Bird Dog Exercise – What Is It And How Does It Help Build Core Strength? – Tom’s guide

a photo of a woman doing the bird dog exercise in a gym
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to training your abs, not all exercises are created equal. One exercise that will give you tremendous value for money is the Humble Bird Dog, named after the stance a hunting dog takes when it has located a bird – muzzle forward, leg up. But how do you do the exercise and what are the benefits of adopting this dog pose? Read on for more information.

The bird dog might not look particularly complicated, but it’s one of the best ab exercises out there when it comes to working your core. Unlike abdominal exercises where you lie on your back, bird dog has you standing on all fours, forcing your stabilizer muscles to work hard as you move into the pose.

How to do a bird dog

an illo of a woman doing the bird dog exercise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Let’s start by taking a look at how to do a bird dog with proper form:

  • Start on your hands and knees, in what’s known as tabletop position – wrists directly in line with your shoulders and knees in line with your hips
  • From here, extend your left arm straight out in front and your right leg behind you. Engage your core and focus on maintaining a flat back. You should be looking at the floor.
  • Hold the position for a moment and then return to the starting position. This is one representative.
  • Start with 10 reps and repeat the movement with the other arm and leg. Do two more sets on each side.

Remember the key here is to move slowly and with control. If you try to move too fast, you’ll struggle to stay steady and you’ll likely wobble.

What Muscles Does a Bird Dog Work?

The bird dog is essentially a core exercise, but it’s a sneaky one, in that it works a range of muscles, including the erection spinae, extending from the neck over the full length of the spine; the glutes; and the straight abdomen muscles, the muscles we talk about when we talk about the ‘six pack’. In addition, the hamstringsthe trapezius muscles in your upper back, and the deltoidwhich form the rounded shape of the shoulder.

Bird Dog: Common form errors

Lifting your legs too high

As you lift your leg out and back during bird dog, avoid pulling your leg too high – there should be a straight line from your outstretched fingers, down your back, and to the heel of your foot. Tighten your gluteal muscle as you lift your leg to tighten the muscle as you move your leg. Make sure there is no curve in your back.

Rotate your pelvis

For this exercise to work, your core has to do much of the work. Think about keeping your pelvis stable, with your two hip bones facing your exercise mat. Don’t let your hips drop or wiggle from side to side as you lift and lower each leg. Don’t let your back sag as you move, think about engaging your core the entire time.

Don’t engage your core

As with all the best abdominal exercises, it’s important to think about engaging your core during this move. Think about sucking your navel into your spine and keeping your abs engaged the whole time.

Moving too fast

Like a forearm plank, bird dog works by holding a static position — it’s an anti-rotation exercise. Make sure not to rush the movement, pause at the top, with one arm and leg straight, and hold here for a few seconds before lowering back to your starting position.

Bird Dog: Variations to Try

Weighted bird dogs

To up the ante of this exercise, simply add weight by holding one of the best adjustable dumbbells in each hand as you raise your arm, or by tying some of the best ankle weights around your ankles.

Bird dog creaks

For a bird dog crunch, once you’re in the bird dog position, with your arm and opposite leg straight, squeeze your elbow to touch your knee under your body, then straighten them out again, before returning to lower your starting position.

Bird dog shelf

Finally, to really challenge your core, do bird dog from a high plank position, with your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your core engaged. From here, lift one leg and raise the other arm in front of your body. Hold here, then return to the high plank position and repeat on the other side.

More from Tom’s Guide

Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is the fitness editor of Tom’s Guide, which means she covers everything fitness-related – from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has been testing and reviewing fitness products for the past five years, so she knows what to look for when looking for a good running watch or pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she’s not pounding the sidewalks, you can see Jane walking through the Surrey Hills taking way too many pictures of her puppy.

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