Core Activation and Control

I will touch on concept of core. Even though it is debated whether the concept is still valid, it remains widely used in health and fitness. It was first introduced in 90’s in Australia. This does not mean that people did not know that they have abs which when well trained gives you that cool six pack look. It means that the researchers looked into deeper core muscles and significance it had in human functioning.

Core involves muscles that surrounds your spine giving it support and stability during movement regardless if it’s just walking up a stair case or playing sports. Transverse abdominis (TA) is arguably the most important of them all. However, you also have internal and external obliques and multifidus which are also significant. It is suggested that in healthy spine and strong core which is being activated in good time, the TA fires just a fracture before any movement or activity is being performed.

Therefore, people started to look for ways how to actively engage the TA and build its strength to optimise its function with purpose to increase performance in sports, reduce injury risk and apply it in lower back pain rehabilitation programs.

To engage the TA you must keep a neutral spine. Meaning that you should not be clenching abdominal muscles and curling over, but tucking the tummy in as if you would like to bring the belly button closer to the spine. But this is just an engagement. The tricky part is to sustain that engagement while maintaining a neutral spine, breathing and performing an exercise. It does take quite a bit of practice, hence, even though it might appear boring, developing the fundamentals is crucial.

Below you will find few Dead Bug exercise variations which I hope will help you with your core engagement and control, but first let me talk you through the engagement process.

Getting Engaged:

Lay on your back. Keep your head resting on the surface you’re on because if you will start lifting your chin up, you will likely to start using your abs more than you suppose to. Tuck the tummy in bringing your belly button closer to your spine. Ensure to check that you have some space between the surface you’re on and the lower back by trying to slide your fingers under. Depending on the natural curvature of your spine, particularly lumbar lordosis, one might have bigger space then other. Basically, when you are set, you should feel comfortable without having to strain your abdomen. If your spine curvature is normal, you should be able to slide fingers under your back easily. If you know your spine curves are normal and you are unable to slide your fingers under, you may be clenching your abs instead of activating your TA. If you have decreased lordosis known as flat lower back, you naturally might not be able to have any space between a surface and your lower back. Once you’re set you can continue to the exercises:

Breathing During The Exercise:

Breathing is very important, make sure you breathe out on exertion, meaning you breathe out when lowering the limb or limbs down towards a surface and you breathe in on recovery, when you coming back to the staring position.

Exercise 1 – Dead Bug Using Legs Only

Get into starting position. Keep your knees and hips flexed at 90 degrees. Slow and controlled move one leg out maintaining neutral spine, bring it back to the starting point and repeat with the other leg.

Dead Bug Legs Only

Exercise 2 – Dead Bug With Opposing Arm and Leg

Get into the starting position. Flex your knees and hips to 90 degrees. Bring your arms in front of you keeping your elbows straight. Have your wrists in neutral, meaning thumbs up. It will reduce the pressure placed on your shoulder joint. Move one leg out simultaneously lifting opposite arm above your head maintaining neutral spine. Come back to the starting point and repeat on the other side.

Dead Bug Using Arms and Legs

Exercise 3 – Dead Bug Holding Dumbbells

When choosing the weights it is very important to not have your ego taking over. If you go too heavy it is likely that you will lose the neutral spine, you will potentially place too much strain on your shoulder which might force you to bend your elbows when lowering your arms, and you will increase your risk of injury, therefore, start light and build up gradually according to your own ability. Complete the exercise exactly as the one above just holding the weights.

Exercise 4 – Dead Bug With Medicine Ball and Twist

Try this exercise if you feel confident with your performance of previous variations. Adding the twist while holding a weight and trying to maintain the neutral spine is quite challenging so again, don’t go too heavy on the ball. If you will start loosing your balance and notice that your shoulder is being lifted off of the surface, that means you probably went too heavy or you are trying to reach too far. Remember that you are working to activate your core and build up the control of it so work within your comfort range of movement.

Dead Bug With Medicine Ball and Twist

Exercise Effectiveness:

I use this exercise a lot when it comes to working with people with lower back pain, or with someone who had a lower back pain but is getting ready to return to their favourite physical activity or to go on an active holiday. It helps to build up sufficient strength and core control to progress to more strenuous and complex exercises such as different plank variations, work on an unstable surfaces or fast paced training.

Try it out and lemme know how it went!

If you have any questions, thoughts and suggestions please leave them in the comment section.

Good luck folks!!! Till next time!!!