Dead Bug Exercise | How to do the dead bug

We all know we should be doing core exercises. But we get it: sometimes doing planks and abs for days just doesn’t sound so appealing. That’s why you need a move that targets your core stability in a super functional way — and for that, you need an exercise called the dead bug. (And yes, it actually looks like a dying beetle on its back).

To understand how to properly perform this move and why it particularly benefits cyclists, we spoke with Megan Eyvazzadeh PT, DPT, Founder of RunWell and Co-Founder of Restoration Space in Bethlehem, PA.

Why should cyclists do the dead bug exercise?

Eyvazzadeh says the dead bug is a great core exercise for athletes, and if done correctly, it can strengthen the core and improve a runner’s performance. “Cyclists have to generate a lot of power of their legs and waste any of their effort on anything other than forward motion,” she explains. “If the spine is stable, the power generated by the leg muscles will be used to move the rider forward and less energy will be wasted overcoming a wet noodle from a center of the body.” Translation: the stronger your core, the more efficient your pedaling.

The reason the dead bug exercise stands out from other basic moves is because of this feature it offers. Just think about how stable you need your core to be while pedaling. You pretty much practice this posture when performing the Dead Bug.

Research also supports core stability benefits for cyclists. A research article published in Current Sports Medicine Reports suggests that cyclists benefit from a strong core, thanks to benefits such as reduced risk of injury (including low back pain) and more efficiency and power in the saddle.

How do you do the dead bug correctly?

First, prepare properly and learn to maintain a stable spine position with this exercise, says Eyvazzadeh.

To do this, lie face up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. As you hold this position, “be aware of the natural curves of your spine,” says Eyvazzadeh. “You want your spine to be in a neutral position, which just means a slight arch in your lower back from the top of the hips to the lowest ribs.”

Then lift your neck and lower back from the ground, while the head, middle of the back and buttocks are in contact with the ground. Then place a folded towel (about the thickness of your flat hand) under your lower spine.

Before raising the legs in the air, note the pressure exerted on the towel. Next, engage the abs, pulling the belly button toward the spine, without twisting the towel, says Eyvazzadeh. When you’ve got that abdominal contraction nailed, it’s time to do the dead bug.

Here’s how to actually perform the dead bug exercise:

  • Lie face up and lift both legs up, knees bent at 90 degrees and placed just above the hips. Keep the spine in a neutral position. Extend your arms above your shoulders and press your shoulders down to the floor. This is your starting position.
  • While maintaining this neutral spine, extend the right leg straight out, lowering it toward the floor, while simultaneously extending the left arm overhead, also lowering it toward the floor behind you. Keep the left knee just above the hip and the right hand just above the shoulder.
  • Pause, then bring the right leg and left arm back to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Continue alternating for 30 seconds.

    You can practice a combination of bending and pointing the feet. Changing foot position is helpful because the body needs variety, given the angles your joints take while cycling, says Eyvazzadeh.

    Are there any common mistakes people make when running the dead bug?

    One mistake people make in this move is when they do one of two things: flatten the natural curve of the spine or arch the back, Eyvazzadeh says. She cautions if you flatten your spine to contract your abdominal muscles, or arch your back to raise or lower your legs, you disadvantage key muscles needed to run, jump or swim.

    If you feel your form breaking or the core disengaging, keep your leg and arm higher off the floor. Or start moving one arm or one leg at a time. This movement also requires coordination, so sometimes it helps to start with one limb at a time.

    How can I make the dead bug harder?

    Even if you are new to basic work, the dead bug is a great exercise to start basic training. If you’ve already mastered the standard dead bug exercise, you can take it to the next level with these challenging variations of Eyvazzadeh. Remember: form is key and maintaining that neutral spine always holds.

    Ipsilateral dead bug

    Trevor Raab

    Lie face up and lift both legs up, knees bent at 90 degrees and placed just above the hips. Keep the spine in a neutral position. Extend your arms above your shoulders and press your shoulders down to the floor. Slowly lower the right arm and right leg at the same time (rather than opposite sides). Pause for a moment, without touching the ground. Then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating for 30 to 60 seconds. Want to know more about this move? Add a yoga block to the static side (as shown).

    Foam Roller Dead Bug

    Lie face up on a foam roller positioned vertically beneath you, spine neutral, legs raised with knees bent at 90 degrees and positioned just above hips. Extend both arms on the floor, palms flat (this provides a bit more stability). Slowly lower one leg to the floor. Then return to 90 degrees and repeat on the other side. Continue alternating for 10 reps on each side or for 30-60 seconds. If you feel confident, add the arms, as in the traditional dead bug.

    Dead bug with weight

    how to do the dead bug exercise

    Trevor Raab

    Lie face up and lift both legs up, knees bent at 90 degrees and placed just above the hips. Keep the spine in a neutral position. Grasp a dumbbell or kettlebell with your right hand and press it onto your shoulder (as shown). Extend the left arm above the shoulder. Bring both shoulders down to the floor. The weight should be directly over the right shoulder. Extend the left arm and the right leg towards the floor. Then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions or 30 to 60 seconds. Then switch sides.

    Dead bug with a bullet

    Lie face up and lift both legs up, knees bent at 90 degrees and placed just above the hips. Keep the spine in a neutral position. Extend your arms above your shoulders and press your shoulders down to the floor. Place a soccer ball (or similar sized ball) between the thighs, squeezing it. Keeping your knees bent, lower your legs a few inches. Keeping the core engaged, raise the legs so that the knees come just above the hips. The arms remain straight across the shoulders the entire time. Repeat. Do 10 reps.

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    How should a cyclist incorporate dead insects into a workout?

    If you’re new to incorporating the dead bug into your routine, you can actually practice it daily. “It takes less than five minutes and can be done with a variety of leg and arm challenges (once you’ve mastered the basic form),” says Eyvazzadeh.

    But even if you’ve done it before, you can keep it in your workouts at least once a week or up to three times a week. Try to practice your favorite death bug variation for at least 10 reps.

    It is an excellent exercise for posture training, adds Eyvazzadeh, making it a great move to practice before you get on the bike to settle your spine and warm up the core. If you’re doing it on a non-bike day, do the dead bug at the start of your next strength or cardio workout to practice stabilizing your core before doing more loaded or dynamic moves, Eyvazzadeh says.

    In general, she says, the more you practice the dead bug exercise, the more muscle memory you build to help you perform it correctly. No matter how often or when you do it, remember to take your time, perfect your form, and control the movement before adding any difficult variations.

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