The Bird-Dog

The bird-dog was one of the first exercises Bernard challenged me with. It was where our journey toward better balance began. The exercise has us begin with four balance points in a dog like position. Resting our balance on both hands and both knees. Then, the objective becomes raising and straightening one hand, along with the opposite leg, in a mirroring fashion. The move appears we are both dog and bird at the same time. The exercise feels like it requires me to balance with only two balance points. Moving from the position of bent knees, which provide a sturdy base of balance. Unlike the Twister exercise, which required working from the lower half balance point of your toes. We had to begin working balance somewhere in order to hopefully progress into the games of Twister and Hopscotch. One of the main muscle groups worked by the bird-dog exercise would be our core and lower back. These are two groups of muscles relied on heavily for balance. Which means for me, with lacking balance, they were important areas to strengthen. During our first workout sessions, we worked on the ladder drill and hurtles. The three movements were in combination to work different aspects of balance. However, the bird-dog felt like it was the more challenging of the movements.

The bird dog exercise would serve a further purpose from balance. Cerebral palsy causes my muscles to be tight. The tightness can cause them to be in a relatively consistent state of contraction. The mild contraction also happens at many of my joints. Making it challenging to fully extend my limbs. The result of inhibited joint extension is they remain slightly bent. So, we needed to work on extending them more fully. We also wanted to extend my limbs more fully with purpose. The idea was to attempt getting my arms and legs extended straight out, becoming parallel with the floor. The full parallel extension didn’t occur right away. It remains a challenge to fully extend my limbs. We still work on reaching them out fully. Not only was it challenging to reach my arms and legs fully, but maintaining balance while doing so, also became a challenge. The feeling of finding my center of balance became frustrating. At those early points with Bernard, I was attempting to learn the engagement of my core while making a movement. At times, the extension of limbs would be attempted, then an unstable feeling would lead me to placing my knee back down. I had to learn to regain composure and try again.

We began working on the bird-dog exercise with a modification. With cerebral palsy, it can be challenging to get used to any movement. Bernard was beginning to learn my capabilities. So, we started with a slow process. The first thing Bernard wanted me to do was extend each leg, one at a time. The process would leave me with three balance points instead of just two. The following step was to extend each arm out forward. Again, doing the movement one at a time, with the support of three balance points. It was a great place to begin, even with three points of balance, learning the balance was slightly challenging. There were some unsteady moments with this form of the movement. We went through the extension of each limb relatively slowly. After a few sets of extending the limbs, the balance of movement was coming. The exercise was a new movement. While working on straightening my limbs, it caused me to think of the early days of physical therapy. As a child, I remember giving so much effort to attempt the full extension process. Now the challenge was being brought back into my life as an adult.

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Once we got the balance down on moving each limb away from my body, it was time to move forward. Our next progression in the bird-dog exercise would be the coordination of the movement. The goal was to try moving one arm with the opposite leg away from the body. Bernard wanted me to coordinate the movement, moving the leg and arm upward at the same time. The new progression was going to take away one of my balance points. Now, instead of have three points of stability for my body, we would be down to two points. It took time to get the movement down. The most important concentration piece for me was the balance. I couldn’t remember a time of being required to balance my body in this fashion. The familiarity with how to engage my core took a couple weeks to understand. It’s still challenging to totally understand how to engage my core correctly. After being able to raise my limbs, there were two more challenges. The work of coordination in moving them upward at the same time was the first. The other was getting my limbs to fully extend through the joint. Each of these challenges were taking on important struggles of my disability. The coordination of movement and the ability to fully extend my limbs.

The balance of engaging in the bird-dog exercise was most important. Both the challenges of coordinating the movement and extension of the limb would require more practice. These shortcomings however, wouldn’t stop us from moving to the next progression stage. They could continue being improved as the progressions became more challenging. Bernard wanted to add more complexity to the exercise. Cerebral palsy can cause difficulty when reaching for a specific object or target. The reach becomes more challenging when the object being reached for is further away from the body. So, while executing the bird-dog movement, Bernard had me begin reaching to touch a window sill at the gym. All that was required was taping the shelf with my hand, then bringing my arm back into place. It was another challenging movement to get used to performing. With the objective of touching the shelf, my balance required maintenance for a little bit longer. But, this form of the progression was accomplished relatively well.

The final progression of bird-dog to this point has been the most challenging. Bernard wanted me hold out one arm with the leg on the opposite side. Instead of reaching for something or simply returning to the dog position, Bernard had me hold for two seconds. This process made balancing even more difficult again. Maintaining the hold with only my two balance points was challenging. The other part making the two second hold tough was stretching my limbs. My legs seem to require more effort to keep stretched out. I have also been challenged around keeping my out-stretched legs high enough off the floor. The objective seems to be keeping my legs even with my hip level. Again, something which has been a struggle with this exercise. After being able to hold for two seconds, Bernard pushed the exercise again. He wanted me to hold the bird-dog position for three seconds. This time, upping the intensity of holding my balance for a longer duration of time. It also placed more pressure on coordinating the holding of the position. Attempting to keep my legs straight at the knee for longer periods of time. Trying to hold my leg straight has been the most frustrating part of the exercise.

I wanted to take video of the bird-dog movement. It hasn’t been part of our workout routine for a while, but it’s where I remember balance work beginning. We have looked at videos of balance exercises/games like Hopscotch and Twister. While also looking at the game of Lava Monster. All of the balance required to play those games came from somewhere. We had to start with something that could be executed and work our way forward. In each video, we are working on holding the bird-dog position for three seconds. Which is more advanced than the place this exercise began for my workout. We have been able to build much more balance since the early days of bird-dog. Even now, you will see the exercise remains one of challenge. Getting used to the movement again was a challenge. It caused me to stumble at one point, forgetting to engage my core. However, exercise did feel good to do again, continuing to provide balance challenges that help me improve.


One of my largest obstacles in life has been balance. Cerebral palsy has made balancing a challenge. But, the disability doesn’t make learning to balance impossible. Like most things with cerebral palsy, most things get better with a process. The improvement of balance was a process, requiring somewhere to begin. Bernard wanted to get started with three exercises to start the balance journey. We worked on the mobility ladder and went through hurdles. The most challenging of exercises as we began was the bird-dog. The bird-dog required balance and coordination from my entire body. It was the only exercise of the three that felt shaky when attempting. But, the instability of the bird-dog caused it to have the highest ceiling. The exercise left the most room to grow. It seems like when we are trying to improve, we require space to become successful. Something we can improve upon to reach our ultimate goal. It doesn’t appear to matter the challenge. If we find a starting place, continue to build on the skill, even with a disability, we can become successful.




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