When it comes to keeping your core strong, minimizing low back pain, and maximizing performance, plank variations are a vital component of your fitness routine.
The bear plank is a core bodyweight exercise that focuses on strengthening the muscles that stabilize your spine.
The best part of the bear plank is that it doesn’t require any equipment, but it may help to have a yoga mat for more comfort.
While the bear plank is relatively safe, always consult your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise routine.
This article covers the basics of the bear plank, including the muscles it targets, proper technique, variations to increase and decrease the difficulty, and its science-backed benefits.
Muscles targeted with the bear plank
While you may think of your core as the six-pack muscles, the full extent of your core musculature includes the deeper abdominal muscles, as well the muscles along your spine.
Many of these core muscles keep your spine from twisting or bending to the side when performing everyday movements and athletic activities.
Specifically, these muscles include the external and internal obliques, which are the muscles on either side of your torso that connect your hips and ribs. Plank variations also activate the transverse abdominis, which runs horizontally beneath your obliques and rectus abdominis (Trusted Source).
Collectively, research shows that the comprehensive strengthening of these core muscles reduces symptoms of low back pain and injury risk, as well as increases athletic performance (Trusted Source)
The bear plank strengthens a full range of core muscles including the transverse abdominis and obliques.
Bear plank form and variations
The bear plank is part of a range of core strengthening exercises that include regressions and progressions, meaning easier or harder variations, respectively.
The bear plank is a beginner to intermediate plank variation that allows many options for increasing or decreasing the difficulty to provide you the proper challenge for your current fitness level.
Standard bear plank
The standard bear plank is appropriate for most individuals with some core training experience and no injuries.
To perform the bear plank:
- Begin on your hands and knees with your feet flexed and toes on the floor.
- Press into the ground to activate your shoulder and chest muscles. Your weight should be evenly distributed across your fingers, palms, and the heels of your hand.
- Engage your glutes to slightly tuck your tailbone.
- Contract your abdominals by taking a full breath and drawing them in as if you’re bracing for a punch. The bottom of your ribs should move slightly toward your pelvis.
- Lift your knees about 1 inch (2.54 cm) so that they’re floating just above the ground. Keep your chin and head in a neutral position, with your eyes fixed on the floor directly beneath your head.
- Breathe in and out in a controlled manner while maintaining your brace. Your lower and mid-back should be slightly rounded. Avoid arching your back or letting your stomach drop toward the floor.
- Hold this position for at least 20 seconds. As you practice this exercise, work to hold it for 3 sets of 60 seconds.
- Perform the sets 2–3 times per week as part of your overall fitness routine.
Quadruped abdominal brace (easier)
If you find the bear plank too difficult, the quadruped abdominal brace can help you build the strength necessary to progress into it.
The biggest difference in this variation is that your knees will remain on the ground while you contract your core and glutes.
To perform the quadruped abdominal brace, perform the steps listed above, but keep your knees on the ground as you engage your core for the same length of time.
Bear plank leg lift (harder)
Once you’re comfortable performing the bear plank for 3 sets of 60 seconds, you’re ready to progress to the bear plank leg lift.
This exercise is similar to the bear plank and uses the same hold position. However, you’ll slowly lift one foot at a time, alternating each foot for a few repetitions.
To perform this variation, position your body and engage your muscles the same way you did in steps 1–5 above. Once you’re in the floating position, slowly raise your right foot 1 inch (2.54 cm) off the ground for about 1 second. Return the foot to the ground and repeat on the left side.
Breathe in and out in a controlled manner while performing the leg lifts. Try to maintain a neutral spine, and avoid arching your back or letting your stomach drop toward the floor.
Perform sets of 10–20 leg lifts (5–10 on each side) for 3 sets.
Perform the sets 2–3 times per week as part of your overall fitness routine.
Bear plank kick through (harder)
The bear plank kick through is a more advanced variation of the bear plank leg lift. It involves dynamic core rotation while maintaining stability.
This variation should be performed once you can comfortably do a bear plank leg lift, and it’s an excellent way to dynamically warm up before training.
To perform the bear plank kick through, follow steps 1–5 above for the standard bear plank. Once you’re in the floating position, raise your right foot and lower your right hip toward the ground, rotating through your upper body.
Weave your right leg under your left knee in the space created by your rotation. Then, kick your right leg straight as you raise your left hand up for a full-body rotation.
Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Perform sets of 10–20 kick-throughs (5–10 on each side) for 3 sets.
Perform the sets 2–3 times per week as part of your overall fitness routine.
Bear crawl (harder)
The bear crawl is the final dynamic variation of the bear plank.
You’ll adopt the same position as the standard bear plank. However, you’ll then crawl forward while maintaining the floating-knee position.
Once you’re in the floating position, lift your right foot and bring your right knee about 12 inches (30.5 cm) toward your right armpit before returning the foot to the ground.
As you move your right foot forward, lift your left hand off the ground and place it about 12 inches (30.5 cm) forward from its original position.
Repeat using the left leg and right hand and alternating each side.
This action results in you crawling across the floor as you maintain the bear plank brace.
Perform sets of 10–20 crawls (5–10 on each side) for 3 sets. You can use the distance covered before fatiguing to gauge your overall progress.
Again, practice the bear crawl 2–3 times per week as part of your overall fitness routine.
The bear plank offers regressions and progressions depending on your fitness level. As you improve, the dynamic variations are excellent full-body warmups for other training.
Bear plank benefits
As mentioned, the biggest benefit of the bear plank variations is improved activation of the transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.
Along with the six-pack rectus abdominis muscles, these deeper core stabilizers protect your spine and improve the overall stability of your lower back.
Traditional exercises such as crunches do not activate these deep core muscles to the same degree, and they’re less useful for practical core strength. Additionally, some individuals might find situps and crunches exacerbate, rather than improve, low back pain.
Finally, studies suggest that core exercises like planks and their variations directly translate to improved performance and reduced injuries during field sports that involve complex, dynamic movements with speed and resistance .
Bear plank and variations are more effective at reducing back pain, enhancing core stability, and improving athletic performance than traditional crunches.
The Take Away
With the massive number of core exercises available online, you might feel overwhelmed when planning your core training routine.
While variety in your training is important, plank variations like the bear plank and related movements are must-have exercises for a comprehensive training plan.
The bear plank offers many options for decreasing and increasing the difficulty. Once you’re competent with the static hold variations, progressing to dynamic bear plank variations is a great method to warm up your entire body before other types of exercise.
Overall, bear planks are more effective at improving stability and performance, as well as reducing injury risk and chronic low back pain, than many other ab exercises. Consider adding one of the bear plank variations to your core training routine.
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