When it comes to core training, the bird dog is a jack-of-all-trades. That’s because the move requires coordinating every part of your core, deep down and all around.
The bird dog strengthens your entire torso by challenging rotational stability, which means your core muscles stabilize your hips and spine while your arms and legs move.
It also trains isometric endurance — which calls for resisting the pull of gravity in order to keep your pelvis from tilting — and improves coordination of your body’s left and right sides and of your rib cage, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.
And since it doesn’t require repeated flexion like some ab exercises do (think crunches), the move is often suitable for people with back pain or stiffness.
To reap these benefits, keep the following in mind:
- Seek balanced stiffness. If your spine is in a neutral posture — neither flexed nor arched — and your abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors are firm to the touch, you’re there.
- Get long. It’s tempting to thrust your moving limbs toward the ceiling. Instead, think about reaching your fingers forward and heels back, without letting your belly drop.
- Take your time. Don’t rush. If you’re flying through tens of reps, slow the movement way down and move with control.
The bird dog can be tricky because of the slow pace and contralateral (left-right) movement. Scale it back by moving just an arm or a leg at a time, or by adding the support of a stability ball under your belly. Once you get the hang of it, make it harder by holding the extended position for up to 30 seconds or by extending the same-side arm and leg at once.
- Assume an all-fours position. Contract your core by flattening your spine — imagine balancing a glass of water on your lower back.
- Extend your left arm forward, palm down, and your right leg behind you, until they are parallel to the floor.
- Briefly hold the extended position. Draw your elbow and knee back toward each other. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps per side.
Stability-Ball Bird Dog
- With a stability ball under your belly, position your hands and toes on the floor, as if you were doing a pushup.
- Engage your core by pulling your bellybutton away from the ball and squeezing your glutes.
- Inhale, and slowly lift your left hand off the floor, raising your arm until it’s parallel to the ground, with your palm facing in.
- Exhale, and return your hand to the floor.
- Repeat with your right hand, then right leg, and finally left leg.
- Make it harder: Lift your opposite arm and leg at the same time; switch sides.