T Nation

McGill - Morning Back Exercises?


Hi Gang,

I have read many of of Stuart McGill's excellent articles on back health and his warning about training first thing of a morning.

However I have never seen any mention as to whether one should avoid doing his back health exercises (eg Cat-camel, curlup, bridges & bird-dog) first thing of a morning. Does one have to wait a hour or so before these can be done?

Also provided a sensible warmup is done would "bodyweight" exercises like pushups, dips, chins, body-rows, single leg squats & non-bending ab work like planches etc be considered high risk for the back first thing of a morning?

My understanding is that it is forward bending (with or without load) that seems to be the highest risk activity first thing of a morning. So reading between the lines as long as one avoids activities that cause greater flexion of the back such as situps & touching toes type moves the risk of injury should still be low. Hence those bodyweight exercises mentioned above that don't involve excessive flexion would hopefully be okay?

Any comments and views on this would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks - Gordon


It would really depend on the person. If you had an acute disc injury and had bad pain first thing in the morning, you may want to wait a little longer to perform the exercises.

However, if you are just talking about a preventative program or a less acute problem, I don't think it would be as much of an issue. I wouldn't roll out of bed on to the floor and just start knocking out some reps, but if you did some kind of warm-up like walking and some mild stretching or dynamic warm-ups, I think the exercises would be fine.

The exercises you mentioned do not place the back in a flexed or significantly loaded state. Do the cat/camels first in the series of exercises you mentioned. The ab curls I would probably leave until last. Also, you could perform some press-ups prior to and after the curl ups further decrease possible injury.

You are correct in that the most important thing is to avoid significant spinal flexion as well as compression, first thing in the morning.

Let me know if you have any other questions. If you haven't read his book Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, I would highly recommend it.

Take care,



Hi Ryan,

Thanks very much for the excellent reply. It is greatly appreciated.

I'm 45 years old, very tall and at present there is a lot of instablity in my lower spine especially. The only time that I can maintain a regular exercise schedule is if I do it first thing of a morning. However I'm very much in agreement with McGill's early morning exercise issues and certainly want to take all precautions to avoid causing further back problems.

Therefore to give the spine a little time to prepare for the morning routine I am intending to do the following:

  1. Brisk walk 15 - 30 mins (to get some fluid out of the spine, warm up & not to mention wake up properly)
  2. Mild stretching & few general mobility exercises
  3. McGill's Cat-Camel
  4. McGill's Bird-Dog
  5. Bodyweight routine of dips, pressups, chins, body-rows, cable/band exercises (again avoiding major spinal flexion), single leg squats, one leg Calf raises etc (Split Routine on alternate mornings)
  6. McGill's Rolling side to side ISO bridges
  7. McGill's Curlup (crunch)

Ryan if I understood what you said this would seem to in line with your thinking. Is this correct.

I do eventually intend to get McGill's book when I can afford it but it is very expensive to get it shipped to Australia.

Thanks again for your help - Gordon


I'm an early morning workout person myself. I hit the entire posterior chain quite hard 2-3 times per week. I do have a warm-up -- what I call my "get vertical workout." I start with a brisk walk and short jog -- total 1/2 to 1 mile. Then I do some dynamic mobility exercises from the Parisi videos. Depending upon the upcoming workout I do either hip mobility or shoulder mobility exercises.

Then I move into some very dynamic torso work and band work including good mornings and high pulls. I move into these slowly, but by the third or fourth rep I'm hitting them almost violently dynamic. On squat/DL days I do some GHR's too. Then I finish with some cable ab pulldowns.

I do heavy good mornings, squats, DL's, power cleans, etc. mornings all the time.


Hi Rmetz,

I like how you put it with the "get vertical workout".

It seems this is what's important first thing of a morning especially prior to heavy exercise. I also do trivial things like shave as soon as getting out of bed. I figure it has be done anyway and the short time I'm standing doing this is just another small piece of time allocated to being "vertical" prior to the formal "get vertical" stuff like walking/jogging, dynamic warmup and workout proper.

Thanks for that - Gordon



I think you're right, the morning "duties" also help to get you vertical. I didn't mean to give the impression that I roll out of bed and head off for my brisk walk. I take about 30-45 minutes getting ready for the morning. I have a cup of coffee, prepare my PWO shakes, mentally review my workout plan, etc. You have to get the blood flowing and muscles warmed.

I've had some mornings where I was rushed for one reason or another and basically started lifting cold. Strength suffers and soreness normally follows.


I like to roll out my spines on a optp foam roller in the morning right after a hot shower. Really helps get the kinks out. Im gonna look into this book you guys are talking about though. Sound like an educational read.


Hi Gang,

Hey Caladin, the use of a foam roller does seem to be popular. I think some people use a really cheap Pool Noodle to do the job.

In regard to McGill's literature anything you can find is well worth reading and his books are very highly regarded. The following publication is just a tiny taste of his stuff:


In relation to the morning warmup I have been experimenting with the Dynamic Warmup Vs Walking/Jogging. For me I find that in the morning the Walk/Jog works far better followed by a few Dynamic and/or mobility moves. Stretching (particularly problem areas for me like hip flexors and hamstrings etc) seems to feel right for my body if done at the end of the workout.

But I'm extremely happy with my morning routine now. I used to literally hop straight out of bed, throw the shoes on, do some Dyanamic and Mobility exercises before the workout proper. But now by doing some of the morning "duties" first up and then the Walk/Jog I'm raring to go after that and feel much better for it. Also on the odd morning when I feel a bit drowsy and it is tempting to lie in I do some Progressive Muscle Relaxation tense and release stuff along with a few deep breathing exercises whilst still in bed. This is just what's needed to liven me up.

Cheers - Gordon


Hi Guys,

Great little routine Austini, you may already know this but be sure to remember that McGill talks about not forcing the cat stretches etc in either direction. Not so much of an issue for you as warm up really well but just thought I'd mention it all the same.

By the way, it's great to find a few people who are into the back care side of things, you guys put up some great stuff in this thread.



Thanks for the links!


Hi Matt,

Thanks for that. Yep I do ensure that I don't force the the Cat-Camel at the extremities.

After a few serious back injuries the issue of preventing futher problems is extremely important to me nowadays. Hence this is why I have put a bit of effort into researching and seeking information relating to this topic.

I have been doing McGill's basic exercises for sometime now and they have been very beneficial. The rolling Side to Side Bridging is an excellent exercise. Off course McGill has designed far more difficult exercises (including some variations of these) where one might wish to obtain far greater conditioning.

Again I would like to thank Dr Ryan for his information.

Cheers - Gordon


Don't overlook a nice hot shower when you get out of bed to warm you up too.