Buxton's exercise science study finds primal workout benefits

Quadrupedal movement training (QMT) is pretty much what it sounds like: A workout that involves using your hands and feet.

In practice, it runs the gamut from simple rock climbing to animalistic workouts like the “bear crawl,” in which people “run” on all fours, and esoteric ones like parkour, the art of negotiating urban obstacle courses that was famously satirized on an episode of “The Office.”

The training involves primal movements, transitions and crawling patterns that challenge your strength throughout your joints’ full range of motion, according to Grove City College Assistant Professor of Exercise Science Dr. Jeffrey Buxton

While it makes sense that such workouts would be beneficial, there is little research on exactly how. Buxton is helping to fill that gap – and his work is beginning to get noticed.

This summer, Buxton was featured in a Nike.com coaching story – “Train Like an Animal” – that explored the benefits of QMT and he recently detailed his research and findings for Animal Flow, a branded primal movement workout system in “The Science Behind Animal Flow.”

With the help of student research assistants and fellow faculty, Buxton conducted a study that indicated a regular routine of QMT may ease workout concerns about strength, flexibility and mobility. “If there’s a large gap between your flexibility and mobility, you could increase your chance of injury during training. Primal training can help close that gap,” Buxton said.

In the study, a group of 42 Grove City College students were divided in half, with one group adding two hours of QMT into their weekly workouts and the other continuing their regular exercise routines. Baselines for range of motion, functional movement, balance, handgrip strength and push-up endurance were assessed before and after the eight-week trial. Both groups worked out about 800 minutes per week.

While there are a lot of options when it comes to QMT, Buxton decided against having students leap and swing their way around campus or scramble across the Quad like a bear in favor of a more research-friendly system: Animal Flow, which includes fixed elements and designed workouts. Students in the QMT group met in a dance studio in the Physical Learning Center twice a week to learn and practice positions, transitions and moves with names like Ape, Beast, Crab and Scorpion.

The QMT group saw significantly greater improvements in functional movement, dynamic balance and range of motion. The split groups showed no significant difference in upper body strength or endurance, though both groups saw an increase in the latter.

The results confirm what many physical trainers already knew through their practices and provide some hard evidence to support commercial claims and guide trainers in the best use of QMT, Buxton said.

“It is an effective alternative method of training for young, healthy adults … There are a lot of ways to add it to a regular exercise routine,” Buxton said, offering alternatives to the two hour-long sessions the test subjects participated in. “You can sprinkle it in, 10 minutes at a time, or do a full session in between heavy conditioning days,” Buxton said.

He said more research is needed on novel types of exercise like QMT and he’s eying a future study looking at the energy cost of primal movement workouts.

Buxton’s research was published in 2020 in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Co-authors included Dr. Phil Prins, chair of the Exercise Science Department, Dr. Gary Welton, professor of Psychology, former students, including Adam Atwell ’21, Gretchen Elsey ’21 and Tirzah Talampas ’19, and Drs. Mike Miller from Western Michigan University and Tony Moreno from Eastern Michigan University.

Exercise Science is one of the fastest growing disciplines at Grove City College. Student-faculty research is a hallmark of the accredited program, as is collaboration and cross-disciplinary study. Much of the research is conducted in the department’s human performance laboratory, which features state-of-the-art equipment.

For more about Exercise Science at Grove City College, visit gcc.edu/exer.

Buxton's exercise science study finds primal workout benefits

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