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Enhancing Performance with Super Stiffness

What is Super Stiffness ?

It's a term coined by Stuart McGill , the Canadian Professor of
spine mechanics where muscles are maximally contracted to
achieve greater performance . It probably has its roots in Chinese
martial arts where proponents achieved super human feats of
strength ( Yip Man , Bruce Lee's kung fu teacher , could stand on
one leg with a rope around the other and have it pulled by 3 men
who couldn't budge him ) . In the past , athletes such as Vasily
Alekseyev , Mohammed Ali and Bruce Lee knew all about super
stiffness ( Lee's 1 inch punch is a prime example he could knock
man halfway across a room using it http://i.imgur.com/IXh5nFf.gif ) .

Lifting a ton of metal

When all muscles at a joint stiffen together a "super stiffness"

phenomenon generally occurs. The total stiffness at a joint
suddenly becomes more than the sum of individual muscle
stiffnesses. Consider the abdominal wall in creating "core stability".
The three layers of the abdominal wall have fibres that run in

different directions. This architecture is similar to that of plywood,

where one layer has the wood grain running north and south while
the next layer runs east and west. The layers are bound by glue
forming a composite material. The properties and features of
similarly constructed composites include light weight and stiffness.
Rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique and transverse
abdominis form a composite when activated together. They appear
to bind together when all are active to create a super stiffness
that is higher than the sum of each individual muscle . For those
activities that demand high core or torso stability, all muscles must
be activated - never isolate one. This superstiffness may be
maintained for a substantial amount of time, such as a weightlifter
needing high stability to prevent spine buckling. A golfer may
create superstiffness temporarily just at ball impact with more
compliance pre and post ball contact to ensure maximal swing
How to Begin
You can start with a technique that everyone should use .
Whenever you are lifting something heavy you should practice the
abdominal brace . Put your hand over your stomach and have a
partner pretend to punch you there you will feel the muscles
tighten . Practice doing this on your own . This tightening locks the
muscles around the lower spine , protecting it and increasing your
lifting power .
Try these two strength examples to see how superstiffness
works ;
* Squeeze a partners hand as hard as you can let him take
note of how much pressure there is then , after a little rest , use
the abdominal brace and make a fist with your free hand ( this
must be very tight - your knuckles should go white with the
pressure ) . Now repeat the squeeze and surprise your partner with
the extra strength !
* Do 10 squats taking note of how easy/hard they are
then , after a little rest , use the abdominal brace and make tight
fists with both hands and try to grip the floor with both feet as hard
as you can then repeat the squats you will be surprised at how
easy they are .
What distinguishes the best athletes?
Think of the superstars of any sport. Are they the ones with the

largest muscles? Rarely. Are they the ones who spend hours in the
gym lifting weights? Rarely. Typically they perform poorly when
compared to their teammates and peers in pre-season testing of
specific tasks such as bench press and barbell squats (bench
pressing power lifters excepted since this is their event). Instead
their distinguishing qualities are motor control. The ability to exert
strength quickly, deactivate muscle quickly, and optimally project
forces throughout the body linkage, is characteristic of this skill.
Rapid Contraction and Relaxation of Muscle
Muscle contractions have been tested in many top athletes. Their
ability to rapidly contract muscle is astounding, but even more
astounding is their ability to rapidly relax the muscle. Too many
coaches train for speed with more strengthening approaches,
actually slowing the athlete down. True speed requires rapid
reciprocating limb motion. Rapid limb motion requires rapid
transitioning between compliant muscles for speed but very active
and stiff muscles for force and joint torque production. A muscle
that cannot relax quickly will slow the athlete. The implication of
this phenomenon is that the neuromuscular system must be trained
for rapid muscle contraction, but equally as important is the
training for rapid muscle relaxation. This is difficult and requires the
athlete to look for opportunities within their motion repertoire. For
example, the boxer or martial artist can train being "light on their
feet", the Ali "float and shuffle" if you will, exuding relaxation. Then
very rapid arm motion is initiated with a rapid "snap" hand motion.
This exercise is to simply train the muscles to "pop" ON and OFF.
The exercise then transitions to a total body contraction, initiated in
the hips and core, upon fist impact ensuring super stiffness.
Technique is enhanced to ensure proper line of drive of force
throughout the body linkage.

An exercise with MMA fighters to create endurance with isometric

contractions but "pulses" are overlayed for speed. As the ball passes 12
o'clock the athlete pulsestiffens the body. Then switching to other times such
as 3 o'clock trains neurological dexterity. The emphasis is on rapid
contraction and relaxation.

To find out more about this topic , read the last chapter in Stuart
McGills ' Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance ' and have a
look at 'The Naked Warrior ' by Pavel Tsatsouline ( you can easily
get this as a free download ). You don't need to follow the exercise
regime - just try the superstiffness techniques .
There is no question that every world record holder is biologically
gifted but they are technique masters as well. Many trainers and
therapists understand how to build a foundation but often fail to
complete the final transitional training, taking the athlete to their
ultimate performance.

Val O'Halloran
Massage Therapist