Activate the deep core muscles with a bear crawl

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Welcome to our weekly Move of the Week series. Every Monday, we’ll be sharing with you one of our favourite exercises – how to do them, what muscles they work and why they should be a regular part of your workout regime. This week: Bear crawl.

Bear crawls are increasingly becoming a key part of any core workout. Based on primal movement, they don’t require any equipment and you don’t necessarily sweat while doing them – but they will have you shaking like a leaf in a matter of seconds.

So, what exactly is a bear crawl and what muscles does it work?

The exercise is called a “bear crawl” because it’s supposed to mimic the moves a bear makes – slow, considered, barely lifting one leg in front of the other. Keeping the back absolutely flat, you want to move forwards and back without any kind of rotation. They’re ideal for warm-ups, mobility, core activation or as part of a wider primal workout for a number of reasons, including:

  • Low-impact: No jumping or sudden movements, it’s the perfect exercise for anyone with dodgy joints (so long as you can handle holding your body weight through your arms)
  • Effective: Improves your total core function and stability – necessary for all kinds of other movements
  • Full body workout: Targets the arms, shoulders and chest, as well as the serratus anterior, a muscle found at the back of the ribs. Then you’ve got the deep core activation, and the switching on of the glutes, hamstrings and quads that allows you to move both ways.
  • Dynamic: A more active way of working the core muscles than doing stomach crunches or planks.
  • Adaptable: To progress, switch up the speed at which you do them. You might find it’s a lot harder if you slow right down or that it’s tougher to keep good form the faster you move.

Bear crawls are great for targeting those stabilising muscles around the body which are of paramount importance to runners, boxers, netballers, footballers, yogis – anyone who spends a lot of time going between each foot or who needs good balance to perform at their best. As primal movement expert Miranda Fox previously told us: “All crawling patterns are fantastic for so many reasons. You’re able to improve your body awareness and full-body strength while also improving your mobility, agility and balance.” 

Which muscles are worked?

This move primarily targets the upper body, including the:

  • Deltoids (shoulders)
  • Trapezius (shoulders)
  • Biceps (arms)
  • Triceps (arms)
  • Pectoralis major and minor (chest)
  • Abdominals (core)

How to do a bear crawl

They look simple but trust us, after a minute, you’ll be shaking like a leaf! Posture is key here – make sure that your back is flat, that you’re lifting up through the shoulders and that your knees never lift more than an inch from the floor.

1. Start on hands and knees in tabletop position, hands directly under shoulders.

2. Lift the knees one inch so that your weight is now going through your hands and elbows into the shoulders.

3. Lock the core before lift-off.

4. Move both the right hand and left foot in front of you an inch or two and then the left hand and right foot. 

5. Keep moving forwards, using alternative hand and foot. No other part of the body should be moving at all.

6. Once you’ve reached the edge of your mat or the room, try crawling in reverse.

This is tough in the shoulders and arms so if you feel like fatigue is starting to compromise your form, stop, shake out and come back to it. 

Follow on @StrongWomenUK Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Image: Stylist

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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