Exercise Spotlight: Bear Dog

Up the ante on your core strength by upgrading the classic bird dog

I always teach novices that floor-based ground work from the prone or supine position (face up or face down) are the best ways to get a real grasp of the fundamentals of training. These positions are essential to honing in on core strength, breathing, and even coordinating your limbs.  With that said, they’re also very easy positions to graduate from.

And that’s pretty normal. In truth, the overall ‘goal’ of training should involve some form of progression from one level of skill to the next. In the hierarchy of movement orientations, doing many standing exercises is definitely one way to demonstrate that you’ve made such progressions.

With that said, it can be redundant to place old school floor work in your program if you need to do a million repetitions of them in their basic form, in order to receive a training effect. At this point, most people would probably be better off choosing a better exercise. When it comes to the bird dog movement, this can ring true.

Typical bird dogs ask a lifter to lay in a quadruped position (on all fours), and slowly extend one arm and the opposite leg at the same time to full extension. The goal is to keep the back from overarching, and to engage the trunk musculature and glutes to maintain stability and demonstrate coordination at the same time. A tall order for a beginner. Not so much for an intermediate or advanced lifter. Beyond a useful warm up tool, this no longer provides challenge for this crowd. But making one simple modification can change that.

Enter the Bear Dog

Attaining a bear stance simply means taking the body from a quadruped position with the knees on the floor, and lifting them just a few inches away from the ground instead. As a result, the lifter is balancing on the hands and toes, in kind of a bent-knee plank. It’s a position that’s much more demanding than meets the eye, and provides a massive hit for the postural muscles (especially the lower traps), core and legs. As you’ll see in the video, there’s a much greater degree of control necessary to pull off a single rep without losing balance, which means plenty of added focus for proper execution.

Bear Dog – Coaching Cues

  • Find any empty space with open floor. Make sure you’re wearing shoes or are on a surface with good grip. A rubberized floor works best.
  • Assume a quadruped bear stance. That means your knees should be less than six inches off the ground.
  • Slowly and carefully, raise one arm and the opposing leg. Attempt to keep each limb as straight as possible when doing so.
  • Fight for positioning and hold the top position for 2 seconds. Don’t rush the reps to avoid tipping and losing tension.
  • Repeat on the opposite side. Focus on sets of 4-6 slow reps per side.

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