If you generate power with your spine generally it will break. This is the advice of Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading authority on lower back pain and training advisor for MMA athletes like Georges St-Pierre. Dr. McGill is well known for removing sit up’s or any flexion of the spine from his athletes’ programs– here I explain why.

Just to clarify, Dr. McGill hasn’t eliminated all spinal flexion, after all bending forward is a natural movement and one that we need for every day when we put on our shoes. Exercises like the “Cat Camel” are examples of unweighted spinal flexion that maintain good joint function and are appropriate for even the most painful backs.

The problem lies when we flex the spine forward with weight. The ‘work’ the spine must do is calculated by Distance x Force. In the Cat Camel, there is movement in every segment of the spine (so there is distance) but the force the spine must move is zero. Therefore the work the spine performs is zero.

Alternatively, when performing movements with a high force, such as squats and deadlifts, to minimize the amount of work the spine performs the distance must be low. That means the spine must not move.


The deadlift-er on the left will move his spine from this flexed position to an upright position. The distance that his spine moves will result in a large amount of work for the spine to perform. The deadlift-er on the right is generating the movement from his hips. The spine is straight; there will be no movement in his spine as he becomes upright.

All simple stuff so far.

But this is the key to performance that elite athletes do better than anyone else. Dr. McGill explains

“The great performers use their hips and shoulders for power production, but their spine and core for stiffness and power transmission. But if you generate power with your spine generally it will break. The discs will become damaged before you get to that ultimate performance.”

The principle is simple but it then has to fit the functional demands of the sport. In this video (go to 1:58) you can see Dr. McGill teaching MMA athletes Georges St-Pierre and David Loiseau the Slam Ball helicopter. This drill was completed for 5 mins on / 1min off for 3 to 5 rounds! Dr. McGill aimed to create mammoth torsional endurance but also enhance their explosive stability for knees and nasty inside uppercuts and body rips.


If you aren’t ready to jump into the octagon with Georges St-Pierre try this exercise called Stir the Pot. This places great demands on your torso but allows your spine to remain in a strong position. The safe position of your spine allows you to really train these muscles hard.


Rotation is another potential problem for the elite athlete or the executive’s spine. The same rules apply — use your hips for rotational power and the spine and core for stiffness and power transmission.

Too often the hips do not have the necessary stability through the rotation to generate the power needed. When we need to rotate, instead of getting it from our hips we try and use our lower back, resulting in injury.

To develop the rotational stability through your hips try these hip aeroplanes.

A lower back injury often spells the end of physical activity for the executive. The four phases of exercise programming — mobility, stability, conditioning, skill — will always be the way forward.

Every executive that I train starts with hip mobility followed by stabilizing the spine. Next time you are in the gym try the Hip Aeroplane and Stir the Pot and let me know how you go!

If you would like to read more about how deconditioned executives can turn into athletes If you want to learn more about the program that allows deconditioned executives to turn into athletes you can download a free chapter sampler of my book here or on the website.