The bear squat is a great exercise to activate the lower body and core.
It involves holding a bear plank (knees bent and held just off the floor) before straightening your legs to lift your glutes upwards (so you end up in a downward dog position).
Although this sounds simple enough, there’s no opportunity for your core muscles to relax, making it a surprisingly challenging bodyweight exercise.
You also need strength and flexibility in equal measure, making it a quick way to exposure any weaknesses.
We often use it as a warm-up before compound exercises like weighted back squats or deadlifts, or within HIIT workouts as a standalone movement. It can also be used as a variation to traditional air squats for those who want to activate more muscles in a single exercise, or for those who want to reduce the load on the knees.
This guide outlines how to do bear squats properly, including muscles worked, benefits and common mistakes to avoid.
- Bear squats involve straightening your legs from a bear plank position (knees bent and held off the floor).
- They primarily work the core, quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- They need more core strength that regular squats and some may find them easier on the knees too.
- It’s hard to add load to the movement, so keep it as a bodyweight exercise.
What is a Bear Squat?
The bear squat is a bodyweight exercise that activates the core and lower body muscles.
It primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles… but, it also engages the shoulders and arms, making it a great way to wake up your whole body.
We find the speed at which you do each repetition plays a defining role in the benefits you can gain. A faster pace means it lends itself very well for HIIT and circuit training… but a slower pace lends itself very well for warm-ups and loosening up the muscles before a workout.
Getting Started with Bear Planks
How to Perform a Bear Squat
To do bear squats:
- Begin in a quadruped position on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, and your knees should be directly under your hips.
- Push through your legs and lift your knees off the ground, so you’re in a bear plank position.
- Keeping your hands and feet stationary, drive through your legs to lift your glutes up (so you end up in a downward dog position).
- Lower your glutes back down to the bear plank position and repeat for repetitions.
Coach’s Tip – This is a hard exercise to add load/resistance to, so we’d recommend keeping it as a bodyweight movement. To increase difficulty, opt for more repetitions and a slower lowering (eccentric) phase.
Bear squats primarily target the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles.
The final position of the exercise also means the hamstrings and calves get stretched too.
Your shoulders and arms are also involved in supporting your bodyweight, so they get activated to a certain degree too.
Pike Push Ups
Bear Squat Benefits
Effective Bodyweight Strengthening Exercise
The elevated quadruped stance means bear squats recruit more upper body and core muscles than a regular squat.
This makes the exericse a great movement for those that want to target multiple muscle groups at once.
Especially if you opt for quite a slow tempo, you’ll soon notice your core is working in overdrive to maintain stability throughout the exercise.
Stretch Out the Hamstrings
The bear squat requires good hamstring flexibility to straighten the legs from a quadruped position.
If you have tight hamstrings from sitting all day, bear squats can be a great way to both strengthen and stretch the posterior chain, especially the hamstrings.
Target Muscles Differently
If it feels like your workouts are going nowhere, sometimes adding in exercises and movements that involve moving your body in different ways can make a big impact.
Bear squats are quite unique in terms of the biomechanics… there aren’t many exercises that involve a hip raise from a quadruped position.
The way gravity and load are applied to the muscles is different compared to any sort of standing or supine (facing up) movement.
Not only does this impact muscle activation, but it also changes how force/load is applied to the joints… which for some, may feel more comfortable.
Toning and Sculpting
Bear squats lend themselves very well for toning and sculpting workouts… similar to frog squats.
Opting for a faster tempo can be an effective way to really tone and strengthen the thighs, glutes and core… by focusing on quite small but meaningful movements.
Although there is some compromise on not putting your joints through a full range of motion, the benefit is that you can probably do more repetitions.
Bear Squats Vs Regular Squats
While bear squats and regular squats both target the lower body, there are key differences between the two exercises. Regular squats primarily focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. They involve standing upright, bending the knees, and lowering the hips as if sitting on an invisible chair.
On the other hand, bear squats start from a quadruped position and involve lifting the glutes up by straightening the legs.
The regular squat is easier to add resistance to (such as using a barbell, or holding dumbbells) and is a more practical movement pattern to master… but, bear squats offer a useful variation that recruits more core strength and can reduce the load on the knees, which can be useful for anyone recovering from any sort of knee pain or injury.
(We’d always recommend consulting with a Physical Therapist before starting any new exercises if you’re currently being treated for an injury though).
Common Mistakes to Avoid
One of the most common mistakes is not aligning the hands and knees correctly in the starting position. Ensure your hands are stacked directly under your shoulders and your knees are stacked directly under your hips to maintain proper form.
If your hands, knees or feet aren’t in the right position, it could mean you put unnecessary strain on certain parts of your body as you lift your hips.
Rounding the Back
Try and keep your back flat throughout the exercise.
Rounding the back potentially suggests poor mobility around your hips, or weakness around the core.
Not Engaging the Core
Make sure you engage your core muscles throughout the movement to maintain stability and balance.
Rushing Through the Movement
The bear squat should be performed in a controlled manner. Rushing through the exercise can compromise your form and reduce its effectiveness.
Even if you opt for quite a quick tempo, the movement should be controlled at all times.
Not Keeping the Knees Off the Ground
In the bear squat position, your knees should be lifted off the ground. If your knees touch the ground, it reduces the intensity of the exercise.
Getting Started with Bear Squats
Bear squats can be a valuable addition to any workout routine because they activate the core and lower body, without needing any equipment. Here are some tips on getting started with bear squats in your workouts.
Frequency – Aim to include bear squats in your workout routine 1-2 times per week. This frequency allows for adequate recovery time between sessions, which is essential for muscle growth and strength development. This also gives you opportunity to include other lower body and core exercises in your fitness routine too.
Combining with other Exercises – Bear squats can be paired with other exercises to create a comprehensive workout. For instance, you could combine bear squats with pike push-ups for complete full body workout.
Progression – As your strength and endurance improve, you can increase the intensity of the bear squat by adding more repetitions/sets.
Modifications for Beginners and Advanced Athletes
If you’re new to bear squats, start with a modified version of the exercise. Instead of lifting your knees off the ground, keep them on the floor as you lift your hips up. This reduces the intensity of the exercise while still providing a good workout for your muscles.
This means you can focus on recruiting your lower body muscles, without worrying about your core strength.
For Advanced Athletes
If you’re an experienced athlete looking for a challenge, try opting for more repetitions or sets.
You could also try performing the bear squat on an unstable surface, such as a BOSU ball, to engage your core muscles more.
The bear squat is an underused exercise that targets the core and lower body muscles.
Especially if you don’t have access to lots of equipment, it’s a great exercise to strengthen these muscle groups at home too.
We would recommend ensuring you’ve stretched out your hamstrings and hip flexors, in particular, before attempting them, to help make straightening your legs during the movement easier.
Featured imagine and video demonstration credit – Tampa Strength