Are your abdominal muscles looking a little thread-bear? Well, we’re not here to tell you any bear-faced lies. The bear plank is a powerful core exercise that requires no equipment at all.

It’s technically a yoga pose. But you won’t need a yogi bear to teach you, and yes, you can do it totally bear-handed. Here’s how.

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The muscles in your lower abdomen can be hard to reach, even with standard exercises like crunches and sit-ups. Bear planks target them perfectly. Once you’ve got your form exactly right, this move can also help develop stability in your lower back.

Research has shown that working on your core in this way can boost performance when performing fast, complex movements.

And these benefits come quickly too. In a 2019 study, college athletes who added three extra core training sessions per week to their normal routine had “significant improvements” in balance, core strength, and running economy after 8 weeks.

According to a 2013 review, a strong, stable core also seems to help reduce the risk of injury to your lower body. Any exercise that helps with muscle activation and stability (both while stationary and while moving) is seriously good stuff!

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Bear planks are handy to mix into your regular exercise schedule a few times a week. Follow these steps to nail your technique:

  1. Start in bear position: on hands and knees with your toes flat against the floor.
  2. Align shoulders over wrists, keeping knees bent at 90 degrees.
  3. With hands flat against the floor, transfer your body weight forward until you feel it in your chest and shoulder muscles.
  4. Lift your knees until they’re hovering an inch or two above the floor.
  5. Brace your abs and glutes. Hold this position for 20–60 seconds while keeping your breathing steady.
  6. Return to the starting position and rest for 10 seconds.
  7. Repeat 3–5 times.

Don’t worry if you can’t hold the braced position for the full 60 seconds or knock out 5 flawless sets right away. It’s a deceptively tough exercise. But you’ll start to feel the benefits in no time.

The bear plank is one of the best core exercises out there. It’s fantastic for getting to those awkward lower abs. But variety is the spice of life, and maybe a bear plank is too challenging or too easy for your normal routine. Some of us are more like Winnie the Pooh than the bear that attacked Leo in “The Revenant,” and that’s fine.

Take a look at these variations of the bear plank (beariations?) and see if one or more of them might match your workout style better than the original.

Quadruped abdominal brace

Challenge rating: Easier than a bear plank

If you’re still developing the core strength needed to crank out some bear planks, the quadruped abdominal brace is a good starting point.

It’s a regular bear plank, except your knees stay on the floor. You still brace your abs and glutes, holding for 20–60 seconds and repeating 3–5 times. Do this regularly and you’ll quickly progress to a full bear plank, or even one of its bigger cousins…

Bear crawl

Challenge rating: Harder than a bear plank

A favorite of high intensity workout fans, the bear crawl puts things in motion, so you’ll need way more space than you’d use for a bear plank. Here’s how to do one:

  1. Start in bear position as above.
  2. Keeping your body as low as you can, use your left leg and right arm to push yourself forward in a crawling motion.
  3. After one step, transfer your weight and take another step using your right leg and left arm.
  4. Rest after 5–7 steps.
  5. Repeat for 3–5 sets.

Bear plank leg lifts

Challenge rating: Slightly harder than a bear plank

So you need a step up from the regular bear plank, but you don’t have the space to go crawling around like a commando? Well, have we got a bear plank leg lift for you, friend. Lifting your leg adds an extra bit of spice for your core to handle. Here’s how to pull it off:

  1. Start in the bear position. Tuck your toes under to take pressure off the tops of your feet.
  2. Lift your knees off the floor, bracing your core and glutes as usual.
  3. Hold the braced position and focus on keeping your breathing steady.
  4. Slowly raise one foot off the floor and hold for 2–3 seconds.
  5. Return your foot to the floor and repeat with the other foot.
  6. Do 5–10 lifts with each leg, then lower your knees back to the floor.
  7. Repeat for 3 sets.

Bear plank heel press

Challenge rating: Much harder than a bear plank

Also known as the bear plank step-through, this takes the added spice from the leg lift and kicks things into overdrive. It burns! Make sure you can comfortably perform a good number of basic bear planks before you tackle this monster:

  1. Adopt the bear position, brace your core and glutes, and raise your knees up as usual.
  2. Maintaining the 90-degree bend in your legs, raise one leg way up and push your heel toward the ceiling.
  3. Hold for 2–3 seconds, then return to the bear position.
  4. Repeat with your other leg.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 5–10 kicks with each leg.

Arm and leg reaches

Challenge rating: Much harder than a bear plank

Still here? What are you, some kind of planking masochist? We like you! Arm and leg reaches are some of the toughest spins you can put on a bear plank before we start adding equipment.

This move is the same as a bear plank heel press, but while you raise your heel toward the ceiling, you also raise your opposite arm and hold it straight out in front of you. Hold for a few seconds, return to bear position, and repeat.

Adding reaches focuses all the great work you’ve been doing on your core by incorporating a balance element. You’re learning poise and control, adding even finer definition to your abs.

Banded bear planks

Challenge rating: Slightly harder than a bear plank

OK, time to start adding some gear to your workout. Don’t worry — none of these next three variations require you to break the bank on expensive equipment. But if you feel like investing a few bucks here and there on some tools, your body might thank you later.

Banded bear planks, for example, use resistance bands looped around your lower thighs, just above your knees. Bracing your legs against them as you engage your core and glutes helps focus the action so your body gets a little bit more out of every rep.

Sled drags: Weighted bear crawls

Challenge rating: Harder than a bear plank

You can level up the already-demanding bear crawl if you’ve got a sled, some weights, and a harness.

Attach the harness to yourself and aim to crawl 10 yards per set while dragging a weight.

Start out light and focus on keeping proper form — even a little added weight will increase the demand on your body. It’s important to make sure the harness is comfortable and safe.

Slider bear crawls

Challenge rating: Harder than a bear plank

Slide boards are cool little pieces of equipment that reduce friction between your body and the floor, allowing for a fuller range of more fluid motion. You can also get slider pads for your hands and feet, which do the same job at a fraction of the price.

Incorporating them into your bear crawl routine lets you laser-focus on getting your technique perfect, staying low to the floor with correct posture, and transitioning smoothly between sets.

Because this is a relatively simple exercise with few motions, getting your bear pose right is critical. Every step needs to be perfect to maximize its positive impact on your body. Avoiding these common errors will help you nail that form quickly:

  • Arching your back. This can put unnecessary strain on your lower back. Instead, keep your back flat and your spine neutral as you move in and out of bear position.
  • Looking around. Tilting your neck upward or around can strain it. It’s better to keep looking at the floor in a way that feels natural in relation to your spinal position.
  • Moving your hips out of position. Keep your form consistent and avoid moving those hips up or down.
  • Relaxing your core muscles. The point of the exercise is to keep that core engaged. Failing to do so when you’re in bear position risks putting stress on your lower back.
  • Forgetting to breathe. Your breathing should remain deep and steady, even with your core muscles engaged.

Posture and breathing. Posture and breathing. As long as you focus on those two (critical) elements, the simplicity of the bear plank will have you wondering why you didn’t incorporate it into your workout years ago.

With plenty of variations to step things up when the time comes, it’s an exercise with incredible longevity. Give it a try, but take your time getting things right. Try not to go… bear-zerk.

…We’ll see ourselves out.