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Bird Dog is a favorite for balance and strength training of the posterior body, part of the “core.” Bird dog is also great for your improving posture and is doubly cool because it moves the arms and legs freely from the stabilized torso (aka: disassociation or dissociation). I may get around to sharing more details on disassociation later but for now Bird is the word, so let’s get to it.
Why Bird Dog?
Bird dog is excellent for beginners; it’s also great as part of a warm up or healthy back regimen. The Bird Dog is nothing new but it’s effective and by teaching the Dog a few new tricks with these engaging variations, it should keep you busy for a while. If you’re not rockin’ the Bird Dog in some format during your workouts, you should be.
Bird Dog Scuba Diver Bonus: A stable trunk creates a foundation for movement while maintaining a trim, stable position underwater. The ability to move the limbs freely & improving your proprioception allows for more efficient diving tasks like powerful finning techniques and upper body tasks such as reaching valves or manipulating equipment (like lift bags, or reels) without disturbing the torso position which can negatively impact buoyancy and trim position.
Note: If you currently have lower back or shoulder discomfort stick to the Basic Bird Dog movement and consult with me or a qualified movement professional before progressing. If you have PAIN during any basic bird, discontinue and seek professional medical or movement evaluation before proceeding.
Build your foundation
Bird Dog begins from a “table top” position with hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips, while keeping your head, neck, and back in a neutral (straight) position. It’s important that you maintain a strong torso during all Bird Dog variations. Spread your fingers and press your arms (or forearms) into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and spread them away from the spine. Similarly spread your collarbones away from the sternum to keep the chest open during the exercise. Lift the base of your skull away from the back of the neck and look almost straight down at the floor, keeping the throat and shoulders soft. Often the shoulders want to creep up toward the ears, so focusing on softness in the neck will help reduce this. Keep the belly connected & pulled up/in; think flattened not scooped in the low part of the belly under the belly button. It’s important that you breathe during all variations of Bird Dog. Imagine that you are balancing a platter of your favorite beverages on your back as you move the opposing limbs in the Bird Dog motion; you don’t want to spill those beverages!
Invest the time and focus; do these with precision – you will progress faster. Ideally I like to go with 5-10 repetitions for each side, but start with however many you can do and work from there. Switch up the variation as they get easier for you.
Bird Dog: Basic
1. From the table top position take a natural Inhale.
2. As you Exhale: Slowly raise your right arm and reach it forward while reaching your left leg backwards until they are both in line with your torso. Hold for a slow Inhale.
3. As you Exhale: Slowly bring your arm and leg back to the ground.
4. Inhale. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg as you exhale.
BEGINNERS: If you are new to this type of stability exercise, start small and do a few Baby Bird Dog’s to feel stable. Progress once you feel ready. In Baby Bird Dog, you lift only the arm or leg - one at a time, or just lift them slightly off the floor – don’t fully extend them.
The following advanced variations should be undertaken once you've mastered Basic. They still require you to utilize the torso positioning as listed above, but present a greater strength and stability challenge. Keep your focus on good positioning and breathing as you progress.
Water Dog: Stability Ball
Water Dog is a greater stability challenge. For my SCUBA friends, I find this variation best mimics the instability experienced while in the underwater environment. Walk yourself out over the ball placing your HIPS on top of the ball; adjust position as needed for balance challenge. The further away your hips from the top of the ball, the lower the stability challenge. To begin, place your arms and legs farther from the ball (like a large Star position), this makes it easier. To challenge, place your hands and feet closer to the ball. The exercise ball should be large enough to support you, but not so large that you have trouble placing your hands and feet on the floor at the same time. Use your trunk to stabilize you, avoid pressing too hard into the floor with your arm and leg (finger tips & toes!) as you lift the opposing limbs into the Bird Dog pose.
Half-Baked Bird: Knees off
Starting in the basic table top position, lift your knees off the ground 2-3 inches and then continue into the Bird Dog sequence. Some days, I find this version more challenging than Big Bird. What do you think?
Big Bird: Push-up Position
A more challenging variation is from a push up position, without using your knees. Big Bird requires greater core strength & stabilization. Starting out in the push up position, move into the Bird Dog arm/leg sequence while keeping your torso steady. The goal is to not tip from one side or the other. Remember that platter of beverages?
Low-Down Dirty Bird: Forearm variation
I like this nicely challenging Bird Dog variation; it’s also helps avoid wrist compression. Be mindful of your personal capacity as many bird dog variations (shown in the video below) can place additional stress on the shoulders, neck, or low back. Progress slowly. Try one of the modifications below to protect your wrists but still get down with the Dirty Bird.
Two Dirty Bird Modifications:
There are many other variations! Start small, focus on your core (torso) stability and progress as you feel ready for a new challenge. Check out my video below for a few demonstrations and general explanations of the Bird Dog variations.
Be well and keep moving!