How to Do the Bird Dog Exercise

An Exercise for the Abs and Butt

Pilates exercises
The bird dog exercise.. poba/Vetta/Getty Images

The Bird Dog may have been a dance craze at one time, but now it's main claim to fame is that it's a somewhat advanced bodyweight floor exercise for strengthening the posterior core in general -- the muscular region that includes the abdominals, lower back, butt and thighs.

It's not that difficult to do after a little practice to get the balance right. It's easy to do anywhere, so long as you have a comfortable place to get on your hands and knees and room enough to extend both an arm and a leg.

Here's how it's done.

How to Perform the Bird Dog Exercise

  1. Kneel on the floor with hands firmly placed about shoulder width apart.
  2. Brace the abdominals, and at first, practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just clear of the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee. Half an inch will do until you get the idea of it.
  3. When you're ready to do the complete exercise, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg to the rear (see diagram). The shoulders and the hips should be parallel.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds then return to hands and knees on ground position.
  5. Starting out, try 5 repeats on alternate hands and knees -- 10 repetitions in all. Add additional sets of 10 exercises up to 3 sets of 10.
  6. As a variation, you can do several bird dogs with one side and then do a set with just the other side.
  7. Keep the abs engaged while you change sides if you are doing alternating bird dogs, work to minimize any extra motion during the weight shift.
  1. If you need to know more about weight training practices and principles, read this introductory article.

Muscles Worked in the Bird Dog Exercise

The main target of the Bird Dog is the erector spinae. This long muscle extends the length of the spine, from the skull, neck and ribs to the vertebrae and sacrum of the hip.

It is responsible for extending, flexing and rotating the spine and neck.

But that's not the only muscle it works, as the move also involves the gluteus maximus muscle of the buttocks, worked when raising the leg. In raising the arm you work the trapezius muscles and deltoids of the upper back and shoulder.

Meanwhile, other muscles get involved to stabilize the motion. These include the hamstrings of the back of the thigh, the other gluteal muscles, the piriformis and obturator externus of the hip, the pectoralis and serratus muscles of the chest and the triceps of the upper arm.

But what about the other abdominal muscles? They work as antagonists to the erector spinae, and so you also involve the rectus abdominis and the obliques. As you see, the Bird Dog involves many muscles and although it is called an isolation exercise, a lot is going on from head to thigh.

Variations of the Bird Dog Exercise

Advanced: The single-side bird dog extends the arm and leg from one side of the body. It's extremely advanced and few people can perform it.

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