Let me introduce you to the Bird Dog exercise, this should be the very first exercise you should perform if you feel like you need to stabilise your spine, especially if you are recovering from an injury.
I’m not going to teach you how to bark like a dog and fly like a bird, but at the most basic level this exercise is usually the first exercise that is prescribed initially if you have a weak lower back to help you strengthen it.
In fact, I was prescribed the bird dog exercise when I was recovering from my lower back injury a few years ago.
When I initially started doing the exercise, I wasn’t sure if it was making any difference to my lower back. I would initially shake lots and would keep falling off and was unable to keep my balance. However with time and effort of engaging my abs while doing the exercise, I started to notice i was able to hold my balance without shaking or falling. Thereafter I noticed I was able to further hold the position for longer and noticed an improvement in my lower back strength.
So, what is a bird dog exercise? Well, it’s a bodyweight exercise which engages your abs and lower back. It’s ideal for beginners who feel like they don’t have much lower back strength, as you are simply using your own bodyweight, arms and legs.
The exercise works a key muscle called the multifidus. A small but very powerful muscle which supports the entire spine, found attached to the spinal column.
This is the default starting position. Rest your knees and legs on the floor, with both hands also resting on the floor. You may also use a mat if you prefer for comfort. Make sure your body is parallel to the floor. Tense your stomach muscles while in this position.
Extend Arm & Leg Out
While tensing your stomach muscles, extend your Left Arm out & Right Leg out while keeping the rest of your body steady, as shown in the above image. Hold this position for 1 or 2 seconds and return back to the starting position.
REPEAT again but this time extend your Right Arm out & Left Leg out while keeping the rest of your body steady. – This is 1 repetition. Do 10 repetitions with good form.
If your lower back and stomach muscles are weak you will probably notice you will struggle to keep your balance when extending out. You will most likely be shaking while doing this. This is normal and fine. As you build up your strength, you will notice this will be reduced.
During my recovery I would perform this exercise every morning before I travelled to work and then again once I got home in the evening. What I noticed was that overtime, my lower back felt stronger as if like a virtual belt had appeared around my waist providing me with support.
Technique Tip: As the exercise became easier to perform with less shaking, I simply increased the hold time when in the extended position to add additional resistance to my workout.
Technique Tip: Another thing I also did was not to rest the arm or leg on the floor on my return, but instead to simply hold it slightly off the ground, thus challenging my core to balance it in that position before extending out again into bird dog extension.
If you perform the Bird Dog exercise regularly every day for the course of 1-2 weeks, you will start to notice the exercise will become easier to perform.
This is the result of key muscle groups becoming activated and working to support your spine. However, now would be a good time to add additional resistance to the exercise routine to build upon the strength gains.
To add additional resistance to the Bird Dog exercise you can get some ankle weights and wrap these around your ankle and simply perform the exercise with resistance only on the legs.
If you want to further increase the resistance to this you can then also hold some light dumbbell weights too when performing this exercise. Start with light weights to ensure you don’t injure yourself at the early stages.