The Mighty Deadbug
The 'deadbug' is a common abdominal exercise in many group fitness classes and programs for Mamas. It takes the pressure off of the core that you might find in a front loaded posture like a plank. And doesn't flex the trunk like a crunch or situp which can exacerbate an abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti). I think the reason that I love the Deadbug so much is that it seems easy enough, but you can really elevate it and it will always be challenging.
There are several variations of the deadbug so you can always work it into your routine regardless of where you are on your core healing journey.
Lying on your back with your head comfortably supported on the floor, and your knees are bent with your feet on the floor. Ensure there is a natural curve of the lower back throughout the exercise, if you are slipping out of a neutral spine then the progression may be too challenging for you at this point in time. Throughout this exercise you will want to ensure you are BREATHING! Do not hold your breath, if it is so hard to feel the need to hold your breath then check your ego and try an easier version. You will want to take a deep breath in, and do the work on the exhale. So if you are moving both your arm and leg at the same time, then you will want to lower them on the exhale and bring them up on the inhale. IF, that feels difficult, try playing around with your breath a bit. Try taking a big breath in from starting and then exhale on the lower and the raise, take another breath in neutral and lower again the next exhale. You have to find what works for you and your intrabdominal pressure.
Arms Only Keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground, slowly lift both hands into the air and imagine you are hugging a beach ball. Keeping your arms slightly rounded, lower one hand at a time towards the floor over your head. Return your hand slowly back to the starting position and repeat with the second hand. If this feels easy and you have no doming in your abdominals try progressing to using your legs.
Legs Only With your arms down on the floor by your sides, lift one leg up to a table top position, keeping that leg elevated, lift the other leg up to the starting position. Rotate your knees outward while bringing your toes together. I like to imagine that I am wrapping my legs around a large log or beachball. From this starting position you will slowly lower one leg down towards the floor, keeping the knee bent and rotated out. Bring the leg back to the starting position before lowering the other leg. Once you have mastered this with the legs only in a slow and controlled manner, you can add the arms in. Before you begin to lower the legs, raise your arms up as in the Arms Only variation and hold them there while you alternate lowering your legs.
Arms & Legs Birthfit
*This version was taught to me through my BirthFit training. By rotating the knees outward it takes a lot of the work out of the hip flexors and keeps the core working, which is ideal. For this variation we will combine the Arms & Legs. This takes some coordination so feel free to go extra slow and its ok to take a laugh break, I did! From the starting position with a neutral spine, you will slowly raise your arms to the beachball hugging position. Then you will do the same with your legs, one at a time to your knee bent, externally rotated leg starting position. You can imagine there is a log running through your arms and your legs and you are holding on, you want to maintain some tension in this position, no "spaghetti arms, hold your frame" (Paraphrasing, but name that movie!). Now comes the tricky part, slowly lower your alternate arm and leg down at the same time and slowly raise them back to the start position. Take a breath, and lower the opposite arm and leg. While lowering you will keep your arms and legs bent through out the exercise.
Arms & Legs Traditional Many instructors will train with a straight arm and straight or bent to straight leg. Otherwise it is very similar to the Birthfit method I teach above. While there is nothing wrong with this move, it can be harder for many postnatal Mamas to perform successfully. With the legs going out to a straightened position it requires additional abdominal strength and may cause some doming of your core. So just check yourself so you don't wreck yourself.
Let's Make it Harder!!
Arms Resisted Secure a resistance band around a post, banister, or something sturdy at about the height in which your hands would be extended from the floor. Now you have a couple of options here, you can have the band behind you, or in front of you. This will just vary the pull in which you must work against. Another option is to take a mini band and hold a side in each hand to really make you work. Go slow with these and remember to breathe. You can do arms only, or you can add in the legs with the arms for a real challenge.
Arms & Legs Resisted If you are looking for a really good challenge and you are able to perform all of the above exercises with no doming, or heaviness in your pelvic floor then give this one a try.
A. Isometric Resistance - Take your hand and place it on the opposite knee. Press into the hand with your knee and into your knee with your hand for 3-5 deep breaths. Then switch to the other side. B. Banded Resistance - Take a longer resistance band and wrap it around your elevated feet, cross it twice in the center and hold each end in the opposite hand. Now you will perform your alternating deadbugs as you normally would, but with resistance against your arms and your legs. You can work up to this by holding the resistance band in this position and only moving your arms or legs. Simply holding the isometric resistance of the band will be a bit of a burner depending on the heaviness of your band. I really recommend focusing on your breath and going as slow as possible here.
One of the keys to success with the deadbug is to go slow! Speed will cause you to use momentum to lower and raise your arms and legs, which defeats the core strengthening point of this whole exercise!
*Notes: Movie reference was Dirty Dancing for those wondering.