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Bird dog is a core exercise used in many forms of exercise from yoga to Pilates to gym workouts. It requires core strength and extensor muscle strength but also balance and body awareness to perform well. It mimics walking in so far that the opposite arm and leg move through the connection of the trunk.
There are a couple of regressions for beginners as well as some advanced progressions for this exercise. The aim in all versions of this pose however is to keep the torso steady through awareness and development of the core muscles surrounding the trunk, keeping the body from rotating as one or two points of contact are removed. The pose begins in a 4 point kneel position. The muscles surrounding the shoulder blade support the weight of the body on one side and move the arm forwards on the other. Meanwhile the glutes and hamstrings of the other leg extend the leg at the hip, bringing it in line with the torso whilst the pelvis is kept from rotating through the activation of the deep core musculature, gluteals and pelvic floor. It requires some flexibility to extend the shoulder joint and hip joint, balance to remain on only two points of contact; body awareness to know where the body is in space and integration of the fascial slings of the body, connective tissue connections which coordinate the body to move as a cohesive whole.
Start in 4 point kneel with the hands underneath the shoulders and the hips stacked above the knees*. Spread the weight through the fingertips and bases of the fingers to avoid pressure through the wrist
Engage through the core muscles and pelvic floor so that the spine is in neutral. There should be no arching through the lower back yet a small lumber curve remains so that the spine is lengthened rather than being rounded through the lower back. The head should be in line with the torso and not dropped forward
Think of the fingertips leading to extend one arm forward, thumbs up to the ceiling, and bring it alongside your ear. Imagine a long line from the pelvis, through the waist, the side of the ribcage and along the arm to the fingers
Keep the torso from rotating and ensure you don’t sag through the shoulder on the supporting side. Imagine lifting the breast bone away from the floor without rounding in the upper back
Meanwhile, extend the opposite leg back behind you, raise it off the floor and using the hamstrings and glutes, lift the leg to hip height. The aim is to do this whilst not rotating the pelvis, not to get the leg as high as you can*
Keep the core engaged so that the lower back does not arch, maintain the connection between ribcage and pelvis and length in the spine
Hold for a number of breaths before repeating on the other side. Holding the pose allows you to make changes to your technique, time to notice which muscles are working and increases endurance. Alternatively perform the movement by switching from one side to the next, perhaps breathing out as you extend the arm and leg and breathing in as you return.
*Hints and tips
Use a folded towel under the knees for cushioning if necessary and place a folded towel under the wrists if there any undue pressure on the wrist joint
To prepare for lift-off in the leg, slide the toes back along the floor to ensure you don’t rotate and ensure it is the hamstrings and glutes lifting the leg, not the lower back
For an easier version, only perform either the arm or the leg movement. For an advanced version, perhaps add an ankle or wrist weight.
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Bird Dog Exercise
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