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Three Exercises That Make a Big Difference in Your Back Health

By Angela Burris

The “Big 3” are three of the most recommended exercises that can strengthen and heal the body. Popularized by Renowned Physical Therapist Stuart McGill aka Dr. Spine whom highly recommends that everyone can and SHOULD do these three exercises daily. “BIG 3” refers to these three exercises; the Curl up, Bird Dog and Side Plank.

There are various modifications, progressions and variations of these exercises with different names to boot.

MOVE #1 The Curl Up

Curl Up

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominals

Dr. McGill admonishes traditional crunches with cervical and spinal flexion in support of core stability (core stiffness or bracing) type of movements instead. This exercises for the abdominals is good for both preventing and relieving back pain.

Step 1

Lie down on your back with your legs out straight. Bend your right leg and plant that foot on the floor next to your left knee.

Step 2

Put your hands under your lower back. They will prop your lower back up, which allows you to keep a natural curve in your spine.

Step 3

Curl your head, neck, and shoulders off of the ground. Try to keep your neck as still as possible while you lift your head up. Don't tuck your chin or let your head fall back.

Step 4

Try to hold yourself up at the top for 7 to 8 seconds.

Step 5

Lower yourself down. Do half of the repetitions with your right leg bent and half with your left leg bent.

MOVE #2 Bird Dog

Bird Dog

Muscles worked: Rectus Abdominals, Gluteals, Erector Spinae, Multifidus

Step 1:

Starting out in Quadruped position (all fours) insure your hips are stacked over your knees and wrists under the shoulders.

Step 2:

Extend opposite arm and leg keeping the extended arms bicep close to the ear and the hips parallel to the floor (the hip of the extended leg will want to tilt up, so mindfully turn it down to be level with the other side).


Instead of extending fully the arm and opposite leg you can tap out the big toe and pinky and hold contact there in a modified extension.

Step 3:

Choose to hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds and or flow through alternating sides lifting arm and leg.

MOVE #3 Side Plank

Side Plank

Muscles worked: Quadratus Lumborum


Start with a kneeling side plank and then progress from there, lying on side with legs bent at 90 degrees behind body

The side bridge or side plank fires all of the muscles of the core, and activates the Quadratus Lumborum. The QL is a low back stabilizer, and is very commonly found to be weak in patients. This exercise emphasizes the endurance of the QL, which is generally the main goal in strengthening low back and core stabilizers.

Step 1:

Begin side-lying, resting with forearm perpendicular to the body and hip resting on the ground. Elbow should be under shoulder, with opposite hand resting on the opposite hip.

Step 2:

Engage the core, using the abdominal bracing as previously described. Press the elbow into the floor, lifting the hips off the ground until the body forms a straight line from head to toe. Step 3:

Hold this position for 30 seconds, repeating on opposite side.

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