Perfecting the Dead-bug: A common warmup and conditioning exercise

The dead bug is a popular exercise used by many athletes for conditioning and warming up but it is also often misunderstood. Dropping your arms and legs to the floor sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breath work and trunk stabilisation. When performed correctly, the benefits are numerous. If you perform this prior to your session, the dead bug is a great exercise to warm up your trunk stabilisers and work on breath control.

Dead bug

Lie on your back with knees bent and positioned at 90degrees over your hips. Reach your arms up and above your shoulders.

The core: Feel your bottom ribs drop down toward the floor. Scoop the lower abdominals in toward your spine. Your lower back shouldn’t move off the floor throughout the exercise.

The motion: Initiate the arm movement from the shoulder and hip joints. Slowly move the opposite arm and leg down towards the floor.

Choose Your Leg and Arm Position

Beginner: Arms stay by your side. If you’re new to the dead-bug , start here. Master it in this position before moving to the other progressions.

Intermediate: Tabletop. Legs lifted with a 90-degree angle at the knees. Knees positioned above hips and arms in a straight line above the shoulders.

Advanced: Hold a kettlebell weight in each hand. Increase the complexity of this movement through introducing load.

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  • Dead bug
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Avoid these 3 Common Mistakes

1. The problem: Lifting only the head off the mat and reaching forward with the chin

The fix: Keep your head flat on the floor. Imagine there is a string pulling you from the top of your head and your bottom. Remain in this tall position throughout the exercise.

2. The problem: Tucking the pelvis too much

The fix: There are two options. If you’re more advanced, maintain the natural curve in your back, so there’s a little space between your lower back and the mat. If you’re a beginner, use a more classical Pilates approach: Flatten your spine so it touches the ground. Both positions allow the mid-back to articulate so you can nod and curl—otherwise, you’re too “locked in” and the body gets rigid.

3. The problem: Extending the legs or arms too low. This can set off a chain reaction, causing the back to arch, ribs to splay and hip flexors to grip. Instead of using your abdominals, you’re relying on your back or legs to hold you in place.

The fix: Don’t lower your legs or arms past the ‘breaking point’. This will help you stay aligned and will make it easier to engage your abs.

Throughout the exercise, check in with yourself. If it feels easy, you’re doing it wrong.

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