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Get Savage During Your Next Ab Day With the Bear Plank
Have you ever wanted bear-like quality muscles? The ones that can help you run faster, jump higher, and 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 have your core roaring but also activates muscles throughout your whole body. Not sure how to do it, or unsure of what weíre even talking about? Hereís how to do the bear plank.
Editorís note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldnít take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
How to Do the Bear Plank
Although the bear plank may look simple, itís an exercise that is sure to get your body burning from your shoulders down to your quads. Below is a paw-by-paw guide on how to perform the bear plank.
Step 1 ó Get Tight
Christian Fabrizio on YouTube
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 ó Lift Your Knees and Hold
Christian Fabrizio on YouTube
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 (as shown above). Pro tip: If youíre unsure how you look while planking, film yourself or have a friend take a video.
Benefits of the Bear Plank
So you know how to perform the bear plank, and maybe you even just tried one, but letís talk more about the exerciseís benefits. Besides the ability to perform it anywhere because it requires no equipment, itís 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 donít 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 donít require as much stress on the back.
Improved Overall 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)
Muscles Worked by the Bear Plank
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 abs or the ďsix-packĒ. These muscles flex your spine forward and back. Like any muscle, they can be strengthened through tension-inducing exercises. However, to see your abs, youíll need to swap pizza for whey protein shakes and ensure your macros are in check.
Internal and External Obliques
You may see people working these muscles to get rid of ďlove handlesĒ because the external and internal obliques are on either side of the torso. They are responsible for side bending and rotating the torso. Itís essential to have strong obliques because when you twist the torso, 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 youíre 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.
Who Should do the Bear Plank
Since bears are already in a natural bear plank position, letís 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 (workout of the day), 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 gym-goer, the bear plank is a beneficial exercise to add to your training program.
Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
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 youíll 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, youíll 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 youíre 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 youíve 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 youíre 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.
Bear Plank Variations
When youíre 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.
Youíll need a little bit more room for the bear crawl, but itís 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 youíll defeat the purpose of the move. Repeat on the other side.
Bear Plank Hops
Bear plank hops are great if youíre 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 youíre in a plank position. Then, hop them back into place.
Bear Plank Alternatives
The bear plank can be difficult to master, especially if youíre 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 rules apply as the set-uset-upp your hands under your shoulders, your back flat, and core tight. This is great for those trying to up their core engagement game.
Bear puns aside, the bear plank can be achieved with time and practice. Although it may look simple, itís a great way to engage muscles throughout your whole body while improving spine stability, which is crucial for everyday life. It might burn and you might feel sore afterward, but itís worth it for the results, so just grin and bear it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I canít 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 wonít 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 whatís happening around you. However, itís 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
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