Have you ever wanted beastly muscles? Ones that can help you run faster, jump higher, or perform better with a barbell in your hands? The bear plank helps improve core strength and stability without the need for complex equipment or a steep learning curve.
This isometric exercise will not only torch your core, but it also activates muscles throughout your whole body. From newcomers to professional strength athletes, the versatility of the bear plank makes it a sure-fire way to grow, strengthen, and stabilize your trunk.
This is everything you need to know about the bear plank (and then a little more) so you can perform it properly for the best results.
- How to Do the Bear Plank
- Bear Plank Sets and Reps
- Common Bear Plank Mistakes
- Bear Plank Variations
- Bear Plank Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Bear Plank
- Benefits of the Bear Plank
- Who Should Do the Bear Plank
- 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.
Coach’s Tip: Maintain a neutral neck posture with your gaze focused on the floor.
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.
It may not be a conventional bodybuilding movement, but you can still utilize the bear plank in a variety of different ways. Namely, bolstering your isometric core strength and improving your muscular endurance.
- To Boost Endurance: Attempt 3 or 4 sets for time, holding as long as you can.
- For Core Strength: Aim for 3 to 5 sets of up to 30 seconds.
Simple isn’t the same thing as easy. While the bear plank is a no-equipment calisthenics movement, there are still a few technical points you should be aware of in particular.
Knees Touching the Floor
The hallmark feature of the bear plank is that you have to bend your knees and keep them off the ground the entire time — it’s how the exercise gets its name, after all. Make sure your knees are suspended an inch or two off the floor for the duration of your set.
Poor Spinal Posture
The bear plank is all about teaching and reinforcing correct spinal alignment. In this case, a straight line from the base of your neck all the way down to your tail bone. You shouldn’t have a dip, divot, or arch in your back while you’re doing the bear plank. Contract your core so your back is rigid and straight.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Improves 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)
Since bears are already in a natural bear plank position most of the time, 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.
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.
Release the Beast
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.
Still have lingering questions about the bear plank? No worries, we have answers.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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