Beginning Core Exercises – The Dead-bug Exercise Progression

The easiest and most effective way to begin core stability exercises is with the foam roll. You learn immediately what you need to do, otherwise you fall off!

Try to do the movements with control and no wobbling. When you attain a position hold it for one or two rounds of abdominal breathing. Note that you hold a neutral spine. There should be a slight curve. Do not press your back into the roll.

The Beginning Position (alt)

Dead-Bug – The Beginning Position

Dead-bug on foam roll with arm raised

Raise one arm and hold strongly at 90°

Dead-bug on foam roll with leg raised

Raise one leg & hold strongly at the 90°-90° position

When this is easy move on to the next step:

Dead-bug on foam roll with arms and legs

Raise one leg and hold strongly at the 90°-90° position

How to Start

In the beginning spend 5 – 10 minutes once or twice a day familiarising yourself with the movements.

In the beginning relax your arms and legs onto the ground between each movement. The next time you move your Movement Initiation is trained. We’re not yet trying to build up big muscles or long endurance (that comes later). Movement Initiation in these exercises begins with a light tension in your abdominal and trunk muscles, this allows you to stay balanced while raising your limbs. But don’t think too much about it – it will come automatically.

How to Progress

When it’s more fluid go for 2 sets of 5 repititions of each combination:

1 x 5 Right Arm/Left Arm (alternating)
1 x 5 Right Leg/Left Leg (alternating)
1 x 5 Right Arm & Left Leg/Left Arm & Right leg (alternating)
1 x 5 Right Arm/Left Arm (alternating)
1 x 5 Right Leg/Left Leg (alternating)
1 x 5 Right Arm & Left Leg/Left Arm & Right leg (alternating)

After a while it may not be necessary to do just the arms on their own. So e.g.

1 x 10 Right Leg/Left Leg (alternating)
1 x 10 Right Arm & Left Leg/Left Arm & Right leg (alternating)
1 x 10 Right Leg/Left Leg (alternating)
1 x 10 Right Arm & Left Leg/Left Arm & Right leg (alternating)

At a certain point we can go for some endurance. So rather than relaxing and alternating between movements we will do one side continuously without a break.

1 x 5 Right Leg
1 x 5 Left Leg
1 x 5 Right Arm & Left Leg
1 x 5 Left Arm & Right Leg

Or you can do 2 x 5 of each or 1 x 10 or 2 x 10. You can also mix and match training movement initiation and endurance. Just remember that one repetition done well is better than ten done badly.

Who should do this Exercise?


If you are just beginning with exercising then doing 5 to 15 minutes on the foam roller each day for several weeks is great. It will make a big difference.

If you are more experienced with exercise then this is always a useful addition to your usual routine. Also, consider it as a test – everyone should be able to do this exercise. So if you’re already working out then try this exercise to test yourself. If you can’t do it with controlled breathing then now you’ve got a challenge.

I still use the foam roller dead-bug exercises about once a week. My attention is on keeping a smooth breathing pattern throughout each set.


Neutral Spine. No pressing the low back downwards.
Abdominal Breathing – Slow and controlled – one or two rounds at the top.
Movement initiation should be practised first. Relax limbs between repititions.

Where Next?

Related topics (coming soon):

Beginning Core Stabilisation Exercises – Overview
Beginning Core exercises – Bird-dog progression
Beginning Core exercises – Side-bridge progression
Foam Roll Exercise Variations

Progressions (coming soon):

Dead-Bug Intermediate Variations
Dead-Bug Advanced Variations
Intermediate Core Stabilisation Exercises

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