How to Do a Bear Plank

neutral spine

Getty Images / dvulikaia

 

Targets: Gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, adductors, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, and shoulders. 

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Beginner to intermediate 

The bear plank is a beginner to intermediate level bodyweight exercise that targets the muscles in your hips, glutes, and core region. It’s an excellent exercise for balance and core stabilization. Since it allows you to fire-up your core muscles, the bear plank is a great addition to an abdominal workout, especially since it’s really good at engaging the lower abdominal muscles. You can also add the bear plank to a dynamic warm-up routine to help activate upper and lower body muscles prior to cardio exercises such as running or cycling or before lifting weights.

Benefits

The bear plank is a full-body exercise that targets the muscles in your gluteus medius and maximis, psoas, quadriceps, shoulders, arms, and abdominals. Since the exercise requires you to maintain a neutral spine, your focus will be on engaging your core muscles, including the deep abdominal muscles, otherwise known as your transverse abdominis.

Plank exercises are a popular movement for targeting the core. Unfortunately, for some people, the traditional plank is too difficult to perform, or it causes pain in the lower back. The good news? Since the bear plank requires you to engage the quadriceps and the lower back is in a more comfortable position, swapping out a traditional plank for a bear plank can help decrease the tension in your back and allow you to hold the pose for a longer period of time. This will enable you to focus on strengthening your glutes and stabilizing the hips and core muscles, which can decrease low back pain, improve posture, and perform better in fitness and sports-related activities.

Finally, during the “hold” portion of the bear plank, you perform an isometric or static contraction. This type of contraction requires you to hold a muscle group steady for a period of time. In the case of the bear plank, you are holding multiple muscle groups steady, which is why it’s such a fantastic exercise to add to your line-up. Since an isometric exercise can build strength without placing stress on the joints, they are often recommended for rehabilitation.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The bear plank is a bodyweight exercise you do on the floor. To make it more comfortable, use a yoga or exercise mat.

  1. Place a yoga or exercise mat on the floor.
  2. Get in a tabletop position on all fours, with wrists under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and your back flat. This is also called quadruped position since you are set up for the exercise on all fours.
  3. Engage your core (think belly button to spine) to keep the back flat, push the palms into the floor, and lift your knees three to six inches off the floor. Your hips will be level with the shoulders. 
  4. Hold the bear plank position for 30 to 60 seconds. Make sure to breathe, focusing on a deep and slow inhale and exhale pattern. If you feel your back dip or your core weaken, it’s time to set your knees on the floor, rest, and start over. 
  5. After the recommended time, return to the starting position by bringing your knees back to the floor. 
  6. Rest for 20 to 30 seconds before repeating. 

Common Mistakes

The bear plank does not require a lot of steps. In fact, the overall goal of the movement is to hold an isometric contraction for a specific period of time before returning to the starting position. Because of this, your form during the hold is the most critical part of this exercise. Here are some common mistakes that occur when performing the bear plank.

Collapsing Your Lower Back

When in a quadruped position, it’s easy to collapse your lower back. This can strain the muscles in the low back area. To avoid this, make sure your core muscles are engaged, your back is flat, and you have a neutral spine. Maintaining this position also engages your core more, resulting in a better abdominal workout. 

Looking Up or Out

When doing the bear plank, try to keep your gaze looking down towards the floor. This keeps your neck in a neutral position. Looking up towards the ceiling or out in front of you extra strain on your neck. You’ll know that you’re in the right position if your body forms a straight line from the hips to your head.

Shifting Your Hips Back or Up

Don’t fall into the trap of shifting your hips back towards the heels and turning the bear plank into Child’s Pose. Conversely, avoid sticking your hips in the air to form Downward Dog. 

Not Keeping Your Core Muscles Engaged

Being on your hands and knees puts your body in a position that can potentially increase the tension in your lower back. By engaging your core muscles, you can keep your lower back strong, which prevents it from dipping and adding strain to the erector spinae muscles. 

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The bear plank is already a modified form of a traditional plank. That said, if you need to simplify the move, the first strategy is to decrease the distance between your knees and the floor. For example, rather than lifting your knees three inches of the floor, only do one inch. You can also decrease the time you spend in the hold or contraction portion of the exercise. 

Up for a Challenge?

There are several ways to increase the challenge and intensity of the bear plank. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Turn it into a bear crawl. Keep your knees off the floor and crawl forward on your hands and toes. 
  • Add more time. If you want to increase the intensity, consider adding time to your hold.
  • Extend the leg. To make it more challenging, you can also extend your leg straight behind you. In the bear plank position, extend your right leg straight behind you. Then, bend the knee and slowly return the right leg to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg. Do five reps on each leg. Remember to keep the knees off the ground, the core engaged, and your back flat. 
  • Use an exercise band. To add resistance, you can add a looped resistance band or min band around your legs to perform a banded bear plank.

Safety and Precautions

The bear plank is generally a safe exercise for most fitness levels—as long as you are using proper form. That said, if you have knee issues, wrist pain, or low back pain, this exercise may be contraindicated. Additionally, if you have issues with your hips, make sure to pay attention and address any discomfort or limited range of motion. And if you feel any pain while on all fours or during the movement, stop the exercise. 

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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  1. Rhyu HS, Park HK, Park JS, Park HS. The effects of isometric exercise types on pain and muscle activity in patients with low back pain. J Exerc Rehabil. 2015;11(4):211-4.