These 3 exercises are termed ‘the Big 3’ by spinal researcher Dr Stuart Mcgill. The exercises are performed in a neutral back position – a spine sparing position and it helps to build muscular fitness along with stability and control throughout the spinal column. Spinal stability is what creates a strong core.
You do not have to be in pain to perform these exercises. These are actually best used as a preventative method to prevent back pain! Although if you are in pain, they are still a great way to help you get your core switching on again.
Some things to note:
· The exercises must be performed daily
· The best time is mid-morning or dinner time. Not upon waking – as this is when the spinal discs are at their fullest and therefore less room to move
· Reps and sets are important to what you can tolerate. There is no point trying to push through excruciating pain. Find your level and then progress
· Try and ensure that all 3 exercises are performed in a pain free posture for your spine.
1. Bird dog
Position yourself on all fours. Raise your right hand forward while simultaneously extending your left leg back, until both are parallel. Bring both arm and leg back into the resting position and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg. This is one rep.
Make sure your pelvis has minimal rotation while performing this exercise. The value of this exercise is coordinating upper back, lower back and hip movement all together.
Perform 1 set of 8, followed by another set of 6, with a final set of 4.
2. The side plank
Lie on your side, resting on your bent forearm, with your legs straight out
Lift your hips off the floor and hold for 10 seconds. You should feel your abdominal muscles and obliques (side) working. This exercise also works the quadratus lumborum (QL), a major spine muscle that plays a role in spine flexion and rotation. This exercise gets the QL and oblique muscles working together in coordination.
3. The curl up
The Mcgill curl up is not like your traditional curl up. There is no movement from lumbar spine.
Start by lying on the ground, with 1 leg bent up and the other leg straight (the painful side should be the one with the straight leg). Place both hands under the small of your back, this will ensure minimal movement through the lower back.
Lift your head off the ground by a few inches and then hold it there for a count of 10. The goal is to perform this without any movement in the lower back. If you feel your lower back rounding, then your head or shoulders are too high off the ground.
During this, you should feel your abdominal muscles brace – this is the spinal stability
Repeat another 5 times for a total of 6 reps. The recommended volume is 1 set of 6, followed by another set of 4 and the final set of 2. You do not need to hold the curl up for more than 10 seconds, rather to progress you can increase the reps.
I recommend using these exercises every day as the best preventive measure to avoid lower back pain. If you do have back pain, they are also great to perform as they can be done in a pain free position. The key is being consistent, once a day and before any exercise.
Mitchell Roberts – Chiropractor