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The “Big Three” Exercises You Need to Kiss Lower Back Pain Goodbye

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsMay 8, 2019

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Photo: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions

Once I’ve been sitting at my desk without moving for, oh, about five hours, my back starts to feel like it’s made of lead rather than bones, nerves, ligaments, and muscles. As every 9-5er knows, standing up, cracking your back, and performing some ’80s-style aerobic exercises for lower back pain all offer some temporary relief. But what you do at the gym matters, too, according to Stuart McGill, PhD, professor emeritus of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Years of research have led Dr. McGill to recommend the “big three” set of exercises for lower back pain (a trifecta, if you will) designed to stabilize the spine both during and after a workout. “True spine stability is achieved with a ‘balanced’ stiffening from the entire musculature, including the rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall, quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi and the back extensors of longissimus, iliocostalis and multifidus,” he tells Ace Fitness. As complicated as the physiology behind the moves may be, these exercises for lower back pain are probably already familiar to you. It’s easy to learn the three moves that form the backbone of maintaining a healthy spine.

Kiss back pain goodbye with the “Big Three” exercises for lower back pain

1. The MCGill Curl-up

Start by lying on your back with one leg straight and the other knee bent. Place your hands under your low back and crunch your head, shoulders, and neck off your back at the same time. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly lower back down.

Reps: Complete three sets. For the first set, perform eight reps. For the second, six. For the third, four. Make sure to do an even amount on each side.


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Posture Day 21: Side Bridging. I love this one as it works the lats, shoulders, obliques and even inner thighs if activated correctly without putting any strain on wrists, neck, low back etc. Good for all ages, prenatal and postnatal too. Similar to a side plank but with more stability. • • Kim is doing a fantastic job of really pressing up and out of the left shoulder and lat. Make sure you are “knitting the ribs together” and drawing them into the back body. • • Goal is to have one stick straight line from crown of head through hips through knees. Normally we flex at hips (think clams series) so here you want to really lengthen the hip flexors. • • #sidebridge #sideplank #pilates #pilatesstudio #backworkout #wellness #befit #pilatesanyage #prenatalpilates #postnatalfitness #posture #alignment #lats

A post shared by Andrea White (@andreawhitepilates) on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:37am PST

2. The Side bridge

Lie on one side with your knees bent and prop yourself up on one elbow. Place your free hand on your opposite shoulder. Lift your hips off the floor for 10 seconds. (If you want, you can straighten your legs so you’re in more of a side plank.)

Reps: Complete three sets of each exercise. For the first set, perform eight reps. For the second, six. For the third, four. Make sure to do an even amount on each side.


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Introducing… TRAINER OF THE MONTH CLUB! 🎊💦⚡️💪 Trainer of the Month Club is bringing a new top trainer to your Instagram feed at the top of every month. How will it work? Check in on Mondays for our sweat drop, where you’ll find the workouts to follow along for the entire week. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ To help us kick things off, @charleeatkins is serving up a 4-week abs challenge with 7-minute daily workouts. Ready to try it yourself? ➡️ Swipe through for a demo on each move then head to the link in our bio for a full explainer on every move and reps. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ WEEK 1: BASIC BODYWEIGHT⁣⠀ ⠀ MOVE 1: Leg lowers⁣⠀ MOVE 2: Dead bug⁣⠀ MOVE 3: Prone plank hold⁣⠀ MOVE 4: Side plank right⁣⠀ MOVE 5: Side plank left⁣⠀ MOVE 6: Bird dog ⁣⠀ MOVE 7: Plank slides⁣⠀ Move 8: Walk out with knee pull ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ #iamwellandgood #fitness #trainerofthemonthclub #sweat #abs #fitness #workout #igworkout

A post shared by Well+Good (@iamwellandgood) on Apr 1, 2019 at 9:08am PDT

3. Bird Dog (see: move 6 in video)

From your hands and knees, raise your left arm forward while kicking your right leg back. Make sure your body is as flat as possible from head to toe. Hold for 10 seconds.

Reps: Repeat the 10-second hold three times on each side.

If your lower back is bothering you, this sneaky part of your body might be to blame. And while you’re catering to your upper body, here’s how to make your shoulders feel better, too. 

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