Book Review: Back Mechanic by Stuart McGill

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Dr Stuart McGill about his expertise in fixing back pain.  That podcast interview will not be up for a few weeks but he sent me a copy of his new book Back Mechanic to see what he is doing in the field.  Typically when this happens, I will put the review of the book and the podcast interview up on the same week but I was so excited about this book that I wanted to get this review out as quickly as possible so you could learn what was in it.

As for a general review, I can tell you this. If you have back pain, this is the book you need to buy.  Dr McGill has spent a lifetime learning all about the back, how it works and most importantly, how to fix it and his expertise is on every page of this book.  I have read several books on bio-mechanics in general and back maintenance specifically and not a single thing I’ve ever read comes even close to the depth of information in this book.  But beyond just information, this is a book that walks you through exactly how to diagnose your problem (not all back pain is the same!) and some simple exercises you can do to alleviate the pain.  Don’t have back pain?  This is still a great book as it shows you some simple exercises you can do every day to keep a healthy back strong and fit.

There are several aspects of this book that set it apart from other books in the field.  First of all, you get a log in to a Vimeo account that contains several videos pertaining to the different sections of the book.  If Dr McGill suggests an exercise in the book, there is a video walking you through exactly what to do to get that exercise right.  I found the videos on the healthy back exercises to be particularly helpful and have now incorporated these exercises in my normal exercise routine.

Secondly, the book has many beautifully hand-drawn pictures showing you exactly what is going on inside your body when you complete a certain movement.  You can see how your spine is put together, how it moves, the nerves that run through it and how it all works and moves within the rest of your body.  When an exercise or movement is discussed, there is a hand-drawn picture showing you exactly what it should look like.  The artist for this book deserves a great deal of credit.

As for the intellectual content, this book is a treasure trove.  There is a section exploding the common myths and misconceptions concerning back health.  For instance, when my son hurt his back, he was told that the problem was his tight hamstrings and he spent  years stretching out his hammies trying to alleviate the back pain.  One of the myths discussed in this book is how tight hamstrings is usually a symptom of back pain, not a cause and as you alleviate the back pain, the hamstrings loosen.  Turns out my son had it backwards all these years.

There is also a chapter on simple exercises you can do to diagnose what type of back pain you have and how to approach different sources of back pain.  Different causes of back pain require different therapies and the problem most people run into is a “one therapy fits all” approach from most Drs which can lead to frustration when you learn that something worked for someone else but not for you.  It’s probably not your fault, you just didn’t get the right diagnosis for your particular type of back pain.  Also Dr McGill talks about how quickly many doctors want to operate and how that is often a bad idea.  Most of the benefit from surgery comes not from the surgery but from the weeks of rest you get after the surgery so Dr McGill suggests “Virtual Surgery” where you pretend you had the surgery and just get the rest.  That idea alone really jumped off the page at me because of how deeply convinced I am that the human body can repair almost anything wrong with it if we just give it the rest and nutrition it needs and stop doing things that hurt it.  I honestly didn’t expect that idea to show up in a book about back mechanics.

The last part I want to talk about is the exercises for a healthy back.  I listen to the Joe Rogan podcast a lot and he has said many times how important it is to him to do exercises for a healthy back every day, he often compares it to brushing your teeth.  But I’ve never heard him say what exercises he is doing!  I’m still not sure what Joe is doing but the exercises in this book are simple to do and are now a part of what I do right after I stretch and before I do anything with weights on my workout days.  I love the fact that I have a clear plan to follow for a healthy back now.

Not to repeat myself but if you have a bad back, you need this book.  If you have a good back, you can still benefit from this book and I would recommend you pick up a copy today.  You can get your copy from Amazon by clicking here!

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Book Review: Back Mechanic by Stuart McGill

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3 Replies to “Book Review: Back Mechanic by Stuart McGill”

  1. I have a problem with my back that never shows itself when I’m being evaluated. Exactly in the middle of my l5s1 and it hurts after I’ve been standing or walking. Sometimes, I get a little a key and that is a warning that I should take a break. Sometimes, I do not get a morning and when I sit down I get very bad pain as if my back is super stiff. After sitting for awhile, I can get back up and start the process all over again. I’ve been to four physical therapists and have been told I have degenerative disc disease and told by another one that there’s no way discs are involved at all. one doctor told me to tryrolfing at Strong memorial and another one told me simply I have muscle pain. It feels exactly like my bone will crack when I sit down. With the book’s cover something like this because I can only provoke it after being on my feet for some time?

    1. Unfortunately I am not an expert and I wouldn’t be willing to go into the specifics of your case. I would recommend a a few things. You can try contacting Dr McGill directly and ask him and I’d be willing to bet he could help you. You could just buy the book and walk through the steps given to diagnose your specific problems and do the specific exercises given for your issue. Or you could start doing his Big 3 exercises for a while and see if that solves the issues. I can tell you that I have had some small pains in my lower back that flair up every time I try to lift weights. Ever since I had Dr McGill on my podcast I never do any exercise whatsoever without first doing about 10 minutes of stretching and then Dr McGill’s Big 3 exercises and I no longer have any issues with my back. That podcast was a godsend to me.

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