The Bird Dog – A Core Stability Classic

The ‘bird dog‘ exercise is a core stability classic in the physical therapy world, and is certainly a favorite of ours here at Elite Physical Therapy.

That being said I see this exercise done incorrectly more often than not.

The whole idea behind core stability is to resist unwanted movement through the pelvis and spine when moving through the hips and shoulders.  Watching most therapists, and even yoga and pilates instructors, teach this exercise you would think just the opposite.  Check out the video below to see the exercise performed incorrectly (first 3 reps) and then done correctly (next 3 reps).

When performed incorrectly you can see how much movement is occurring through the lumbar spine.  Many folks are stuck in excessive lumbar lordosis (too much inward curvature) which can become painful especially with prolonged standing and walking.  A majority of the athletes I work with, including the dancers and gymnasts, would fall in this category as well.  Going into even more lordosis is only going exacerbate the issue.

As you can see when performed correctly, nothing moves through the pelvis and spine.  It’s only my shoulders and hips.  Performing a bit of a posterior pelvic tilt (think tucking the tailbone) will bring the person out of the excessive lordosis and help to stabilize the trunk.  Also notice there is much less excursion with the upper and lower extremities.  There is no way you can lift the arms and legs as high as in the first example and maintain any type of stability.

There are times however that a bit of lumbar lordosis (arch) may be necessary to maintain throughout the exercise.  Sometimes this is just the more comfortable position to be in.  If that’s the case then that is going to be the appropriate position for your body.

To learn to stabilize in this position, using a water bottle either across or along the spine is a nice trick (the latter being the more challenging).  Focusing on keeping the water bottle from rolling off your back will reflexively fire more muscles and with the correct timing to keep your spine and pelvis stable.

Adding a resistance band would be a higher level challenge. Do not attempt to add resistance until you are able to control your body weight.

Give the bird dog a try yourself and see how much more challenging it can be when you actually stabilize the core!

If you have any questions, contact me at joe@elitepttc.com or at 231 421-5805.