Bird Dog: What It Is and How to Perform It Correctly

The bird dog is an exercise that promotes balance and can be incorporated into a routine, both at the beginning and at the end of it. Discover the correct way to perform it and which muscles it works in this article.
Bird Dog: What It Is and How to Perform It Correctly
Eva María Rodríguez

Written and verified by Fitness and yoga instructor Eva María Rodríguez.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

The bird dog is a bodyweight exercise that’s used in multiple disciplines, although sometimes the name changes. It’s very complete and involves many muscle groups. Balance and core activation play a key role.

The main objective of the bird dog is to train the back muscles. The movement also involves the glutes, trapezius, deltoids, hamstrings, piriformis, hips muscles, pectorals, serratus, and triceps, as well as the abdominal muscles and obliques.

Let’s take a closer look.

How to perform the bird dog correctly

The bird dog is performed from the quadruped position, i.e., kneeling and with the hands supported. Be careful that your hands are under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Keep your back in a neutral position.

From the initial position, the next step is to stretch one leg and the opposite arm, so that both limbs form a continuity with your back and are parallel to the floor. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to the initial position.

Then, perform the same movement with the opposite leg and arm. The challenge of this exercise is to perform the movements while maintaining stability.

A common way to do this is to make a fist and bring the toe up, keeping the foot flexed. This allows for greater activation and aids in balance.

At the same time, you don’t need to raise your leg and arm beyond the midline they form with your back. It’s much more important to hold the position stable for a few seconds, activating all the muscles.

A group of adults performing the bird dog during a fitness class.
The bird dog exercise activates the core and promotes the strengthening of the muscles that stabilize the spine.

Read this: Exercises to Avoid with a Herniated Disc

Keys to good alignment

To maintain good alignment, avoid imbalances, and achieve an effective workout, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

  • The hips should remain aligned, without rotating the pelvis. This is the basis of the entire position.
  • Your leg and arm should be raised until they’re in line with your back, not higher. If they’re raised higher, the lumbar muscles will be overly involved. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the goal of this exercise.
  • Activate the abdomen so that your back doesn’t sag and activate your pelvic floor for your core.
  • Pay attention to the position of your chest, avoiding sinking. To do this, as much as possible, bring your shoulders down and back, bringing your shoulder blades closer together.
  • Your neck is an extension of your spine. Bring your head forward, without dropping it or forcing your gaze upwards.
  • Perform the exercise slowly, maintaining control. This will make it easier to balance, if necessary.

If your wrists hurt, clench your fists and lean on your knuckles. In any case, avoid very soft mats, as they force a lot of flexions, leaving the heel of your hand lower than the fingers.

The muscles you exercise with the bird dog

The bird dog is a very complete exercise that exercises many muscles. The following are the most relevant:

  • Erector spinae: This is a muscle that extends from the skull to the sacrum, along the spine. Its main mission is the extension, rotation, and flexion of the vertebrae.
  • Rectus abdominis and obliques: They’re involved as antagonists of the erector spinae. They help to maintain stability.
  • Gluteus maximus: This is worked by raising the leg.
  • Trapezius and deltoids: These are worked when lifting the arm.
  • Hamstrings, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and obturator externus of the hip: These Are involved in postural stabilization.
  • Pectorals, serratus, and triceps: This is also involved in posture stabilization.
A woman stretching on a mat.
This exercise should focus on balance, so that there’s no instability when performing it.

How to include the bird dog in your routine

Depending on the intensity of your routine and the type of training to be performed, bird dog can fit in a variety of ways:

  • During the warm-up, to activate the musculature and obtain good alignment
  • As part of a series, complementing other exercises
  • As a cool-down exercise, before stretching

Read this also: Three Scientifically Proven Low Back Pain Exercises

Precautions to consider

The bird dog is a suitable exercise for people of all levels. In fact, it’s very useful for the prevention of injuries, the alignment of the spine, and even cases of chronic low back pain.

However, if there’s injury or pain, it’s important to avoid this exercise or, if necessary, to do it under professional supervision. In fact, in cases of low muscle tone or balance problems, this exercise can be very challenging.

On the other hand, the bird dog should be avoided in case of injury or pain in the shoulder, to avoid aggravation when carrying weight or lifting the arm.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Rabin A, Shashua A, Pizem K, Dar G. The interrater reliability of physical examination tests that may predict the outcome or suggest the need for lumbar stabilization exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013;43(2):83-90. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4310
  • Chang WD, et al. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2015;27:619.
  • Martuscello JM, et al. Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013;27:1684.
  • Graham, John F. “Exercise: Bird Dog.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 31.6 (2009): 93-94.
  • Sánchez, L. Y., L. C. Ramírez, and A. B. Oliveira. “Participación de los músculos dorsal ancho, glúteo mayor y bíceps femoral en la estabilidad de la articulación sacroíliaca: revisión sistemática.” Fisioterapia 40.3 (2018): 143-152.
  • McGill, Stuart M., and Amy Karpowicz. “Exercises for spine stabilization: motion/motor patterns, stability progressions, and clinical technique.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 90.1 (2009): 118-126.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.