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.
1. Starting Position
2. Extend Arm & Alternate Leg
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.
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.
See below for a video demonstration:
What is the Bird Dog Exercise?
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.
Technique and Alignment
To feel the benefits from this exercise, pay attention to the following:
- Keep Hips level and don’t rotate the pelvis
- Don’t lift your leg too hight beyond your butt
- Try to visualise a straight line from your hands to your toes when extended out
- Tense you’re abs through the motions
- Keep a slow smooth motion, with good control
Muscles worked in the Bird Dog
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.
The bird dog also works the retus abdominis and glutes which provide you with overall stability.
By practicing over time you will develop good balance and allow you to have a better posture as your muscles are working actively to keep you upright.
Make sure you engage your abs during the exercise to help stabilise your lower back during the motion.
Drawbacks of Bird Dog
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.
Another drawback with the standard Bird Dog is that the exercise becomes very easy to perform after a few sessions. This is good because it proves your muscles are working as required to help stabilise your spine. However, no further gains are made if you stop here. Therefore, it’s a good time to add a little variation to the workout to increase the resistance.
Bird Dog Variations
To add resistance to the Bird Dog exercise here are some bird dog variations to keep your core challenged.
Weighted bird dog with Dumbbell / Ankle Weight
- Use a Dumbbell for you upper body and an Ankle Weight for your lower body
- You can use just ‘upper body resistance’ or just ‘lower body resistance’ to start with
- As you get stronger, combine both dumbbell and ankle weights for greater resistance and strength gains
Bird Dog Pushup Position
- Get in to the pushup position, except put your hands slightly wider than your shoulders to help your balance.
- Tense your abs as you extend your right arm and left leg out
- Return back to starting position maintaining your balance and tensing your abs.
- Repeat with opposite arm and leg.
Bird Dog with Elbow to Knee Touch
- Do the Bird Dog manoeuvre as normal when extending out.
- On the return, do NOT rest arm or leg on the floor.
- Instead, touch Elbow to Knee and extend back out.
Bird Dog on a Stability Ball
- Roll the ball forward to help you get on.
- Keep legs and hands apart with your chest down.
- Raise left arm up and opposite leg up.
- Return to start and repeat on opposite side.
Bird Dog with Resistance Band
- Follow the above video by placing the band around the left foot and holding it with your right arm.
- Extend out slowly and return.
This exercise will force you to perform this manoeuvre slower then previous variations. This is good, because keeping good form with a slow motion is where the greatest gains are felt with the bird dog in general.
Using the band will also help keep you in line while using your core.