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The Core-Engageing Benefits of the Dead Bug Exercise

If Planks Bother Your Wrists, Try This Trainer-Approved Ab Move Instead

Two young fitness woman athletes doing a dead bug exercise on a foam roller, to work on their core muscles and stability.
Due to extra tender pain in my thumbs and wrists, I've recently had to give a hard pass to planks. Temporarily taking this move out of rotation didn't seem like that big of a deal — until I realised how plank-dominated all of my core workouts really are.

Outside of my specific situation, wrist and hand pain during planks is actually a thing — and sometimes, it signals that your form needs some tweaking. Other times, especially if you're experiencing discomfort, you might just need a break or to consult with a physical therapist or a doctor.

If you are looking for a solid plank swap, try this suggestion from Kate Lemere, an NCSF-certified personal trainer and Chicago-based Barry's instructor.

According to Lemere, "there is no better abdominal drill than the dead bug or any of its variations below."

Instead of flexion at the core or neck, Lemere says you're using your own resistance to engage the core. This "mitigates the poor form that's often associated with planks or any other kind of crunch," Lemere continues — hence why Lemere thinks dead bugs are such a great exercise.

Lemere recommends the three dead bug variations below. "Regardless of the variation, your pelvis must be in a posterior tilt, your back must be flat, core braced, and little to no rib flare."
When doing any of the variations, Lemere suggests performing three sets of 10-12 reps, and pairing the exercise with a full-body workout. "It's a nice way to finish because the localised heat/burn in the core sets in right away and packs a punch!"

Modified Dead Bug

  • Start on your back with your legs in tabletop position — a true 90-degree bend in your knees, and your arms extended over your shoulders.
  • Keep your back plastered to the floor, and your head and shoulders relaxed.
  • Brace your core as you extend your right arm and right leg.
  • Return to starting position and extend the opposite, respective side.

Progressed Dead Bug

  • Take all the elements from the form above, but this time press your palms to your quads, and crunch your upper body off the floor.
  • While the right side extends, the left side will maintain pressure.
  • Hold the quadruped position for a beat before switching.
  • If your head and neck get tired before your core, you can also do this with your head and shoulders resting on the floor.

Narrow Dead Bug

  • The same form as above, but with your elbows on your quads.

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Image Sources: Getty Images / Ziga Plahutar and POPSUGAR Photography
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