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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
September 22, 2022
There is something so satisfying about performing a bear crawl. Primal, powerful, and a great bodyweight exercise, the bear crawl is a full-body movement that targets core stability, muscular strength, and cardiovascular endurance.
The bear crawl is a fundamental movement pattern, also known as terrestrial locomotion, that will challenge your body’s efficiency and capacity. With benefits like this, if you aren't already performing the bear crawl, you should be! Don't worry, we'll show you how.
In this article, we'll cover:
When babies first learn to crawl, it’s a natural movement pattern that allows them to efficiently move from point A to point B. As we grow, our center of gravity shifts further away from the ground. In later years, movements on the ground can feel challenging depending on your strength, muscular endurance, and mobility.
The bear crawl exercise is a quadruped (hands and knees) movement pattern where the arms and legs move in a coordinated fashion, similar to walking. In a quadruped stance, your right arm crawls forward and your left foot steps forward in synchronicity. Then the opposite side does the same.
The key to maintaining a proper and challenging bear crawl is to hover the knees about 2 inches off of the ground. This lights up the core along with the surrounding postural muscles. There are many ways to complete the bear crawl with each variation having its own set of benefits.
From improving your athleticism so you can take on plyo exercises like a gym boss to working the entire body, there are several great benefits to performing the bear crawl.
Similar to other animalistic exercises, like the crab walk, a bear crawl benefit is that it’s a true full-body exercise. The bear crawl is a compound exercise, targeting multiple muscle groups at one time. It can be incorporated into a workout routine in a variety of ways, including as a dynamic bodyweight warm-up, to improve muscular strength and endurance, and to target core-specific work (more on this below).
This movement, when done regularly, can help build full-body function, strength, and endurance. It's also an excellent bodyweight core exercise.
Bear crawls are notoriously known for being incorporated in athlete’s programs as a part of agility drills. They’re used to test speed, endurance, and strength through different phases of programming.
The good news is that you can benefit from bear crawls even if you are not an athlete. Agility training for all people, whether you see yourself as athletic or not, can improve movement quality and proprioception (or your body’s awareness in space), and is a fun way to burn more calories in one session.
Bear crawls are accessible to most people and are a great supplement to high-intensive and high-impact movements like burpees. This makes them a great low impact workout option.
There are a variety of ways to slowly build strength and confidence in the bear crawl. With such a simple movement, there’s a big opportunity to keep progressing and getting stronger while placing less impact on your body.
We love total body workouts, and the classic bear crawl is just that. The bear crawl exercise works everything from improving core strength to activating the upper and lower body.
In the quadruped position, most of your body’s weight is distributed in the shoulders, quadriceps, and core muscles. In addition, the chest, back, glutes, and hamstrings assist your body in smoothly moving through the bear crawl pattern. As it is a stability movement, it is great for helping with proper posture and even preventing shoulder injuries, as long as you're performing it correctly.
A factor that can help activate your entire body is pushing the ground away from you as you crawl. This will help you connect to the tension of your body relative to the ground.
Have a question about the bear crawl? We've got your answer! Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions regarding this challenging exercise.
Depending on the time and intensity of the bear crawl, it is considered cardio. Shorter, more intense bouts of bear crawls (bear crawl sprint, max weighted bear crawl) will target the anaerobic system. Your body will be taxed and working near maximum exertion at a 7 or higher on the RPE Scale.
This is a great way to incorporate it into HIIT or Tabata workouts. As for targeting the aerobic system, complete the bear crawl for a long distance or a longer amount of time and your heart rate will stay at an elevated rate. Both aerobic and anaerobic systems can be targeted with different methods and variations of bear crawls.
Calorie burn is specific for every person. On average, bear crawls and other bodyweight compound exercises burn around 100 calories for every 10 minutes of consistent work. The key is to keep the intensity up at the designated RPE and to keep moving throughout. For a more accurate reading, wear a heart rate monitor during your workout to determine the average caloric burn.
Heck yeah, they are! Similar to a standard plank, the bear position targets the entire unit of the abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominis, obliques, transversus abdominis, and spinal erectors. Even more impressive is that the bear crawl targets more than just the abs, and as such, you’ll find it more challenging than your standard plank.
Although the bear crawl isn’t categorized solely as just an ab exercise, you can count on its dynamic and locomotive features to challenge your body differently.
How to do Bear Crawls:
To perform it optimally, make sure you keep your body low during the bear crawl, with your hips low and in line with your shoulders.Take small, controlled steps forward to maintain a neutral spine and a core brace.
Think of the bear crawl as a traveling plank hover - lock in your abdominals! Whenever your arms and legs move, your spine will want to follow. Avoid shifting your weight from side to side or up and down. Keep it controlled.
Optimize your bear crawl and avoid these four common mistakes. Remember, proper form is key for benefiting from bear crawling and building muscle.
Once you start moving in your bear crawl, you’ll find it tempting to shift your weight forward and reach your hips high. This displaces your weight and can take the load off of your core. Once your arms start to get tired, lifting the hips releases some upper body tension.
Overall, this reduces the effectiveness of the bear crawl. Try to hold on to a neutral quadruped position throughout your crawl. If you still struggle with lifting your hips too high, take smaller steps or decrease the distance you’re crawling.
Another great way to ensure the proper hip height is setting a yoga block on your lower back (sacral area). You’ll feel the yoga block shift around or fall off of you when you start to move out of a neutral crawl. Also, focusing on your mind-muscle connection, ensuring your hips are down and core is activated, will help.
When first starting to learn bear crawls, it’ll take time to coordinate the movement. Another common mistake is moving the same side (right arm, right leg) at the same time instead of opposite sides.
Although this isn’t a terrible mistake, it is awkward and can be much harder to hold onto a neutral quadruped position. Give yourself time to get the hang of moving your hands and feet in the right pattern.
The core is a crucial component when it comes to keeping your spine neutral through the crawl. Breathing and bracing are two techniques you can use to feel the core and keep it active through the crawl.
If at any point you feel like you’re losing alignment, set your knees down on the ground and reset your form. If you are having trouble identifying what good form feels like, use a mirror and watch your crawl from a side view. If you're struggling with core strength in general, including more core stability training in your routine may be helpful.
Also known as a boozy bear crawl, a common mistake is allowing your body to sway off of midline position to the next step forward. If you find your legs stepping out from underneath you or your knees opening outwards, you are most likely taking too big of steps or compensating for a weakness in your core. Shorten your steps and take frequent breaks to hone into proper, strong reps.
In case you're tired of moving forward, we've got 2 variations to include in an upper body workout that will change up the direction you're heading, and in turn, the muscles you're emphasizing. As with all exercises, make you're letting your muscles recover in between workouts so they repair and rebuild.
Getting bored of your traditional bear crawl? Reverse it with the backward bear crawl. Add this variation to your forward bear crawl by crawling forward and then immediately crawling backward for a designated rep scheme without taking a break.
Crawling backward will require a little bit more focus and control, and it’ll challenge your ability to reverse the coordination of the crawl.
It’s the same idea as the traditional bear crawl, but now you'll add in some sideways motion. Start in your quadruped position. Step your right arm to your right side and bring your left foot to meet your right foot. Then switch, step your left arm to meet your right arm, and bring your right foot out to the right side.
Similar to your traditional crawl, the lateral bear crawl challenges your limbs to move with coordination. Make sure to complete both directions: right side vs. left side. You may naturally find that one side is harder than the other.
Are you struggling with bear crawls and all of their moving parts? No worries, we’ll strengthen your foundation and get you crawling in no time. If you're struggling with core strength, we recommend also incorporating the dead hang into your workout so you can target your deep core muscles.
Here are two modified bear crawl variations to try.
In your quadruped position, hover your knees about two inches off the ground and hold this form. Start with a short time, 15 to 20 seconds, and eventually increase your interval time. Focus especially on pushing the ground away from you, engaging through the core, and maintaining a neutral posture.
Get into your hovering bear stance. Connect with your core and your body’s alignment. Simultaneously lift your right hand and left foot off the ground while maintaining your form. Recognize any shift from your hips or the rest of your form.
Return to hovering bear. Switch sides, lifting your left hand and right foot off the ground. Maintain a low hover with your knees. Keep alternating sides with slow, controlled repetitions. Start with low reps, 10 alternating, and slowly increase your capacity, 20 alternating reps.
Are you crushing your 6-day split and in the best shape of your life? It sounds like it's time to level up your bear crawl! Here are three variations that will open your eyes to how challenging this movement can really be.
Sled push and pull exercises are awesome, and the bear crawl variation is no exception. Load your sled with a desired amount of weight. Attach your sled to a harness or straps on the backside of your body. Anchor your quadruped stance to the ground and start to bear crawl forward as the sled drags behind you.
Fight against the resistance and work your way up to maximum effort. Don’t have access to a sled? Anchor an agility band to a rig and attach it to your hips. Walk out to a desired resistance and bear crawl in place until you’re fatigued.
Have a partner help you stack weights or sandbags on your mid-back in your quadruped position. Once secured, choose whichever bear crawl variation you want to get after (forward, backward, or lateral).
Have your partner watch and guide you if the weights start to shift on your back. A weighted vest also works great here.
In your quadruped position, grab a set of dumbbells, placing one in each hand. As you start to crawl, lift one dumbbell at a time and plant them on the ground.
This variation is extremely taxing for the upper body and will challenge the core to stay engaged throughout the crawl. Stick to your desired sets and rep range while maintaining your form. Don't forget some cool-down stretches after you finish this challenging total body move.
It can be hard to figure out where to include a new exercise in your routine, particularly when it's a full-body move. Does it go on leg day? Shoulders and arms? How many should you do for best results? We're about to get into it all.
This is dependent on the space that is available to you and the goal of your workout program. If your goal is a steady state, aerobic challenge, a longer time interval of 1-2 minutes with minimal rest is a great starting point.
If your goal is an anaerobic target (a low-impact supplement to burpees), shoot for short intervals, 8-10 sets of 15-20 second rounds of near maximal effort with 10-20 seconds of rest in between. Think high-intensity, Tabata style for your anaerobic targets!
When determining how often to train muscle groups, we recommend training each twice weekly. This also holds true for the bear crawl. Depending on what your current workout routine looks like, start to incorporate bear crawls in 1-2 workouts per week. Form and function are the most important factors for your crawl. Once you’ve built a solid bear crawl foundation, increase the frequency to 2-3 workouts per week and see how your body adjusts.
If you don’t spend much of your time on the floor for workouts, you may feel more fatigued and challenged. If at any point you start to experience discomfort in your joints from spending a lot of time in the bear crawl stance, decrease the volume and start to pay more attention to your warm-ups and cool-downs. You should also test your mobility and hone in on mobility work.
Bear crawls can be added to your workout routine in a variety of ways. They can be incorporated in all phases of your workout: the warm-up, cardio/strength portion, or as a workout finisher.
As a warm-up, bear crawls are great prep for a full body workout and activate the upper body, lower body, and core. Slowly ease your body into the bear crawl and emphasize breathing, bracing, and slowing down the movement.
When incorporating the bear crawl into the meat and potatoes of your workout, choose your desired sets and repetitions and bear crawl variation depending on the stimulus goal (cardio, strength, etc). If you're targeting high-intensity cardio, you could even include it in an assault bike workout. Get creative!
Lastly, as a finisher, emphasize the bear crawl to tax your core and fatigue your entire body. This can include higher sets and repetitions or shorter durations of time with increased effort per set. Keep exploring the versatility of bear crawls and add them to the beginning, middle, or end of your workout.
Put them anywhere - just make sure you've got them somewhere in your workout split!
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September 21, 2023
September 21, 2023
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