When it comes to learning how to properly control and engage your core, you can’t beat the basics. The Bird dog is one of Dr. Stuart McGill’s Big 3 exercises. These exercises are the key to building a strong, stabile, and resilient core. The Big 3 consist of the Bird dog, the side bridge, and the modified curl-up. The Bird dog is not only a safe exercise for rehabbing lower back injuries but is also a great way to simply train for spinal stability. The exercise can be modified further after perfection is achieved. Progressing to single leg romanian deadlifts is the goal after mastering the Bird dog.
- Start in the kneeling position with your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders and your knees on the floor underneath your hips. Your hands and knees should be shoulder-width apart.
- Stiffen and engage your core as if bracing to against a punch. Maintain a neutral spine position, avoiding any arching or sagging of the lower back.
- Simultaneously raise your right leg and left arm until they reach parallel positioning to the floor. Be sure to avoid any rotation of the shoulder or hip joint as well as any rotation in the trunk or pelvis. The hips and shoulders should maintain a parallel and even position to each other. If you notice rotation in the pelvis or upper torso, or the lack of ability to maintain a neutral spine, lower the leg and arm until proper positioning can be achieved.
- Gently lower your arm and leg to the starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.
Here is a list of the common mistakes that I come across while people demonstrate their bird dogs:
- Lack of intention: Know your purpose for performing this exercise. Know it and own it. You are working toward full spinal stability. If you are just going through the motions because your doctor told you to do so, you’d be better off not doing the exercise at all.
- Lack of core and gluteal engagement: The exercise is performed specifically to teach proper core activation in hopes to build a resilient spine and protect the lower back. Engage the core!
- Pelvic and torso rotation: Again, we are focusing on building stability and there is nothing stable when rotation of the spine is endured do to lack of intention.
- Lack of awareness: Not only in the core activation, but also in the positioning of the neck. Simply because this is a core exercise, people will typically forget about the position of their cervical spine. You can focus on strengthening the deep neck flexors and stabilizers while performing this exercise by retracting the chin. You can add to the activation of these muscles by pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.
To test for true control, stability and to prevent rotation; place a pvc pipe or something similar across your back to prevent it from falling off. If you feel really motivated you can place a cup of water on your pelvis and between your shoulders, don’t let it fall!
I will be posting more videos and articles on the McGill Big 3 shortly, until then, Dr. Aaron Horschig does great work in his article to elaborate. You can click this link to view his article. McGill Big 3