My approach to Core Training Part II

Welcome to part two of my three stage approach to core training. By now you should have a good grasp on Diaphragmatic breathing and establishing a Zone of Apposition (ZOA). Next, I like to challenge the ZOA and thus lower back stabilisation via the following two exercises:

  • The Bird dog row
  • The Dead bug with short foam roller

The Bird dog and Bird dog row

A google search of the term ‘Bird dog’ returned the following definitions:

  1. A gun dog trained to retrieve birds
  2. A talent scout

Oddly enough an image search of the term returned numerous images, such as the one on the left ( The internet wins again !) I mean is it a Bird Dog or a Dog Bird?! Anyway, moving on..

The Bird Dog can be considered to be an anti extension based core stability drill. Meaning the whole purpose is to avoid excessively arching the lumbar spine and losing the ZOA. (Not to say that extension at the spine is to be avoided like the plague. I talk more about this later).

The BD row involves something known a the Posterior Oblique Sling System. Just think of it as being a connection between one side of the trunk and the opposite side hip, as depicted in the image below.

The Posterior Oblique Sling System. Image obtained from:

This image clearly shows that the left Latissimus Dorsi and the left thoracic-lumbar fascia muscle will work with right Gluteus Maximus and vice versa, effectively connecting one shoulder with the opposite leg. An efficient function of this sling is required for a stable pelvis during gait. The video below from Tony Gentilcore shows how to perform the bird dog row using a kettlebell:

The Dead bug with short foam roller

The Dead bug is an anti-extension core stability drill performed on your back. The idea is to stabilise the lower back by creating a ZOA in a similar fashion to the BD. As shown by Tony Gentilcore again below:

The above version is a fantastic exericse. However, in the past i have found that beginner clients struggle to keep the two middle limbs stationary. It is usually a coordination issue but can also be a sign of limited strength of the hip flexor. I have found the Dead bug with short foam roller is a great alternative as it allows for more proximal stability, by virtue of squeezing the roller between the same side arm and leg. See my IG post below for a demonstration:

Both the BD and DB exercises allows for correct integration of proximal stability and distal movement, meaning a stiff trunk musculature will allow for more efficient movement of the limbs. However this is misleading as it suggests that the spine and ribcage should never move. Indeed there is a time and place for everything. ZOA places emphasis on anterior ribcage expansion but neglects posterior ribcage expansion. Placing emphasis solely on a stiff trunk in the name of core stability will actually lead to suboptimal breathing mechanics in everyday life. Yes I know this is essential for big lifts such as squats and deadlifts, but there is more to training (and life) than squats and deadlifts! What’s more, spinal extension and flexion is normal and warranted in some situations. So the next port of call with my clients involves breathing with posterior ribcage expansion. Check out the video below from fellow Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) alumni Neil Hallinan where he goes into this topic in more depth.

I’m also a big fan of stability ball plank progressions during this stage of core training for beginners as they allow for simultaneous anterior and posterior ribcage expansion. Just ensure clients are competent in performing grounded anterior expansion exercises like the dead bug before progressing!

I hope this has given you a better insight into the Birddog row, Dead-bug with a short foam roller and how they are the next logical step for beginners after they have learnt how to establish a ZOA. Remember the key take away here is that the spine and ribcage can (and should move), and posterior ribcage expansion should be included as part of core training. In the third and final instalment we get multiplanar !

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