The "bird dog" is a great exercise for developing core strength and improving balance. It requires no equipment, making it a convenient way to stay on track whether at home or traveling. When performing the exercise, it is important to engage the abdominal muscles and keep the torso rigid to help prevent the back from sagging or arching excessively. Muscles worked include the glutes/hips, back, abs, shoulders and legs.
How to do it:
Begin on the hands and knees on an exercise mat, fingers pointing forward. The hands should be directly underneath the shoulders, and the knees underneath the hips. Slowly raise the left arm until it is parallel to the floor. Keep the arm straight. Next, slowly raise the right leg until it is parallel, or near parallel, to the floor. Tighten the glutes as you lift the leg and do your best to keep the hips from rotating outward. Do your best to keep both shoulders parallel to the floor throughout the movement. Hold for several seconds or longer, depending on your ability to maintain the position. Slowly return to starting position and repeat with the right arm and left leg.
Instead of lifting the arm and leg one at a time, move them simultaneously in a slow, controlled manner.
Perform the exercise by lifting the same side arm and leg. This is much more challenging and is not recommended for those who haven't mastered the beginner version, or who don't already have a strong core.
You can also try using a stability ball when doing the bird-dog. Here you would place your hips on top of the ball before moving the arm/leg. If using the ball, the leg that remains in contact with the floor will not be bent.
The bird dog is designed to test the strength of stabilizing muscles, so it is normal that you may initially find yourself unable to complete the exercise without losing balance. For this reason, it is important to move slowly.
This exercise can be especially helpful for those looking to improve posture, as well as conditioning the low back. Because it does not place as much stress on the spinal column as some other low back exercises, it is a considered a safe form of strengthening, however, it is still not appropriate for everyone, so check with your physical therapist if in doubt.
You can perform this exercise every day, or every other day, depending on goals and ability. Beginners should start with one to two repetitions and gradually increase reps, or length of time each rep is held.