The bird dog exercise involves simple movements that challenge your balance and strengthen your core muscles - the muscles that surround the spine and work to stabilize the entire body. It is especially good for strengthening and stretching the lower back and relieving lower back pain. Even if you don’t have lower back pain, we can all benefit from better spinal stability as it is essential to maintain good posture, be able to support weight, allow for movement and flexibility, and avoid injury.
This simple exercise offers a host of benefits, including:
Improved core stability.
Improved shoulder stability and mobility.
Better body awareness and coordination.
Stronger glutes, lower back, and abdominal muscles.
How to do the Bird Dog
Find a comfortable surface to kneel on with enough space to extend both an arm and a leg at the same time. An exercise or yoga mat, or even a blanket or thin rug, is a good choice of surface.
Get on your hands and knees with your knees directly under your hips about hip-width apart and your hands directly under your shoulders about shoulder-width apart. Engage your abdominal muscles to maintain a neutral spine (don’t arch or round your back).
Start by lifting one hand and the opposite knee just an inch or two off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee and keeping your weight centered.
Once you have your balance and feel steady, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you. You should form one straight line from your hand to your foot.
Hold for a few seconds, then return your hand and knee to the floor.
Switch to the other side.
Keep the back of your neck in line with your spine to avoid straining your neck. Keep your abs engaged throughout the entire exercise, move slowly and with control, and work to minimize any extra motion in your hips during the weight shift.
Start by trying to complete 5 strong repetitions on each side for a total of 10. As you get stronger, add additional repetitions and additional sets until you are able to do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions per side. If you get tired, take a break in child’s pose.
Try combining the movement with your breath, by inhaling during the extension phase and exhaling during the return phase.
The bird dog exercise can be done alone, as part of a warm-up before your strength or cardio exercise, or include it as part of the core portion of your existing exercise routine.
Once you have mastered the standard bird dog exercise, try one of these variations for an additional challenge:
Bird dog with crunch: Rather than returning the hand and knee to the ground between each repetition, bend your elbow and bring your knee forward until they touch under the body.
Bird-dog from push-up position: Rather than having your knees on the ground, start from a push-up position balanced on the toes of your feet and your hands.
If you have back or shoulder pain/injury, check with your doctor or physical therapist about whether this exercise is a good option for you.