Fitness on all fours: Meet the trainer getting attention for his eye-catching exercise

Nathaniel Nolan calls his video series "walking on all fours" because that is part of the practice, but it's not all of it, he assures.
Nathaniel Nolan calls his video series "walking on all fours" because that is part of the practice, but it's not all of it, he assures.

A lot of interesting things pop up on TikTok. But if you've ever seen Nathaniel Nolan come across your page, you've probably done a double take.

The 31-year-old movement coach based in Carmel, Indiana, has emerged as the guy who walks on all fours.

What started out as an online training journal where he could track his progress has snowballed into more than 1 million followers obsessed with his eye-catching training tactic.

"There was not really an end goal in mind," he told USA TODAY of starting his all-fours journey and accompanying videos. "The original goal was to help to build up enough conditioning to resolve a lot of my pain that I was having. But as soon as I started to get the results from that, it became apparent that this isn't something that I really wanted to stop doing."

He calls his video series "walking on all fours" because that is part of the practice, but it's not all of it, he assures.

"It's about developing a deeper understanding of how to use your body appropriately for the situation that you're in, to be able to accomplish your goals. To be able to train every day, to be able to make improvements in the directions that you want and align your training with your lifestyle."

What inspired him to start training like this?

Nolan says he came up with the concept after struggling with joint pain from other activities like jujitsu, calisthenics and yoga.

"Having so many different physical disciplines was causing me to overtrain, because as I progressed, I was working on the most advanced versions of each one of those things," he says.

Wrist and elbow pain in particular were getting to a point where it made it difficult to train, he explains, which is when he decided he needed to increase the time he was spending on his hands to strengthen them at a much lower intensity.

He started small with planks.

"I would start with isometrics for about a minute a day. And then whenever I started having a lot of success with that, I introduced the moving elements that includes a lot of the stuff that you see on my different socials."

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What benefits has he found?

In the first month, Nolan says, "a lot of the pain, stiffness and tightness ... was resolved pretty much completely."

Now, nearly a year into this practice, he trains every day and has "unlocked a lot of new physical abilities" he didn't have before.

"All of my disciplines have progressed because of it," he says. "So instead of this just being one new thing that I'm tacking on, or a replacement for those things, it's really the thing that unifies all of my current physical practices."

And while it does make you work your body, Nolan doesn't call it a full-body workout. Instead, he describes it as "a mechanism for being able to quickly and intuitively modulate intensity."

"By allowing myself to have my feet on the ground while I'm practicing my upper-body movements, that allows me to shift weight forward and backward at my discretion to be able to decide what that right intensity is so that it's not too light but still light enough to be able to avoid pain."

Morit Summers, personal trainer and founder of Form Fitness Brooklyn, says she does see positives to this type of all-fours practice.

"I absolutely believe that by practicing moving his body with fundamental movements, such as crawling, he would become stronger and more agile," she says. "Do I believe that you have to do that same kind of training every single day? No, or at least not to the extent that he did. I have all of my clients warm up with different all-fours movements, but most of them will never do a handstand or the movements that he is doing because the movements he is doing are incredibly high-skill."

Summers points to others she has studied and learned from like Tim Anderson, who wrote "Original Strength," in which he speaks about fundamental movements such as crawling, and Mike Fitch, who founded Animal Flow, which involves moving through space on all fours as well.

"Our fundamental movements start from the time we are born, and unfortunately, as we age ... we start to lose our ability to move well," Summers says. "Starting an all-fours practice has many benefits. In order to live a long, healthy life we definitely want to stay as mobile, agile and as strong as possible, and there are many different modalities in which you can practice these things."

What does he see for the future of all-four fitness?

Since first posting to TikTok, Nolan has progressed in both his practice and in conveying to his audience what it's all about.

"At the very beginning, I had a lot of people questioning what it was out of lack of understanding," he says, explaining that he has made it his mission to showcase what this method really entails. "That way people don't get confused and think that it's just bear crawl or it's just walking on all fours."

And with 343 days and counting of practicing and posting, viewers have a lot of opportunity to get a glimpse at what he does on a daily basis.

While he hopes people can learn through his socials, he also encourages those interested in developing their own all-fours practice to get personalized coaching advice through his Patreon.

He also hopes people see how accessible an all-fours practices can be.

Whether you have equipment or not, have space inside or out, he highlights how many unique training practices can be done through his method that are "easy to replicate no matter who you are."

Summers says that starting slowly with any practice is important, especially if you haven’t done much movement. But she encourages incorporating movement in whatever way you can.

"At the end of the day, movement is movement and moving is better than not moving."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trainer gains attention on TikTok by exercising on all fours