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The Bird Dog Exercise
One of the most common ailments that nearly everyone will face in their lifetime is low back pain. Low back pain can be frustrating because it influences every aspect of your life including working, playing, and even sleeping. As a low back pain sufferer, it can also be scary because you don’t know what to do or what exercises will help. One of the most common exercises to help recover from and prevent low back pain is the Bird Dog exercise. This exercise can be performed at home and with minimal equipment which makes it an ideal exercise for people of all levels of fitness to do at home.
What Equipment is Needed for the Bird Dog Exercise
One of the best aspects of this exercise is that it requires very little equipment for beginners to get started. You can essentially perform this exercise without any extra equipment. The only thing you need is motivation and a few minutes of time!
To make it more comfortable and to progress the resistance beyond beginner levels there are some inexpensive pieces of equipment we recommend. The one piece of equipment that is nice to have is an exercise mat you protect your knees and hands from the floor. You can use a thicker Yoga mat or a true folding exercise mat. Finally, the only other piece of equipment we recommend is to have a full-length mirror so that you can watch your form and easily correct it.
To advance the exercise, you can use other pieces of a home gym including:
- ankle weights
- resistance bands
- an exercise swiss ball
- a Bosu Ball
- even hand weights.
We’ll show you how to make this exercise harder later in the article.
Bird Dog Starting position
To start, place a foam mat on the floor and get into a quadruped position (on hands and knees). Next, looking into the mirror to help with the form, start to raise and arch your low back to find the middle of the range or what we all like to call spinal neutral. This is a slight curve in the Lumbar spine and equal weight in the arms and knees.
Next, tighten your abdominals by bringing your belly button towards the spine. This will help engage your core and keep you more stable. Begin the movement by extending one arm out above your head and then extend or straighten the opposite leg. Hold this for 3-4 seconds and then slow and control bring your arm and leg back in and switch so that the opposite arm and leg are extended.
Tips for Proper Form During the Bird Dog Exercise
- Go Slow – The goal is how well you can control the movement and maintain the spinal position, it’s not how fast you can go.
- Make Yourself Long – Try and reach as far as you can with the arms and the feet lengthwise. Don’t try and go up to the ceiling. Lengthening helps kick in the right muscles.
- Don’t Let Your Body Rotate – One of the most common mistakes we see in the clinic is the patient rotating the other hip up to the ceiling to try and make it easier. Don’t do that, try and keep the front of both hips level pointed down to the ground.
- Don’t Shift the Body to the Side – This sometimes goes hand in hand with rotating the body, but to help make it easier people will shift their body weight to the side instead of keeping it in the middle
- Keep Toes Pointed Down – This small form tip does a couple of things. Proper form involves keeping the toes pointed straight down, helps keep the hips from rotating up. It also helps activate the posterior chain muscle groups and keep the body strong.
How to Make the Bird Dog Harder
Swiss Ball Bird Dog
One of the best ways to make the bird dog more challenging is to do it on an exercise. It may look easier because you have extra support holding you up but think again. The unstable nature of the ball makes it harder to balance and a more taxing exercise overall.
A simple yet amazingly difficult variation is to simply close your eyes. Try it with eyes closed on the ground first, and then when you’re ready to progress, try eyes closed bird dog on the swiss ball. Your core muscles with be working hard to keep you balanced.
Bird Dog with Ankle Weights
A great way to make any exercise more difficult is to add resistance. By adding ankle weights to your legs it will make the muscles work harder to lift the leg up and make the exercise harder to balance with the added weight.
Resistance Band Bird Dog
Most people have one or more resistance bands at home that they can also use with a bird dog exercise. If not, we really like the durability and strength of the Perform Better mini-bands, which are the perfect size for this exercise. Put one band around the feet, and if wanted, put a band around the arms as well. When you lift the arms and legs up to the ceiling, you’ll have quite a bit of resistance to fight through.
This is a simple movement addition that makes this exercise harder and more muscles work. Once you extend one arm and one leg try holding them up and making small square patterns. This requires muscle to hold and stabilize the body. This is especially difficult when adding in some of the other ideas for making it hard.
Want more stomach and core work with the bird dog exercise? Then switch to the plank position and get the full benefit. Start on your hands and toes and maintain a plank position. Then extend one arm and the opposite arm and see how difficult this is. You will feel this quite a bit in the stomach muscles.
Plank Position on Bosu ball
Finally, to make this exercise about as hard as it can be, try doing it on a Bosu ball. You can put your hands on the Bosu ball or your feet on the Bosu ball to make it more unstable. You can also switch between the full plank position and on the hands and knees quickly.
The bird dog is one of the best exercises to improve low back pain and overall core strength. One of the best aspects of the bird dog is that there is minimal equipment required, you can do it anywhere, and can be scaled harder in many different ways. Be sure to add this exercise to your home program regularly.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.