The “Bird Dog” is a movement that is used in the rehab and performance settings as a “corrective exercise”, during a dynamic warm-up, or as a filler exercise in a superset. It is a core stability exercise that focuses on the timing, muscle coordination, and motor control for the upper body, lower body, and trunk.
Many individuals may struggle with this movement due to mobility limitations or stability/motor control deficits. But, there are individuals that can possess good movement literacy and may need to progress the bird dog to a point where it is challenging for THEM, but they can still maintain good movement quality.
Before we go into the progressions, a key point to remember is that this isn’t a type of movement where we are trying to progressively overload it. Like with strength training, progressive overload is key to making improvements. Eventually, the bird dog could be a movement where it can be challenging, but should not be progressed to the point of adding heavy weight and/or heavy resistance such as with strength training.
The main purpose of the bird dog movement is to work on control, timing, and muscle sequencing. The body needs both core strength AND core stability.
For an article about core strength AND stability, check out my guest post on Tony Gentilcore’s site:
You Don’t Need Core Stability or Core Strength
Progressions for the Bird Dog
A simple but effective way to progress a movement is by adding a breath in at the most difficult point in the movement. With the bird dog, add a diaphragmatic breath in when the arm and leg are fully extended.
-Make sure to maintain a neutral spine.
-When you reach hip extended/shoulder flexed, take a deep belly breath while maintaining good technique.
2. Time Under Tension
Now, time under tension is typically reserved for strength training, but with any motor control exercise such as the bird dog, you can hold the movement for a period of time. For instance, with the bird dog, you can hold the end position for a 3-5 sec hold.
-Don’t try to get to the point where your body is shaking due to the difficulty.
-Add a short amount of time in for the holds and alternate each side.
3. Narrow Base
Another way to challenge yourself with the bird dog is by narrowing your base of support. A narrow base of support with any core stability or strength movement will immediately challenge yourself.
You can start with your hands and knees shoulder and hip width apart. If this is too easy, bring your hands 1-inch closer together as well as 1-inch closer together for your knees. If this is too easy and you can maintain good technique, go closer. The closest you will be able to go is hands touching and knees touching. Again, make sure technique is on point with this progression.
With this next potential progression, the resistance can sometimes make the movement more challenging. On the other hand, it can make the movement easier because it is causing the body’s neuromuscular system to reflexively contract due to the implementation of resistance.
Resistance can be added for both arms/legs or just with legs or arms.
-Pick a resistance that will allow you to perform the full movement without compromising technique.
5. Move Outside of Your Base of Support
Like we said with narrowing your base of support, you can also move your arm and leg outside of your base of support. By doing this, it will add another form of difficulty. As we have said before, form is of the utmost importance here.
-Maintain a neutral spine.
-Only go as far with your arm/leg as you can while maintaining proper technique.
6. Decreased Points of Contact
This last progression seems easy to perform, but it is harder than it looks. Another way to make the bird dog movement more challenging is by decreasing your body’s contact with the ground.
With the typical bird dog, there are six points of contact. Your hands, knees, and feet when at rest. During the movement, the points of support decrease to 3 (hand, knee, and foot.)
Another way to challenge this is to take away a point of support. You can remove the foot from this movement.
Or you can remove the knee and go into the starting position of a crawl.
There you have it! The bird dog is a great core stability movement that can challenge an individual with motor control, coordination, and stability. If you have an athlete or client that is not challenged by the bird dog, try implementing one of these progressions.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.