Dead bugs have been a fundamental part of Pilates for years, as they allow you to strengthen your core without damaging or straining your back.
Research shows that the dead bug exercise is better than traditional crunches and other core training exercises.
Core muscles are designed to stiffen while muscles create movement. This combination allows for the best possible range of movement, flexibility, and strength.
Traditional crunches build core muscle but don’t boost the stability of your body — and they do increase the risk of a back injury.
Once you try the dead bug exercise, you’ll realize why it's so beloved.
Try sitting in a chair with your back pressed against the back of it. Now lift your arms over your head without sticking your ribs out and arching your back. If your lower back comes away from the back of the chair, you’re transferring the strain on your body to your lower back.
That’s the signal that core strength needs to be improved.
A weak core means the potential to injure your back, preventing you from developing the strength you need to boost stability and performance with other exercises.
For reference, the name is simply because you look like a dead bug when you complete the exercise, but you definitely don’t feel like one with your increased core strength. In fact, you’ll be much better than a dead bug at getting back on your feet!
The Dead Bug Exercise: A Step-By-Step Guide
- Lie on your back with your lower back against the floor, your legs bent at the knee with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Don’t forget that your lower back has a natural curve; you should be able to fit 3 fingers under it when laid on your back. Your arms should be by your sides, palms down.
- Now lift both your arms up to the sky. Keep them straight with your hands directly above your shoulders. Contract your abs and focus on keeping them contracted as you complete the exercise.
- Now bring both knees up, keeping the leg bent at 90 degrees. Your knees should be directly above your hips, and your calves parallel to the floor.
- Now lower your left leg to the floor, straightening as you do so. At the same time, you’ll need to lower your right arm as close to the floor as possible, the arm should be above your head, still straight, and palm facing upwards. Your arm and leg need to move together, and they must not touch the floor, but they should come as close as possible! Your other arm and leg shouldn’t move from the starting position, and the movement must be slow and coordinated. Doing the dead bug fast will not improve core strength
- Bring your left leg and right arm back to the starting position, and then lower your right leg and left arm. Keep the movement slow to avoid maintaining motion through momentum instead of core muscles. If you use momentum, your lower back will lift off the floor.
- Now you just need to return your right leg/left arm to the starting position; that’s one rep.
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Dead Bug Variations
- Change your limb order, such as two arms and one leg or even doing all of them at the same time. Use all your limbs by touching the knee that hasn’t moved with the other hand.
- Try different directions, such as one knee bent, the other leg straight out but up at 45 degress, and the same with your hands. You’ll really feel your core burning.
- Just use your legs by resting your hands on your stomach and slowly straightening one leg, returning it before doing the other. As always, focus on your core to ensure the exercise is effective.
- Add a foam roller; keeping your feet on this and stopping it from moving really focuses your mind and helps to ensure you’re doing the exercise correctly.
- Add a resistance band between your legs or fixed to a static object. It makes every move harder and more effective.
- Use a yoga block between your foot and the wall. This will ensure one leg stays in position while you work the other side. Don’t forget to swap after 8-10 reps. This version is fantastic if you’re trying to build sprinting strength.
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Dead Bug Alternatives
The dead bug exercise is a type of anti-extension and anti-rotation exercise; that’s why they are so effective at building a strong core. But, no matter how good an exercise is, you need variety in order to keep your interest and continue to build strong core muscles.
The simple fact is that your body is incredibly good at adapting; changing your workout routine is essential to ensure it continues to be effective. So, here are some great alternatives to boost core strength effectively.
The great thing about the plank is there is virtually no limit to the possibilities. You can try the standard starting pose, elbows on the ground, and toes with your body straight. You can upgrade to arms straight with just your hands on the ground. Or, you can try one of many other variations. Try one hand and one leg, or raise your legs when planking. They all work your core.
You’ll need the right bench for this as your body needs to be face down over the bench with your legs and waist supported. You then bend from the waist up and down.
Ab Wheel Rollout
The classic ab wheel rollout requires a strong core to allow you to pull the ab wheel back to yourself; it’s not as easy as it looks.
There are loads of options when using a stability ball that will help build core strength. Try simply sitting on it and having to maintain your balance, lying on it to lift your legs, or trying to plank off it. The burn in your core will be evident.
This classic exercise builds strength throughout your body while strengthening your core.
Holding a Dumbell
Try holding a dumbbell in your hand for as long as possible without bending; it’s effective at strengthening your core.
Stand up, place your hands on the floor as close to your feet as you can, and then walk them as far away from your body as possible. Return and repeat. Sounds easy until you try it, but you’ll feel the burn in your core.
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