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Exercises You Should Be Doing: The Bear Crawl

Oct 28, 2014

On your mark…get set…go! And we were off.  Pseudo running/crawling our way to the 20 yard line.

As we reached the 20 yard line, someone tripped over their hands and fell flat on their face, while the rest of us made the turn back towards the starting the line.

The return trip was rather uneventful, and we all crossed unscathed jumping up to cheer on the rest of our team.  I’m not entirely sure how the event ended, or even how old I was, but I vividly remember my first bear crawl experience.

Maybe you can relate to the above story.  You get put in teams, someone yells go, you “run” as fast as you can on all fours, and then watch as everyone else does the same.  It may have served as conditioning, a mild form of punishment, or just to fill time, but either way we’re on the same page.

Although the competition and galloping around is fun and all, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for when I give someone a bear crawl.

Rather, when I program a bear, I want it to look like this:

But James, why is the bear crawl so awesome?  I’m glad you asked.  Let’s go over 4 of the major reasons why you should be doing bear crawls:


The bear crawl is a great exercise for all of you extended bros out there (yeah…I’m talking to you) because it biases flexion.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it works on anterior core control.  It helps give you the ability to use your abs to counteract extensor tone, and maintain position.  In particular, we want recruitment of the internal obliques and transverse abdominus because they help maintain proper position of the pelvis and rib cage.  Which brings me to my next point…


Reaching is the coolest thing since sliced bread (never understood that statement because sliced bread isn’t very cool, but whatever), and here’s why:  when you reach, especially in a closed chain reach such as this, you get great recruitment of your serratus anterior and work on active thoracic flexion.  This is important for several reasons.  For starters, the serratus anterior, because of its attachment site on the first 8 ribs, can actually pull the ribs back.  This is key for people with rib flares because it gives them the ability to use their abs.  Also, by “walking” forward you’re working on quality scapular upward rotation on a flexed thoracic spine.


Although I didn’t slow down in the video, you can easily go at a pace that forces you to take a breath with each step.  For people who have trouble breathing, aka are extended with ribs flares (see how this is all tying together), this is big time.  These people never get all their air out, struggle to fill up their posterior mediastinum with air, and can’t take a breath in without driving into extension.  By putting them in a state of active flexion, however, you can now work on how to properly get air in and out.


I’m always a fan of moving from a static state to a more dynamic state.  It involves more moving pieces, requires greater control, and is just more athletic.  It’s awesome if you can crush planks, reverse crunches, and a host of other “ground” based core exercises, but you have to be able to stabilize when multiple pieces are moving simultaneously to be a beast.


When it comes to programming the bear crawl the options are limitless.  You can put them on the back end of a warm up, use them as a superset during the strength portion of a workout, or throw them into some low level conditioning circuits.  My only request is that you don’t do them on the treadmill like our friend from earlier.  If you have any questions, feel free to holler at me below, and if not, happy crawling.

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