The bird dog is an excellent exercise for increasing both stability and strength in your core and lower back muscles. By strength, I don't mean how heavy can you lift—instead I'm talking about the endurance and stability of your muscles against micro-movements. This type of stability is absolutely essential for the big lifts if you want to avoid injury.
Whether you have lower back pain or not, better spinal stability should be a goal to strive for. This is particularly true for people who have pain from joint instability due to overload or overuse.
The muscles that surround our spine are considered the “core” of our body and are composed of abdominal muscles on your front and sides, the erector muscles on the back, and the larger muscles that span multiple joints such the latissimus dorsi, the glutes, and the psoas. Each and every one of these muscles must work together in order to enhance the stability of the spine.
The Role of the Bird Dog
The bird dog is one of Stuart McGill's “big three” exercises which creates a stiffness in the spine and enhances stability in a spine-sparing way. This is an excellent exercise to promote a stable core while movement occurs at surrounding joints.
Combining movements occurring at the hips and shoulders while the low back remains stable allows this exercise to have excellent carryover to movements you perform throughout your day and in the weight room.
This is not just a short lived benefit either. It’s been shown to create stiffness and stability that lasts after each session.
I will cover the other two exercises from the big three soon, but why not get started with the bird dog. Make sure you let me know how you get on!
The Bird Dog: Step 1
Start by taking a breath in and push yourself back to engage the lats. Try to imagine that you are pushing the earth away from you. Then, as you raise your hand, start breathing out slowly.
The Bird Dog: Step 2
Start with the same position as you would for step 1. This time, slowly push out and lift one leg at a time as you breathe out.
The Bird Dog: Step 3
Combine the previous two movements. Make sure you make this about control and not speed. Breathe in as you brace and push your back up. Breathe out slowly as you move your arm and leg with control.
Bird Dog: Common Mistakes
- Make sure you don’t arch (hyperextend) your back. Keep natural curves.
- Another common mistake I see is that people try to progress into the next level before they’re ready. If you don’t have the stability yet, it’s easy to twist and tilt your body. Make sure you keep your back level like a tabletop.
- Make sure you work in diagonals—opposite arm and opposite leg.
- Go slow—it’s not a race. The slower you go, it is the better it is.