As a fitness editor, I’m no stranger to a workout challenge. From a week-long ab challenge to a week of squats, (no, you shouldn’t do a squat challenge), I’ve experimented with a number of different workouts over the years.
Yet in my quest to find the best ab workouts, I’ve been adding different exercises to my routine — I started by doing 30 sit-ups a day for 30 days, added a plank to my morning routine and this month I stepped things up by adding 100 dead bugs a day to my workouts for a week. Read on to find out what happened.
I’ll start by focusing on how to do a dead bug, which is considered to be one of the best exercises for working your abdominal muscles. When done correctly, a dead bug targets the both the outer core muscles as well as the transverse abdominis — the deepest core muscles, which sit underneath the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis. As it’s a stabilization exercise, dead bugs also target the spinal erectors, which help stabilize the spine and support the lower back.
To do a dead bug, start by lying on your back with arms straight above you, and your knees in a tabletop position. Slowly lower your right arm to a couple of inches off the floor behind your head; as you do so, stretch your left leg away from your body and lower that to just above the floor. Pause, then return to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Make sure you keep your lower back pressed into the mat for the entire exercise — to do this, think about sucking your belly button into your spine.
I did 100 dead bugs a day for a week — here’s what happened
I’ll start by caveating that 100 dead bugs a day is a lot, and it definitely won’t be a number that’s suitable for everyone, especially if you’re a beginner, or new to the exercise. (Remember, what works for me might not work for you, and it’s a good idea to consult your doctor or a personal trainer if you’re undertaking a new exercise routine). I consider myself to be relatively fit, and my normal fitness routine involves four runs a week, equaling around 20 miles in total, and three strength sessions, including weights and Pilates.
On day one of the challenge, I questioned why I’d settled on 100 — it felt like a lot. I took 30-second breaks after each set of 20 dead bugs, and the entire set took around five minutes. Afterward, I could definitely feel my core burning. On my runs, I felt like I was better able to engage my core, helping me to run with a better posture.
On days two and three, I remembered the downside of challenges like this — pummeling the same muscles day after day isn’t often a good idea, especially if you’re looking for long-term gains. I could feel the dead bugs in my core from the first exercise, and it was a challenge to keep my form perfect, and avoid arching my back to make the move easier. I found, with dead bugs, the secret is to move as slowly as possible to really work the core. On these days, I staggered the dead bugs — doing 50 in the morning before my run or workout, and 50 in the evening, before a gentle dog walk.
By day four, the dead bugs had become part of my routine, and I could definitely feel that I’d been working my core hard. As we’ve mentioned before, defined abdominal muscles depend on a low body fat percentage (here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage), so no amount of dead bugs or sit-ups will make your ab muscles pop. While I did notice my abdominals looking slightly more defined, 400 dead bugs hasn't given me the six-pack of my dreams.
By days five and six, I started getting a bit more confident (read, cocky) and added light dumbbells to the move. Holding a 1.5kg weight in each hand seemed to work my arms harder, and forced me to engage my core for every rep. To go out with a bang, on day seven I also chucked some ankle weights on, and it really upped the intensity for those final 100 reps.
The result? After 700 dead bugs, I felt like my core was stronger than it had been in a while, yet I also felt like my arms and legs had gotten a workout too. I felt stronger when running, and that I’d worked my core hard by the end of the week. I often suffer from lower back pain due to a horse-riding accident as a teen, but when done correctly, dead bugs put less pressure on your back than say, sit-ups or a plank, so I was able to complete the week without needing to modify the exercise. I’ll definitely be keeping dead bugs in my routine going forward, though I’ll probably opt for 20 reps, not 100.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here's what happened when I tried the viral 25-7-2 workout for a week, and I tried Carrie Underwood's leg workout, the best exercise to sculpt your arms using just your body weight, three of the best lower-body resistance band exercises.