Building a strong and resilient spine
In the world of strength and conditioning, Stuart McGill is a renowned figure who has dedicated his career to understanding the mechanics of the human spine and developing strategies to enhance its strength and resilience. Among his many contributions, McGill introduced “The Big 3” exercises, a set of fundamental movements designed to promote spinal stability and prevent back pain. By understanding and implementing these exercises, individuals can improve their spinal health, enhance athletic performance, and reduce the risk of debilitating injuries. In my opinion, this might be one of the most important blog posts related to your spine’s health. I personally do these exercises at least 3 times a week, it does not take long, and it helps me to keep my core strong and stable. So, let’s analyse the Big 3 and unlock the secrets to a strong and resilient spine.
McGill N.1: The Bird Dog Exercise
The Bird Dog exercise is the first component of Stuart McGill’s Big 3. This exercise targets the posterior (back) deep muscles of the core, including the transversus abdominis and multifidus, which play a crucial role in spinal stability. By assuming a quadruped position and extending one arm forward while simultaneously extending the opposite leg backward, the Bird Dog exercise activates the muscles responsible for maintaining balance and proper alignment of the spine. Regular practice of this exercise helps improve core strength, stability, and coordination, ultimately reducing the risk of lower back pain and enhancing overall spinal health.
McGill N.2: The Side Plank Exercise
The Side Plank is the second exercise in The Big 3 and focuses on strengthening the lateral muscles of the core, particularly the quadratus lumborum. This muscle plays a vital role in maintaining proper posture and stabilizing the spine during various movements. By assuming a side-lying position and lifting the body using the forearm and side of the foot, the Side Plank engages the muscles along the side of the torso, enhancing their strength and endurance. Regular practice of this exercise helps improve lateral stability, supports proper spinal alignment, and reduces the risk of injuries related to poor posture or spinal instability. Start by doing 2 or 3 sets on each side, holding as long as you can. 40 seconds is okay, 50 is good, more than 60 is very good! The only recommendation here is to keep your elbow in line with the shoulder. Hold the position and focus on your breath (it will help you to focus on the breath rather than focusing on the burning sensation on the side of your body!)
McGill N.3: The modified McGill Curl-Up
The McGill Curl-Up is the final exercise in The Big 3 and targets the anterior muscles of the core, including the rectus abdominis and obliques. Unlike traditional sit-ups or crunches, the McGill Curl-Up emphasizes spinal stability and avoids excessive flexion, which can strain the spine. By maintaining a neutral spine and performing a controlled partial curl-up, this exercise activates the deep abdominal muscles while minimizing stress on the lumbar spine. Regular practice of the McGill Curl-Up can improve core endurance, enhance spinal stability, and prevent lower back pain. Because it is a difficult exercise to perform and visualise – and it can also be easily misinterpreted -, you can watch a full explanation HERE.
Why are they important
Implementing The Big 3 exercises offers a wide range of benefits for individuals of all fitness levels and backgrounds. Firstly, these exercises promote spinal stability by targeting the deep muscles of the core, which provide a solid foundation for the spine and enhance its ability to handle external forces. Improved spinal stability translates to reduced risk of back pain and injuries during daily activities or athletic endeavors. Additionally, The Big 3 exercises improve core strength, endurance, and coordination, leading to enhanced athletic performance and functional movement patterns. By incorporating these exercises into a well-rounded fitness routine, individuals can build a strong and resilient spine that supports overall physical well-being. Most importantly, by implementing these in your workout routine, you drastically reduce the risk of developing lower back pain, sciatica, etc. They are also excellent exercises to perform a couple of months after giving birth, to fight core weakness and instability.
Quality over quantity
To effectively implement The Big 3, it is essential to focus on quality over quantity. Performing each exercise with proper technique and control is crucial for reaping their full benefits. It is recommended to start with a low number of repetitions and gradually progress as strength and endurance improve. Additionally, consistency is key, so incorporating The Big 3 exercises into a regular training routine is essential for long-term results. Consulting with a qualified fitness professional or physical therapist can provide personalized guidance and ensure correct execution of the exercises, especially for individuals with pre-existing back conditions or specific needs.
Stuart McGill’s Big 3 exercises offer a practical and evidence-based approach to building a strong and resilient spine. By incorporating the Bird Dog, Side Plank, and McGill Curl-Up into a comprehensive training program, individuals can enhance spinal stability, improve core strength, and reduce the risk of back pain and injuries. Understanding and implementing these fundamental exercises not only benefits athletes and fitness enthusiasts but also individuals seeking to maintain a healthy spine and lead an active lifestyle. So, embrace the principles of The Big 3 and unlock the potential for a stronger, more resilient, and pain-free back.
Dr. Edoardo Elisei DC
Alive Chiropractic LTD
1C Crown Gate Square
Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.