“Feeling the muscle work” is a concept that is highly touted within the context of physical training. Whether you’re lifting weights or just working with your bodyweight, establishing that mind-muscle connection is crucial for reaping the full benefits of the exercise, instead of just blindly flinging your body from point A to B. Of course, such training is also accompanied by what is affectionately referred to as “the burn”. Core training is no different, yet there are some exercises that create less of this feeling than others. Does that mean that they’re any less effective at what they do?
If one wanted to train their core musculature to the point where it becomes flushed with numbness, you wouldn’t need to look further than weighted RKC planks, stir-the-pots and hanging leg raises. While these are certainly respected exercises in any athlete’s training dictionary, there are alternatives out there some tend to overlook due to their less “hardcore” nature.
The bird dog is an exercise that is used to teach and reinforce postural control in a dynamic environment. While it may seem simple to the casual onlooker, extending opposing arms and legs while maintaining a braced full-kneeling position takes a certain level of body awareness and sequencing. Employing a light resistance band will easily raise the level of challenge of this exercise.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Before adopting the kneeling position, loop the band around the arch of one foot and secure the other end over the opposite hand, notching it in the crook between your thumb and index finger. Once you’re in position, the band should from a diagonal line the runs across the length of your torso (make sure there aren’t any knots in your line).
The first step is to create a proper spinal position. Just as how you set up for a squat or deadlift, keeping a neutral spine is key. However, “neutral” doesn’t mean “flat”. You want to have a natural arch in your lower back and maintain it by employing intra-abdominal pressure (aka. bracing). The general idea is to adopt the same approach as you would with a plank.
From here, think about extending the banded arm forwards and the leg backwards. Visualise touching a point in the wall right in front of and behind you with your wrists and ankles, taking care not to veer upwards. Pause for a split second at the apex of the movement before moving your limbs back to their starting positions in a controlled manner. Achieve full contact with the floor before proceeding to the next repetition. Once you’ve completed the prescribed number of repetitions for one side, switch to the other set of arms and legs.
The accommodating resistance afforded by the band means the most amount of tension will be achieved when your arms and legs are fully extended. This challenges the core musculature to do three things: maintain balance, resist extension, and to hold tension. Utilising a higher number of repetitions functions more as a means to assist the body in “cementing” this skill instead of exhausting the muscles, which is why you won’t walk away from the bird dog the same way you would from 20 repetitions of toes-to-bar. Yet, it is great exercise for supporting the big lifts as the qualities it trains are integral to their performance. You don’t even have to go beyond a medium-strength resistance band to reap the benefits – give it a go and see for yourself!