Advanced Bird Dog Exercise

Video Transcript:

Today we will be doing the bird dog exercise, the advanced version. The bird dog exercise is a great movement to help stabilize and strengthen your core and to really help stabilize your lumbar spine, your lower back area.

To start with, we’re going to be on all fours. I am contracting or tightening my abdominals. So when I say contract your core, I don’t mean suck it in. I don’t mean hollow it. Literally, if somebody was going to punch you in the stomach, you would tighten that area, you would contract that area. That’s what we are doing.

So again, we start on all fours. I contract my core, then I push out my opposite arm and opposite leg, and I draw a square or a box in the air. Please watch the video in detail to see what this looks like.

I’m going to push out my opposite arm and opposite leg so that they’re roughly horizontal or slightly below that. Then I draw a box. I’m going to go about 10 or 15 centimeters out to the side away from my body, about six inches out. I then drop down towards the ground about the same distance. I then come in towards my body about the same distance, and then I go up about the same, so I’m drawing a box or a square. Then I go down again with my arm and legs towards the ground, swinging slowly down, but do not touch down.

You then repeat this movement, aiming to do about 5 repetitions on that side, before you switch to the other side.

When I switch sides, I make sure that I get set by contracting my core before I start the motion with the arm and leg. Then I’m actively pushing my leg back, pushing my arm out. Then I’m going to do the same square or box again as on the last side.

After you’ve done about five repetitions, you switch sides again, ideally doing about three sets of this, of five repetitions each set.

One key is to make sure you’re staying stable through your low back, which is the function of your core, to stabilize your low back and prevent motion.

As my arm is moving, as my legs are moving, the core muscles, they’re contracting to actually prevent motion in the lumbar spine. That is absolutely key, so the entire time you really need to focus on keeping your core and abdominals contracted and tight.

When I am bringing my arm and leg up, I am actively pushing my leg back. I’m not thinking about raising my leg or lifting my leg, I visualize more pushing my leg back. Oftentimes when people think about lifting or raising their leg, they end up twisting their low back by going too high, and that puts torsion and stress onto their lumbar spine. So I’m really focusing on just pushing it straight back. My heel is coming back. My arm is going out. I’m making a fist. I am pushing it out. It’s a very controlled movement. All of the movements with the advanced bird dog are slow and controlled, and I make sure to keep my core tight the whole time to limit the movement in my low back.

None of this should be painful. If it’s painful, please stop. Let us know. We can work on modifying the exercise. It is better to do this a little bit slower, a little bit more controlled, than to rush through it. Better to do fewer sets, fewer repetitions, and maintain proper form, than to push through it and potentially cause an injury.

Any questions about any of this, please ask.

What is the advanced bird dog exercise?

This variation of the bird dog exercise involves simultaneous movement of the arms and legs, while also adding a motion that outlines a square in the air. This additional arm and leg movement makes this exercise more challenging, requiring increased core activation, and lower back stabilization.

Advanced Bird Dog Exercise Instructions:

  • Step 1

    Start on all fours.

  • Step 2

    Tighten or contract your abdominals to start with. Do not hollow or suck it in, but essentially brace it.

  • Step 3

    Extend one arm, and the opposite leg in front of you and behind you, to just below the horizontal position.

  • Step 4

    Actively push your fist forwards, away from your body, while pushing your heel actively away from you, behind you. Watch the video to properly visualize this.

  • Step 5

    Avoid raising your arm, but especially your leg, above horizontal, as this may cause twisting in your low back, which may aggravate it.

  • Step 6

    Slowly move your arm and leg out from your body, sideways, approximately 10-15 centimeters/6 inches. Then move them slowly both down towards the ground the same distance, then in the same distance, then back up to the original starting point. Again, watch the video to visualize this.

  • Step 7

    These movements are roughly outlining a box or square, approximately 6 inches by 6 inches.

  • Step 8

    Do these movements slowly and controlled, do not rush.

  • Step 9

    The key is while drawing the square with your limbs, you maintain the contraction in your abdominals the entire time, so that your low back does not move. This is the key to this exercise.

  • Step 10

    Once you’ve completed drawing the square, then slowly lower your arm and leg towards the ground, without touching down or stopping. Then all in one motion, raise them up again to just below horizontal.

  • Step 11

    Then once again draw the box or square, as described above, and shown in the video.

  • Step 12

    Repeat this 5 times on that side. Then stop and reset, and do on the opposite side.

  • Step 13

    Try to do 2-3 sets per side, 1-2x/day.

  • Step 14

    If there is any pain, please stop, and we can modify the exercise, or suggest an easier bird dog version.

  • Step 15

    Any questions, please ask.

Read More About Advanced Bird Dog Exercise Below

In this video you will learn how to do an advanced bird dog exercise, which is the most advanced of the bird dog progressions, and one of the best core exercises overall. This video will show you the step by step process of this exercise. Please watch the video multiple times to understand the details of the movement. This is one of our favorite low back exercises for patients, because it minimizes the movement in the low back, which is critical to prevent lower back injury, while still being a great core exercise for stability and strength.

The setup for the advanced bird dog exercise is the same as for all cross crawl exercises. You start on all fours, and stabilize or contract your core. Watch the video in detail for an explanation of how to do this step by step, but bracing your abdominals is an absolutely key part of the bird dog advanced exercise.

The core stabilization is key to limiting the motion in your lumbar spine, which is why bird dogs can be both so beneficial and safe for people with low back pain, or a with a history of lower back pain. Your low back should not move at any point during the exercise, especially as you move your arms and legs. This is accomplished by abdominal contraction or bracing, which prevents lumbar motion as your limbs are moving. This is what makes this a safe low back exercise, but also a great core workout.

Be especially focused when drawing the boxes or squares with your arms and legs, to minimize the motion in your low back, to really stabilize your core. Take your time with this motion, and be very deliberate. Slower is better than faster. Above all, don’t rush, as this is more likely to irritate your low back from excessive movement and twisting in your lumbar spine.

This exercise is one of our favorites, but must only be done once you can comfortably and without pain do the other bird dog progressions. If you have low back pain, start with the easier versions first, then progress to this version.

If at any point during the exercise you experience pain, please stop. A modification may be required, or an easier version may be required temporarily.

Any questions, please ask.

For further low back exercises, low back stretches, and core exercises, refer to our back pain Toronto condition page here:

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