Bear Crawls

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This past year and a half my training in the gym has been somewhat of an experiment. After years of intense conditioning and focusing on one goal, I was eager to switch gears and experiment with some different training methods.

I dabbled in everything from powerbuilding (a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding) to bodyweight-only training to physique based training. And, while I enjoyed the exposure to these various methods I was always left feeling somewhat unfulfilled as none of them felt like a balanced combination of strength training and conditioning.

When it comes to my programming I always refer out to other coaches because 1. I believe that the hardest person to coach is yourself and 2. I love learning from other coaches and how they view training.

It wasn’t until four months ago, when I joined the coaching/training group, Strength Faction, that I realized how much I missed having a more balanced approach in my training programs.

A typical week of Strength Faction programming consists of three days of strength training, two days geared towards conditioning/recovery, and one day dedicated solely towards movement and ground-based training.

Right away I fell in love with the movement and ground-based training day which consists mainly of a variety of skips, side shuffling, and crawling.

Crawling? I know, right? That was my reaction. I mean, when was the last time you did a crawl?

I think it was middle school for me.

And, I don’t remember them being this difficult in middle school either. They can be quite the humbling experience.

Specifically the bear crawl has been a great addition to my training as it broken up some of the more traditional movements I’m accustomed to. Overall it is a great movement that helps us move better and become better athletes.

Here’s how.

Benefits

  • Coordinates the upper and lower body which is important for any athletic activity.
  • Improves shoulder, core, and hip stability.
  • Improves your ability to stabilize your spine.
  • Improve your overall conditioning base.
  • The cross-body patterning (right arm, left leg/left arm, right leg) not only challenges the body, but also challenges the brain as it has to coordinate the opposing arm and leg action.

The Ins and Outs

  • Think of the bear crawl as a traveling plank. You must maintain a rigid torso while traveling forward, backward, sideways. Since you’re moving it forces your body to work harder to keep you stable.
  • Set up in a quadruped position, on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
  • Raise your knees slightly off the ground, making sure to keep your hips level with your shoulders.
  • Brace your abs (like someone is going to punch you in the stomach), keep your neck neutral and slowly crawl forward moving opposite arm and leg at the same time.
  • Keep in mind that you want to be as stable through the spine as possible making sure you aren’t swaying your hips side to side. One way I like to think of this is: imagine a glass of water is on your lower back or actually place a glass of water on your lower back. This gives you immediate feedback on whether or not you’re moving your hips too much. If the water bottle falls off you know you’re not in control of the movement.
  • I also like to cue clients/athletes to push themselves away from the floor, creating even more stability through the shoulders.
  • To make this movement more difficult, once you’ve mastered the forward crawl, try crawling side to side and then backward.

Here’s one of my athletes, Lucy, performing bear crawls as part of her extended warm-up:

Here I am performing a crawling + med ball circuit. I used this as an active recovery between sets of sprints:

The best part about this movement is its versatility. I have all my clients/athletes perform them. They can be plugged in to your warm-ups, paired with a strength exercise in your training session, or added to part of a circuit on a low-level conditioning/recovery day. Plus, you can choose to crawl for a specific amount of time or a certain distance. The choices are limitless.

Give the bear crawl a go and let me know what you think.

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