I coined the term Physiopath because it describes my two “hats”. As a Physiotherapist, I am an expert in exercise prescription. I can identify weak links in the body and facilitate the restoration of strength and endurance. As an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner, I can identify what moves and what doesn’t and facilitate the restoration of motion throughout the body.
Over time, most practitioners begin to see patterns of dysfunction emerge in their patients. Bus drivers have patterns, steel workers have patterns, teachers have patterns, gymnasts have patterns, runners have patterns, etc. But the single most common pattern of dysfunction is found in the average “sitting” person. Current research suggests that the average person sits about 6.5 hours per day in an office job. This number doesn’t take into account sitting at meals, on the couch in the evening or the commute. I think that a more realistic number is somewhere around 12 hours per day.
How Sitting Affects the Body’s Systems
Prolonged sitting can have a profound impact on the body and overall health. These are just a few of the issues that have been identified with prolonged sitting.
The Consistent Pattern in the Muscular System
The common pattern is
loss of normal hip extension (can’t move your leg behind you)
hip flexor shortening (tightness in the front of the hips)
dysfunctional activation of the butt muscles (weak, limp butt)
and there is usually some back, hip or knee pain in the mix
Is Your Butt Falling Into Your Legs…
When you sit all day, your butt muscles basically shut down. Both back pain and tight hip flexors lead to inhibition of the butt muscles. When these muscles don’t fire properly and aren’t activating regularly, they get weaker and weaker. And it’s a bit of a vicious circle because if the butt muscles don’t work properly, it gets harder to extend the hip during walking, stairs, and other activities. The result is tightness in the hip flexors, loss of hip extension, a stiff low back and poorly functioning butt muscles. I affectionately call this condition “Butt falling into legs syndrome”.
Other complications with this situation include risk for back pain and injury, risk for hip pain and injury, altered posture and load on the spine and stiffness, to name a few.
What Does the Bird Dog Do?
The Bird Dog has a number of benefits. From a strength perspective, it targets the core muscles (front and back), the butt muscles and the upper back muscles. From a length perspective, it opens the shoulders, the hips and the neck. It improves stability of the trunk and encourages a neutral spine. It teaches proper use of hip and shoulder motion while maintaining a stable spine. All of these together can improve posture and help relieve pain in any and all of the target areas.
Research has shown that the Bird Dog exercise spares the spine from high compressive loads and ensures stable and effective patterns of muscle activity. (1) This exercise is a like a super power to combat the effects of sitting and it keeps your butt from sliding into your legs!
How to Do the Bird Dog
Set Up: You will want to do this exercise on a mat or soft surface to protect your knees. You can place a blanket or folded towel under your knees for extra cushioning. While on all fours, position the spine into its most resilient position. The upper back is curved slightly upward, the hips are flexed with the knees directly under the hips. The hands are placed under the shoulders. Gently brace the abdominals to control the torso and to be sure that motion will come from the shoulders and hips.
Execution: Slowly raise one arm and the opposite leg simultaneously. Do not raise the arm or leg higher than the height of the shoulders or hips.
Lengthen the top of your head away from your tail
Keep your gaze down towards the floor
Lengthen your heel away from your tail and gently flex the foot
Make a fist with the raised arm to enhance muscle contraction through the upper back
Keep the hips level and avoid rotating the pelvis
Recheck your core muscle activation to prevent your back from sagging or arching
Just raise one leg, no arm.
Standing Bird Dog for those with knee issues, difficulty getting on/off the floor, or those who have pain in the typical position. Position yourself in front of a stable counter, table or surface.
Set 1 - 6 reps/10 sec hold/rest 30 sec
Set 2 - 4 reps/10 sec hold/rest 30 sec
Set 3 - 2 reps/10 sec hold/rest 30 sec
It’s a good idea to do this exercise in front of a mirror the first few times you do it. It’s even better to have a buddy watch you do it and correct your technique until you get to feel how to do it correctly. This exercise should never cause pain. If it is painful, STOP and MODIFY until you can do a variation of the exercise pain free. Start with one set and work your way up to three sets. Remember that it’s better to stop than to use poor technique. And, of course, don’t forget to breathe.
If you have any questions about this exercise, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
McGill S. (2015). Back Mechanic: The step by step McGill Method for fixing your back pain. Gravenhurst, ON: Backfitpro Inc.