Strengthening Exercises to Rehab Your Back

What is the McGill Big 3?

Chances are that at some point you will experience lower back pain. Lower back pain affects over thirty one million Americans. Disc herniations and bulges contribute to most of those cases. A common myth is that stretching will help to alleviate this pain. This is false. Truth is, strengthening exercises will go much further to rehab your back than anything else. So what can we do?

Dr. Stuart McGill from the University of Waterloo states that increasing muscular endurance in your core is the best defense against low back pain. If we think about it logically it makes sense. Our core often gives out during longer bouts of exercise. For example, imagine two equally trained individuals doing a standing shoulder press. One individual is using 90 pounds for a set of 5 while the other is doing 90 pounds for a set of 12. It is obvious that the second person will be doing the exercise for a longer duration. As we become fatigued during a shoulder press we often arch our lower back. The second person hurts their back as a result of the fatigue. Basically, this example shows that the longer we do an exercise the risk increases for form to break down and therefore, our back to be injured.

To combat this we need to learn to “brace our core.” You’ve probably been hearing this all the time if you go to Body Elite. How do we do this exactly? A braced core is a balanced core. We stiffen the musculature in our abs, lats, and lower back. For a good visualization, imagine our core as a can. If we push one end of the can in, it collapses much easier than if it were perfect. It might be difficult to achieve at first but luckily Dr.

McGill has developed a core strengthening circuit to strengthen these muscles and to help alleviate low back pain.

  1. The McGill Curl-up

First lie down on your back with one leg fully extended resting on the ground and the other leg bent. Place your hands underneath the arch of your back. Next, crunch up pulling your head, shoulders, and chest of the floor as if these body parts were one unit. Hold this position for about 10 seconds and return back to the ground slowly. Repeat while bending your other leg.

  1. Side Plank

Lying on your side, position your forearm on the ground keeping your elbow directly underneath your shoulder. Place your other hand on your opposing shoulder. Bend your knees at a 90 degree angle with your feet stacked on top of each other. From there, lift your hips off the ground as high as you can and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat for the other side.

  1. Birddog

Assume the all-fours position on a mat making sure that your hands are directly underneath the shoulders and the knees are directly under the hips. Maintaining 3 points of contact through the spine extend the right arm and left leg simultaneously. Hold for about 10 seconds and repeat for the other side.

These exercises won’t instantly relieve lower back pain but are a prehab technique to combat the source of your lower back pain; the inability to brace your core. Do these exercises for 10 minutes before your workouts as a warm up and reap the benefits of decreased back pain.


Body Elite Trainer Sean Willitts

Body Elite Trainer Sean Willitts

Sean Willitts is an ACE certified personal trainer. He graduated from Kutztown University in 2015 with a bachelor’s is sport management and a minor in fitness. Including training at Body Elite, he is also a record holding powerlifter. He uses his practical experience and knowledge to help his clients achieve their strength and fitness goals.