If you've already mastered the standard plank, you're probably looking for ways to upgrade your core training. While there's no shortage of challenging plank variations — from side plank crunches to plank up downs — nothing makes your muscles quiver quite like a bear plank.
Though technically the bear plank is considered a regressed version of the traditional plank because it's gentler on your back (more on this later), this full-body move — which involves being on all fours with your knees hovering a few inches off the ground — is anything but easy.
How to Do a Bear Plank
- Start kneeling on all fours in a tabletop position with wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Flex your toes, tuck your pelvis, lift your knees and hover approximately 3 to 6 inches off the ground.
- Keep your back flat and core engaged and avoid sinking your shoulders or arching your lower back by continually pressing your palms into the floor.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Slowly bring your knees to the floor for a 10-second rest, then repeat.
Benefits of the Bear Plank
Compared to a traditional plank, the bear plank puts less stress on your joints while still engaging your abs and other core muscles, Kemma Cunningham, personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Life Time, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
That makes it a great alternative for people with low-back issues so they can still reap the core-strengthening benefits of a traditional plank without undue strain, says Brooke Van Paris, personal trainer at Life Time Deerfield Township.
And thanks to the quadruped stance (the tabletop position), the bear plank works your muscles from head to toe. "It targets the core, glutes, quads and shoulder girdles the most, but essentially every other muscle in the body is contracted in this position to help the body stabilize for the hold," Van Paris says.
Since this static exercise engages the entire body, it's an excellent activation exercise to do prior to any extensive lifting or cardio, Cunningham says.
4 Common Bear Plank Mistakes to Avoid
While the bear plank appears straightforward — simply hover above the ground in a tabletop position — it's easy to do it incorrectly, therefore making the move less effective (and potentially painful). Some of the most common mistakes to be aware of while performing the bear plank are:
- Not fully engaging your core muscles: This may cause your lower back to arch, which can lead to pain over time, Cunningham says. For proper core engagement, "drive your bellybutton up through the spine and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze," Van Paris says.
- Not keeping your neck in a neutral position: "Do not crank your neck up or look around, because this can take the spine out of alignment and cause stress to the neck area," Van Paris says. "The best practice is to keep the neck aligned with the hip line," Cunningham adds.
- Sinking into your shoulders or collapsing your lower back: "With the bear plank being easier on the low back, the last thing we want to do is allow the low back to collapse and put the strain back into it," Van Paris agrees. "So make sure you have that nice flat back/neutral spine position and engage that core."
- Shifting your hips up: "We also want to make sure we are doing a bear plank, not a Downward Dog," Van Paris says. To perform the bear plank correctly and avoid inadvertently doing yoga, keep your hips aligned over the knees, she says.
Bear Plank Modifications and Variations
Make It Easier
"You can modify a bear plank by reducing the amount of space between the knees and the floor or by adjusting the exercise interval time," Cunningham says.
"You could also change the exercise completely as a regression, and in this case, I love the idea of bird dogs or dead bugs," Van Paris adds.
Make It Harder
Try marching bear planks. Start in a bear plank and lift your right foot and left hand slightly off the ground (while keeping your hips squared). Set them down and alternate sides, Cunningham says.
Turn it into a bear crawl. "The bear plank crawl is exactly what it sounds like — you start in your traditional bear plank then begin to 'crawl,' making sure when you move, you maintain the integrity of the bear plank and avoid touching the knees to the ground," Van Paris says.
Add more time. "We usually see bear planks done in 30 to 60 second increments, but if you have that mastered, try a bit more," Van Paris says.
Extend your leg. Extend one leg straight back, tap the toe on the floor, then bring it back to starting position (with a 90-degree bend in the knee). Continue alternating for 30 to 60 seconds.
Add a donkey kick. This will bring more burn to your glutes, Van Paris says. In the bear plank, lift one leg up toward the ceiling, keeping the 90-degree bend in your knee, and squeeze your glute. Return to start and repeat with the other leg, alternating for 30 to 60 seconds.
Use a resistance band. "This can really ramp up the intensity in the hips and glute area," Van Paris says. Loop a resistance band around the legs (about an inch above the knees), maintaining tension on the band throughout the exercise.
Incorporate bird dog. "Removing points of contact with the floor in a bear plank causes the body to stabilize the shoulders, hips and core to maintain balance," Van Paris explains. Start in the traditional bear plank and extend the opposite arm and leg, alternating sides while keeping proper form, balance and core engagement.
Add a row. This variation works your entire body and has all the benefits of its sister exercise, the renegade row, except it's easier to execute. The bear plank positioning helps you avoid hip sway and collapsing of the low back, Van Paris says. Using one hand to stabilize you, hold a dumbbell in the other and lift it off the floor, pulling the dumbbell to the top of the ribcage. Complete 10 to 12 reps, then switch sides.