McGill Big 3 -- Simple Back Exercises

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating the McGill Big 3, bird-dog, side plank, and modified curl up. 

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating the McGill Big 3, bird-dog, side plank, and modified curl up. 

Dr. Stuart McGill is a spine researcher, who has spent many years studying low back disorders and spinal injury prevention.

After years of research, Dr. McGill developed 3 back exercises: bird dog, side bridge, and modified curl-up, collectively known as ‘the big three.’ These exercises can help people stabilize all of the core and back muscles, which lead to a stabilized spine and reduced low back pain. 

These 3 simple exercises can be used by anyone suffering from a weak core muscles and back pain. 


 

1. Bird-Dog

The back extensors muscles (both the lumbar and thoracic are important) are challenged with the birddog position.

First put both knees & both hands on the floor, slowly raise one leg and the opposite arm, hold the posture for 7-8 seconds. The abdominal muscle are braced throughout this posture. Then lower the leg & hand for a breath before you raise them again for the next repetition.

This motion will enhance the stabilizing patterns.

Perform 5 reps with left leg & right arm, holding each for 7-8 seconds.
Repeat with right leg & left arm.



 

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating bird dog using his left leg and right arm. hold this for 7-8 seconds, lower, and repeat 5 times

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating bird dog using his left leg and right arm. hold this for 7-8 seconds, lower, and repeat 5 times

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating bird dog using his right leg and left arm. hold this for 7-8 seconds, lower, and repeat 5 times

Dr. Scott Heppe demonstrating bird dog using his right leg and left arm. hold this for 7-8 seconds, lower, and repeat 5 times


 
Dr. Heppe demonstrating side plank.

Dr. Heppe demonstrating side plank.

2. Side-Plank

The beginners side plank/bridge is performed with support from the elbow and knees, while the more advanced variation using the elbow and feet is shown on the right.

Maintain the abdominal brace, a neutral spine and breath deeply.

here is an advanced version of side plank. 

here is an advanced version of side plank. 

Hold the side plank for 7-8 seconds, take a couple deep breathes, lower yourself down slowly and then repeat. 

Do 5 repetitions on one side before switching and repeating the exercise for the opposite side. 

 

 

 


 

3. Modified Curl Up

The curl-up activates and strengthens the rectus abdominus while keeping the spine in a neutral position.

To perform the movement, lie on your back with one leg extended and the other leg bent. This helps to stabilize the lumbar spine, reducing movement through the area. Place your hands, palms down, under the lumbar spine.

Elevate the head and shoulders just off the floor. The head and neck must be rigid and move as one unit. Hold for 7-8 seconds, then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat for 5 repetitions.   


For the first week try to do all 3 exercises at least 3 times a week for 5 repetitions. As you get stronger add a repetition and do the exercises more often. There are also more advanced positions that we can discuss in the office, like performing the bird dog exercise on a bosu ball or foam roller. During your appointments we will tailor the McGill Big 4 to your level.