I just read this great post from Tony Gentilcore about bear crawls. It piqued my interest because it’s an exercise I love to use with my clients (so busted for seeking out articles that support my bias). He lists some great reasons for people to do them, but I wanted to elaborate on one: motor learning (the first reason #2 that he lists).
I have used bear crawls for a long time, but became especially interested in them a few years ago after reading this article written by physical therapist John D’Amico. John works with a lot of golfers in Florida, and has developed an interest in “accessing the nervous system through manual therapy and exercise as a means to attaining better mobility in my middle-aged to senior golf fitness clients.” So he did a little test:
- Did initial range of motion tests on 10 male golfers (average age 68)
- Taught them how to do a standing cross-crawl pattern
- Had them perform 20 repetitions of the standing cross-crawl pattern five times per day
- Re-tested range of motion on the same joints three days later
Here is a video of what his clients did:
He saw impressive improvements in great toe dorsiflexion, ankle dorsiflexion, hip extension, hip internal rotation, and hip flexion. From standing in place lifting up the opposite arm and leg. Huh. Give John’s article a read for the full results as well as his discussion.
I had previously used bear crawls as part of our warm-up when I coached the Ottawa Junior ultimate team, and I remember being surprised at how difficult the crawl movement pattern was for many of the kids. These were skilled teenage athletes, but many of them initially had a very hard time moving opposite arm and leg at the same time. It was as though their body didn’t know how to do it. Before seeing John’s post, I had read about benefits from acquiring a lost cross crawl pattern, although nothing with much scientific merit. In other words cool theories but not backed up by much. John’s post isn’t hard science either, but in my opinion, it is compelling. And given how little time it takes and how many other benefits there are (as Tony notes), bear crawling as an exercise is kind of a no-brainer.
If you’re interested in trying them, take a look at this great demonstration video by Joe Bonyai. He includes forward/reverse bear crawls as well as a stationary bear crawl with hold, which he refers to as “bear paws”.
Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada whose gym has a Bear Crossing sign posted.