Every Variation of the Dead Bugs Exercise

Published by Jason Narog on

The dead bug (or dead bugs) exercise is a very powerful full ab exercise that are prescribed by Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, and Personal Trainers across the board. The dead bug has been a staple of the 5-ish minute ab program for a very long while, and I’ve even seen it prescribed for people after surgeries to rebuild their abs. I’ve seen variations on how this is performed, as well as progressions so let’s cover every variation I’m aware of for the dead bug, as well as any gear you might need to pick up for these progressions.

The “standard” dead bug

I’m calling it standard simply because you’ll probably see this variation most often when using search engines to find the dead bug exercise. I’m assuming all variations will say lay on your back (if I find one that doesn’t I’ll note it but from here on out let’s assume we’re on the back) and lift you legs off the ground bending at the knees. Your hips and knees will be at 90 degree angles. Now lift your arms off the ground and hold them straight up in the air. The hips / knee bend should put your low back comfortably flat on the ground.

Brace your core. We’re going to be going opposite arm / leg so if you extend your left leg fully out you’re also going to reach your right arm fully behind you. Hold for a second or two then return slowly to the starting position. Do not let your leg or arm touch the ground, they should be hovering slightly off the ground. The lower to the ground you go, the more difficult the maneuver.

Arms Only

Leave your legs up in the air and alternate arms down towards the ground and then back up.

Legs Only

Same idea as the arms only. Leave the arms fully extended in the air and slowly alternate legs (fully extend one leg, then slowly bring it back in, do the other leg.)

The creators of this video suggest 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. A repetition is complete after you’ve done both sides (if you’re counting just the leg moving out you would do 20 to 24 “movements.”)

Get Back Into Fitness Mental Variation

I’m klutzy and struggle with left / right patterns. To make sure my brain doesn’t get tripped up during the movement I stick to one side for 30 seconds then do the other side for 30 seconds. No altering sides. Left leg / right arm for 30 seconds straight. Then Right leg / left arm for 30 seconds straight. Similar concept to a single arm kettlebell swing, I do 10 left then 10 right as opposed to alternating every swing.

I actually use the dead bug as a stretch as well as a core exercise. Fully extending out helps as a cool down for me after doing kettlebell swings (just like hanging from a bar helps stretch things back out after kettlebell swings.)

5ish minute abs


This time we’re playing off the legs only variation first. Cross your arms on your chest, bring your legs off the ground, getting that 90 degree bend at both the hips and ankles. Slowly kick one leg out to fully extended then return to the 90 degree bend.

The good thing here are common mistakes explained.

Try to keep your low back flat on the ground. It may try to arch while extending out your leg. If you cannot keep the low back flat on the ground, don’t kick your leg out quite as far. Kick your leg out to the point you can keep your back flat, stop, and return to your starting position.

Straight Leg Dead Bug

This is a progression of the bent knee variation. This will require additional strength in your lower ab region and some mobility through your legs (tight hip flexors will more than likely cause an issue here.)

Instead of having your knees bent, extend your legs so now both your arms and your legs are going straight up into the air. Same alternating arm leg pattern, but this time you’re straight legged.

Deadbug Hip Bridge

HowCast has a starting point for the straight leg deadbug. Start off in bridge position (knees bent, feet on the floor with arms at your sides.) Now lift 1 leg off the ground while keeping the other foot in contact with the ground. You’re also going to move the alternate arm from your side to above and behind your head. Instead of alternating sides here you’ll do left leg right arm or right leg left arm. If left leg right arm then your right foot would stay glued to the ground and your left hand would stay glued to the ground at your side. Once you’ve completed repetitions on one side you’d switch to the other side (similar to my 30 second suggestion.)

90 degree elbow Dead Bug

Yes I am randomly including or removing the space between dead bug and deadbug. This variation is the same hips and knees at 90 degrees. Now instead of having your arms straight up you also want to bend your elbows to 90 degrees (your hands will go towards your head, elbows are now pointed towards your knees.) This variation is good to know for when we start introducing gear into the equation. You’re also slightly changing around where tension is at (or how you’re creating an X pattern of tension between the upper and lower body) with this version. Same ending pattern of opposite arm and leg extending then returning, just a different arm placement.

The fun part of this video is it’s also targeting a lower cross hip issue known as anterior pelvic tilt. 85% of men and 75% of women (according to random studies, google it if you don’t believe me) have varying degrees of anterior pelvic tilt.

2 Arm 2 Leg Deadbug

I really want to call this a double crunch or a variation on the hollow hold. The end range on this is essentially a hollow hold, with arms and legs extended away from the body. The video below has arms similar to T-rex arms is the best way I can describe. End range on the legs is the same as the standard deadbug, with the arm’s end range being the hands touching the knees with bent elbows (watch the video for a demonstation.)

An additional alteration to the standard deadbug here are the shoulders are off the ground. The low back is still on the ground, but the shoulder are not and the head is also elevated off the ground. This is definitely a progression of the standard deadbug and I would not suggest starting here.

2 Arm 2 Leg Dead Bug Variation

Now totally eliminating the cross pattern of the dead bug (which I’m fairly confident the purpose of the dead bug is to work cross patterns and the top google result agrees with me), with fully extended arms and legs move both at the same time (it’s a flat backed V Up.)

2 Legs No Arms Deadbug

We’re pretty much in hollow hold / knees in and out territory again. Arms fully extended behind you, bring both knees in towards the chest then push them out to fully extended. I more than likely wouldn’t consider this a dead bug but it came up in a Youtube search so I’m including it on the list. There’s nothing wrong with hollow holds / knees in and out (I have them in my 5-ish minute ab program), I just wouldn’t personally consider this a “dead bug.”

Yoga Block Dead Bug

It took me 3 tries on YouTube to find someone using a yoga block who understood the dead bug is a cross pattern (opposite arm opposite leg) exercise. The other two videos had same arm same leg holding the block so they were extending same arm same leg out. While still a core exercise, we lost the benefits of the cross pattern (as some of the variations above do that fall into non cross pattern behaviors.)

This uses the elbow bend variation from above. If you’re going left leg right arm you are going to use your right knee and left elbow to hold the yoga block in place while doing the extensions with the left leg and right arm. You can do the exact same thing with a stability ball as with the yoga block.

Here’s a stability ball / medicine ball variation where you use the hand instead of the elbow to hold it in place. She alternates sides throughout the movement, which could require some practice.

Stability Ball V Up-ish Dead Bug

This is the 2 arm 2 leg but now they’re holding a stability ball. Bent knees though, not straight legs.

17 Different Variations

I found a video that has 17 different dead bug variations, so hold on tight. Some of these involve resistance bands (the pull up assist band style) so you’ll need some of those. You’ll more than likely need 2 sets of bands so you’re not using different weights in different arms.

  1. Robertson Dead Bug – With resistance bands in each hand [and the bands directly behind you] push your hands towards your legs (hands will be by your sides near the hips.) Keep your hands hovering off the ground creating tension through the bands. Now with your bent knees perform the alternating leg dead bug
  2. Robertson Dead Bug with Heel Tap – Hips and knees still at 90 for a starting point, instead of kicking one leg out you’re going to alternate touching your heel to the ground
  3. Band Dead Bug – Arms in the air version, create tension with the band in your arms. Alternate your 90 degree legs kicking straight out
  4. Band Dead Bug with Heel Tap – Tap your alternating heel to the ground while still maintaining tension with your arms and band
  5. Band Anti Rotation –  change the direction of band tension to the side of you (so the bands are trying to pull you onto your side.) Hold the band with both hands in the straight arm dead bug position. Kick out only the leg on the side you’re trying not to fall over on (still in the 90 degree position.)
  6. Banded Feet Dead Bug – You’ll need a smaller band for this (the type you’d use for bridges / lateral walks.) Wrap the band around your feet and perform a standard deadbug.
  7. Banded Feet Dead Bug with Heel Tap – Same concept, but instead of extending the leg, tap the heel to the ground
  8. Bodyweight Dead Bug – this is the standard from the very top of the page
  9. Bodyweight Dead Bug with Heel Tap – Tap your heel to the ground
  10. Kettlebell Dead Bug – Hold a kettlebell with both hands by the horn with the handle facing your knees [this will be a double hand alternating leg variation, which is actually the variation I commonly do] and when kicking out an alternating leg extend both arms behind you
  11. Kettlebell Dead Bug with Heel Tap – same idea, tap the heel
  12. Kettlebell Dead Bug + JC Raise – When fully extended bring the arms back to starting point and perform a crunch, then return arms back to fully extended and bring both leg and arms back to starting point
  13. Medicine Ball Dead Bug – same thing as the yoga block, cross pattern the medicine ball between opposite hand [or elbow] and knee and perform a dead bug
  14. Contralateral Dead Bug – Get a fit pole or something really long and hold with your bent knee and almost fully extended back arm (instead of being crunched tight like with the med ball your holding arm would be more back by your head.)
  15. Sandbag Rotational Deadbug – Hold a sandbag above you and pull the bag apart from the side handles. [I’m realizing there’s a lot of micro techniques that go into this one from my time with a DVRT Master Trainer. You’re going to want to create tension in the lats when you grab the side handles by slightly corkscrewing at your shoulders otherwise you’re going to wind up in a shoulder shrug position, which is bad.] When you extend the leg out you’ll want to rotate your arms and the bag as well (the bag would start long ways from left to right of your body, when you rotate the long ways of the bag would now be facing a 45 degree angle more towards your head and toes.) Rotate the bag back then bring your leg back.
  16. Jackknife Dead Bug – With arms behind your head holding onto something heavy, extend one leg out and jackknive explode your legs up into the air (keeping 1 leg bent.) Your shoulders will end up being the only thing still on the ground. Come back down to the ground, bring your leg back in to the dead bug starting position and repeat on the other side
  17. Wall Push Dead Bug – get near a wall and push your arms into the wall. Do the standard alternating leg dead bug

You’ll want to only do what you feel comfortable with doing in the list above / with the gear you have available. If you’ve got bells and sandbags and everything else you can play around with a lot of different variations to keep things interesting.

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