Want to Get Stronger in the Gym? Develop Core Stability

One of the leading back experts in the world is Stuart McGill, PhD. He has spent his career, spanning more than 30-years, researching spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. His core stability program, known as the Big 3, is one of the most often performed core exercise programs. His routine is so good, we are going to show you what’s involved.

What is Core Stability Anyway?

When the body is inactive, muscle weakness occurs along with joint laxity which can lead to instability according to Dr. McGill. Core stability is the ability of the stabilizers in the lumbar-pelvic area to maintain the correct trunk and hip posture during static and dynamic movement. The stabilizers refer to the following muscle groups that make-up this important area. These are the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and lumbar multifidus. Also playing a critical role are the spinal erectors and rectus abdominis. The key muscle in terms of spine stabilization, however, is the deep transverse abdominis. Why is all this important? Simply stated, if the area is strong, you move better. In essence, when the body has a stable base for the four extremities to perform from, the nervous system allows for greater force development to occur.

What is the McGill Big 3?

Through his research, Dr. McGill determined the combination of the following three exercises were most beneficial for developing core stability. Understand we’re talking muscle endurance here (not strength). The three exercises in his program include the side bridge, a version of the curl-up and a bird dog exercise. Each of the exercises are performed from their basic or beginner level before progressing, over time, to more advanced versions of the exercise. The key to each exercise is locking in with abdominal “bracing” prior to the start of each exercise and maintaining it throughout. Dr. McGill explains that the abdominal brace “enhances stability.” This is done by placing two fingers on both sides of the navel. Your fingers should be a few inches away from the navel, resting on the obliques. Now tighten the abdominal area and you should feel the fingers raise up a bit.

Side Bridge
McGill Curl Up
Bird Dog

Side Bridge

The bridge or called a side plank by some, is a basic core exercise and is ideal for developing endurance in the core stabilizers like the internal and external obliques. It is also a great exercise to help strengthen the quadratus lumborum, an exercise that helps not only with low back pain but is important for pelvic stabilization too. The side bridge pictured above is considered more of a progression from a basic side bridge performed with knees bent and the arm positioned on hip not raised as seen in the picture. Lift hips off the floor and pause for 10-seconds and repeat for desired repetitions.

Curl Up

The idea behind this type of curl up is to protect the lumbar spine by keep that area flat. This is done by placing the hands under the lumbar curve. Begin by performing abdominal bracing. Once the scapula clear the floor pause for 10-seconds and return to the starting position. Look up towards the ceiling at all times not down at your feet.

Bird Dog

This is one exercise you may have done while in yoga class. The starting position for the McGill version is to actually not raise the arm. First, perform abdominal bracing. Begin by just raising the extended leg only. The opposite arm can be raised over time as you advance to the next progression. When this becomes easy to do, bring the extended arm down touching the knee of the opposite leg. Hold arm and leg extension for 10-seconds, return and repeat. Perform on both sides.

How Does Core Stability and Get You Stronger in the Gym?

The easiest way to start thinking about all this is in the vein of “transferring” power throughout the body when training. An underdeveloped or weak core will create a “leak” or an escape of stored energy via the trunk during exercise. We want to utilize 100 percent of this stored energy. An example would be lifting a barbell, dumbbell, medicine ball or kettlebell off the floor and pressing it overhead. When the core stabilizers are not up to par, and abdominal bracing is not utilized, these types of movements become extremely difficult to perform. Further, even if somehow you’re able to perform such an exercise, lacking core integrity, you’ll likely end up using poor body mechanics and a future injury is likely. Stay Strong and try the Big 3 as either a new core routine or as a warm-up prior to strength training.

Exercise Prescription

Warm-up with Cat/Cow
Sets & Repetitions
1A. Side Bridge 6, 4, 2
1B. Curl Up6, 4, 2
1C. Bird Dog 6, 4, 2
*Perform in a circuit format – 1A, 1B, 1C – for 6 repetitions per set followed by 4, 2 repetitions for subsequent sets.

Use the Jefit App for All Your Workout Needs

Jefit app was named best app for 2020 and 2021 by PC Magazine, Men’s Health, The Manual and the Greatist. The app comes equipped with a customizable workout planner and training log. The app has ability to track data, offer audio cues, and features to share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit as you live your sustainable fitness lifestyle. Stay strong with Jefit!


Get Strong Abs With These Jefit’s Core Programs


Got strong abs? Looking for strong Abs? Jefit has a series of programs called Core Challenge. The three free programs are geared towards all fitness levels. Each of the programs take about 15-30 minutes to complete. A nice goal for a program, in terms of a way to progress, is to have it become more of an individual challenge or competition with the Jefit community and friend groups. The idea is to see how quickly a user can move through the program based on time and challenge others. With that said, you can also try the new Jefit Assessment found on both iOS and Android platforms. One of the three tests is a plank challenge.

The series of programs that make up the three core routines include 5 to 10 exercises with between 10-15 repetitions depending on the level. The exercise selection includes a wide array of bodyweight exercise as well as the use of some equipment like medicine ball, stability ball.

Beginner Level: Core Challenge 50

As the name implies, the beginner-level routine includes 50 total repetitions using 5 different exercises. The five exercises that make up this routine are basic core exercises. The list of exercises include Crunch, Oblique Crunch, Heel Touches, Reverse Crunch and Air Bike, also known as Bicycle Abs. The goal is to perform 10 repetitions of each exercise. No exercise equipment is needed to execute this routine. A good goal to strive for is less than 15-minutes to complete. When this routine becomes less challenging, progress to Core Challenge 100.

Intermediate Level: Core Challenge 100

Following completion of Core Challenge 50, it’s now time for a new challenge, where the number of exercises and repetitions both increase. This program utilizes bodyweight only and no equipment is necessary. Some of the exercises do, however, are more challenging, such as V-Ups, and Leg Pull-ins. As the title suggests, expect to perform 100 repetitions spread over 10 different exercises. A respectful goal for this routine is under 30-minutes to complete.


Want Strong Abs? Work on Finishing Core Challenge 150 in 30-Minutes or Less!

The Core Challenge 100 will push most people. The Core Challenge 150 is a whole different ball game. The number of exercises may stay at 10 but the number of repetitions increase to 15. Exercise equipment is also brought into play for this routine (see below). In regard to exercise selection, you’ll find Ab Rollout, Double Leg Hundred, Weighted Russian Twists, Stability Ball Pull-ins and V-Ups, to name a few.


  • Weight Plate (or substitute medicine ball or dumbbell if no weight plate is available).
  • Cable machine (or substitute and exercise band instead).
  • Olympic Bar (22 or 45 lbs. – or substitute with an Ab Roller, Stability ball, for Ab Rollout).
  • Stability Ball
  • Medicine Ball

A Quick Word on Nutrition

There have been plenty of articles and scientific research published showing all the sit-ups in the world are not enough to get ripped abs. Any well-designed, long-term training program that focuses on execution and technique, will eventually develop strong abdominal muscles. The key ingredient to get ripped abs, though, is to eat a clean, healthy diet that focuses on reducing highly processed foods and added sugar. Eat real food. Sounds easy but this is where most people drop the ball.

A Strong Core

There are more than 35 muscle groups that make up the core. You need to move beyond simply sit-ups or planks (unless you have back issues) in order to get strong, ripped abs. Incorporate various movement patterns into your core work. Instead of doing traditional sit-ups (spinal flexion), add in movements that involve lateral flexion, rotation (Russian Twist), anti-rotation (Palloff Press), stability training (Plank variations) and combinations of these movement patterns.

The three new Jefit core routines focus on doing this – especially Core Challenge 100 and 150. Some of the exercises are perform while lying down (to save time). A well-rounded, functional program would include more standing exercises like the medicine ball slam found in the advanced 150 program.

Perform a Plank for time before you begin to use any of these routines. Use a routine 2-3x/week over 4-6 weeks and try that timed Plank exercise again. You may be surprised at how much easier it is to now hold. Stay Strong and Eat Clean!

Use Jefit for Your Strength Training Needs

Try Jefit app, named best app for 2020 and 2021 by PC MagazineMen’s HealthThe Manual and the Greatist. The app comes equipped with a customizable workout planner, training log, the ability to track data, audio cue tips, and a feature to share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit.