The ‘bird dog‘ exercise is a core stability classic in the physical therapy world, and is certainly a favorite of mine as well. Quadruped can be a great position to challenge a patient’s stability and motor control without fully loading their spine. Add some hip and shoulder movement and see how they respond.
The whole idea behind core stability is to resist unwanted movement through the pelvis and spine when moving through the hips and shoulders. However, this is not what I usually see from my patients or from the folks teaching the exercise.
Check out the video below to see the exercise performed incorrectly (first 3 reps) and then done correctly (next 3 reps).
When performed incorrectly you can see how much movement is occurring through the
lumbar spine. Many of our patients are stuck in excessive lumbar lordosis and choose to use bony approximation to achieve stability rather than engage the muscles of the trunk. A majority of the athletes I work with, including the dancers and gymnasts, would fall in this category. Going into even more lordosis just exacerbates their pain and movement dysfunction.
As you can see when performed correctly, nothing moves through the pelvis and spine. It’s only my shoulders and hips. Performing a bit of a posterior pelvic tilt will bring the person out of the excessive lordosis and help to stabilize the trunk. Also notice there is much less excursion with the upper and lower extremities. There is no way you can lift the arms and legs as high as in the first example and maintain any type of stability.
To learn to stabilize in this position, using a water bottle either across or along the spine is a nice trick (the latter being the more challenging). The patient will immediately feel their excessive movement and reflexively stabilize with the correct timing keeping the spine and pelvis more stable.
- Hold the end range position and cycle a breath – can the patient maintain their ‘neutral’ spine position?
- Take away the water bottle – can the patient stabilize without the feedback?
- Add a resistance band – they will need the bottle back initially, but then work away from the cuing.
Give it a shot and let me know what you think!
Joe Heiler PT, CSCS
Joe Heiler MSPT is the owner and content manager of SportsRehabExpert.com, a website dedicated to advancing the education of rehab and performance professionals. The site focuses on orthopedic and sports physical therapy topics through webinars, audio interviews, articles, manual therapy and exercise videos, and more.
Joe is also the owner of Elite Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in Traverse City, MI specializing in orthopedics and sports medicine, as well as athletic performance training. He is Graston Technique (GT) Certified as well as a GT Instructor, SFMA and FMS trained, and is passionate about a number of soft tissue and manual techniques including Trigger Point Dry Needling and manipulation.