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The Ultimate Guide to Mastering the Bear Crawl Exercise for Full-Body Fitness
The bear crawl is an often-used fitness routine that can help improve coordination, stability, and muscular endurance. The movement also challenges the cardiovascular system due to its dynamic nature, making it a popular choice for functional and bodyweight training.
It is an exercise inspired by the movement of bears, where an individual moves on all fours with their knees hovering slightly above the floor.
The bear crawl exercise engages multiple upper and lower body muscles, including the core, shoulders, and hips, making it an effective full-body workout.
Apart from challenging your muscles, this primal-inspired movement can enhance your coordination, balance, and fitness. Thus, it is an exercise worth considering for any training environment.
It offers several benefits that extend beyond traditional exercises. Thus, it can work for all fitness levels, including enthusiasts or exercisers looking to add a unique element to their workout regimen, aiming to boost their cardiovascular health, strengthen their core, or refine their coordination skills.
In this article, we will dive into the mechanics of the bear crawl and provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform it with optimal form. We will also explore its core benefits and look at creative variations that take the exercise to the next level.
Bear Crawl Target Muscles
The bear crawl is a versatile exercise that engages several muscles.
- Core muscles
The exercise heavily activates the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques, to maintain stability and control during the crawling movement.
- Shoulders and Upper Body
Moving forward and backward during the exercise engages the shoulders, triceps, and chest muscles to support the body.
- Quadriceps and Glutes
The quadriceps, located on the front of the thighs, and the gluteal muscles in the buttocks work to extend the hips and propel your body forward during each crawl.
The hamstrings at the back of the thighs help control the movement and maintain proper posture as you crawl.
- Scapular Stabilizers
The muscles around the shoulder blades are activated to stabilize the shoulders and maintain proper posture during the crawling motion.
- Back Muscles
The upper and lower back muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae, assist in maintaining a straight and stable torso as you crawl.
- Hip Stabilizers
The deep muscles of the hips, known as the hip stabilizers, help control the movement and balance as you alternate between your hands and feet.
How to do the Bear Crawl with Proper form
Follow the steps below to perform the exercise with proper form.
- Get into a tabletop position on the floor, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Keep your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Lift your knees a few inches off the floor. Ensure you maintain a slight bend in your elbows and knees.
- Your body should form a straight line from your head to your tailbone.
- Move by alternately moving your right hand and left foot forward, then your left hand and right foot next.
- Focus on moving contralaterally, meaning your opposite hand and foot move together.
- Keep your core engaged and your back flat throughout the movement.
- Maintain a neutral spine. Do not arch or round your back.
- Keep your hips level and avoid excessive rocking from side to side.
- Distribute your weight evenly between your hands and feet to ensure balance and stability.
- Breathe steadily and rhythmically throughout the movement to maintain proper oxygenation.
- Move for a set distance or period, gradually increasing the challenge as you become more comfortable with the movement.
- Be mindful of the surface you’re crawling on to prevent slipping or discomfort.
- Start with a slower pace and shorter distances to focus on maintaining proper form.
Tips and Best Practices for Bear Crawl
Bear crawl is a challenging exercise that can help transform your fitness.
Follow the tips below to get the most out of the exercise and avoid injuries.
- Be mindful of the surface you’re crawling on to prevent slipping or discomfort. Choose a safe and non-slippery floor to avoid accidents or injuries.
- Begin with a slower pace and shorter distances to master the movement and ensure proper form.
- Keep your core muscles tight throughout the crawl to stabilize your spine and promote proper posture.
- Avoid arching or rounding your back. Keep your spine in a neutral position to prevent strain.
- Focus on controlled breathing to maintain steady oxygen intake.
- Emphasize the opposite arm and leg movement for proper coordination.
- Take small and controlled steps to help maintain balance and stability, especially at the start of your training.
- Focus on maintaining good form rather than rushing through the movement. Speed can come with practice.
- Keep your head neutral. Look slightly ahead to align your spine and maintain balance.
- Distribute your weight evenly between your hands and feet to prevent excessive strain on any one part of the body.
- Briefly warm up to prepare your muscles and joints before attempting the exercise.
- Wear shoes with a good grip to help prevent slipping, especially if you are doing bear crawls on a smooth surface.
- Gradually increase the duration and distance of your crawls as your strength and endurance improve.
- Beginners or exercisers with physical limitations can modify the exercise by crawling a shorter distance or moving at a slower pace.
- You can make the exercise part of a circuit workout or combine them with other exercises to create a well-rounded routine.
- Stop immediately and assess your form if you experience pain or discomfort. Consult a fitness professional if needed.
- Perform gentle stretches after your bear crawl session to help your muscles cool down and maintain flexibility.
Bear Crawl Common mistakes
Below are some common mistakes to watch out for when performing bear crawls
- Arching or rounding the back
Allowing your back to arch or round can lead to poor posture and potential back strain.
Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
- Lifting hips too high or dropping hips too low
Keep your hips level with your shoulders and avoid letting them hike up or sag too low.
That can compromise your form and stability.
- Lack of core engagement
Failing to engage your core can result in instability and a loss of control during the crawl.
Keep your core muscles tight to support your spine.
- Stiffening the movement
Bear crawls should involve fluid and controlled movements.
Avoid stiffening your limbs or moving robotically. Doing so can hinder coordination.
- Incorrect arm and leg pairing
Focus on moving opposite arms and legs together, i.e., right hand with left foot, left hand with right foot.
Mixing up the pairing can disrupt the exercise’s coordination.
- Rushing through the movement
Speed should come with practice.
Rushing through the movement can compromise form and lead to less effective engagement of the target muscles.
- Looking down
Avoid looking down at the floor.
Keep your gaze slightly ahead to maintain proper alignment of your head, neck, and spine.
- Neglecting breathing
Poor breathing can lead to quick fatigue.
Breathe rhythmically to ensure proper oxygen flow to your lungs and muscles.
- Uneven shifting of your weight
Distribute your weight evenly between your hands and feet.
Shifting too much weight to one side can cause instability.
- Hyperextending your elbows and knees
Overextending your elbows and knees can stress the joints.
Maintain a slight bend in the joints to prevent strain.
- Skipping warm-up
Jumping into the exercise without a proper warm-up can increase the risk of injury.
Warm up your muscles and joints beforehand.
- Poor surface selection
Performing the movement on a slippery or unstable surface can lead to accidents.
Choose a safe, non-slip surface.
- Ignoring pain
Stop bear crawling if you feel pain or discomfort.
Pushing through pain can lead to injury.
- Poor footwear
Wearing shoes with inadequate grip can cause slipping during the crawl.
Opt for footwear with good traction.
Bear crawls can be intense.
Avoid overexerting yourself, especially if you’re new to the exercise. Gradually increase intensity over time.
Bear crawl common mistakes
- Improper spine alignment
Do not arch or round your back.
Keep your spine in a neutral position from your head to your tailbone.
- Hiking hips
Don’t lift your hips too high or let them sag too low.
Aim to keep your hips and shoulders in line to maintain a stable plank-like position.
- Neglecting core engagement
Keep your core engaged throughout the bear crawl.
That can help stabilize your body and prevent excessive movement in your hips and lower back.
- Incorrect arm and leg pairing
Move your opposite arm and leg together with each step.
Mixing up the coordination can disrupt the fluidity of the movement.
- Rushed movements
Focus on controlled, deliberate movements rather than rushing through the exercise.
That can help you to maintain proper form and reduce the risk of injury.
- Looking down
Keep your gaze slightly ahead of you to maintain a neutral neck position.
Avoid looking down. Doing so can strain your neck and disrupt your form.
- Uneven weight distribution
Balance your weight evenly between your hands and feet to prevent tipping to one side or putting excessive strain on your wrists.
- Lack of breathing control
Breathe consistently and rhythmically to avoid holding your breath.
Proper breathing supports your endurance and stability.
- Hyperextended joints
Avoid locking out your elbows and knees.
Keep a slight bend in these joints to prevent unnecessary stress.
- Skipping warm-up
Perform a proper warm-up before attempting bear crawls.
That will help prepare your muscles and joints for the movement.
- Inadequate surface
Choose a surface with good traction to prevent slipping.
Avoid doing bear crawls on slippery or uneven surfaces.
Start at an appropriate level of intensity. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can lead to exhaustion or injury.
- Ignoring pain or discomfort
Stop immediately if you experience pain during the exercise.
Pain is a sign something is wrong, and you should address it before continuing.
- Poor hand placement
Ensure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your fingers spread for proper support and wrist alignment.
- Limited range of motion
Fully extend your arms and legs during each step to maximize the benefits of the exercise and engage the targeted muscles.
Bear Crawl benefits
Bear crawls offer a range of benefits for your physical fitness and well-being.
- Full-body workout
Bear crawls engage multiple muscles simultaneously, including the core, shoulders, arms, legs, and back.
That makes them an effective full-body exercise.
- Core strength
The bear crawl requires constant core engagement to maintain stability and proper posture.
That can help strengthen your abdominal muscles and improve core strength.
- Cardiovascular conditioning
The dynamic nature of bear crawls raises your heart rate and challenges your cardiovascular system, improving endurance and promoting fat burning.
- Coordination and motor skills
The contralateral movement pattern challenges your coordination and motor skills. That can enhance your brain-body connection.
- Muscular endurance
Bear crawls are endurance-focused. They can improve the endurance of various muscles. That can contribute to better muscular stamina.
- Functional fitness
The crawling motion mimics natural human movement patterns.
That makes it a functional exercise that can improve your ability to move and perform daily activities.
- Joint stability
Bear crawls help improve joint stability in the shoulders, hips, and wrists. That can enhance joint health and reduce the risk of injuries.
- Stabilization of the scapular
The movement promotes the activation of scapular stabilizing muscles. That can contribute to better posture and reduced risk of shoulder injuries.
- Low-impact exercise
Bear crawls are low-impact exercises.
Thus, they put less strain on your joints than high-impact activities like running or jumping.
- Body awareness
Performing bear crawls requires an awareness of your body’s position and movement, fostering better kinesthetic sense and control.
- Variation and fun
You can incorporate bear crawls into various workouts.
That can provide variety and a fun challenge to keep your fitness regimen interesting.
- No equipment required
Bear crawls are bodyweight exercises.
You don’t need any equipment for the exercise, and you can do them anywhere with enough space.
That makes them convenient for home workouts or outdoor training.
- Preparation for other exercises
Bear crawls can serve as a warm-up or preparatory exercise for more complex movements, helping to activate muscles and joints.
- Team and group activities
You can make bear crawls part of team-building or group workout activities, encouraging camaraderie and motivation.
- Mental focus
The mindful execution of bear crawls demands concentration, which can promote mental focus and mindfulness during workouts.
Bear Crawl Limitations
Like any bodyweight or strength-building exercise, bear crawls have limitations.
- Wrist strain
Your hands support your weight during bear crawls, which can strain the wrists, especially if you have weak wrists or poor wrist mobility.
Ensure your wrists are well aligned, and consider modifying the exercise or using wrist supports if needed.
- Shoulder issues
Bear crawls involve weight-bearing on the shoulders. That can exacerbate existing shoulder issues or lead to discomfort if proper form is not maintained. Exercisers with shoulder injuries or limitations should exercise caution and consider alternatives.
- Low back strain
Improper form can strain your lower back. Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine to reduce this risk.
- Knee discomfort
Exercisers with knee problems might find bear crawls uncomfortable due to the pressure on the knees.
Consider using knee pads or opting for alternative exercises that are easier on the knees.
- High intensity
Bear crawls offer several benefits, but the exercise can be intense and may not suit beginners or exercisers with certain health conditions.
Always listen to your body and start at a level appropriate for your fitness level.
- Inadequate space
Bear crawls require a certain amount of space to perform. You might not have enough room to execute the movement effectively if your workout area is limited.
- Lack of progression
Over time, you might find that bear crawls become less challenging if not progressed.
Adding variations or increasing the distance or duration can help maintain the exercise’s effectiveness.
- Surface and Grip
Performing bear crawls on slippery or uneven surfaces can increase the risk of injury. Additionally, those with weak grip strength might struggle to maintain stability.
Bear Crawl Variations
Several variations of the bear crawl are available to help you add variety and challenge to your workout regimen.
Forward Bear Crawl
The standard bear crawl involves moving forward on all fours. Focus on maintaining proper form and control as you move.
Reverse Bear Crawl
Instead of moving forward, move backward in the bear crawl position.
You can do the forward movement for a set distance and do the reverse to return to your starting position.
The variation is more challenging and can help you target different muscles.
Bear Crawl Plank Hold
Hold the bear crawl position with hovering knees and straight arms without moving.
The isometric hold can help engage your core and stabilize your muscles.
Lateral bear crawl
Instead of moving forward, you can move sideways with your right hand and right foot; left hand and left foot.
The sideways movement can help challenge your coordination and work your muscles from a different angle.
Bear Crawl with Push-Ups
Include push-ups with the bear crawls to make them more challenging.
Perform a push-up each time you move your hand forward or after a few movements.
That can add an upper body strengthening element to the bear crawl.
Bear crawl with shoulder taps
Get into the bear crawl position, lift one hand, and tap the opposite shoulder.
That engages your core and challenges your balance.
Bear crawl with leg lift
Lift one leg off the floor as you crawl forward, then switch legs.
The variation adds an element of balance and targets your glutes.
Weighted bear crawl
You can place small weights or resistance bands around your ankles or wrists to help increase the intensity of your crawl.
Inchworm to bear crawl
Start with an inchworm exercise by bending at the hips to reach your arms to the floor, walk your hands forward, and then walk your feet to your hands.
From the end of the inchworm, transition into a bear crawl.
Elevated Bear Crawl
Perform the bear crawl with your hands on an elevated surface, such as a bench or step.
That increases the challenge by requiring extra stabilization.
Bear Crawl Sprints
Perform bear crawl sprints by moving as quickly as possible for short distances instead of crawling at a steady pace.
That can help get your heart rate racing and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Incorporating the bear crawl exercise into your fitness regimen can help you build strength and endurance and nurture coordination, balance, and functional fitness. These are all qualities that extend into your daily life.
Master the movement and make the exercise and its variations regular components of your training to help reap the many benefits.
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- Atkinson M, Rosalie S, Netto K. 2015. Physical demand of seven closed agility drills. Sports Biomech. 2016;15(4):473-80. doi:10.1080/14763141.2016.1179781