The ab-busting move that also helps with lower back pain


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Photo: Getty Images/Oliver Eltinger

In the ab workouts I’ve been streaming lately, I’ve noticed two things that remain true for all of them: A) they burn, and B) I always have to do the dead bug. The good news is that this doesn’t mean I pause my workout sesh to kill a spider in the corner—it’s actually a core-quaking move that makes your abs quiver with that hurts-so-good feeling.

Of course, it did get its name from somewhere. Namely, the fact that you do essentially imitate a dead bug when you’re working your core. But it’s a serious workout move praised by countless trainers. “Don’t let the cute name and silly form fool you—the dead bug is a killer core exercise,” says Cat Kom, fitness expert and founder of Studio Sweat onDemand. “It’s amazing because it’s so simple, but can target your inner core muscles and spinal stabilizers—AKA your obliques, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis (your “six pack”), multifidus, diaphragm—and even your pelvic floor.”

“Don’t let the cute name and silly form fool you—the dead bug is a killer core exercise.” —Cat Kom

Unlike crunches, this move forces you to engage your inner core without putting pressure on your spine. “It allows you to raise your arms and move your legs without arching your lower back,” says Kom, who notes that crunches and sit-ups put a lot of force on your spine. The dead bug is all about isolation, which is nice and gentle. “It teaches your body to isolate your hip and shoulder movement without putting unnecessary tension on your back,” says Kom. “Because it targets the right muscles, it’s great for improving your motor control. All of these things are amazing if you have lower back problems.”

The key is to actually go slow. “Form is everything, so breathe and control your cadence,” says Kom. “If you find that your lower back is starting to lift up, then your core is probably not being engaged enough, so remember to tighten your abs. If you’re starting to fatigue or feel any strain in the back or neck, just bring the extended leg a little higher into the air, so it’s at more of an obtuse angle from your hip, rather than a straight line—the higher it is, the less load on your back.”

Keep scrolling for some pro tips on how to do the dead bug.

1. “Avoid pressing your low back into the mat—instead, focus on keeping your pelvis parallel with your mat so that you activate your abdominals and don’t strain your back,” says Erica Ziel, author, personal trainer, and founder of Core Athletica.
2. “As you reach one leg out straight, engage your quad to help you feel your abdominals more,” says Ziel.
3. “Be sure you’re using your lower abs to help you hold your legs and minimize overusing your hip flexors,” she says.
4. “Keep your head down if your neck tends to get irritated when flexing up,” says Ziel.
5. “Keep your knees bent rather than extending too far if you feel any tension in your lower back,” she says.
6. “As you reach your arm overhead, try reaching from under your armpit rather than with your upper traps, which can put too much pull into your neck,” says Ziel.
7. “Experiment with reaching your opposite leg and arm to feel a diagonal engagement through your core,” she says. “Initiate each movement as you exhale since this can engage your abs more easily.”

Time for your other limbs: Here’s a 10-minute arm workout using resistance bands, and this is celeb trainer Anna Kaiser’s glutes workout

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