The bird dog sure doesn’t sound like the typical exercise but make no mistake, it’s actually an effective and commonly used movement for developing stability, strengthening the core, improving shoulder mobility, and more.
You don’t need any exercise equipment except for maybe an exercise mat (highly recommended for hard floors), and it’s not hard to get down pat. However, don’t let its simplicity fool you because it does require a little stability, balance, and mental fortitude.
But it’s totally worth it as you’ll strengthen certain muscles that are key to remaining physically fit, and that are involved in many daily activities. So follow along to learn more about this exercise, some variation, and how to include it in your training routine for maximum benefit.
Here’s a guide to the bird dog…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Erector Spinae
- Type: Strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Exercise mat
- Difficulty: Beginner/intermediate
As mentioned, there are several muscles involved in this exercise that are so important for daily activities, which makes it a useful addition to your regime.
The erector spinae muscles include the intermediate layer of the deep back muscles. It’s composed of the spinalis, longissimus, and Iliocostalis muscles.
The erector spinae functions to move the vertebral column. The bilateral contraction of the erector spinae extends the spine, while unilateral contraction causes lateral flexion (ipsilateral). These muscles are also important for maintaining posture.
The core is made up of several muscles including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominals, obliques, erector spinae, and more. These muscles work together to support the spine and contribute to the movement of the trunk.
The deltoid anterior is one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles. It helps the deltoid posterior to stabilize the arm while the lateral head abducts the arm from 15-100 degrees and works with the pectoralis major to flex the arm when walking. It also works with the other two heads to prevent inferior displacement of the glenohumeral joint when the arm is pressed against the body under load.
The gluteus maximus is one of the three muscles that make up the butt. It’s the most superficial of the three and gives the butt most its shape. Anatomically, it functions primarily to extend and externally rotate the thigh.
How To Do The Bird Dog Exercise
Now for the fun part. Here are step-by-step instructions for how to perform this exercise.
- Get on your hands and knees so that your hands are underneath your shoulders and your knees are under your hips.
- Maintain a neutral spine by lengthening your torso in each direction while keeping the head neutral, looking down at the floor.
- Press firmly into the ground and feel the shoulder blades move away from each other and downward. Make sure your core is tight.
- Lift one arm straight out in front of you with the palms facing inward and thumbs uppermost.
- Lift the opposite side leg behind you and flex the toes so that they’re pointed at the ground. You want to form a straight line from the fingers to the toes. It won’t form a perfectly straight line but you get the picture.
- Hold this position for two seconds and repeat using the opposite hand and leg.
Here’s a video example…
Bird Dog Tips
- You don’t want to lift the arms and legs too high as this could place stress on the lower back and shoulders. The arm should be extended at shoulder height and the heel should be in line with the hip.
- Keeps the hips squared and neutral during this exercise to maximize the engagement of the core muscles. Neglecting this key form tip will decrease the overall effectiveness of the exercise.
- Do not allow yourself to sink down into the movement as this can cause stress on the shoulders and lower back. Press the hands firmly into the ground and focus on maintaining that neutral body position.
3 Variations of the Bird Dog
The basic bird dog, while effective, isn’t necessarily the most challenging variation. Here are three variations that are more challenging and that will allow you to further progress with this movement.
Bird dog on a stability ball
Using a stability ball will require more stability as you’re balancing on the ball while performing the exercise. Therefore, it’s more challenging than the basic variation. Make sure to keep your hips on the ball too and not just your stomach for optimal performance.
High plank bird dog
Another more difficult variation is to perform this exercise while in the pushup or high plank position. Like the previous exercise, you’ll require more stability and balance as to not fall over as your knees are not supporting your bodyweight this time.
Knee to elbow
This is also a common variation that’ll further engage the abdominal muscles. You’re basically performing a crunch in the bird dog setup by bringing the elbow and opposite side knee together to engage the core. Don’t forget to do both sides.
How To Incorporate The Bird Dog Into Your Training Routine
There are a few simple ways to include this exercise in your training routine.
The first is to perform a few sets prior to doing your compound exercises as a warmup and to engage key muscles. This conditions your body for the workout and makes you more aware of the need to involve certain muscles that contribute to executing a movement safely and effectively. Not to mention, it’s good for teaching proper spine alignment and can be beneficial for preventing lower back pain.
Another way to include the bird dog is to do it as a standalone exercise. Maybe you’re short on time or you just want to stretch out a little and fire up the muscles involved. You could do a few sets and continue your day.
You could do the bird dog after your main workouts or during your ab training to experience the benefits. Either way, it’s a great exercise to include, and then when it becomes too easy and not challenging, we recommend progressing with the variations mentioned above. Although, these are just a few of the variations possible.
There’s no need to overthink this exercise. Include 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps several times per week and decide if you need to add an element of difficulty as you would any other exercise.
The bird dog is a commonly utilized exercise and it definitely offers something beneficial when it comes to improving fitness levels. It’s a great total-body movement for improving stability and it makes for a great warmup exercise to fire up certain muscles. We hope this exercise guide was helpful and remember, no need to make things difficult. Just make sure that you’re using proper form to maximize the effectiveness of this exercise.
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