5 Dead Bug Variations That Will Help You Build a Crazy Strong Core | appencode.com

5 Dead Bug Variations That Will Help You Build a Crazy Strong Core

Dead bugs are an underappreciated secret weapon for preventing and addressing back pain, building core strength, and increasing core awareness for better movement. Exercises that build a strong core are essential to any fitness routine. Not only is core strength required to power your runs, squats, and hikes, but a weak and unstable core can lead to back pain. It can also hamper your coordination and stability for everyday functional movements such as stepping over obstacles, reaching and rotating to move objects, or picking up groceries or kids. 

One of the best ways to prevent and address low back pain and a weak core is through exercise. Dead bugs, in particular, are remarkably effective for increasing stability in the lumbopelvic region, which includes your lower back and pelvis, according to the Strength and Conditioning Journal. This area is a common culprit for low back pain, with research also linking it to pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), especially in women.

Below, you’ll find variations on the dead bug exercise from beginners to advanced, including back pain-specific tweaks, with videos demonstrating each.

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How to Do a Dead Bug

A. Lie on your back on a comfortable surface, such as a padded mat or carpet.

B. Extend your arms overhead so they’re directly above your shoulders, and lift your legs so that your knees are directly over your hips. This is the starting dead bug position.

C. Engage your core by bracing as if for an impact to your abdomen, and press your lower back to the floor, tilting your pelvis to eliminate any gap in your lower back.

D. Move one arm back behind you (reaching your thumb for the floor) and simultaneously lower the opposite leg towards the floor in a slow and controlled manner. You can keep your knee that’s lowering down bent or straighten it for more challenge. Be sure to keep your lower back pressed into the floor, ribs down.

E. Return your limbs to the dead bug starting position and repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg. To increase the challenge, keep your head off the ground while performing the movement.

Trainer Tip

A basic dead bug is an ideal pre-lifting warm-up movement. You need not press your lower back into the floor when using them to prep for heavy lifting. Instead, find a neutral spine position and inhale, aiming to push your sides out (laterally) as if filling your abdomen with air to create pressure and stability for your spine. Then, perform dead bugs using this bracing technique. It’s the same bracing required to keep your spine safe during squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and rows.

Dead Bug Variation for Beginners: Alternating Leg Dead Bug

Keeping your hands out of the movement and on your abdomen will make the dead bug less challenging than the traditional version, which involves movement of both arms and legs. You can also use this version to find your range of motion. Start by keeping your knees completely bent, then try straightening them a little at a time. The point where you can no longer keep your lower back pressed into the floor is the stopping point.

A. Lie on your back with your knees bent over your hips to form an upside-down L. Make sure to keep the small of your back pushed into the floor by engaging your core muscles. Place your hands on your abdomen.

B. Extend your legs one at a time, keeping your core engaged and lower back flat. The closer your feet are to the floor, the more challenging this exercise will be. Try this with bent knees, or extend them longer for more challenge, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor.

Advanced Dead Bug Variation: Two-Leg Dead Bug

Once you have mastered the traditional dead bug for several reps without arching your lower back, try this advanced version which ups the ante by extending both legs at once. Keep your arms straight above you, or try to extend them either one at a time or simultaneously to increase the challenge even more.

A. Lie on your back, extend your arms directly above your shoulders, and lift your legs so that your knees are directly over your hips to the starting dead bug position.

B. Engage your core, and press your lower back to the floor.

C. Extend both legs towards the floor in a slow and controlled manner. You can keep your knees bent or straighten them for more challenge (keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, ribs down).

Dead Bug Variation for Back Pain or Injury: Dead Bug March

Dead bugs are an excellent movement for reducing acute and chronic low back pain by building stabilization and activation of the deep core muscles. However, if you currently have back pain or weak deep core muscles, it can be too difficult to do the traditional dead bug exercise. If you have trouble keeping your lower back pressed into the floor without discomfort due to an injury or chronic back pain, try this version, which makes it easier to keep your core braced and back pressed into the floor. Once you’re strong enough, progress to the traditional version to continue developing deep core strength.

A. Lie on your back, your knees bent, and heel on the floor. Keep the small of your back pushed into the floor by engaging your core muscles. Place your hands on your abdomen.

B. Lift one leg to stack the knee over your hip, then raise the other leg, keeping your core engaged and lower back flat. Lower the first leg to rest your heel on the floor, then follow with the other leg.

C. Repeat the movement, initiating with the other leg.

Trainer Tip

Make this easier by raising and lowering one leg at a time before lifting and lowering the other leg, avoiding ever having both legs raised simultaneously.

Dead Bug Variation for Core Stability: Anti-Extension Banded Dead Bug

While the traditional dead bug certainly increases core stability, adding an isometric hold with a resistance band increases the challenge. Research shows that including anti-extension and isometric exercises in core workouts boosts functional movement patterns, reducing the risk of injury and muscular imbalances.

A. With a band anchored behind you, lie on your back and bring your knees up towards your chest, bending them 90 degrees to create an upside-down L.

B. Grasp the band with both hands and pull it over your head until it reaches mid-chest while keeping your elbows straight.

C. While holding the tension from the band, straighten one leg to hover a few inches off the floor, then reverse to return to the starting position.

D. Repeat the same movement with the other leg. Make sure to hold the tension in the band throughout the exercise.

Trainer Tip

You should feel your core muscles, lats, and arm muscles working throughout the movement. It is essential to engage your core muscles the entire time and avoid arching your back. Keep your arms straight up at chest level, and avoid bending your elbows. Also, ensure you don’t let your leg rest on the ground as you straighten it.

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Dead Bug Variation for Coordination: Medicine Ball Dead Bugs

Adding resistance and arm motions in this variation of the dead bug exercise with a medicine ball provides extra benefits for your entire body using motor control. During this variation, you can switch arms or reach overhead simultaneously. Just be sure to keep your core engaged throughout.

Motor control exercises can help build control and coordination of the spine and pelvis. Research suggests that incorporating motor control exercises can benefit those dealing with chronic or recurring low back pain. While motor control exercises aren’t a one-and-done solution, they are a helpful addition to core workouts (and medical care), especially if you have lumbar instability or issues with spinal control.

A. Lie on your back in the dead bug position, knees bent and stacked over hips and arms extended, holding a medicine ball. Alternatively, hold the bell of a kettlebell or the ends of a dumbbell in each hand.

B. Try different combinations of extending your legs, simultaneously or one at a time, while holding the ball above your chest with straight arms or extending your arms and the ball behind you. Maintain engagement of your core the entire time.

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