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Dead Bug Exercise: Progression and Varitions(Video)

Dead Bug Progression and Varitions

By Sarah Rippel

I had read an article by Joe Bonyai of Empower Athletic Development (http://empower-ade.com/2012/03/resuscitate-your-core-with-the-dying-bug-exercise/), and was inspired to shoot my own video that laid out a progression starting with the “Wall Bug.” I appreciated his “lower body fixed” variations involving a medicine ball, so I incorporated those into my progression. I got the idea for my “upper body fixed” variations from the great Dan John. His dead bug and “resurrected” dead bug variations can be viewed here: Dan John Dead Bug

Now it’s time to elaborate!

Important Tips for All Variations:

Maintain neutral spine

Perform diaphragmatic breathing – in other words, don’t hold your breath and no shallow breathing! If you’re not able to perform proper breathing in this position, it is best that you learn to breathe like a crocodile first!
Crocodile Breathing:

If it feels easy, you’re most likely doing it wrong.

Take two seconds to lower the leg/arm, pause for a second, take two seconds to bring things back to “start” position, then pause for a second.

In other words, super-fast, sloppy dead bugs ain’t worth doin’!

Overview of Dead Bug Progression:

1. Dead Bug with Wall Brace – Heel Taps/Marching/Single Leg Lowering

2. Dead Bug Iso Lower Body – Overhead Raise/Rotation/Figure 8s

3. Dead Bug Iso Upper Body – Heel Taps/Marching/Single Leg Lowering/Double Leg Lowering

4. Dead Bug with Core Activation – Ipsi-lateral Heel Taps/Ipsi-lateral Marching/Contra-lateral Heel Taps/Contra-lateral Marching

5. Dead Bug the “Usual” Way – Ipsi-lateral Heel Taps/Ipsi-lateral Marching/Contra-lateral Heel Taps/Contra-lateral Marching (not shown in video, but these are the “usual” way Dead Bugs are done – no assistance for core activation or equipment)

6. Dead Bug Integrated – Rotational March


Step 1: Wall Bug

This is how I introduce most people to the Dead Bug. The wall provides a huge stimulus – pushing against it facilitates abdominal bracing and there is an immediate “oh wow, this hurts in a good way” thought.

A. Heel Taps

Movement is at the hip only. Keep ankles and knees at 90 degrees.

B. Marching

One of my favorite cues for any marching variation is “pretend you are pushing something heavy away from you with the bottom of your foot as you straighten the leg.”

C. Single Leg Lowering

As with all Dead Bug variations, pay attention to what’s going on with the lumbar region. The straighter the legs are, the greater the lever arm (I’m a physics nerd). This creates more torque about the lumbar spine, so please be careful!

Step 2: Dead Bug Iso Lower Body

These variations challenge you to keep the hips stable while performing various movements with the upper body. I am using a 6-pound medicine ball in the pictures below, but any other weighted implement could be used.

A. Overhead Raise

This progression challenge’s the body’s ability to perform shoulder flexion (overhead raise) with sufficient thoracic extension as to not go into lumbar extension to compensate. As with any exercise that utilizes an overhead position, make sure shoulder mobility is cleared first.

B. Rotation

This variation involves a simple side-to-side motion with the arms. Note that the range of motion isn’t large, as anything more than this would throw lumbar rotation into the mix, and we don’t want that!

C. Figure 8s

Perform a figure 8 pattern. Make sure to reverse direction!

Step 3: Dead Bug Iso Upper Body

This progression revolves around a fixed upper body while movement comes from the hips. I am using an 8-kilo kettlebell, keeping my shoulders packed.

A. Heel Taps

B. Marching

C. Single Leg Lowering

D. Double Leg Lowering

Step 4: Dead Bug with Foam Roller Crush

This progression is another example of how we can encourage core activation through the use of a prop. Earlier, with the Wall Bug, that prop was the wall. Here I am using a 1/2 foam roller that is roughly a foot in length. By “crushing” the roller, everything fires up, engages, and locks in. It is also possible to get a similar effect by using a small stability ball between the elbows and knees.

A. Ipsi-lateral heel Taps

B. Ipsi-lateral Marching

C. Contra-lateral Heel Taps

D. Contra-lateral Marching

Step 5: “The Usual” Dead Bug

This is the garden variety Dead Bug, but I have elaborated on the basic variation to give you some regressions and progressions!

A. Lower Body Only – Heel Taps

B. Lower Body Only – Marching

C. Lower Body Only – Feet-Up – Heel Taps

D. Lower Body Only – Feet-Up – Marching

E. Lower Body Only – Single Leg Lowering

F. Lower Body Only – Double Leg Lowering

G. Ipsi-lateral Heel Taps

H. Ipsi-lateral Marching

I. Contra-lateral Heel Taps

J. Contra-lateral Marching

K. Ipsi-lateral Feet-Up Heel Taps

L. Ipsi-lateral Feet-Up Marching

M. Contra-lateral Feet-Up Heel Taps

N. Contra-lateral Feet-Up Marching

Step 6: Dead Bug Rotational March

In this last exercise, I am integrating the upper and lower body with a figure-8 pattern and marching legs. When the figure-8 loops to the right, push out the left leg, and vice versa. Don’t forget your breathing!


REP SUGGESTION: 6-10 per side, 2-3 sets (depending on where you are in your fitness journey)! A good rule of thumb is when you can perform 10 sound reps per side at the prescribed tempo, it’s time to move on to the next progression!

I hope you have enjoyed this post! Please comment below with your feedback and ideas! I love hearing from my readers and colleagues!

Keep Expanding Your Exercise Experience!

Sarah Rippel, BS, CPT, CSNC


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