Whether it’s part of a backlash against overly complicated high-tech fitness or a yearning for more playful workouts, primal movement, “animal flow,” and bodyweight exercises like the bear crawl have gained considerable popularity in recent years. It’s not uncommon to see groups of adults bear crawling, rolling, jumping, and climbing while nearby weights and cardio equipment sit untouched.
And perhaps that is the biggest reason for the popularity of the bear crawl and other bodyweight exercises: They don’t require equipment. Grab a patch of lawn, an empty conference room, or a corner of the playground, and get ready to reap the bear crawl’s benefits, of which there are many.
How to Do the Bear Crawl Exercise With Perfect Form
- Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees bent 90 degrees below your hips and hovering a few inches above the ground. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, move forward using a “cross-crawl” pattern, simultaneously moving opposite hands and feet together (i.e., left hand and right foot, right hand and left foot).
- Continue moving forward with opposite hands and feet in unison for the specified number of steps, then reverse the movement to work your way back.
Benefits of the Bear Crawl
No barbell? No problem. The bear crawl exercise effectively targets the muscles of the upper body, explains Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. “The bear crawl strengthens and builds endurance in the chest, arms, and shoulders, but you’ll also feel the burn in your core, making it an effective six-pack builder,” he says.
Additionally, the bear crawl is a functional exercise, meaning it trains some of our most primal human movements, building “real world” fitness. “Perhaps the greatest benefit of performing the bear crawl is that it reinforces the ‘cross-crawl’ pattern, which is a basic, essential movement pattern that babies do naturally, but that many adults have long forgotten how to do effectively,” says Thieme. Getting back to basics with the bear crawl, some fitness pros believe, can help improve mobility and even strengthen the brain.
And while it may look like child’s play, crawling of any kind is physically taxing. If you want to elevate your heart rate and burn calories, incorporate the bear crawl exercise into your workout.
Muscles Targeted by the Bear Crawl Exercise
Like many bodyweight exercises, the bear crawl is a full-body movement. However, you’ll feel it more intensely in the following muscles.
The fan-shaped pectoralis major originates at the clavicle and sternum and attaches to the humerus, raising, adducting (bringing toward the body’s midline), and internally rotating the arms.
Located on the back of the upper arms, the triceps outwardly rotate the arms and extend the elbows to straighten the arms. It consists of three heads that attach at the scapula and insert at the radius.
Commonly referred to as the “shoulder muscles,” the deltoids consist of three heads: the anterior, lateral, and posterior. They serve to help raise your arm forward, backward, and out to your sides (abduction).
The rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack muscle) originates at the pubic bone and inserts at the ribs and sternum. This muscle flexes the torso, pulling your ribcage toward your pelvis.
How to Make the Bear Crawl Easier
If the bear crawl feels too difficult, you can modify the bodyweight movement to a “baby crawl.” Instead of crawling on your hands and toes, do it on your hands and knees, still focusing on keeping your back flat and core engaged, and following the cross-crawl pattern.
How to Make the Bear Crawl Harder
Up for a bigger challenge? Thieme suggests mixing in lateral (side-to-side) movement with forward and backward bear crawls. Once you master that bodyweight movement, try adding a little hop.
“One of my favorite variations is the lateral bear crawl to jump, in which you crawl laterally for a few steps, jump up, and then repeat in the opposite direction,” says Thieme. “Continue for time. But no matter what variation you do, it’s important to make sure that you use the cross-crawl pattern.”