Why You Should Add the Bird Dog Exercise to Your Workout Routine, According to Trainers

Sports & Activity

This simple move offers plenty of core work, making it a boon for everyday activity.

Last updated: March 10, 2023
5 min read
Why You Should Add the Bird Dog Exercise to Your Workout Routine, According to Trainers

When it comes to exercises that challenge the core muscles, the bird dog exercise provides a host of benefits thanks to the stabilization required for the move, which causes the muscles in your trunk to fire up.

"This is a very simple but effective core stability exercise," said Bill Kelley, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., and physical therapist. "The bird dog movement works many muscles, including the hamstrings and glutes, abs and obliques, spinal extensors, lats, and posterior shoulder musculature. Together, this builds functional core strength, which plays a major role in many situations, including sports and everyday life."

"In essence, the body should resemble a hunting dog pointing to a bird in the brush," said Rocky Snyder, C.S.C.S. and author of the strength-training guide "Return to Center."

Bird dogs can be done in a flow with a specific number of reps on each side or can be held for a length of time on each side, similar to holding plank pose, as a way to challenge your core muscles.

How to Do a Bird Dog Exercise

  1. Start on hands and knees with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Reach one leg up and out so it's in line with your back.
  3. Reach the opposite arm straight out in front.
  4. The arm and leg travel out together, then back to the starting position.
  5. Switch sides.

Tips on Form

To get the most out of the bird dog exercise, there are some important form aspects to target the right muscles instead of compensating with unintended muscles, like your lower back.

"The biggest mistakes I see involve not keeping the midsection stable," Kelley said. "People will either let the core rotate to the side when lifting the leg and the hips drop, or they are so worried about lifting the arm and leg high that they will let the back sag down." Another common misstep is going too fast, he added. When the motion is hurried, not as many muscles get activated compared to when the movement is slow and controlled.

Craning the neck upward rather than looking down is also typical, Snyder said. When that happens, it places more strain on the muscles surrounding the neck, and it can lead to the back sagging rather than staying in a flat, neutral position.

What Are the Benefits of the Bird Dog Exercise?

From crunches to planks, why does the bird dog exercise deserve to be in your go-to workout routine?

  1. 1.More muscle activation with less fatigue

    A study in a 2016 issue of Rehabilitation Research and Practice looked at four classic rehabilitation exercises, including bird dogs. Compared to the three other moves incorporated in the research, the bird dog caused less muscular fatigue but still strengthened abdominal and back muscles effectively.

  2. 2.May help alleviate or prevent back pain

    In the same study, researchers noted that the bird dog was often part of rehab because it's able to strengthen and stabilize muscles in the low back and core, even when there's pain. The researchers added that the bird dog exercise has also been shown to strengthen gluteus maximus muscle, providing more support for a healthy back. Another study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggested bird dog exercise was well tolerated by people with low back pain and was especially effective at activating the lumbar erector spinae muscles in the low back. When these muscles are strengthened, they provide more support to the spine, helping to alleviate and prevent pain.

  3. 3.Trains both the anterior and posterior muscles

    The bird dog exercise's ability to activate so many muscles in the front and back of the body make it well suited for improving balance, since this supports the core muscles — which, in turn, help create greater stability.

  4. 4.Can help prevent injury

    Research in a 2013 issue of Sports Health noted that enhancing core stability is also common for musculoskeletal injury prevention programs because your movements are more efficient and controlled, which improves coordination. The researchers added that bird dog exercises can be beneficial because they improve muscle recruitment.

  5. 5.Counteracts too much sitting

    With long stretches of sitting comes a degradation of integrative movement, Snyder said. This is because muscles connecting the upper body with the lower body — especially in the hips — weaken from inactivity, and that creates a higher likelihood of back problems and joint issues due to muscle imbalances and inefficient movement patterns. Snyder said the bird dog is one of the best exercises to revitalize this connection.

Bird Dog Exercise Variations To Try

If you’re already familiar with the bird dog exercise but want some variety, there are a few ways to make the movement more challenging, Kelley said.

Those include: increasing hold time on each side, holding a weight in the outstretched hand or around the ankles, and increasing the number of reps. To really challenge stability, he suggested using an unstable surface that makes it harder to balance, or lifting the knees off the ground into a bear crawl position and keeping one arm and the opposite leg lifted.

Words by Elizabeth Millard, A.C.E. C.P.T.

Why You Should Add the Bird Dog Exercise to Your Workout Routine, According to Trainers

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Originally published: March 2, 2023

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