If you are reading this, I can almost 100% assume you have been told at some point, and believe, that core stability is a very important aspect of your fitness. Whether you are trying to work your way out of back pain or are looking to add a little extra to that deadlift 1RM, we couldn't agree more that core stability is going to be foundational to that effort.
Alright, so you are convinced some core work would be worth it and you are ready to get after. Sweet! Here is where things can get a bit tricky... You start by searching "best core exercises" on Google and you get 50 options... Yeah not helpful... But no worries; we got your back (pun intended)!
But first, what are the core muscles again?
The core muscles are a group of muscles that work together to provide stability and support to the spine and pelvis. They include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, multifidus, and the pelvic floor muscles. The core muscles are responsible for maintaining good posture, stabilizing the spine during movement, and transferring forces between the upper and lower body.
The "Big 3" Core Exercises that we recommend
The "McGill big 3" refers to a set of three exercises that are designed to strengthen the core muscles, which are the muscles that support the spine and pelvis. These exercises were developed by Dr. Stuart McGill, a renowned spine biomechanist, and are considered some of the best core exercises for improving spinal stability and reducing the risk of back pain. In this blog, we will discuss why the McGill big 3 are considered such good core exercises.
The McGill big 3 consists of three exercises:
the bird dog
the side plank
Let's look at each exercise and why it's an effective core exercise.
The bird dog is an exercise that targets the muscles in the lower back, hips, and shoulders. To perform the bird dog, start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. From this position, extend one arm and the opposite leg out straight, keeping your back and pelvis stable. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat with the other arm and leg.
The bird dog is an excellent exercise for improving core stability and balance. By extending one arm and leg out straight, you force your core muscles to work together to keep your back and pelvis stable.
*Photo credit = Medbridge
The side plank is an exercise that targets the muscles on the side of your body, including your obliques, glutes, and hip muscles. To perform the side plank, lie on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder and your legs straight. Lift your hips off the ground, keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your hips back down and repeat on the other side.
The side plank is an excellent exercise for improving core strength and stability, especially in the muscles on the side of your body. It also helps improve your posture and can reduce the risk of back pain.
*Photo credit = Medbridge
The curl-up is an exercise that targets the muscles in the front of your core, including your rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscle) and your hip flexors. To perform the curl-up, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands under your lower back for support. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground, keeping your chin tucked and your lower back pressed into the ground. Hold this position for a few seconds, then lower your head and shoulders back down.
The curl-up is an excellent exercise for improving core strength and stability, especially in the muscles in the front of your body. It's also a safer alternative to traditional sit-ups, which can put a lot of strain on your lower back.
*Photo from Medbridge
So why are the McGill big 3 considered such good core exercises?
First, they are designed to improve core stability, which is essential for maintaining proper posture and reducing the risk of back pain. The exercises target all the major muscles in your core, including the muscles in your lower back, sides, and front.
Second, the McGill big 3 are low-risk exercises that can be performed by almost anyone. They are low-impact and don't require any equipment, making them an excellent option for those who want to strengthen their core without going to the gym.
Finally, the McGill big 3 are evidence-based exercises that have been shown to be effective in improving core strength and stability. Dr. Stuart McGill has conducted extensive research on these exercises and has found them to be effective in reducing the risk of back pain and improving spinal stability.
Ready to get started?
The McGill big 3 are considered some of the best core exercises for improving spinal stability, reducing the risk of back pain, and improving overall core strength. So if you are ready to get started with them here is what we would recommend:
Perform 4 to 5 days/week
Complete 3 sets of 6 reps for each exercises (1 set = 6 reps each side for the side plank)
Hold each rep for 10 seconds
Make sure to "brace" your core (imagine someone is about to whack you in the stomach) before starting each rep and maintain the brace throughout the entire rep
Stop if you are experiencing any back pain
Want more guidance?
If you are dealing with any type of low back pain, or are maybe just not quite sure if you are performing the movements right, then we would love to connect with you to help out. We practice and teach these movements with clients literally daily. We know they can be challenging to perform correct and sometimes need modifications based on specific injuries. Don't hesitate to reach out to us via email at email@example.com or schedule a free discovery to chat with a Thrive-HQ physical therapist.