Stuart McGill: Creating Strong Default Patterns

Spine expert Stuart McGill focuses on how he creates the strongest default patterns – good patterns that can be strengthened with load.

When I probe and poke, I’m looking for different strategies to make the most resilient body to bear load. I can get the movement if I keep coaching it, even with his default patterns that clearly aren’t there or well established. If he can keep that movement, neuroscience shows that if we repeat the movement with stronger mental thought, the patterns will strengthen.

I can’t stand it when I go into a gym with people chewing gum and music playing. What is this, a fairground?

In my world, you’re thinking at 100% and laying down the strongest neural connection and engrams you can—creating the strongest default patterns. Then we’re going to strengthen those patterns with load. That’s how you do it and it’s perfectly consistent with neuroscience.

Now, let’s set up a pull. I’ll have Serge face me and slide his hands down his thighs. He’s going to remember the anti-shrug and take the slackness out of his body. For the next one, he will fall back on his heels, be a leaning tower and explode his whole center of mass.

The center of mass will be somewhere in the middle of his foot. But now I’ll ask him to be a monkey and grip the ground with his toes and heels. The fastest corrective I know of is to grip the ground like that. You won’t fall over.

He’s going to grip the ground, pull his hips forward, push his knees into my hand, pull his hips through and stand up. Right away, I’ve engaged the biggest motors I can.

Set up the squat. Anti-shrug. Head up. Grip the ground and start to spread the floor. The knees can’t move. He just took the line of drive and created a natural buckle in his leg. He mustn’t do that. Grip the ground and feel the stiffness there. Again, spread the floor, antishrug and now pull the hips through.

I’ll get Jerzy to do a pull and demonstrate why the neck is so important. All of the pulling muscles and trapezius, they hang from the neck. If you’re chewing gum and think you can pull well, you are asking for trouble or injury.

Jerzy is intense compared to Serge. Remove the movement flaws and magic happens. We’re not even close, Serge. Anti-shrug for me and stiffen again.

He shouldn’t be smiling like that. The fastest way to steal strength is to smile. If I’m arm wrestling, I just tell a joke and get the other guy to laugh. I’ll win because he will lose the neural drive. We’re working to densify the neural drive.

With the motor cortex, the game face matters. It’s not fun, but it will teach you to pull the most out of your body. That’s why I game face in my operation.

He’s going to anti-shrug, start to spread and start to stiffen through. Now we’re going to work with a bar and I want him to push the bar away—to try and bend the bar. My strategy for bending a bar is called the latissimus dorsi post. Pulling the bar closer to his center of rotation, he’s shortened the lever arm and is starting to gain a mechanical advantage.

There’s no laxity in his body. There’s no injury potential as long as he has load-bearing capacity in the spine.

These steps are the nuances of setting up a pull. Set up your feet. You’re falling back on your feet, man. Remember the leaning tower? Get all of that right. Serious. Push down. Head up. There we are. Grab the bar. Start to bend it a little bit. Post through the latissimus dorsi. Now, pull your hips through. You scooped a tiny bit there. We’ll have to engineer that out a little bit, and help show you how hard I probe the system to find out where it’s going to break down.

I want to know where the weaknesses are, and where I can perform small movement corrections to add resilience and performance and take away potential injury mechanisms.

I want to make note of Jerzy’s preparation before he does a pull of the bumper plate. He’s a world champion and makes it look so easy. I also want to mention that he is almost 60 years old. In his prime, there was no one who could beat him. He can do a pull—snatch or any lift—I just want a demonstration of world-class form. Nice! There was zero spine motion.

Now, the herniated disc has to be bent. There’s no other way to do it. If you take a disc and you bend it—if I had an orange seed that I wanted to squirt out, I have to bias the pressure, and out it goes every time. The only way to get a disc bulge is to bend it and then apply load.

Every time you pick up a load off the ground, every time you put one down, every time you get in and out of a chair, that cumulative movement flaw throughout the day will emanate the collagen. When you do get serious, you’ve stolen your capacity and compromised your ability to train. Often, one of the best ways I can help athletes is to clean up their lives for the other 23 hours to regain their training capacity

If Jerzy will perform a snatch for us—I want you to see the power out of the hole at the very bottom. No spine motion at all. Beautiful! The hips . . . they don’t get any better. Jerzy, I’ve learned so much from you and I thank you.

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