The bird dog is a simple core exercise that improves stability, encourages a neutral spine, and relieves low back pain. It strengthens your core, hips, and back muscles. It also promotes proper posture and increases range of motion.
This exercise is suitable for people of all levels, including seniors, and it can be used to prevent injury, align your spine, and recover from low back pain.
Keep reading to check out the benefits and variations of the bird dog exercise and learn a few additional exercises that target the same muscles.
For this exercise, you’ll need an exercise mat. Place a flat cushion or folded towel under your knees for extra cushioning. You can use a mirror to check your alignment.
- Begin on all fours in the tabletop position.
- Place your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders.
- Maintain a neutral spine by engaging your abdominal muscles.
- Draw your shoulder blades together.
- Raise your right arm and left leg, keeping your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor.
- Lengthen the back of your neck and tuck your chin into your chest to gaze down at the floor.
- Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower back down to the starting position.
- Raise your left arm and right leg, holding this position for a few seconds.
- Return to the starting position. This is one round.
- Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
To make sure you’re getting the most benefits from the bird dog exercise, you’ll need to align your body correctly and use the right techniques.
The following tips may seem like a lot to take in when you’re doing this exercise for the first time. Try focusing on a few of these pointers at a time, instead of trying to learn them all at once.
- Keep your hips level and don’t rotate your pelvis.
- Avoid lifting your leg too high or allowing your spine to curve past its natural position.
- Feel a line of energy from your fingertips, all along your body, and out through your toes.
- Keep your spine neutral and engage your core to prevent your back from sagging.
- Don’t allow your chest to sink down toward the floor.
- Draw your shoulder blades back, down, and away from your ears.
- Keep the back of your neck in line with your spine.
- Move slowly and with control.
- Maintain smooth and even breathing.
There are several variations of the bird dog exercise that you can do when you want to mix up your routine. Here are a few to try:
Weighted bird dog
- Bring your elbow to your knee after each extension.
- Twist your upper body each time you extend your arm and leg.
- To loosen up your joints, rotate your extended wrist and ankle.
- Use ankle or free weights for increased resistance.
- Use a resistance band around your foot or hand.
- Pulse your extended arm and leg. Then make small circles in both directions.
You can also try doing the bird dog exercise in the pushup position.
If you find it challenging to lift both your arm and leg at the same time, do the exercise with only one extremity at a time.
Test your stability by placing a paper cup that’s empty or full of water on your pelvis. Try to keep the cup from falling or spilling. If it falls or spills, engage your lower abs to stabilize your body.
You can also place a light bar or foam roller across your shoulders to make sure they’re parallel to the floor.
To stabilize your pelvis and make sure your lower back isn’t overextending, do this exercise over a low bench or stability ball. Increase your endurance by completing more repetitions with less rest in between sets.
While doing the exercise, focus on moving your body as a whole instead of isolating the muscles or movements.
The bird dog teaches you to engage your abdominals and stabilize your low back while moving your extremities. This allows for greater ease and mobility in many of your daily and athletic movements.
There are several exercises that target the same muscles as the bird dog exercise. You can do these exercises in addition to or in place of the bird dog. Here are a few to get you started.
Rocking backward low back stretch
Do this exercise, also called the rocking backward low back stretch, to alleviate tightness and pain in the low back and hips. It helps to loosen up your body before more difficult stretches.
Do this core exercise to strengthen and mobilize your low back. Keep your feet in line with your hips with your toes facing forward. After doing dynamic spinal rolls, place a block under your lower back. Hold this position for 3-5 minutes.
This exercise supports the low back, glutes, and abdominals. Place a cushion under your head or shoulders for extra support. Keep your body relaxed and use the movement to gently massage your back.
This exercise helps with your balance and stability and strengthens your glutes, abs, and hips. Distribute your weight evenly, and don’t lift your leg higher than your hip.
Check out a few donkey kick variations to change up your routine.
The bird dog is an effective exercise that’s suitable for most people. Speak to your doctor before starting any fitness routine if you have any medical concerns or take any medications.
Do the bird dog on its own for a few minutes per day, or add it to your current fitness program.
Make sure you’re using proper form, technique, and breathing. Feel free to modify the exercise for a bit of variety or to make it more difficult.
The bird dog exercise builds strength and reduces low back pain. It’s OK to do stretches when you’re experiencing pain as long as you’re gentle and don’t push yourself too much.
If you develop any pain or discomfort during or after the exercise, discontinue the practice and talk to a doctor.