When it comes to fitness and athletic conditioning, walking like an animal is very seldom at the forefront of anyone’s mind. Awkward and somewhat unnatural, such forms of movement seem more applicable to kids fooling around at the playground than someone who’s training hard in the gym. Yet, exercises such as the bear walk excel at teaching the human body how to function as a unit while at the same time building impressive levels of athleticism.
For those who have served in the military (or have watched a fair deal of military movies), you will no doubt recognise the bear crawl as a favourite of many a sadistic instructor. Despite its punitive status in pop culture, the bear crawl originated from the minds of strength and conditioning coaches, where it still retains much of its original relevance.
As exercises go, the bear crawl is as simple as they come. You simply start by getting down on all fours in a push-up position and proceed to work your arms and legs in a forward crawling manner. The catch is this: you are not allowed to let your elbows and knees come into contact with the floor at any point in time. Couple that with the fact that you’ll be crawling a minimum of 20m at a time for multiple rounds, you can see how this can get quite exhausting.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
The position and dynamic nature of the bear crawl works not only the core musculature, but also how the upper and lower limbs coordinate with them to facilitate movement. This can help athletes who have issues with psychomotor skills while also improving on spatial awareness and proprioception. The unique leverages of the human body in this position also puts a good deal of stress on the shoulders and arms, making it a useful inclusion to any upper-body training circuit. It also works great as a metabolic conditioning exercise!
A common mistake to avoid is executing the movements with high hips. A good benchmark to keep in mind is to keep your shins parallel to the ground as you crawl. Your shoulders will also need to be packed; use the cue “shoulders in the back pocket” to get them into the correct position and keep them there. Needless to say, your midsection should be braced throughout the movement, akin to how it would be in a plank.
The bear crawl can be used as part of a general warm-up, metabolic finisher or even as a main exercise in general physical preparatory training programmes. It is important that you start slow and gain proficiency with the correct form (as many may struggle with this at first) before progressing to a more average speed. For those looking to up the ante on this already challenging movement, you can choose to do it in reverse or even sideways. Adding weight via a loaded vest or dragging a weight plate slung behind your hips with a resistance band is another option. It’s a tad bit sadistic, but it works!