There are several staple exercises at Design Yourself Strong (DYS) and Deadbugs are absolutely on that list. Deadbugs are in some way or another in every one of my athletes or clients programs. It may not look like much but when done correctly Deadbugs are challenging and an extremely effective core exercise. They are very versatile and can be used as a warmup, filler, corrective, and strength exercise.
Why are Deadbugs such an effective core exercise?
- Anterior-core: Deadbugs are a great anterior core strengthening exercise and help keep your back healthy.
- Anti-extension: Deadbugs are performed with the core engaged and in posterior pelvic tilt. As one arm moves into flexion the opposite leg moves into extension the core is actively resisting spinal extension. Anti-extension is especially important for athletes or clients who are stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt position. An anterior pelvic tilt can lead to extension based back injuries, hip flexor tightness, hamstring injuries, anterior knee pain, and an overall week core.
- Neutral spine/ posterior pelvic tilt: Because the dead bug is performed in a posterior pelvic tilt it teaches the performer a better understanding of a neutral spine and how to actively get out of an anterior pelvic tilt. This is an excellent exercise for clients who experience extension based back pain.
- Lumbo-pelvic- hip stability: Deadbugs improve lumbar stability and teaches the athlete or client to dissociate between their lumbar spine and hips. Dissociation is difficult to achieve when stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt. Hip dissociation is important for proper movement in athletics and activities of daily living.
- Motor control: This exercise is not only a great exercise to teach motor control but also activate the central nervous system properly. Many people have difficulty with moving the opposing limbs during this exercise. I’ve actually had clients tell me their brain hurts after doing this exercise for the first time. When clients or athletes are forced to think about moving in a diagonal pattern such as deadbugs or marching they get completely thrown off. Our bodies move in a diagonal pattern in life and especially sports, deadbugs are a great tool to teach, improve, and strengthen this movement and motor pattern.
How to perform Deadbugs:
- Lay on your back with your knees bent. While in this position make sure your back is flat on the ground. I tell clients to push their back into the floor to go into a posterior pelvic tilt. This position alone may be a core workout.
- Once your back is flat, pick your feet up off the ground. Your hips should be at 90 degrees and knees are bent, directly over your hips. Make sure your back remains flat on the ground. If you cannot maintain that position with your feet up you should begin with a wall deadbug which will be explained later.
- Once your hips and back are in the proper positions raise your arms straight up and maintain a flat back. Inhale through your nose, think about breathing into your diaphragm and pulling air 360 degrees around your spine. Begin to exhale and tuck your rib cage to your pelvis, during the exhale lower your right arm behind your head and extend your left leg out to the floor and make sure your back is flat on the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
In the video below there are my favorite regressions and progressions off the Deadbug exercise.
- Deadbug hold: The deadbug hold is just the starting position of the deadbug, but if you cannot maintain a flat back while moving their limbs this is a great start to mastering the deadbug. In this is exercise you should maintain this position while taking 8 to 10 breaths(inhaling through your nose and exhaling all the air out through your mouth).
- Wall deadbug with heel tap: Press your hands firmly into the wall and lift their legs into the starting position of the deadbug. Pressing into the wall engages the anterior core musculature and makes it easier to maintain a flat back. Lower one heel to the ground and return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. You should be performing the same breathing techniques as a regular deadbug.
- Wall deadbug with extension: This is performed the same as above except with full leg extension to the ground.
- Physioball deadbug: Starts in the same position as a regular deadbug but with a physioball between all limbs. The same movement and breathing is applied but you are pressing into the physioball to stabilize the ball while activating the anterior core.
- Deadbug with weight: This is performed the same way as a regular deadbug just with added resistance.
- Deadbug with contralateral hold: A dumbbell or kettlebell is held in the right while you lower the left leg. Another way to perform the exercise is by doing a deadbug with the left hand and right leg. The contralateral requires more core and oblique stability to perform the exercise correctly.
- Sameside Deadbugs: These are the same as regular deadbugs except you move the same arm and leg.
- Sameside Deadbug with Foam roller: A foam is placed on the opposite side of the moving limbs, this activates the opposite side while the other is moving. This can be progressed by putting a weight in the moving hand.
- Band Resisted Deadbugs: You’ll notice this is the only exercise I raise my head and tuck my chin in because it allows for more core engagement. In this exercise you will grab the resistance band and pull it tight so it is a bit difficult to keep your arms straight up over your head. From here will lift your neck, tuck the chin and then extend one leg at a time.
*Remember your back should be flat the whole time throughout the movement and the none moving limbs should not be moving at all. Learning to achieve a posterior pelvic tilt and maintain a neutral spine is imperative for back health and hip mobility. Arching your back will make the exercise easier and will not apply the same training effect. If your back arches at any time during the exercises either slow down, only move your limbs as far as your back stays flat, or go back to a variation you know you can maintain the posterior pelvic tilt.
Comments, question, and suggestions are welcomed below…