How to Bear Crawl: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

The bear crawl exercise works the entire body and is commonly included in boot camp and CrossFit workouts, spartan training, and other high-intensity exercise programs. Intermediate and advanced exercisers can benefit from including this move in their total body workouts.

Also Known As: Crawl, mat bear crawl

Targets: Core, back, arms, and legs

Level: Intermediate

How to Do a Bear Crawl

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

No equipment is needed for this exercise, but you do need a wide-open space in which to move. An outdoor space is ideal. Indoor spaces like a gymnasium or tennis court also work well.

Start the bear crawl in a push-up position. Hands are beneath the shoulders, the back is strong, and your core is engaged. The feet should be hip-distance apart with heels off the floor.

  1. Move forward by simultaneously moving the right hand and the left leg in a crawling motion. Your knees never touch the ground.
  2. Switch sides immediately after placing weight on the right hand and left leg, moving the left hand and right leg forward.
  3. Continue in a crawling motion, moving forward for your desired number of steps or distance.

Keep the body relatively low during the bear crawl, as if you are crawling beneath a low-hanging net or bar.

Benefits of the Bear Crawl

When performing the bear crawl, you use almost every muscle in the body. This exercise works the shoulders (deltoids), chest and back, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and core. Do bear crawls regularly and you can build total-body strength and endurance.

The bear crawl is often part of comprehensive agility workouts. Studies have shown that agility drills can help athletes meet the changing physical and physiological demands of different phases of training (such as pre- and post-season workouts).

But you don’t have to be an athlete to gain benefits from this type of exercise. Non-athletes engaging in agility training can improve body awareness, movement skills, and burn more calories. It may even boost your visual vigilance, listening skills, and working memory.

Additionally, a lack of time is a common reason behind people either avoiding exercise or quitting their exercise program. Compound exercises like the bear crawl solve this problem by helping you to gain more benefits in less time.

Other Variations of the Bear Crawl

You can modify this exercise to either decrease or increase its level of challenge.

Modified Bear Crawl for Beginners

If you’re not ready for the full bear crawl experience, you can do a similar move but without the forward movement. This variation is slightly easier. Also, since the body isn’t in an extended push-up position, it isn’t as difficult to hold up your body weight.

Begin on your hands and knees with the back flat, head in line with the spine, and core engaged. Hands are beneath the shoulders, feet are hip-distance apart, and toes are tucked under. While maintaining this position, alternate lifting each knee off the floor about one to two inches.

Backward Bear Crawl

Once you’ve mastered the bear crawl moving forward, you can add a backward bear crawl to your routine. Simply travel forward about ten yards, then reverse the sequence and travel backward ten yards, preferably without taking a break in between.

Sideways Bear Crawl

You can also do the bear crawl moving to the side. Start in the same position as would for the forward crawl, but move to the side instead of to the front. Make sure you do this move to both the left and right so you work each side of the body evenly.

Weighted Bear Crawl

You can make the bear crawl more challenging by increasing the load. One way to do this is to wear a weighted vest or backpack while traveling forward. Another option is to place a weight plate on your back and do bear crawls this way.

If you choose the latter option, be careful that the plate doesn’t fall off when you move. This can be avoided by not rotating your torso much when doing bear crawls, as well as by using a weight plate that is larger in diameter, thus less prone to sliding off.

Uneven Bear Crawl

Performing the bear crawl outside, on an uneven surface, is another way to challenge yourself with this mobility exercise. Wearing weightlifting gloves or something similar may be beneficial to keep from scuffing your hands on rough terrain.

Barrel Bear Crawl

Another way to add a challenge is to move a workout barrel or fitness tube (such as a ViPR) beneath you as you travel forward and back. This is a weighted device, so when you first try this variation, start with a lighter one.

Place the barrel or tube beneath your torso and, after taking one “step” forward, grab the barrel and slide it forward too. Then take another step and move the barrel again. Keep going for the desired number of steps or distance.

Bear Crawl With Push-Ups

Add push-ups to your bear crawls to make them even harder. Crawl forward about four steps, then hold the body in place and perform one push-up. Move forward another four steps and complete another push-up. Continue this pattern for about ten yards, then reverse and travel back.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these common errors to keep the bear crawl both safe and effective.

Hips Too High

It is natural to let your hips start to lift when you get moving with the bear crawl. After a few crawling steps forward, the arms get tired and lifting the hips high in the air helps reduce the stress on your core and upper body.

The problem is that this also reduces the amount of work your body has to do—reducing the effectiveness of the exercise. So, try to keep the back flat (with a neutral spine) as you propel your body forward.

To keep from lifting the hips too much, imagine that you are balancing a bowl of water on the small of your back as you move.

Sagging Back

The bear crawl is a great core exercise, but not if you let your back sag or droop. Before you start moving, brace your core so the hips and shoulders are in a straight line. The head should not sag forward or droop. Maintain this position as you move.

Watching yourself in a mirror is helpful. You can also have a friend or trainer watch you and provide feedback. If you have a hard time maintaining a solid core while moving forward, just take a few steps forward and gradually add steps as you get stronger.

Too Much Side-to-Side Movement

Try to keep all of the movement underneath your torso as you move. If you notice your legs sneaking out to the side to crawl forward, you might be taking steps that are too big.

Similarly, if you notice your hips swaying as you move, you may be taking steps that are too big. You might also lack core strength.

Safety and Precautions

Most people who are comfortable getting onto the floor will be able to try some variation of the bear crawl. But there are some people who should exercise caution.

During the later months of pregnancy, you may have a hard time with this exercise because you carry more weight in the middle of your body. In addition, hormones may change the stability of your joints, especially those in your pelvis and lower back.

Work with your healthcare provider to get personalized advice about the bear crawl if you want to do this exercise as you advance through your pregnancy.

People who are obese may also have a harder time holding the bear crawl position or advancing forward. And those with wrist and shoulder injuries should work with their physical therapist to determine if the exercise can be performed safely and effectively.

Start by taking five to seven steps forward. Take a break and stand up for a moment if you need to, then turn around and bear crawl back to the starting location. As you get stronger and have greater endurance, you can bear crawl farther. If you feel any pain at all, stop this exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT

 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist. 

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