This is one of Stuart McGill’s Big 3 for low back rehabilitation and performance, and one that about every athlete performs at one time or another. Our athletes utilize this during their warm up as well as during their low back / glute activation circuit. It never fails that we see a lot of errors in the correct performance of this exercise.
In the birddog the legs are arms are being mobilized while the spine is stabilizing. This is the reason the exercise is so important in back rehabilitation as well as performance. The purpose is to lock in and stabilize the spine while the arm and leg are moving around it. This is the general concept of all athletic activity for the most part. The spine acts to stabilize and transfer power to the appendages
Athletes generally try to bring the leg and arm up too high equalling compensation by the lumbar spine to achieve this motion. The arm and leg don’t have to be any higher than parallel to the ground. What we want when we perform the birddog is to push the leg straight back instead of picking it up. This helps to keep athletes from arching the back to achieve this position as well as helps teach and train the glutes to fire.
When we teach the leg movement we also train it with dorsiflexion. This helps create the image of driving the leg straight back through the heel and aids in creating glute activation.
Another problem that commonly arises is athletes keeping their head up during the exercise. This inevitably causes the back to arch. Always teach and train the head to stay in a neutral position with spine.
Athletes need to be taught the real reason for doing the birddog. Many believe the exercise is about moving the arms and legs above parallel. I don’t care how high we move the appendages as long as we learn the proper pattern of stabilizing the torso and spine.