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a woman performs the bear crawl

We usually learn to crawl before we can walk. But once we do learn to walk — and run, skip, bike, and even sit still for long periods of time — many of us lose our ability to crawl comfortably and efficiently. This is a shame, because crawling is a functional full-body movement.

The bear crawl, also known as the foot-hand crawl, begins with the standard variation that most people master as babies. It then lifts the knees so the only points of contact with the floor or ground are the hands and the balls of the feet.

Taking steps from this lowered position strengthens the arms, legs, chest, abs, and back while stretching the hips, shoulders, wrists, and ankles. This is a contralateral movement pattern — one hand steps forward in conjunction with the opposite-side foot — which improves coordination. And it engages both sides of the brain, builds new neural pathways, and strengthens the mind–body connection. Balancing on opposite-side limbs, even if only for a moment, refines balance. And because our hands and feet are so sensitive to sensory input, crawling provides connection to (and information from) our environment.

In addition to these benefits, bear crawling efficiently is a practical skill, especially for people who enjoy adventuring outdoors. Practicing this move in the health club or gym, at home, or in your local park can help you safely and successfully scramble over some rocks or traverse a log.

Follow these tips for getting the most out of your crawling practice.

Instructions

  1. Assume an all-fours position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Tuck your toes, engage your core to keep your back flat and parallel to the floor, and actively press through your hands and the balls of your feet to raise your knees 2 to 3 inches off the floor.
  3. Maintaining a neutral neck and spine, and a soft forward gaze, move your right foot and left hand forward about 6 to 8 inches. Next, move your left foot and right hand forward. Keep moving your opposite hand and foot with each step.

  4. Keep your hips low — at or slightly higher than shoulder height — with each step.
  5. Repeat for the desired distance, time interval, or number of steps. You can mix it up by taking steps backward, too.

Try These Bear Crawl Variations

Super-Slow Bear Crawl

  • Perform a bear crawl, but slow down each step to take at least five seconds.
  • Once this is comfortable, slow down even further, working toward each step taking at least 10 seconds.

Lateral Bear Crawl

  • Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, your back flat and your knees directly beneath your hips.
  • Lift your knees slightly so they hover about 2 inches above the ground. Simultaneously move your left foot and right hand to the left. Follow by moving your right foot and left hand to the left. Continue moving sideways about 20 to 30 yards.
  • Reverse the movement to your right to return to your starting position.

Bear-Crawl Bag Pull

  • Place a sandbag or other lightweight object on the gym floor and assume a bear crawl position over it: hands on the floor directly under your shoulders, arms straight, back straight, knees bent, balls of your feet on the floor.
  • With your right hand, slide the sandbag forward several inches.
  • Coordinating the action of your left hand with your right foot (and your right hand with your left foot), crawl forward a few steps until the sandbag is between your feet.
  • Slide the bag forward several inches with your left hand.
  • Repeat the movement, alternating hands.

Bear Crawl Hold With Shoulder Tap

  • Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, your back flat and your knees directly beneath your hips.
  • Lift your knees slightly so they hover about 2 inches above the ground. Hold this position.
  • If you are stable, raise one hand and touch the opposite shoulder. Keep your shoulders and hips squared to the floor and avoid swaying or twisting to the side.
  • Replace your hand on the floor and repeat on the opposite side, alternating sides for the desired number of reps or time interval.

This article originally appeared as “The Bear Crawl” in the March 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Photos: Kelly Loverud; Styling: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Jennifer Blake
Maggie
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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