The Top 3 Exercises For Back Pain

Apr 23, 2021

The Top 3 Exercises For Back Pain

“If you were to do any 3 exercises for back pain, what would they be?

This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions at our clinic. I get it, I’ve had back pain before too. I know how debilitating back pain can be. I know that you want to do as much as you can to get some ease from back pain. Sometime pain can be just too acute to be able to even think about exercise. However, it is so important that you do something.
Remember doing something is better than nothing! My upmost advice is to seek professional advice from a healthcare professional who will be able to direct you on the right path to recovery. As a physiotherapist myself, when I had back pain, I too sought help from a physiotherapist (It’s hard to treat yourself).

Now back to the top 3 exercises. As back pain generally affects 80% of the population at some point in their lives, it is important to know what you could do to help or prevent back pain. Back pain is one of the most researched ailments in medical journals.

One of these researchers is a man called Dr Stuart McGill, who is a professor of spinal mechanics. He has spent many years researching back pain, and worked with many different clients and athletes. He devised his ‘Big 3’ exercises to help build endurance in the muscles of the core and lower back that help stabilize the spine.

These 3 exercises are called:-

1. The McGill Curl-Up

2. The Side Plank

3. The Bird Dog

I would also like to point out that these three exercises are common exercises that can be seen done every day at the gym. The key is, that they are done correctly and with great control. And yes, the exercise you see here has many different names, but also many variations on levels of difficulty. In our Pilates classes we use these exercises frequently and can
grade the exercise depending on your level of ability.

The video of these exercises can be found below, or on Youtube

The McGill Curl-Up

At first glance, the McGill curl-up might appear similar to an abdominal crunch.
However, lordosis of the lumbar spine is maintained with McGill’s exercise.

1. Lie on your back, on a firm surface.

2. Bend one knee and place your foot on the ground. Keep the opposite leg straight.

3. Reach your arms behind you and position your hands underneath your low back. This will help preserve your arch during this exercise.

4. Lift your head, shoulder and upper back off the floor, as a unit. Try not to move each area individually.

5. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back down.

Aim for 10 repetitions of this exercise, performing five with one knee bent, then the rest with the other knee bent.


The Side Bridge


The side bridge works the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and multifidus muscles in your back; external and internal obliques in your abdomen; your glutes; and as an added bonus, your deltoid and pectoralis major muscles in your chest and shoulders.

1. Lie on your side, on a firm surface. Place your forearm on the ground, under your shoulder.

2. Reach across your chest with the other hand and place it on the opposite shoulder. This will help stabilize your trunk.

3. With your legs stacked on top of each other, bend your knees to 90 degrees.

4. Push down through your forearm and bottom knee to raise your body off the ground. You should be in a straight line from your head to your knees.

5. Work up to holding this position for 10 seconds on each side.

When this exercise is no longer challenging, stagger your legs slightly and straighten your knees. Press down through your forearm and feet to lift up into the side bridge.


The Bird Dog


Although its name is a bit odd, the bird dog exercise is performed on your hands and knees — a position called quadruped. Keep your abs tight throughout this exercise — do not allow your belly to drop toward the ground.

During this exercise, the core muscles are engaged isometrically, meaning they don’t actually move. They stabilize your midsection while you move your arms and legs.

1. In quadruped, keep your neck straight by looking at the ground between your hands.

2. Lift your right arm straight out in front of you until it is parallel to the floor.

3. At the same time, squeeze your glutes and lift your left leg straight out behind you until it is parallel to the floor.

4. Keeping your right arm, torso and left leg in a straight line, hold this position for 10 seconds. Do not allow your hips to rotate — your pelvis should remain parallel to the ground throughout this exercise.

5. Slowly lower back down and repeat on the opposite arm and leg.

If this exercise seems too difficult, or you find that you can’t keep your back straight, begin by lifting just your arm, then just your leg, until you are strong enough to move them simultaneously.

Remember before commencing these 3 exercises, you should seek specialist advice from your health care professional.

If you’d like to get some help or find out exactly how we may be able to help you, please call us at 028 92666959, or email



You may even like to check out our website here at


Back Pain


Alternatively, you may be interested in learning more about Pilates, where we actually teach these exercises in our classes. Learn more here


Pilates In Lisburn


Here is the full video here

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