Bird Dog Rows – A Surprisingly Effective Exercise You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

bird dog row

The bird dog row is an ode to movement mechanics. It may not be the most glamorous side of fitness, but it’s darn right important for both athletic performance and everyday living.

The bird dog row combines two common exercises… the bird dog and the single arm row.

Like peanut butter and jelly, these two exercises pair beautifully together to create a challenging movement you’ll definitely want to try in your next workout.

In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about bird dog rows, including how to perform them properly, muscles worked benefits and tips for making the most out of the movement.

What is the Bird Dog Row Exercise?

The bird dog row requires a quadruped stance and involves bringing a weight, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell, towards your body, whilst extending your opposite leg out behind you.

It can be used in all sorts of workouts and exercise programs to achieve numerous fitness goals.

How to do Bird Dog Rows

(Credit – Featured image and video demonstration by Figarelle’s Fitness)

To do bird dog rows:

  • Get into a quadruped position on an exercise bench or on the floor (a bench is better as it means you can extend your arm fully).
  • Holding a weight in your left hand, straighten and lift your right leg so it is parallel to your back.
  • Squeezing your glutes, hamstrings and core, hold this position whilst you bring the weight up to your body.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down and repeat for repetitions.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Coach’s Tip – Try and keep the extended leg as straight as possible. This helps promote better alignment during the exercise and will ensure your core, glutes and hamstrings are activated throughout. Apart from your arm that’s moving the weight, the rest of your body should remain very stable through the entire movement.

Leverage slow, eccentric repetitions

Due to the instability caused by the dog bird stance, you’ll find the exercise lends itself better for slow, eccentric repetitions using a lighter weight, compared to trying to lift heavy.

Bird Dog Rows Muscles Worked

Bird dog rows will work the lats, mid-back, biceps, core, glutes and hamstrings.

The exercise builds functional strength, muscular endurance and improves total body stability.

Bird Dog Rows Benefits

Core Strength and Stability

Ultimately, bird dog rows are a fantastic way to not only build better core strength, but also core stability.

Your body will constantly be fighting against slight wobbling and instability caused by having one leg extended and a weight being moved up and down. This continual need to provide stability (to avoid you falling over) helps to improve your overall balance and stability… which can carry over in all aspects of your life.

As you opt for heavy weights to row, you’ll also notice your core is challenged accordingly… meaning it can become a really effective exercise to strengthen your abs and obliques. If you’re looking for a quick ab routine, this sort of exercise may not be the first that comes to mind, but it’s definitely worth considering.

Promotes Better Row Technique

It’s a sight for sore eyes, but a common one in gyms all around the world… the single arm row that involves completely rotating your trunk. This is usually the result of trying to lift a weight that is too heavy.

Similarly, weight that is too light can also result in “over-rowing” where the elbow extends too high (which puts unnecessary pressure on the shoulder joints and reduces time under tension for the lats).

The bird dog row, however, encourages true row technique by forcing you to keep you core tight and back straight for the whole movement.

If you start to rotate your back to help you lift the weight, you’ll find it causes imbalance.

Self corrections and feedback

As your body is constantly making small adjustments and corrections to remain balanced, the bird dog row is a fantastic movement for anyone who doesn’t have access to a coach or personal trainer that can provide real-time feedback for them.

Great for Home Workouts

Bird dog rows are very versatile and you can do them in the gym or at home. You can use any sort of resistance too, so it doesn’t matter if you only have kettlebells, or dumbbells or bands… anything will work.

If you don’t have a bench, you can still do them on the floor, although the range of motion for the row is limited. Alternatively, you could use the edge of a raised surface.

Time Under Tension Training

If you’re looking to build muscle efficiently, “time under tension” is a great approach to take. This basically involves increasing the amount of time a muscle is held under tension during a workout. It’s proven to be an effective way to build muscle.

This is also a great way to improve your muscular endurance, as well as strength too.

Similarly, if you don’t do much TUT (time under tension) training in your normal fitness routine, you’ll likely feel the impact the following day as your muscles adapt to the challenge.

With bird dog rows, the exercise requires your core and glutes to be activated for the whole movement, and you’re constantly holding a weight. You’ll also need to repeat the exercise on the other side, which will further keep your core engaged.

You can also leverage slow, eccentric reps to make the muscles work even harder. Alternatively, you could actually include some bird dog row holds too, where you pause at the top of the movement and really squeeze your lats and back to keep the weight stable.

Avoids Low Back Issues

If you don’t have correct form, single arm rows can sometimes put strain on the lower back.

The bird dog variation completely eliminates this potential issue as the back adopts a position that focuses on core and glute activation.

Better Lat Activation

As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, one of the overarching benefits of bird dog rows is that is promotes better rowing technique.

This is comes with all sorts of benefits, but the actual activation of the lats is certainly one not to ignore.

Even if you’re lifting lighter weight, because you’ll be really focusing on squeezing the lats in a controlled movement (and not over-rowing or rotating), you’ll likely find you feel like your lats have worked harder than when you just try and lift as much weight as possible with single arm rows.

This is the impact proper technique has.

Great Warm Up

The bird dog row is also a great warm up option for all sorts of workouts. Whether you’re going for a run and want to loosen up stiff muscles before you head out, or you’re preparing for your weekly dose of weightlifting, the movement is great for engaging and activating your lower body, core, back and biceps.

Similarly, it can be a simple exercise to use to break up a long day sat at your desk. A couple of sets of bird dog rows will help re-energize you.

Posture

Like the regular bird dog exercise, it’s a great way to promote better posture. The movement requires good alignment from your neck down to your toes and activates key muscle groups like your core and posterior chain that help improve posture.

Keeping the Glutes Engaged

Don’t under-estimate how tricky it is to keep your extended leg elevated… those glutes will need to be activated for the whole movement.

Although the focus is on your core and back, your glutes don’t have an easy time and this is a great way to keep the glutes and hamstrings activated during your workout.

If you want to further activate the glutes, you could wrap a band around your extended foot, so your glutes and hamstrings all pulling against this additional resistance. This really would make the move very challenging so only opt for this once you’ve mastered the controlled row.

(For more glute workout inspiration, check out our new 4 week glute workout plan).

Bottom Line

This bird dog row isn’t just *another” exercise variation… it is a fantastic movement to improve stability and balance, as well promoting better rowing technique.

The movement will also help activate your glutes and hamstrings, creating a lot of value for a single movement.

We’d recommend starting with light weights and focusing on maintaining total body stability before increasing the weight. Aim for a slow and controlled rowing movement, that squeezes the lats to lift the weight.

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