Have you ever wanted beastly muscles? The ones that can help you run faster, jump higher, or catch a salmon with the swipe of your hand? Okay, maybe not that last one, but the bear plank helps improve core strength and stability, which has several benefits to overall strength and performance.
This isometric exercise will not only torch your core, but it also activates muscles throughout your whole body. Not sure how to do it, or unsure of what we’re even talking about? Here’s how to do the bear plank.
- How to Do the Bear Plank
- Benefits of the Bear Plank
- Muscles Worked By the Bear Plank
- Who Should Do the Bear Plank
- Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Bear Plank Variations
- Bear Plank Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
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Step 1 — Get Tight
The set-up for the bear plank is similar to a standard plank. Your hands should be stacked under your shoulders, and your back should stay flat. However, your body should be in what is commonly known as a tabletop position. Bend your knees 90 degrees, so they are stacked under your hips. From the tabletop position, slightly shift your weight forward to put more support on your shoulders. Tighten your core, quads, and glutes to maintain a strong, stable base.
Step 2 — Lift Your Knees and Hold
While keeping your toes planted on the floor, lift your knees about an inch off of the ground. You should feel tension in your core, shoulders, and quads. Hold this position until it becomes unbearable. Hold this position until you can longer sustain proper form.
Coach’s Tip: If you’re unsure how you look while planking, film yourself or have a friend take a video.
Once you know how to properly perform a bear plank, we can discuss the benefits of the exercise in detail. Besides the ability to perform it anywhere, it’s beneficial to your core, shoulders, and overall performance.
Serious Abdominal Activation
One of the more difficult muscles in your body to engage are your lower abdominals. Part of your rectus abdominis, the lower abs can be harder to work because many common core exercises don’t target them. You may see gym-goers perform sit-ups to achieve abs, but exercises where your ribs move to your pelvis target more of your upper abs.
Your abdominal muscles are postural muscles that support the spine. Therefore, the more you strengthen these supporting players, the more you can potentially improve your posture. Bad posture is not only bad for aesthetics, but it can also result in low back pain. A study from 2016 suggests that specific core exercises that target the upper and lower abdominals help prevent low back pain because a strong core means a stable spine. (1)
The bear plank is also a great variation to the regular plank, especially for those with low back pain because the bent knees don’t require as much stress on the back.
Improved Athletic Performance
The core helps to reinforce the spine and aids in producing force when running, jumping, squatting, and other athletic activities. One study suggests that a stronger core may help running performance because of the ability to control, support, and move the upper body, which transfers force to the lower body. (2)
The bear plank may seem only like a core exercise because of the placement of the body and the required control and stability. It really targets the whole body.
The rectus abdominis is the muscle that many people know as the “six-pack.” These muscles flex your spine forward and back. Like any muscle, they can be strengthened through tension-inducing exercises. However, to see your abs, you might need to swap out pizza for whey protein shakes and ensure your macros are in check.
Internal and External Obliques
The external and internal obliques are located on either side of the torso and are responsible for side bending and rotating the torso. It’s essential to have strong obliques because when you twist the trunk, not only does our core contract, but so does your back and shoulders.
The bear plank is an isometric exercise. However, the position imitates a squat since your knees are parallel to your hips. One of the primary muscles used in a squat is your quadriceps, and they are responsible for helping you walk, stand, and run. Even though you’re static in a bear plank, your quads are working to hold your knees off the ground and stabilize your hips.
With a portion of your body weight supported by your shoulders, the bear plank is a good way to target your deltoids. These muscles are responsible for shoulder flexion, extension, and abduction. Aside from potential injury prevention, strong shoulders can help you lift heavier in exercises that involve the chest and the back.
Since bears are already in a natural bear plank position, let’s talk about which humans can benefit from performing this exercise.
The bear plank is a great way to build strength in some of the major muscle groups of the body, so competitive athletes such as football players, may benefit from practicing this exercise. A stronger core may also help improve athletic performance that involves quick, explosive movements.
Although you may not see a bear plank in a WOD, it is an excellent way for CrossFitters to warm up the core and shoulders before a workout with pull-ups, handstand push-ups, overhead squats, and more.
Regular Gym Goers
The bear plank can be great for anyone, especially since it can be done anywhere and requires no equipment. You can achieve all the benefits of the standard plank, core and shoulder strength and stability, and full-body activation, without putting too much pressure on your low back. So whether you are a seasoned or novice gymgoer, the bear plank is a beneficial exercise to add to your training program.
The bear plank is sure to get your whole body roaring but can be difficult when just starting. Building up your endurance with this move can help improve stability in your core and spine, but you’ll want to commit to performing it, no matter how much it burns.
According to a 2019 study, core endurance is crucial to spine stability, especially for prolonged exercise. (2) To build core endurance, you’ll want to start by performing sets and progressing the duration day by day.
Start by holding the bear plank in 10-30 second intervals at a time for four to five sets. The time is based on your present core endurance. Take short rests in between each set. As you build your endurance, start holding for longer durations up to one to two minutes.
If you’re looking to change up your body weight bear plank and build up muscular strength, try adding a weight plate to your back. This progression should only be done when you’ve nailed the bodyweight bear plank with proper form and is best to do with a workout buddy.
Start in your normal bear plank position, making sure you’re sturdy and stable. Add a lighter weight plate at first and place it on your back (this is where that workout buddy comes in handy). Hold the position for 10-30 seconds for two to three sets, taking ample rest between sets. Add heavier weight as form and strength allow.
When you’re ready to up your bear plank game, there are plenty of ways to make the move more challenging and maybe even more fun. These variations turn the isometric bear plank into a dynamic movement but still require little to no equipment.
You’ll need a little bit more room for the bear crawl, but it’s worth it for the extra dynamic intensity. Hold the bear plank position, keeping your back flat and core tight. Use your right arm and left leg to crawl forward while still keeping your knees off the ground. Then switch to your left arm and right leg to move again. Continue this motion until fatigued.
Bear Plank Leg Lift
This is a great variation to achieve a little more glute activation and test your balance. Starting in the bear plank position, slowly lift one foot off the ground, pointing your heel to the ceiling. Make sure not to lift your foot too high, or your back might arch, and you’ll defeat the purpose of the move. Repeat on the other side.
Bear Plank Hops
Bear plank hops are great if you’re looking to train power into this movement. Smaller, quick movements are beneficial for this variation. Hold the bear plank position and slightly shift your weight forward. Quickly kick both feet off the ground, driving them back so you’re in a plank position. Then, hop them back into place.
The bear plank can be difficult to master, especially if you’re still building up core strength to keep proper form. There are alternatives to this exercise that will still engage your core and give variety to your workout.
Bird dogs are a great way to activate the core, thighs, and glutes while incorporating balance and coordination. It also teaches bodily control as you move your limbs simultaneously while working to maintain balance.
The plank is similar to the bear plank but does require more core stability since your legs are extended and not bent. The same technique rules apply — set your hands under your shoulders, keep your back flat, and core tight. This is great for those trying to up their core engagement game.
Although it may look simple, the bear plank is a great way to engage muscles throughout your whole body while improving spine stability, making it a worthy inclusion into your next core workout. It might burn and you might feel sore afterward, but it’s worth it for the results, so just grin and bear it.
What should I do if I can’t keep my back flat?
This is a common mistake with the bear plank and just plank variations in general. The inability to keep your back flat can be due to a lack of core strength. The best thing to do is to perform progression exercises until you can maintain proper form. Otherwise your workout won’t be as efficient.
How should my head be positioned during the bear plank?
Some people tend to want to look forward because that might be where your mirror is, or you want to look at what’s happening around you. However, it’s important to keep your eyes on the ground and your neck in a neutral position to avoid straining your neck.
- Kim, Kanghoon, Lee, Taesik. Comparison of Muscular Activities in the Abdomen and Lower Limbs while Performing Sit-up and Leg-raise. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016; 28 (2). 491-494.
- Hung, Kwong-Chung, Chung, Ho-wa, & Yu, Clare Chung-Wa. Effects of 8-week Core Training on Core Endurance and Running Economy. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213158
Featured Image: Christian Fabrizio on YouTube