You might have tried dead bugs, but have you attempted the standing dead bug variation? It's harder than it looks, trust me.
The dead bug is an ab exercise famed for confusing exercisers. As a personal trainer, I’ve seen my fair share of clients trying to coordinate limbs as they move through their reps, never entirely sure which arm or leg should go where and when.
So I decided to try them standing up instead. The standing dead bug is a lesser-known ab variation perfect for those who prefer standing ab exercises in general. But it still seriously challenges your core strength and targets your quads, hip flexors and arms, depending on how you scale it.
Could 70 reps punish me? I grabbed a kettlebell and attempted to find out.
How to do standing dead bugs
If you want to practice the traditional version, we cover how to do a dead bug in detail here. But here’s how to nail the standing ab exercise.
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Stand with your back against the wall if you need extra support.
- Engage your core, then bend your right knee and lift your leg to hip height, extending both arms in front of you at shoulder height. This is your starting position.
- Slowly lift your left arm directly above your head as you lower your right leg to the floor, keeping your right arm extended in front.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for reps. Switch sides.
To make the move harder, hook your foot through the handle of a kettlebell and/or hold light weights in your hands.
I did the standing dead bug ab exercise every day for a week — here are my results
It's harder than it looks
It’s safe to say we’ve covered dead bugs pretty extensively at Tom’s Guide. My editor did 100 dead bugs a day for a week and followed it up swiftly with weighted dead bugs and 3 dead bug variations. Phew.
But personally, it’s not an ab exercise I particularly enjoy, so I got to work finding a variation I wouldn’t mind doing for seven days. I landed on the standing dead bug simply because it’s scalable. And trust me, this one is harder than it looks.
I felt the ab exercise everywhere
Done properly, the ab exercise should test your balance, coordination and stability and activate your deeper core muscles, arms, chest, shoulders, hip flexors, glutes and quads as you lift and lower your arm and leg.
But the key to really feeling this exercise is practicing control. Move deliberately and slowly, and focus on holding your muscles under tension for as long as possible.
Any one-legged standing exercise that includes unilateral movement will help strengthen the muscles and joints in the standing leg. That means stronger knees, ankles, shins and calf muscles. Safe to say, I felt this one everywhere.
My balance isn’t as good as I thought
The intensity of 70 reps was perfect for me, as it took a while for me to feel the move — perhaps by rep 15. But I could have sworn my balance was better than this. Anyone?
I wobbled a lot throughout my latter reps, nearly tipping over on multiple occasions. But don’t worry if that’s you. Wobbling could help build strength and stability as your muscles work harder to support you, which is why balance boards are so popular within the fitness community.
Moreover, if you struggle to balance, you could rest your back against a wall.
Hello, hip flexors
I recently tested many kettlebells for our best kettlebell guide, so I have more than a few lying around. I hooked my foot through one and added wrist weights on both arms to add load for my muscles.
My hip flexors and shoulders felt torched after adopting this approach, and I felt miles more core activation too — so I carried on this way for the rest of my reps and the week. Every sensation was amplified by adding weight, although you could still benefit from bodyweight dead bugs.
My lower legs hurt
I notice this most during hot yoga classes when I’m forced into 10,000 breaths of standing splits or similar, but I didn’t expect the familiar ferocious lower leg burn during standing dead bugs. That’s me humbled. Again.
I did the standing dead bug ab exercise every day for a week — here's my verdict
Without weights, I would have found this ab exercise boring but challenging, and I needed a higher rep count to feel the move using my body weight alone. That said, I enjoyed moving myself in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise attempt. And I find that these are often learning opportunities more than anything.
So, what did I learn? Well, my balance isn’t as advanced as I gave myself credit for, and my hip flexors totally hate leg raises while taking the weight of a kettlebell. Oh, and dead bugs can take you to the pain cave.
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Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods. When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.