How to Do the Bear Crawl Exercise to Boost Strength and Coordination

The bear crawl is a staple core exercise — and for good reason. Find out all the benefits the move has to offer and how to add it to your fitness routine.

Bear Crawl
Courtesy of Life Time.

You likely haven't crawled around your house since you were a baby, but as it turns out, there may be some benefits to embracing your inner child, even when you're well past elementary school. In fact, practicing the bear crawl exercise on the reg can help you build up the core strength necessary to move through life pain-free — among other perks.

Ahead, learn what you can score by adding the bear crawl exercise into your fitness routine, plus how to adjust the functional move so it matches your fitness level and needs.

How to Do the Bear Crawl

To successfully perform the bear crawl, you'll start in a table-top position on the floor, then lift your knees an inch or two into the air. From there, you’ll step your hands and feet to walk forward and backward, says Jess Hiestand, an NASM-certified personal trainer, Rumble’s manager of training and experience, and an XPRO with Xponential+. Despite being a bodyweight exercise, the bear crawl can give your strength, coordination, and stability a boost, she says. 

Here, Hiestand demonstrates how to do the bear crawl with perfect form.

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart. Drive palms into the floor, engage core, and lift knees 2 inches off the ground.

B. Keeping back flat and core engaged, move right arm and left leg forward 2 inches in a controlled manner. Then, move left arm and right leg forward 2 inches, keeping hips parallel with the floor.

C. Take 4 steps forward, then 4 steps backward.

The Key Bear Crawl Benefits

By mixing the bear crawl into your fitness routine, you’ll do your joint health and muscular strength some good. Here, the biggest perks the exercise has to offer. 

Improves Shoulder Stability

During the bear crawl exercise, your shoulders will work overtime to keep your upper body stable as you step forward and backward. And that's why the move can help improve shoulder stability, says Hiestand. ICYDK, stability is the ability to control your joint’s movement or position, which involves coordinating its surrounding tissues and your neuromuscular system, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). It may seem like NBD, but being able to move your shoulder joint with greater control plays a key role in injury prevention, says Hiestand. Plus, building your shoulder stability can help prevent movement compensations that can ultimately lead to muscle imbalances, according to ACE. 

Builds Core Strength

A bear crawl is a lot like a moving high plank — you'll hold all of your body weight above the floor, with just your palms and toes touching the ground — so it's no surprise the exercise can help strengthen your core. Remember, your core is a group of muscles within your anterior and posterior kinetic chains that all work together to keep you stable and protect your spine. Strengthening your core not only helps you stand upright and with good posture, but it’s also necessary if you want to take your performance with other workouts to the next level. Consider boxing, for example. “In a sport [such as] boxing, we use core strength to help with balance and power,” says Hiestand. “A strong core can help you stay upright with a hit. It can also help you with the transfer of power when finishing a punch or generating rotational forces.”

And if you want to hit a new PR in the weight room, you’ll also need to level up your core strength — and understand how to properly engage your core muscles. “In strength training, we often cue to start bracing the core before a lift so that we can create intra-abdominal pressure [that] protects the spine and keeps the energy flowing in the direction you want during the lift,” says Hiestand. “It is dangerous to lift weights your core can't support, even if your legs would technically be strong enough.”

Boosts Coordination 

In order to successfully perform the bear crawl, your opposite hands and feet need to be in lockstep. In turn, practicing the exercise can help boost your coordination, or your ability to use the correct muscles at the right time in order to carry out a move, says Hiestand. Not only can improved coordination boost your performance in sports and your workouts, but it can also better daily functioning as you age. “Coordination can often decrease with age, leading to more drops, falls, and injuries, so keeping [it] up is also a life skill,” says Hiestand.

Bear Crawl Muscles Worked

Along with your core and shoulders, the bear crawl exercise can help build up strength in your quadriceps (the muscles that run along the front of your thighs and help you straighten your knee, flex your hips, and stabilize your knee caps), says Hiestand. The move also calls on your forearm muscles, which play a key role in grip strength. “Some people like doing a variation with straighter legs and knees far from the ground, in which case you'll see more flexibility in the hamstrings, as well,” they add.

Bear Crawl Variations

Whether the traditional bear crawl feels a bit too challenging or you’re looking to take it up a notch, you’ve got options. During your next workout, try these modification or progression ideas to get exactly what you want out of the exercise. 

Modification: Bear Plank Hold

Folks who are totally new to the bear crawl exercise may want to start off with a bear plank hold (read: holding that hovering table-top position) or a bear plank hold with shoulder taps. Both of these moves require less coordination than the OG exercise, says Hiestand. “A bear plank hold requires only isometric movement (you don't move once in the position, but your muscles work by holding that position), while a bear plank with shoulder taps keeps three limbs on the floor at a time,” she explains. “This requires much less [coordination] than a bear crawl, where generally two limbs are moving at once and you're not staying in the same place.”

Progression: Lateral Bear Crawl

To amp up the challenge, try a lateral bear crawl, which involves shuffling side to side rather than forward and backward, suggests Hiestand. “The shoulders in particular move in multiple ranges of motion, so we want to train in more than one range of motion [to keep the joint healthy],” they say. With this variation, you'll simultaneously move the same side's leg and hand (think: right leg and right hand), not opposite limbs. You can also add in a burst of cardio by jumping your feet forward rather than stepping them, she adds. Or, try placing a light weight plate on your back, which can also encourage you to maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.

Common Bear Crawl Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while performing the bear crawl? Neglecting to brace your core, which may lead to an overarched spine, says Hiestand. Performing your workout without engaging your core can up your risk of injuring your lower back, and you may not get all the strength-building benefits the bear crawl exercise has to offer, as Shape previously reported. So as you power through your set, remember to brace your core (imagine someone is about to punch your gut), maintain a neutral spine and flat back (picture yourself balancing a tray of drinks on your back), and keep your chin tucked to avoid a drooping neck, says Hiestand. Don't forget to keep your hips square with the floor, either.

How to Add the Bear Crawl to Your Routine

It’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before starting any new fitness routine. But you’ll definitely want to get chat with them before trying the bear crawl if you have issues bearing weight on your wrists or shoulders, says Hiestand. 

While most folks can benefit from practicing bear crawl, there are a few groups of individuals who may want to mix it into their routine more intentionally. “People who feel unbalanced [or] uncoordinated should consider doing this movement,” says Hiestand. “It's a great way to work on balance without being far from the ground.”

Once you’re ready to put your shoulder stability and core strength to the test, add the bear crawl into your warm-up routine or core workouts, says Hiestand. Start by doing the bear crawl for just 15 to 20 seconds at a time, with three to five sets per workout. Consider sticking with just a bear plank hold or keeping your steps small to nail down your form. Then, as you build up strength and confidence, work your way up to one-minute bear crawls and lengthen your strides, suggests Hiestand. No matter how you modify the move or how long you perform it, your core and shoulders will surely quake.

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