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7 Benefits of the Bear Crawl + Variations

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 7 Benefits of the Bear Crawl + Variations

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The people who can do the bear crawl exercise well make it look easy. However, if you’ve ever tried to do a bear crawl, you know it’s much harder than it looks. 

If this challenging bodyweight exercise isn’t something you’ve tried with your clients, we recommend you do. It has some awesome benefits. Here we explore some of the benefits as well as proper bear crawl form and a few variations. 

How to do a Standard Bear Crawl

To properly execute a bear crawl, your client should start on all fours. Position the wrists under the shoulders, knees under the hips, fingers pointing forward, and the toes pressed firmly into the ground. The client will raise the hips slightly which will lift the knees off the ground (only a couple of inches). The weight of the body should balance on the hands and toes. 

Keeping the core engaged, the back flat, and the hips parallel to the ground, the client will crawl using an opposite arm opposite leg alternating pattern (right hand & left foot then left hand & right foot) to move the body forward. The arms and legs should remain strong and the core as still as possible throughout the entire exercise.

Bear Crawl Variations

There are a handful of ways to modify the bear crawl exercise. The following list includes a few of our favorites.

Reverse Bear Crawl

The proper form for this bear crawl variation is very similar to the standard bear crawl. However, instead of moving forward with alternating hands and feet, the client will crawl backward alternating their hands and feet. The client may tend to want to drop their hips more as they move backward, so cue and encourage the straight spine and level hips throughout the entire movement. 

Lateral Bear Crawl (Side to Side)

Executing a proper lateral bear crawl requires the same form as the standard bear crawl and the reverse bear crawl. Instead of moving forward and backward, the client will move from side to side. When the hips are slightly lifted and the knees are off the ground, the client will move their right hand and left foot toward the right. The left hand and right foot will follow. The client will continue this pattern for the appropriate number of reps before switching directions (left hand and right foot move left followed by the right hand and left foot).

Multi-Directional Bear Crawl

The form for the multi-directional bear crawl is the same as the standard bear crawl. One set of this exercise will include the standard bear crawl, reverse bear crawl, and lateral bear crawl. The client can move in the direction of a square:

  1. Standard bear crawl forward
  2. Lateral bear crawl to the right
  3. Reverse bear crawl
  4. Lateral bear crawl to the left
  5. Standard bear crawl back to the starting position 

Or, they could move in the shape of a plus sign, coming back to the center after each direction:

  1. Standard bear crawl
  2. Reverse bear crawl back to the center
  3. Lateral bear crawl to the right
  4. Lateral bear crawl to left and back to the center
  5. Reverse bear crawl
  6. Standard bear crawl back to the center
  7. Lateral bear crawl to the left
  8. Lateral bear crawl to the right and back to the center

Bear Crawl Benefits

If you’re unsure whether or not you want to include this exercise in your clients’ routines, here are a few reasons why you may want to consider it. 

1. Builds Core Strength

The bear crawl exercise is incredible for developing core strength. The back muscles, abdominals, and obliques all have to engage to minimize core movement and support and stabilize the body. The bear crawl challenges the core muscles (much like the plank exercise) but turns it up a notch because the upper and lower body are moving during the exercise. 

2. Supports Shoulder Health

When done correctly, the shoulders work hard to stabilize, support the weight of the upper body, and move the body forward during the bear crawl. As the body moves, the reaching (range of motion), stability, and strength developed to maintain the proper form are valuable for the shoulders. 

3. No Equipment Needed

We love exercises that don’t require a lot of space or equipment. Clients can get an effective workout by including this exercise in their routine—no gym, huge space, or equipment needed. 

4. Engages the Entire Body

Hands, arms, shoulders, back, abdominal muscles, and legs are all involved in this bodyweight movement. 

5. Increases Heart Rate

It may not seem like it, but this exercise will get your client’s heart pumping, making it a great low-impact way to get a cardiovascular workout. 

6. Dynamic Warm-Up

The bear crawl exercise is an excellent warm-up for the body. The movement gets the blood flowing, starts to warm-up some of the major muscles of the body, and requires flexibility in the wrists, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.

7. Psychologically Challenging

Keeping the body stable, remembering to breathe, and coordinating the upper body and lower body to move together smoothly requires mental focus. 

Although there are many benefits to this exercise, there are two important things to remember for all the variations of this exercise:

  1. Proper form is essential: similar to a plank, the glutes need to be down, the core engaged, and the hips level to execute the movement the right way. 
  2. It’s not a race: the body has to work hard to stabilize and balance with the slow movements. 

If you love bodyweight exercises, check these muscle-building options out for more ideas for your workout!

Do you love learning about different exercises and ways you can implement them into your routine? ISSA’s Personal Training Course is the perfect fit for you! You’ll learn the intricacies of the human body, key variables to building a program that gets results, and how to use nutrition to reach your goals!

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