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Stuart McGills Big 3 - Spinal Hygiene

Do you brush your teeth? I hope so.

Why do you brush your teeth? Well hopefully it's to prevent tooth decay primarily.

What do you do for your lower back? Well Dr Stuart McGill, a world leading researcher on lower back pain, has developed a daily routine that helps to prevent lower back pain.

The exercises were chosen as they engage the core on all sides, the front, back and sides, without flexing, extending or rotating the spine. So they are considered very safe for everyone. You can perform it multiple times a day like brushing your teeth.

Note that if there is any pain then please cease the exercise and contact a professional. If you are in acute back pain then these exercises may not be suitable for you. Having an assessment to see what is causing your back pain is essential before undertaking these daily exercises. Otherwise give them a go.

Here they are:

1) McGill curl up

The biggest thing about this exercise is that it is not a regular curl up or crunch. Regular crunches or sit ups can strain the lower back by putting strong load through a flexed lumbar spine. Flexion of the lumbar spine is when your lower back presses into the ground. In this curl up you place your hands into the small of your back. Bend one knee, if you get sciatica or lower back pain on just one side then bend that knee to take pressure of the sciatic nerve on that side. Then tense your core by taking a breath in into your abdomen and bearing down like you are doing a number 2. Then lift just your head and upper shoulders straight off the ground. Don't bend the spine. Tuck the chin in to keep the neck straight. Hold for up to 10 seconds. You can repeat this around 3-5 times or up to 10 times if you feel is is too easy. Remember it is not a Crossfit workout, we are just trying to engage the core in the lower back.

2) The Bird Dog

Yes, this is a ridiculous name for an exercise. But it is one of the most important core exercises as it is one of the safest ways to engage your lower back muscles without flexing or extending the spine. Which can aggravate back pain if you get it.

Start on all fours with the hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Breathe in to engage core and bear down. Lift one arm forward and the opposite leg backward. Engage the shoulder muscles and squeeze the glutes. Hold for up to 10 seconds on each side. Lower with control. Try not to twist the pelvis. Repeat on the other side. You can repeat this up to 5 times on each side or up to 10 if you have the time and it feels comfortable.

3) Side Plank aka Side Bridge

The side plank can be performed on feet or if too hard then you can also perform it on the knees.

Ensure the body is in a straight line, elbow under shoulder. Breathe in and engage core by bearing down. Lift up with the pelvis. Top hand can be on hip or across the opposite shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds. Lower down. You can repeat up to 5 times. Then repeat on the other side.

So there you have it. Start adding spinal hygiene to your daily routine along with brushing your teeth and you'll have clean healthy teeth and a clean health spine.

If you have any questions about these exercises the feel free to get in touch at or book in with one of our amazing practitioners.


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