How to Do a Dirty Dog

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

dirty dog exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Fire hydrant, hip side lifts, and quadruped hip abductions

Targets: Gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, adductors, psoas, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Beginner

The dirty dog is a beginner level bodyweight exercise that targets the muscles in your hips, glutes, and core region. It’s an excellent exercise for improving mobility and range of motion in your hips. When done correctly, it also allows you to fire-up your core muscles, making this move an excellent choice for an abdominal workout.

You can add the dirty dog to any dynamic warm-up routine or perform it individually. It’s an effective way to open up your hips, target your glutes, and prepare your body for physical activities that involve the lower body such as weight lifting, running, jumping, or cycling.

Benefits

The dirty dog is a lower body exercise that targets the muscles in your adductors and abductors (inner and outer thighs), gluteus medius and maximis, psoas, and quadriceps. Since the exercise requires you to maintain a neutral spine, you will need to engage the muscles in your core, including the deep abdominal muscles, otherwise known as your transverse abdominis.

The dirty dog is a great move to add to your exercise line-up, especially since it involves hip extension, external hip rotation, and hip abduction.

  • Hip extension: If you need to lengthen the front of your hip, you will rely on extending the hip to get the job done. This is a common motion when walking or running.
  • External hip rotation: When you externally rotate the hip, your leg turns outward. This movement is beneficial when you need to turn your toes out while standing.
  • Hip abduction: You will use hip abduction to move your leg away from the center of your body. For example, when you need to step to the side or get out of your car.

If you sit for several hours a day, doing a few dirty dogs can help wake-up your hips and activate your core. Try squeezing in a few moves at lunchtime or a mid-day break. 

Strengthening your glutes and stabilizing the hips decrease low back pain, improves posture and helps you perform better in fitness and sports-related activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

There are two versions of the dirty dog. The beginner version described below does not require you to extend or kick your leg out. If you want to make the move more challenging, refer to the steps in the modification and variation section.

  1. Begin in the quadruped position with your hands and knees on the floor. Use an exercise mat for cushioning.
  2. Hands should be directly beneath the shoulders and knees under the hips. Keep your gaze down or forward.
  3. Engage your core and abduct or lift your right leg away from your body. Keep your knee flexed at a 90-degree angle. Move the knee away from the body approximately 45-degrees or as high as flexibility allows.
  4. Keep your upper body and pelvis still and try to resist motion from side to side. The movement should stay in the hips. Also, keep your back neutral and do not let your waist sag or drop.
  5. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  6. Reverse the movement by slowly lowering the knee back towards the floor. 
  7. Pause briefly and repeat.

Aim for 10 repetitions on each side. Complete two to three sets for 20 to 30 reps total on each leg — rest 30 seconds between sets. 

Common Mistakes

In general, the mistakes that typically occur when performing the dirty dog involve the abduction portion of the movement. However, there are other mistakes you can make that will decrease the effectiveness of the exercise and potentially increase your chance of injury.

Collapsing Your Lower Back

When in a quadruped position, it’s easy to collapse your lower back. This can strain the muscles in the low back area. To avoid this, make sure your core muscles are engaged, your back is flat, and you have a neutral spine.

Looking Up or Down

When doing the dirty dog, try to keep your gaze looking forward. This keeps your neck in a neutral position. Looking up towards the ceiling or down towards the floor puts extra strain on your neck.

Opening and Closing Too Fast

The dirty dog is not a speed exercise. Going through the movement slowly allows you to maintain proper form and get the maximum benefits the exercise has to offer.

Not Keeping Your Core Muscles Engaged

Being on your hands and knees puts your body in a position that can potentially increase the tension in your lower back. By engaging your core muscles, you can keep your lower back strong, which prevents it from dipping and adding strain to the erector spinae muscles.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Standing dirty dog: If being on your hands and knees is a challenge, consider doing the dirty dog while standing.

  1. Stand with feet hip-width distance apart.
  2. Lift your right leg and abduct it out to the side. Keep the left leg steady and hips facing forward.
  3. Reverse the move by bringing the right leg towards the body and lower it until your toes barely touch the floor and repeat for the recommended reps before changing sides.

Up for a Challenge?

The dirty dog is not meant to be a challenging exercise, especially since it is appropriate for all fitness levels. That said, if you want to increase the intensity, try one of the following modifications.

  • Increase the range of motion: Focus on stabilizing your abdominal and glute muscles. Keep your back flat and work on increasing the range of motion in the side abduction phase of the movement.
  • Add more reps: If you want to increase the intensity, consider adding repetitions to the exercise.
  • Extend the leg: To make it more challenging, you can also straighten your knee and extend the leg out to the side before lowering back to the starting position.
  • Use an exercise band: To add resistance, you can add a looped resistance band or min band around your legs. Resistance bands are typically categorized by color, with each color representing a different strength. To keep your posture stable, start with a lighter strength and work your way up.

Safety and Precautions

The dirty dog is generally a safe exercise for most fitness levels. That said, if you have knee issues, wrist pain, or low back pain, this exercise may be contraindicated. Additionally, if you have issues with your hips or knees, make sure to pay attention and address any discomfort or limited range of motion when performing the dirty dog.

If you feel any pain while on all fours or during the movement, stop the exercise, and try the standing version. If you're still experiencing pain, consult a physical therapist or your doctor.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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