Activate Your Core and Bulletproof Low Back for Training

In today’s post I share Dr. Stuart McGill’s “Big 3,” which are designed to stabilize and support the low back. They seem simple on the surface but the subtleties of these movements are instrumental in bracing your core to protect your spine during your daily movements and training.

I’ve covered 2 of these movements before but wanted to package them as the ” Big 3″ to illustrate Dr. McGill’s work for low back pain.

Recommended Use

If you’re having low back issues performing these mid morning, mid afternoon, and at nighttime is a good place to start. There’s a residual effect of spinal stability after performing the exercises. Dr. McGill also advocates a brisk walk highlighted by an intense arm swing upon completing these.

Some Key Points On Utilizing the Big 3

Whereas in some of my other posts I dissect one specific exercise, the plan with this post is to give you a toolkit and a procedure of 3 key exercises. These are tremendous at priming the core, especially for those with low back pain/issues.

There will be less written cuing. The videos will help cover that if you feel the need to go more in depth.

The focus will be on tangible takeaways – a gameplan you can say – that you can implement to make for better confidence in your body. More effective training is the desired result!

For Those w/ Low Back Issues

This protocol is great regardless if you have low back issues or not. But if low back pain is something that resonates using these throughout the day is a must in keeping spinal integrity.

You must also keep in mind your “movement hygiene” throughout the day. You must hone in on what triggers your pain and simply remove these ways of moving from your “movement vocabulary.”

For most, but not all, with low back issues, forward flexion at the waist exacerbates the pain trigger. So when picking things up from the floor replace this either with a hinging movement (think stiff-leg deadlift) or a squat.

By avoiding the pain inducing movements you will pick the scab less and allow your nerves to become less irritated!

Curl Up

Dr. McGill is the man. Follow his cuing above and he will lead you to the promised land!

Side Plank

I covered this one in greater detail in a previous post but will cover the protocol for the movement below.

  • Pinch knees to fire adductors
  • Squeeze glutes and extend hips forward
  • Elbow tight
  • Engage lat, side oblique, and QL by pushing bottom elbow into ground
  • Keep a strong fist and squeeze as hard as you can to irradiate tension throughout the body
  • Slightly pinch elbow towards side while seeking to keep shoulder and upper back muscles lengthened

Bird Dog

As with the last exercise I covered this in greater detail in a previous post but below I will cover the basic cues below.

  • This position entails being on all fours
  • Reach opposite arm and opposite leg
  • Always breathe through your nose! I can never stress this one enough because it signals a relaxation effect in your body
  • The above goes for all of the exercises and when going about your day

How To Use All of These Together

In my personal experience I prefer doing these exercises in the order listed. 2 to 3 sets for each movement is a great way to feel activated and be ready to begin your real training!

For the curl up perform 6 reps each side. Perform the 2 to 3 sets of this before moving on to the side plank. Same goes when moving to the bird dog. Do all of your side planks first then proceed.

Maximum hold of 10 seconds for the side plank and bird dog both. The key on each of these is the intensity of contraction not the duration!

Final Considerations on the Big 3

Applying these before your training sessions- be it the mats or in the weightroom – you will find more structural resilience in your body. The confidence to utilize your body forcefully and with speed should increase in your training after using these movements.

Especially for my “low back pain crew” out there this should honestly change your life. It’s helped me through some tough physical times and I would never advocate something if it wasn’t effective!

Until next time stay stable and mobile my friends!

I cover more performance training tidbits at that will help you prepare, recover, and perform better on the mats!


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