White Belt Fitness


The first movement I think is worth focusing on after breathing is the deadbug position. Before you can hold your head up even, you are always laying on your back and in need of head support. It’s essentially the first position a baby gets comfortable with. For this reason, tt comes before any of the stomach based movements we’ll talk about soon.

I’ve noticed it’s common in some of the developmental schools of rehabilitation to use the deadbug position with a flexed neck position. Something that might be relevant as a rehabilitation technique but something that hardly seems relevant to the posturally strained position that most people find themselves in during modern living.

That is, we already spend a great deal of time with our neck protruding forward, so why encourage it?

That’s why I opt for a more neutral spine position with this movement, before you could hold your head up as a baby, you could move your arms and legs.

The Basic Position

The basic starting position for the deadbug.

This is the basic starting position of the deadbug. The reason it’s called the deadbug is because it looks like a dead bug on it’s back. All that follows here are variations of this basic position. Keep your head down and focus on creating the appropriate tension to control your limbs, these are in order from lowest threshold variations to highest threshold (beyond baby stuff) variations.

In the above image, notice that her hands are currently being pressed into the wall. This is a form of Reactive Neuromuscular Training, RNT for short. RNT is an intervention strategy, or ‘hack,’ that forces the body to ‘react’ to a stimulus. In this example, pressing the hands into the wall forces her body to compress in the core, increasing intra-abdominal pressure and generally making the movement easier. If you want to create a new challenge, simply take your hands away from the wall and place them directly above your shoulders, perpendicular to the floor. However, I recommend that starting in an RNT is a good strategy for most people before you progress to the slightly less stable position of hands free.

The Heel Slide

It’s been my experience that this movement is typically easy for a lot of people, however, it’s still worth noting because if you find it challenging, there is no point in using a harder version at this moment in time. I also find that this is a great starting position for anyone over the age of forty who is starting an exercise program. Notice the nice neutral spine position, head is on the floor, upper body makes contact and glutes make contact with the floor. Three points of contact.

Starting position

For the heel slide, the basic starting position is different, your legs start straight out. Then without losing your spinal position, you drag or slide one of your heels up under your glute. Essentially this the easiest lever.


The heel slide is exactly as it sounds, from the starting position, you’re going to slide your heel towards your glute. You’ll notice that the mat kind of impedes how far she can get in this instance, so you may want to do this particular variation on a bare floor, or make sure the mat stops at your glute so you can get the knee as high as possible and the heel as close to the glute as possible. The heel slide is essentially level 1 deadbug, and you should try it for ten repetitions a side, see how it goes, before moving on to a more challenging version. Remember that the progression model is also a diagnostic model, if you can’t do the easier variations well first, then don’t progress.

Heel Tap

This is level 2 of the sequence. If I had to guess, I’d say that 90% of people pass the heel slide diagnostic check the first time, so the heel tap is often the first challenging movement you’ll do in the deadbug series. In this variation we make the lever a little longer than the heel slide and place a greater challenge on keeping the spine neutral. This is also the first variation where you use the basic starting position from above, knees bent, in the air.

Heel Tap finish position

From the basic deadbug starting position, you keep your knee angle the same and slowly tap the heel to the floor. You will feel additional compression in your abdominals, that you might not have felt during the heel slide. The slowly return to the starting position with both legs in the air again.

For this variation I recommend working up towards ten to fifteen repetitions before progressing to a more difficult variation. You can do them alternating if you like, or one at a time. Effective core training is really about being able to demonstrate control and localized muscular endurance to a certain extent. That’s why I push the diagnostic requirements up to fifteen. If you can do fifteen a side, either alternating (thirty) or one at a time, then you are probably ready to try the full deadbug.

Note: If you have a postural strain with a tendency to hold more of a posterior tilt in your pelvis, then you might find it useful to put a towel in the low back. The towel should be rolled to be about 3/4″-1″ thick generally, you don’t want to encourage too much of a low back arch, but just enough to get some training in a more neutral, less posteriorly tilted position. This prevents you from encouraging your natural postural strain and helps you create more strength in a more neutral position. If you’ve progressed to a point where you can stop using the reactionary force of the wall for any of these exercises, you could also simply put the back of your hands on either side of your low back spine, to a similar effect. That last technique will be detailed in the Core Training 101 section, specifically the McGill Crunch.

Full Deadbug

This is the deadbug that most people might identify with. On the grand scale of core training techniques, it is one of the most accessible and effective exercises for training the front slings of the torso. Controlling rotational movement is generally more challenging for most people than is controlling straighter, linear movements, like the front plank, an exercise we’ll play with soon.

The finish position for the full deadbug

For the full deadbug position, you will extend the leg you are dropping straight out and to the ground. Again lightly tap the floor or almost lightly tap the floor before returning to the start position. This creates a longer lever than the heel tap, which increases difficulty.

You may have noticed this exercise being completed with the hands free of the wall. A simple progression before moving to the level 4, straight leg version. Using the arms to reach the opposite arm out to the opposite leg, increases the level arm length, slightly increasing difficulty.  This variation looks a lot like a bug on it’s back, walking in the air as it struggles to get back on it’s feet. Feel free to try it and experiment with it.

Demonstrating control of the full deadbug is my minimum requirement before getting into more complicated rotational movement exercises like the chop and lift. If you can again, demonstrate fifteen repetitions pain free on each side, either all in a row, or alternating, then you are generally at an acceptable level of inner core and rotational core strength to begin far more complicated rotational training.

Or in the meantime, you can simply progress to the next challenge in this book.

Note: Contrary to a natural posterior pelvic tilt. If you have a heavy anterior pelvic tilt (essentially the opposite), then a towel in the low back might not be the best option for you. In order to train you back to a more neutral position, allowing your low back to remain flat against the mat or floor, might actually really help you address your natural postural strain through good training strategies, like the deadbug. It might be OK for you to keep your back more flat when training this position, provided you can do so pain free.

Straight Leg Deadbug

The hardest variation of them all, it can often be useful to progress to the straight leg deadbug by working from the ground up, which is also called the Active Straight Leg Raise. The active straight leg raise, could be like level 3.5 in this series even. The top down version is more difficult and creates the greatest amount of tension in the core, out of any of the deadbug variations. The only difference between the two movements really is the starting position.


The starting position for the straight leg deadbug has a greater amount of tension, with the legs straight up in the air, rather than bent. The increased lever length here means there is greater eccentric strain, hence a harder variation. Remember that eccentric strain generally is more strenuous on the body, and thus more challenging.

For the Active Straight Leg Raise the starting position is more like the heel slide. See image directly below:

Starting position

This is a less strenuous position, requiring greater concentric force. In the context of learning movement, starting from the ground up is almost always the better strategy, as it most closely mimics how almost every single pattern of movement you have was learned. If you can do fifteen full deadbugs above, but struggle making the transition to the straight leg version, use the active straight leg raise as a go between movement.

This next image becomes the finish position for both the straight leg deadbug and the active straight leg raise (that’s a mouthful…), the difference between the two is the starting positions. The active straight leg raise has an easier start position and less eccentric stress.


Looking at the last example above, in the case of the active straight leg raise, you are going to raise your left leg straight from the floor. In the case of the straight leg deadbug, you’re going to lower your right leg to floor. Seems incredibly similar, but trust me, your body will have a very different reaction to either. Once you can do ten to fifteen solid repetitions of the active straight leg raise, you should in theory be able to do a few repetitions of the straight leg deadbug. From there, it’s a similar progression as some of the earlier versions, once you can do ten to fifteen repetitions, you are probably ready to move beyond deadbugs rotational core training in your training program. Keep in mind, that they will always remain a great diagnostic tool for you to revisit periodically.

All of these developmental patterns are like the forty two point inspection you take your vehicle in for once a year. Revisit them once or twice a year, even after you master them.

Note: There are two major limiting factors that often prevent people from getting to the level 4 deadbug. One is a lack of intra-abdominal pressure, which can usually be resolved by pressing your hands into something, or using your upper body to facilitate tension in another way (for instance holding an elastic band down to the floor). If you can’t do the straight leg deadbug with your hands free, try the wall version shown. The second limiting factor is hamstring flexibility as compared to hip flexor strength. An easy ‘hack’ for this is to obviously improve your hamstring flexibility, so try doing the active leg raise, with one of your legs in a maximal hamstring stretch against a wall or door. This requires some free space beside that, for your free leg to move to the floor and back down, but is a great warm up drill for people with inadequate hamstring length. This might sound tricky to address on your own, so it might be beneficial to seek the help of a coach to guide you through it.



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Darren Beattie

Coach, Writer and Founder of Fitnack and Skill Based Fitness. I'm going to change how you think about fitness and coaching. Quality of Life Crusader. Knowledge Junkie. Recovering perfectionist.