The Dead Bug is one of the best exercises to train the core. It strengthens the abs without putting the lower back in danger like a Crunch or a Sit-Up. It also teaches you to keep a stable core and neutral spine when moving your arms and legs, which is important for protecting your spine.
We are big fans of the classic Dead Bug. But like any exercise, it has variations that offer a different challenge or are more difficult. Here are six variations we recommend if you’ve already mastered the classic Dead Bug. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of each exercise.
But first, here’s how to do the classic Dead Bug:
- Lie on your back with your arms extended in front of your shoulders.
- Bend your hips and knees to a 90-degree angle.
- Tighten your abs and press your lower back into the floor.
- Take a deep breath in.
- As you exhale, slowly extend your left leg toward the floor and bring your right arm overhead. Keep your abs tight and don’t let your lower back arch.
- Slowly return your arm and leg to the starting position.
- Repeat with your opposite arm and leg. Continue alternating.
Multi-Directional Dead Bug
Lower your leg slightly to your side rather than directly in line with your hips. This changes the angle of resistance, engaging your abs and obliques to prevent rotation. You can change up this exercise by simply adjusting the angle at which you lower your leg.
How to: Perform the classic Dead Bug, but lower your leg to the floor at a slight angle with your body.
Physioball Dead Bug
Squeeze the physioball with your inactive knee and hand while your other arm and leg perform the rep. This tension works your abs and keeps your back flat on the ground.
How to: Lie on your back holding a medium-sized physioball with your hands and knees. Perform a Dead Bug, continuing to hold the physioball with your opposite hand and knee.
Resisted Dead Bug
Wrap resistance bands around each foot to make your core work extra hard during the standard Dead Bug. The band pulls your leg down from the bent position while your working leg fights through the added resistance.
How to: Wrap a resistance band around a stationary object in front of your feet and and then wrap the loops of the band around each foot. Position your body so there is no slack in the band when your legs are fully extended. Perform a Dead Bug.
Resurrected Dead Bug
This variation, from renowned strength expert Dan John, looks different from a standard Dead Bug, but the pattern is the same. As you hold a kettlebell over your chest, do a leg raise and drive your legs into the air. This works the frontside of your core and opens up your lower back.
How to: Hold a kettlebell or med ball with your arms extended in front of your chest. Keeping your back flat on the ground and legs straight, slowly lower your legs until your feet are a few inches above the ground. Raise your legs up until they are perpendicular to the ground and then drive your hips into the air to pulse your feet. Control the descent and then repeat.
Resurrected Dead Bug with a Heart Beat
A more difficult version of the previous exercise, this one combines the leg raise and drive with a chest press. Performing an upper-body and lower-body movement while controlling your core is a key skill for athletes who want to stay strong and stable and to prevent injuries.
How to: Hold a kettlebell or med ball at your chest. Perform the same movement as the Resurrected Dead Bug. As you drive your hips up, perform a chest press with the kettlebell or med ball. Lower the kettlebell or med ball to your chest and repeat.
Dead Bug Roll
This is an isometric variation of the movement that we watched NHL forward Jordan Eberle perform at Crash Conditioning. Your core muscles will be on fire, because they are working to maintain the Dead Bug posture in constantly changing positions.
How to: Hold your opposite elbow and knee together to assume a Dead Bug pattern. Slowly roll from side to side.
Before performing these exercises, make sure to perfect the classic Dead Bug. You should be able to perform the move under control and without lifting your back off the floor at any point. Your back should be independent of your arm and leg movements.
Assuming you’re a Dead Bug master, start working through the exercises above (listed in order of difficulty) to continue to challenge your core. Do no more than two of these variations in a core workout and start with three sets of 10 slow and controlled reps.