How To Do The Bird-Dog Exercise

Man performs dead bug exercise on an exercise mat next to a sofa
(Image credit: Julio Ricco / Shutterstock)

Is it a bird, is it a plane, or is it Superman? You’ll certainly channel your superpowers with this simple core exercise that will strengthen and stabilize your hips, lower back and spine. Variations of the bird-dog exercise are performed in yoga, where it’s known as the balancing table pose, but you don’t need to be a veteran yogi to reap the benefits. All that’s required is a mat to protect your knees and a good sense of balance—or at least the desire to improve your balance.

Bird-Dog Exercise Benefits

According to certified personal trainer and owner of CGM Fitness Cara D’Orazio, this simple yoga-inspired exercise uses your whole body to target and strengthen your transverse muscles, including the abdominals, obliques, rectus abdominis and your pelvic floor, which in turn promotes good posture and increased range of motion. 

“This one is more posterior chain than the dead bug for example, so you’re going to work your hamstrings with this exercise, especially if you focus on rounding your spine and limb extension,” says D’Orazio. “You’ll also work your glutes, hamstrings and even the shoulder blades. There’s more shoulder mobility in this than the dead bug.”

How To Do The Bird-Dog

The bird-dog is a simple pose that you can do at home without any equipment. However, it does require strong balancing skills and good alignment, so it will help if you have a comfortable mat to kneel on and a mirror to check your body position the first time you try it.

To perform the bird-dog exercise, start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees hip-width apart. To begin, extend your right leg behind you and point your toes and at the same time extend your left arm in front of you, pointing your fingers forward. 

Hold steady for a few moments and focus all your energy on stretching your extended fingers and toes, then return to the starting position. Then switch sides, stretching your right arm forward and your left leg back.

To make the bird-dog more challenging, D’Orazio suggests you perform the movement while holding weights or wearing ankle weights. Adding a knee raise between transitions will also make it more powerful. Alternatively, including a small pulsing movement when your limbs are raised will make the exercise more dynamic.

Bird-Dog Variations

Bird-dog crunch

This is a slightly more advanced variation of the exercise, which increases the challenge to your core and also tests your balance to a greater extent. The exercise starts as normal, as you extend opposing limbs in front and behind, but instead of taking them back to the floor afterwards, you bring them together so your elbow and knee touch under your chest. Make sure the rest of your body stays still as you do this. If you’re finding that impossible, swap back to the standard bird-dog exercise to complete your set.

Resistance band bird-dog

If you really want to increase the difficulty of the bird-dog, grab a large looped resistance band. Loop it around your right hand and left foot so it is taut in the starting position for the exercise. Then raise and point as normal, working against the resistance band as you extend your limbs and attempt to keep your body stable. Do all your reps on one side, then switch the band over. Depending on the strength of the resistance band you have available this can make the bird-dog very difficult indeed, so make sure you are maintaining good form throughout and discard the resistance band if you’re not.

Cable machine bird-dog

If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can do this advanced variation of the bird-dog with a resistance band attached to a post behind you. If you do, hook one foot into a low handle and then get onto your hands and knees with the machine behind you so there is tension in the cable or band attached to your foot.

Perform your bird-dogs on that side, resisting the pull of the cable, which will try to yank your hips out of shape in particular. Once you’ve done your reps on that side, attach the cable to the other foot and repeat. Resisting the pull of the cable makes your core work even harder during the move, as well as strengthening your hip flexors.


Is the bird-dog more difficult than a dead bug?

The bird-dog resembles the dead bug exercise, but in reverse because you’re kneeling as opposed to lying on your back. However, D’Orazio says that the bird-dog is a slightly more challenging move than the dead bug. “The bird-dog exercise is harder because it requires more balance,” says D’Orazio. “I see a lot more people tilting the wrong way during the bird-dog. They start to lose balance. You have to really use your stabilizer muscles so that you don’t lean to one side.” If you have mobility issues or suffer from severe back pain, start with the dead bug first and build up to the bird-dog exercise.

About Our Expert

Cara D’Orazio

Cara D’Orazio is both a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) and International Sports and Sciences Association (ISSA).

She is proficient in barre, Pilates, TRX and kettlebell training and is a specialist in sports conditioning. She has created the LETS Werq! format. LETS stands for “lengthen, elongate, tone and stretch” and the format mixes Pilates and barre moves with low-impact cardio. 

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.

With contributions from