McGill Curl Up

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McGill Curl Up Exercise Demonstration

McGill Curl Up is one of those ab exercises that is used to prevent and even relieve lower back pain. It is widely popularized by the world’s top spinal researcher Stuart McGill. I have used this exercise with my clients with a great success.

Although this exercise may look like a regular abdominal crunch, it’s not. With McGill curl up you get better engagement of your abdominal muscles with the less risk to your back.

The most important part of this exercise is that it doesn’t require you to round or flex your lower back. It stays in its naturally arched position throughout the whole exercise. As a result that minimizes the stress on your spine while you can focus on strengthening and building your abdominal muscles.

Recommended For You If:

  • Other abdominal exercises cause lower back pain.
  • You have tight hip flexors.
  • Your lower back fatigues before your abs do.
  • You have weak abdominal muscles that needs to be strengthened.
Main Target: All abdominal area
Equipment needed: None

How To Do McGill Curl Up Correctly

To avoid any deterioration of your lower back or avoid aggravating pre-existing damage, pay close attention to the correct technique and form of the exercise below.


Lie on your back on the floor. Bend one leg and leave other one to stay straight and flat.

Place your palms underneath the natural arch of your lower back to preserve the curve. Depending on the size of your arch you can put one hand on top of the other or simply clasp your hands together.


Slowly raise your chest, shoulders and head as a one unit off the floor without bending your lower back. Imagine that your abdominal muscles are shortening and they are pulling your shoulders off the floor. The range of motion is short – you don’t have to come too far off the floor.

Keep the position for couple of seconds while breathing deeply. Then slowly return to the starting position. Do the exercise for the prescribed amount of repetitions and sets or until your abs fatigue. Switch your legs on each set your do.

Modify the Difficulty:

To make this exercise a bit harder slightly lift your elbows off the floor. Don’t lower them back down until you finish a set.

Another way to make this exercise more challenging is to keep curled up position for longer period of time. Try to work your way up to 5-10 second holds.


  • Perform ascending and descending motion very slowly.
  • Do the exercise in a pain-free range.
  • Press your tongue against the top of your mouth to ease the strain in your neck muscles.
  • Try to breathe through the belly.
  • It’s natural if your body shakes on the first repetitions.
  • If you feel any pain in your lower back, stop the exercise and consult your physician.

Common Mistakes:

  • Pushing a chin too far forward.
  • Bending the neck down to the chest.
  • Ignoring the lower back pain.

McGill Curl Up Video Demonstration:

More Lower Back Friendly Ab Exercises

For further reading I suggest you to check out the list of 9 Unpopular ab exercises without lower back pain.

Especially if you suffer from lower back pain during or post ab workouts.

About Matiss Bartulis

Sweets and pizza addict. Online and real-life fitness coach. Author of the "From Fat To Six Pack" E-mail training course. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.