I did 50 single-sided dead bugs every day for a week — here’s what happened to my abs

a photo of a woman with strong abs
(Image credit: Getty Images/skynesher)

Here on the Tom’s Guide fitness desk, we’re no stranger to the dead bug exercise — you can read what happened when I did 100 dead bugs a day for a week here, as well as when this fitness writer added standing dead bugs to her workout routine. But what about single-sided dead bugs? To take a deep dive into this unilateral move, I gave it a go for a week — read on to find out what happened. 

The single-sided dead bug, as its name suggests, targets one side of the body at a time, helping you identify any weaknesses in your body. It’s usual to have one stronger side, but over time, this can lead to a muscle imbalance, which can in turn lead to injury. Working one side of the body at a time can help you improve your balance, which is important for all sports, as well as day-to-day life. 

As with all of these ab challenges, remember that what’s right for me might not be right for you and your body. If you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to fitness following an injury or pregnancy, it’s a good idea to check with a personal trainer before adding a new exercise to your routine. It’s also important to note that you don’t need to work your abdominal muscles every single day — it’s actually best not to, as your muscles need time to recover and repair. When I’m not doing fitness challenges for Tom’s Guide, I typically do two or three 10-minute ab workouts a week. 

How to do a single-sided dead bug 

Let’s start by taking a look at how to do a single-sided dead bug with perfect form: 

  • Like a traditional dead bug, you’ll want to start this exercise lying on your exercise mat, with your lower back pressed into the floor, and your arms and legs in a tabletop position, with a 90-degree bend in your knee.
  • Think about engaging your core, thinking about sucking your belly button in towards your spine.
  • Extend one leg out, away from your body, and at the same time, extend the arm on the same side back and down towards the floor. Pause as your extended arm and leg hover a few inches off the floor, then slowly return to your starting position.
  • Complete all your reps on one side, before switching.
  • To make the move harder, hold one of the best adjustable dumbbells in your hand, or strap one of the best ankle weights around your ankles to add resistance.

I did single-sided dead bugs for a week — here’s what happened 

Ready to hear what happened when I did single-sided dead bugs every day for a week? 

I felt my deep-core muscles engage

When performed correctly, one of the benefits of the dead bug is that it works on the deepest muscles in the core — the transverse abdominis. This deep core muscle helps stabilize the spine, abdominals, and hips as you move. Working on your deep core strength can help reduce your risk of lower back injury, so it’s important to include dead bugs in your ab workouts. 

I started the week opting for 25 reps on each side, moving as slowly as possible through my reps. Like many ab workouts, the secret with the dead bug is to move slowly and with control — the slower you move, the harder your ab muscles have to work. 

It was easy to progress the move

As with a lot of these week-long challenges, as the week went on, I found myself getting bored by the move but liked that I could easily upgrade it by adding weights. On day three, I strapped an ankle weight around each ankle, and extended the time spent pausing at the bottom of the move — I immediately felt my lower abs in particular working harder with the addition of the weight. 

By day five, I was also holding a set of light dumbbells in my hands to up the ante again. When it comes to finding the right weight for your workout, remember that you should still be able to complete all your reps with good form. If you’re adding weights to your dead bugs, ensure your lower back stays pressed into the exercise mat as you move.

This is a good one for beginners

This challenge is a good one to try if you’re a beginner, as it works similar muscles to a plank, but as your core and spine are in a more controlled position, you’re more likely to get your form right. 

As mentioned above, a dead bug is working on the stabilization muscles along your spine and in your deep core, however, because your back stays pressed into the mat, you’re less likely to put your spine under pressure by arching your back or dropping your hips, which are common form mistakes in a plank.  

I didn’t notice visible changes in my abs

Of course, a week isn’t long enough to make any visible changes to your body, and although my abs felt stronger after a week of single-sided dead bugs, I didn’t notice any visible changes in the mirror. If building visible abs is your goal, you will, of course, need to focus on your overall body fat percentage, not just the ab exercises you perform. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage and 5 reasons why you can’t see your ab muscles, despite working out

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.