Ask 100 people about what their top core/ ab exercise is and maybe 5 of them will say dead bugs, with the rest spread around various crunches or planks. While both of these have value when done appropriately, the humble dead bug is seen as a distant poor relative.
Which is a shame, because done well the dead bug will build great lumbo-pelvic control, spinal stability and a strong set of abs. When it’s done badly it looks like you’re flailing around on the floor like an actual dying bug.
A lot of people are stuck in an anteriorly tilted hip position. This is where the hips tip forwards pulling the low back into a big arch leading to low back pain, hunched shoulders and butt sticking out more than a Kardashian kushion.
While there is a range of acceptable pelvic tilt, endless days of sitting and weak abdominals tend to push past acceptable to where pain is caused. Learning to control your low back/hip junction helps you reduce low back pain. It also helps you become stronger in other exercises as you learn to create a solid stack of your ribs sitting directly above your hips.
Here are the 2 most common errors I see when people do this exercise, and how to correct them.
- “Losing” the low back. Lack of strong abs often results in the low back arching and you losing the tight brace neutral/ slightly posteriorly tilted position you want to maintain during this exercise. Try to maintain contact with your low back on the ground throughout the movement, reducing your range if needed.
- Going too fast. This also plays into the low back issue, as well as resulting in a rib flared position as the required level of control just isn’t there. If you can’t do it slow, you don’t get to do it fast. Slow things down, you’ll get a lot more out of it that way.
4 Progressions you can use.
Leg only dead bug.
This is where I start many of my clients who have weak abs and little control over their low back position. The video shows me going out to a straight leg, but this can be regressed further by stopping higher or maintaining a bent knee until you develop adequate control. This can then progress to a straight leg a couple of inches off the floor.
Band resisted dead bug
The use of the band here helps if there is a tendency to lift the ribs. Pulling on the band locks your ribs down hard building strength and control at the top of the abdominals. This makes it easier to control the hip tilt and keep your low back flat.
Full dead bug
Once control over the rib and hip position has been developed, the full dead bug is your next stop. Adding in the contralateral arm movement, hip, spinal and rib position and control is tested through a more challenging combination of movements. Slow down, breathe out hard on the extension and maintain control throughout.
Kettlebell dead bug
This progresses the challenge of the full dead bug by adding load to the arms. The challenge here becomes being able to resist rib flare against the KB loading on your outstretched arms.
Give these a try next time you are looking for a challenging core exercise. Remember to breathe and slow things down.