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Quick Start Test Smith

Dr. Stuart McGill's Expertise

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Quick Start Test Smith

I used to read a lot on T-Nation (not as much now, though), and people would constantly mention Dr. McGill when discussing doing all their anti-movement trunk development.

His website: http://www.backfitpro.com/

I believe his philosophy is that the spine is meant for stabilization and NOT rotation, thus you should not do sit ups, crunches, etc. Things that involve bending and twisting the spine.

I don't doubt his good intentions or experience, but that goes against EVERYTHING that I see amazingly strong acrobats, tumblers, and gymnasts do. They do HLL's, arch ups, rotational arch ups, twisters (or was it cyclone?), and all sorts of twisting trunk moves and their core trunk development is unrivaled as far as I've seen.

What are your opinions about his thinking? We clearly believe that given certain things, doing all the gymnastic strength stuff is by far the most awesome thing to do, but is he correct in some ways? What's the more complicated answer?

Thanks!

Patrick

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Aaron Griffin

I am eagerly awaiting someone knowledgeable to respond :)

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Quick Start Test Smith

Me too. :D

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Cole Dano

Its late so i can't give a full reply but, you always have to keep in mind that McGill deals with people who have serious back pain. In that situation what he prescribes is often the best thing, i have some students with back pain and for some time no amount of mobilization works the best thing is stability.

Now, regarding athletics, McGill's other area, for power transmission the core again needs to be made ridged, though it may only be momentary. So he has come up with many ways of getting peoples cores more connected, and for myself this was an important discovery, having had tons of mobility but not enough connection.

Imagine an NFL linebacker and this will give McGills athletic ideal, they don't need to move much at the waist they do need to connect the power of their feet to their hands, via a stiff core.

In movement arts the same is also needed however it needs to be tempered with release the stiffness is turned on and off somewhat like a pump.

I think people get carried away and think its an all or nothing situation, and that's simply not the case, no evidence bears it out either. We are meant to move, however, we are also meant to stabilize.

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AlexX

For a strognman/powerlifter/ and quite a few other athletes McGill's advice is sound. Why take the risk when you can strengthen the area with a better exercise that will also be more specific. For gymnasts there is no way around compression work, it's a part of most of the events but gymnasts are also a lot more prepared for the type of work (More flexible and they have quite a few other movements that balance everything out. Not the case in most other sports). Basically what I am saying is that, like most things, an "it depends on the situation" answer is usually the correct one.

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Joshua Naterman

This is where I take a more "20% to the left of the middle" stance, like many other areas. He's right for the most part. I do not believe there is any questioning that the vast majority of athletic maneuvers take place with a fairly immobile spine when executed properly. Because of that I don't think that you need to FOCUS on spinal flexion or extension so much as stability. However I also believe that people with healthy backs will benefit from a reasonable amount of spinal flexion. Spinal flexion and extension is a part of life and I think it is silly to ignore it completely. The psoas group in particular, along with the obliques, is an important muscle group in stabilization as well as movement. Any movement that requires a posterior pelvic tilt to occur requires the psoas to participate, and if you aren't training psoas or oblique movement as well as isometrics (that's what a proper hollow hold or body lever is, for example, when looking at the function of the psoas and obliques) aka stability work then you are not going to have as much capacity for athletic expression. How big is the difference? That's a good question, and one that won't be answered until athletes who are already performing at a high level add in abdominal flexion and see how performance changes, if at all.

That's just one small example, I know there are a lot more out there. For example, I think it's silly to completely rely on single leg movements for leg power even though the majority of leg work in actual performance is done one leg at a time. It is a mistake, in my opinion, to assume that all you need is strong stabilizers. You need strong stabilizers AND strong prime movers, and when you only use full ROM single leg movements your stabilizers will always be the limiting factor for the training of the prime movers. You need them, and I will never suggest that they not occupy the top priority slot, but the prime movers need to come in a very, very close second. Double leg work is better for loading the prime movers, and you can simply work them harder when you have that extra stability. All of this either or stuff is counter-productive.

Anyways, McGill has a lot of good material. He's not an idiot at all, and he is the first to tell you that for physique athletes abdominal flexion is a must, though that is the only group he prescribes that for. I think that's silly, because kickers and grapplers will benefit as well. Gymnasts/acrobats are also going to need the abdominal flexion, but we know that already! :P I'm not trying to make a comprehensive list there, those are just the basic categories I decided to type right now.

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AlexX

That's just one small example, I know there are a lot more out there. For example, I think it's silly to completely rely on single leg movements for leg power even though the majority of leg work in actual performance is done one leg at a time. It is a mistake, in my opinion, to assume that all you need is strong stabilizers. You need strong stabilizers AND strong prime movers, and when you only use full ROM single leg movements your stabilizers will always be the limiting factor for the training of the prime movers. You need them, and I will never suggest that they not occupy the top priority slot, but the prime movers need to come in a very, very close second. Double leg work is better for loading the prime movers, and you can simply work them harder when you have that extra stability. All of this either or stuff is counter-productive.

To play the devil's advocate, while I totally agree on the either or being counter-productive the argument that single leg work is limited by stabilizers is a bit flawed (in my opinion). Sure for someone with strong prime movers and weak stabilizers it is and hence the benefit of single leg work for people who have only done bilateral squats but for people who focus mainly on single leg work I don't think that their stabilizers are the weak point for them.

This would be similar to saying that a one arm chin up is limited by stabilizers and the two arm chin up isn't, it's a lot more unstable but that is not the reason that most can not do one. Stabilizers are weak when you haven't trained the movement before (a good example is someone benching for the first time, they shake like a leaf with a weight they can easily press), since most don't train single leg strength much they have a similar problem at first.

I've seen big and strong legs from people who only did bilateral work and I've seen big and strong legs from people who have only done single leg work (given that the former group is much more densely populated though).

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Joshua Naterman

That's where I think the issue is getting muddled. I am not contesting that a great amount of strength can be build unilaterally, because it can. We know that. However, there is no arguing that the vast majority of lower body sports performance takes place in the strong range, while all full range motions go well outside of that. We need full ROM single leg work in order to strengthen the stabilizers as much as we can, but by going bilaterally we can work the prime movers to their maximum before we hit the limit of the stabilizers. I admit, this takes strong range work, and it is entirely possible that this can be accomplished unilaterally as well. I simply do not know what the consequences, positive or negative, would be for very heavy strong range SLS as an example. I do know that strong range bilateral squat allows you to build enormous strength in the quadriceps in a manner that is extremely functional.

To me, the issue is really frikin strong versus absolutely as strong as you can get. I do not believe that you can get to the latter without utilizing both unilateral and bilateral movements in strength training, for the basic reason I state in my first paragraph of this post. I simply believe that this is a basic truth that is being obscured by the division between performance schools. I don't know of anyone who is using primarily single leg stuff for maximal strength work on the stabilizers and primarily bilateral work for maximal strength work on the prime movers, but I think that is the logical choice. You have to train the various muscle groups in the environments most challenging for them if you want maximal performance, and the so-called stabilizers are going to be challenged much more in a unilateral environment, with neuromuscular inhibition limiting the prime movers to what the stabilizers can handle. Because of the center of gravity being centered between two fixed points during bilateral squats, as an example, the stabilizers have to do very little work in comparison to a SLS which allows the prime movers to potentially produce more force before inhibition occurs. This effect will be the most pronounced at the strongest points in the range of motion. All of us who have done both movements have experienced this first hand. You NEED both if you want your body to be functioning at its absolute maximum capacity. I don't expect everyone to agree, but I do believe that this makes a whole ton of sense.

Our large muscles function as stabilizers just like the smaller ones do, they just have less ability to stabilize. At the highest level of sports performance even a 1% increase in power output can be the difference between silver and gold, or the medal stand and obscurity. A record or just another race. If we are already pushing the stabilizers as far as they can go with single leg work then it should be a no-brainer that we will get a cumulative effect by also pushing those larger muscles as far as they can go with bilateral strong range work to get the best possible system for performance. It is possible that full range work will be similarly effective, but I do not know.

That is my opinion at any rate. I do believe that nearly everything has its place when speaking of absolute peak performance.

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AlexX
That's where I think the issue is getting muddled. I am not contesting that a great amount of strength can be build unilaterally, because it can. We know that. However, there is no arguing that the vast majority of lower body sports performance takes place in the strong range, while all full range motions go well outside of that. We need full ROM single leg work in order to strengthen the stabilizers as much as we can, but by going bilaterally we can work the prime movers to their maximum before we hit the limit of the stabilizers. I admit, this takes strong range work, and it is entirely possible that this can be accomplished unilaterally as well. I simply do not know what the consequences, positive or negative, would be for very heavy strong range SLS as an example. I do know that strong range bilateral squat allows you to build enormous strength in the quadriceps in a manner that is extremely functional.

To me, the issue is really frikin strong versus absolutely as strong as you can get. I do not believe that you can get to the latter without utilizing both unilateral and bilateral movements in strength training, for the basic reason I state in my first paragraph of this post. I simply believe that this is a basic truth that is being obscured by the division between performance schools. I don't know of anyone who is using primarily single leg stuff for maximal strength work on the stabilizers and primarily bilateral work for maximal strength work on the prime movers, but I think that is the logical choice. You have to train the various muscle groups in the environments most challenging for them if you want maximal performance, and the so-called stabilizers are going to be challenged much more in a unilateral environment, with neuromuscular inhibition limiting the prime movers to what the stabilizers can handle. Because of the center of gravity being centered between two fixed points during bilateral squats, as an example, the stabilizers have to do very little work in comparison to a SLS which allows the prime movers to potentially produce more force before inhibition occurs. This effect will be the most pronounced at the strongest points in the range of motion. All of us who have done both movements have experienced this first hand. You NEED both if you want your body to be functioning at its absolute maximum capacity. I don't expect everyone to agree, but I do believe that this makes a whole ton of sense.

Our large muscles function as stabilizers just like the smaller ones do, they just have less ability to stabilize. At the highest level of sports performance even a 1% increase in power output can be the difference between silver and gold, or the medal stand and obscurity. A record or just another race. If we are already pushing the stabilizers as far as they can go with single leg work then it should be a no-brainer that we will get a cumulative effect by also pushing those larger muscles as far as they can go with bilateral strong range work to get the best possible system for performance. It is possible that full range work will be similarly effective, but I do not know.

That is my opinion at any rate. I do believe that nearly everything has its place when speaking of absolute peak performance.

Your argument is indeed sound. It is further backed up by the fact that most people with insanely strong legs (football players/sprinters, olympic lifters) all do bilateral work (interesting note is that until recently most did no single leg work but still had no problem building insanely strong legs).

However, I always been more of show me rather than tell me type of person. And I have seen a few (not many) people with very strong legs that only did single leg work. Some through lunges and similar movements, a few with stuff like SLS (one was an amputee bodybuilder with no right leg and his left leg was just as big the rest of his body). Could have been stronger if they included bilateral squats as well? I really don't know, in theory yes but I've just never seen or heard of someone experimenting with something like that (which doesn't mean it hasn't been done of course). Just like I've seen some very strong legs who only did bilateral squats and had a legitimate 40" vertical (rarer than most would think) would he be stronger with single leg work? I don't know but the first time the guy did a pistol he did is with an additional 115 lbs.

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Mikael Kristiansen

What you guys here say makes me think about when we had a strength test involving our specific circus disciplines in school. Our tightwire walker, who is a quite light framed guy with no massive size on his legs at all, managed to to a SLS with 90 lbs extra weight on the tightwire. He never ever practices SLS, he only works his movements and tricks on the wire which requres him to stabilize constantly for hours a day. With specific leg training, he could probably get impressive numbers relative to his small size.

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Joshua Naterman

Interesting. I have always wondered just how much we are being inhibited by stabilizers. I know it's a whole lot, but sometimes I think it is much more than we ever imagined. When I look at certain aspects of strong man strength from the 19th and early 20th century I see that the things certain people (who were considered to be the best of the strong men like Apollon, Breitbart and Arthur Samson) did in training I notice that by nature many of these things are extraordinarily challenging for the stabilizing muscles.

Thank you for the tightrope walker story! That really is very interesting to me. I have always believed that our prime movers are enormously strong even without the hypertrophy that we tend to associate with massive strength. I wonder how much of that extra weight was the result of being so small and whether there would be a difference on the ground. His stabilizers might be so strong and his balance so well tuned that there might be no difference between the wire and the ground, but I would expect there to be a noticeable difference in difficulty.

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acegerter

I recently got a slackline and the first thing I noticed after 2 hours of playing on it was how stable i felt on solid ground. I wasn't sore but I felt a ton stronger and aware of my lower body.

A teammate and I are currently doing an independent study with an Alexander Technique teacher aimed towards improving strength, acrobatic ability and balance (lots of handbalancing with her (-: ). One of the core principles in this work is that you have layers of muslces, the outer most being the prime movers and the innermost being the tiniest muscles attached directly to bone/ligament/tendons..etc. If the body is correctly aligned and the innermost muscles are correctly firing first, then the prime movers don't need to activate as much. One of the first things you learn in this work is to stand in a seemingly limp fashion by "actively" inhibiting "show muscles" ; what's really going on is deep below the surface. With my weight training experience, the more I focus on prime movers, the less I activate all the important stabilizers, thus pulling my body out of optimal anatomical efficiency.

My hunch, is that tightrope walkers, handbalancers and other balance masters, have strengthened there innermost stabilizer muscles so much that they don't conceptualize their prime movers ("show muscles") as where their strength is generated.

It seems to me that a common theme in any type of training (mental or physical) is how you conceptualize the task at hand. There is actually an interesting article on Gray Cook's website that may relate to this...http://graycook.com/?p=644

I have no idea if there is a scientific explanation behind what I've said, but I'm just speaking from experience and observation. Let me know what you think!

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Archbishop o balance
I recently got a slackline and the first thing I noticed after 2 hours of playing on it was how stable i felt on solid ground. I wasn't sore but I felt a ton stronger and aware of my lower body.

A teammate and I are currently doing an independent study with an Alexander Technique teacher aimed towards improving strength, acrobatic ability and balance (lots of handbalancing with her (-: ). One of the core principles in this work is that you have layers of muslces, the outer most being the prime movers and the innermost being the tiniest muscles attached directly to bone/ligament/tendons..etc. If the body is correctly aligned and the innermost muscles are correctly firing first, then the prime movers don't need to activate as much. One of the first things you learn in this work is to stand in a seemingly limp fashion by "actively" inhibiting "show muscles" ; what's really going on is deep below the surface. With my weight training experience, the more I focus on prime movers, the less I activate all the important stabilizers, thus pulling my body out of optimal anatomical efficiency.

My hunch, is that tightrope walkers, handbalancers and other balance masters, have strengthened there innermost stabilizer muscles so much that they don't conceptualize their prime movers ("show muscles") as where their strength is generated.

It seems to me that a common theme in any type of training (mental or physical) is how you conceptualize the task at hand. There is actually an interesting article on Gray Cook's website that may relate to this...http://graycook.com/?p=644

I have no idea if there is a scientific explanation behind what I've said, but I'm just speaking from experience and observation. Let me know what you think!

The Alexander stuff sound really interesting. You mentioned something about this in one of your previous posts, and I started implementing that basic "release of the neck" into my handstand kick-ups. Hard to explain why, but it seems to improve my line somehow. Would you care to share some of your experiences so far?

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Joshua Naterman

The basic premise of that explanation is true. The muscles that cross a joint and attach closest to that joint will be the muscles that have the highest degree of potential control over that joint. These tend to be very small muscles, though they are not always small. Traps and serratus are something of an exception in that regard, they are both pretty large. These muscles that are responsible for holding the hip and shoulder in the socket and keeping them stable are the ones that will inhibit the larger muscles from producing their potential maximum force.

Slacklines are super awesome, I really should get one for myself as well. I played with one out in Arizona a few years ago and I really had a good time. I do a lot of standing on one leg, but that's nothing compared to the slack line! Great idea.

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Joshua Naterman

Because of this thread I bought a brand new 18m slackline for 80 bucks. I am not kidding you at all when I say that I have never felt my hip stabilizers work so hard in my life, nor have I ever been able to work them so easily!!! I spent about an hour today total on the slackline just playing with different exercise variations and I am quite excited about the performance potential. This is way more effective than just doing leg lifts and whatnot. I actually feel closer to the ground, like everything is way more stable, just from that short time. I will be doing further experimenting with a 36m line since my friend is likely going to get one as well. Once I can easily play around on this one without using anything for balance I'll make the switch to longer lines.

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Joseff Lea

Oh dear guess I'm going to have to save for a slackline now as well. :D

Slizz you should try and work your way up to being able to cat balance along the whole thing. I did some of those in the past and the worked my core in ways I never new were possible, and that was only on a bar. Guess you'd need real ninja skills to be able to do it though :twisted:

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Aaron Griffin
Because of this thread I bought a brand new 18m slackline for 80 bucks. I am not kidding you at all when I say that I have never felt my hip stabilizers work so hard in my life, nor have I ever been able to work them so easily!!! I spent about an hour today total on the slackline just playing with different exercise variations and I am quite excited about the performance potential. This is way more effective than just doing leg lifts and whatnot. I actually feel closer to the ground, like everything is way more stable, just from that short time. I will be doing further experimenting with a 36m line since my friend is likely going to get one as well. Once I can easily play around on this one without using anything for balance I'll make the switch to longer lines.

Pictures? How did you set this up?

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Joshua Naterman

I got the gibbon slackline, and it's really easy. You don't even need to read the instructions, there's only one way to do it. I will take pictures soon.

Edit: I got mine from REI but you can just go to http://www.gibbon-slacklines.com as well. Here's a video of some kids having fun! There's some prett tough stuff mixed in there, especially near the end. Duck walking on a slack line? :shock:

2irG_FhYUWU

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Alvaro Antolinez

Slizz how would you implement this in a training as a skill or strength? More like hanstands?

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Joshua Naterman
Oh dear guess I'm going to have to save for a slackline now as well. :D

Slizz you should try and work your way up to being able to cat balance along the whole thing. I did some of those in the past and the worked my core in ways I never new were possible, and that was only on a bar. Guess you'd need real ninja skills to be able to do it though :twisted:

What is cat balance?

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acegerter

holy crap those kids are good!

@Slizz ... Isn't it great?? I feel the exact same way after I play for an hour or so. I find it very mediative, especially if I try to walk as slow as possible.

I wouldn't treat the slackline as a rigid training apparatus. Play and explore, no need to take it too seriously. The strength and balance benefits will be byproducts of the journey :-)

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Joseff Lea

Cat balance

iskJmufVLAY

Just had a thought, would having two of them running parallel and doing karate drills along the be a good way to work the basic stances? just a thought.

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