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Everything You Need to Know About the Dead Bug: Exercise Breakdown

If you ask me what my favorite exercise is, ill tell you, with a resounding choir that it is the dead bug! If you are a client of mine, you know how particular I am about the dead bug form, so here is a dissection of my ab-solutley (get it?) favorite core exercise!

Personal Trainer Camrose

What Is A Dead Bug Exercise?

The dead bug is a type of core-strengthening exercise that targets various abdominal muscles, but it's so much more than a core movement. You could be using dead bugs to help with back pain, or pelvic health. The exercise can be performed without any equipment – just your body weight. As the position resembles a bug on its back, the exercise has been aptly named “dead bug”.

What Muscles Does The Dead Bug Exercise Work?

The dead bug exercise targets the core muscles, in particular:

Rectus abdominis

Internal obliques

External obliques

Transverse abdominis


Erector spinae

The pelvic floor

How To Perform The Dead Bug Exercise

Although it appears simple, the dead bug is actually a complex exercise. It requires deep concentration and steady engagement of multiple muscle groups at the same time, including the core, arms, and legs.

  1. Start by lying down on your back on an exercise or yoga mat with your knees bent

  2. Gently pressing your back into the mat, lift both legs up into a table top position (knees and hips bent at 90 degrees)

  3. Raise your arms so they are both pointing straight towards the ceiling

  4. Maintaining an engaged core (I often will tell clients "imagine I am about to punch you in the stomach, that's what core engagement feels like"), extend your right leg forwards whilst simultaneously raising your left arm overhead in a controlled manner

  5. Return your arm and leg to the starting position, then switch to repeat the movement on the opposite side

It’s important to keep your spine in a supported position throughout the exercise, and remember to keep breathing! This exercise should not cause any pain.

The Dead Bug Exercise For Beginners

For those new to exercise, or who find the dead bug exercise too challenging or uncomfortable, dead bug can be easily modified to suit beginners. A modified dead bug exercise can still help to train the core muscles.

Modifications of the dead bug exercise may include:

  • Keeping the feet on the ground throughout the entire exercise, rather than lifting the legs into table top

  • Limiting how far each leg and arm is extended during the exercise, rather than completing the full range of movement (you can use a stepper of slam ball as a marker)

  • Simply tapping the foot on the ground during the exercise, rather than extending it fully

  • Moving only one limb at a time, rather than both the arm and leg simultaneously

Dead Bug Exercise Progressions

When appropriate, a physiotherapist may progress the dead bug exercise to further challenge the core muscles and build strength, control, and coordination.

Common dead bug progressions may include:

  • Increasing the number of repetitions

  • Increasing the number of sets

  • Reduce the speed of the movement

  • Increasing the range of the movement

  • Adding a weight, resistance band, or ball

Variations Of The Dead Bug Exercise

Ipsilateral Dead Bug

Rather than moving the opposite arm and leg, this exercise involves moving the arm and leg on the same side.

Dead Bug With A Weight

A light weight can be held in the hand throughout the movement to make the dead bug exercise more challenging.

Dead Bug With A Ball

A ball can be added in between the hands and knees, which is kept in place throughout the exercise whilst the opposite arm and leg move.

The Benefits Of The Dead Bug Exercise

Good form during dead bug is essential to maximize the benefits from the dead bug exercise. When performed correctly, the benefits of the dead bug exercise include:

  • Helps to build strength: With consistency, dead bug can be used to build foundational core muscle strength. This can help enhance ease during everyday movements or improve performance in sport.

  • Teaches control: Control is a core feature of the dead bug exercise. Dead bug requires slow, intentional movements to control the arms and legs whilst maintaining the natural curvature of the spine throughout the exercise.

  • Improves bodily coordination: Dead bug is a multi-joint exercise, meaning it involves a lot of moving parts. It requires concentration and timing to have control over these moving parts, which can help improve coordination.

  • Reduce pain: Dead bug may be prescribed by physiotherapists for conditions such as low back pain as this exercise helps to retrain posture and normal movement patterns to strengthen spinal health and integrity.

Common Mistakes When Performing a Dead Bug

When it comes to the dead bug exercise, less is more! There are a few common mistakes people make when performing this exercise:

  • Forgetting to breathe: Even though dead bug is challenging to perform, it’s important not to forget to breathe. The breath can actually facilitate the movement throughout the exercise, enhancing muscle control and activation.

  • Poor movement patterns: The wrong movement pattern, whether from rushing or a poor understanding of the exercise, can make the exercise ineffective, or can even lead to injury.

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