The Bear Crawl: What It Is and How to Do It

Woman on all fours getting ready to work out

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The bear crawl is an allover body exercise that brings a shake to your quads, core, and shoulders. Exactly as the name suggests, this move requires you to crawl like a bear, keeping your body close to the ground.

This strength and cardio body-weight exercise packs a lot into one move, firing up multiple muscles at once as you work to keep your body in a specific position.

There are many ways to incorporate bear crawls into your workout, whether part of a dynamic warm-up or a round of HIIT.

Read on to find out more from the experts.

Meet the Expert

How Do Bear Crawls Benefit You?

Bear crawls are such an effective exercise due to the entire body working together to perform the movement. Aside from this, bear crawls also:

  • Work major muscle groups: "This body-weight exercise requires a lot of shoulder strength as well as upper-leg strength (think quads), and of course core strength, which means you’re really getting work out of every area in your body (upper, lower, and core), all at the same time," explains Sarah Louise Rector, fitness expert and CAFS-certified trainer.
  • Challenge your core: In order to execute properly, the body must hold proper form, which requires your core to activate throughout. "A bear crawl is a mobility exercise reminiscent of what you see when a baby is crawling on the ground. However, here you keep your knees off the ground and bear your weight on your hands and balls of the feet," says certified fitness instructor Mariela Arteaga. That requires a lot of core work!
  • Enhance your mobility: The movement itself depends on a degree of coordination and mobility in the joints, meaning you can become more agile with practice.

How Do You Bear Crawl?

The bear crawl looks just as it sounds, with you starting on all fours.

Below is a step-by-step guide from our trainers:

  • Lower onto the floor and place your palms on the ground, making sure your shoulders are over the wrists. Tuck your toes under so that you are on the balls of your feet.
  • Lift your knees off the ground so that they are hovering a few inches. They should stay bent at a 90-degree angle below the hips.
  • Keeping your back flat and your knees lifted, start to crawl forward, moving the opposite hand and the opposite foot at the same time, and keep moving in this direction. Here is when you’ll really feel your core activate.

The same movement can be completed backwards, known as a "reverse bear crawl." 

Modifications

There a few ways to modify this exercise in order to simplify the movement. "Set yourself up in the same position as a full bear crawl, but keep your knees on the ground, moving the opposite hand and opposite knee forward and back," explains Arteaga.

"Or, hover your knees off the ground, and without actually travelling forward, move the opposite hand and opposite knee forward and back, alternating between the two."

Both of these modifications will strengthen your shoulders, legs, and core as you work up to the full bear crawl.

Another modification to reduce the intensity is by placing your knees periodically on the ground every few steps. "You still want to walk forward on all fours, but you can place your knee down on every other rep," suggests Rector. "Make sure you have something cushioned or soft for your knee to rest on when doing this modification."

To up the intensity, try a reverse bear crawl right after to further challenge your strength and coordination. 

Safety Considerations

Bear crawls require a certain degree of flexibility and core strength, so before you get into position, there are a few safety considerations.

Firstly, form. "You will want to make sure that your muscles are warm and that you set yourself up in the proper position, always engaging the core and lengthening the spine," says Arteaga. Otherwise, you can compromise your lower back and joints, leading to potential strain or pain.

Second, be cautious of your knees and shoulders, advises Rector. "These are two of our more sensitive muscle groups, which we need to keep safe, so if you feel any pain or unusual feelings during this exercise, stop right away," she says.

Anyone with wrist pain or injury should avoid bear crawls, as they place direct pressure on these joints. And also be mindful if you struggle going down or getting up from the ground, such as those with lower-back pain or mobility issues. It's more important to respect your limitations than push your body too far.

The Final Takeaway

Bear crawls are a superlative, no-equipment exercise that works the entire body. A strength and cardio movement wrapped up in one, the bear crawl also works the core as it stabilizes the body throughout the workout. This movement is performed on the ground and can be modified in a number of ways to reduce the intensity, such as tapping down one knee every few crawls for a rest, or, to up the challenge, adding in a reverse crawl. Anyone with wrist, knee, or shoulder joint issues should avoid the exercise. If bear crawls are new for you, build up to the full crawl in stages to ensure your form is tip-top!

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