I’ve been talking about Stewart McGill, his research and approach to back health. McGill took all his research and findings and honed it down to what he refers to as the “McGill Big 3.” Since he is so central to the rehab world, you can find this all over Google or YouTube. But please keep in mind that like anything on the Web, there is good information and there is bad. No one edits what is posted, so there will be variation on these exercises.
The three exercises address the Lumbar Paraspinal muscles and the Abdominal muscles which make up the core. In all these exercises, have your abs tightened, as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach. This will brace the back for the exercise. To paraphrase, they are as follows:
- Bird Dogs
- You are on all fours, and slowly lift & extend the opposite arm and foot while keeping the pelvis parallel with the floor. One interesting note is if you are in pain and spasm, you can still do this exercise simply by lifting the hand or the opposite knee just barely off the floor but enough to engage the muscles. Hold each side 8-10 seconds and repeat. This exercise focuses on the Extensor muscles, which are the muscles that help you back bend.
- Curl Ups
- You are lying on your back with one leg straight and the other knee bent with your foot on the floor. This helps to stabilize the pelvis. Your elbows are bent, and your hands are flat, under your low back to fill in and support the Lumbar curve. Your chin is tucked so you are looking to the ceiling. You lift from your torso (not your head) and raise just enough to get your shoulder blades off the ground. Hold for 8-10 seconds. Repeat. This exercise focuses on the Flexor muscles, which are the muscles that help you bend forward.
- Side Planks
- This one is trickier than it first appears, and I recommend you start with your knees bent. Your thighs are in the same plane as your trunk. Your lower-side arm is bent at the elbow, which is under your shoulder. Your upper arm reaches across to support your lower shoulder. Chin is tucked so your head is facing forward. To raise your hips, perform a pelvic thrust at about 45 degrees upwards. DO NOT just lift your hips up. This is key. Especially if your back is in spasm or pain.
The above three exercises are good for the pro athlete or the elderly and frail. You can do these in about 5 minutes to prime your back before commencing with a weight room workout, or these can be your back-exercise sequence before you go back to bed! As in all exercises, please consult with your doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist or trainer prior to trying them, especially if you have a diagnosed spinal condition.