The dead bug is a great tool to use for both rehab and for improving performance in the athletic and general population. Creating stability with the floor will help the trunk musculature brace appropriately with virtually anyone on the planet being able to figure it out. There are a couple different ways that you can attack this exercise and I’ll cover that in this article.
The deadbug exercise is used for a variety of reason in strength and conditioning and PT. In PT, we can use it to help develop the trunk musculature which will potentially give us a better brace for protecting our low back. Or a better anchor for our hip extensors to fire from (by protecting the integrity of the pelvis). In strength and conditioning we can use it in a beginner program to help someone find their anterior core. We can also use it as an offseason type exercise to help the athletes reset.
Generally speaking, when thinking about strengthening the trunk musculature–or core–people immediately think about the 6-pack. Sure that is an important piece of the puzzle, however, consider all the other parts too. If you don’t have the ability to engage that internal Transverse Abdominus you’re going to have issues. The idea isn’t that you want to live in the 1980’s and make each muscle fire independent of the others (impossible by the way). Instead, find a way to coordinate all these groups together.
A common cue that is used to train the deadbug exercise is “push your low back to the floor”. This will certainly get you to engage your anterior core. But is it the best way to keep you in a neutral position and bracing?
Instead, try using a different line of cues. Let the patient/client use their fingertips to feel the brace. Simply have them find their ASIS and move in roughly an inch. As they brace appropriately they should feel their “core” push out into their fingertips. This is different from trying to suck your belly button to your spine though. It is more of a hollowing effect similar to that used in gymnastics.
This also has an impact on the rest of your body. If you’re cued to push your low back into the floor you will invariably drive all force into the floor. But what happens to your upper trunk, neck, head? If you’re bracing hard enough they’ll come off the floor similar to a crunch. Fine, if you’re trying to get the anterior core work. If you’re trying to get those deeper muscles to fire more effectively though, keeping neutral is a little better. It will allow the patient to keep their head and upper trunk on the floor with the neck finding the natural, neutral position.
Give it a try in your programming and find what works best for you. Feel free to give some feedback.