Quadruped, by definition, is when all four limbs are on the ground, typically down on the hands and knees. Keyword “typically.” Quadruped overall is very under-appreciated. In fact, in one of the primary textbooks used to teach human development courses at the university level, there are 19 lines (153 words) dedicated to explaining quadruped. In 1941 more was written about quadruped by Myrtle McGraw in her text “The Neuromuscular Maturation of the Human Infant” then resides in many of today’s textbooks on the development of humans. We understood and had more information on quadruped 75 years ago than we do today.
When we talk about actual quadruped, what we specifically mean is having all four limbs on the ground while the trunk is more horizontal than vertical. Why the differentiation of the trunk orientation? We can sit with both feet and both hands on the ground, which by definition, is all four limbs on the ground. [For reference, at this point you have read 160 words, just seven more than an entire text devoted to human development used to explain quadruped]. That is quadruped by definition, but not quadruped to the central nervous system (CNS). The hallmark of sitting is a vertical trunk; whereas quadruped is characterized by a horizontal trunk…
Why is quadruped so remarkable? In a nutshell, it is THE transitional posture for the CNS. In 2014, I wrote an article about the mirrored benefits between the Turkish Get-Up and quadruped/crawling. The benefits I pointed out are:
- Promotes cross lateralization (getting the right brain to work with the left side) – specific to crawling.
- Promotes upper body stability
- Promotes lower body stability.
- Promotes reflexive stability of the trunk and extremities.
- Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg – specific to crawling.
- Gets the upper extremities working reciprocally (legs, too).
- Stimulates the vestibular system (one of three senses that contributes to balance).
- Stimulates the visual system (second of three senses that contributes to balance).
- Stimulates the proprioception system (the third sense that contributes to balance).
- Promotes spatial awareness.
- Develops a front/back weight shift.
- Develops upper body strength, trunks strength, and hip strength.
- Develops full, loaded wrist extension.
- It is the first expression of full, loaded dorsiflexion (especially as the knees come off the ground).
- It is the foundation of loading/weight-bearing through the hips (femur into the acetabulum).
The above list highlights all the positive benefits of quadruped. There are many hybrid quadruped postures that have all four limbs on the ground with a horizontal trunk that break symmetry from proper quadruped. Each variant capitalizes off of the global benefits of quadruped as well as additional benefits unique to each hybrid posture.
This variant serves as the transition of quadruped to the bottom of the squat shape much better than quadruped. In short quadrüpt, the elbows are on the ground directly under the shoulders, which results with the forearms/palms being flat on the ground. There is also more hip flexion and more knee flexion (the knees end up at about the level of the bottom of the sternum). Why this variant? It helps to better establish a natural spine on a systemically flexed lower extremity – kind of like what we need to occur when we squat. Transition from here to the bottom of the squat.
This variant serves as the beginning of the transition of quadruped into the push-up. In elongated quadrüpt, the hands stay as the only point of contact between the trunk and the ground. But, the hands are moved so that they are higher than shoulder level. Why this variant? It helps to get the trunk on board in resisting spinal extension. Additionally, it loads the shoulders in a progressively more flexed environment, and as we transition from this variant into the top of a push up we are exploring an anterior weight shift of weight from the lower body to the upper body (can you say scapulohumeral mechanics, dynamic scapular stability, and upper body strength). Transition from here to Quadrüprone.
This variant serves as the end of the transition of quadruped into the push-up. In a nutshell, this is what is seen as the top of the push-up. In quadrüprone the hands are directly under the shoulders the hips and knees are extended, and the ankles are dorsiflexed. Why this variant? It teaches how to establish a natural spine on a systemically extended lower extremity (a scaled-down version of the stability required in standing). Additionally, because of the distance between the hands and the feet on the ground, there are very long lever arms, which increases the upper body and the trunk strength (core?) requirements. Transition from here to the bottom of the push-up.
This variant serves as the transition of asymmetrical quadruped into half kneeling and linear deceleration. For left quadrükneel, the left foot is flat on the ground directly next to the left hand, and the left knee stays in contact with the left deltoid. This posture requires maximal hip flexion on the left side while maintaining 90 degrees of hip flexion. Why this variant? We are establishing an asymmetrically flexed pelvis while the spine is expected to stay in a naturally aligned position. This posture helps to establish the lower body mobility, and ROM needed for any half kneeling or lunging exercise option while dialing down the stability requirements present in traditional half kneeling or lunging. Transition from here to half-kneeling.
This variant serves as the transition from an asymmetrical quadruped into lateral deceleration and into the cossack. For left quadrüsac the left leg is kicked out to the left; the left heel is in line with the right knee, the left knee is extended, and the toes of the left foot are pointed at the ceiling (externally rotating the left hip). Why this variant? This posture teaches the pelvis how to be stable in a very asymmetrical pelvis with one leg opened up and abducted out the side (think opening the hips to change direction in sports, going from a lateral slide into a sprint, or what is occurring during a plant/cut/reversal of direction. Transition from here to the bottom of the cossack.
This variant serves as the transition of asymmetrical quadruped to open half-kneeling. For left open quadrükneel the left foot is flat on the ground in line with the right knee, and the left foot is angled 90 degrees away from the trunk. This alignment requires ABDuction, External rotation, and maximal hip flexion. Why this variant? This posture serves as an even more asymmetrical alignment of the pelvis and demands the external rotators and ABDuctors of the hip to do what they are supposed to do, while the trunk is in a stable alignment/position. Transition from here to open half-kneeling.
This variant is the most symmetrical asymmetrical posture that we will discuss. The hands are doing the same thing, the knees are doing the same thing, and the feet are doing the same thing. At the same time, the shoulders are set up asymmetrically, and the hips are set up asymmetrically. For the left twisted quadrüpt posture, get into maximal lateral spinal flexion to the left and align the hands so that they make a parallel line to the pelvis. Why this variant? In the left twisted quadrüpt posture, the right lateral fascial line is maximally elongated while the right lateral fascial line is maximal shortened. Transition from here to kneeling.
Each one of these quadruped variations serve a different purpose. Before advancing too quickly, don’t under-appreciate the value in the ability to adapt to these hybrid variations of quadruped before adding in any movements. Make sure to spend time in each variation and more importantly make sure that the asymmetrical variations are the same on both sides. Spend a little time in each one and in the next few days I’ll share a progression that can occur in each posture to ensure you are getting the most out of each posture prior to making the transition from the quadrüpt variations into other postures.