Upgrade Your Deadbug

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Dallas based personal trainer, Shane McLean. If you forced me to make a short list of things I love, that list would include things like ice-cream (all of it), GoodFellas quotes, anything my cat does, old-school Transformers cartoons, and an empty laundry mat.1

And, you know, my wife would make the list too. Oh, and deadbugs. The exercise…not, literally, dead bugs. Gross.

Read below to watch some (hopefully) new-to-you variations.

Ever witnessed a “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat” moment?

36535764 - magicians rabbit. closeup image of a cute white bunny looking out from the magicians black hat isolated on white background

Copyright: yacobchuk / 123RF Stock Photo

Mine was around three years ago at a fitness mastermind in Frisco, Texas which had the one and only Eric Cressey in attendance.

During his demonstration he got hold of a minor league baseball player who presented with limited shoulder flexion. After some positional breathing exercises and a few deadbug reps, the player then stood up and demonstrated his improved shoulder flexion range.

It was just like magic.

Ever since then, the deadbug has been a staple programs for myself and my clients. You could almost say it was love at first sight, if you believe in that kind of stuff.

Tony has written extensively on this subject, so I will not harp on, but the benefits of deadbugs are numerous, including

  • Reinforces contra lateral limb movement
  • Improves lumbo- pelvic stability
  • Reinforces correct breathing patterns
  • Being on the floor provides you with more stability and kinesthetic feedback
  • Prevents misalignment and encourages good posture

It’s definitely an exercise that provides a lot of ah-ha moments when done correctly. It may look easy to the meatheads who have never done it before, but once I drag them away from the mirror, they know it’s the real deal.

But when they ask me why it is called the deadbug, the best explanation I can give is this.

If you need to be reminded of what the dead bug is, watch Tony perform this with impeccable form.

Notice how serious he is:


Correct deadbug form consists of:

  • Low back in neutral (encouraging posterior pelvic tilt)
  • Breathing in through the nose before the rep starts and fully breathing all the air out through your mouth during the rep
  • Slow and controlled limb movement
  • No rib flaring and arching of the low back

The standard deadbug is a great warm up exercise and can be used for recovery/mobility purposes between sets of lifting heavy. This is the version you should be doing the majority of the time.

However, like a lot of things that we do over and over again, we get bored and need a little spice. When you’ve nailed the standard version and want to upgrade, take a few of these variations out for a test drive.

You’ll be the coolest person in the gym. Trust me, I’m a trainer.

1) Pullover Deadbug

Kettlebells and the deadbug is a match made in heaven, like peanut butter and jelly or bicep curls and mirrors.

The instability and the resistance of the kettlebell combined with the standard deadbug movement put extra demand on your core stability, shoulders and lats.

Did I mention it also works the chest? Now I have your attention.


Pairing this exercise with a movement that demands core stability and a neutral spine works best. For example

1A. Squat/Deadlift Variation

1B. Pullover Deadbug 6- 8 reps per leg

Or seeing you’re already down on the floor, pair it with a single arm floor press for a great upper body/core workout.

1A. Pullover Deadbug 6-8 reps on each leg

1B. Single Arm KB Floor Press


2) Weighted Deadbug

Adding light weight plates in each hand (2.5-5 pounds) slightly increases the intensity, but the real benefit is that the resistance helps slow down the movement as the weight plate descends towards the floor.

You get to enjoy the deadbug even more.


Typically, I use this movement as part of a warm up, but if you’re feeling extra ambitious, pairing this with a plank variation will give your core a double whammy.

For instance:

1A. Weighted deadbug 6-8 reps each leg

1B. Plank with plate switch (Thanks Tony)


3) Stability Ball Deadbug

The virgin deadbuger can run into trouble with contra lateral limb movement and often extend the same arm and leg. They get frustrated and can feel uncoordinated.

Enter the dragon stability ball.

Using the stability ball as a reference point helps teach the movement because using the same arm/leg will cause the stability ball to drop to one side and the client will feel the tension required for correct form as well.

Actively pressing your opposite arm/leg into the ball combined with diaphragmatic breathing will light a candle under your core that you’re sure to enjoy.


I program this variation into the warm up but this can be included in a core tri-set. For example.

1A. Stability Ball Deadbug 6-8 reps on each side

1B. Stability Ball Hip Ext./Hamstring Curl 12 reps


1C. Stability Ball Rollout 8-12 reps


A young Eric. Those were the days.

5) Bosu Ball Deadbug

Yes, the Bosu ball is good for something.

Bosu balls’ instability is excellent for upper body/core work and can take your deadbug to the next level. You’ll have to work to find your balance point but if you fall off, at least it’s not very far.

Please make sure no one’s filming, for your sake.


Pairing this with any Bosu ball exercise works as long as it’s not squats. For example

1A. Bosu Ball Deadbug 6-8 reps on each side

1B. Bosu Ball Side Plank 30 seconds on each side


Bonus – Click HERE for another great variation of the deadbug Tony highlighted a few weeks ago on this blog: Deadbug with Extension + Reach.

Wrapping Up

The deadbug, and its variations, deserves a prime time position in your routine because of all the benefits it provides. Don’t worry, you’ll will not look weird because all the cool kids are doing it.

About the Author

Shane “The Balance Guy” McLean, is an A.C.E Certified Personal Trainer working deep in the heart of Dallas, Texas.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. Anyone who lives in a city or doesn’t have in-unit laundry can appreciate this.

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