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Stuart McGill’s “Big Three” Low Back Exercises

Research has shown that the most common cause of years lived with disability (YLD) is low back pain.

An article in The Lancet that looked at acute and chronic disease in 188 countries over 23 years found that the:

Leading causes of YLDs included low back pain and major depressive disorder among the top ten causes of YLDs in every country.

Dr. Stuart McGill, Professor Emeritus of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Canada has demonstrated in his research that enhancing your ENDURANCE is important in helping you manage your low back pain.

The McGill big three are designed to build a foundation that allows you to be active and do activities that you enjoy.

Here are McGill’s “Big Three” exercises for improving your low back endurance:

1. The McGill Curl Up

  1. Lie down on your back. Extend one leg and bend the knee of the other leg.
  2. Put your hands under the lower back to maintain the natural arch of your spine.
  3. Pull your head, shoulders and chest off the floor, as though they were all locked together. Lift them up as one unit. Keep your back in neutral position. Don’t tuck your chin or let your head tilt back. Hold for 10 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower yourself down. Do half of the repetitions with your left leg bent and half with your right leg bent.

2. The Side Bridge

  1. Lie on your side, with your forearm on the floor and elbow underneath your shoulder. Place your hand on the opposing shoulder to stabilize your torso. Pull your feet back so the knees are at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Lift the hips off of the floor and hold for 10 seconds. Try to maintain a straight line from your head down to your knees. Make sure that your hips are in line with the rest of your body. When completed turn over to other side. (Optional: For a greater challenge, straighten the legs instead of bending them).

3. The Bird Dog

  1. Assume a hands-and-knees position on the floor.
  2. Raise the left arm forward while simultaneously extending your right leg back until both are parallel to the floor. Ensure that hips are aligned with the torso and not tilted to one side. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.


Low Back Exercises | (02) 9955 5400