How To Do Bird Dog To Fire Up Your Core, Legs & Arms

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Helen Phelan - Bird Dog

When it comes to strengthening the body, training your balance, and improving overall stability—bird dog is one exercise every trainer swears by. That's because this bodyweight, low-impact fitness move engages your entire core (think abs, back, glutes, and more), plus it puts your upper and lower body to work, too. Here's how to do this quintessential exercise, as demonstrated by certified Pilates instructor Helen Phelan.

How to do bird dog:

  1. Get on all fours, and place shins flat on the ground. Release your shoulder blades away from your ears.
  2. Exhale as you reach your right arm and left leg up, stretching them both away from your body in opposite directions.
  3. As you lift, don't arch your back or bring your leg too high. Keep the shoulders and hips level. Push away from the floor with your hand and shin. Tuck your pelvis slightly and hug your abdominals in; squeeze your glutes for stability.
  4. Inhale as your return your arm and leg back to the ground.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue for 8 breaths.
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Tips and modifications:

  • If this move is bothersome on the knees, feel free to place a bit of cushion, such as a folded towel, underneath them.
  • If your balance isn't quite there yet, work on lifting your arm and leg separately. Try mindfully lifting and lowering one arm, and then a leg. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • When your leg is raised, feel where your glutes meet the hamstring, as the back of your leg lights up. Point or flex the toes to ensure the entire leg is active.

What are the benefits?

While the emphasis in this move is mainly on the glutes and core, it's fair to say bird dog is a full-body exercise. After all, with active arms and legs throughout the sequence, you're absolutely working them, too. And thanks to the opposite arm and leg lifting, you're improving your body's balance, stability, and strength.

For people with tight hips (read: anyone who sits at a desk all day), this move also works hip extension. When we sit all day, our hips are in a constant state of flexion, which can contribute to hip and lower-back pain. Altogether, that makes bird dog a great move for your next Pilates routine, or when you simply need to get in a bit of productive movement during your day.

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