A Pilates instructor says this beginner-friendly exercise is the best way to strengthen your core

No equipment required

Two women performing dead bug on a foam roller
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If there's one type of exercise that's known for improving core strength, it's Pilates. Focusing on small, controlled movements, this style of workout builds stability and balance. You can do it at home, without any equipment, and adapt it to suit your fitness level.

Alysha Eibl is a Pilates instructor and a physiotherapist at Complete Pilates, who knows a thing or two about building a strong core. According to Eibl, there's one exercise that will transform your core strength.

"A favorite core exercise of mine is one that we do a lot in Pilates and physio and it's called the dead bug," Eibl says.

"The reason why it's a great exercise is it requires no equipment, so it's easy to do anywhere," she continues. "Also, it's very easily modified so you can make it easier for beginners or people who are struggling with back pain but you can also change it for people who are a bit more advanced or want more of a challenge."

How to do a dead bug

Sets: 3 Reps: 5 on each side

  • Lying on your back, start with a couple of pelvic tilts to find a neutral pelvis position.
  • From there, float your arms above your chest so they're pointing to the ceiling and the palms face inwards with the shoulder blades relaxed.
  • Take a breath in and on your breath out, float one leg up into a tabletop position, which is 90° at the hip and 90° at the knee. Take another breath and float your other leg up into tabletop.
  • On another out-breath, gently draw your belly button towards your spine, feeling your lower back press into the floor.
  • Reach one arm overhead behind you and draw the opposite leg down towards the floor. If you can, reach it long out in front of you.
  • Then draw your arm and leg together back together at the center. Repeat on the other side.

How to modify dead bug

If you are new to core exercises and find the move challenging, Eibl has a modification for you: "If you find reaching the legs away from you too difficult or you feel like your back is arching, then just aim to reach the leg out as far as you could go while you can still maintain a neutral back position," she recommends.

If you want to make it harder, you can hold a load over your head (like a kettlebell) or loop a resistance band around your feet.

What muscles does dead bug work?

Dead bug primarily engages the core muscles, which are located in and around the stomach. More specifically, Eibl says this exercise will strengthen "the upper and lower abdominals, as well as the obliques, which are the muscles down the side of the stomach."

The wide range of core muscles this move targets means it can help you work on mid-body strength and stability, which can improve balance, posture and co-ordination.

Shop Pilates mats

A Pilates mat, which tends to be thicker than a yoga mat, will help keep you comfortable while performing the dead bug. Here are three recommendations.

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.