Stiffen up. The Latest on Back Training.

A Male lifting weights overseen by Ellie one of our female personal trainers

Those of you who train or have trained with us know we take a ‘different’ approach to training the core. We don’t do sit-ups, we very rarely hold planks for a long period of time, we like loaded carries and we always emphasise movement quality.

Now, it’s not that we do or don’t do these things because we want to be different – we’re just trying to take on board what we learn from the best in the game and also what we know works, keeping our clients injury free and strong! There are a few big influences on our core training approach, one of the biggest being a guy by the name of Professor Stu McGill. I first came across his work 10 years ago and decided to attend his courses implementing his techniques immediately. Guess what, they worked! So, here are the highlights from my latest meeting with Prof Stu McGill (SM) on his Level 3 course in London last Thursday:

Course outline: McGill 3. High Performance Training. This one day course is for advanced clinicians and performance specialists. The development of movement/motor patterns, endurance, speed, and power within the principles that minimize back injury, or exacerbation of existing injury are work-shopped. Quantifying the athletic demands together with the current capabilities of the individual shape program design.

  •  A Supposed Biomechanical Weakness could be an Athletic Advantage. Here SM was referring to how different hip biomechanics determine a persons athletic ability. Hips of different shapes allow for different movement. For example, a world class Olympic lifter needs different hips to an NBA basketball star. Also, your country of origin has a large impact on your biomechanical makeup.
  •  It’s Good, it’s Bad. A deep squat may be great for one client but cause injury in another. Accurate assessments are needed to determine what exercises are good for our clients. Also, not all athletes need to do what’s deemed to be the standard strength and conditioning diet of deep back squat, deadlift plus a few Olympic lifts.
  •  Hammer & Stone. The Stone in the above is your core; it needs to be solid. So solid in fact that your hips and shoulders can generate amazing power – the Hammer. The more stable the core the more power the limbs can deliver. This is why we train the core to be stable and don’t involve exercises that involve flexion through movement (sit-ups). Think planks, lateral Planks, horse stance and pallof presses. Here’s a link to a Dan John article on Hammer & Stone training.
  •  You laugh, You Lose. Quite simply in the world of strength if you smile you lose strength. If you relax for one seconds your opponent can have an advantage. For me or you this is also true. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that a large percentage of those with back-pain, can’t get their game face on. This basically means they can’t hack into their nervous system and ‘stiffen’ the core and therefore stabilise the spine.
  •  Stiffen Up & Relax. You may have heard me going “huhhh” in a session getting my clients to develop stiffness in the core. SM’s studies have shown that elite athletes have the ability to stiffen up but also relax – at just the right time. For example with a golfer the swing needs to be relaxed but, at impact, the golfer needs to suddenly ‘stiffen up’ to transfer that power through his arms and club into the ball. The training for such a sport should be very different to that of a weighlifter.
  •  Supple or Stiff? Supple spines don’t like high loads while stiff spines can handle loads. Think yoga teacher v’s powerlifter. As above – it’s good, it’s bad. We must respect biomechanical differences in our clients and therefore have different training approaches. They all need movement but to what degree and to what levels do they need to push themselves? do elite golfers need to squat deep with maximal loads?
  • The Assessment. This really needs a practical but it included the following;
    • Assess the task, Assess the person, Train the difference. The first approach with anyone with back pain is to remove what causes the pain. Therefore we must see how the person goes about the task that causes pain. Is it how you are lifting at work? Tests demonstrated included:
    • Hip anatomy test. What lifts can you do?
    • Handshake assessment. The transfer of grip into stability.
    • Quadruped test for hip mobility & maintenance of neutral spine
    • Rooting the foot. The importance of gripping techniques to get core stability.
    • Bolt of Lightning. Can you switch on & can you relax?
  • Programming. A few notes on exercise programming.
    • Not all people respond to the program. In fact 40% get stronger, 40% get weaker and 10% stay the same. Need for meticulous screening and training history. What works for you? How have you got results before? Were you a sprinter or long distance runner? Background is crucial.
    • Movement training is important. Studies have proven that movement skill training reduces injury risk as opposed to general ‘fitness conditioning’ with no emphasis on movement quality. This is something we always integrate into our programs.
    • The big three. SM’s “big three” exercises of Modified Crunch, Birddog and Side Plank are a great starting point to build on.
  • Summary The course was a great re-cap on many strategies that we use in all of our membership options from Personal Training to Team Training. It’s easy for us to get  dragged around but we must stay true as a business to what our previous experience, experts and science show us.

Happy training!