Cross Crawl Patterning and Tonic Labyrinthine Reflexes…A Novel Approach

I was fortunate enough to have met and learned a good amount of information in the short period of time I spent with Dr. David Walther many years ago while attending an Applied Kinesiology seminar.  Dr. Walther was a very knowledgeable and respected doctor and was, in many ways, like many of the Applied Kinesiology pioneers, ahead of his time.

Always having an interest in biomechanics and working out, I quickly developed a fond appreciation of Dr. Walther’s take on Cross Crawl patterning.  This topic really piqued my interest!  I distinctly recall one conversation I had with him when he discussed Tonic Labyrinthine Reflexes (TLR)  (an expanded understanding of such) and the association with Cross Crawl patterning.

So, what the heck is a TLR?  By strict definition, the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) is a primitive one and it is usually paired with following pattern:  a newborn, while on its back, will have arching of the back when it tilts its head back, will also have straightening of the legs, adduction of the lower extremity, pointing toes, an arm bend at at the elbows and wrists, and clenched hands.  This reflex is considered pathological when found as one gets older.  We can see from this reflex that even at a very early age, our body is patterned, and as we age, we are always learning new patterns.

So, how does this relate to the Cross Crawl?  The Cross Crawl pattern is a developmental milestone.  Once an infant begins to slither across the floor (and even much earlier than this), the right hand/left leg (and vice versa) pattern begins to develop.  Proper development of this pattern is necessary for coordination of activity.  This pattern eventually develops and tunes our gait.  Individuals with neurological disorganization (learned and disease state) may not exhibit this patterning.

The merging of the primitive TLR  and the developmental Cross Crawl is quite evident when we are in the gym.  When you are in the gym, look around and see the body positions of people as they work out.  When they are doing a one armed biceps curl, which foot is forward?  When they do a triceps kickback, which leg is forward?  When doing a standing leg exercise of any form, which arm is forward?  Does it really matter how we stand when we work out?  You bet it does!  I’ve taught it this way for years!

All one has to do is muscle test a particular muscle while in a gait stance to see how Cross Crawl patterning works.  For example, when our right leg swings forward when we walk, the left arm is going forward.  The left leg is obviously going backward and the right arm is going backward as well.  Ever see anyone walk differently than this?  If so, they have serious neurological impairment.  Even slight deviations from this indicate neurological confusion.

When we pick up a weight or do any activity, we have to keep in mind how the brain is processing the information.  Do we want to create neurological confusion, or do we want to enhance brain processes?  Working out with Cross Crawl patterning in mind will enhance our functioning whereas working in a homolateral pattern (there are a few exceptions to this but not many) will create neurological disorganization.

Let’s take for example an elliptical machine that is commonly found in the gym.  Do you notice that most of them are built so that the right arm goes forward as the left leg goes forward?  Have you seen a machine where the right leg and arm are tied in together, thus creating a homolateral pattern?  If you can find such an improper machine, try getting on it and moving very quickly for 5-10 minutes.  Hop off and see how ‘out of sync’ you feel. For the time you are on that machine, you are literally confusing your brain as you are not wired for a homolateral pattern but for a Cross Crawl pattern.  Do you think that if we train without thought of proper patterning that over time, we can create not only musculoskeletal issues, but also neurological issues?

The answer is an emphatic ‘YES’!!  Why confuse the brain?

So, where do we go from here?  Each of us could learn the entire musculoskeletal system and how each muscle works with the Cross Crawl pattern.  That, however, can take a lot of time and should not be necessary if we work with fitness professionals.  Your trainer should have a functional knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology, etc… to go along with a strong understanding of Cross Crawl patterning as it is vital to the proper positioning of clients.  If you have a trainer who is not well-versed in this area, you might want to consider finding one who does as training against these principles will do more harm than good.

So, does anyone have any experiences with the material presented in this blog?  Please share your thoughts on this interesting and important topic.

Allen Manison, DC, DACBSP, CCEP, CSCS

This entry was posted in Biomechanics, Incorrect Exercises, Neurology, The Core, Working Out. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cross Crawl Patterning and Tonic Labyrinthine Reflexes…A Novel Approach

  1. momonamission says:

    Hi! I have a lot of experience with just this type of training. When my son was born, I knew immediately that there was something going on with him…neurologically and developmentally. When he was put onto his stomach, he could not and did not ever crawl. He had poor motor coordination, fine motor coordination, and hypermobile joints. Over the years, we came to the conclusion that he had developmental delays and was diagnosed with what doctors called Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS, another name for high-functioning autism. He had trouble keeping up with his peers, running and doing anything that required coordination became painful and so difficult for him that we had to place him in adaptive gym classes. On the playground, he had to play aside from the other kids because he suffered 2 concussions and he began toppling over when they bumped against him during play. He also was diagnosed with a language processing disorder that meant the two sides of his brain were not communicating. He began having trouble understanding what object we were talking about without visual cues and his language and verbal skills began to disintegrate. We were scared and seeking therapy/treatment but nothing we tried was working very well. I was suffering from back pain and decided to visit a chiropractor. As we were talking about my issues, I shared my son’s troubles with him and he started talking about Gonstead, a doctor who believed in the theory of the crosscrawl. He asked if he could work with him and see if there was a way to overcome some of the coordination issues. He had already “wowed” me with the “weak arm” that goes down when he pointed to an area that needed adjusted so I thought he might be able to center on what could help my son. He had a machine in his other room that looked like a starter pad with tracks that ran along for your hands…turns out it is called the “crosscrawl” machine. My son used that along with turning his head the opposite of his hand motions for a period of 6 weeks, and some other bouncing and eye-hand exercises. After the first three sessions, we noticed extreme improvement and within 5 weeks, he was able to run and became so much more alert in class, able to sit for longer periods, and his pain was decreased immensely. It is supposed to rewire the brain and I found this to be incredible!!! I later found out that some OT’s have used this same concept but the parents are using passive ROM to move the child’s limbs and head in the same manner to reprogram the brain after TBI or in the case of other developmental disabilities or nerve injury. This was probably the most effective thing to bring my son’s brain into focus and give him the coordination he needed. He is now in regular gym classes and able to type and do so many other things that I know would not have been possibly without this type of cross crawl therapy. He is in regular classrooms and making A’s and B’s, has friends, and can participate in all the activities his peers can. I attribute a lot of his recovery to the cross crawl concept!

  2. Dr. Manison says:

    This is a great story and thank you for sharing it with us. I am so happy for you and your son. I have read your response a few times now and it brings a huge smile to my face each time! Just as Janda proved that autistic kids improved with cross-crawl training, it is likely that ‘re-wiring’ the brain can help with a lot of things. Movement specialists are adapting neurocognitive development into workouts to help the brain train along with the body. This is a new age for working out! I hope others read what you wrote and seek care that can get them similar results!

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