Training for Life: Add the dead bug into your routine for better core strength

I love me some dead bugs.

 I joke about the actual dead bugs, but this came up in my video feed. So there's that...

I joke about the actual dead bugs, but this came up in my video feed. So there's that...

Not dead bugs. I can deal with dead bugs, and in fact, that is my job in the house. To deal with the dead bugs. And the live bugs. Which I turn into dead bugs.

I digress.

I put dead bugs, or a variation of them, in almost every program I write, and if you've read any of my posts in the past, you've seen the videos before. Each time I teach them to a client, I get the same response.

"For the love of Pete why do you hate me?"

What they mean to say is, wow, this movement is deceptively challenging and my core is on fire right now. This is an exercise that the average person will feel immediately, especially when performed correctly. 

At it's most basic, the dead bug is a core exercise. At it's most progressive, it's a core exercise. So what we have here, is a core exercise, and one that is much more core friendly than a sit up or crunch. 

The way we train the core has changed in recent years, thanks in large part to the research of Dr. Stuart McGill, the professor of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, whom I've mentioned before in this blog, and who has one of the best moustaches on the interwebz. Through Dr. McGill's research, we now know that doing a lot of flexion type of movements (think sit ups) can cause injury to the spine over time. Think of bending a coat hanger back and forth over and over again. Eventually, the wire will weaken and break. The same principle holds true for the spine.

Add to this the fact that many of us spend the days sitting (in flexion) and training your core with another approach makes total sense.

Reasons to try it out:

 If when you reach your hands over your head, your back arches, similar to the picture on the right, you're compensating for something (and suddnely the line from Shrek comes screaming into my head). In this case, very tight lats might be the culprit.

If when you reach your hands over your head, your back arches, similar to the picture on the right, you're compensating for something (and suddnely the line from Shrek comes screaming into my head). In this case, very tight lats might be the culprit.

I've never met anyone who doesn't need to build up more core stability. And while the average person isn't interested in talking about achieving better posterior pelvic tilt while enhancing motor control and engaging the anterior core, the average person does want a six pack, and not the Miller Lite variety. People understand the need for a stronger core and this type of anti-extension core exercise will help achieve that goal.

Often, people can't raise their arms above their heads without arching their lower back. See pictures below...if you naturally arch your back in an effort to get your arms over your head, the dead bug can provide an excellent stretch for the lats.

Key coaching cues:

* S........l.........o........w.....the number one mistake I see clients make with the dead bug is rushing through the exercise. It's called a dead bug, not a dying bug that you see in the toilet flailing its legs all around. Pace the movement on the way down to a count of 1, 2, 3.

* Avoid arching your back. You'll notice in the video below that there is no space between my back and the floor. If you were standing next to me, you wouldn't be able to slip your hand under my back. (And if you tried, I'd involuntarily punch you because I'm ticklish. So don't.) Keep your back flat to floor.

* Inhale deeply in the starting position, feeling your chest rise as you fill up with air. Then exhale fully and slowly as you extend your opposite hand with opposite foot. If you exhale fully you'll be shaking to hold the fully extended position. 

* I also teach this exercise with your toe flexed towards your knees. Press your heel straight out and keep the toe flexed throughout the movement. 

* Perform for sets of five, doing three sets each. 

 
 

If you have trouble coordinating your opposite arms and legs for this movement, and many people do. Regress to one of the options below. For the wall press version, actively press your hands into the wall during the movement. 

 
 

You can also try this version, where you actively press your arm into a stability ball during the movement.