Strong abdominal muscles aren’t just for show. Strength in your core is vital for greater control over the pelvis – and better pelvis control is the basis of a more stable body in general. A weak core can lead to movement problems that will contribute to patella maltracking. This one exercise, colourfully called the ‘dead bug’, will help strengthen your whole core, for a stable pelvis and a stable body in general.
With our previous exercises, such as the weighted squat, the pelvis needs to tilt forwards as you descend in order to match the back angle, so a natural arch can be maintained in the lower back. With all this forward tilting of the pelvis during squats, our training requires a balancing exercise to ensure the pelvis can move in the other direction. The dead bug exercise is based on tilting the pelvis backwards, stabilising the front of the body. With this counter-exercise to the squats, you will exercise your whole core and maximise the effectiveness of your pelvis control in all situations.
To start the dead bug ab exercise, lie flat on the floor, with your hands above your head and your elbows raised up. This upper-body position pushes the rib cage up the body, which will discourage your abdominal muscles from crunching forwards. We do not want the upper back to crunch forwards, as the forward crunch is all too common in modern life – most time spent sitting at a computer involves forward crunching, after all. Keeping your chest up encourages the opposite posture, just as it does when performing the squat.
To perform the exercise, you need to tilt the pelvis back, so that the whole lower back presses into the ground. You do this by contracting everything in the core of your abdomen, including the abs and the obliques.. Let’s look at progressions of the exercise.
The easiest version of the exercise is to lie in the above position with your knees up and feet relatively close to the pelvis (i.e. knees up). You then simply tilt the pelvis, contracting all those muscles into the ground. Press your lower back into the ground and hold it for a few seconds, then release. That makes one rep. Repeat.
When you are comfortable with this exercise, you can progress by simply walking the feet further away from you, so the knees are lower. This gives you more leg weight to lift in order to tilt the pelvis and brace the muscles. With the feet further away, again tilt and tense the muscles, press the lower back into the ground. Eventually, you will be able to do this with the legs virtually straight.
Raising your legs
The next progression, to a harder exercise, is to start in the same lying position, but with your legs straight up in the air (at a right angle to the body). Again, tilt the pelvis and push all the lower back muscles into the ground, activating the abs, then start lowering the legs, keeping them straight. Lower the legs until just before the lower back starts to rise off the ground. Hold your legs there, and raise them back up. Repeat, continuing to push how far you can lower your legs.
When you’ve got to a stage where your legs are virtually touching the ground before the lower back muscles rise off the ground, you can progress to the final version of the exercise.
The final stage of the dead bug
Start in the flat position, arms up over your head and legs flat on the floor. Flatten your lower back into the ground, by titling your pelvis back, as before, and now raise your legs off the ground, tightening the muscles across the abs. Keep your legs straight, raise them only slightly (a few inches) and hold. Lower, them and repeat.
For a quick visual guide to the dead bug exercise, please watch our video below:
When you have reached the final stage of the exercise (which may be easier from the offset for some than others), you can comfortably perform sets of 10 reps of this exercise and be confident that your full abdominal core is being strengthened. Though it seems simple, this is a powerful exercise that you should do often.