The bird dog is an exercise that can help you improve core strength. You can use progressions to make the exercise both easier and harder.
In the final version of the bird dog exercise you sit on your hands and knees, raise one leg and the arm on the opposite side while keeping your spine straight and hips and shoulders horizontal, and repeat with the arm and leg on the other sides.
This can help you strengthen your core and back without moving your spine into uncomfortable positions.
Some people find the full version of the bird dog currently too challenging. If that is the case, there are a few exercises to help you strengthen similar muscles in easier ways.
That being said, most people have the opposite challenge. They find that bird dogs become too easy relatively soon. For these individuals, there are plenty of bird dog progressions too.
Important general guidelines
Before learning all the bird dog progressions below, it is important to keep a few important guidelines in mind. These are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to the technique of the bird dog exercise and resistance training in general.
The main goal of the bird dog exercise is using your muscles to keep your spine in more or less of a straight line throughout the movement.
Your arm and leg movements are mainly to make this harder for the muscles which can in turn strengthen them.
This same principle applies to most of these bird dog progressions. If nothing is mentioned about this, assume this is recommended. Especially people who currently have a sensitive back.
There are also more general guidelines when it comes to resistance training.
You generally want to give your muscles at least a day of rest in between bird dog progression sessions. This means you can train 3-4 times a week in total. Additionally, you want to rest around 2 minutes in between each set you do.
Lastly, make sure you give your body enough nutrients and sleep to repair and grow your muscles when working on these bird dog progressions.
How to make a bird dog easier
Some people are not ready yet for the full version of the bird dog exercise. For these individuals, there are also regressions that make the bird dog easier.
1. One hand or one leg off the ground
For this first bird dog progression exercise, the name explains the movement relatively well. You start sitting on your hands and knees with your spine straight.
To do the exercise you then simply lift either one hand or one knee off the ground. You don’t have to move these body parts in any way after that. Just keep them in the air for a few seconds.
After that, repeat with the other hand(s) and knee(s). Hold all four in the air for about the same duration.
Once you can do more or less 10 repetitions in a row with each body part you are likely ready for the next progression.
2. One hand forward or one leg backward
One step further than the previous progression is raising one hand or knee and then doing the bird dog movement with it. Because there are still so few things to pay attention to, it is easier to focus on keeping your spine straight.
On the other hand, the more “intense” movements will make it more challenging for your muscles to keep your spine straight. In turn, this can lead to more growth and strengthening.
Make sure you do the same number of repetitions on each side at more or less the same speed to keep your muscle distribution balanced.
Raising one arm upward will generally be easier than raising your leg. You want to be able to do about 10 repetitions with each body part before going to the next exercise.
3. Regular bird dog exercise
This next “progression” is the bird dog exercise itself. If you do both of the previous progressions, eat well, sleep well, and give your body enough rest, you should be able to reach the full version soon.
The main attention point is keeping your spine more or less straight. To do this you don’t want to raise your legs and arms too far.
How to make bird dogs harder
Regular bird dogs can help you strengthen your core and back muscles to a certain extent. However, you need to keep in mind that this exercise is mainly used for people with a sensitive back and/or really weak muscles.
If you are not someone like that, you will likely have to make the bodyweight version of the bird dog more challenging soon to keep seeing progress (if you are eating, resting, and sleeping well).
When this is the case, you can make bird dogs harder with some of the progressions below. Many of these are already achievable if you can do about 10-15 regular bird dogs in a row.
Which one of these is the best for you depends on your personal preferences, personal situation, training goals, equipment available, etc.
4. Bird dog with circles
The name of this next progression again describes the movement very well. You do the regular bird dog exercise but instead of going straight back down with your arm and leg, you make a little circle in the air with these body parts.
This makes it so your core and back muscles have to work slightly harder to keep your spine in a straight position. The bigger and faster the circles, the more challenging it will be.
5. Weighted bird dog
To do weighted bird dogs you will need some external weights. This can be real fitness equipment like dumbbells or wrist weights but can also be any heavy and compact object you can find around the house. For your legs, you will need ankle weights.
After that, you simply hold the weights in your hands, strap on the ankle weights, and do the bird dog exercise like you normally would. You can also add the circles from the previous bird dog progression.
On top of challenging your core and back muscles more, you will also work your shoulder and glute muscles slightly more.
6. Bird dog crunches
For the next progression you only need your body weight. To do a bird dog crunch you start with the regular exercise but before you put your arm and leg down, you add a crunch.
That means moving the shoulder of the arm that is in the air as far as comfortable to the hip of the other side.
Something to keep in mind is that this progression involves bending your spine. If you have a sensitive back this movement may not be recommended.
7. Bear bird dog
To do a bear bird dog you start on your hands and knees but instead of starting the regular exercise you first raise your knees slightly above the ground.
After that, you continue with the normal version in that position but as you will notice this makes the bird dog a lot harder.
Bear bird dogs will challenge your balance, core muscles, and quadriceps muscles more. If you find the balancing too challenging it can help to move your arms and legs slightly further apart from each other.
8. Superman plank
As the name implies, this next exercise is more of a plank variation than a bird dog progression. To do a superman plank you start in a high plank position.
After that, you raise one arm and one leg while keeping your body straight from your hips to the top of your head.
This exercise will again be more challenging for your core muscles, especially your abs, your balance, and your quadriceps.
Once you are ready try other core exercises
Bird dogs and their progressions are helpful exercises for individuals with a weak back and/or weak core muscles. At the same, by sticking to this exercise for too long, you also leave a lot of results on the table.
Once you are able to do them safely, other core exercises can offer more progress in a shorter amount of time. Even if you want to keep things static, something like a plank or side plank is typically more effective than bird dogs.
That being said, since safety is generally a priority you may need to talk to an expert before doing so.