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The bird dog is a great core strengthening exercise. The bird dog can be used by most people with low back pain. If it causes you increased pain, or numbness, or any other symptoms, stop and consult your physician. Some exercises make back pain worse, depending upon the source of the pain. In any event, you should not be doing back exercises during the acute period following an injury.
The bird dog strengthens most of the abdominal and back muscle groups, without compressing the spine. Compression of the spine is what causes, or worsens, bulging disks and irritated facet joints. The bird dog also strengthens the ligaments and tendons that hold the spine in alignment, again without compressing the spine.
To do the bird dog, start out on all fours, on your hands and knees, preferably on a soft surface so you don't irritate your knees. Begin by lifting one hand off the floor and straightening your arm to point straight ahead. Hold that position for a count of ten, then go back to four on the floor. Then point with the other arm and return to the starting position. Next straighten one leg at a time. That's the basic bird dog. When you can do 4 or 5 cycles of the basic, you are ready for the next step.
In a more difficult version of the bird dog, you lift and point with left arm and right leg at the same time, then right arm and left leg, holding for a count of ten. Repeat 4-5 times.
When that becomes too easy, you are ready for the advanced version of the bird dog. Maintaining your balance on one leg and the opposite arm, you will move the arm and leg pointing. Bend your leg and bring your knee forward. Bend your arm, bring your opposite hand back; touch your hand to your knee, then straighten them out again. Repeat 4-5 times, then use the opposite hand and leg and repeat.
For a visual check of technique, go to the following YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KiN9CAqvFY