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The Value of Skipping as a Locomotor Development and Assessment Tool

The skip is a critical milestone along the locomotor continuum along with other forms of movement such as crawling, walking, galloping, running, jumping, hopping, and dodging.   It is important to look at the skip (or any form of locomotor movement) not as a drill in isolation, but instead as part of a global development process.  If we can’t skip properly, running will require us to cheat in some way.  Cheating mechanisms are often unnoticeable by watching someone run but we know the brain must fill in the gaps for running if the basics of crawling and skipping aren’t present.

Here’s an analogy: imagine you are reading a piece of literature with words that you don’t fully understand.  Maybe you try to read a technical journal in field with which you aren’t familiar.  Maybe you try to read Shakespeare in Old English without understanding Old English.  In both cases, you might understand enough basic English to get the gist of what you are reading, but your brain will make guesses to fill in whatever gaps in definitions, grammar, and sentence structure you don’t understand.  By making assumptions (or guesses) to fill in gaps, your comprehension of the literature’s meaning will suffer.  However, if you understand basic terminology being referred to in the journal and have been schooled in Old English, your comprehension will be more complete. 

You might say that all stages along the locomotor continuum are important, and you would be right.  However, in practice, with time limitations for all athletes, the skip is safe enough that we can often use the skip as a launching point.   If the skip is problematic, we might progress back to galloping, crawling, or rolling (nevertheless, we can still address those skills for other reasons unrelated to the skip itself).  Just as in a Functional Movement Screen we perform the full squat pattern before breaking down into ankle mobility drills, we can focus on the skip with the knowledge that it will never take us too far from where we need to be.   The skip is a relatively low stress drill that reveals a great deal about an athlete yet also provides crucial sensory input for more advanced tasks. 

When we tell the body “Run”, the brain will find some way to accomplish the job.  The skip is perhaps the simplest form of standing locomotion involving the cross-crawl pattern shown below.  In the cross-crawl pattern, the left arm coordinates with the right leg and the right arm coordinates with the left leg.  The primary difference between the crawl and the skip is simply that in one you are on your stomach whereas in the other you are on your feet.  The skip is somewhere in between the crawl and the run on the skill continuum.

 

The skip also reveals how well an athlete can disassociate their upper body from their lower body with a greater challenge to balance or timing.  During the running motion, each limb operates independently but in a coordinated fashion.  The left leg, right arm, left arm, and right leg must all coordinate and complement each other.  If we can’t coordinate these limbs in a skip, do we really expect our coordination to improve with the removal of oxygen, the addition of metabolic waste products in our muscles, and perhaps the pressure of a race added to the mix while running?

Athletes often have difficulty transferring movement skills from the gym into a full athletic motion such as running.  The skip is a valuable tool to reveal whether a learning gap exists.  Although the skip appears most relevant to running, it can be used for motor neural development in any sport.  The cross crawl pattern and basic upper body and lower body disassociation are important for nearly every athletic activity.  With practice, the skip can fill learning gaps and buttress efforts to master the greater neurological and metabolic demands in the full running stride.  However, as with any drill, it is critical that we follow appropriate progressions leading up to the drill and we perform the drill with technical exactitude.  The skip must not exist in isolation but instead must complement our individual movement demands.  

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