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How To Do The Bird-Dog Exercise

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The chances are you aren’t going to spend the weekend hunting game, but if you were, you’d want a bird-dog by your side. This is not a terrifying hybrid of the two animals, complete with snarling teeth and powerful wings (although that would probably be good for hunting), but a canny canine that’s bred to sniff out prey. We’re talking pointers, retrievers, setters and spaniels – all animals that boast a superlative ability to find pheasants and, unless you go overboard with the treats, probably a rock-solid core. And no matter how much time you spend doing the bird-dog exercise you’re unlikely to improve your ability to sniff out a pheasant’s roost at 50 paces, but you will gain the core strength.

It’s not only your core strength that the bird-dog improves, because your balance and flexibility are both tested by the move too. The instability you have to accommodate when raising opposing limbs is also beneficial for your core and after a few weeks of bird-dogging (we haven’t checked, but probably not a phrase to Google at work) you should also find yourself more mobile in the hips and shoulders. As a final bonus, the movement also enlists the muscles that support your spine, which makes the bird-dog a great addition to the gym routine for anyone who spends long hours slumped over a desk.

How To Do The Bird-Dog


(Image credit: unknown)

Start on all fours, much like a regular dog, although you should be on your knees rather than your feet. Stretch your right arm out in front of you, hold for a moment to get your balance, then extend your left leg behind you. This is the bit when you resemble a bird-dog, pointing out the prey for the hunter.

Keep your neck in line with your spine, your hips level and the extended limbs straight. All this might be tricky the first time: you might not have the flexibility in your hips and shoulders to straighten your arms and legs entirely, but better mobility will come in time.

From your bird-dog position bring your extended limbs back to the starting position, then extend out again and repeat, aiming for five reps in total before you switch to the opposite limbs. Aim for three sets.

Bird-Dog Variations

Bird-dog crunch

This is a slightly more advanced variation of the exercise, which increases the challenge to your core and also tests your balance to a greater extent. The exercise starts as normal, as you extend opposing limbs in front and behind, but instead of taking them back to the floor afterwards, you bring them together so your elbow and knee touch under your chest. Make sure the rest of your body stays still as you do this. If you’re finding that impossible, swap back to the standard bird-dog exercise to complete your set.

Resistance band bird-dog

If you really want to increase the difficulty of the bird-dog, grab a resistance band. Loop it around your right hand and left foot so it is taut in the starting position for the exercise. Then raise and point as normal, working against the resistance band as you extend your limbs and attempt to keep your body stable. Do all your reps on one side, then switch the band over. Depending on the strength of the resistance band you have available this can make the bird-dog very difficult indeed, so make sure you are maintaining good form throughout and discard the resistance band if you’re not.

Cable machine bird-dog

If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can do this advanced variation of the bird-dog with a resistance band attached to a post behind you. If you do, hook one foot into a low handle and then get onto your hands and knees with the machine behind you so there is tension in the cable or band attached to your foot.

Perform your bird-dogs on that side, resisting the pull of the cable, which will try to yank your hips out of shape in particular. Once you’ve done your reps on that side, attach the cable to the other foot and repeat. Resisting the pull of the cable makes your core work even harder during the move, as well as strengthening your hip flexors.

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.