Here's what this weighted ab move 40 times a day, for three weeks, did to my body

A deep core strengthener, this weighted ab move delivered more than I was expecting

Gemma trying the deadbug challenge
(Image credit: Gemma Harris)

‘You must be mad’ and ‘that’s awesome’ were among the mixed reactions I got from friends when I told them I was doing a weighted ab move 40 times per day for three weeks; the core exercise being dead bugs using dumbbells. This move intensely targets deep abdominal muscles without putting too much strain on the back. And, now I’ve completed the challenge, I’m inclined to agree with the latter reaction from my friends.

Thankfully, deadbugs aren't as unpleasant as the name suggests and they're actually some of the best ab workout moves you can do. Dead bugs are a straightforward movement that involves lying on your back on the floor with your arms and legs in the air (knees directly above hips and arms above shoulders), knees bent 90 degrees – hence the name dead bug. Slowly, simultaneously, lower your right arm and left leg until they're straight and hovering just above the floor. Pause, then return to the start position and repeat on the opposite side. This counts as one rep.

I already regularly do dead bugs and thought it would be fairly easy to do on a daily basis, so I wanted to make it harder by increasing the reps and holding a 2llb/ 1kg dumbbell in each hand. So as not to isolate the muscles worked during this movement, I did it as part of a 10-15 minute ab session before or after a workout that involved other core moves such as plank to toe touch and bicycle crunches. Adding other equipment like a half bosu or the best ab rollers can help mix things up and work your core from every angle.

Core strength is fundamental to performing other exercises and daily activities, so I wanted to see if doing this challenge would impact my other workouts. Plus, getting closer to that toned tummy would be a bonus. Here’s what happened when I did weighted dead bugs every day for three weeks.

1. My lower abs were burning

Perhaps unsurprising but, usually, when I’d do 10-20 reps of a standard dead bug, I would feel my abdominals working but the impact wouldn’t be major. This time it was different. Although I would start the set each day thinking: “This isn’t too bad” (more fool me) by the end of the 40 reps using dumbbells, I could really feel my obliques engaging and my lower abs were on fire!

This is because dead bugs target multiple core muscles including the deeper hard-to-reach transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, and erector spinae muscle group. What’s more, a study in the Nigerian Journal of Medicine (opens in new tab) found that dead bugs are better at improving core strength and stability than crunches.

What about the sought-after six-pack, you ask? This exercise alone isn’t enough to give you ripped abdominals, but I definitely noticed increased core definition by the end so I’ll take that!

2. My limbs felt it too

Surprisingly or not, it wasn’t just my core that was working hard. Due to the contralateral limb motion (moving opposing arms and legs in tandem) of dead bugs, while holding dumbbells, I really felt it in my shoulders and upper arms as well as in my quads.

I had visibly more defined biceps by the end of the challenge too, which I was pretty pleased about when wearing a tank top.

Gemma trying the deadbug challenge

(Image credit: Gemma Harris)

3. It was kinder to my body than other ab exercises

Ever felt the strain in your wrists and arms when holding a plank or the stiffness in your neck when crunching? Yep, me too. But, not with dead bugs. I really felt like this exercise was working my core without causing any unwanted strain or pain in the rest of my body. 

Dead bugs are known for being one of the safer core exercises and having a low impact on your spine while still providing good results. For instance, the ground is fully supporting your back and it avoids spine flexion, unlike a crunch or sit-up.

In fact, according to a study in the journal Medicine (opens in new tab), core stabilization exercises including dead bugs can help relieve and prevent chronic lower back pain.

4. My running improved

Turns out this challenge did impact my other workouts. I’ve been running casually for a few years and I recently joined a running club that holds four-mile weekly runs. As I’m still fairly new to the group, I’m usually in the slower pace cohort. That was until week two of doing this ab exercise when I achieved a personal best and ran the fastest I have yet with the club. What’s more, I ran 5K in just 25 minutes the week after.

Perhaps this was just a coincidence but with evidence (opens in new tab) showing core strength supports activities including running and studies (opens in new tab) claiming it can even improve running performance, I believe doing dead bugs daily played a part.

Deadbugs 40 times a day for three weeks: my verdict

On the whole, dead bugs with dumbbells are definitely not as disgusting as they sound although, ironically, a bug did land on my arm once during the exercise, causing a slight distraction. On a serious note, they became an effective and, dare I say it, enjoyable part of my ab session; I didn’t get bored as the opposing movement of limbs kept my mind focussed and my body occupied. I will definitely continue to incorporate dead bugs into my workout routine. I probably won’t do them every day as I believe my body needs rest, but definitely more regularly than I used to due to the deep core and running benefits I reaped.

An important thing to remember is to not rush through the movement – something which I sometimes found myself doing – to really engage the abs and get the most from this move. Going forward, I might add ankle weights to advance this move further. This will make the exercise more challenging for my abs and limbs by adding more resistance, which in turn will increase the core strength and abdominal and bicep definition that I gained. 

Modifications or progressions can be made to dead bugs which makes them suitable for a wide range of abilities and fitness levels. So, whether you suffer from lower back pain or are looking to improve your workout performance elsewhere, I would recommend doing dead bugs. Even if you’re just looking to switch up your ab workout, dead bugs add something different.

Looking for more ideas for training your abs, check out these core strengthening exercises.

Gemma Harris is a UK-based freelance journalist and health writer who blogs at thegutchoice.com (opens in new tab) and has specialist insight into gut health. She produces content for multimedia health and lifestyle platforms, including calmmoment.com (opens in new tab), StomaTips, Planet Mindful and metro.co.uk (opens in new tab) because she has a passion for health and wellness. When not writing, she can be found walking or running in nature, at a yoga or spin class, swimming or having cocktails with friends.