Core Function: Progressing the Deadbug

Today we’re going to continue our talk about how to best train your midsection.  In our last installment, Core Function: Breathing and Deadbugs we discussed the inner and outer core musculature, and how using a full exhalation can integrate your ‘deep’ core muscles helping you train more effectively and efficiently than traditional crunches or sit-ups.

Using a full exhalation as your limiter can make those abs work much harder while keeping your back healthier and happy happier. In Part I we used a full exhalation and an isometric deadbug to feel that power that’s waiting to be unleashed, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining that stability when our limbs begin to move.

Remember, this is cute for your kitten, but not so much for the longevity of your spine:

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We’re going to build off of the isometric deadbug that we started with, and that should start with a reminder about creating tension before you move.  If you’ve ever attempted a deadbug and not felt significant work from your abs, I’m going to challenge that you’re doing it wrong.  I still love you, and I want to work on this.  Pull that ribcage down to the ground, roll your lower back so there’s more pressure on the ground, and then exhale like you’re blowing out all of the candles on Gandalf’s birthday cake.  It’s a really long breath.  Here’s a quickie reminder:

We’ll progress this isometric deadbug by adding some motion at the arms and legs, and we’ll best do it by going one at a time.  Too often we start moving them both, and completely lose the position and exhalation that best use our abs here.  Smaller progressions will work even better here.  Let’s start by integrating our arms or our legs.  Here’s an example of each:

The general rule for these variations is that you should maintain a full exhalation, and let the reach intensity the abdominal work:  Your body is fighting to keep your pelvis and ribcage in alignment, rather than letting them fall away from each other.  Remember, the breath is the limiting factor.

Once you’ve maintained your position and exhalation with arms or legs only, it’s time to combine both of them.  This can be done with a stability ball as a reference point of where you’re coming back to:

If you’re feeling fancy, ditch the ball and move on to a contralateral, or alternate side, reach.  The feedback that you learned with the ball reminds you of where you’re returning to each time.  In the example below, you’ll see a reverse crunch as well, which allows you to reset your lower back on the floor each time (and smoke your abs in the process!)

Deadbugs are tricky.  They follow the trend in core training that is replacing some bad ass looking exercises with ones that don’t look as cool.  I get it:  Laying down on the ground and breathing then reaching doesn’t look like it’s going to be the greatest ab workout of your life.  There are nuances there that have to be seen, and often coached, to be enjoyed.

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Going from a first-time deadbugger (wtf?) to contralateral reaches and reverse crunches is not a recipe for success.  It takes time to appreciate the nuances of the deadbug before you move through each variation. We’re slow cooking your abs in a crock pot, not deep-frying them.  If you’re prone to the full-steam-ahead approach, it may be harder to appreciate this progression.

The “slow and blow” approach will help.  Slowly move through the progression, and focus on a full exhale on each variation.  Set great position first, use that breath as your limiter, and slowly reach during the variation of your choosing.  Take time to appreciate one variation before you progress to the next one.  Don’t just learn each progression; earn the next progression.  This should allow you months of deadbug variations as enhance your ability to set and maintain position.

Our next installment of Core Function is going to take us roll us over into the wide world of planks.  If you start practicing your deadbug in your next workout, you’ll get even better at your planks, too.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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