Home Baseball Content Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks

Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks

Written on August 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I posted on Twitter that I was a big fan of bear crawls because they get you great serratus anterior recruitment, more scapular upward rotation, improved anterior core function, tri-planar stability, and some awesome reciprocal arm/leg activity. They're one of my favorite warm-up and end-of-workout low-level core activation drills.

For some reason, though, every time you mention bear crawls, someone asks about crab walks. Candidly, I don't think so highly of crab walks. In fact, I have never used them - and that's why I didn't have a video on hand of them. As such, this demonstration took place on my kitchen floor at 11:15PM:


Keeping this position in mind, here are a few reasons that I don't like crab walks:

1. Bear crawls drive more scapular upward rotation by putting the lats and scapular downward rotators on slack as the athlete reaches overhead. With a crab walk, the arms aren't just at the sides; they are actually behind the sides. The lats are as short as they can possibly be - especially if the athlete is allowed to slip into lumbar extension (an arched lower back posture). Most folks lack scapular upward rotation regardless of whether they sit at a computer all day or throw a baseball for a living; we don't need exercises that feed into that problem even more. Additionally, the scapula is generally anteriorly tilted unless it's an experienced athlete with great body awareness. Anterior tilt is an issue we work to combat in just about every population - athlete and non-athlete alike.

2. Crab walks are brutal on the anterior shoulder. For the same reasons I outlined in my article, Are Dips Safe and Effective?, I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.


3. You don't walk around like a crab in any sport that comes to mind! Seriously, this is the position you're in when you got steamrolled by a running back, or you tripped over yourself! While I get the school of thought that says it's good to be somewhat prepared for just about every potentially injurious situation you'll encounter, we've got a limited amount of training time to deliver exercises that give athletes the most bang for their buck. And, even in young athlete populations, there are literally thousands of other movements we can use with kids to create a rich proprioceptive environment with safe movements they'll actually be able to utilize on a regular basis in life. And, the bear crawl is one of these movements.

Can a lot of athletes "get away" with doing crab walks? Absolutely! However, we never know what kind of long-term structural changes are going to be in place - and we can certainly never truly appreciate what kind of missed development is in play from not including more effective exercises.

To learn more about some of our approaches to assessing and improving upper body function, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.


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18 Responses to “Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks”

  1. Adam Martin Says:

    Very good points here Eric. I always felt that the crab walk was pointless and wasn’t sure why we were made to do it.

  2. Michael Mullin Says:

    Great post Eric! One of the best exercises when performed correctly. Love the breathing cues!

    Where people go wrong: 1) not able to have opposite arm & leg stepping at same time; 2) not loading arms enough–should be fairly equal between arms and legs; 3) too much side-to-side movement; 4) Elvis Pelvis because it rocks and rolls.

  3. Jeff L Says:

    I have many of my athletes perform various crawls (never crab walk for same reasons you mentioned),

    when I bear crawl I cue the head up from Tim Anderson’s Original Strength and hips lower than the shoulders, sort of dug in to the ground and avoiding excessive rotation. What are your thoughts on both of these?

    Thanks in advance!

  4. Mark Jandreski Says:

    Great post Eric!! We all need to make more folks aware of the hazards of exercises that put us in shoulder hyperextension including dips and crab walks.

  5. Shane Says:

    What is your opinion on holding that crab walk position statically however, like what is done in acrobatic gymnastics as a base of support?

  6. Mike Fitch Says:

    Hey Eric,
    Great to see the info you put up on the Bear Crawl.
    I would like to make a few suggestions on how you could alter your crab just slightly to get an incredible amount of benefit from it for both athletes and desk jockeys. personally I find it to be one of the most challenging movements of all the traveling forms. When performed correctly, it can be hugely effective for Posterior Oblique Sling activation, shoulder stabilization, neural sequencing, anti rotation and opening up the anterior capsule of the shoulder.

    The set up is crucial when teaching a Crab position. Begin by placing the hands shoulder width or slightly wider, with the fingers pointing the opposite direction as the toes to show that we are in external rotation at the shoulder joint. The feet and knees should be hip width. Find your hip position by sliding them all the way towards the heels, then hands before splitting difference. The hips should still be in contact with the ground during this phase of the set up. Once you’ve found mid point, the hips should roughly be equal distance between hips and heels and hips and hands. From the side, the body should resemble a capital “M” with the arms and lower leg at a slight angle. The chin is then tucked slightly and brought back over the shoulder girdle to maintain alignment with cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. We then cue the client to squeeze the glutes, pull the shoulder blades back into retraction before pressing down into the ground, depressing the scapulae and lifting the hips one inch. This is considered the “activation” of the Static Crab which is killer for firing the low traps as well as the scapulohumeral musculature like the Subscap, Infraspinatus, Teres Major/Minor, Lats and Pec Major. It’s very similar to a low trap dip used in physical therapy. Even holding this static activation places the shoulder at an optimal position to stabilize in a closed chain environment. It’s also not bad for connecting the posterior chain.

    When you begin to travel, the moving hand and contralateral foot should lift, stride, land and “set” all at the same time. The stride length should be equal distance with the traveling hand and foot. It’s common to see someone over stride with the leg, which posteriorly tilts the pelvis,commonly protracts the shoulders and flexes the spine (all of which negates the purpose of this exercise). The hand is lifted by flexing at the elbow rather than lifting straight up from the upper traps. Once the person strides, the fingers and heel of the traveling limbs make contact first before transferring into full hand and full foot, which encourage the synergy between the elbow/shoulder extensors and hamstring/glute.

    The Forward Traveling Crab is most beneficial when performed at a slow to moderate speed with the focus on the sequencing and alignment. I find it useful to instruct the client to “reset” if the form, stride or sequencing begin to breakdown.

    The forward and backward traveling crab are a perfect compliment to the Bear (or Beast as we call it in Animal Flow). Give it a shot and let me know if any of those little technique cues change your opinion of the crab at all.
    Take care buddy

  7. Eric Cressey Says:

    Great contribution, Mike!

  8. Eric Cressey Says:


    What’s the training goal? And, just as importantly, do you think you could ONLY get that training effect with this drill?

  9. Eric Cressey Says:


    I like keeping the hips up high because it drives a bit more scapular upward rotation and shoulder flexion, and keeps athletes from slipping into lumbar extension as easily.

  10. George Says:

    You said you weren’t aware of any sport that involves the mechanics of the crab walk, and while there’s not much “walking” involved, hyperextension of the humerus is definitely critical in men’s pommel horse. Consequently, we use the crab walk a lot at our gymnastics club with the notion that we want to develop some muscular endurance within the shoulder girdle and triceps while keeping the hips up to incorporate some core stability as the arms and shoulders are in motion.

  11. Gabe Gaskins Says:

    I used to think the same about crab walks.
    But, i started Coach Sommer’s GST course and he has tons of progressions build to build strength in that very range of motion. Progressions and exercises ive never seen before.(like Xiao Pengs, dowel rod work, ‘squats’ that build the ACL, etc. strange stuff)
    The basis is to strengthen the shoulder girdle in all its planes of motion AND build connective tissue strength.
    As far as the movent in a sport, its related to the Front and Back Lever/Skin the Cat I believe.
    The progressions are slow and based on the time it takes connective tissue to adapt, instead of how long for strength or muscle tissue to adapt. His views on Crossfit are quite telling in regards to their shoulder injuries. Crossfit muscle-ups look like epileptic orangutans. Coach’s gymnasts’ muscle-ups look slow, smooth, and more of a warmup rather than the crux of the workout. Those kids do those muscle-ups like they are opening the mail.


    Crab walk??? at 0:24
    Kid at 1:28 is a beast

    Maybe Crab walks do have a place?

  12. Brandon jones Says:

    Hi Eric

    We use something very similar to a crab crawl called a star exercise in systema hand to hand combat. Best for ground fighting and escaping throws and holds. It’s something we train for because of an unpredictability of attacks and that I might land on the ground and I need to maneuver out of the way . Guys training MMA might need a crab crawl to for ground fighting.

  13. Melinda Says:

    You mention that the lats are maximally shortened on a crab walk, arms behind the body.

    And yet strangely there are PLs who swear their lats help them off the chest in a bench press. If this were so, it begs the question: where does the lat length come from then to contract and move the arm into horizontal flexion.

    Answer: It doesn’t come from anywhere, because it just doesn’t happen that way. Anymore than the lumbar erectors lift the weight off the floor on a DL, which some PLs insist is true.

    Maybe PLs just make stuff up, based on what they “feel”.

  14. Eric Cressey Says:


    I disagree – and professionals do it all the time with no problem at all.

  15. Eric Cressey Says:


    The issue is that powerlifters just say “lats” for anything upper back. They usually aren’t real “anatomy buffs.” I think they just do well off the chest because the added recruitment of the upper back creates a stable platform and consistent bar path. Additionally, this likely came about because many guys were benching with bench press shirts on. Shirts require you to actually pull the bar down to the bottom position.

  16. Cantika Dewi Says:

    I think bear crawls with crab walks together, yes, only difference is the position only, klo bear crawl our head and stomach facing down, if the crab walks is the movement of the head and the abdomen is above,
    The most difficult movement is crab walks, because it is not easy to part of our faces at the top and then while walking on all fours, it is definitely the face will be red

  17. 12centuries Says:

    Can you explain anterior tilt and why we don’t want to do it? Thanks.

  18. Loris Bertolacci Says:

    What is important in the development of an athlete? Nice to do some reverse bridges or maybe the odd crab to experience all positions. But I just don’t see the massive importance long term unless maybe a wrestler of grappler or mountain climber.And seems in an Ok athlete these movements can be integrated later. No skill involved. Sometimes I see kids warmups and every type of gorilla walk and crab and whatever walk is included and I really am not sure we are massively altering their development once some scapular stability exercise has been done. And also in sport it is about impacts and landings and thus co-contractions etc, so like planking for 3 minutes fail to see the relevance sometimes. Having said that ,ha, I add a few ground based movements! But not too much.

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