Many athletes would rather play their sport than hit the weight room. But a lack of training can lead to muscle fatigue on the field. That’s why it’s the job of professional trainers to create workout programs that take their athletes' bodies to the limit.
But if you're like most high school athletes, it’s up to you to find off-season exercises that work your entire body, prepare you for the rigors of competition and improve your performance. Such an exercise is the Backwards Weighted Bear Crawl, as performed by Boston Red Sox star Adrian Gonzalez.
Tom Green, head trainer at the Gonzalez Sports Academy, a facility in Chula Vista, Calif. run by Gonzalez and his family, has the four-time All-Star perform full-body exercises that “fire every muscle.” Green's training philosophy also includes a mental aspect. He says, “Typically when I work with athletes, it’s not only making them stronger physically but also mentally, and taking those two pieces and putting them together.” Thus, Green believes in putting Gonzalez through “horrible” exercises, which make his day-to-day performance on the field seem like a breeze.
One such "horrible" exercise is the Backwards Weighted Bear Crawl, a variation on the basic Bear Crawl that emphasizes strengthening the lats and developing core stability. As what Green calls a “head-to-toe” exercise, it engages nearly every large muscle group in the body—chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs and core. Green says the movement helps increase Gonzalez's range of motion and prepare his body to move athletically in every position. “When you’re in baseball, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on through your upper body," he says. "You have to make sure, again, that every little muscle and fiber in there is as strong and flexible as possible.”
When performing this exercise, form is key. “You want to keep your hips low. Keep your body as flat as possible. Focus on controlling your body. Focus on the muscles that you’re working. It’s not ‘how fast can I get through this?’ It’s suffering. It takes a while," Green says.
Gonzalez currently performs the exercise in 20-yard increments, but Green says they will work their way up to 40 yards, maybe even 60. Whatever the distance, the goal is always to push a little further. But set a realistic goal for yourself; don’t try to nail 60 yards the first time out with two heavy plates.
Since the exercise is so difficult, Green recommends that beginners modify it the first time out. “If you’re a beginner, just go 10 yards without any weight whatsoever.” You can then move to pulling one weight, alternating arms, before advancing to pulling two weights, like Gonzalez. Progress the exercise as needed. "If 20 yards gets too easy, go 30,” says Green.
At first, you should have a teammate or coach watch your form. If your knee hits the ground or you stop to stand up, start over. What Green wants out of Gonzalez is perfection, and it’s the standard you must set for yourself if you want to make it to the next level.
Backwards Weighted Bear Crawl
Sets/Distance: 3x10 yards for beginners, progress as appropriate
“It takes a lot of effort to pull those [weights],” says Green, as evidenced by the sweat pouring from Gonzalez's face and the grunts he lets out with each pull. Incorporate the exercise into your own workout to reap the benefits.