While bear crawls have been a favorite of football coaches and military drill instructors for decades, they are also excellent for other sports. When done properly, bear crawls will simultaneously develop coordination, stability and functional strength and endurance in the muscles of the chest, shoulders arms, legs and core. Bear crawls are not only an excellent dynamic, total body exercise; they also help improve cross-body coordination by linking the hips to the shoulders. Crawling is not an aerobic exercise. You can’t crawl for miles, but you can pair bear crawls with other exercises to improve work capacity.
For those looking for other ways to improve core strength and stability, bear crawls are a good option. Think of them as a traveling plank. You have to maintain the same rigid, neutral torso you would in a plank position while moving in a variety of directions (forward, backward and/or side-to-side). As your arms and legs move, the deep and superficial muscles of the core contract to resist the urge to rotate, flex and extend.
How to do it: Start on all fours, set your core and lift your hips slightly to raise your knees off the floor while keeping your back flat. Step forward with the right hand and left foot, and then immediately do the same with the opposite side. Keep your back flat, hips down, core tight and palms flat on the ground throughout the exercise. Your back should be so flat that you could iron a shirt on it. Start with three sets of 10 steps with each hand (3×10). Gradually progress to three sets of 30 steps with each hand (3×30) and then increase the speed of movement. To make it harder repeat the following drills going up an incline such as a ramp or stadium steps, or pulling a weighted sled.
- Forward Crawl: Start from a four-point stance with your knees off the floor, back straight, butt down, eyes forward and palms flat on the ground. Set your core and then shift your weight slightly forward and step forward with the right hand and left foot. Then immediately step forward with the left hand and right foot. Continue moving forward alternating the opposite hand and foot. Take 10 steps with each hand. Rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat three times.
- Lateral Crawl: From the same position, step to the right with the right hand and right foot. Then step right with the left hand and left foot. Continue moving laterally alternating opposite hand and foot. Take 10 steps with each hand. Rest 30-60 seconds and repeat going to the left.
- Backwards Crawl: From the same position, step back with the right foot and left hand. Then step back with the left hand and right foot. Continue moving backward alternating the opposite hand and foot. Take 10 steps with each hand. Rest 30-60 seconds and repeat three times.
- Combo Crawl: From the same position, crawl forward for 10 steps. Stop and crawl right for 10 steps. Stop and crawl left for 10 steps. Stop and crawl backwards for 10 steps. Rest 60-seconds and repeat three times.
- Work Capacity Crawl (push-ups and bear crawls): Start in a push-up position and then 1) perform five perfect push-ups; 2) crawl forward 10 steps with each hand; 3) do five push-ups; 4) crawl backwards 10 steps with each hand; 5) finish with five push-up. Rest 60 seconds and then repeat the five steps crawling side-ways to the right and left.
- Work Capacity Crawl (bear crawl, sprint and jog): Start in a push-up position and crawl forward for 10 steps with each hand; 2) from the 4-point stance, sprint forward for 10 yards; 3) jog back to the start; 4) rest 30-60 seconds and repeat 10 times. Gradually increase the distance of the crawl to 30 steps with each hand and the distance of the sprint and jog to 30 yards.
Bear crawls are an inexpensive, low-tech exercise that provides a lot of bang for your bucks. You don’t need equipment and you can do it indoors or outdoors. All you need is flat surface about 20-30 yards in length. Start slow by introducing it as a warm-up exercise before adding it to your list of conditioning and/or finisher exercises. To make it even harder, crawl against the resistance of elastic tubing or a weighted sled.
Napoleon Pichardo, CSCS, RSCC is the Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Texas Rangers.