Bear Crawl Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 31, 2022

A form of calisthenic or bodyweight plyometric exercise meant to impart a hypertrophic effect to a multitude of muscle groups located throughout the body, the bear crawl is considered a compound exercise of the open kinetic chain variety, utilizing nothing but a sufficiently wide enough space in which to perform it.

However, certain situations or training requirements may necessitate that the bear crawl be substituted in the exerciser’s workout program or physical rehabilitation plan, and that the substitute fulfill the same role the bear crawl was meant to facilitate in said workout or rehabilitation plan.

Fortunately, quite a few substitutes exist that activate the same muscle groups and incur the same level and type of training stimuli as the bear crawl itself, with certain exercises like burpees or the use of battling ropes even surpassing the bear crawl in terms of training efficacy.

Can the Bear Crawl be Substituted?

Yes, the bear crawl can be substituted quite easily with a variety of different exercises that may or may not share the status of being a calisthenic exercise, with the use of additional exercise equipment potentially imparting a greater benefit to the exerciser than other substitute exercises could.

bear crawl movement

Although it should be noted that no exercise can truly replicate the bear crawl in its entirety due to the differences in training intensity and the relative form required of the exercise, all of which will impart a different type of training stimuli and a different area of training, though these may be found to be quite similar to that of the bear crawl in the correct situation.

What Muscles are Worked by the Bear Crawl?

Being a compound calisthenic type exercise, the bear crawl activates a large portion of the muscle groups located throughout the body, most of which are active throughout the entirety of the exercise either in a static capacity or as dynamic mover muscles.

The muscle groups that play the largest part among these are the quadriceps femoris muscle group located along the front of the thigh, of which is responsible for a large portion of the force required to perform the bear crawl exercise.

The quadriceps works alongside the gluteus muscle group that makes up the buttocks, the hamstrings along the rear of the upper leg, as well as a majority of the muscle groups located in the upper body such as the deltoids or shoulder muscles, pectoral muscles, and the multitude of muscles located along the back.

With such a wide reaching training capacity, it is no surprise that substituting the bear crawl may be rather difficult for individuals without access to exercise equipment or certain lengths of time in which they may isolate every muscle group that is trained by the bear crawl.

Bodyweight Alternatives to the Bear Crawl

Considering the fact that the bear crawl only requires a suitably open enough space in which to perform, it should be no surprise to see that individuals wishing to substitute this particular exercise may also require that said substitute possess a similar lack of exercise equipment needed.

As such, a variety of bodyweight or calisthenic exercises have been listed, the majority of which possess similar levels of training intensity and effects as the bear crawl, with the added benefit of also activating much the same muscle groups as well.

Burpees

A favorite among exercisers wishing to improve their agility or athletes aiming for the effects of full body endurance, burpees are a truly excellent substitute to the bear crawl, not only in terms of the fact that it entirely lacks equipment as well, but also due to the compound full body nature of the exercise.

burpee movement

This is because of the fact that, when performed with proper form and an appropriate intensity, burpees activate practically every muscle group found in the body, rivaling that of the bear crawl and by extension possessing an identical if not superior level of bodily conditioning training.

Another reason why burpees make an excellent alternative exercise to the bear crawl is the fact that they both induce a cardiovascular and endurance improving training stimuli to the exerciser, not only inducing muscular hypertrophy and strength improvements but also aiding in practically every other form of fitness an athlete may require.

Crunches

More of an isolation type exercise than the wide reaching compound nature of the bear crawl, crunches nonetheless possess quite a similar – if not even better – level of activation to the abdominal muscles, especially when performed at higher repetitions with the use of proper form so as to ensure that the core is bearing the brunt of the resistance.

A primary function of the bear crawl is its ability to train not only the dynamic (or moving) strength of the abdominal muscles but also its static endurance, wherein the exerciser holding themselves in the bear crawl position without even moving is still taxing their abdominal muscles and thereby inducing strength and endurance adaptations.

This may be recreated to a near perfect extent through the use of weighted or bodyweight crunches, of which are far easier to perform than the bear crawl, especially considering the fact that all one requires is a suitably comfortable spot on the ground to lie on as they pull their chest to their knees during the exercise.

Bicycle Crunches

A far more intense version of the more common crunches exercise, bicycle crunches may also act as an excellent alternative exercise to the bear crawl in the capacity of activating the abdominal muscles as well as many other stabilizing muscles located throughout the torso, such as the erector spinae and obliques.

This is due to the fact that the bicycle crunch is considerably more dynamic than most other abdominally focused exercises, allowing it to take on some level of function as an endurance and agility exercise as well, furthering the case of the bicycle crunch being a suitable alternative to the bear crawl for athletes or functional exercisers.

Bicycle crunches are best performed at higher repetitions and at a moderate intensity so as to best replicate the same level of training intensity as one would find by performing a bear crawl, allowing the cardiovascular system to be taxed in much the same manner.

Planks

On the opposite end of the spectrum to bicycle crunches, planks primarily activate the abdominal muscles in an isometric fashion, of which is also found in the bear crawl throughout the entirety of the exercise as the exerciser keeps their body in a position quite similar to the plank itself.

plank

Planks are best used as an alternative to the bear crawl in combination with other, more dynamic exercises that allow the plank to cover the endurance and isometric training stimuli portion of the workout regime, allowing the full experience of the bear crawl to be realized with only one or two substitute exercises used.

Mountain Climbers

Another full body exercise commonly seen in agility drills and highly specialized athlete training programs, mountain climbers are an explosive compound calisthenic movement much like burpees or the bear crawl, all alongside the added benefit of also being a highly effective aerobic endurance exercise.

Mountain climbers share many of the same muscle group activations with the bear crawl, as well as a similar level of training intensity if performed in the proper manner, making it a near perfect direct alternative to the bear crawl in such exercise routines geared towards endurance, agility or general athletic function.

Mountain climbers are performed by the individual entering a similar position to the bear crawl (the plank position) prior to drawing their knee upwards until it is approximately below their sternum, if the exerciser’s flexibility allows for it.

The exerciser will then return the knee to its original position and instead perform the same motion with the opposite knee, also bringing it to their sternum as far as they can.

This is performed repetitively at a moderate to high speed and intensity until the exerciser has completed the prescribed length of time or until their endurance has been spent, activating much the same muscles in much the same manner to the bear crawl exercise itself.

Equipment Alternatives to the Bear Crawl

If the potential alternative exercise to the bear crawl need not be that of an equipment-less calisthenic or bodyweight exercise, then several other exercises utilizing a variety of different gym equipment may also be used as excellent substitutes to the bear crawl in a workout regime or training program.

Certain types of exercises utilizing equipment may in fact perform even better than the bear crawl in certain aspects of training, such as the improved muscular hypertrophy accrued from renegade rows due to the usage of weighted resistance equipment instead of simply the exerciser’s own body.

This makes alternating the bear crawl with a suitably similar equipment-based exercise not only possible, but even advisable in the pursuit of certain athletic or fitness goals.

Battle Ropes Power Slams

A highly explosive compound exercise making use of battle ropes or battling ropes as well as the exerciser’s own body weight, power slams utilizing said ropes are generally performed by the exerciser lifting the handles of the ropes to approximately shoulder height prior to slamming them downwards with the entirety of their body.

battle rope

It is this explosive full body movement that creates a training stimulus quite similar to that of the bear crawl, especially when performed in rapid repetitions, as the tension placed on the abdominal muscles as well as the legs and arms is also quite similar to that found in the performance of a bear crawl.

By addition, battle rope power slams are also quite similar to the bear crawl in terms of cardiovascular and agility training, especially when performed at the higher range of repetitions wherein the endurance of the exerciser’s muscles and circulatory system are pushed to their limits.

Renegade Rows

A compound exercise that shares many aspects of its training stimuli with agility training exercises and even the bear crawl itself, the renegade row makes use of a dumbbell or pair of dumbbells as well as the exerciser’s own body weight so as to induce muscular hypertrophy and neurological strength adaptation.

This is best seen during the concentric portion of the exercise wherein the exerciser will raise a dumbbell to their chest as they position themselves in plank form, not only activating their biceps brachii and latissimus dorsi muscle groups but also activating their abdominal stabilizer muscles in an isometric capacity.

This is quite similar to the sort of upper body and core muscle activation seen in the bear crawl, albeit with far less advisable repetition volume and a somewhat higher level of strain on the exerciser’s connective tissues.

Ab Wheel

Often used in the same sort of workout routine that normally contains bear crawls as well, the ab wheel is primarily a core exercise that also activates the muscles located in the lower back as well as the deltoids to some extent, with a similar movement pattern and training stimuli type to the bear crawl.

ab wheel

The ab wheel is best used as an alternative to the bear crawl alongside other, more hypertrophic exercises that also activate the muscle groups located in the upper back as well as the legs, such as battle rope power slams or mountain climbers so as to best replicate the effects of the bear crawl in an exercise routine.

References

1. Norris CM. Abdominal muscle training in sport. Br J Sports Med. 1993 Mar;27(1):19-27. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.27.1.19. PMID: 8457806; PMCID: PMC1332101.

2. Willardson JM. Core stability training: applications to sports conditioning programs. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):979-85. doi: 10.1519/R-20255.1. PMID: 17685697.

3. Shields RK, Heiss DG. An electromyographic comparison of abdominal muscle synergies during curl and double straight leg lowering exercises with control of the pelvic position. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1997 Aug 15;22(16):1873-9. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199708150-00012. PMID: 9280023.

4. Jill Fanslau. (July 7 2014) “You'll Never Believe the Weird Exercise That Sculpts Your Core” Mens Health Magazine. Retrieved via Menshealth.com

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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