The full-body exercise – named for the low-to-the-ground movement pattern that mimics an alligator's walk – combines a plank, a push-up and a crawl.
"This dynamic movement works all the major muscles in your body," with a particular emphasis on strengthening your core, shoulder and triceps, says Meggan Berg, CPT, a personal trainer and yoga instructor at Life Time Champions in Houston.
It also improves hip flexibility and doubles as low-impact cardio. Talk about a bang-for-your-buck exercise.
Because the alligator crawl is an advanced body-weight exercise — it requires full-body strength and coordination of multiple muscle groups — it can be pretty strenuous. To avoid getting too tuckered out, Berg recommends mixing the movement into your regular strength routine once or twice a week.
How to Do the Alligator Crawl
- Begin in a high plank position with your feet hip-width apart and your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Walk your left hand forward while drawing your right knee toward your right elbow. As you do this, lower yourself toward the ground into a push-up, hovering an inch or two above the ground.
- Press into your palms and push the floor away to come back up to a high plank. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Continue this pattern, alternating as you move forward.
If the move is too challenging, you can modify it to match your current fitness level and progress it slowly.
One way to modify is to nix the traveling element of the exercise. Instead, stay in a stationary plank as you draw one knee to one elbow at a time, then perform a push-up, Berg says. To make it even easier, you can do the push-up on your knees.
You can also try a traveling plank variation like bear crawls, Berg says. Bear crawls—which involve crawling on all fours with your knees hovering a few inches off the ground — have a similar movement pattern to alligator crawls (minus the push-ups), but they put less stress on your joints and your low back.
5 Alligator Crawl Benefits
Here are the top reasons to add the alligator crawl to your weekly exercise rotation.
1. It Challenges Your Core
Berg calls the alligator crawl "a core-strengthening superhero" because it recruits your entire core. And we're not just talking about your rectus abdominis (i.e., your six-pack muscles)
This move works all the muscles deep within your abs and back. This includes the transverse abdominis (deepest ab muscle), obliques (muscles on the sides of your torso) and multifidus muscle (deepest low back muscle) just to name a few.
2. It Builds Shoulder Strength and Stability
Both planks and push-ups are stupendous for shoulder strength and stability. The alligator crawl, which takes both these exercises to the next level, delivers double the shoulder benefits.
The alligator crawl targets the front and middle portion of your shoulders, along with the muscles that surround your shoulders, to enhance stability and strength, Berg says.
Prioritizing shoulder strength and stability can help offset the effects of slouching at a computer all day and minimize your risk of injury and pain.
3. It Taxes Your Triceps (and Challenges Your Biceps)
Like traditional push-ups, alligator crawls target your triceps. But your triceps get an even bigger burn because of the increased load (when you lift one leg, your weight is redistributed among three limbs, with your arms bearing most of the burden).
For an even tougher triceps workout, slow down your pace. This will increase your triceps' time under tension (the amount of time a muscle is under strain) to build greater strength and muscle.
And while traditional push-ups primarily tax your triceps, the alligator crawl also works your biceps as well, Berg says. That's a big bonus.
4. It Stretches Your Hip Flexors
Alligator crawls build core and upper-body strength, but they also have lower-body benefits. Specifically, they help loosen your hip flexors.
With this exercise, "you get a stretch with your hip flexors as well as the opportunity to work on hip mobility," Berg says. Because many of us contend with tight hips (due to sitting all day), any opportunity to improve hip flexibility and mobility is a great thing.
Just keep in mind, loose, limber hips won't happen overnight. "Increasing mobility and flexibility takes time," Berg says.
5. It Doubles as Low-Impact Cardio
Move over treadmill; you can get a killer cardio session with alligator crawls. "The alligator crawl not only offers strength benefits, but it also offers cardiovascular benefits," Berg says.
Best part, you don't even have to jump. "Because you are working your whole body, your heart rate will increase," Berg says. Working all the major muscle groups also results in greater endurance, she adds.
To boost the cardio benefits, simply increase your speed and feel your heart really start pumping.