The bird dog is a very under-utilized exercise which works the core. Now, when I say core I don’t mean solely the abdominals and obliques like during all those crunches and sit-ups people do too often. I mean the deeper inner core that stabilizes the spinal column. Muscles like the transverse abdominis, multifidi, intertransversarii group, and erector spinae group. These muscles need to be trained following any lower back injury to promote reflex stabilization and regain proper function. The bird dog is core stability exercise that relies on a stable spine and movement at the extremities. I can imagine you have seen this done in many gyms near and far, and I can safely say it is done wrong the majority of the time. Many people use this exercise to strengthen the hip extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings), but putting the hip through maximal hip extension will cause the lumbar spine to hyperextend as a result. When this happens we increase compression at the facet joints, pinch the interspinous ligament between the spinous processes, and actually cause instability to occur. Follow the steps below to make sure you are getting the most out of this exercise!
How to perform this exercise:
- Start by placing yourself in the quadruped position (hands under shoulders, knees under hips).
- Set the core by placing the lumbar spine in a neutral position. This should be when the low back is flat.
- While maintaining this position, extend the opposite arm and leg away from the body (shoulder flexion/hip extension).
- Return to the starting position without letting your extremities touch the ground.
- Repeat for desired repetitions and then switch sides.
Notes: It’s imperative not to focus on maximal hip extension. When the extending hip travels too far we will compensate with lumbar hyperextension. If that happens the point of the exercise is defeated as we have lost core stability. Don’t worry about your limbs traveling too high when you are starting out. Keep a neutral lumbar spine and move the extremities as far as needed to challenge this position. If this exercise proves to be challenging, try regressing to the quadruped hip extension.
Garrett McLaughlin is a licensed athletic trainer, personal trainer, and certified active release techniques provider. He enjoys using all of his skills progressing clients from rehabilitation to fitness. Please contact Garrett for questions or to schedule a session.