Trainer, author, and fitness model Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
About five years ago, I took a Pilates class to mix up my typical routine of lifting weights and doing plyo exercises. I needed something easy to do—so why not hang out with the ladies in class and have some fun? Every time I peeked into the class it look like they were always lying on the floor and not moving around too much.
But I was surprised by my actual experience of giving Pilates a try. The day after the class, I was much more sore than I expected, particularly in my abs and groin. One move we did in the class that torched my core was the dead bug. This is one of many exercises that looks easy, but when you do it properly, you’ll feel it. However, it’s a safe core exercise that engages your abs, obliques, and spinal extensors. It can also be a great core option for those with lower back pain.
To set up, lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. The most important part of the dead bug is to keep your core engaged. Do that by contracting your abs, then driving your lower back into the floor. Next lift your feet off the ground so your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Your hips should be perpendicular to the floor, with your shins parallel to the floor. Lastly, lift your arms up so they are pointing straight toward the ceiling.
From that starting position—what was called a tabletop position in my Pilates class—slowly extend your right leg forward slowly until your leg is straight, keeping your foot about six inches off the floor, then bring your leg back to the starting position. At the same, lower your left arm over your head until your hand is about six inches off the floor. Hold that position for a quick beat, then return to the starting point. Repeat the same movements with your left leg and right arm, and that’s one rep. This is the most basic dead bug movement.
Be mindful of your back positioning as you do the leg and arm extensions. Your spine should not be moving at all. If you find your lower back curving upward during the extensions, you’re probably extending too far with your leg and arm. In that case shorten the extensions, or only extend your legs while keeping your arms elevated straight up.
As you will see, the dead bug is a great way to work your core and it’s best to master it before moving to exercises more advanced, like the hollow hold. One variation that can make it more interesting and challenging is to hold light dumbbells in each hand and/or attaching ankle weights.
Importantly, you should go slowly through the movements of the dead bug. The faster you do the reps, the less effective it is. Time under tension is key to this exercise. I recommend four sets of five reps to start, at a slow and deliberate pace.
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