.
In this move we may start to see some issues such as dizziness and timing/coordination problems, as most of us haven’t done much rolling since somewhere around the age of 8. This new stimulus can bring up some interesting responses.
Front Roll: Tuck your chin to your chest, and roll forward onto the back of your shoulders, letting momentum carry you all the way around onto your feet.Back Roll: Tuck your chin to your chest as you reach your hands up and roll backward. Keep reaching with your hands and push into the floor firmly to make sure your head clears the ground.
Most people have a relatively easy time with the front roll, though dizziness might come into play. The back roll, however, can be troublesome for many people. This video will help:
We cover the fundamentals of front and back rolls in this detailed tutorial on tumbling.
Movement Checkup #5 – The Bear Crawl
This semi-inverted position challenges your hand/foot coordination, hip flexibility, and shoulder strength in atypical patterns.
You’ll also notice that your midback gets a workout from controlling the twisting and bending forces from your arms and legs.
Bear Crawl Instructions
The basic bear crawl can be performed as follows:
In a hands and knees position, straighten out your knees a bit and get your butt up in the air.Walk forward with only your hands and feet touching the ground.You can play with keeping your knees straight or bending them as you walk.
Here you can see examples of several different variations of the Bear Crawl, and how it can help build strength, mobility, and control:
For more details on how the Bear Crawl can help you improve your condition, and for help with your Bear Crawl performance, see our article on the benefits of locomotion.
Assessing Your Abilities with These Movements
If you tried these out and found you had more trouble with some than with others, it’s telling you what you need to work on.
Whether you got them all without any issues, or couldn’t do a single one of them, these movements are a great assessment tool for how to direct your training. Here’s how.
Scenario #1 – “I couldn’t do one (or more) of these”
That’s more common than not.
Most of us simply aren’t used to doing movements like these on a regular basis. It doesn’t mean you’re unfit, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to drop everything in your current training and work on learning these!
These aren’t magical moves, but they do give us a sort of diagnostic assessment of your abilities.
It may be deficits in strength, flexibility, or motor control, or simply the fact that these moves are new to you and you’ll have to practice a bit to get the coordination for them. The sensations and introspection during your performance give you more information than simply being able to do it or not.
Look at these five movements as status checks to give you insight into some areas that may be holding you back from your full movement potential. Instead of thinking of these moves as a “holy crap what’s wrong with me?!” test, use them as a new way of thinking about your fitness and where your workouts are taking you.
If it’s in a direction you want to go, then that’s awesome. If it’s not, then it’s time to readjust your sights and aim towards a new path.
Next Step: Take some time to prioritize building a foundation of strength, flexibility, and motor control. With that foundation, you’ll not only do better with these diagnostic movements, but with all your other training as well.
Scenario #2 – “I got them all!”
If you got them all with no problems, that’s great! But what does this mean? A fast track to the US Olympic Badminton team?
But more likely it means that you have a level of body control that is helping rather than hindering your daily activities.
Being able to squat down to your ankles with ease and without pain gets you underneath the kitchen sink to fix that leak without wrecking your back and hips.Bear crawls get you under your deck in the backyard to retrieve your kids’ toys for your next camping trip.The ability to roll just might save you from cracking your head open when you trip over those toys carrying your gear to the campsite.
You may be thinking that these are pretty blah abilities to focus your training on, but even Batman has to change the oil in the batmobile from time to time.
And being able to do so without worrying if your back is going to “go out” is a pretty nice thing to strive for. Everyday life has its own challenges, and being better at moving your body around makes life that much easier and more enjoyable.
Plus, if you’re looking for a little bit of sexiness, the ability to do these 5 basic skills indicates that you have a good foundation.
The ability to do a good backward roll is extremely important if you want to perform a (good) back flip, and being able to cartwheel correctly will make that aerial (no hands cartwheel) easier to achieve.
Next Step: Since you’ve already got pretty good movement abilities, the next best step is to start applying those abilities to movement exploration. This will give you a greater sense of freedom in your body.
Assess Your Present to Plan Your Future
These assessments are much more than a scale or rating where you feel obliged to move up to another rung on a ladder.
It’s not that at all. The last thing I want to be is another voice telling you what you need to do. Instead it’s about making sure that your ladder is against the wall you want to climb.
There really isn’t one way you “should” move. As long as you are moving safely and efficiently for your body, you are moving the way you “should.”
Just don’t limit yourself to doing what you’ve always done. Use a variety of benchmarks to record your progress, not just in the way you are training right now, but also to figure out if what you are doing truly matches your reasons for working out in the first place.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always got.”
These 5 movement skills are meant to show you a bit about your current physical state and encourage you to think about your capabilities in a different way.
Most people will find they need some work with regards to strength, flexibility, motor control, or a combination thereof. Our introductory program, Elements, provides a foundation for addressing each of those training attributes.
Address Your Movement Weaknesses
Build strength, flexibility, and control through locomotive exercises and targeted mobility work.
The first step to addressing your needs is assessing what needs the most work. Use this assessment to guide your practice, and you’ll get the most out of the work you put in.