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Personal Trainer - To strengthen your core, go ahead and bug out

Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the progression for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the progression for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the progression for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the progression for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the starting position for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trainer Laura Salcedo demonstrates the starting position for the dead bug exercise at CrossFit Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas. (Justin Yurkanin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

We know that when the temperature outside gets warm it is time to spray for bugs. Those creepy crawlers will stop at nothing to get inside a nice home and set up camp.

If I see a bug, I immediately go into a bug spray frenzy. I cannot let my wife see one in the house or have the backyard plagued by messy spider webs. Those webs are the telltale sign the black widows are making our home theirs. I won’t have that.

As much as I dislike finding bugs scurrying around our property, I enjoy finding dead ones the day after a good spray. Dead bugs are good bugs. They are no problem to sweep off to the side or suck into a vacuum.

I recently came across “dead bugs” in a continuing education course. Not real bugs, but an exercise that resembles an overturned, drowned-in-poison, never-to-bother-me-again insect with its legs in the air. Dead bugs, the exercise, are an effective core awareness action with some amazing benefits.

I use dead bugs to teach athletes how to be aware of their spinal position. Remember, a straight spine allows the body to recruit power and force in a movement while keeping the body safe.

It also provides a fair and quick visual assessment of how someone’s mobility is progressing. If the legs are not straight, the hamstrings are tight. If the toes can’t dorsiflex, the calves are tight. If the shoulders have trouble staying on the ground, the upper back and neck may be tight. From these form cues it is easy for a person to see the areas that lack mobility and to target them with foam rollers and stretching.

Start dead bugs by lying supine on the floor with the legs and arms pointed vertically the core has to work to keep the spine straight. The first form checks are whether the head and shoulders are on the floor. Instinctively people will want to raise the head and shoulders. Be sure they are on the floor and the shoulder blades are pulled back.

From there, focus on the tummy. Try to pull the belly button inward toward the floor. Of course, the belly button won’t touch the floor through the body, but the action of drawing it inward will ensure that the spine is straight.

Further down the body, look at the hips. Are the hips on the floor? All too often tight hamstrings will cause the hips to come off the floor by bending in the lumbar region. If the hammies are tight, lower the legs a bit until the hips are touching the ground. As you improve your posterior chain flexibility, it will be easier to hold the legs in the correct position.

Holding a dead bug position for an extended period is the first step to spinal awareness. As the body fatigues, you will feel the core start to give way in certain areas. Maybe you feel the head start to rise or the legs sag with strain as the clock ticks on. No problem. Correct your form and keep going. Stop and rest when you are unable to correct your form.

The progressions to dead bugs are simple and may tax your nervous system with their coordination demands. Remember the basics of core training, progress a controlled and stable environment by making it unstable and still controllable. Letting the arms and legs descend one at a time or in different combinations is a potent way of unstabilizing your dead bugs environment. Be mindful of your spinal position during the progression. You’ll need to work harder to keep your back straight. Check out the progressions online at lvrj.com/trainer.

Take your dead bugs training with you as you perform other movements. Squats and dead lifts need a fair amount of spinal awareness, and knowing what a straight spine feels like may save you from injuries down the road.

You also can take that spinal awareness out in the world. If your back hurts while sitting at the desk, it is probably propped up in a chair or hunched over supported by your elbows. If the core is not active enough to hold the torso up, the spine is hunting for stability through its connective tissue. This puts undue stress on the tissue and the disks.

So rid your body of a spinal floppiness the same way I rid my house of bugs, with fierceness, dedication and a heavy boot.

No offense to the entomologists reading my column. I do agree that bugs have their place in the world. I just don’t like them in my house.

Instructions for Static Dead Bug exercise

SETUP

Lie supine on the floor or a mat. Hold the head and shoulders to the floor. Draw the tummy inward toward the floor. Raise the legs toward the ceiling. Squeeze the quads to keep the legs straight and pull the toes toward the knees. Make sure the hips are on the ground. Raise the arms toward the ceiling without the shoulders coming off the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and slightly rotate the arms externally.

ACTION

Hold this position for 30 to 90 seconds. Perform two to four sets of dead bugs. Make sure the back stays straight. Watch for the hips to come up, lumbar to arch, and the shoulders and head to elevate. Avoid those flaws.

Instructions for Dead Bug Progressions

SETUP

Lie supine on the floor or a mat. Hold the head and shoulders to the floor. Draw the tummy inward toward the ground. Raise the legs toward the ceiling. Squeeze the quads to keep the legs straight and pull the toes toward the knees. Make sure the hips are on the ground. Raise the arms toward the ceiling without the shoulders coming off the floor. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and externally rotate the arms slightly.

ACTION

Lower one limb one at a time so it is a few inches from the ground and return it to the starting position. Take turns with each limb. Progress this exercise by combining descending limbs in various combinations. See the video online at LVRJ.com/trainer for specifics.

— Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at 702trainer@gmail.com. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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