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Smart Core Training Week 5 - The Dead Bug



Ready for more Smart Core Training progressions? Well, I’m back with week 5 of this series to give you some ideas for progressing the four categories of core training that we went over in the first four videos.


If you’re just getting up to speed or joining me now in this series, take some time to go back and review Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4. In those first four posts I gave you some baseline core training exercises for rotational, anterior, posterior, and lateral core stability.


Now, as we go forward in this series, we’re going to start adding some challenge to your core training while at the same time continuing to introduce some basic concepts that you’ll want to keep in mind for all of your core training work.


Today, we go back to anterior core stability with an exercise that boasts arguably the funniest name of all core training exercises – the dead bug!


We’ll get to the exercise itself in just a minute, and you’ll see why it gets that name. However, I’d like to begin by discussing two key concepts when it comes to core training that I reference in today’s video.


Neutral Spine


The first concept I want to introduce you to is that of a “neutral spine.” Now, for all intents and purposes, you can think of a neutral spine as a straight spine or a flat back.


I know what you’re thinking: “David, if it’s just a straight spine, why do you have to get all fancy and call it a ‘neutral spine’?”


Well, here’s the thing. The spine actually isn’t truly straight, and it’s not meant to be straight. We have a normal “S” curvature to the spine, which aids in shock-absorption and better distribution of force throughout the spine.




In reality, a spine that has lost these normal curves, and has become too straight is a spine that will wear down faster. That becomes an important concept in core training, because rather than doing things like trying to flatten the back into the ground in an exercise like the dead bug, the goal is simply to maintain the normal curve at the lumbar spine.


So, a neutral spine is really in reference to maintaining the normal, natural curvature of the spine, and not deviating from that when performing an exercise. When someone is in a neutral spine posture, they look like they have a pretty flat back, but they are really just maintaining the natural position of the spine.


Why is this so important? A neutral spine is much better able to handle forces placed upon it than a spine that is too flexed or too extended. That’s why we want to focus on first finding neutral spine in each exercise, and then maintaining that throughout the exercise.


In the video below on how to perform the dead bug, I’ll show you how to find a neutral spine position. That should always be the first step when performing even the most basic core exercise. First, find neutral spine, then brace the core muscles, then breathe and move while maintaining that position.


Being more conscious of finding and maintaining neutral spine is your first step to building the core stability concepts I’ve been talking about into any movement you do, whether it’s in your exercise routine or in daily life. Once you can do that, you’ll start learning how to move through the hips and shoulders, while you maintain stability at the torso in everything you do.


Proximal Stability & Distal Mobility


Speaking of moving at the hips and shoulders as you maintain stability at the torso, that brings me to the second concept that I want to talk about today: proximal stability & distal mobility.


I know, I know, more fancy words. But hang in there a bit with me while I expound upon this concept, and I think you’ll begin to appreciate it.


One of the most important things about human movement is that it all branches out from the core. Until you have the ability to stabilize and control your lumbopelvic (low back and pelvis) region, you’ll never have optimal mobility through the more distal parts of the body, such as the upper back, hips, shoulders and extremities.


In other words, your ability to move with full mobility throughout the body relies on your ability to first create stability at the mid-section. Thus, proximal stability (stability at the core) leads to distal mobility (the ability to move fully and move well through the rest of the body).


Think of the core as the handle to a slingshot with the extremities being the elastic. If you don’t first stabilize the handle on a slingshot, you’ll never be able to stretch the elastic. However, as soon as you create a stable foundation, the elastic can be stretched to its full length.


This becomes an important concept when we talk about mobility at the hips and shoulders.


For example, many people have really tight hip flexors or are very limited in hip rotation. Because of this, they compensate by moving too much through areas that they shouldn’t be moving through, like the low back. That’s been a key concept throughout this series, and it’s a major contributor to low back pain.


Problems arise, however, when you take the limited view of just thinking that you need to stretch your hips more. In reality, if you have chronic issues with tight hips, its more likely that your foundation of core stability is lacking, and thus you’re unable to stretch the elastic on the slingshot to full length (i.e. you’re unable to stretch your hips as far as you should be able to).


Often, the joints of the body that should be the most mobile, like the shoulders and hips, become tight because they’re compensating for something more central that isn’t creating a good foundation of stability. Once you stabilize centrally, you start to open up mobility at the extremities.


So, with that in mind, it becomes even more important to create a stable foundation at the core and pelvis, and then practice mobility at the hips and shoulders on top of that stable foundation.


How do you do that? Hmmmm, well perhaps the dead bug is a perfect exercise for this!




To summarize the dead bug:


What is it?


The dead bug is an excellent anterior core stability exercise, which also begins to incorporate extremity movement. The progression from the curl-up to the dead bug is in the fact that you now must stabilize the torso while simultaneously moving the extremities.


The dead bug, then, is an excellent way to start practicing both the idea of maintaining a neutral spine while moving through the hips and shoulders, as well as encouraging proximal stability of the core while you create distal mobility of the extremities.


How much?


My preferred amount of sets and reps for the dead bug is in the range of 1-3 sets of 6-8 reps on each arm/leg. Where it is placed in the workout will dictate to some degree how many sets and reps are used, but in general, starting on the low end (e.g. 1 set of 6-8 reps each) and progressing to 3 sets of 8 each is a good goal.


The amount of sets and reps can also be modified if you’re layering additional challenges on top of the dead bug. A few good examples of this are adding a hold of 3-5 seconds while extended, adding a full 6-8 second exhale while extending the arm/leg, adding a few deep breaths while holding the extended position and maintaining core stability. In these cases, you’ll probably perform fewer sets and reps, but each one will be much more demanding.


How often?


The dead bug is a great core exercise to incorporate in your warm-up routine, since it is still relatively low intensity, and can be an excellent way to begin establishing core stability and hip and shoulder mobility prior to moving into the rest of the workout. In this scenario, performing the dead bug daily, or at least 3-4x/week is great.


You may also want to incorporate the dead bug in a more challenging scenario later in the workout, either as a good in-between exercise as part of a superset with a squat or deadlift, or as part of a core training circuit at the end of the workout.


As a bonus, if you want a great dead bug variation that adds more challenge, try out the band core engaged dead bug. The extra added tension through the core from maintaining tension on the band with the arms throughout the exercise is enough to send the dead bug into overdrive and really challenge your core stability!




That’s it for the dead bug, but stay tuned for more core exercise progressions in the next week of Smart Core Training!

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