How to Do the Bear Crawl Exercise for 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.

As unusual as it may seem, reverting back to your infant days with the bear crawl exercise can provide countless benefits in your adult life. This particular workout routine helps to enhance your core strength, which is essential for a pain-free lifestyle. Here's an in-depth analysis of how incorporating the bear crawl exercise into your regular fitness regime can benefit you, along with ways to modify this functional move to meet your specific fitness requirements and goals.

How to Do the Bear Crawl

Begin the bear crawl by positioning yourself on the floor, resembling a tabletop. Then, elevate your knees a bit. Following this, you'll proceed by moving your hands and feet to traverse forward and backward. This is according to Jess Hiestand, who holds an NASM certification as a personal trainer, manages training and experience at Rumble, and is an XPRO with Xponential+. The bear crawl, although a bodyweight exercise, can enhance your strength, coordination, and stability, she explains. Here's how Hiestand guides on performing the bear crawl with impeccable form.

Initiate the exercise in a quadruped position, placing your palms directly under your shoulders and bending your knees directly below your hips, keeping your foot distance as wide as your hips. Firmly press your palms onto the ground, tighten your core muscles, and elevate your knees slightly above the ground by 2 inches.

Ensure to keep your back straight and core tight while you advance your right arm and left leg by a controlled 2 inches. Next, move your left arm and right leg forward by the same measure, ensuring your hips remain level with the floor.

Complete this process by taking four steps forwards followed by an equal number backwards.

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

When you engage in the bear crawl exercise, your shoulders are given an intense workout as they maintain the stability of your upper body while you move forwards and backwards. This is how the exercise contributes to enhancing shoulder stability, Hiestand explains. To elaborate, stability refers to the control over a joint's movement or position, requiring the coordination of the joint's surrounding tissues and the neuromuscular system - as defined by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

This may not seem significant at first glance, but having increased control over your shoulder joint is crucial for avoiding injuries, asserts Hiestand. Furthermore, strengthening your shoulder stability can help you avoid compensatory movements that could lead to muscle imbalances, as per the information from ACE.

Builds Core Strength

Like a mobile high plank, the bear crawl exercise supports all your body weight on just your hands and toes, thereby strengthening your core. Your core is comprised of anterior and posterior kinetic chain muscle groups that work in unison to maintain stability and protect your spine. Improving your core strength not only improves posture and upright stance, but also boosts performance in other workouts.

Take the example of boxing. As Hiestand points out, in sports such as boxing, core strength contributes to balance and power. A robust core helps you remain standing even when hit and facilitates power transfer when delivering a punch or generating rotational forces.

Moreover, if you're aiming for a personal best in the weight room, enhancing your core strength is essential, as is understanding how to engage your core muscles correctly. “In strength training, we often instruct to brace the core before a lift. This creates intra-abdominal pressure that protects the spine and directs the energy in the desired direction during the lift,” explains Hiestand. Lifting weights that your core cannot support can potentially be hazardous, irrespective of the strength of your legs.

Boosts Coordination

Executing the bear crawl necessitates the harmonious movement of your opposite hands and feet. This exercise can effectively enhance your coordination skills, implying the ability to engage the appropriate muscles at the right instances to execute a movement, notes Hiestand. An enhancement in coordination not only elevates your performance in sports and workouts but also improves daily functionalities as you get older. "As we age, coordination tends to deteriorate, resulting in increased incidences of falls, drops, and injuries. Therefore, maintaining good coordination is an essential life skill," explains Hiestand.

Bear Crawl Muscles Worked

In addition to improving core stability and shoulder strength, the bear crawl workout also effectively develops power in your quadriceps, which are essential in hip flexion, knee stabilization, and knee extension, according to Hiestand. The exercise further enhances your forearm muscles, contributing significantly to enhancing grip strength. A variant of the bear crawl includes maintaining straighter legs and keeping the knees further off the ground, which promotes increased hamstring flexibility," they further explain.

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

If you're a beginner to the bear crawl exercise, starting with a bear plank hold might be more beneficial. This involves maintaining the table-top position without moving, a concept also known as isometric movement. According to fitness expert Hiestand, this exercise demands less coordination compared to the original bear crawl. Another option would be the bear plank hold combined with shoulder taps that allows three limbs to stay on the floor simultaneously. Unlike the bear crawl where two limbs are typically in motion and your body isn't stationary, these modified versions are less complex while ensuring the same muscle engagement.

Progression: Lateral Bear Crawl

Boost your workout routine with lateral bear crawls, an exercise that lets you shuffle from one side to the other instead of moving in a straight line. Hiestand believes this technique allows for multiple range movements, especially targeting the shoulders. In this variation, you move the same hand and leg on one side, like the right hand and right leg, rather than alternating limbs. For an added cardio boost, opt for jumping your feet forward instead of simply stepping them, says Hiestand. To maintain a neutral spine during the exercise, consider placing a lightweight plate on your back. This method not only enhances your strength but also ensures the correct posture throughout the activity.

Common Bear Crawl Mistakes

Failing to engage your core properly during a bear crawl could be one of the most detrimental errors you can make, according to Hiestand. This oversight could lead to an overextended spine and increase your vulnerability for lower back injuries. Moreover, neglecting core engagement means you might miss out on the full range of muscular strength benefits that bear crawls provide, as previously noted by Shape. As you navigate through your set, it’s crucial to keep your core braced - imagine preparing for a stomach punch. Make sure your back remains flat and your spine neutral, just as if you were balancing a tray of drinks on your back. Tuck in your chin to fend off a sagging neck, recommends Hiestand. And remember: maintaining hip alignment with the floor is equally important.

How to Add the Bear Crawl to Your Routine

Always consider consulting with your healthcare provider before embarking on any new fitness regimen. This is particularly important if you're planning to incorporate the bear crawl exercise into your routine and have existing wrist or shoulder weight-bearing issues, according to Hiestand. The bear crawl can be especially beneficial for those who struggle with balance or coordination. "Performing this movement can enhance one's balance since it doesn't require being too far off the ground," states Hiestand.If you're set to challenge your core strength and shoulder stability, consider including the bear crawl in your warm-up routine or during your core workouts, advises Hiestand. Initially, perform the bear crawl for short intervals of 15 to 20 seconds, doing three to five sets per workout session. To ensure good form, you may want to start with just a bear plank hold or take small steps. As your strength and confidence improve, gradually increase the duration of your bear crawls to one minute and extend your strides as suggested by Hiestand. Regardless of how you adjust the exercise or the length of time you perform it, your shoulders and core are guaranteed to feel the burn.

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