The 8 Best Dead Bug Variations for a Strong, Healthy Core

Choose dead bug exercise variations that fit your mobility and ab abilities.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com

As far as ab exercises go, the dead bug exercise might just be the most deceptively difficult (and beneficial!) move you can do.

It goes like this: You lie on your back with your arms and legs off of the ground. Then, you extend one leg and the opposite arm, raise them back up, and switch sides.

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Sure, it sounds simple. But lowering opposite limbs while keeping the rest of your body still — and lower back flat against the floor at all times — is tough. It requires serious core strength and stability, and builds virtually every muscle through your midsection.

The thing is, once you've mastered the dead bug exercise, what do you do to keep up the core challenge? And even more importantly, how do you build up to it in the first place? (After all, if you do the move with incorrect form, it's easy to risk lower-back pain.)

Whatever your core needs, these dead bug variations will meet them. Courtesy of Lindsay Ogden, CPT, a personal trainer and small group training experience manager at Life Time, they're perfect for people of all mobility and ab abilities.

Master the Conventional Dead Bug

Try These 8 Dead Bug Variations

Move 1: Seated Dead Bug

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Skill Level Beginner
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor in front of you and arms extended out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
  2. Keeping one knee bent, raise the other leg about a foot off the ground.
  3. Raise your opposite arm overhead.
  4. Lower both back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

You can modify your dead bug workout with this variation. Sitting in a chair while you do the exercise is perfect for those who have a harder time getting up and down from the floor or sit for long periods of time, Ogden says.

Move 2: Overhead Isometric Dead Bug

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Skill Level Beginner
Sets 3
Time 30 Sec
  1. Lie with your back near a wall.
  2. Extend your arms out above your head and place your palms onto the wall with the bottoms of your wrists facing the ceiling and fingers toward the ground.
  3. Lift your legs into a tabletop position with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  4. Push into the wall with your hands as you hold this position.

“This dead bug exercise for beginners helps you maintain a solid core position with your hands above your head,” Ogden says. “This hold translates to other exercises like the overhead press.”

Move 3: One-Limb Dead Bug

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Skill Level Beginner
Sets 3
Reps 5
  1. Lie on your back and bring your legs up to tabletop position with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Extend your arms toward the ceiling so that your hands are over your shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower one arm down behind your head, just above the ground, then raise it back up.
  4. Repeat with the other arm.
  5. Slowly lower one leg down toward the floor, then bring it back up.
  6. Repeat with the other leg. That's one rep.

“More of a foundation-building movement, this exercise takes out some of the coordination by focusing on moving one limb at a time, versus moving two opposite limbs,” Ogden says.

If you're a beginner, master this variation before progressing to a full dead bug.

Move 4: Isometric Dead Bug With Stick

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Skill Level Beginner
Sets 3
Time 30 Sec
  1. Grab a stick (like a broom or PVC pipe) in both hands and lie face-up on the floor in dead bug position.
  2. Bring your legs up to a tabletop position with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Extend arms towards the ceiling holding the stick,
  4. Hold this position.

This dead bug variation teaches you how to keep tension in the whole body, Ogden says. It's also great for firing up your lats in your middle back.

Move 5: Stability Ball Dead Bug

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Skill Level Intermediate
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position and knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Place a stability ball against your thighs, high enough so it isn’t touching your abdomen, and press your hands into the ball to hold it in place.
  3. Slowly, extend one leg and the opposite arm out and away from the ball, using only the remaining arm and leg to balance the ball.
  4. Bring your arm and leg back in.
  5. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

This dead bug variation will keep you honest during your dead bug workout. The stability ball helps you really squeeze your abs to keep your core working and any stress out of your lower back, Ogden says.

Focus on actively pressing your hands and thighs into the ball.

Move 6: Pallof Press Dead Bug

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Skill Level Advanced
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Wrap a resistance band around a bar or anchor point behind you, close to the ground.
  2. Lie on your back, perpendicular to the resistance band and far enough away from the anchor so that when you grab the resistance band handles together with both hands, there's some tension on the band.
  3. Bring your legs up to a tabletop position with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Hold onto the band right above your navel.
  4. Keeping your body still, press your hands and the resistance band toward the ceiling.
  5. Slowly lower back down to the starting position.

“This dead bug exercise variation focuses on anti-rotation," says Ogden. “It also works the chest, triceps and shoulders.”

Move 7: Resistance-Band Dead Bug

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Skill Level Advanced
Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Wrap a resistance band around a bar or anchor point behind you, close to the ground.
  2. Lie on your back, far enough away from the anchor so that when you grab the resistance band handles in each hand, there's some tension on the band.
  3. Hold onto band with arms extended straight up toward the ceiling, wrists stacked over your shoulders.
  4. Lift your legs into tabletop position with knees bent at 90 degrees.
  5. Slowly, pull the resistance band with your hands down just above the ground.
  6. Then raise your arms back up with control.

“This dead bug exercise progression focuses on the upper body, targeting the lats and triceps while keeping your core engaged,” Ogden says.

Move 8: Dead Bug With Feet on Foam Roller

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Skill Level Advanced
Sets 3
Reps 5
  1. Place a foam roller on the floor in front of you.
  2. Lie on your back on the floor behind the roller.
  3. Bend your knees and place your feet on the roller.
  4. Extend your arms up toward the ceiling, hands over shoulders.
  5. Lift one foot off the roller and tap your heel on the floor in front of the roller as you simultaneously lower opposite arm down toward the ground behind you.
  6. Slowly bring your arm and leg back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. That’s one rep.

A good dead bug ab workout will build your motor control. Here, the foam roller acts as an unstable surface to challenge your lower-body stability, Ogden says.

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