Crow Pose and Beyond

by Grace Kavadlo on April 14, 2015

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Grace Menendez Crow
Before I ever considered becoming a personal trainer, one of my earliest fitness breakthroughs was the first time I achieved a crow pose in yoga class. It blew my mind! Before then I had assumed hand balancing was reserved for gymnasts and acrobats. As far as I was concerned, it was not appropriate for me and my fitness goals. Man, was I wrong! After that yoga class, I felt inspired to improve my crow practice and learn more about the world of hand balancing.

Adding this powerful pose to your routine has more benefits than just showing-off. Crow pose strengthens your entire upper body, including your shoulders, arms, and even your abs. It can be a great way to train your brain, too!  If you have ever attempted to hold a crow pose for even a few seconds, you can attest to how much focus and concentration is involved in the process.

Crow-gressive Calisthenics
Like all bodyweight skills, you can vary the intensity of the crow pose in several ways to make the move more accessible to beginners, or challenge even the most advanced hand balancers.

Though the general idea remains the same – using the backs of your arms to support your lower body while you balance on your hands – there are a lot of subtleties that are often overlooked when learning how to perform the crow pose.

Before you begin, I suggest doing a few wrist rolls as well as opening and closing your hands and fingers as a warm-up. Placing your entire body weight on the smaller muscles of the wrists and hands can be pretty intense. Ease into your practice, listen to your body, and let’s have fun with the crow pose!

Froggy Bottom
The earliest progression toward the crow is what is sometimes known as a frog stand. Start in a deep squat position and place your hands on the floor in front of your feet. Your arms should be inside your legs with elbows pressing into your inner thighs. Keep your hand placement fairly wide when starting out.

From here, begin to bend your elbows to around 90 degrees as you tip forward, lifting your feet off the ground. You can also ease into it by lifting one foot off the floor at a time. Focus on keeping your chest lifted and squeezing your thighs into your arms as you attempt to balance. The more contact you have between your arms and legs, the easier it will be to balance. Think about looking in front of your hands rather than in between them. It can also be helpful to place a pillow or mat in front of your hands in case you are afraid of falling.

If you are finding it difficult to lift off, I suggest elevating your feet on a low platform with your hands on the ground to allow more clearance. I’ve also coached people into finding the balance by starting from a tripod position with their head on the floor and pushing off the mat back into frog stand.

Al Kavadlo Frog Stand

Crow Up
Once you’ve got the hang of the beginner version, you can try placing your hands in a narrower position to begin working toward minimizing the contact between your arms and legs. For this variation, which we can call a full crow, only your knees will be on the backs of your arms, instead of your inner thighs. You should also start working toward reducing the amount of flexion at your elbows. Point your toes and squeeze your thighs together to help generate enough muscle tension to allow you to balance. Remember to keep your eyes focused on a spot a few inches ahead of your hands to help you counter-balance.

Al Kavadlo Crow

Let It Crane
The next step in the series is what’s sometimes known as the crane pose. This variation may take a while to build up to as it requires serious strength, intense focus and extreme wrist flexibility. However, if you’ve been “milking” the earlier steps, you will eventually conquer this pose. For the crane variation, there is little bend at all in the arms, and the knees are placed further up the backs of the triceps, until they are practically in the armpits.

Start in the same squat position as before, only this time your arms will be locked. Stand on your toes and lift your hips high as you lean forward, bending your knees in towards your armpits (or as high as you can place them on the backs of your arms). Point your toes in towards each other as you tense your midsection and attempt to balance. Keep your gaze a few inches inches in front of your hands and lift your heels toward your butt. Focus on utilizing your abdominal strength to keep your hips nice and high.

AlKavadlo Crane Stand

And Beyond…
The above variations will give you plenty to practice in order to tighten up your hand-balancing game. However, there are still more progressions that you can work on to make even the advanced crane seem tame. You can practice the crow on your fingertips, with your hands reversed, or even on the backs of your hands! You can also work on single-leg variations. No matter where you fall in the crow continuum, you can always find a variant that will challenge and excite you.

Grace Menendez Crow Variations

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Grace Kavadlo, PCC, HKC is a personal trainer and group exercise instructor located in New York City. She is a columnist for Bodybuilding.com and can be seen in several Dragon Door books, including Coach Wade’s Explosive Calisthenics. For more information about Grace, check out her website, www.DieselGrace.com

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  • George Corso

    What a great read! The breakdown of the crow pose was fantastic, and a much needed understanding from my part as a Bodyweight athlete and as a personal trainer. I’m sure this will aid me much more in my progreasions to better nail my pose. Thank you for the post!

    • Greetings George, thank you so much for taking the time to read it! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your progress in this pose! 😀

  • Andy

    I’m working on this right now…a month before I turn 60. I can hold the Frog for about 25 seconds (on a good day). This was a great piece…lots of good info. Thanks!

    • Hey Andy, you are living proof that age ain’t nothing but a number! Wow! That’s super inspiring that you can hold a Frog for almost half a minute! I hope to be doing the same when I’m that age! Thank you for reading! You rock! 😀

      • Andy

        I’m working through Paul Wades CC1 like so many of us. Years ago i was doing the Frog as part of my Yoga routine, but dropped it for a number of years. CC1 got me back into it. My Goal is 2 minutes. And BTW, you are too kind. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I train alone and am in Northern Maine so there aren’t really any folks to touch base with about this stuff. It helps to get positive feedback every so often.

        • Les Gross

          I’m 32. My 6 year old daughter made a comment to me the other day about how I will be slow and weak when I’m a grandpa. My response was something like “When I’m a grandpa, I’ll show your children how a proper one arm pushup is done. I’ll outrun them on the playground, and when it’s bedtime, they’ll fall asleep from exhaustion way before I do”.

          Keep that fire in your eye. We are only as broken-down as we let ourselves be. Whether 30 or 70 years old.

  • Eric Buratty

    Grace–I’m really digging that back of the hand crow variation–way to think outside of the box!

    Something else that came to mind when reading through this was learning to breathe through tension. It seems as though when we practice new moves–especially inversions–we suddenly forget how to breathe–which only works against us for achieving that balance.

    Very catchy break down titles as well–thanks for this!

    Best Regards,
    Eric

    • Andy

      An extremely important point concerning breathing. Thanks for that. I definitely need a reminder from time to time.

    • Hey Ninja! Always a pleasure hearing your input on da blog! I’m thrilled you mentioned the breathing as I did leave that part out! Breathing through tension really is an integral part of training, especially in longer holds, otherwise it feels like your head will just EXPLODE! 😀 HAHAHA.
      Glad you also noticed da puns….Al was super helpful with coming up with them! 😉

      You rock, brotha!

  • XrobX

    Great article, Grace! I thought I could do the crow, but it turns out I’ve been doing the frog. How could I confuse a bird with a reptile? 🙂 I’ll work towards making a crow, then advance towards the crane and hopefully beyond. Very impressed with the crow on the backs of the hands, especially as you’re smiling and look so comfortable there!

    • Thank you, Rob for your kind feedback. Truthfully….calling a crow a frog is not completely incorrect. I just needed a way to differentiate the variations instead of just calling them all Frog 1-2-3 or Crow 1-2-3, so I went with the Yoga names!
      Have fun with the progressions!
      Back of the hand crow is def a tough one to smile thru, but I made it happen! 😉
      Have a great day! 😀

  • Gus

    Thanks, Grace! I had been trying to do crow stands as the second step for handstand pushups on CC, but I could never get more than two seconds in the air, so I was just sticking to pushups until I was strong enough. Now that I have the progressions I’ll try to ease onto it. Again, thanks a lot for the post, it’s really gonna help me!

    • Right on, Gus! Keep up with your push-up practice as this will also make you stronger at this move! And def use the progressions above to help you get there! It’s worked well for my clients and myself to “clean up” form and increase hold time!
      Good luck and thanks for reading, ninja! 😀

  • Matt Schifferle

    I got into this practice a long time ago but it fell off my radar after a few months. Thanks so much for reminding me to get back on it. Also great break down, I had no idea this move could be so progressive. Now I’ve got lots of work to do.

    • Right on, Matt! Super stoked that the article made you want to start up your Crow practice again.
      The later progressions definitely can give you plenty to keep you busy for awhile! I <3 this move! Thanks for reading and good luck!

  • Great progressions, Grace! I didn’t think there’s much left to say about the crow, but you convinced me of the contrary.

    The title pic made wonder … is it harder to do the crow on a tilted surface? Maybe a tilt towards you gives you better wrist stretch, while the other way around demands more strength? What’s your experience?

    • Hey Silvio,
      It’s great to hear from you! As far as the title photo goes, I guess it depends. For some people the incline might make it easier to tilt forward but for others with limited wrist mobility that extra bend from the incline might not be favorable.
      In my experience the most difficult crow I attempted was on a boulder that was way more jagged then the one in the photo. That was brutal on my hands fo shizzle!
      Thanks for reading!

  • Great stuff Grace. Gave the Crane Pose a go straight after reading, nice challenging exercise. This could also be an interesting alternative way of getting into a handstand.

    • What’s pop’n Dave! Great to hear from you! Can you already press into a handstand from a frog stand? Pressing from a Crane would definitely be next level!! Go for it!!

      • I can sometimes, other times I fall over, just lacking that bit of consistency. Wouldn’t this actually be easier to press to a handstand as your arms are already straight? Though I guess it would take a lot more core control and balance, I’ll give it a go, see what happens

  • Malin Strandli

    Iv’e been doing crows since January, and I just this week saw the one legged version, so of course I tried it yesterday. I’m nowhere near being able to shift all my weight to one hand, is there an in between progression I can do, or do I just keep doing crows and falling on my face until I get it?

    • Hey Malin, how long can you hold a regular Crow? I would recommend practicing these progressions until your regular Crow/Crane feels solid — like a 30 second hold. Even though they seem less exciting then the one-legged variation, they will still get you stronger the more you practice them! Good luck, take your time, and HAVE FUN! 😀

      • Malin Strandli

        I’m doing 30 second holds now, just barely. And I’m working on getting my arms straight. So, I’ll just keep going.
        I tried lifting my left leg while in crow, that was impossible, but I didn’t think about going directly in to the one legged crow. That should be a bit easier.

  • Fabulous article about a real underrated KEY inversion. (Yeah, I use Al’s term “inversions” these days.)

    Beautiful work, Grace!

    • Thanks a million Coach! The crow is what got me started in all this hand-balancing craziness…and you, of course! hahaha. Hopefully everyone will be more inspired to add some inversion practice to their training!

    • IvanR

      Hi Coach, are there any therapeutic benefits of handstands and pikes/front bridges (similar to the Trifecta) in your opinion. It seems that these holds make my shoulders less prone to injury and more flexible. Would you be willing to write an article on extending the Trifecta with other holds or maybe something on handbalancing?

  • Swiss_Olympic

    Just when I was wondering about how to make the crow more challenging, along comes your great article. Good job!

  • Mikael Lundqvist

    This one I’ll stick to for a while. It’s both a great compound exercise AND perfect for preparing for more demanding exercises like the handstand and planche.
    Thank you for a great article! Best regards from southern Sweden.

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