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.
The Pigeon Stretch is a mobility stretch that is performed throughout Crossfit boxes and gyms. The main goal of this drill is to improve hip mobility. It can be a very effective mobility drill if it is performed correctly and is “felt” in the proper areas.
A typical Pigeon Stretch looks like so:
Photo credit: https://dutchsmilingyogi.com/rajakapotasana-pigeon-pose/
Ideally, the stretch someone should feel when performing this movement is in the back of the hip, towards the glutes.
There are athletes and clients that do not feel it in this area. Sometimes, people will feel nothing at all. Other times, people will feel a “tightness” in the front of the hip or in the hip joint itself. With this particular movement, someone should not feel a “stretch” in the front of the hip since this tissue is on slack.
Typically, the reason why someone may feel the pigeon stretch in the front of their hip is because of their bony anatomy at their hip. Most people have two hip joints. But, between people and between right and left sides, the bony anatomy can vary. One hip joint may be more shallow compared to another. There may be more bony overgrowth one side compared to another.
photo credit: themovementfix.com
If someone is trying to force their hip into the pigeon pose, they may be feeling bony compression of the acetabulum onto their femoral neck. Ideally, someone should not feel the pigeon stretch in the front of their hip. There can also be bony changes that have occurred over time, such as cam and/or pincer lesions that could be altering the joint position and where the person feels the stretch.
Photo credit: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00572
Instead, there are various hip mobility drills that someone can perform to make sure they are feeling it in the correct areas.
Mobility drills such as:
Quadruped Hip ER Mobilization
Seated 90/90 Hip ER/IR
Seated 90/90 Hip ER/IR w/ Kettlebell
If you are not feeling the “Pigeon Stretch” in the back of your hip, in your glute, where you are supposed to feel it, make some modifications to your mobility program to feel it in the correct areas.
The Front Squat is a great movement. It may not be considered a powerlifting movement such as the back squat, but the front squat is a respectable measure of strength for any athlete or general population client. It is also a great movement for those who may have mobility limitations at the shoulder or core stability issues that may limit the depth on a back squat, but clean up during a front squat.
There are a few areas of the body that need to be firing on all cylinders when it comes to the front squat to make sure proper form is present.
These 4 areas are:
As with any squatting movement, the ankle is an integral part of the entire squat pattern. If an ankle lacks mobility on one or both sides, then this can significantly impact the foot, knee, hip, etc. and can place an athlete at risk to compensate or increase their risk for injury.
To determine if an athlete has adequate ankle mobility, use the Knee to Wall Test:
Ideally, 4 inches away from the wall, or 40 degrees is an adequate amount of ankle dorsiflexion needed for the squat.
If there is NOT adequate dorsiflexion present, check out my guest post on Dr. John Rusin’s site,
10 Exercises to Instantly Improve Ankle Mobility
on how to improve ankle mobility. If you have a structural change that limits your dorsiflexion or you wish to front squat while continuing to work on your ankle mobility limitations, wearing Olympic lifting shoes can be a short term fix.
The thoracic spine is another area of the body that needs adequate mobility in order to properly perform a front squat. If someone lacks sufficient thoracic spine extension mobility, it will be challenging for them to maintain an upright posture as the descend into the hole and attempt to return to standing.
A great thoracic spine mobility test is the Quadruped Passive Thoracic Rotation Test:
Ideally, we like to see 50 degrees both directions. If there is less than 50 degrees when tested passively, the mobility drills listed below can help improve thoracic spine mobility.
A-Frame Thoracic Spine Mobilization
Sidelying Rib Roll
Bench T-Spine Mobilizations
There are other various thoracic spine mobility drills, but those are some of my favorite “go-to” drills to improve mobility there.
If you are performing front squats with an Olympic lifting grip:
Photo credit: breakingmuscle.com
then a quick and easy test to determine if you have adequate elbow flexion is if you can touch your thumb to the front of your shoulder with your elbow at shoulder height.
As you notice in this picture, I am able to touch my thumb to the front of my shoulder in the racked position. If there are limitations in elbow flexion due to the tricep, specifically the long head of the tricep, individuals will not be able to touch their thumb to their shoulder with their elbow at shoulder height. Make sure to assess how it is shown in the picture.
If limited, try performing self-myofascial release (SMR) to the tricep with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, etc.
Wrist extension is also important if performing a front squat with an Olympic style grip. Being able to display sufficient wrist extension will allow for the bar to be able to rest in the hand and on the front of the shoulders.
If there is insufficient wrist extension or elbow flexion as mentioned in the previous section, this can cause compensations throughout the kinetic chain and place the athlete or client at an increased risk for injury.
To determine if there is sufficient wrist extension, use your other hand to gently extend your wrist back to see if the hand can reach the front of the shoulder.
If you can comfortably reach your shoulder on both sides as shown in the picture, then you present with adequate wrist extension for front squatting.
If there are limitations in wrist mobility, try performing some of these techniques to help improve wrist mobility:
If you are still having difficulty improving mobility at the elbow or wrist, try switching to a "Crossed Arm" Front Squat as shown in the video earlier in the article.
If you want to front squat with an Olympic style grip, make sure to optimize mobility at your ankle, thoracic spine, wrist, and elbow.
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