Posted on 13 Nov 2009 18:29
By Eric Troy, Ground Up Strength
The dead bug track1 was conceived to to incorporate movement of the extremities while keeping the transverse abdominus and the muscles of the pelvic floor contracted. The arms and then legs become long levers that provide and extra challenge to maintaining a neutral pelvis to improve lumbopelvic control.
There is a lack of consensus on whether the TVA can be isolated in this fashion but despite that the dead bug exercise when combined with pelvic tilt is a good intervention for cases of anterior pelvic tilt.
This entry is meant to be straight-forward explanation for the dead-bug track itself. For more discussion also see Athletic Pubalgia forum discussion
Pelvic Tilt in the Supine (Hook Lying) Position
Lay down on the floor with your knees bent comfortably and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands at your side. This is called the "hook lying position".
Now, attempt to bring your lower back (lumbar) into contact with the floor. With your knees bent this may be quite easy and will simply require rocking back on your glutes. However, if this is painful you should place a rolled up towel under your back, to a thickness that allows you to press your back into it comfortably.
By pressing your lower back into the floor you have brought your pelvis into a position of "posterior tilt". This means the top part of your pelvis is tilted toward the back of your body.
When you begin the exercise you will be bring your legs up with your knees still bent so that your shins are parallel with the floor. From this position, it should be even easier to maintain the posterior pelvic tilt.
If you suck in your gut you are performing "abdominal hollowing". Ideally, this abdominal hollowing should selectively recruit the transverse abdominis and multifidinus.
In the hook lying position slowly draw in your abdomen, attempting to bring your belly toward your spine. Alternatively, you can also perform a "kegel" while drawing in the gut. A kegel is just like the action of holding in a flow of urine.
Some sources consider abdominal hollowing the same as abdominal bracing but abdominal hollowing selectively activates the TVA and deep pelvic muscles. Those sources which consider abdominal hollowing to be a good way to stabilize the spine during loaded activities, according to Stuart McGill and notable others, over emphasize the importance of these muscles. We will not go into this further here (see the forum post mentioned above for some more discussion).
Just remember that for heavy loaded activities a true abdominal brace will use all the muscles of the abdomen in a co-contraction with the erector spinae and glues and will NOT utilize abdominal hollowing. It is for the purpose of this exercise track only. On my blog you can read how to do a proper abdominal brace.
The video below is a great demonstration of the basic movement but please note: 1) The author is starting out with the "dead bug proper", which he calls more advanced and here we will be using a track designed to move toward it, so we'll start out easier and progress the difficulty. 2. We will be advancing to a more difficult maneuver (leg lowering) which will increase the load on the core making this a very powerful core movement.
Basic Dead Bug Movement (Advanced)
The buildup will consist of three stages of difficulty which will culminate in the actual deadbug movement. Any of the buildup stages can be skipped if they are too easy. We start with movement of the arms only and then progress to the legs only.
Track A (single arm overhead)
1. IN the hook lying position perform a posterior pelvic tilt and abdominal hollowing. Hold.
2. Bring both arms up so that your fingers are pointing straight up to the ceiling.
3. Slowly bring one arm down to the floor over your head while maintaining the pelvic tilt and hollowing. Do not allow your back to lose contact with the floor (or towel).
4. Repeat with other arm.
5. Repeat this movement until you can no longer control the pelvic tilt or until you have very good control over it (i.e. when it's "easy").
6. If you lose the abdominal hollow at any time it is fine to stop and "reset" and then begin again.
7. Breathe normally and naturally throughout.
Track B (both arms overhead)
1. Just as above but bring both arms down to the floor above your head.
2 Repeat until you can no longer control the pelvic tilt or until it is easy, as above.
Track C (one leg extended)
1. From the hook lying position bring one leg, while still keeping the knee bent, until the shin is about parallel with the floor.
2. Slowly extend the knee without allowing the back to rise. This should become more and more difficult as the knee extends. At first, do not allow the angle of hip flexion to change. In other words, simply straighten the knee but do not lower the leg toward the floor. A straight or semi-straight leg may be all you are able to do at first.
Once you can fully extend the leg, move on to step 3.
3. Slowly lower the extended leg toward the floor until it is but a few inches from touching down.
4. Repeat with other leg, alternating between the two until you can no longer maintain the pelvic tilt.
The Dead Bug
The proceeding movements were the "track" leading up to the performance of the actual exercise known as the dead bug2
1. In the hook lying position, bring both knees up (as in the above movements) and point both hands straight up toward the ceiling.
2. Bring one arm down toward the floor above your head while extending the opposite straight out and then slowly lowering it toward the floor to within an inch or two.
3. Repeat using opposite arm and leg.
4. Repeat until you can no longer maintain the posterior pelvic tilt or until it is easy. As above, you can reset the abdominal hollow at any time if needed.
1. Just as above, except do both arms and legs at the same time.
2. I think you get it by now.
1. Hyde, Thomas E., and Marianne S. Gengenbach. Conservative Management of Sports Injuries. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2007. Print.
2. Morriss, Craig E. Low Back Syndromes: Integrated Clinical Management. US: McGraw Hill, 2006. Print.