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Core Strength and The McGill Big 3


What is the Core?

The core is simply any muscle that directly connects to the spine or pelvis.  Most will consider the abdomen and low back muscles (erector spinae) to be core muscles, however it also includes muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, the diaphragm, and pelvic floor.

Why does the Core matter?

The core provides us with our basis of stability when we move.  Stability in this sense means the ability to maintain a balanced position despite moving or being moved.  Consider our core musculature as guy wires and our spine and pelvis as a radio tower. The guy wires help to maintain an erect radio tower, despite its weight and external forces pushing/pulling it in any given direction.  Our core muscles work in the same way to control our spine and body from being turned when pulled from one side, keep us upright when carrying a backpack, and from falling over when we’re rocking around on a train car.


How can we strengthen our core?

Any time we move our body must engage the core in order to control any erroneous movement to prevent injury of the spine and optimally perform the desired movement.  Therefore, any movement will inherently train our core muscles. That being said our core muscles can be directly trained through many exercises and movement patterns.  

What is The McGill Big 3?

The McGill Big 3 are well known exercises to directly train the core. This includes:

  • the curl up

  • side plank

  • bird-dog 

In addition to loaded carries, especially unilaterally loaded, directly train the core musculature. Hip hinging pattern movements, such as deadlifts and all its variations, directly train the core by bracing to prevent spinal flexion.

Squat movement patterns directly train the core through the inherent need to brace our core to maintain spinal positioning.  As the position of the mode of resistance changes (barbell vs. dumbbell vs kettlebell, etc.) and the variations of these movement patterns changes the demand of the core will change as well.

Anti-rotational exercises, such as a Pallof press train your core musculature in building resiliency against being pulled to the side the band is on; especially the further out your hands are from your body.

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