Foot-Hand Bear Crawl Exercise

In my last post, “The Benefits of Crawling,” I discussed the importance and benefits of crawling. In this article I will teach you how to perform the foot-hand bear crawl exercise.

The foot-hand bear crawl exercise

The foot-hand crawl, which is known by many as the bear crawl, is a fantastic and essential skill to add to your fitness program. Apply this exercise to your workout routine and you will build mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination and strength throughout your body – especially in your core, hips and shoulders. It will improve your connection with nature and it will also tone and flatten your belly (Bonus!).

Consistent crawling practice will help restore your original strength and will enhance your life in many areas. Not only will you be more prepared for a situation when you might need to crawl, but your physical strength will increase, your mobility will improve, your mental focus/acuity will sharpen, your response to stress will better and so will your mood.



Situations when you might use the foot-hand bear crawl

I want you to first think about the practical applications of this movement skill. I am sure every individual reading this article will find themselves needing to use the movement aptitude, “crawling,” at multiple points in their lives. In “real life,” when would you crawl?

You may need to crawl when you are:

  • Passing under or over low obstacles
  • Checking out your kids’ forts
  • Helping to save another person from danger
  • Racing in an obstacle course like a Tough Mudder
  • Playing with your grandkids
  • Hiding behind a low wall
  • Escaping someone or something
  • Moving up or down a steep hill
  • Playing with your dog
  • Cleaning under furniture
  • Stalking someone or something 🙂
  • Avoiding a dangerous situation
  • Looking under an object
  • Recovering after falling
  • Moving to safety

The practical applications of crawling are endless. I can go on and on with examples, but I will leave it up to you to create more that connect with you and your lifestyle.

Now, back to becoming efficient with the bear crawl. Here is what you need to do.

Step 1: Prepare for the foot-hand bear crawl exercise with a mobility and dynamic warm-up

Always perform a proper mobility and dynamic warm-up prior to your workout. This warm-up does not need to be painstakingly long. Ten minutes or so will suffice.

  • Address problem areas (muscles that are tight or sore) by rolling muscle fascia with a foam roller, The Stick, therapy massage balls or a lacrosse ball.
  • Dynamically stretch and activate muscles needed for your workout by performing movement-specific drills such as skips, butt-kicks, lateral shuffles, ground transitions and over-unders.

Step 2: Get down like a bear

  1. Get down into a prone (kneeling, face down) position on the ground and distribute even pressure across your hands and knees as if you were going to crawl across the floor like a baby.
  2. Make note of how your points of support (hands, knees, feet) and points of contact (ground) feel. Do not be afraid to experiment with this on different surfaces. Indoors, you can kneel on a carpet, hardwood floor or tile. Outside, relearn what it feels like to make contact with grass, dirt, mud, pavement, sand, leaves, etc. {Note: Safety first. Always use common sense while exercising. Before performing any skill, survey the environment around you to make sure it is free of any hazards that may compromise your safety. You should aim for a low-risk and low-danger setting}.
  3. Now that you are on all fours, it is time to see how well you can hold a simple “table-top” position. Become mindful of your posture. Elongate your spine and focus on keeping your hips level with your head. Make sure your neck is in line with your spine. Pull your bellybutton up toward your spine. It is okay to gently lift your head so you are looking ahead of you.
  4. While holding this position, relax and practice controlled breathing.
  5. Once your form is strong, lift one hand slightly off the ground and bring it back to the floor. Repeat with the other.
  6. Now lift one leg, and set it down. Repeat with your other leg.
  7. Try to lift opposite hand and foot off the ground.
  8. Shift your center of gravity from one side to the other, while trying not to fall down. Focus on how this shift in body weight feels.
  9. Now shift your weight while lifting your hands and feet. Do not hold your breath.
  10. Play with these positions for as long as you feel sufficient.

Step 3: Master “get down like a bear” position

Let’s put focus back to the “get down like a bear” position. After mastering this position, the next progression is to add movement. It is now time to add more strength to your core and improve hip and shoulder mobility. The crawl will do just that. It will also improve your balance, coordination, sequencing and connection with nature.

Step 4: Create movement and crawl like a bear (foot-hand bear crawl)

Now that you are holding great posture in the contralateral position, breathing mindfully, and aware of the practical applications crawling may offer you, it is time to get moving.

  1. While staying mindful, continue to maintain support on the opposite foot and hand.
  2. Now begin to travel forward by pushing off your legs through your feet. Think about the name of the exercise, “foot-hand crawl.” The arms are not leading the crawl, the legs and feet are driving the movement.
  3. After pushing off with your legs and feet, place the arms and hands in front of the body and onto the ground. Your arms and hands will help create points of support, balance and momentum as you continue forward.
  4. Do not rush through this movement. Move slowly and mindfully. Continue driving through your legs, placing your arms and hands in front of you while you travel forward.
  5. After becoming efficient with this, try performing the same exercise while maintaining a position where your knees are lifted slightly off the ground.

In the following videos, I demonstrate how to perform the modified and advanced versions of the foot-hand crawl. One adjustment you can make is to slightly lift the head up so that you can see what is in front of you.

Modified foot-hand bear crawl exercise: Knees on ground:

 
Advanced foot-hand bear crawl exercise: Knees elevated and off the ground:

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to get a little help from a furry friend. In this video, Rosie Stayes, the cutest Portuguese Water Dog ever, helps me practice my foot-hand bear crawling technique. Thanks, Rosie!

Once you have mastered these versions of the foot-hand bear crawl, the next progression is to change up the context of the exercise. This is where you can get creative and have a lot of fun (yes, exercising CAN be fun). Think of ways that you can increase the volume, intensity and complexity of the foot-hand crawl.


Make the exercise more challenging by changing the context

  • Move a little faster. (If your posture becomes sloppy, scale your speed back a couple notches or go back to a knee-hand crawl. Remember, we are striving for efficiency in movement. Moving too fast may compromise efficiency.)
  • Increase the distance of your crawl.
  • Try crawling up or down a hill at various speeds and inclines.
  • Crawl under or over an obstacle.
  • Crawl while carrying a weighted object.
  • Crawl while pushing or pulling a weighted object.
  • Crawl around cones.
  • Crawl sideways.
  • Crawl with a partner.
  • Crawl backwards; reverse direction.
  • Crawl on top of objects such as a sturdy log, piece of wood (like a 2 x 4 x 8), etc.
  • Crawl outside… in the woods, on the beach, in a field.
  • Crawl around your house. Need to put something in the laundry bin? Crawl to your laundry room with the clothes on your back. Looking for the TV remote control? Crawl to it. Need to go to the bathroom? Crawl to and from it!

Foot-Hand Bear Crawl Exercise

Progress slowly and strength will follow

The foot-hand bear crawl seems like a simple exercise, but for many, it is quite demanding – both physically and mentally. If you find yourself struggling with your balance, do not become discouraged. Practice until you feel efficient and comfortable with the movement. If you begin to tire, take a break and rest. After a few weeks of adding mobility drills, stabilizing exercises, and movement skills training to your workout routine, your core and body will be a lot stronger and you will move more efficiently.

Stay consistent and results will come

Continue to progress in a safe and effective way and never compromise efficiency or safety. This consistency will help you achieve results and will open the door for progressing in all areas of your training. If you add exercises like the foot-hand bear crawl into your routine, your stabilizing muscles will become a lot stronger than when you started. Once these muscles are strong, you can progress to more complex exercises which involve dynamic and full range of motion of the spine.

Remember, first become efficient at the “get down like a bear” position before you attempt any crawl, which involves movement… then HAVE FUN with crawling! Crawl everywhere. 🙂

What are you waiting for?

  1. Start today.
  2. Practice the techniques for the “get down like a bear” and “foot-hand crawl” exercises I outlined above and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
  3. Good luck and happy crawling! 🙂

Thoughts?

  • What do you think of foot-hand bear crawling?
  • Do you crawl? Why or why not?

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