If you hate planks, this exercise is just as good for blasting your core

When it comes to working your core, not all abdominal exercises are created equal. While planks are popular exercises to add to your workouts, if you suffer from lower back pain, they might not be the best for you. (We have selected some of the best exercises if you have lower back pain here).

One of the best abdominal exercises for targeting the deepest abdominal muscles – the transverse abdomen, which sits below the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis, is the dead bug. Since this is a stabilization exercise, the dead bugs also target the spinal erectors, which help stabilize the spine and support the lower back. These are the same muscles targeted during a plank, so dead bugs are a great alternative to plank exercises. (If you don’t hate planks, here’s how long you need to hold a plank to see results).

But how do you do a dead bug with the correct form, and what are the benefits of adding this exercise to your routine? Read on to find out more. Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve handpicked best ab workouts you can do just about anywhere, the best exercise to sculpt your arms using only your weight, three of the best lower body resistance band exercises.

Dead bugs

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How to make a dead bug

As this is a bodyweight exercise, all you will need to practice this exercise is an exercise mat (we have selected the best yoga mats which double as exercise mats for your home workouts here). Start by lying on your back, keeping your lower back pressed against the mat – remember to draw your navel into your spine. Raise your arms straight above you and your knees to tabletop position. Slowly lower your right arm a few inches off the floor behind your head, while stretching your left leg away from your body and lower it just above the floor. Pause, then return to your starting position and repeat on the other side. Keep alternating sides and aim for three sets of 10 reps on each side.

Remember, this isn’t a bike crisis (read more about how to do a bike crunch here), the entire movement should be done slowly and with control, and you should not use speed and momentum to move between reps. In fact, the slower you go during dead bugs, the harder your core will work, so really slow down during this exercise.

You also want to make sure that you don’t arch your lower back during this exercise. Remember to keep your back pressed against the floor, and if you notice your back lifting off the floor during the movements, slow down more or reduce the range of motion, extending only your arm and leg as far as possible in front of your back rises.

What are the benefits of a dead bug?

Besides the fact that strong abs are an aesthetic goal, a strong core can help you run faster, lift heavier, improve your posture and reduce lower back pain. Since dead bugs are a supine abdominal exercise, meaning you do the exercise lying on your back, they are less likely to put pressure on your spine or lower back.

In addition to working the abs and lower back, the dead bug also works on engaging the contralateral limb of the body. This basically means teaching the body to move opposite limbs at the same time, while keeping the core and back stable. This is useful for sports like running, tennis, or baseball, or any activity that involves lateral or twisting movements.

Finally, because the dead bug exercise can be done from an exercise mat, without equipment, it is perfect for beginners or those new to the exercise. If you find that exercises like planks or rock climbers are currently too difficult for you, dead bugs are a great way to work on your core strength without being too difficult.

How can you make a dead bug easier?

If you find dead bugs too difficult, your core stabilizer muscles may not be ready to handle the movement of the arm and leg at the same time. Start by moving one thing at a time. Keeping your legs on the table, lower your outstretched arm to the floor behind you, then extend and lower the opposite leg, then the opposite arm, then the opposite leg.

How do you make a dead bug harder?

As dead bugs are a good precursor to planks or a number of variations of planks, you can always challenge yourself by switching from dead bugs to planks. If you feel comfortable with the basic plank, why not try the side planks, top-down planks (here’s how to do top to bottom planks with the right shape), or dropping your hips one at a time while holding onto a plank.

Alternatively, you can make dead bugs harder by adding weights to the exercise. Try holding a dumbbell in each hand as you extend your arms behind you (we found the best adjustable dumbbells for home workouts here), or add ankle weights.

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