The sprawl exercise is a great way to improve strength, endurance and quickness.
It’s also sometimes referred to as “gorilla burpees” and although the exercise looks relatively straight-forward, it’s unquestionably tough.
But, for those willing to take on the challenge, the sprawl exercise is a great movement to include in all sorts of training plans, from HIIT workouts to weightlifting warm-ups.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about sprawls, including how to do them properly, muscles worked, benefits, and alternatives that work similar muscles.
What is the Sprawl Exercise?
The sprawl exercise, or “sprawls”, is a popular bodyweight movement in functional workouts that involves transitioning from a squat to plank and back again.
As discussed later in this guide, there is some debate about how the exercise should finish. We tend to keep athletes in a squat position instead of extending into a standing position or even jumping.
We feel this encourages better technique during the hip hinge from plank to squat and means the exercise can be used as a great tool for developing power and stability around the hips, quads and glutes.
How to Perform a Sprawl
To do sprawls:
- Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet pointing out slightly.
- Drop into a squat position so your thighs are parallel to the floor, with your back straight and chest up.
- This is the starting and finishing position of each repetition.
- Place your hands in between your feet (stacked directly below your shoulders) before extending your legs back into a plank position in one motion. Keep your core braced and glutes engaged to avoid dipping your hips, and keep your weight on the balls of your feet.
- Your arms and legs should be fully extended.
- Return to the starting position by forcefully pushing through the legs to jump your feet back to the outside of your hands, before lifting your hands up to lift your torso up into the squat position.
- This is one repetition.
- Repeat as required.
Coach’s Tip – Focus on hinging at the hips as you change position within this exercise. This will help you increase the speed at which you are able to do each repetition.
A Strong Core Throughout
Sprawls are a bodyweight exercise that primary work the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core.
Your back, shoulders and chest are also required to help stabilize the plank position as well.
Sprawl Vs Burpee
At first glance, sprawls look very similar to burpees.
Although the two exercises share a lot of the same biomechanics, there are some differences.
The main difference between the sprawl exercise and burpees is that sprawls don’t include a push-up within the movement, and the stance is generally wider (so you can focus on a hip hinge to transition between plank and squat).
The wider stance means you need better hip mobility, but it also helps you generate more power from the glutes during the movement.
This wider stance means your foot placement is more important in sprawls than burpees.
There is some debate about how sprawls finish (i.e., whether to include a jump like burpees).
This is ultimately down to personal preference… we tend to finish the movement in a squat position to keep your quads and glutes heavily activated. This also allows us to focus on getting from a plank to squat as quick as possible (which is a really useful movement pattern to practice).
Adding a jump will likely tire you out quicker so you may find you can’t do as many repetitions.
If you want a more general full body exercise, burpees are hard to look past, but if you want to focus more on lower body power, sprawls are worth considering.
Benefits of Sprawls
Hip Mobility and Power
One of the key differences between sprawls and burpees is the importance of foot placement and the wider stance. This requires and encourages good hip mobility, as you need to sit comfortably in a parallel wide squat. To hold and transition in and out of this parallel squat, the muscles around your hips, namely your glutes, need to deploy explosive power.
This is incredibly useful for both elite athletes looking for a competitive edge, and for anyone simply looking to move better.
The sprawl exercise takes inspiration from mixed martial arts and the importance of quickness as a physical attribute.
You may find your current workout doesn’t include (or encourage) any sort of quickness during exercises… which means you’re not benefiting from this sort of training.
For most sports, speed, quickness and agility are very useful, so athletes can gain a lot from perfecting a quick hip hinge that allows them to transition from plank to squat within the blink of an eye.
Control and Stability
The sprawl exercise is also great at encouraging better control and stability. Firstly, the plank phase of the movement means you need to maintain a braced core throughout, to keep your back aligned. Secondly, the movement from plank to squat also requires full body stability to ensure you don’t lose balance.
We really like sprawls due to the variety of workouts the movement can be included in.
From HIIT workouts where the focus is on burning calories and muscular endurance, to weightlifting warm-ups or finishers… sprawls are just a good exercise to know.
The inchworm exercise is a great sprawls alternative for anyone who wants a lower-impact exercise. Unlike sprawls, inchworms can be done at a slower pace, and you can take your time getting into a plank position and back to standing.
You can either perform inchworms with straight legs to really work on your hamstring flexibility, or squat down to make the movement more similar to sprawls.
You may actually find inchworms are also a great way to warm-up for sprawls too.
Frog squats involve a pulsing motion whilst holding a parallel squat.
In similar fashion to sprawls, frog squats will torch your quads after a few sets. Practising frog squats is a great way to get used to sitting in a squat position, which is required for sprawls.
If you want a low-impact alternative to sprawls that still builds muscle in your legs and focuses on a hinge at the hips, kneeling squats are worth considering. Due to the kneeling position, the movement is focused exclusively on a hip hinge, and reduces the load on your knees and ankles.
(You may want to do it on a balance pad or cushion though, to make it more comfortable).
Kneeling squats can also be a great way to improve the speed at which you can hinge at the hips too.
One of the main muscle groups worked in sprawls are the glutes… so any weightlifting exercise that focuses on the glutes would also be a suitable substitution.
The sumo deadlift is a great place to start, especially as it also requires good hip mobility due to the wide stance.
You can also do sumo deadlifts with dumbbells, if you don’t have a barbell.
Ultimately, the sprawl exercise is a great dynamic movement that will improve cardiovascular fitness as well as building strength in the core and lower body.
Although it is similar to the humble burpee, we find the differences are noticeably enough to warrant learning both movements.
The emphasis on a wider stance and opening up the hips, means sprawls is a great way to both test hip mobility as well as strengthen the muscles around the hips.
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Featured image and video demonstration credit – Form First Fitness