How to Do a Bird Dog Exercise

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 28, 2022
4 min read

The bird dog exercise is a core-strength exercise. Your core is bounded by your pelvis, abdominal wall, diaphragm, and lower back. 

This exercise is also known as quadruped alternating arm and leg.

Bird dog is a strengthening and endurance exercise that promotes the stability of your spine. You don't need any equipment, but an exercise mat may help cushion your knees.

During a bird dog exercise, the muscles worked include those in your core. These are the muscles in your back, abs, hips, and buttocks.

Gluteal muscles (glutes). This group of muscles is located in your buttocks and hip area. They consist of:

  • Gluteus maximus. This is the main muscle for hip extension. When you walk, this is the muscle that pushes your leg back.
  • Gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. These muscles help to control your leg movement (hip adduction). 

When your glutes are weak, your lower body may not be aligned properly. This may cause overuse of your hamstrings and quadriceps and cause injuries like runner’s knee. Weak glutes may also result in lower back pain.

Abdominal muscles. These muscles support your trunk, regulate internal abdominal pressure, and help with movement. 

There are four main abdominal muscle groups:

  • Transversus abdominis. This deepest muscle layer maintains internal abdominal pressure and stabilizes your trunk.
  • Rectus abdominis. This is located at the front of your pelvis between your ribs and pubic bone.
  • External oblique muscles. These muscles are located on each side of the rectus abdominis. They allow your trunk to twist.
  • Internal oblique muscles. These are located just inside your hip bones. They operate in a direction opposite to your external oblique muscles. 

Back muscles. Your back muscles support your trunk and spine and help to move your body. There are several groups of back muscles:

  • Superficial or extrinsic back muscles, which are close to the surface of your skin. These include your latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, and levator scapulae.
  • Intermediate muscles, which sit between your shoulder blades. This includes your serratus posterior inferior and serratus posterior superior. 
  • Intrinsic muscles. These muscles, like the transversospinalis group and erector spinae group, lie deep under your skin.

Follow these steps to perform a bird dog exercise safely:

  1. Kneel on the floor or on an exercise mat. Place your knees and feet about hip-width apart. 
  2. Slowly lean forward and put your hands on the mat. Place them directly under your shoulders. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, fingers facing forward. Stack your knees directly under your hips. This is known as the tabletop position. 
  3. Put yourself in a neutral position by stiffening your core and stomach muscles. Try not to engage in any excessive arching and sagging of your back.
  4. Slowly extend and straighten your left leg. Keep your leg and hips parallel to the floor.  If you have a partner, ask them to place a light bar across your hips, parallel to the waist of your pants. This will help tell if your hips are rotating and what corrections you need.
  5. At the same time, slowly raise and straighten your right arm until it’s parallel to the floor. Keep both shoulders parallel to the floor. Ask a partner to place a light bar across your shoulders to see if your shoulders rotate. 
  6. Gently lower your arm and leg back to your starting position. 
  7. Repeat with the opposite limbs.

How long to hold bird dog exercise? About 8 seconds to 10 seconds on each side.

There are several different bird dog exercise variations that may lower or raise the difficulty level. These include:

One limb at a time. If regular bird dog is difficult for you, raise one limb at a time. You can also raise your arm and leg together but keep them closer to the ground.

Bird dog on a balance dome. Place one knee on the center of the dome. Place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders. Extend your opposite leg behind you. Extend your right arm in front. Hold. Repeat on the other side.

You can also do bird dog on a stability ball. Lie with your hips on top of the ball. Your knees won’t reach the ground, so use your toes to balance.

Bird dog with crunch. Start with tabletop position, then move into bird dog. Hold, then bring in your elbow and opposite knee toward your center. Squeeze your abs, then return to the extended position. Repeat on the other side.

Plank bird dog. Start from the high plank position. Your shoulders should be directly above your hands. Keep your legs straight with your toes on the floor. Extend one leg and the opposite arm at the same time. Hold, return to starting position, then repeat on your other side.

Lateral bird dog. Begin in the regular bird dog position, then extend your arm and opposite leg. Move your arm and leg out sideways away from your body a few inches. This works out your core more. Slowly return to the extended position. Repeat.

Builds a strong core. The ligaments and muscles around your spine can weaken from injury or with age. This makes movements like lifting, bending, and twisting difficult. 

On the other hand, a strong core:

  • Protects your spine
  • Improves balance, posture, and stability
  • Enhances your movement
  • Keeps your back healthy

Helps with lower back pain. Some 60% to 80% of adults in the US have regular lower back pain. One of the main causes of lower back pain is a lack of core strength.

The bird dog exercise teaches your body to engage your abs and stabilize your lower back while moving your limbs.

Bird dog may seem like an easy pose to do, but good posture and positioning are needed to do it properly. Here are some tips to help you achieve a good pose:

  • Keep your spine neutral. Don't slouch.
  • Hold your head in line with your spine throughout.
  • Don’t let your torso rotate.
  • Raise your arms and legs only to a height where your lower back pose can be maintained.