Doing a bird dog doesn't mean you'll be out hunting in the fields. The bird dog exercise is a strengthener for your core, particularly the abs and low spine, and it also enhances your glutes, upper back and hamstrings. When your core is strong, walking, running, dancing and daily chores feel easier and are less likely to cause injury. The bird dog isn't the sexiest gym exercise, but it may be the most practical.
You do the bird dog from a kneeling position. Place your knees under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Reach your right arm past your right ear and simultaneously extend your left leg behind you. Both of these extended limbs should be parallel to the floor. Look down so your neck remains straight. Keep your belly firm and prevent your spine from arching as you pause for a count or two. Change sides to complete one rep.
The bird dog helps you balance as you maintain strength in your abs and lumbar spine. Everyday activities -- from carrying a suitcase to balancing in heels -- require you to move the limbs as you keep your spine stable. These benefits occur only if you maintain strong activation of your abdominal muscles as you extend your spine. The American Council on Exercise recommends creating a sensation of knitting your ribs together as you raise and lower your limbs.
To increase the balancing challenge of the bird dog, you can perform the movement with your belly and chest resting on a stability ball. As you progress, you can also do the move by balancing on your hands and toes. This variation requires superior core strength, however, so master the basic version first.
Do the bird dog on alternating days for eight to 12 repetitions. Work your way up to multiple sets. You can also extend the period of time you hold your limbs extended to create activation of the core and a greater balance effort. Try working your way up from a one-count hold to as much as 10 to 12 counts. Slow, precise movements are key to making this exercise work for you. Jerking or flinging your limbs does not benefit your core.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.