Tired of planks, crunches, and sit-ups? Consider adding the bear crawl exercise to your list of go-to core moves. The bear crawl is an effective-yet-underrated movement that can seriously improve your core strength while delivering a host of other benefits too.
You don’t need any equipment to do the bear crawl, which makes it a great choice for at-home workouts. And it can be easily modified to different fitness levels, meaning exercisers of all abilities can find value from slotting in the bear crawl to their regular routine.
If you’re not familiar with the bear crawl exercise, though, there are certain things you should know about it before you get started. And that’s where this article comes in.
With the help of NASM-certified personal trainer Keith Hodges, C.P.T., founder of Mind in Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles, we break down which muscles the bear crawl exercise hits, what makes the bear crawl such an effective core move, and some bear crawl exercise benefits you may want to know about. We also dig into how to stay safe while doing it and how to incorporate bear crawls into your workout.
Ready to become a bear crawl expert and perhaps discover your new favorite bodyweight exercise you can do at home? Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
The bear crawl activates your core as well as your shoulders, quads, back, and hips, says Hodges, who considers it one of his favorite exercises. Because you’re moving in an all fours position as you perform the bear crawl, your muscles really have to fire in order to keep your spine, hips, and shoulders stabilized.
The bear crawl is most definitely a core exercise. It works the entire unit of your core, says Hodges. That includes your rectus abdominis (what you may think of as your “abs,” or the muscles that run vertically across your abdomen), obliques (muscles on the sides of your torso) and transverse abdominis (deepest core muscle that wraps around your spine and sides), as well as the small muscles that stabilize your spine.
Like we mentioned, the bear crawl works muscles outside the core too. So even though it’s first and foremost a core exercise, it can also help strengthen and stabilize other areas of your body.
There are a lot of bear crawl exercise benefits. Like we mentioned above, bear crawls are an effective core exercise. But they’re also good for working your coordination, boosting shoulder strength and stability, and in some cases even getting a dose of cardio.
In the bear crawl position, your palms and toes and the only points of contact with the ground. You need strong core activation to help your body move and stay stable on that narrow base of support; without a strong core, you would collapse.
Moreover, because of the intricate movement pattern of the bear crawl that involves simultaneously moving opposite limbs, the bear crawl is effective at challenging your coordination. To bump up the coordination intensity, try bear crawling laterally, suggests Hodges.
Yet another benefit of the bear crawl exercise: It can be a solid way to build (or rebuild) shoulder strength and stability without lifting heavy. Hodges gives the example of someone who is rehabbing a shoulder injury and is cleared to work out again. Instead of jumping into traditional weight lifting moves like shoulder presses, which could put too much load on the weakened joint, that person could do lower-impact moves like the bear crawl to more safely gain strength and stability. (Of course, if you have a history of shoulder injury or pain, check with your doctor or physical therapist first before you do bear crawls to make sure they are safe for you.)
Lastly, depending on your fitness level, bear crawls can provide a solid dose of cardio. The more cardiovascularly fit you are, the less cardio challenge they will be, but you can always amp up the cardio element by adding speed and/or load to the movement, says Hodges.
Nope, bear crawls are not bad for you (in fact, quite the opposite), but anyone with a history of pain or injury, especially in their hips or wrists, should check with their doctor first before doing bear crawls.
If you are cleared to do bear crawls, you can make the move as safe as possible by ensuring your wrists, elbows, and shoulders stay stacked in a straight line, and that your knees remain directly under your hips, says Hodges. Stacking your joints like this reduces the amount of load placed on any one joint and instead spreads the load between multiple joints, he explains.
Then, as you crawl forward and backward, move slowly and with a short range of motion. If you bring your knees too close to your hands, your hips will rise, says Hodges. Keep in mind: A key goal of the bear crawl is to keep your hips as stable as possible—it can help to imagine you’re balancing a glass of water on your low back, says Hodges. This will help the move be effective for core and hip stabilization and also reduce your risk of injury.
There are lots of different ways to use bear crawls in your workout: as a warm-up, as part of a total body or targeted strength set, for active recovery, or even as a stand-alone finisher.
Bear crawls can be a great way to warm up your core and quads before a lower-body workout; they can also help fire up your shoulders before doing heavy shoulder presses, says Hodges. Another option is to incorporate bear crawls into a broader core or total-body workout. You can also tack them onto the end of any exercise session for a simple-yet-challenging finisher.
To make bear crawls harder, increase the time that you’re performing reps, amp up your speed (just make sure your form stays solid), or add resistance in the form of a weighted vest or looped resistance bands. Looking for a beginner-friendly bear crawl alternative? Simply do a bear crawl hold or drop your knees to the ground after each rep.
The slower you go, the more your core will feel it. To make this move easier, drop your knees to the ground after each rep. Or, do a bear crawl hold by holding the starting position.
SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.