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“Dead bug” isn’t just a cute nickname for that friend who always goes too hard at bottomless mimosa brunch. It’s also a core strengthening and stabilizing exercise.

This exercise involves lying flat on your back (like an actual dead bug). You won’t be flailing your extremities around in a creepy critter fashion, but there’s no shame in tossing that into your routine, too, if that’s your thing.

The dead bug exercise uses slow, controlled movements to help you build a strong core. It also helps strengthen your spine and can make everyday movements smooth like butter. (Yes, please!)

Here’s the dead bug breakdown you’ve been waiting for (or didn’t know you needed).

OK, little dead-bugs-in-training, let’s jump right in!

First, roll out a comfy workout mat or yoga mat. For added support, you can grab a folded towel or a flat pillow and place it under your shoulders. Now you’re ready to do it (and put your back into it).

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about 1 foot in front of your hips. Let arms rest comfortably at your sides.
  2. Press lower back and shoulders into the floor. Be mindful of your shoulders (keep them down and away from your ears).
  3. Lift your arms. Elbows should be above shoulders, and hands should face in toward each other.
  4. Lift your legs, aligning knees directly over hips.
  5. Let out a nice exhale and slowly lower your right arm and left leg at the same time. Stop just before they reach the floor.
  6. On a good ol’ inhale, bring them back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Boom! That’s 1 rep.

When you’re starting out, aim for 1–3 sets of 5–12 reps on each side.

Once you’re a dead bug profesh, you can level up to more sets and move on to more advanced variations. Or, if you prefer, shoot for a longer routine of variations that range in difficulty. See what works best for you.

Dead bug form 101

  • Keep those hips and lower back very still throughout the exercise.
  • It’s important to keep your back flat on the floor. That means no space between your sexy back arch and the floor.
  • Make sure your movements are slow and controlled. Speed is not the goal with this exercise.
  • Engage your core, and keep that thing tight. Don’t sway or rock back and forth.
  • Keep your ears down and away from your shoulders.

The dead bug can help stabilize and strengthen your spine, core, and back. It can even prevent lower back pain. You may also notice an improvement in your balance, coordination, and posture.

The dead bug can also help:

For beginners (nice and easy)

  • Keep feet on the floor and slowly slide one foot away from you.
  • Rest hands on the floor above your head to start with feet planted on the floor. Raise arm and opposite leg per usual.
  • Instead of lifting arms, push palms into the wall behind you.
  • Do one arm or one leg at a time.
  • Decrease your range of motion by keeping arms and legs higher than in a traditional dead bug.

For advanced dead bugs

  • Add dumbbells, kettlebells, or ankle weights.
  • Lower both arms and both legs at the same time.
  • If you’re looking for a BOGO, you can strengthen your pelvic floor by incorporating Kegel exercises into your dead bugs.

Still need a challenge? Give these dead bug exercises a try:

Dead bug overhead raise

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Grab a resistance band and wrap it around your lower thighs to keep you stable.
  2. Lie on your back, keeping knees above hips. Using both hands, hold a weighted ball above your shoulders.
  3. Keeping the rest of your body very solid and stable, lower the ball over your head and pause there. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Aim for 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.

Stability ball dead bug

Spinal strength is totally underrated. Adding a stability ball to your dead bug can boost your spinal and core stability.

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your back, holding a stability ball between your hands and knees. Keep the ball from touching your chest, forearms, or thighs.
  2. Pressing lower back into the floor, lengthen left arm and right leg down to the floor. Hold the ball in place. Press up and in with left knee and down and out with right hand.
  3. Hold this pose for a few seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Aim for 1–3 sets of 8–12 reps.

Dead bug heel tap

Even though this move is super simple, the core engagement is really top-notch.

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your back in dead bug starting position.
  2. Keep one knee bent and slowly stretch out the other leg.
  3. Lower one foot at a time and tap the floor with your heel.
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Aim for 1–3 sets of 10 reps.

Straight leg dead bug

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Image by Dima Bazak
  1. Lie on your back and stretch legs out so feet are facing the ceiling.
  2. Lift your arms.
  3. Slowly lower one leg and let it hover above the floor while also lowering the opposite arm.
  4. Lift leg back up and repeat on the other side.
  5. Aim for 1–3 sets of 10 reps.

Dead-bugging is totally safe and even fun. Just know your limits and keep your form 💯. Remember to engage your core and practice slow, controlled movements.

Don’t push yourself to do more reps if your form is out of whack. If you start out stellar but begin to wobble, your bod might be saying it’s time to wrap it up. There’s no shame in taking a break or trying a less intense variation of the exercise.

If you have an existing back injury, don’t overdo it. If you’re experiencing pain — especially sharp or prodding pains — stop. Listen to your body’s signals. If you’ve recently had surgery or you have a history of back issues, chat with your doc before starting a new exercise routine.

The dead bug is a chill, engaging exercise that’ll boost your core strength and stability. It’s a great way to prevent lower back pain, improve posture, and increase balance. It may also be hella helpful for folks with arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

You can do the dead bug anywhere you’re willing to lie on the floor. That makes it an easy addition to your normal workout routine. There are tons of ways to modify the movement, so it’s fantastic for folks of all levels. Plus, with oodles of variations, it’ll never get boring.

So get to it, dead bugs! You’re ready.