Back in January of 2012, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day seminar in Arizona with professor of spinal bio-mechanics, Dr. Stu McGill.
Dr. McGill is one of the top in the world when it comes to knowledge on the lower back, spine & core. The bottom line is that the man is a genius, and he has had a huge impact on the way we train core, rehab the lower back, and numerous other areas when it comes to strength involving those parts of the body.
A lot of what Dr. McGill teaches has allowed me to get over a severe lower back injury (Herniated disc in my L4/L5…you can read more about it HERE). Two years ago, I could barely squat a bar, was always in pain, and was taking way too much pain medication (anyone with back pain knows just how brutal chronic lower back pain can be).
A year later, I am back to training heavy, and my back is getting better. I have far less pain and thankfully I am able to train again without any medication. (You can read more about my training progress HERE.)
Here are three big lessons learned from Stu that I want to share with you.
1. Be Careful with Training Heavy in the AM
Dr. McGill noted that on average there is an 18% loss of strength if you train in the AM. That is a big deal if you are a strength competitor, or if you like to train heavy early in the morning.
How much of a difference is 18% on your lift? Well, let’s say you are squatting 315 lb….that difference would cost you about 55 pounds!
Another big thing about early strength workouts Dr. McGill talked about has to do with your spine…so pay attention!
Dr.McGill said that when you sleep for about 8 hours, your discs are slightly flattened and dehydrated in the morning. That’s easily fixed as you rehydrate and ease into your day, but it’s not good news if you’re up and at ’em at the gym first thing. Your spinal discs do not wake up ready to absorb compression or load properly, and this can be bad news.
Dr. McGill suggests waiting 1 hour in the AM to let your discs return to normal.
If you’re a morning workout person, you should consider these points.
2. Spread the Floor
I never really understood this a few months ago, but it makes a lot more sense to me now.
Let’s use squatting as an example. When you are coming up out of the bottom of the squat, focus on spreading the floor with your feet. You want to grip with your toes (another reason to use Vibrams on leg day), externally rotate your heels and try to spread the floor.
This will help big time with your squat numbers, as it will engage the big muscles more…your glutes!
Another big benefit is for people with lower back issues. This approach helps a lot, as it is common for the glutes stop firing correctly in a lot of back injuries.
As well, with spreading the floor you can also focus on squatting while “Driving the Knees Out.” This will help you squat through the hips, and will also kick your glutes into high gear.
Get those glutes working to get a bigger squat, improve sports, reduce back pain and build a better bum.
This one I found really interesting, and I couldn’t agree more.
I am just waiting for the hate mail from meatheads to pour in on this one.
Let me explain.
When I was big into sports like Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing, I lifted weights like a maniac.
I followed typical bodybuilding workouts. I would do upper chest, leg presses and your typical 8 to 12 reps. of this machine and that machine recommended in the fitness magazines.
I pushed hard. I followed the programs of the pros. Did it make me a better athlete? Nope! Quite the opposite actually.
I realized this one day when I was out throwing around a football with friends. At the time, I had a 405 lb. bench. Being strong at benching was great, BUT I couldn’t throw a football for the life of me. It actually HURT! As well, I couldn’t jump (I fixed that problem), so as much as I had more muscle, I was pretty useless outside of a gym!
You know your typical meathead, with his shirt cut to shreds and hat on sideways, hanging out at the gym for hours and LOOKING muscular & athletic? Well my guess is that if he had to play a game of pick-up football or hockey, he might need an ambulance on standby.
How do I know? Because I was one of those guys! I had to undo a lot of wrong training and useless muscle.
Now, if bodybuilding is your thing, then awesome, enjoy it. Just don’t think that because you bench 4 plates that you’re automatically a well-rounded athlete.
Training for athletics, strength and function isn’t the same as bodybuilding. This is why I HATE trainers at big box gyms automatically giving their clients bodybuilding programs.
Isolating muscles is highly over rated.
If you want to be strong, agile, lean and healthy, then focus on training like an athlete and not always training like a bodybuilder. Train with your goals in mind! Bodybuilding hypertrophy programs have their place, but the main focus of your training should be on strength & athletics, if those are the results you’re after. Most people do not need body part-specific training and isolating muscle groups like most magazines and bodybuilders will tell you to do.
Here is one of the many videos of Dr. McGill on YouTube. I highly suggest you check them out.
So, there you have three big knowledge bombs from my seminar with spine specialist Dr. McGill.
I hope this helps you. The next time you see a trainer at a corporate gym holding a clip board making a female client do machine preacher curls be sure to crack a big smile and think of me :).
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