I often talk about the importance of having a strong core. Not only does core strength improve workout performance, it also significantly reduces the risk of back, shoulder, and neck pain and many other injuries. These exercises are known as “McGills Big Three,” and are designed to increase muscular endurance around the spine. They are low impact exercises that can be done anywhere you can find a comfortable floor to lay on. Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada where he focuses on spine research. He has also written several books about the spine and back pain disorders.
The McGill Curl Up: This exercise strengthens your abs without adding a lot of compressive forces on your lumbar and thoracic spine, which is a concern when doing standard sit-ups and crunches.
Step One: Lie on your back with your hands under your low back, just beneath your sacrum.
Step Two: Bend one knee so your foot is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg straight on the ground.
Step Tree: Slightly tuck your chin so that the back of your head is pressed against the floor.
Step Four: Slowly curl up your shoulders lifting from the center of your breast bone until your shoulder blade are off the floor. Do not jut your head forward as you curl. Hold for 5-8 seconds.
Step Five: Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. Complete half the repetitions with one knee bent and the other half with the other knee bent.
The Bird Dog: This exercise challenges core strength as well as core balance and glute strength.
Step One: Start on the floor on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Your hands should directly underneath your shoulders and your knees should be directly underneath your hips. Make sure your back is in a neutral position.
Step Two: Raise your right arm in front of you while at the same time raising your left leg straight back. Raise your arm and leg until they are in line with the torso.
Step Three: Slowly lower your arm and leg and repeat on the opposite side. Complete 4-8 repetitions on each side.
Note: Make sure to keep your chest and hips square to the floor and to not let your hips or shoulders rotate out.
The Side Bridge: This exercise helps to strengthen the muscle on the side of your torso along with your shoulders.
Step One: Lie on your side with your elbow underneath your shoulder and your knees either bent to 90 degrees or with your legs straight and your feet stacked. Performing this exercise on your knees is easier and a great place to start as you build your strength.
Step Two: Push the floor away from you with your elbow to lift the shoulder up. Lift your hips off the ground maintaining a straight line from your head to your knees/feet.
Step Three: Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. As you increase strength, increase the amount of time you hold the plank.