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The Bird-Dog Exercise: More Than Rotary Stability

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The Bird-Dog Exercise & Rotary Stability


The bird-dog exercise is a movement that mimics the developmental pattern of crawling. Crawling
involves opposite arm and leg movement outward from a stabilized core. The integration of shoulder
flexion and hip extension with core stability is a requirement of many movements found in the gym.
What is Core-to-Extremity Movement?
The inner core consists of the diaphragm, abdominals, pelvic floor, and spinal errectors. The diaphragm
contracts first before any movement of the arm or leg. The stability of the torso is referred to as proximal
stability, which allows for distal arm and leg movement.
Poor core stability can limit both shoulder flexion and hip flexion. When the muscles around the spine do
not provide adequate stability, muscle function and joint position will be compromised at the hip and
shoulder.
Developmental movement patterns (crawling, lunging, squatting) are all core-to-extremity the muscles of
the core stabilize the trunk before arm and leg movement occur. This fixed point of the core, which
provides a stable base for muscles to control the arms and legs is referred to as the punctum fixum.

Stability During Crawling


Crawling requires rotary stability to prevent rotation of the hips and spine during movement of the arm and
legs. The half-kneeling position of the bird-dog requires lateral stability to prevent lateral movement of the
hips. Maintaining a neutral lumbar curve (preventing hyperextension or arching of the low-back) requires
anterior core stability from the abdominals.

The bird-dog is a great way to integrate stability and flexibility during a basic movement pattern for better
motor control during more complex movement patterns.
Craig Liebenson explains,
The bird-dog is fantastic, because you are learning about scapulohumeral rhythm, neck packing,
bracing, hip extension, lateral stability, and seeing how all these things intersect.
Switching Gears: Total Body Tension & Fluid Movement
Lifting weights to get stronger is about capacity, whereas the ability to execute fundamental movement
patterns is about competency. Fundamental stability exercises like the bird-dog that teach competency,
are also great for learning to use a low-threshold strategy of movement.
Low-Threshold Strategy: Slow, tonic, local stabilizer, stabilizing muscle contractions that are for low-load
tasks and reflexive postural control. This is necessary for joint centration.
High-Threshold Strategy: Fast, phasic, prime mover, global mobilizer, mobilizing muscle contractions that
are for high-load tasks and force production. This is necessary for strength training.
(Definitions taken this great blog by Aaron Swanson)

A high-threshold strategy is generally used during


strength training when the goal is to increase capacity
through squatting heavy and deadlifting. When highthreshold strategies are used during basic movements
breathing is dysfunctional, stability is compromised,
and mobility is impaired.
Athletes need to be able to switch gears between
strategies creating enough tension during a squat
and having the flexibility and stability to perform
basic movement patterns with a high level of
competency. The ability to demonstrate lowthreshold strategies is a big part of movement
competency.
Exercises like the overhead squat, snatch, and clean
are all great ways of improving core stability. However,
athletes that have poor core stability and have a hard
time keeping a neutral low-back position need to train
core stability during low-level exercises before integrating stability back into complex movements.

Assessing Rotary Stability


Many gym members are familiar with the bird-dog exercise used in yoga classes. How an exercise is used
and who uses it, changes its function and outcome. The bird-dog position is used as part of the rotary
stability test of the functional movement screen (FMS) and as a learning tool for teaching athletes how to
stabilize effectively with a low-threshold strategy.

(image from functional movement.com)


The bird-dog requires rotary stability throughout to stabilize the hips and torso during the arm and leg
movement. The abdominal obliques prevent rotation and also contribute to posterior pelvic tilt to prevent
hyperextension of the low-back as the leg reaches.
It is important for athletes to understand the importance of utilizing movements that employ low-level
strategies. These types of exercises can be used as correctives or on a regular basis as part of a
warmup. Charlie Weingroff nicely explains,
There is a big difference between Rotary Stability as per the FMS and Anti-Rotation conditioning
as per these excellent exercises that we use. They are not the same.

Rotary Stability patterns employ the soft core, the inner core, the proper motor control of timing
that allows us to move bodyweight very spider-like and effortless. Anti-Rotation makes you
savagely strong to move how you move faster and stronger.

The Neurodevelopmental Perspective


Crawling is a developmental stage of movement development that precedes the half-kneeling and lunge
positions. Crawling exercises like the bird-dog are great for restoring movement patterns, mobility, and
stability.
Charlie Weingroff explains that the rotary stability screen is meant to assess rotary stability during a
developmental movement pattern to see if an athlete can demonstrate a low-level strategy.
So as the aim is to yield the absolute most discriminatory movement screening tool, if we look at
rotary stability 3 and 2 positions, and in that order because we roll before we crawl.
There is a level of screening very neurologically deep and discerning to see if indeed we have a
very challenging display of the two foundations we need to move. Maybe a little more to the FMS
and Rotary Stability than you might have known before.
Ipsilateral = Rolling, Throwing, Leaning in most agility, some Sitting
Contralateral = Crawling, Running/Walking, Reaching Transitioning
- Kevin Kula, The Flexibility Coach Creator of FlexibilityRx
Related Resources
Aaron Swanson: Low vs. High Threshold Strategy (link)
Bird Dog Exercise with Craig Liebenson by CE4You (link)
Bird Dog Workshop and Corrections by Craig Liebenson at CE4You (link)
Craig Liebenson: Proximal Stability for Distal Mobility The Bird Dog (link)
Dean Somerset: Improving the Functional Movement Screen (link)
Smart Group Training: Rotary Stability (Red to Green Series) (link)
Charlie Weingroff: Behind the Walls of FMS Rotary Stability (link)