When it comes to ab exercises, one of my favorites is the dead bug — it’s one of the best ab exercises out there, it’s relatively simple, plus, as I learned from doing 100 dead bugs a day for a week, it really torches your core. But what would happen if I added weights to the move?
Despite the slightly odd name, dead bugs are a supine abdominal exercise that target the deepest abdominal muscles and lower back, without putting too much strain on the spine. They also work on the body’s contra-lateral limb engagement — teaching the body to move opposing limbs at the same time, while keeping the core and back stable. This is helpful for sports like running, tennis, and baseball, or any activities that involve lateral, or twisting movements. Finally, when practicing dead bugs, and working on these deep stabilization muscles, you’re strengthening a part of your body that can help protect you from injury. Find out more about how to do a dead bug, and the modifications to try here.
As a reminder, what works for me might not be right for you and your body. If you’re a beginner, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer before adding weight to the exercise. Bodyweight dead bugs will still give your core a killer workout, and adding weight with incorrect form, can put you at risk of injury.
How to do a weighted dead bug
To do a dead bug, start by lying on your back, keeping your lower back pressed into the mat — think about sucking your belly button into your spine. Raise your arms straight above you, and your knees into tabletop position. Slowly lower your right arm to a couple of inches off the floor behind your head, and 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.
To do a weighted dead bug, hold a set of the best adjustable dumbbells in your hands as you perform the dead bug. It’s a good idea to start with a lightweight set of dumbbells, as like with a bodyweight dead bug, you want to avoid arching your back during this exercise.
I did weighted dead bugs for a week — here’s what happened
Is adding weight to my dead bugs the secret to a stronger core? Here’s what happened when I tried them for a week:
I had to lower the weight
After a couple of reps, I realized that the 10-pound dumbbell in each hand was far too much of a challenge as I got to grips with this move. As I’ve mentioned before, I suffer from sciatica, and have to be careful of my lower back during ab workouts. I found when lowering the heavy weight behind my head, my back was lifting off the mat, so putting my ego aside, I swapped for some 4-pound dumbbells. These allowed me to continue with proper form. On days one and two I did 48 reps — four sets of 12 reps with a short break in between.
As a reminder, when it comes to selecting the right weight for your workouts, it’s normally best practice to opt for one that feels challenging by the final few reps, without compromising your form. The same applies here, but remember, as with a bodyweight dead bug, the goal is to move slowly and with control, so start off with a much lighter weight than usual to ensure your form is perfect before progressing.
I mixed things up
By day four, I’d gotten used to the repetitive nature of the dead bug once more, and decided to mix things up. I held a weighted plate in my outstretched arms and just moved my legs — this was a real challenge to my core, and it didn’t take long for my abs to shake. For the final set, I raised my head and neck off the ground.
On day five, I added some of the best ankle weights as well as my light dumbbells, which gave my legs more of a workout too. By day six, I grabbed a heavier dumbbell and opted to do pullover dead bugs — lowering the dumbbell behind my head with both hands as I extended one leg, then the other.
By day seven, I was back to the original version of this move, but managed to use heavier dumbbells than I had at the beginning of the week — perhaps all the dead bugs were paying off.
It added intensity, and I felt it
Without a doubt, adding weight upped the intensity of the dead bugs, and after a week, I felt it in my core, but also in my upper and lower body. The weighted dead bugs felt more like a full body workout, as I gripped the dumbbell and moved slowly, with control.
Of course, a week isn’t long enough to make any visible changes in my body — sadly, visible abs are a result of a low body fat percentage (here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters), not endless dead bugs. That said, I felt like my core had gotten a good workout, and this is definitely a move I’ll continue to work into my ab routines in the future.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here's what happened when this writer did 50 Russian twists a day for a week, and when our staff writer, Sam, did ab rollouts every day for a week.