At MPC, one of our favorite exercises to prescribe for strengthening the posterior pillar (core), and to a smaller extent the hip extensors as well is the Bird Dog. The Bird Dog exercise was developed by functional training expert Dr. Stuart McGill. The Bird Dog has been shown to be an effective movement to reinforce proper spinal alignment and core recruitment (Cook, 2010). It teaches the discipline of using proper hip and shoulder motions while maintaining a stable spine (McGill, 2015).The Bird Dog is a perfect option if you are new to exercising and need to gain the necessary levels of core stability before you move on to more advanced core exercises. It is an exercise that can help even out asymmetries and imbalances between the left and right side. The Bird Dog can also improve: spinal alignment, postural control, shoulder stability, hip alignment, shoulder mobility, spinal stabilization and reduce low-back pain (Seedman, 2016).
This contralateral movement; meaning opposite arm and leg improves the ability to integrate a strong pillar while simultaneously coordinating upper and lower body movements which can lead to enhancement of multiple aspects of performance and muscle function.
To perform this exercise:
- Get into a quadrupled position. Set yourself up so your hands are directly under your shoulders, your knees are directly under your hips and make sure your spine is in neutral position.
- Raise your opposite arm and leg straight out, keeping your core engaged and neutral spine; meaning your hips and spine do not rotate/twist.
The main purpose of this pillar stability exercise is to train your body to resist extension and rotation. Be sure when performing the exercise both feet should be dorsiflexed and straight. Your head should be kept in a neutral position; meaning your gaze should be down and straight.
From this foundational exercise there are a variety of progressions you can perform. You can progress to the dynamic bird dog where you touch your elbow to your knee and then return to the starting position. This involves a slightly greater range of motion and creates more motion that your pillar needs to control.
You can also perform a Bird Dog variation where you hold your body in an isometric position after you have extended your arm and leg. Typically, we have clients perform this variation holding 20 seconds or greater of extension per side.
A more basic version of the Bird Dog posture can be used by those who have arthritic knees or difficulties getting into a quadrupled position. The Standing Bird Dog follows the same focus of raising opposite arm and leg straight out; keeping core engaged and neutral spine; meaning do not raise the arm higher than shoulder height nor raise the leg past the height of the hip.
The list of variations for this exercise goes on and on. The final one we will highlight is the Bird Dog on a bench. This technique was first highlighted by strength coach, Nick Tumminello. Performing the Bird Dog on a bench increases the difficulty exponentially. Firstly, it eliminates one base of support. Your feet are no longer fixed to the floor. Rather than three points of contact you now only have two which greatly increases the instability and activation of the pillar. Besides the greater instability, eliminating the foot off the ground reduces the likelihood of overextending your low-back, because it promotes greater activation of the anterior core. (Seedman, 2016). You’re forced to lean over rather than tilting back. If you sit back toward your feet and overarch your low back, a common compensation with the foundational Bird Dog, you will lose your balance (Seedman, 2016).
Many gyms have benches with different widths. When first attempting the Bird Dog on a bench start with the widest bench available. The thinner the bench, the narrower the base of support making the exercise significantly more challenging.
You can perform the Bird Dog in your warm up however, depending on your level or which progression of bird dog you are performing it can be use as a pillar stabilizing exercise in a strength circuit as well. You could perform ten repetitions with five second isometric holds per side. If doing the Bird Dog in your warm up you could decrease the repetitions and sets (e.g 2x5 reps/side). The Bird Dog is an excellent foundational exercise for developing strength throughout the pillar. Give the Bird Dog a try the next time you do your workout. It’s more challenging than it appears!
Author: Megan Cook
Cook, G. (2010). Movement – Functional Movement Systems. Aptos: On Target Publications .
McGill, S. (2015). Back Mechanic. Gravenhurst : Backfitpro Inc.
Seedman, J. (2016, September 23). Benefits of the Bird Dog Exercise and 8 Challenging Variations. Retrieved from STACK – Blue Star Sports: www.stack.com/a/benefits-of-the-bird-dog-exercise-and-8-challenging-variations