Building Core Strength with the Deadbug

  • February

    CORE STRENGTH CONSISTS OF THE MOST IMPORTANT GROUP OF MUSCLES TO DEVELOP. And I’m not just talking about getting a 6-pack. Without your core, you wouldn’t be able to get up out of bed, let alone safely lift a heavy weight.

    Yes, I love my squats, lunges and deadlifts, but you can’t progress to advanced exercises unless your core is developed. This article will cover the basic core exercises that anyone can practice, regardless of physique, history of injury or available gym equipment.

    Despite it’s less than attractive name, Deadbug, it’s not what you imagine:

    This is a squished bug, not a deadbug. Photo credit:

    This is a squished bug, not a deadbug. Photo credit:

    We’ll cover the following topics of the Deadbug:

    • Benefits
    • Proper technique: 3 levels of difficulty
    • Common mistakes
    • Variations to the exercise
    • Advanced core movements
    • How to build them into your day


    • Core (rectus abdominus, transversus, obliques, low back stabilizers, gluteus muscles)
    Core muscles (not including lower back muscles). Photo credit: Fifisfatfarm

    Core muscles (not including lower back muscles). Photo credit: Fifisfatfarm

    Proper Technique

    Beginner Level 1: Practice this step for the first few days whenever you can– sitting at work, lying down in bed, or standing at the bus stop.

      1. Laying on your back with a neutral or flat spine (not arched), eyes looking straight up, knees bent and feet flat.
      2. Begin with coughing a few times with your hands beside your belly button to feel your core engage (coughing, laughing or imagining you are bracing for a punch will engage the same muscles – don’t suck in)
      3. Once you understand how to engage your core, practice holding a strong core while breathing normally. Try taking 5 slow deep breaths before relaxing.

    Moderate Level 2: Adding in your legs

    1. Now that you’ve mastered core stability while breathing, let’s make it a little more difficult. Laying on your back, keep one foot planted on the ground and with your core engaged, raise the other leg towards the ceiling.
    2. Keep breathing normally and try to straighten the top leg as much as possible without shifting your hips.
    3. With your hands on your abdomen make sure your core is engaged while you slowly lower the raised leg to the ground.
    4. As your heel touches the ground make sure not to lose your good form and SLOWLY bring the straight leg back up towards the ceiling.
    5. If at any time you lose your core stability, take a 2 second rest and reset your position with a few coughs to remind yourself.
    6. Repeat 15 times then switch legs.

    Difficult Level 3: Alternating arms and legs

    1. Set your core and raise both arms and legs straight towards the ceiling.
    2. Breath.
    3. Slowly lower your right arm behind your head and left leg towards the ground at the same time.
    4. As your arm and leg reach the ground, make sure to hold your core strong while you slowly and raise them back up to your starting position.
    5. Change to your left arm and right leg lowering.
    6. Control the movements so that you are taking 3 seconds to lower and 3 seconds to come back up.
    7. Repeat alternating sides for 20 repetitions.

    Common Mistakes

    1. Arched back – It’s easy to lose your form as you incorporate your arms and legs. Make sure your core is always engaged to keep your spine flat and avoid low back injuries.
    2. Holding your breath – It’s a funny feeling the first time we take a breath while our core is engaged. When we look at our core muscles (see the image above) they all begin below your diaphragm. This means that your lungs should be able to expand and contract freely without affecting your core activation, but it takes practice.
    3. Shifting hips – This happens most often when we raise one straight leg up to the ceiling because of tight hamstrings. If this is you, try bending your leg slightly or lowering it. Being able to raise a leg to a 90˚ angle is optimal, so keep gently stretching those hamstrings.
    4. Not engaging your core – This is the whole point of the deadbug, so if your mind starts to wander and you realize you aren’t concentrating on keeping your core set, then reset. Do the cough test with your hands on your abdomen so that you can feel the difference between engaged and not.

    Variations of the Deadbug

    Once you’ve mastered the 3 levels to the basic Deadbug, you can start getting more advanced:

    1. Bicycle legs

    2. Double leg extension

    3. Double straight leg lower


    Advanced Core Exercises

    1. Plank variations: There are literally unlimited variations, but make sure you perfect the basic forearm plank before moving on to more advanced exercises.

    Basic forearm plank

    Basic forearm plank

    50 + plank variations for those interested: front and side; straight arm/ forearm; feet on unstable surfaces; rolling; up and down, leg lift; risers, rotary series (leg up, out, cross), fast hands, touch shoulder, walk outs, etc. – Jason Nutting

    2. Slow mountain climbers

    3. Ball roll outs and Swiss ball pike – Nick Tuminello

    4. Pallof press – with cable or bands

    Dynamic with bands – Nick Tuminello

    5. Woodchop – there are many variations in the direction of the chop and choice of bands, cables or weights.
    Band woodchop – Nick Tuminello

    6. Hanging leg lifts – with bend legs, alternating knees and straight legs for more of a challenge.
    Bent leg – Scott Herman

    7. Suitcase carry – Rob King

    8. Turkish get up – Neghar Fonooni (this is for advanced trainers)

    Incorporating Deadbugs into your Day

    1. The Level One Deadbug can be done anywhere (ie. sitting at work, lying down in bed, or standing at the bus stop). Remembering to engage your core will not only strengthen your core, but also prevent injuries. Pay special attention while doing any twisting motions with resistance (ie. reaching behind you to open a filing cabinet). These are the types of movements that can strain your back and lead to chronic injuries.
    2. Taking 5 minutes every morning before you get out of bed to practice the 3 Levels of Deadbugs, will ensure that you are strengthening your core everyday. It doesn’t take much, but it does take consistency.

This website is NOT to be used as a diagnostic or treatment tool. Always consult with your Conventional Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor for specific concerns. In cases of medical emergencies visit your nearest hospital or call 9-1-1.