Dead Bug Exercises: Variations For A Stable Core

Dead Bug exercises are a Dancer’s Who Lift favorite.

This is because the isometric bracing of both the front and back of your body is essential for lifting heavy weights safely.

On top of that, Dead Bugs train you to move your arms and legs independently from the hip and shoulder joints while maintaining a stable core–sound familiar? That’s right; Dead Bugs will only increase your core stability for dancing! In fact, according to this study, Dead Bug exercises are more efficient at improving core strength, endurance, and flexibility than traditional crunches1

Dead Bug Form Example

So let’s get to it. First things first, lie on your back on the floor, or a mat if that’s more comfortable for you. Then gently bend your knees placing your feet about a foot from your glutes. Next you’re going to make sure that your entire spine is maintaining contact with the floor by firmly exhaling out into the front, back, and both sides of your body– and don’t forget to engage your pelvic floor! (This is called bracing and it’s the special sauce that makes this exercise so dynamic.) Stay here for a moment and make sure you can maintain this stability while breathing. 

Once you have this down, you can move on to level one of the dead bug: maintaining this neutral spine while lifting your shoulders off of the floor by reaching your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Maintain this lift in an isometric hold for three to five exhales. If you’re having trouble maintaining your spine, think of the cue “rib cage flat” or “ribs together.”

The next level is adding in the legs. Simply lift the feet off the ground one at a time and maintain an isometric hold with legs and arms in the air for three to five exhales. The most important thing about incorporating the legs into this exercise is making sure you maintain the hips and knees at ninety degrees–don’t let those knees pull into the chest. This will keep your lower abdominals engaged throughout the entirety of the exercise and keep your Psoas/hip flexors relaxed. 

Ready for the next variation? Great! While breathing through your isometric hold, extend one of your arms back so it’s parallel to your ear. Then return the neutral and do the other side. It’s helpful if you can connect your breath with this movement. Try and exhale as you reach your arm back. The exhale will support abdominal engagement as you extend your arm.  Got that down pretty solid? Okay, good. The next step is to keep your arms still as you extend one leg at a time. I think of it as if I’m pushing a block away from my body, then returning my knee back to that ninety-degree position. Alternate between legs, again maintaining your breath and your isometric hold. 

Now we’re going to work one side of your body at a time. So, for this one, take your right hand and – in your dead bug position – press it against your right knee as your knee presses against your hand. This will activate your obliques. Now slowly extend your left arm and leg simultaneously as you maintain this isometric hold on the right. Return to neutral and switch sides. Do this for as many reps as your workout requires. I know, it’s killer…must be what killed that bug! (Kidding!)

Finally, we make it to our last variation. This time begin in your dead bug position with both arms and legs lifted. Now, slowly extend the opposite arm and leg while maintaining your neutral spine. Return to neutral and repeat on the other side. Do this for six to ten reps or as many as your training requires. 

My favorite thing about dead bugs is that once you’ve mastered the basic dead bug position and incorporated the breathing, moving up the ladder doesn’t necessarily mean that the exercises are “getting harder.“ Each variation has its own challenges and its own purpose in terms of engagement and stability. I recommend using a variety of the dead bug progressions throughout your training.


Which variation is your favorite? Let us know at! We’d love to hear from you, and it’s a great way to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *