Your Daily Dose of Coach #147: Trust the Bird-Dog


"Our research shows has shown that employing the bird-dog exercise spares the spine from high compressive loads and ensures stable patterns of muscle activity...This exercise is a major contributor to desensitizing back pain!"

Stu McGill, The Back Mechanic

The bird-dog is one of those simple exercises people don't get. Maybe it's the funny name. Maybe it's because you've done it before but had no instruction or no idea why. As many of these "simple" exercises are prescribed blindly as great "core" or "low back" exercises, but often done wrong.

The bird dog happens to be one of my favorite exercises for spine stabilization and for those with back pain. It's an awesome exercise to resist extension and rotation forces that attempt to destabilize the spine. Other benefits include improving shoulder mobility and stability, controlling posture and neutral spine, rotary stability, and as Dr. MgGill says in the quote above, "spares the spine of high compressive loads and ensures stable patterns of muscle activity"

You can't go wrong with the bird-dog exercise. You can trust it to do it's job. I use it in warm-ups, consistently with low back pain clients, as a "throw-in" between strength exercises for athlete's, and personally use it in my own training to desensitize my low back pain.

To get the most out of your bird-dog, do it with intention and follow these short and simple instructions.

  • Starting Position:

    • On hands and knees, with hands shoulder width apart and directly under the shoulders. Knees are shoulder width apart and directly under the hips.
    • Maintain neutral spine
    • Stiffin the abs to ensure motion will only be coming from shoulders and hips
  • Execution:

    • Raise one are straight out to shoulder level, squeeze the muscles of the shoulder blade.
    • At the same time, extend your opposite leg straight back until level with the hips and fire your glutes.
    • Hold that position for 6 seconds, return and repeat on the other side.
    • One cue I like to give with the leg is push heel thought the wall. This will ensure the leg gets parallel to the floor, the foot stays flexed (not pointed) and the glute fires.
    • A second cue I give is to clench your fist like Superman flying on the raised arm. This will improve contraction in the upper back.
    • The goal here is to maintain neutral spine through the movement as well as co-contracting the opposite glute and posterior shoulder muscles.