Every athlete must learn how to stabilize and brace their core to limit injuries and maximize movement.
When functioning properly, muscles like the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transverse abdominis and quadratus lumborum protect the spine and prevent energy leaks through your core.
The Dead Bug has become a popular exercise for strengthening the core and stabilizing the spine. It’s often prescribed for athletes who suffer from lower-back pain or weak core muscles. The Dead Bug helps train an athlete to brace without bending their spine, to isolate and dislocate their hips in conjunction with the shoulders, and to breathe properly while bracing. But if you’re just sticking with the traditional Dead Bug, you could be missing out on the full benefits this exercise has to offer.
Progressions of the Dead Bug can help you better meet the rigorous demands of your sport and build better functional strength. Some of my favorite variations see the addition of a light kettlebell onto one foot during the movement. By loading the movement in this unique manner, the athlete experiences a plethora of performance-enhancing benefits:
- Places a greater demand on the deep core musculature, anterior and posterior obliques, adductors and stabilizers of the hip.
- Trains the “serape effect” of the core, which is critical for maximizing force production in movements like kicking and throwing.
- Manipulates loading patterns that target the spine, hip musculature and breathing patterns.
- Demands controlling a varying load, which can help avoid common injuries.
- Forces the muscles in the foot and ankle to activate and become stronger.
- Offers a wonderful variation of the leg extension that places increased emphasis on the entire lumbopelvic musculature.
- Alternating muscle groups that fire at-will better prepare you for unpredictable movements.
The Kettlebell used in these variations should be between 5 and 10 pounds. You can perform these before, during or after your training sessions, or even integrate them into an active recovery day. I prefer performing them in a circuit, utilizing one set of 5 reps per side per exercise. Keep the speed slow, focus on your breathing, and never let your lower back arch off the floor.
1. Dead Bug with Foot Kettlebell
Placing the Kettlebell on the foot challenges the foot and ankle muscles. It also demands stabilization of the trunk/core muscles when performing the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise.
2. Dead Bug with Foot Kettlebell and One Foot on Floor
This setup is similar to that of a Single-Leg Glute Bridge or Hip Thrust, as one foot is planted firmly on the ground as opposed to the traditional two-feet elevated position. This variation teaches the athletes to keep complete tension on one side of the body while also requiring complete isolation of movement through the hip through a normal plane of motion with a weighted apparatus. This variation is good for all athletes, because more often than not, athletes are required to brace/stabilize one side of the body while performing a dynamic movement on the other side of the body.
3. Dead Bug With Isometric Opposite Foot Kettlebell
This is a tricky variation. Place the Kettlebell on the foot of the leg that is isometrically held in a bent position. This load placed on the foot/leg causes the core musculature to work harder to stabilize one side of the body.
4. Deadbug with Foot Kettlebell and Isometric Leg Extension
This one is tough, because it requires a two-breath cycle to squeeze the glutes, as well as flexible hamstrings and strong quads. This isometric hold places a strenuous endurance demand on the deep core musculature, adductors and stabilizers of the hip. It also builds the eccentric strength and coordination of the hamstrings needed to counteract the demands of the quads in any motion. Keep the speed really deliberate here.