7 Awesome Bear Crawl Exercise Variations

To Improve Posture and Core Strength

By Coach E

Bear Crawl Exercise to Strengthen Core

Are you someone who suffers from bad posture, low back pain or shoulder impingement? As annoying as these afflictions may be, if not corrected, they can lead to more serious issues like restricted respiratory capacity, chronic pain and surgery.

Multiple studies suggest that the general cause for these issues is poor stabilization and neural control the core. Read on to learn the physical costs associated with a weak core, and discover the exercise and workout routine designed to fix it.

Today, we’re going add a little fun and function to your workouts by getting you in touch with your spirit animal. I’m bringing you a new spin on an old exercise you may remember from your childhood – and that my friend is the bear crawl exercise.

The bear crawl is a fantastic exercise for improving posture, core strength and – if you follow the tips outlined this article – will be your new tool for eliminating neck and back pain.

We’re going to break down the bear crawl exercise into seven progressive variations, giving you multiple options for your next workout.

If you hate having a strong core and love tweaking your back when you pick up a pencil, stop reading now. But, if you want to improve your posture with a fun and simple exercise, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.

The bear crawl is a complex movement requiring core stability and neural control.

Adding complex core strengthening exercises to your workout is fantastic for improving the efficiency of movement and reducing the risk injury. [1]

Key benefits of the bear crawl exercise include:

  1. Multi-dimensional core stabilization
  2. Scapular stability
  3. T-spine extension
  4. End rage hip flexor activation

Let’s quickly break down some of these key benefits before getting down and dirty with the practical stuff.

Multi-Dimensional Core Stabilization

Improving core stability is so important these days as we are exposed to so many things that aim to ruin our posture.

Regularly exercising with bear crawls is great for developing neural control and active cross body core stability, specifically in the sagittal and transverse planes.

Core stability works to improve posture in all positions, protecting your spine and reducing the risk of injury caused by unwanted spinal bending (sagittal plane) or rotation (transverse plane).

Why is this important? Well, if you suffer from weak core stability, your spine will default into less than ideal alignment under pressure and you’ll also have less control of your limbs when performing functional loaded movements.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re picking up your child or picking up an elephant – You Need Multi-Dimensional Core Stability!

In a nutshell – The more you can stabilize your core the less likely you are to flop like a wet noodle and injure yourself.

Scapular Stability

The bear crawl also develops scapular stability by activating the serratus anterior.

The serratus anterior is responsible for stabilising the shoulder blades (scapulae) securing its inner edge against the rib cage.

Serratus Anterior Rib Cage Image

The serratus is also crucial in functions like breathing, 3–D arm movement, internal and external rotation and extensions seen in pushing or punching motions.

Your serratus along with the lower and upper trapezius muscles assist in upward rotation of the scapula, ensuring the scapula is in optimal position for overhead movements. [2]

Think of movements like reaching to grab a pull-up bar or getting tinned beans off the shelf for that sweet old lady in the supermarket.

If the serratus is weak, the scapula cannot rotate properly. Restricted rotation reduces the range your shoulder has in overhead movements and can cause uncomfortable sensations when you lift your arm and problems such as impingement and even rotator cuff tears.

In a domino effect, your body will then look for the next available engine – generally the traps – to upwardly rotate the scapula during upward movements of the arm. This unnecessary tension in the traps can then cause chronic neck pain and stiffness.

A strong and properly functioning serratus anterior is vital for restoring shoulder and neck function in issues caused by scapular instability. [3]

Thoracic Spine Extension

Your thoracic spine is designed for flexion, extension, and rotation. Excess time spent in poor postures – commonly seen in those working behind a desk or checking their phone for Tinder matches – results in a pronounced rounding of the thoracic spine.

This rounding (kyphosis) causes your shoulders to roll forward and your neck and head to poke out like a vulture doing the world’s worst bodybuilding pose. (You can read more about thoracic kyphosis and how to prevent that in this article)

While nobody wants to look like a Neanderthal, poor posture can also result in pain and it limits our mobility.

To help you see the negative effect being slouched has on your mobility, try this quick test:

  1. Hunch your back and roll your shoulders forward.
  2. Now, keeping this posture, I want you to turn to your right as if you’re trying to look behind you.


Good, now do the same rotational movement, but this time I want you to roll your shoulders back and sit with a nice upright posture before you turn. See the difference?

I bet you got much further this time, didn’t you?

Hip Flexor Activation

Bear crawls are extremely helpful for improving strength and mobility in the hips.

The hip flexors are made up of two muscles, the psoas, and the iliacus, which run from the front of the lumbar spine and the pelvis all the way down to the top of your thigh bone (femur).

Hip Flexors Muscles involved in the bear crawl exercise

As their name indicates, these muscles are responsible for flexion at the hip, however, another little-known function is their role in stabilizing the lumbar spine.

Proper hip function is important in preventing low back pain.

The bear crawl exercise allows you to safely train the activation of your hip muscles at end range of hip flexion, which is important in many positions such as the bottom of a squat, where the hips are flexed and it’s critical to maintain a neutral, stable lumbar spine, especially if you’re performing a back squat with a significant amount of weight.

So, to reap these benefits, add some bear crawls into your workouts and depending on your level of strength, the video below includes beginner to advanced variations that anyone will find challenging.

Let’s break down some of the key technical points to ensure you’re doing the bear crawl correctly because if you’re not using proper technique, you’re not going to get the most of the movement.

Bear Crawl Exercise Technical Cues

  1. Begin on the ground with your hands and knees in the quadruped stance
  2. Your knees and feet should be hip width apart and your hands shoulder width
  3. Brace your core to position your spine in neutral alignment
  4. Stabilize your scapulae by rotating your elbows inwards towards your ribcage, slightly retracting the shoulders back and down
  5. Maintain a neutral lumbar and cervical spine by keeping the chin tucked and activating the hips and glutes
  6. Aim for slight thoracic extension to reduce forward rounding of the upper back and shoulders
  7. Lift your knees off the ground so that your shins run parallel to the floor and your weight distributed evenly between your hands and your feet.

Common Mistakes

  1. Holding the Breath – You should be able to breathe comfortably in this position while maintaining a braced neutral spine.
    If you feel that your breath is causing you to lose spinal position or that you’re performing catch breaths – like a dog drinking water – you’ll need to spend more static time in this position, practicing deep comfortable breathing before progressing
  2. Shrugging the Shoulders
    Shrugging off the shoulders is generally caused by poor scapular stabilization.
    As mentioned earlier, when there is a fault in the serratus anterior your body recruits other muscles to compensate. The trapezius muscles are your body’s Plan B when the serratus anterior is weak.
    As helpful as the trapezius thinks it’s being, it’s kind of like having your 10-year-old brother be your designated driver – the intention to help is there, but of course there are going to be complications.
    Shrugging leads to rounding of the shoulders, reduced thoracic extension and forward poking of your neck and head – there’s that vulture again.
    Try these scapular stabilizing exercises as a primer for the bear crawl.
  3. Lumbar Flexion
    If you find your lumbar rounding inwards it’s because you’re failing to activate your hip flexors.
    Your goal should be maintaining a neutral spine at all times, not looking like a cat taking a dump.
    To remedy this, start in the quadruped position with your knees on the floor and begin contracting and relaxing your hip muscles – four seconds on, four seconds off. Next, progress with your knees off the floor and practice holding that squeeze in your hip flexors. This should help that cat finish its dump so you can go back to being a human again.

7 Bear Crawl Exercises

Just like any exercise, you’ll need to start small and build progressively.

The following bear crawl exercises range from beginner to advanced levels.

  1. Lift and Hold 1 Hand or 1 Leg:Bear Crawl Exercise Variations - 1. Lift 1 foot or handTo perform this beginner level exercise, all you need to do is lift and hold one hand, or one foot, off the ground. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine and limit bending or rotating your body as you lift and hold.
  2. Lift and Hold Opposing Limbs:
    Bear Crawl Exercise Variations - 2. Lift Opposite Hand and FootMoving onto the next level, lift both your right hand and your left leg at the same time and hold. Once you have finished, repeat this step with the left hand and right leg making sure your spine remains in position.
  3. Slow Bear Crawl:
    Bear Crawl Exercise Variations - 3. Slow Bear CrawlTime to move from static to dynamic. In this variation I want you to crawl forward as slowly as possible. Moving slowly demands a higher level of stabilization in your core and also builds coordination when the time comes to crawl at a faster pace.
  4. Relaxed Bear Crawl:
    Bear Crawl Exercise - 4. Relaxed Bear Crawl
    Moving slightly faster in this time, I want you to bear crawl in a more relaxed manner to promote efficient movement.
    Relaxed bear crawls don’t demand the same level of core stability that slow bear crawls do, though stabilizing your core should still be your priority.
  5. Fast Bear Crawl:Bear Crawl Exercise - 5. Fast Bear CrawlAfter developing stability, coordination and efficiency in the previous progressions it’s now time to develop more dynamic stability.
    Perform your bear crawls now at a faster pace with a springy movement. This will produce more of an impact on your frame as you move so it’s important that you focus on activation and maintaining stability.
  6. Low Bear Crawl:Bear Crawl Exercise - 6. Low Bear CrawlIn this advanced variation, you’re going to perform the bear crawl closer to the ground by bending your elbows.
    This exercise requires a higher level of core stabilization and triceps strength because you’re now relying less on the skeletal structure of your arms to support your weight and more on muscular activation.
    Remember to keep your shoulders rolled back to stabilize the scapulae and reduce the pressure placed on the shoulder joint.
  7. Straight Leg Bear Crawl:
    Bear Crawl Exercise - 7. Straight Leg Bear CrawlThis is a more advanced variation that requires you to crawl with your legs straight and your hips pointing to the sky.
    This exercise forces you to maintain position at end range hip flexion to work both hamstring length and the rectus femoris.
    Focus on hip activation and bracing your core to stop your back rounding as you crawl.

Programming Bear Crawls Into Your Workouts

As mentioned earlier, bear crawls are very versatile and can be used to serve a variety of purposes in your workouts.

Here are some basic guidelines for adding bear crawls into your routine:

In Your Warm Up

You’ll want to stick to the basic bear crawl variations in your warm up.

Sample Warm Up Progression:

• 1 Arm / 1 Leg Hold:

 3 – 5 Reps / 5 – 10 Seconds Hold

• Lift and Hold Opposing Limbs:

 3 – 5 Reps / 5 – 10 Seconds Hold

• Slow Bear Crawl:

10 to 20 Yards

• Relaxed Bear Crawl:

10 to 20 Yards

The ideal number of reps, sets, and distance travelled in the warm up is different from person to person. Start with this suggestion and gauge how you feel. Remember, this is the warm up – don’t go blowing your tank before you get to the good stuff.

Workout Finishers

Bear crawls are a great core builder and finisher for your workouts.

Make static bear crawls (variations 1 – 2) more challenging by upping the reps per side and hold times.

Sample Static Bear Crawl Finisher

• 1 Arm / 1 Leg Hold:

5 Reps / 10 Seconds Hold / 4 Sets

• Lift and Hold Opposing Limbs:

 5 Reps / 10 Seconds Hold / 4 Sets

Perform dynamic variations in timed intervals focusing on quality of movement, muscular activation, and stabilization.

To make dynamic finishers more challenging increase work times and/or decrease rest times.

Sample Dynamic Bear Crawl Finishers:

Sample Dynamic Bear Crawl Exercise Finishers

*Note: Interval options = work/rest in seconds

The Bear Crawl Workout

If you’re pressed on time, and want to get a sweat going, you can use all seven bear crawl exercises in a short but intense workout.

Use the basic variations in your warm up and then work your way through all seven for a total of 10 – 15 minutes.

Sample Bear Crawl Workout:

• 1 Arm / 1 Leg Hold:

5 Reps / 10 Seconds Hold / 2 Sets

• Lift and Hold Opposing Limbs:

5 Reps / 10 Seconds Hold / 2 Sets

• Slow Bear Crawl:

30 Sec Work / 30 Sec Rest / 2 Sets

• Relaxed Bear Crawl:

30 Sec Work / 30 Sec Rest / 2 Sets

• Fast Bear Crawl:

20 Sec Work / 40 Sec Rest / 2 Sets

• Low Bear Crawl:

20 Sec Work / 40 Sec Rest / 2 Sets

• Straight Leg Bear Crawl:

40 Sec Work / 20 Sec Rest / 2 Sets

I guarantee your shoulders, arms and core will be feeling this routine (and you might not even make it through to the end).

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.