Bird Dog Exercise – How To And 9 Best Variations For A Powerful Core

A comprehensive guide to the bird dog exercise, its benefits and variations to help boost core strength, stability and posture.

woman doing bird dog exercises -image02

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Master the Bird Dog Exercise to Help Boost Your Core Stability for a Stronger, More Balanced Body

The Bird Dog Exercise is one of the most effective for enhancing core stability, improving balance, and strengthening the back, abdomen, and glute muscles. It is popular in physical therapy and fitness routines for promoting spinal health and body strength.

The bird dog exercise is a simple yet effective bodyweight exercise that engages multiple muscle groups to provide whole-body conditioning for an invigorated and energized feeling.

Bird Dog Exercise – Target Muscles

The Bird Dog Exercise primarily targets the following muscles:

  • Core Muscles
  • Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
  • Gluteus Maximus (Buttocks)
  • Hip Abductors and Adductors

How to do Bird Dog Exercise with proper form

bird dog exercise video

Required equipment: Exercise mat (optional)

Steps to follow

Step 1: Starting Position
  • Begin on all fours (hands and knees) on a comfortable exercise mat or a soft surface.
  • Place your arms directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Keep your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in a straight line and your knees and hips in a straight line.
Step 2: Core Engagement
  • Engage your core muscles by pulling your navel toward your spine.
Step 3: Arm and Leg Extension
  • Slowly extend your right arm forward, at shoulder level, and stretch your left leg backward simultaneously, keeping both parallel to the floor. Maintain a straight line from your fingertips to your toes.
Step 4: Hold and Balance
  • Hold the extended position briefly, ensuring you maintain balance.
  • Keep your hips and shoulders level and your head neutral while looking down at the mat.
Step 5: Return to Starting Position
  • Slowly return your right arm and left leg to your starting position, with your hand and knee touching the mat.
Step 6: Repeat on the Opposite Side
  • Repeat the exercise by extending your left arm forward and your right leg backward.
Step 7: Complete the Repetitions
  • Continue to alternate sides for your desired number of repetitions as below.

Recommended Reps and Sets for the Bird Dog Exercise

The number of reps and sets you should perform for the bird dog exercise can vary depending on your fitness level, goals, and the context in which you incorporate it into your workout regimen.


  • Reps: Start with 5-10 reps on each side (alternating sides)
  • Sets: Begin with 1-2 sets
  • Frequency: Perform the exercise 2-3 times a week to build familiarity and foundational strength

Intermediate Levels

  • Reps: Aim for 10-15 reps on each side
  • Sets: 2-3 sets
  • Frequency: Include Bird Dogs in your routine 3 to 4 times a week to further improve core stability and strength

Advanced Levels

  • Reps: 15-20 reps on each side or more
  • Sets: 3-4 sets, or incorporate Bird Dogs into a core circuit
  • Frequency: Include Bird Dogs in your workouts 4 to 5 times a week for maintenance and progression
bird dog exercise - transverse abdominis exercises

Additional Guidelines For Bird Dog Exercises

  • Progressive overload
    Progressively increase the number of reps, sets, or hold duration to continue challenging your core muscles.
  • Form and quality
    Focus on maintaining proper form and technique throughout each rep.
    Quality is more important than quantity. Avoid rushing through the exercise.
  • Warm-up and cooldown
    Consider including a set of Bird Dog exercises in your warm-up routine to activate your core muscles.
    You can also cool down with the exercise to help maintain core engagement and flexibility.
  • Variations
    Incorporate different Bird Dog variations into your routine to add diversity and challenge.
    The variations can have different rep and set recommendations based on their intensity.
  • Rest between sets
    Allow sufficient rests of 30-60 seconds between sets to help you recover and perform each with proper form.
  • Consistency
    Include Bird Dog exercises regularly in your routine to build and maintain core strength and stability.
  • Consultation
    Consult a fitness professional or physical therapist if you have any concerns.
  • Tips and best practices for the bird dog exercise
  • Here are some tips and best practices to ensure you get the most out of the Bird Dog Exercise while maintaining proper form and safety:
  • Engage your core
    Always start by engaging your core muscles before extending your arm and leg.
    That can help stabilize your spine and protect your lower back.
  • Maintain a neutral spine
    Keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the exercise.
    Avoid arching your lower back or rounding your shoulders.
  • Balance and stability
    Focus on balance and stability. Keep your hips and shoulders level when extending your limbs.
  • Start slowly
    Newbies should start with a few reps and gradually increase as they become more comfortable and confident.
  • Controlled movements
    Perform slow and controlled movements. Avoid fast, jerky motions. That will ensure you maintain balance and engage the targeted muscles effectively.
  • Breathing
    Coordinate your breathing with your movements. Exhale as you extend your arm and leg, and inhale as you return to your starting position.
  • Head position
    Keep your head in a neutral position, looking down at the mat. That helps maintain spinal alignment.
  • Quality over quantity
    Focus on proper form rather than the number of repetitions.
    It’s better to perform a few reps with excellent form than to rush through many and do them poorly.
  • Use a mirror
    You can perform the exercise in front of a mirror. That can help you monitor your form and make necessary adjustments.
  • Modify as needed
    Consider modifying the exercise under the guidance of a fitness professional or physical therapist if you have any physical limitations or injuries.
man doing bird dog exercises

Bird Dog Exercise Common Mistakes

Avoiding common mistakes when performing the bird dog exercise is crucial to ensure you get the most benefit and prevent potential injuries.

  • Lifting too high
    Raising your extended arm and leg too high can lead to arching your lower back and compromising spinal alignment.
    Keep both limbs parallel to the floor to maintain proper form.
  • Arching the lower back
    Allowing your lower back to arch excessively can strain the lumbar region.
    Focus on keeping your back flat and your core engaged to prevent this mistake.
  • Rounding the shoulders
    Drooping or rounding your shoulders can strain the upper back and neck.
    Maintain a neutral spine by keeping your shoulders and wrists in line and your head looking down at the mat.
  • Neglecting core engagement
    Failing to engage your core diminishes the effectiveness of the exercise and may lead to improper spinal alignment.
    Prioritize core engagement to stabilize your torso.
  • Holding your breath
    Holding your breath during the exercise can limit oxygen flow and reduce the effectiveness of your movements.
    Remember to breathe steadily and coordinate your breath with your movements.
  • Rushing through repetitions
    Performing the bird dog exercise too quickly can compromise your balance and core engagement.
    Slow, controlled movements are essential for proper form and effectiveness.
  • Not balancing on the knee and hand
    Ensure you are balancing on one knee and one hand rather than the shin and forearm.
    The full-body engagement is critical for the exercise’s benefits.
  • Overarching the neck
    Keep your head in a neutral position and avoid excessive neck extension.
    Hyperextending the neck can lead to discomfort and strain.
  • Ignoring pain
    Stop the exercise if you experience pain beyond the typical muscle fatigue associated with it.
    Pain can indicate improper form or an underlying issue. Consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists.
  • Inconsistent practice
    To see improvements in core strength and stability requires consistently doing the bird dog exercises.
    Skipping sessions can hinder progress.
  • Skipping warm-up
    Neglecting to warm up before doing Bird Dogs can increase the risk of injury.
    Incorporate a brief warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints.
  • Focusing solely on repetitions
    Repetitions are essential, but prioritize quality over quantity.
    Ensure your form is correct before increasing the number of reps.
  • Using inappropriate progressions
    Advanced exercisers should avoid excessive weight or resistance without mastering the basic form.
    Progress gradually and safely.
  • Neglecting modifications
    Failing to modify the exercise to deal with your physical limitations or injuries can lead to further issues.
    Seek guidance from a fitness professional or physical therapist for appropriate modifications.

Bird Dog Exercise Benefits

The bird dog exercise offers several notable benefits for people of various fitness levels and can be a valuable addition to a training regimen.

  • Core strengthening
    The bird dog exercise primarily targets the core muscles.
    Strengthening these muscles can lead to improved core stability and a stronger midsection.
  • Spinal health
    This exercise promotes proper spinal alignment and engages the erector spinae muscles.
    Thus, it can help alleviate lower back pain and reduce the risk of spinal issues.
  • Improved balance
    Balancing on one knee and one hand while extending opposite limbs challenges your balance and coordination, which can enhance your overall stability.
  • Enhanced posture
    By strengthening the muscles that support your spine, the bird dog exercise can contribute to better posture, reducing the likelihood of slouching or poor alignment.
  • Increased range of motion
    Regularly performing the exercise can help improve the range of motion in your shoulders, hips, and lower back, promoting flexibility and mobility.
  • Preventative measure
    The Bird Dog is a low-impact exercise that can help with injury prevention, especially in the lower back and core.
    That makes it suitable for people of all ages.
  • Functional strength
    The bird dog exercise mimics natural movements, such as reaching and extending.
    You can translate that to improved functional strength for daily activities.
  • Minimal equipment
    The exercise requires minimal equipment, usually just a mat.
    That makes it accessible and much easier to incorporate into various fitness regimens.
  • Complementary exercise
    The bird dog exercise can complement other core and full-body workouts, providing a comprehensive approach to fitness.
  • Rehabilitation
    Physical therapists often use the bird dog exercise as part of rehabilitation programs for those recovering from injuries or surgery, especially those involving the lower back or hips.
  • Low impact
    It is a low-impact exercise that places minimal stress on the joints.
    Thus, the exercise is suitable for exercisers with joint issues or those looking for a gentler workout option.
  • Increased body awareness
    Performing the exercise helps improve body awareness, as you need to concentrate on balancing and maintaining proper form, which can benefit your coordination.
  • Muscle endurance
    The bird dog can enhance muscle endurance in the core, hips, and lower back, helping you to maintain good form in other exercises and daily activities.

Bird Dog Exercise Limitations

  • Limited intensity
    The bird dog is a bodyweight exercise, which means it may not provide the same level of intensity as exercises that incorporate weights or resistance.
    You may need to incorporate additional exercises if you are looking for a more challenging strength workout.
  • Not a cardiovascular workout
    The bird dog exercise targets core strength and stability, making it unsuitable for those seeking cardiovascular benefits.
    You may need to combine it with other cardiovascular exercises for a well-rounded fitness regimen.
  • Risk of overextension
    Some individuals may overextend their limbs when performing the exercise.
    That can lead to improper form and potential injury. Maintain a neutral spine and avoid excessive arching or rounding.
  • Not a comprehensive core workout
    While effective for core strengthening, the Bird Dog Exercise alone may not address all aspects of core fitness, such as rotational strength.
    Combining it with other core exercises can help give a more balanced core workout.
  • Balance and coordination
    The exercise’s emphasis on balance and coordination may pose challenges for beginners or individuals with balance issues.
    Modifications or additional support may be necessary.
  • Not Suitable for everyone
    Exercisers with certain medical conditions, injuries, or physical limitations may find the bird dog exercise uncomfortable or unsuitable.
    Consulting a healthcare professional or fitness expert is advisable for personalized guidance.
  • Progression limitations
    Most advanced exercisers require more resistance or intensity in their workouts.
    The bird dog may not provide the necessary challenge without modifications or additional exercises.
  • Individual variation
    The effectiveness of the bird dog exercise can vary among exercisers. Some may experience significant benefits, while others may not see the same results due to genetics, fitness level, and consistency.
  • Inadequate as a standalone exercise
    While the bird dog exercise has advantages, it is typically more effective when incorporated into a comprehensive fitness regimen.
    Thus, it is best to incorporate the exercise into a regimen that can help target different muscle groups and fitness components.
woman doing bird dog exercises

Bird Dog Exercise Variations

Bird Dog Exercise Variations can add diversity and challenge to your core-strengthening regimen.

Bird Dog with Resistance

  • Use resistance bands or ankle weights to add extra challenge.
  • Attach a resistance band to your foot or hand and hold the other end.
  • Perform the exercise as usual, but the resistance will make it more challenging.

Bird Dog with Rotation

  • After extending your arm and leg, add a rotational component by bringing your elbow and knee toward each other underneath your body.
  • Extend them back out and return to your starting position.
  • The variation targets oblique muscles.

Bird Dog Push-Up

  • Start in the classic bird dog position.
  • Instead of returning to your starting position after extending your arm and leg, lower yourself into a push-up position.
  • Push back up and return to the bird dog position.
  • That can add an upper-body workout element.

Bird Dog Plank

  • Begin in a plank position with your forearms on the ground.
  • Lift one arm and the opposite leg while maintaining a plank position.
  • Hold for a few seconds and return to the plank.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • The variation increases the challenge for both the core and stability muscles.

Bird Dog on a Stability Ball

  • Place a stability ball under your torso and hips.
  • Perform the Bird Dog exercise on the ball, which adds an extra balance challenge.

Bird Dog with Knee-to-Elbow

  • Extend your arm and leg as in the classic bird dog exercise.
  • Bring your elbow and knee together under your body, creating a crunch-like movement instead of returning to your starting position.
  • Extend back out and repeat.

Bird Dog with a Pulse

  • After extending your arm and leg, add a pulsing motion by lifting them up and down slightly while maintaining the extension.
  • The variation intensifies the muscle engagement.

Bird Dog with Opposite Hand-to-Foot Touch

  • Extend your arm and leg as usual.
  • Instead of returning to the starting position, bring your extended arm and leg toward each other, aiming to touch your hand to your foot under your body.
  • Return to the extended position and repeat.

Bird Dog to Plank Flow

  • Start in the Bird Dog position.
  • Extend your arm and leg as usual.
  • Continue the motion into a plank pose instead of returning to your starting position.
  • Return to Bird Dog and repeat.

Bird Dog Exercise Modifications for Beginners and Advanced Levels

You can tailor bird dog exercises and modify them to suit beginners and advanced fitness levels.

Bird Dog Exercise Modifications For Beginners

Kneeling Bird Dog

Kneel with your hands on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.

Focus on extending one leg at a time while maintaining balance.

Partial Extension

Begin with smaller movements. Instead of fully extending the arm and leg, lift them only a few inches off the floor.

That reduces the balance challenge.

Alternate Arm and Leg Lifts

Lift one arm at a time, followed by one leg if you find it challenging to extend both limbs simultaneously.

That can simplify the movement.

Supportive Surface

You can perform the bird dog exercise on a stable, padded surface like a yoga mat to reduce discomfort or pressure on the knees and hands.

Wall Assistance

Stand facing a wall and place your hands against it at chest height.

Lift one leg behind you, keeping your toes on the floor for balance.

Bird Dog Exercise Modifications For The Experienced

Extended Holds

Increase the duration of the bird dog holds.

Instead of holding for a few seconds, aim for 15-30 seconds or longer to intensify the exercise.

Resistance Bands

Attach resistance bands to your wrists or ankles to add resistance to the movements.

That can it more challenging to extend your limbs.

Bird Dog with Push-Up

Transition into a push-up position after extending your arm and leg,

Perform a push-up, return to the Bird Dog position, and repeat on the opposite side.

Bird Dog Plank

Start in a plank position and lift one arm and the opposite leg while maintaining the plank.

Hold briefly and return to the plank.

Repeat on the other side.

Incorporate Dumbbells

Hold light dumbbells in each hand while performing the Bird Dog Exercise.

That can increase the resistance and challenge your core and stability.

Speed Variations

Increase the speed of the movements to create a dynamic Bird Dog variation.

Quick and controlled repetitions can add intensity.

Single-Leg Bird Dog

You can perform the bird dog exercise while balancing your body on one knee and one hand, then transition to balancing on one knee and one forearm for added difficulty.

Bird Dog with Rotation

Extend your arm and leg as usual, then rotate your torso to bring your elbow and knee together underneath your body.

That adds a rotational element and engages the obliques.

Bird Dog on an Unstable Surface

Place a stability ball or balance disc under your supporting hand or knee to create an unstable surface, increasing the challenge for your stabilizing muscles.

Bird Dog to Plank Flow

Flow between bird dog and plank positions, moving smoothly without returning to your starting position in between.

That challenges your core and endurance.

When to Do Bird Dog Exercises

You can incorporate the bird dog exercise into your fitness regimen at various times, depending on your goals and preferences.

  • Warm-up
    The bird dog exercise can serve as an effective warm-up routine. Its focus on core engagement and balance can help prepare your body for more intense workouts by activating key muscles.
  • Core workout
    Include the bird dog exercise as part of your core-strengthening regimen.
    You can fit the exercise into the beginning, middle, or end of your core training.
  • Full-body workout
    Incorporate the bird dog exercise into a full-body workout regimen to help target your core and other muscles.
    It can complement exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups.
  • Rehabilitation
    Physical therapists often use the bird dog exercise as part of rehabilitation programs for people recovering from injuries, especially those involving the lower back, hips, or core.
  • Posture improvement
    Exercisers working on improving your posture can perform bird dog exercises regularly to help strengthen the muscles that support good posture.
  • Balance training
    You can use the bird dog exercise to enhance your balance and coordination.
    The movement can help exercisers looking to improve stability, such as athletes or older adults.
  • Low-intensity exercise
    You can incorporate the bird dog exercise into low-intensity workouts.
    It can help those who want a gentle, bodyweight exercise that minimizes joint stress.
  • Preventing back pain
    You can include the bird dog exercise in your regimen to strengthen the core and lower back muscles, especially if you have a history of lower back pain or want to prevent it.
  • Cooldown
    Use the bird dog exercise as part of your cooldown routine to gradually lower your heart rate and maintain flexibility and muscle engagement.
  • Home workouts
    It is a convenient exercise that requires minimal space and equipment, making it suitable for home workouts when you have limited access to a gym.
  • Daily routine
    Some exercisers incorporate the bird dog exercise into their daily routine as a quick exercise to promote spinal health and core engagement.

Final words from LiveLIfe

The bird dog exercise and its variations can help enhance your balance and coordination, promote proper posture, and relieve lower back discomfort, among many others.

It is a versatile and excellent exercise that can help you build the foundation for many other movements and suit exercisers of different fitness levels.

Incorporate the bird dog exercise into your fitness regimen to help you achieve your fitness goals.

  1. Calatayud J, Escriche-Escuder A, Cruz-Montecinos C, et al. 2019. Tolerability and muscle activity of core muscle exercises in chronic low-back pain. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(19):3509. doi:10.3390/ijerph16193509
  2. Ganderton C, Pizzari T, Cook J, Semciw A. 2017. Gluteus minimus and gluteus medius muscle activity during common rehabilitation exercises in healthy postmenopausal women. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017;47(12):914-922. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.7229

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