How To Strengthen Your Core With The Deadbug

Most people have never heard of the deadbug exercise.

And that’s too bad because it’s an excellent core trainer for golfers that requires no gym equipment and can be performed right on your living room floor. 

Much like the sit-up.

If you’ve read a few of my articles you know that I push basic exercises that have passed the test of time. But some of the basic core exercises, like the sit-up, need to be replaced.

So if you’re doing sit-ups or are thinking about starting a home golf conditioning program forget sit-ups and try the deadbug.

Here’s my reasoning.  

Situps aren’t self-limiting, most people can do ten’s if not hundred’s of sit-ups during a workout. With sit-ups at the end of a set, when the core is tired, people struggle and force themselves to do a few more sit-ups.

The core is designed to protect the lower back and spine.

So in the process of strengthening the muscles used to protect the spine, in effect, you’ve removed that protection by tiring those muscles and now at the end of your set of sit-ups your jerking yourself upward and forcing the spine to move and bend without muscular protection.

The motivation for this post came due to an email I received from Steve who lives Lake Oswego, Oregon. If someone took the time to write an email, there’s probably 100’s of others thinking the same thing. So why not create a post on the subject.

Steve said

“…I feel that my core needs more work and I am searching for a couple of exercises that I can do. I have limited equipment so please nothing that uses a machine. I was thinking crunches, sit-ups, and planks. But I have read that situps are bad, but if you listen to Gary Player, he does a 1000 situps every day and look at the shape he is in.”

There is no doubt that Gary Player is in great shape at the age of 79 (I had to look that up. His birthday is November 1st, so he will be 80 soon), but we don’t know how well his back feels or if he’s an exception. Many people do hundreds of sit-ups each week and don’t show signs of injury, but back pain and spinal injury shouldn’t be taken lightly.  

When back pain does show up it can be debilitating, with a long recovery period, and can lead to chronic problems. 

Thinking back to Gary Player, I don’t think undertaking 1,000 reps per day of any exercise is good. Especially using the back, shoulders, and neck.

What the Experts Say

More than one expert has said that sit-ups do produce enough force to hurt the back and that there are other exercises which work the abdominals without compressing the spine. The one person I want to reference is Dr. Stuart McGill, who has written 100’s of articles and numerous books on the spine and back. 

He doesn’t dis sit-ups straight to their face, but he does say a sit-up can produce a force equal to, or above, OHSA safe limits. You can read the article at T-Nation.

To the point, Dr. McGill said:

“So even though sit-ups train the abdominals, psoas, and rectus femoris, the Stir The Pot exercise places the spine in a more resilient posture so you can really train these muscles hard.”

In other words, the sit-ups work, but other exercises can work the same muscles better and more safely.

Click the link to read & see a video of the Stir The Pot exercise

To expand the number of core exercises, we can add the deadbug to our golf conditioning programs. It’s called the deadbug because the position you take at the start looks exactly like a dead bug on the floor.

The deadbug is another exercise that places the spine in a resilient position to protect it from high forces that some spinal compression exercises, such as the sit-up can create.

The DeadBug

The purpose of the deadbug is to strengthen the core. Specifically, the abdominal muscles that resist the extension of the lower back. Resisting extension means to help protect the back from bending backward.

The advantage of the deadbug over sit-ups is that you are not bending your spine and putting a lot of force on the discs between your vertebrae.

I also like the deadbug because forces you to concentrate on the position of your pelvis while you’re moving your arms and legs. In effect, this helps with pelvic tilt and activation of those muscles while moving, just like in the golf swing.

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How to Do the Deadbug

There are a ton of deadbug variations and I’ve included a couple of videos below to show you some of the many variations, but first I’ll explain how to do the basic deadbug exercise.

Before you move onto the more complicated deadbug exercises, be sure to master the basic deadbug. 

The key, as you’ll see below, is to keep the lower back flat on the floor. Don’t allow it to arch as your arm or leg lower to the floor. Once the back arches, stop the exercise and start again.

  • Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up toward the ceiling.
  • Bend your hips, so your thighs are also vertical and then bend your knees 90-degrees, so your lower leg is parallel to the floor.
  • Tighten your abs and press your lower back into the floor. This is a hip neutral position. This may be hard if you normally have an arched back (anterior tilt). If this is the case, think about driving your lower back into the floor. Pull the top of your hip bones toward your rib cage until you feel your lower back press into the floor. This is important, you need to keep the back flat on the floor, or at the worst just a little arched. You shouldn’t be able to stick your hand under your back. If you can slide a ruler under but nothing larger, that is ok.
  • Now on to the exercise, that was only the set-up. Correct form is necessary, so be sure you have that down before attempting the exercise.
  • Take in a deep breath and as you slowly exhale, extend your left leg toward the floor and lower your right arm over your head.
  • Be sure to keep the abs tight and don’t arch your back. Use slow and controlled movements.
  • Inhale and slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the right leg and left arm. 
  • Continue to alternate for 10 reps and do 2 to 3 sets of deadbugs. 

The key takeaways are to go slow and don’t arch your back.

Watching the videos below will show you the steps.

The video below is from and Cressey Sports Performance. Eric will show a couple variations of the Deadbug. 

It may be difficult to keep the elevated leg perpendicular to the floor. It is easy to lose vertical and slowly lower the leg. Keep the raised thigh and arm pointing straight up to the ceiling. 

One more video, this one of Tony Gentilcore, who is the co-founder along with Eric of Cressey Performance Sports in Boston and has since opened his own training facility.

Listen to him breathe in this video; he is drawing a lot of air in and exhaling it out. When you exhale you’ll find it much easier to keep the lower back flat to the floor.

When your leg and arm are near the floor, don’t be surprised that you start shaking. Since you are exhaling air is removed from your lungs and this places the diaphragm under your rib cage, and now only your core muscles are supporting the arm and leg.

Remember the diaphragm does more than separate your lungs and guts, it’s a very strong muscle.

Removing the diaphragm from a position of support will cause instability, and that’s why you shake. Air in your lungs also helps support stability and when you exhale it’s all up to your muscles to support the weight. 

Also, when the arm and leg are near the floor it’s the time when you start arching your back. 

It’s important to keep the small of your back on the floor. 

If you can’t keep your pelvis in anterior tilt, so the small of your back is touching the floor, there’s no need to continue lowering your limbs. Work on keeping your back flat instead.

Here is Tony again, this time with a kettlebell in the raised arm. The weight will activate and work the core even more.

There are many variations of the deadbug, here is an anti-rotation deadbug. The resistance band is pulling his body to the left, and he has to fight the rotation while doing the deadbug.

Don’t forget to switch the band to the other side and resist pull to the right. 

More For The Core

Core strength and stability is critical not only for golf but for everything we do in life 

In golf, besides protecting the back (yeah that’s important) the core transfers power generated by the legs to the arms and eventually to the golf club.

The stronger the core the better the transfer. 

For that reason, I try to work the core with almost every exercise.

Even with simple exercises, I make sure to activate my core before I start any movement.

For instance, I don’t use a bench for chest presses or one arm rows. Instead, I stand or when possible I start in a 5-iron stance. 

That way my core and lower body are also involved in the exercise, just like when I swing the golf club. 

I don’t ever remember lying down or leaning on a bench to hit a golf ball.

So why train that way.

Sure I could lift more weight if I use the bench for support. But my purpose of training isn’t to specifically get bigger arms or back muscles, the purpose is to become a better all-around athlete. And if my arms get bigger during the process, well then all the better. 

Deadbug Weekly

I recommend that you add deadbugs to your weekly golf conditioning program. It’s a great exercise that will help control pelvic tilt and strengthen the core at the same time while lowering the risk of back injury or pain. 

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