You can do many exercises to get in better shape. Find out how to do the dead bug exercise, what it does, and whether you should do it.
To get into the key position of the dead bug exercise you lie down on your back and push your lower back against the ground. Point your arms and upper legs in the air.
Next, you stretch one leg and move the arm of the opposite side back while keeping your lower back pushed against the ground.
After that, you return these body parts to starting position and repeat the movement with the arm and leg on the opposite side.
Dead bugs will mainly work your ab muscles and to some extent your oblique muscles in an isometric (static) way.
This can be helpful for people who find bending their spine back and forth uncomfortable but still want to train their ab muscles.
On the flip side, more dynamic ab and oblique exercises tend to be more effective for muscle growth and strength progress.
Whether you want to implement dead bugs or one of its alternatives to your exercise routine depends on your training goals, body, and personal preferences.
How to do a dead bug exercise
The first thing to note is that a yoga mat or other soft surfaces can make dead bugs a lot more comfortable.
That aside, take the following steps to do a dead bug:
- Lie down on your back, push your lower back against the ground, point your upper legs upward with 90-degree angles in your knees, and point your arms up. Keep your lower back against the ground throughout the exercise.
- Slowly stretch one leg and lower it until it is close to the ground. At the same time, lower the arm of the opposite side until it is close to the ground. You want to keep your hips in more or less the same position.
- Return to starting position in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same movement with the arm and leg on the other sides.
The most important part of the dead bug exercise is keeping your lower back pressed against the ground with the help of your ab muscles.
If you are not able to stay in this position when your body parts reach a certain point, you don’t have to move them farther.
Besides that, you want to keep your hips at more or less the same angle.
Dead bug exercise variations
The movement above is the standard version of the dead bug exercise. You can also consider doing a few variations that are easier and harder.
For some people, moving their legs and arms all the way to the ground will be too difficult. If this applies to you, you can start with dead bugs where you only raise your arms and legs to a small extent.
This will help you strengthen similar muscles but at a less challenging level.
There will also be many people that find regular bodyweight dead bugs too easy. If that is the case, you need to make the exercise more challenging to see muscle growth and strength progress.
Doing this at the right time can also simply speed up your progress.
The main exercise variation that can help you with this is the weighted dead bug. This is basically the same exercise but you hold some type of weight in your hands and/or wear ankle weights.
Besides that, you can also consider some exercise alternatives that are somewhat similar to dead bugs but with an extra challenge.
The first one is the hollow body hold. This is an exercise with the same concept but you stretch your legs and arms at the same time. In turn that makes it harder for your core to keep your back pushed against the ground.
After that, you can move your legs up and down like in flutter kicks. The momentum of your legs will again make it harder for your abs to keep your lower back pressed against the ground.
Dead bug exercise muscles worked
Some of the primary muscles worked with the dead bug exercise include:
- Obliques to some extent
Some of the secondary muscles worked with the dead bug exercise include:
- Hip flexors
- Latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back)
Something important to note is that dead bugs work the primary muscles above in an isometric (static) way. The muscles don’t have to shorten or lengthen.
This is an important detail because more dynamic exercises tend to be more effective for growing and strengthening muscles.
At the same time, isometric exercises like dead bugs can be helpful for people who find all of the spine bending in more dynamic core exercises uncomfortable.
That aside, remember that you have to do resistance training exercises like dead bugs with enough resistance, repetitions, and sets to see muscle growth and strength results.
If you are more experienced with core training you likely need to add weights or choose more challenging exercise alternatives to see progress.
Additionally, as you get stronger over time, you will likely need to keep increasing the weight you use to see results.
Dead bug exercise benefits
Dead bugs are not always the most effective ab exercise available but doing them can still offer benefits. Some of these include:
- Stronger muscles: Dead bugs can still help you grow and strengthen your abs if you approach them the right way.
- Can help with losing weight: While you should not expect too much in this area, dead bugs do increase how much energy you use by making your movements more intense and potentially building some muscle mass. At the same time, keep in mind that working out is no guarantee for losing weight.
- Could be more comfortable on your spine: Some people find all the spine bending of traditional core exercises like crunches and sit-ups uncomfortable on their lower backs. In a situation like that, isometric exercises like dead bugs could be the better choice.
- No equipment or location required: Dead bugs are a bodyweight exercise which means you can do them in many locations without investing in any fitness equipment. Even so, an exercise mat or other soft surface can be helpful.
- May reduce or prevent back pain: Growing and strengthening core muscles like your abs can help you avoid or reduce back pain (1, 2). That being said, even though dead bugs are a relatively safe exercise, you may want to talk to an expert before doing them if you currently have any back pain.
These benefits are not entirely unique to dead bugs but they can still be helpful. They also show that even small changes in your routine can offer valuable positive effects.
Dead bugs are generally one of the safest core exercises available. At the same time, some people will still find them uncomfortable on their backs, hips, and shoulders.
If you have (a history of) issues in these body parts you may need to do even simpler dead bug alternatives first.
Especially people who have any back pain want to be careful and potentially talk to an expert before implementing an exercise routine with dead bugs.
Additionally, if you feel the bad type of pain during dead bugs, you may be overdoing it. This could mean you need more rest, better lifestyle habits, and/or a less intense workout schedule.
Dead bug alternatives
As mentioned, the dead bug exercise is not always the right choice.
If you don’t have any spine pain or find dead bugs too easy, there will be more effective alternatives. If you find dead bugs uncomfortable, there are other core exercise options too.
Some of these dead bug exercise alternatives include:
- Hollow body hold
- Flutter kicks
- Bird dogs
- Ab wheel roll-outs
- Reverse crunches
- Bicycle crunches
- Plank variations
What exercises you will prefer depends on details like your training goals, what your body can handle, what equipment you have, etc.
The dead bug exercise can be a good exercise to work your ab and to some extent oblique muscles in a relatively easy and isometric (static) way.
This will mostly be helpful for core exercise beginners and potentially intermediates who find more dynamic exercises too uncomfortable.
These people want to keep in mind that they may have to add weights or consider more challenging dead bug alternatives as they get stronger to keep seeing results.
Additionally, people who don’t find these dynamic core exercises uncomfortable likely want to choose one of these to see more muscle growth and strength progress in a shorter amount of time.
Something else to note is that your personal preferences play a role too.
If you like doing dead bugs, you will likely find it easier to stay consistent with a workout routine that includes them. Since you actually need to do the exercises to see the benefits, this can be valuable.
That aside, no matter what resistance training you choose, you want to make sure you consume enough nutrients, rest enough, and sleep enough so that your body can repair and grow the muscles you work.