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I've recently added the McGill "Big 3" into my warmup. I do each of the three movements (curl up, bird-dog, side-plank) for 10 reps each for a 10 second hold. These, so far, are not difficult for me to do.

My question is, if the "Big 3" aren't challenging by themselves, should they be made challenging? In other words, if I can do these without much difficulty do I just count my blessings and move onto other workouts or should I look to increase sets/reps or add weight.


Context edit: I'm using the "Big 3" to help build mobility, core development and stabilization for [other training]. My goals are not related to these movements themselves but to use them to facilitate the [other training].

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I can't speak with certainty to McGill's intentions for these exercises, other than to point out that in his book Low Back Disorders 2e (2007), they are listed as beginner's remedial exercises, which suggests they are intended to be used by those suffering debilitating back pain. It's not surprising then that a healthy person would find them pointlessly easy.

I've similarly found them to not be at all challenging, and so I just don't bother doing them. If they're so easy as to provide no challenge at all, then I think it's reasonable to conclude that doing them would just be a waste of time.

The only variant of these exercises that McGill lists in the advanced exercises section of the book it a bird-dog made more challenging by the addition of wrist and ankle weights, and/or explosive movements.

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It all really depends on you and what you want to be getting out of the workout.

A warmup should be around five to ten minutes of activity to raise your body temperature a bit, prep the muscles that you will be working in your workout and get mentally ready for the workout. An effective warmup will help minimize injuries and increase the effectiveness of your exercises. It can include cardio, muscle activation activities, foam rolling, light load exercise (So if you are doing chest, light/no load bar presses and similar).

So you can make the warmup more challenging, but then is it a warmup or is it part of your lifting?

With regards to the Big 3, if they are going to part of the workout then make them more challenging. If not, evaluate if they are serving the purpose of the warmup. If they are, keep them. If not, then either change them slightly or drop them in favor of specific activity to facilitate the purpose of the ensuing workout.

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I agree with JohnP regarding the purpose of a warm-up. Also, you don't state what else you're doing in your workout but consider that it's really not a good idea to be fatiguing your core muscles too much before any heavy lifting, particularly for exercises such as squats and deadlifts.

If you do wish to progress the exercises I would suggest doing this towards the end of your workout, there are several options:

  • Curl-up - move arms from under your back to behind or above your head. You could also hold a weight directly above your head.
  • Bird-dog - Progress from doing this on your hands/knees to elbows/knees (with torso and thighs in a straight line) and then to hands/elbows and feet (with torso and legs in a straight line)
  • Side plank - progress from bent knees to straight knees. To progress further you can try lifting your upper leg slightly or clutch a small weight plate to your chest.

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