Home Blog Lower Back Pain and the Fitness Professional

Lower Back Pain and the Fitness Professional

Written on May 1, 2007 at 12:53 pm, by Eric Cressey

Some amazing statistics for you:

• 80% of Americans have lower back pain at some point in their lives.

• At any given moment, 31 million Americans are experiencing back pain. That’s roughly one out of every ten people you encounter every day!

• More than 50% of all American employees have back pain each year. In fact, back pain is second only to upper respiratory infections as a leading cause for doctor’s office.

• Each year, Americans spend more than $50 BILLION on back pain – and this estimate is very conservative, given that not all associated costs are easily identified.

Now, consider that the basis for modern physical therapy is exercise. However, we can’t send everyone to physical therapy for every minor ache and pain – so fitness professionals need to pick up the slack. To that end, Dr. Stuart McGill – the world’s premier spine biomechanist – has published several fantastic books and countless journal articles dealing with how to train for Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.

Unfortunately, while you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

In January, I spoke to a crowd of roughly 115 fitness professionals in Atlanta. When I asked how many of them had heard of Stuart McGill, five hands went up.

This past weekend, my first lecture in Maryland was attended by 90 fitness professionals; three hands went up to acknowledge that they had heard of Dr. McGill.

Want to know who four of these eight people were?

• Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Chuck Wolf – the three other presenters in Atlanta
• Brett Jones – one of the other presenters in Maryland

Factor me in, and you see that if you had read Dr. McGill’s work, you stood a 60% chance of being a speaker at one of these two highly respected conferences in the fitness industry. Go figure: the ones who have put in the legwork to read and get better are the ones who are presenting instead of just attending. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

The truth is that we exist in an extremely unregulated industry. On one hand, it’s a bad thing, in that all trainers quickly get a bad rap because their incompetent weekend certification trainers are ruining spines with sit-ups, hyperextension machines, and leg presses. However, on the other hand, it makes it that much easier to differentiate yourself as being top-notch.

Do you want to be the one hurting people or helping them?

Two investments every trainer should own if they want to be in the top 10% of their field in a matter of one week of reading and viewing:

Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance
Building the Efficient Athlete

Eric Cressey

10 Responses to “Lower Back Pain and the Fitness Professional”

  1. Neal Says:

    That’s pretty disturbing about no one even knowing who Dr. McGill is. I’m not even a trainer and I’ve read UBHP twice!

  2. Rob Says:

    It is disturbing, Neal. I work at a University in Florida. Last Fall while I was training a client, two Exercise Science students were studying how the lumbar spine and musculature responds to various exercises.

    Not only did they not know who Dr. McGill is, but their professor didn’t either. And the university library has Low Back Disorders.

  3. Ruslan Kedik Says:

    I’m not surprised at all!
    I have talked to many fitness professionals that have been in this industry for 5+ years and they have never heard of names such as McGill, Boyle, Cosgrove, yourself Cressy, Mike Robertson, etc. It’s unbelievable! How can you call yourself a professional if you don’t even know who the most respected professionals of the industry are!

    I’ll be in Chicago May 10th at the Training Summit and most of the trainers I know would never even think of investing 1500 dollars in something like that. It’s sad!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    There’s a class at the Cambridge YMCA called “Yoga for the Low Back and Hips”, which is basically 45 min to an hour of lumbar flexion and extension. It’s sad.

  5. Dev Chengkalath Says:

    As a physical therapist who sees a significant number of clients each day come in with some form of back pain, I have no doubt that both of Dr. McGill’s books and attending his seminars have shaped me as a professional and have directly benefitted my clients in their quest to first off lose pain and then perform better.

    The other significant influence would be Shirley Sahrmann and her diagnosis and treatment of movement impairment syndromes ideas.

    Using the combined knowledge of those two giants in the industry should be required reading.

    Dev Chengkalath

  6. Jaison Naiker Says:


    Thank you for reading Dr. McGill’s work. I work with several PT’s who not only haven’t heard of him, but they use the rotary torso machine for rehab!


  7. Jason Lee Says:

    Although I’m a Personal Trainer from Malaysia, but I own Dr McGill’s LBD and Ultimate back fitness and performance. I can’t find his books in the local bookstore, I ordered them from Amazon.com

    Many other recommended exercises on other back pain books contradicts with Dr McGill’s findings – which is more reliable of course.

    I never thought incompetent trainers also have their place in the USA. Hmm ..

  8. Shane Duquette Says:

    Those that put in the time and do the research rise to the top. Makes a lot of sense. If the people attending the seminar aren’t well informed it’s a little scary thinking about what the personal trainers who don’t even go to seminars would know.

  9. Dr. Kelly Hutson Says:

    I talk to chiropractors from across the country daily, it’s absolutely pitiful that so many have never heard or bothered to read from people like Liebenson, McGill, Janda, and Cook. Many of them have never so much as heard of an ATM2!

    These clowns keep thinking that if they keep pounding on the same vertebrae week after week that they’re somehow going to magically restore function.

    On the same token, I talk to a lot of PTs that keep strengthening dysfunctional movements and can’t figure out why their patient’s aren’t getting better.

    This stuff should be mandatory reading for anyone dealing with spinal rehab and pain syndromes.

  10. Tim Says:

    @ Dr. Kelly Hutson,
    The way I see it, the top ten percent of people in any industry are going to be very good at what they do. If they don’t know something, they learn it. It is what separates them. The other 90% are just lazy and have jobs because they need to have a job. No passion.

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