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The Bird Dog Quadruped Exercise

Whether you’re looking to improve your strength, your mobility, or your posture, the bird dog is as close to a non-negotiable core exercise as it gets. The movement trains your abs and core muscles by lifting one leg and the opposite arm simultaneously.

This version of the exercise, done in a quadruped position, adds resistance to challenge your balance. It also targets the small muscles that protect your spine and improve posture.

Abdominal Strength

The bird dog is a staple of many physical therapists’ and trainers’ tool bags because it helps to strengthen both the abdominal and back muscles. It’s also an excellent exercise to perform after a back injury since you can do it without straining your back.

One of the more challenging variations on this movement is the bench bird dog (SBD). This variation is performed on a flat bench with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. The narrower base of support in the SBD body position challenges balance control and enhances neuromuscular activation of the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and external obliques.

The SBD also increases erector spinae activity, but less than the quadruped version of the exercise. This is likely a result of the bench bird dog being a longer lever and more difficult to maintain. This may also explain why the SBD elicits greater activation of hip and lumbar extensors than the quadruped version of the bird dog.

Back Strength

When doing the bird dog, it’s important to keep in mind that the torso should not rock back and forth. This swaying robs the movement of its core and back stabilizing benefits. It also makes it harder to target the correct muscles.

Keeping the torso stable with the bird dog can be challenging, especially if you’re working up to it. Trying to rush through it or cheating by arching your spine will sabotage the benefits and possibly lead to injury.

A variation of the standard bird dog — also known as quadruped — is to place a resistance band around your hands and feet while you’re on all fours. The resistance band increases the rotational forces and core stability demands. It’s a great way to make the move more difficult without introducing a lot of unnecessary risk. It’s also a good exercise for athletes who want to work on rate of stabilization development, which is the ability to produce fast and smooth movements under uncontrolled instability.

Core Stability

The bird dog is a core exercise that trains more than just your rectus abdominis. When performed properly, it engages your entire frontal and lateral core muscles to stabilize the body while moving your arms and legs. It also trains your shoulders and hips to resist flexion. This is important because it challenges the other facets of your core, as well as your hip flexors and obliques, which are involved in movement stability and anti-rotation.

To increase the intensity of the bird dog, perform it on a stability ball. The inherent instability and fewer points of contact with the ground increases the challenge of maintaining proper form. It also requires you to spend more time in the position, which improves your muscle endurance. The bird dog also teaches you to control spinal movement, which enhances lower back strength and spares your spine unwanted stress under load — a valuable skill for anyone who wants to lift heavy.

Posture

The bird dog is one of the most important and underrated core exercises for everyone to add to their routines. But, like any exercise, you need to know how to do it correctly. A common mistake when doing the bird dog is rocking back and forth while lifting the opposite arm and leg, which doesn’t train your core or back stabilizing muscles.

Instead, you want the only movement to be the arm and leg that’s being lifted; this will challenge your core through the principle of bracing, as well as engage your hip flexors and obliques through anti-rotation. Additionally, doing a bird dog on a bench instead of the floor challenges your core stability even further, as the bench creates a narrower base to work from. The bench variation also encourages intense hand activation, which is a key element in quadruped movements to stimulate the neuromuscular response of concurrent activation potentiation (CAP). This means that the stronger and more precise your grip is, the greater neural drive will be sent to the larger muscles throughout your body’s kinetic chain.

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