If you’re going to take cues from any animal when it comes to workouts – not as stupid as it sounds, thanks to the existence of animal flow – then the bear should be near the top of your list. Have you ever seen a weedy bear? No, no-one has, and that’s not just down to their impressive intake of oily fish. Even the most pathetic of bears – the cuddly yet useless panda – is an impressive specimen and that’s achieved on a diet of bamboo.
To make your workout more ursine, the first (and, to be honest, only) exercise you should be adding is the bear crawl. It’s a simple but brutally effective way to improve core strength and work a variety of muscles all over the body, with the upper arms, chest and shoulders bearing the brunt of the action. Step up the pace with your bear crawls and it also acts as a cardio workout, making it a worthy addition to a HIIT circuit.
It’s also a move you can do anywhere, as it needs nothing more than some floor space and a healthy dose of willpower. The bear necessities, in short.
The Benefits Of The Bear Crawl
You’ll feel the strain the bear crawl places on your upper arms, chest and shoulders, but they’re far from the only muscles that’ll be aching the next day. The challenge of keeping your body stable as you pad around like a grizzly will ensure that your core strength and endurance improves with every step.
How To Do The Bear Crawl
The basic movement is simple: you have to crawl back, forward and even side-to-side without letting your knees touch the ground. Whatever direction you’re heading in, the key is to support yourself with your hands and toes, otherwise you’ll end up just crawling like a human, which is far less impressive than a bear.
Crawling forward is the easiest. Move hands and feet on the same side at the same time, so right hand and right leg, then left hand and left leg. Keep your back straight and your core engaged throughout. Space allowing, try and crawl 10 metres forward, then 10 back, for a minute or however long your favourite circuit interval is. Once you’re comfortable, try moving laterally.
Bear Crawl Variations
The Bear Squat
Continuing the bear theme with other kinds of exercise is not tricky: there are all manner of other moves linked to the powerhouse predators, some more tenuously than others (the jury’s out on the “wading into a stream to catch leaping salmon in mid-air with your teeth” regime).
One move that’s fairly hard to imagine an actual bear doing, but that is a worthy addition to any workout, is the bear squat. Start in the bear position, supported by your hands and toes with your knees off the ground. Then straighten your legs and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Once your legs are straight, slowly return to the starting position. Aim for 20 reps of this quad-buster as an excellent way to break up your bear walks.
This is also known as the beast walk or crawl, but let’s try to keep it to specific animals rather than generic beasts, shall we? The main difference between the leopard crawl and the bear crawl is the height of your hips. In the former you keep them low as you move around, whereas in the bear crawl you push your hips up to look more like a bear, and also to increase the load on your shoulders and arms. With the leopard crawl you also move opposite limbs at the same time, which will test your co-ordination as much as it does your core strength.
If you want to exercise on the spot but still strengthen your core in a way that will help you perform animal crawls in the future, the bird-dog is the move for you. For those who don’t know, a bird-dog is a pooch bred for hunting, rather than one with wings. That information won’t really help with the exercise, but it’s good to know that there aren’t terrifying winged dogs flying around the countryside.
Get on your hands and knees. Lift your right arm and left leg and point them straight out in front and behind you respectively. Then bring them back down and do the same with the opposing limbs. Make sure your torso remains still and your hips stay level throughout.
Admittedly, we’ve dropped a long way down the food chain here, but copying the humble crab can benefit your body just as much as mimicking the mighty bear. Sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you and your palms on the floor behind you. Push your hips up, then scuttle around on your hands and feet. As with the bear and leopard crawls, muscles all over the body have to work to keep you moving in this position, with your shoulders, triceps, quads and hamstrings all feeling the heat in particular.
Perhaps the toughest movement of all, and one to attempt once you’ve thoroughly mastered the bear and leopard crawls. Start in a top press-up position and then drop your chest down until it’s as low as it would be at the bottom of a press-up. Move by bringing your knee up to your elbow, moving the opposite arm forwards at the same time. Keep your torso as close to the ground as possible as you move – you don’t see crocodiles bucking their hips up into the air now, do you?
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.