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The Art of Movement Edition 65: The ‘McGill Big 3’ And Why They Can Save You From A World Of Pain

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Edition 65: The ‘McGill Big 3’ And Why They Can Save You From A World Of Pain

Let's face it - we're not short of solutions for core stability or back pain. There are thousands of exercises out there, each with their own merit and varying degrees of ability to get the job done. However, when we are spoilt for choice like this, the problem many people have is processing this saturated library of exercises, and simply not having a clue where to start - we could refer to this as 'decision paralysis'.

But when it comes to reducing symptoms of back pain and improving core stability as well as reducing incidence of other injuries, there does happen to be a go-to group of exercises relied upon by most physios, physical therapists and s&c coaches, referred to as the 'McGill Big 3'.

The "McGill Big 3" refers to a set of core stability exercises developed by Dr. Stuart McGill, a renowned spine biomechanics researcher from University of Waterloo, Canada. These exercises are specifically designed to improve core strength and stability, with a focus on protecting the spine and preventing low back pain. The three exercises are as follows:

1. Modified Curl-up

To crunches and sit-ups, this exercise is the wise grandparent those quick-fix-seeking kids can only dream of growing to be one day. While the modified curl-up still targets the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscles) the way we want it to, it also minimises stress on the spine in a way the former two exercises cannot. Here's how to perform it:

- Lie on your back with one knee bent and the foot flat on the ground, and the other leg straight.

- Place your hands palms-down underneath the lower back, just above the buttocks, to maintain the natural curve of the spine.

- Gently lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground while keeping your lower back pressed against your hands.

- Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Side Plank Bridge (w/ banded clamshells - optional)

The side plank with abduction primarily targets the muscles of the lateral core, including the obliques and quadratus lumborum, both of which play a hugely important role in the way that we walk, run, and carry out almost any movement. Follow these steps to perform it:

- Lie on your side with your knees bent and your elbow directly beneath your shoulder.

- Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

- Engage your core and drive the top knee away from the body, holding this position for a certain duration, such as 10 to 30 seconds.

- Repeat on the other side, balancing the training for both sides of the body.

3. Bird Dog

The bird dog exercise focuses on strengthening the muscles of the lower back, glutes, and shoulders. Here's how to do it:

- Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips.

- Keeping your core engaged, simultaneously extend one leg straight behind you and raise the opposite arm straight in front of you.

- Maintain a neutral spine and avoid arching your back or rotating your hips.

- Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

These three exercises should all be performed in a controlled manner with an emphasis on proper form and alignment. It's important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or fitness instructor at your local gym to ensure you're performing them correctly and also to determine the appropriate sets and repetitions based on your individual needs and fitness level.

“3… is the magic number” - De La Soul

Movement of the Week: I just gave you 3 👀

That’s all for this week! Check out my Patreon channel for video episodes, on-demand workouts, training programmes, training guidance/advice and more!

Thank you,


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