McGill Big 3: Why it doesn’t work for you

Mcgill Big 3: Why it doesn’t work for you

The McGill big 3 doesn’t work! I see it every day. “McGill’s big three doesn’t work for me; it worsened my symptoms! It does nothing; it makes my back hurt! Or, they are too easy and didn’t do anything. In this article, I’m going to discuss why the Big 3 doesn’t work for you and there are three primary reasons I see in my work with clients and back pain. 1. Improper form and technique, 2. you haven’t removed the causes of your pain, 3—inappropriate application.

Improper Form

Improper execution and form are likely the culprits for those who ‘aren’t getting anything out of the big 3.’ I see it all the time; even when people claim to be coaches and masters of the movement themselves, they are highly bastardized. As I explain in the video, they aren’t held for the appropriate amount of time (up to 10sec), and sometimes are done so poorly that they are winding up one’s back pain. For example, one standard technique error for the Birddog is the leg being too high in the air, causing movement in the lower back instead of hip extension, which is meant to help lock in and stiffen the core. Fortunately, the side plank is pretty easy to execute, but the curl-up, not as fortunate, is by far the most bastardized. I have included a good technique video for you to refer to in this article.

Haven’t removed the cause

Another common mistake people make when criticizing the big 3 is that their pain isn’t improving, and they expect the big 3 to take away all their pain magically. Now, in some cases, stabilizing the core and giving the spine some bolstering support can take away the pain. But for those more deeply pained, a more robust and thorough approach will be needed, i.e., an assessment (comprehensive) and removing the causes of pain. This could be a posture, a movement, an exercise, or a position that keeps them pained. It could be as simple as lying in bed for too many hours a night or the way they wash the dishes and take out the trash repeatedly. In my experience, to beat back pain, you must remove the cause. This is a foundational pillar that I learned personally from Dr. McGill. This was the biggest game-changer in my back pain story. I was constantly brutalizing my back with poor posture and spine hygiene.

Improper application

Improper application is a common enemy for those who want to regain their robustness for life. They haphazardly apply the big 3 when it’s convenient or when they feel like it until they start feeling better, then return to the old program that injured them. The improper application could be too much of the big 3, too little, or even using them when they are inappropriate. Every back injury is unique – some people are in such great pained states that anything winds up their pain. In Back Mechanic, we suggest those in severe pain rest and consider doing virtual surgery. In short, virtual surgery is taking a reprieve and pretending as though they had surgery on their back and treating their day as such; resting and recovering.

Final thoughts about the McGill big three and their effectiveness

There are many reasons why people don’t recover from their back injuries. And this is not my purpose for this article. My intent for this article is to shed some light on why the big 3 gets a bad reputation at times and also clarify why I see many people struggle. Once they read in context in Gift of Injury or Ultimate Back – readers tend to understand the big three and how to correctly apply them in their pain-free pursuits. The problem comes when someone takes an exercise they don’t understand or really know and just blindly uses them. The blind leading the blind is a great way to describe some of the dissents you read about from so-called back pain experts.

There is hope for those in back pain who have run into nothing but dead ends and are losing hope! I will do my best to help you – I know your pain; I’ve been there. 

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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