Side Plank Technique (McGill Big 3): Core Stability/Core Endurance Training for Lower Back Pain

The ‘Side Plank or Side Bridge’ is one of the three exercises that make up the ‘McGill Big 3’, created by Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and founder of the McGill Method.

The side plank exercise uniquely challenges critical spine stabilizing muscles from a lateral perspective. It is one of the few exercises that integrate the QL (quadratus lumborum) with the abdominal wall.

The QL provides massive stability to the lower back as it attaches to each lumbar vertebrae, as well as the pelvis and ribcage. Think of this muscle as a source of bilateral support for each lumbar joint segment as it acts to buttress shear loads and instability. Quadratus lumborum is an extremely important and often overlooked or forgotten muscle of the core as it is involved in every motion or action of the spine (flexion, extension, lateral bending, and rotation).

The Side Plank integrates the QL with the rest of the core in a spine-conserving way by keeping one side of the lateral stabilizing muscles quiet while the other side is active. Lastly, this exercise also integrates the lats into the movement, which are the largest muscle in the upper body and the only muscle in the upper body to cross the hip joint, effectively connecting the upper and lower extremities.

Side-Plank Technique:

Place your elbow on the ground directly stacked underneath your shoulder joint, and make a fist with the hand for tension and stability in the arm. Place your feet in a wide and spread apart base (about 4-8″) with the top leg in front of the bottom leg for added support. The top hand/free hand can be placed on the top hip, in front of the working shoulder, or on the top leg.

Drive your hips forward into extension (similar to a deadlift) and up toward the ceiling in order to load the movement. No movement at the spine should occur. While breathing deeply and slowly into an abdominal brace, hold the side plank position for 15s-30s, and then carefully lower your hips to the ground before changing sides.

Always begin with your weak side first. Do not favor any imbalances with this exercise.

Perform 1-2 sets of the side plank for 15s-30s on each side before moving on to the other exercises in the McGill Big 3.

The Side Plank can be performed from the knees if you have limited core strength or an inability to engage the abdominal wall without causing pain.

I prefer to use the McGill Big 3 prior to training sessions, especially lower body sessions, but someone with a back injury who is looking to get back to functional and strong, they should perform the McGill Big 3 at least daily (or twice daily), provided these motions do not trigger pain.

About the “McGill Big 3”:

The McGill Big 3 should be a staple in any lumbar spine rehabilitation program when the client is ready to introduce training/fitness beginning with core stability and core endurance.

The McGill Big 3 (curl up, side plank, and bird dog) are unique in that they are superior in their ability to spare the spine of added compressive and shear forces while building muscular fitness and maintaining stability and control of the natural curve of the lumbar spine.

They are able to prevent painful joint micro-movements (buckling injuries) for several hours by creating a ‘super-stiffness’ of the entire core muscles. This super-stiffness acts as a bracing mechanism for the spine, the same way guy wires act to brace a tall tower.

The McGill Big 3 also builds core endurance (through time under tension), which is essential to adding activities back into your lifestyle that previously may have caused back pain.

#mcgillbigthree #lumbarspine #rehab

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *