Strength & Conditioning

7 Clear Bear Crawl Benefits & Exercise Variations

bear crawl benefits

The bear crawl is a bodyweight exercise that’s going to activate many muscle groups across your entire body.  

Even though the act of crawling is a natural human movement, it’s not that easy to do.  

You’re going to need good core strength and coordination to be able to execute it with proper form.  

A bear crawl workout is typically not something you see people doing in the gym very often.  

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Usually, this is because they find it difficult to master the movement pattern and only see it as a form of cardio.  

After all, why go to the hassle of learning this challenging functional exercise when all you need to do is jump on a treadmill?  

But there are lots of bear crawl benefits besides just boosting your heart rate. 

Keep reading as in this article, we’ll review the proper technique, common mistakes, and all the benefits of bear crawls.  

We’ll even suggest some bear crawl variations for you to try out.  

Bear Crawl Benefits

Let’s look at some of the key bear crawl benefits to see why it’s an exercise worth doing. 

Contralateral communication is the swapping of information between the left or right side of the brain and/or body.  

The nerves that control voluntary muscle movements start in the brain and typically cross to the opposite side of the body.  

The bear crawl engages contralateral communication and encourages coordination between the left and right sides of the body.  

The additional benefit of this is that it can highlight any strength balances between the sides of your body.  

The bear crawl tests your coordination as it involves the simultaneous movement of opposite limbs.

This coordination is essential for improving your agility.  

What’s more, bear crawling helps with spatial awareness due to moving your in relation to the surrounding space which further improves agility.

As the bear crawl engages multiple muscle groups at the same time it helps to improve endurance and cardiovascular fitness.  

This full body workout activates the muscles in your arms, shoulders, core, and lower body and the act of crawling keeps these muscles under constant tension, meaning that they get no rest.  

This places more of a demand on your cardiovascular system which works to supply oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles.  

The bear crawl is a great way of building core strength, especially to your obliques and rectus abdominis.  

As you raise your right leg and opposite hand away from the floor with your core engaged, your abdominals and obliques have to work hard to maintain the position of your upper body and prevent any rotation of your hips making for a great core workout.  

No matter which bear crawl variation you do, your serratus anterior is recruited during the movement.  

This is to support the stabilize the shoulders as you crawl thereby promoting good shoulder stability.  

This in turn can help to improve your posture and reduce the risk of injury, especially to the rotator cuff and surrounding structures.  

Bear crawling is a mobility exercise that involves shifting your body weight while maintaining balance on your hands and feet.

This cross body movement not only strengthens the muscles but also enhances proprioception, the body’s awareness of its position in space.

Improved proprioception contributes to better coordination between the limbs and sides of the body.

As the bear crawl is a compound movement it engages several muscle groups simultaneously, leading to a higher calorie burn compared to isolation exercises.  

This means it can contribute to weight loss.  

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How To Do The Bear Crawl

  1. Start off by getting yourself into the quadruped position (on all fours).
  2. Your shoulders should be above your hands.
  3. Shuffle your knees forward so they’re almost in line with your belly button. 
  4. Keeping your core muscles tight, raise both knees about 1 inch off the floor.  
  5. You should now be resting on your toes. This is the starting position.  
  6. Simultaneously move your right hand and left foot forward a few inches. 
  7. Pause, and then move your left hand and right foot.  
  8. Continue moving forward alternating between your hands and feet.  
  • Practice by getting yourself into the starting position and maintaining this stance, this is called the bear plank and is a great way of activating your core muscles.
  • Try pushing your resting hand and foot into the ground as you move off as this can help with stability and good form.  
  • Keep your abdominal muscles tight throughout. 
  • As you crawl forward, don’t allow your lower back to arch and maintain a neutral spine. 
  • Keep your pelvis square to the floor. 
  • Perform the exercise with intention, move slowly and deliberately. 
  • Don’t go to failure as this will affect your technique.  

Bear Crawl Variations

If you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to try out some other quadruped movements, why not try out some of the below.  

They’ll take the place of the basic bear crawl exercise while offering similar benefits. 

The lateral bear crawl, sometimes called the sideways bear crawl, involves setting up in the same way as the classic bear crawl but instead of moving forwards, you move side-to-side.

So, you’d move your right hand and left foot to the right a few inches, pause then return to the start but this time moving your opposite foot and hand.  

Due to the different movement pattern involved, it’s going to work your muscles a little differently and put more emphasis on your hip abductors and adductors.  

The reverse bear crawl, as with the lateral and regular variations, also involves maintaining the same starting position but this time you’re going to move backward.  

Backward bear crawls will add a different challenge to the exercise and may emphasize different aspects of muscle engagement.  

It’s also going to require even more coordination and control than the regular bear crawl as you have to navigate your way in reverse.  

The lizard crawl is a much more challenging variation of the bear crawl making it a great progression exercise.  

It’s performed in a similar way to the bear crawl but involves significantly more hip rotation from side to side which helps to open up the hips.  

You’ll also need to keep your torso closer to the ground which recruits more of your chest and triceps.  

As the name suggests, the crab crawl involves crawling like a crab in a supine position.  

This is a great bear crawl variation to really fire up the erector spinae, hip flexors, and hip extensors which are muscles that often get overlooked.  

You can do the crab crawl by extending your hips to keep your body in a straight line or keeping them more relaxed if you prefer.  

This helps you practice stabilizing your body while engaging your core and glutes.  

When doing the downward dog walk you’ll need to get into the regular downward dog position.  

This involves getting on your hands and knees with your glutes and hips hiked up.  

Resting on the balls of your feet, you then need to ‘walk’ forward in the same manner as the bear crawl; so right hand and left foot and vice versa.  

This is a fantastic variation for opening up the shoulders which can help to improve your posture and increase your range of motion

​In Summary

By incorporating the bear crawl into your workout routine you’re going to work your core, shoulders, back, chest, and hamstrings.  

It’s a fantastic way of encouraging good bodily coordination and increasing your strength all in one hit.  

Proper form is key for best results and when it’s done well, there are many other bear crawl exercise benefits making it a valuable addition to your training.

What’s more, you can keep testing your muscles by trying out some of the variations we’ve suggested in this article.  

When it comes to total body workouts, crawling exercises may be one of the more unusual training modalities but it’s an important part of movement training with many tangible benefits.

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