The Bear Crawl Is the Full-Body Move Your Core and Coordination Are Missing

Channel your inner beast with this full-body cardio exercise.
Image Credit: LumiNola/E+/GettyImages

The bear crawl is an exercise that improves coordination, increases endurance and builds full-body strength. Plus, exercisers of all different fitness levels can benefit from regular crawling. The reason it's so great? It mimics a natural movement pattern we all learned when we were younger.

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Crawling on all fours is part of an innate movement sequence all humans use during their physical development. Think about a baby learning to walk. Rolling comes first, followed by rocking, then crawling and finally walking, running and climbing. These movements are all connected and build off one another.

Once we become fully competent walkers, however, crawling doesn't lose its value. Continuing to crawl throughout our lives helps our brains and bodies stay agile and sharp. Because crawling is hardwired into our brains, practicing it as an adult can help you move better during exercise and daily life.

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  • What is the bear crawl exercise?​ It's a full-body, body-weight exercise where you start on all fours, engage your core, lift your knees an inch or two off the floor and crawl.
  • What is the bear crawl good for?​ The bear crawl can be included in strength training, mobility or agility programs because it challenges the strength and endurance of many muscles. It improves balance, coordination and even cardiovascular fitness: You'll definitely feel your heart rate climb if you crawl for a while.
  • Who can do the bear crawl?​ The bear crawl requires a lot of core, leg and shoulder strength, plus a good amount of balance and coordination. Because of that, it can be challenging for beginners. Luckily, there are variations you can start with and build base strength and stability to eventually work up to the classic bear crawl. There are also ways to make the move more challenging.

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How to Do the Bear Crawl With Proper Form

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Curl your toes under and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your core engaged and hips level so you don't stick your butt into the air.
  3. Crawl forward with your right hand and left foot.
  4. Then, crawl with your left hand and right knee.
  5. Continue to crawl forward, alternating sides.

5 Bear Crawl Benefits and Muscles Worked

1. Increases Core Strength and Stability

Bear crawls are often used an abs exercise, because they challenge your abdominals, obliques and other core muscles. In order to keep your hips level and resist rotation, your core works hard to keep your torso in an even position — similarly to a plank and other core stability moves.

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The key is to actively engage your core throughout the movement. This will also keep your back happy and injury-free.

2. Increases Muscular Endurance

Your legs, glutes, core and shoulders all work hard to support you as you crawl. When you crawl for an extended period of time, you increase the endurance of these muscles. It really is a total-body burner, since so many muscles fire nonstop as you go.

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3. Strengthens and Supports Upper Body Joints

Crawling forces you to support much of your body weight with your hands as you move forward. This helps strengthen and stabilize your wrists, elbows and shoulders.

4. Improves Balance, Coordination and Agility

When you tap into the movement of the opposite-side arm and leg together, you improve your body's ability to move in a variety of athletic and daily life situations. This means you'll have better balance and coordination.

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Advanced bear crawl variations, which require you to crawl in different directions, are even better agility exercises than the original move.

5. It's Functional

To reduce the risk of injuries as you get older, it's crucial to preserve your ability to get up and down and move around on the floor. This helps reduce the risk of injuries due to falls.

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Crawling and doing other floor-based exercises helps you build confidence and strength on the ground, as it mimics natural movements you might do while on the ground or moving from a seated or crouched position to standing.

6. It's a Compound Exercise

A compound exercise is one that works multiple muscle groups at once. The bear crawl definitely does that. It's why the move can feel so hard. You're engaging your upper body, core and lower body at the same time. All of this muscle activity also means you'll feel your heart rate go up — so yes, it can count as cardio work, too.

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Is the Bear Crawl Bad for You?

Most people can introduce bear crawling into their workouts without problem if they take their time and practice using the progression below. However, if you're recovering from an injury to the wrists, elbows or shoulders, it's important to get permission from your doctor or physical therapist before introducing attempting bear crawls.

People with sensitive wrists may struggle with bear crawls. One way to work around this is to crawl on your fists as opposed to keeping your palm flat on the ground. If you do crawl with your palms flat, keep your fingers spread apart and actively grab the ground with your entire hand instead of driving all your weight into your wrists.

If you still have pain, stick with baby crawl variation below where your wrists don't have to work as hard.

3 Bear Crawl Form Tips

No matter which crawling variation you choose, keep these form tips in mind.

1. Crawl With the Opposite Arm and Leg

Crawling requires something called cross patterning, which means you move the opposite arm and leg together. Your left arm moves with your right leg, and your right arm moves with your left leg.

2. Keep Your Hips Level

It's tempting to stick your butt up in the air to make bear crawls easier. Use your core and leg muscles to stay low to the ground and keep your hips as level as possible. When viewed from the side, your back should be flat like a table and your knees should only be an inch or two off the ground. This adds to the core challenge of the move.

3. Resist Rotation

Use your core muscles to combat excessive side-to-side rotation in your hips. Stay balanced as you crawl. One way to work on this is to place a cone or another small object on the small of your back and try to keep it from falling off as you crawl.

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2 Bear Crawl Variations to Make the Exercise Easier

Not everyone is strong enough to jump right into bear crawls or other advanced crawling variations. You can use these progression to go from crawling novice to advanced crawler. The focus should always be nailing coordination first, then increasing the difficulty.

1. Baby Crawl

The baby crawl is the easiest crawling variation, since you don't need to hold your body weight off the ground. Starting here allows you to focus on coordination, which will make you much more successful when you progress to bear crawls.

Baby crawling is also ideal for older trainees or anyone recovering from injuries who can't yet support as much weight.

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Skill Level Beginner
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. The toes of both feet should be pointed behind you.
  2. Crawl forward with your right hand and left knee. You'll drag your knee across the ground.
  3. Then, crawl with your left hand and right knee.
  4. Continue to crawl forward in this manner.

2. Bear Plank

In order to perform a full bear crawl, you need to be comfortable supporting your body weight on your hands with your knees off the floor. It can be helpful to practice a bear plank as an intermediate step between baby crawling and bear crawling.

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Skill Level All Levels
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. Your hands should be beneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Curl your toes into the floor and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your hips level and don't stick your butt up into the air.
  3. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, then relax.

Tip

Once you can comfortably support your body weight in a bear plank, work on full bear crawls.

3 Bear Crawl Variations to Make the Exercise Harder

1. Backward Bear Crawl

The next step in the crawling progression is to move in different directions. This ups the ante to further improve your coordination and agility.

Before attempting any bear crawls in different directions, practice baby crawling. For example, work on backward baby crawls before progressing to backward bear crawls. Take your time so you're confident in your coordination of the opposite arm and leg in this new direction. It might take a few attempts for your brain and nervous system to figure out what's going on.

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Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Curl your toes under and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your core engaged and hips level so you don't stick your butt into the air.
  3. Crawl backward with your right hand and left knee.
  4. Repeat with the left hand and right knee.
  5. Continue to crawl backward in this manner.

Tip

Backward bear crawling tends to be easier if you focus on taking smaller steps with your hands and feet.

2. Lateral Bear Crawl

Lateral bear crawls involve crawling from side to side. Once again, be sure to practice lateral baby crawling before attempting a full lateral bear crawl.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor.
  2. Curl your toes under and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your hips level and don't stick your butt up into the air.
  3. Crawl to one side by bringing your feet together and your hands apart. Keep both knees off the floor.
  4. Next, step your feet apart as you bring your hands together.
  5. Continue to crawl to the side in this manner.
  6. Repeat for the same distance or time in the opposite direction.

3. Bear Crawl Box

The bear crawl box combines all the crawls in this progression. Just as the name suggests, you'll crawl in all four directions in the shape of a box. This challenges your strength, agility and coordination in multiple directions.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. Set up four cones or other markers in a square to indicate where to change directions.
  2. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor.
  3. Curl your toes under and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your hips level and don't stick your butt into the air.
  4. Crawl forward with your right hand and left knee.
  5. Then, crawl with your left hand and right knee.
  6. Continue to crawl forward until you hit the first cone.
  7. Then, switch to a lateral (sideways crawl.) Crawl sideways by alternating moving your hands apart and feet together.
  8. When you get to the next cone, transition to a backward crawl. Reset your position by bringing your left hand and knee together underneath your body. Crawl backward using alternating side movement.
  9. When you get to the last cone, bring your hands together and feet apart.
  10. Finish the box by crawling to the side back to the first cone.

Weighted Bear Crawls

Advanced exercisers can add load to bear crawls by placing a weight plate on their back, using a weighted vest or by dragging a sled behind them. Only attempt weighted bear crawls if you can crawl in all four directions with good form for at least one minute.

How to Add Bear Crawls to Your Workouts

The bear crawl is a versatile exercise that can be used in many different ways in your workouts. Some ideas:

  • Warm-Up Exercise:​ Perform 5 to 10 yards of crawling in all directions as part of a dynamic warm-up before lifting weights. This warms up multiple muscles and joints. It also wakes up your nervous system, which helps you lift heavier loads or move more explosively.
  • Core Exercise:​ Because the bear crawl is so effective at challenging your core muscles, it's a great option to use when you're specifically trying to build a stronger midsection.
  • Active Rest Exercise:​ Add sets of crawls between sets of other strength exercises for some extra movement practice.
  • Finisher or Conditioning Exercise:​ Crawling is relatively low-impact and requires no extra equipment. This makes it a great option for a workout finisher where you're trying to challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system when you're already tired.

There are two main ways to program crawling in your workouts:

  • For Time:​ Crawl for a certain amount of time. How long you crawl depends on how you're using the move in your workout. But don't be afraid to push this and go for several minutes at a time as you get stronger — especially if you're doing a bear crawl workout. For example, you could crawl for 5 minutes, switching back and forth between bear crawling and baby crawling as needed.
  • For Distance:​ Crawl for a certain amount of meters or yards, or for a set length, such as your entire living room or the turf area at your gym.

Want to try the CrossFit bear crawl for even more of a cardio challenge? Follow the video below.

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