Creeping vs Crawling, and Exercises for Hands & Knees and Creeping in Babies

This is a good follow-up for my previous blog post about core strengthening activities for babies, as this is often the goal of working on core strength – mobility! We want our babies to be able to move in the most efficient way possible! I plan to make this a 3-part series on baby strengthening, with my next blog post being about sitting balance activities. A lot of the exercises overlap and can be used interchangeably.

In the YouTube video, I start by discussing the difference between creeping and crawling. We, as a society, use the word crawling to describe the hands and knees position that you may think of when you think of baby mobility. However, this is a misnomer. Crawling is actually used in the PT world to describe an army crawl (think your typical military movie with privates crawling through the mud under barbed wire). This means being low to the ground and doing a sliding shuffle, without lifting the belly from the ground. Creeping is actually what we want to see babies doing for the most efficient movement, and this is what you would think of as a classic hands and knees movement. Creeping is great for building core strength and coordination in preparation for walking. I often see proud parents who tell me their babies skipped the creeping stage and went straight to walking, and this makes me nervous. I want to see a baby creep because it develops the coordination and crossbody strategies that are used in the future, as well as building up appropriate abdominal strength. However I know it’s difficult to control a baby that is determined to move on to the next gross motor milestone. My only recommendation is to not encourage walking with your baby until creeping has been fully mastered.

With that being said, what are some good exercises to work on maintaining hands and knees position (or quadruped in the PT world) and facilitate creeping?

  • Using an exercise ball to place baby on hands and knees and rock forward and backward is a great exercise (see core strength video). This removes baby’s ability to collapse, and incorporates weightshifting. Place your hands on either side of baby’s pelvis for stability.
  • Do tall kneel with baby’s hands resting on a taller object – I used a step in the video but this can be done on an ottoman or a couch cushion, depending on baby’s height. You can even fold towels up for baby to lean on. This gets baby used to putting weight through their hands and being in a little less intense hands and knees position.
  • Need a little help keeping baby’s elbows extended? Use arm immobilizers! See the YouTube video for an example.
  • Need help keeping baby’s knees close together in hands and knees position, or in creeping? Some babies don’t have the inner thigh strength to keep their legs together and they end up going into frog leg position, or they want to extend one leg out in a “bike kickstand” position, or they shift on one knee and one foot. Hip helpers will assist to keep baby’s legs together! They’re like a pair of shorts with the legs sewn together. Here’s the link:
  • Basic creeping can be replicated by helping baby to move one limb then the other in proper succession while supporting the region that they’re weak in (parent’s hands supporting at pelvis, trunk, or shoulders depending). However another way to simulate this is by using a beach towel as a sling around baby’s abdomen and lifting slightly to take the weight off, and allowing them to more easily creep.
  • A good exercise to practice creeping is to have baby lay on their back and do opposite hand and knee touches. This is great for crossbody motion, coordination, and abdominal strengthening. Use bubbles or toys to motivate baby to reach across.
  • For older kids who would benefit from creeping, I like to use a lizard crawl exercise. This is done on the belly and involves moving all four limbs. It is not in this YouTube video, so I’ll have to do a separate video and blog post about it in the future.

As I mentioned in the YouTube video, when I work with kids I like to give them positive reinforcement for their actions 70% of the time. When practicing creeping, this means that 7/10 times you practice with baby you allow them to reach their desired goal (be it a toy, or a parent, etc). This may mean helping them along if they’re struggling. Positive reinforcement allows baby to want to continue to try this movement.

Above all, have fun with it! It’s a learning experience for you as much as for baby. I hope this information helps, and look out for my next blog post about sitting balance activities.