Before we continue part two of our series, be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already! In part one of the initial disc bulge recovery phase, we talked about an exercise known as the McGill crunch and how it has many benefits to strengthening the core without placing any drastic loads on the lower back.
Moving on to part 2! Today, we are going to be talking about the “bird-dog” exercise or also known as “kneeling opposites”. The bird-dog exercise is a great exercise for strengthening the core, as it hits specific muscles such as internal obliques, external obliques, erector spinae and rectus abdominis. Along with the McGill crunch, this was one of the exercises that I found most beneficial in the early phases of my recovery. The reason being is because when I was in the early stages of my recovery, I couldn’t move around and was limited to the exercises I could perform. Ultimately this exercise allowed me to strengthen the core without putting my lower back in a vulnerable position. That was the biggest thing!
To perform the bird-dog exercise, you want to assume into a 4-point position, were you are on your hands and knees. After assuming the position, you are going to want to focus on extending the opposite arm and leg. Once, the opposite arm and leg are extended, you want to try and hold the extended position for about 5-10 seconds. After holding the extended position for 5-10 seconds, return to the starting position and repeat for about 10 repetitions each side.
A few kings things is that, you want to avoid any excessive extension in the lower back. If you are going into any excessive extension during the extending of the arm and leg, then this could mean your core is weak and it needs work! Lastly, keep a good neutral spine throughout, with the neck being in a good stable position.
A research study posted in the Journal of Electormyography and Kinesiology looked at trunk muscle activation of the bird dog exercise. Garcia-Vaquero et al (2012) found that the internal oblique muscle corresponding with whatever side the arm was extended was activated the most as compared to the erector spinae, rectus abdominis and external oblique. Therefore, in “simpler terms”, these researchers found that when the the “left arm” was extended, the left internal oblique was activated the most to stabilize the spine. (Note: The same applies for the right arm; right arm extended and right internal oblique).
Moreover, Garcia-Vaquero et al (2012) also found that the external oblique muscle corresponding with whatever side the leg was extended was activated the most as compared to the erector spinae, rectus abdominis and internal oblique. So, as the left leg is extended, the left external oblique is going to be activated the most to stabilize the spine as compared to the other muscles. (Note: The same applies for the right leg: right leg extended and right external oblique).
Now, you may say what is the point of all this muscle activation and how can it be practically applied? Well, if someone has weak oblique muscles, we can specifically target them with this study. So, if we had weak external oblique muscles on the left side, we could focus more of our efforts performing the exercise with the left leg extended. By doing this we can develop a more well rounded core and this ultimately can help provide overall stability to the spine. By focusing more on the left or right external oblique, we can add a resistance band into the exercise. By adding a resistance band into the exercise, we produce more activation in our left and right external obliques, when we extend outwards. Your going to want to place the resistance band around your foot and then tie the other part to a pole like structure.
Also, your going to incorporate some glute activation into the exercise as well now, which makes things a little more functional and challenging. With the resistance band, you would perform the exercise the same as you would as the normal bird-dog exercise.
Moving on… one other way we can make this exercise more challenging is by drawing “imaginary” squares. By drawing imaginary squares, we can incorporate more muscle activation because we are holding the extended position throughout the entire sequence of the exercise. Also, we are moving our arms and legs simultaneously, which is going to provide a greater challenge to our spinal stability.
For more information on how to perform these difference sequences of the bird-dog exercise be sure to watch the video below!
Overall, the bird-dog exercise is great for developing core stability, as well as coordination and balance. You need coordination and balance to hold the extended position and to simultaneously extend the opposite arm and leg. Also, this was an essential exercise not only in the initial phases of my recovery from an L5-S1 disc bulge but also throughout my entire recovery process. This exercise I probably performed the most as compared to any other exercise. The reason being is because there are many ways to make this exercise more challenging and it has many benefits for developing core strength without placing any extreme loads on the spine!
And for that, we will end today’s post there!
All the best to your recovery 🙂
García-Vaquero, M. P., Moreside, J. M., Brontons-Gil, E., Peco-González, N., & Vera-Garcia, F. J. (2012). Trunk muscle activation during stabilization exercises with single and double leg support. Journal Of Electromyography & Kinesiology, 22(3), 398-406.
Watch This Video