Target Muscle/s: erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis
Sets & Reps: 12 repetitions (alternating legs)
Tempo: Lift for 2 seconds, slowly lower for 4 seconds
Frequency: Twice a week strength training program


The ‘Dead Bug’ is a popular ‘core’ exercise for runners, used to target the trunk muscles (erector spinae, obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis) which together provide a strong base for our moving limbs so we can maintain good form whilst running. In reality, research shows that these ‘core’ muscles can be worked just as much by performing standard exercises like squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc. but this exercise does potentially offer a little ‘extra’…

The dead bug is thought to stimulate movement control centres in the brain by activating ‘global motor patterns’ that our bodies utilised in the first year of our lives as children. Running is essentially a development of these genetically predetermined elements of movement, utilising mid section strength and control whilst we move our limbs. The great thing about the dead bug is it can be progressed and regressed easily to suit the needs of the individual, and although here we present dead bugs on a foam roller, the basic version of lying on the floor is a great place for many runners to start.


  1. Position yourself on a foam roller so that the head and lower back are supported. Tilt your pelvis backwards so that your lower back gently touches the foam roller (if and how much you tilt will depend on the individual runner).
  1. Keeping the lower back in contact with the foam roller, breath in and then exhale as you raise one bent leg off the floor until the knee is pointing towards the ceiling.
  1. Breath in as you slowly return iot to the floor, then exhale as you raise the other leg.
  1. Repeat this alternating movement, ensuring that your lower back stays in contact with the foam roller (unless this causes any pain, in which case always seek advice from a professional). Make sure that both arms are in contact with the floor throughout; if this is still too challenging, perform a dead bug version without foam roller. Aim to perform 12 alternate leg lifts.


  1. Arms on elbows (forearms lifted from floor).
  1. Both legs off the floor and arms flat.
  1. Both legs off the floor and arms on elbows.
  1. Both legs off the floor and arms on wall behind you.


Controlled breathing is important during any exercise. Holding your breath may well feel like a natural reaction in order to concentrate more, but in reality movement control is achieved by calm, consistent breathing. The dead bug in particular demands such control, so as a guide try to exhale for 2 seconds during the lifting of the leg, and then inhale through the nose for 4 seconds as you slowly lower. Although your mid section will be working very hard to control the movement, you need to try and keep a mindful, relaxed position.

Lower Back Pain?

If you experience pain in the lower back when performing this exercise, it may be because you are allowing your lower back to arch excessively whilst moving the legs. Find a version of this exercise that allows you to perform it whilst keeping the lower back in contact with the foam roller. If this is not possible, don’t worry, it just means you need to first get stronger at a version that does not use a foam roller. With consistency, your body will get stronger and you will be able to then progress to this foam roller version. If you cannot perform this exercise without pain, seek help from a suitable qualified exercise professional.

Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt