The Dead Bug Is The Ultimate Functional Core Exercise

An ab move with a serious bite.

All the benefits of the dead bug exercise, plus how to do it.

While the dead bug exercise may have an odd and rather repulsive name, it’s actually an incredibly efficient core-strengthening move that can do a lot for your fitness game. As long you don’t mind wriggling around on the floor — kind of like a... dying bug — then you’d be doing your body a favor if you add it to your weekly workout routine.

At its core (see what I did there?), the dead bug is an ab exercise. But as you’re on your mat strategically writhing like a cockroach on its last breath, you’re also working your coordination skills, says John Gardner, a NASM-certified personal trainer and CEO and co-founder of Kickoff. “The exercise requires you to move your arms and legs simultaneously in opposite directions while engaging your core,” he tells Bustle, noting that it’s kind of like the Pilates swimming move but in reverse. It’s tricky to maneuver, so it lights up your brain and forces you to focus — aka mind-body coordination at its finest.

Not only does the move coach your mind and body, but it also strengthens your abs in a way that’ll be noticeable — and beneficial — long after you leave the mat. “What makes this core exercise extra useful, as opposed to a plank, is that it teaches your core how to stabilize when your limbs are moving — think running, walking, or even reaching for something in a high kitchen cabinet,” says Ashley Reid, an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and owner of Active Mom Fitness. That means the dead bug counts as a great exercise for functional core strength.

Another reason to channel a dying beetle: Regularly doing the move will make your other workouts seem easier. “The core is needed in every exercise you do,” Gardner adds. “The move targets deeper core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, pelvic floor muscles, and even the spinal muscle group, making it an extremely effective core exercise like no other.” Read on for how to do the dead bug exercise properly, according to fitness pros.

How To Do The Dead Bug Exercise

Here, Gardner explains how to do the dead bug using good form.

- Lie down on a mat with your back flat against the floor.

- Lift your feet off the floor and bend your knees into a tabletop position.

- Extend your arms over your chest so that they are perpendicular to your body.

- Slowly extend your left leg out straight as you extend your right arm overhead, as if you’re trying to touch the floor.

- Bring both limbs back to center.

- Alternate the movement by extending your right leg and left arm.

- Go back to center.

- Repeat three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Dead Bug Variations

Ziga Plahutar/E+/Getty Images

If you want to make dead bugs easier or harder, you have plenty of options. To make it easier, feel free to keep your arms planted at your sides and focus on only lowering your legs, Reid says. You can also keep your knees bent to take some of the pressure off your abs.

For an added challenge, Reid suggests moving the same-side limbs. Other ideas? “The dead bug can stay in your fitness routine as you get stronger by increasing the difficulty and performing the exercise with straight legs as well, or by holding a dumbbell or using a loop resistance band around your feet,” she tells Bustle.

Tips & Mistakes To Avoid

To perform a successful dead bug, Reid recommends engaging your deepest ab muscles in coordination with your breath as you move. It’s also important to stop if your abs get too tired or if you start to compensate by arching your back, rocking your pelvis, or using your hip flexors too much. “If you can't hold proper form or it causes back pain, dial it back and start with one foot on the floor as you do the movement with one leg,” she adds. “Stay consistent and aim to do this exercise three times per week, and you'll feel stronger in just a few weeks.”

Who knew dying insects were onto something?

Studies referenced:

Yun, B-G. (2017). Changes in muscle activity of the abdominal muscles according to exercise method and speed during dead bug exercise. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science 2017;6:1-6.


John Gardner, NASM-certified personal trainer and CEO and co-founder of Kickoff

Ashley Reid, ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and owner of Active Mom Fitness