The lure of rock-hard abdominals makes the core a common target for many workouts. However, achieving chiseled results means more than doing endless sit-ups or planks. That’s because proper core development requires targeted workouts to exercise the deep muscles of your abs. That’s where the dead bug exercise comes in handy. Learn why this exercise is so important and how to do it with variations below. As always, speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
What’s The Dead Bug Exercise?
It may sound like a bad Halloween costume, but the dead bug exercise is actually a highly effective abdominal exercise that engages your whole core. The secret sauce to this workout is simple – a prone position. Lying on your back allows your core to stabilize while the rest of your body moves.1
Potential Benefits Of The Dead Bug And Why You Should Do It
The dead bug exercise fires up the deep inner core muscles, like the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor. It may help add definition to your obliques and strengthen the muscles around the spine to improve stabilization.2
Plus, dead bug exercise progressions don’t strain the lower back like other core workouts. The prone position of this exercise might make it less likely to aggravate your back than more traditional core exercises, like sit-ups.3
Many personal trainers agree that the dead bug is a great exercise for most people looking to improve strength, mobility, and low back stability. Plus, you can easily modify it to accommodate your fitness level. Scale it up with some of the dead bug variations below to suit your needs.4
The Dead Bug Breakdown
No equipment is required for the traditional dead bug exercise, however, an exercise mat or soft surface will make for a more comfortable experience. Below is the beginner exercise. Follow the instructions to get started and ignite those abs.
- Lie on your back. Hold your arms straight up toward the ceiling in front of you. Bring your knees up toward your chest, and bend them at a 90-degree-angle. In this starting position, you should resemble, well, a dead bug.
- In a simultaneous motion, reach your left arm out above your head and extend your right leg outward.
Continue the motion until your arm and leg hover just above the ground. Hold that extension for a second. Be sure to exhale smoothly as you go through the progression.
- Return your arm and leg to the initial position and repeat with the other arm and leg.
- Repeat for five or 10 reps, or until your ab muscles shake too much to continue.5
Spice Up Your Routine With Some Variation
One great thing about the dead bug is that you can tailor it to your skill and strength level. Slight modifications to these dead bug exercise progressions allow you to target specific areas of the core and back. Try some of these dead bug variations for added benefits.
Dead Bug – Overhead Reach
This simple variation utilizes a medicine ball or weight to increase the challenge and impact of a standard dead bug exercise.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Hold a medicine ball or weighted ball straight up above your chest.
- Slowly lower the ball toward the ground above your head in a smooth, slow motion. Brace your abdomen to prevent your lower back from arching.
- Use your ab muscles to push the weight back up to the starting position above your chest. Repeat for 10-15 reps.6
Dead Bug – Leg Extension
This variation engages your hip flexors and increases the tension of your pelvis as the abs work against the extra torque from the extension and rotation.
- Lie on your back with your arms by your side, knees bent and feet flat.
- Extend your leg by lifting your foot slightly and slowly reaching it away from your body. Brace the abdomen and resist arching your back.
- Bring your leg back toward your body until your knee is at a 90-degree-angle. Repeat 10 times.7
Dead Bug – Arm And Leg Extension
Send your arms and legs in different directions so you can increase resistance and improve coordination.
- Lie on your back with your feet on the ground and knees bent. Place your right hand under your back to make sure your lower back doesn’t arch.
- Lift your right leg toward your chest and touch your knee with your left hand. Brace your abdomen.
- Extend your leg slowly as you reach your arm overhead and out.
- Bring your knee and arm back toward your core and repeat. Do 10 reps then switch sides.8
Common Mistakes And How To Correct Them
The dead bug exercise may appear simple, but small errors in form can render it nearly useless. Technique and pace are crucial for this exercise routine to engage the interior muscles in your core. Below you can find some of the most common mistakes and how to correct them.
Don’t Arch The Lower Back
To get the most out of the dead bug exercise progressions, it’s important to perform them correctly. Your back needs to maintain contact with the ground to properly engage your core. Maintain a smooth rhythm, and keep your body stable to prevent lifting your back.9
Fix: The easiest thing to do is slow down and regain control. You can also reduce the range of motion when reaching with your legs and arms. Stop reaching when you feel your back arch to help reduce the strain on your muscles.10
Don’t Progress Too Fast
Take your time. The more fluid and controlled your motions are, the more you engage your core. Also, quick movements tend to arch the back, which defeats the whole purpose of this exercise.11
Fix: Try to do the movements at a consistent rhythm, and pause for a one-second count before going back to start. The tension caused by holding the pose is more important than fast repetitions.12
How many dead bugs should I do in my workout?
Try to do two or three sets of 10 reps on each side. But, remember, quality beats quantity with this exercise. You may find your core shaking after only a few progressions, which is a great time to take a break.13
What muscles work during a dead bug progression?
The dead bug works lots of muscles, including:
- Erector spinae
- Pelvic floor
- Abdominal muscles
- Hip flexors14
Can I make the dead bug more challenging or beneficial?
Yes, check out some of the ideas above for common dead bug variations. Also, you can use a medicine ball to make the exercise more challenging. Brace it between your raised hand and knee while you extend the opposite hand and leg.15
Dead Bug Brings Your Core To Life
The dead bug exercise can be an all-around great addition to your core strengthening exercises. The low impact on your spine makes it a relatively safe way to engage a whole range of ab muscles. Plus, you can do it just about anywhere, and it requires almost no equipment. Just make sure you get your doctor’s approval before giving any new exercise a try.
You may look like a dead bug, but your abs will be fully alive. So, give it a try today. Just remember to take your time and maximize your movements to get the most out of this stellar core workout.