McGill’s Big 3 for Core Stability

In response to the COVID-19 virus, you may be spending more time at home than normal. Try out these 3 exercise that are indispensable to spine health. A built core will help support the spine and minimise risk of back pain as one ages. If you regularly lift heavy, don’t lift at all or spend too much time in a chair, these are for you.

Who’s that Mac?

Dr Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo is a leading researcher with numerous peer reviewed journal articles to his name. Studying the cause and treatment of back pain for over 40 years, he continues to work with professional athletes and to train and educate health care professionals around the world. He has his own methodology and certification programme so physiotherapists can say they are McGill certified.

Why the McGill Big 3?

Dr McGill’s studies show that enhancing endurance, not strength, is key in helping people avoid bad posture that lead to back pain. Maintaining proper posture throughout the day requires endurance. These exercises promote spinal health by creating a stiffness that enhances stability in a spine-sparing way which lasts. As such, these set of exercises could be particularly helpful for those who have back pain from overload or overuse. Use, don’t abuse, please. 

Let’s brace! Your core, that is….

Relax the stomach. Push fingers into the oblique muscles about 5 to 12 cm to the side of the belly button, roughly where the “S” line is. Gently stiffen the abs, visualise pulling the belly button into the spine—you will feel your fingers being pushed out. Try to maintain that tension throughout or adjust to suit your comfort level, but never relaxing completely. Attempting these  exercises without bracing the core may lead to injury.

Pyramid scheme? It’s not a scam

The Big 3 is most effective in a reverse pyramid rep/set scheme. This means decreasing number of reps with the increase in set. For example, a 3/2/1 rep scheme means performing 3 reps/side on Set 1, 2 reps/side on Set 2, and 1 rep/side on Set 3. Hold each rep for 8-10 secs. Increase reps as your own endurance improves, with diligent practice. Aim to incorporate these exercises 3 times per week. Consistency = sustainable gains!

Move 1: The McGill Curl Up

  • Lie down flat, bending one knee with hands under the lower back for support.
  • Pull chest, head and shoulders off floor, visualising them as one entity. Hold before slowly lowering back down.
  • Swap legs and repeat. That’s one rep.
  • Insider tip: try not to tuck the chin or tilt the head back.

Move 2: The Side Bridge Dip

  • Start by lying down on your right side then pushing yourself onto right elbow and foot.
  • Lift hip off the floor and hold. Slowly lower hip back down to floor.
  • Change to the other side of body and repeat for one rep.
  • Insider tip: Make it easier by doing on knees instead of feet. or lining feet up to spread body weight across both feet.

Move 3 : The Bird-Dog

  • Begin on hands and knees on mat with spine straight, maintaining a slight arch at lower back.
  • Extend one arm and the opposite leg outwards, keeping the back straight and being mindful that the lower back does not sag towards the floor.
  • Hold it at the top. Then, contract and repeat with opposing limbs.
  • If lifting two limbs together is difficult or causes the lower back to sag, begin with lifting only the leg followed by just the arm.

Only attempt these at your own discretion and a dash of common sense. If you’re unsure, don’t do it. If it hurts, stop. Though they may help your brace treatment and therapies ‘stick’ after, we can’t guarantee that.