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Four Valuable Lessons I Learned from My Uncle

Written on March 29, 2012 at 9:33 am, by Eric Cressey

This past Friday, I received the terrible news that my Uncle Marty had passed away extremely unexpectedly at the age of 57.  The world lost an absolutely amazing man – and certainly the best uncle I could have possibly imagined – with his passing.  While it was a tough weekend of grieving for our entire family, as Monday rolled around, we all started fondly reminiscing about our memories of him.

My uncle was one of my biggest sports influences, particularly with respect to my youth soccer career.  There were always pick-up games going on in his yard – whether it was soccer, wiffleball, or basketball.  He arranged for me to go to soccer camp on a number of occasions, and he was always someone with whom I could talk soccer – or anything, for that matter.  Uncle Marty would take my cousins, my brother and me to U.S. National Team, professional, and college games all the time.  In fact, one of my fondest memories of him was seeing the U.S. National Team play Greece in a 1994 World Cup Qualifier at the Yale Bowl.  We got there hours before the game started so that we could play pick-up games in the parking lot.

As I thought more about these experiences, I began to realize just how much my uncle – a youth soccer coach himself – had influenced me as a strength and conditioning coach.  Below are a few key lessons I learned.

1. Show up; your presence alone always matters.

As you can imagine, Uncle Marty wasn’t just one of my biggest influences; he was one of my biggest fans.  I’ll never forget the night he drove all the way up to Maine from Connecticut to watch me play in my first varsity soccer game.  After the game, left me a hand-written note (before email was around) about how proud he was of me for such a big achievement.  It would have been really easy for him to just get the report from my mom over the phone and call to congratulate me, but instead, he drove six hours just to watch me play only 15-20 minutes.  I remember how much it meant to me to be able to play in front of him, because in spite of all the soccer time we’d spent together, he had never seen me play in an actual game until then.   I don’t remember the score of that game, whether we won or lost, or even what team we were playing, but I distinctly remember his presence and that note.

This is one reason that I always emphasize to our staff that we need to get out and watch our athletes during their seasons.  And, even if we can’t see every game, we need to keep track of them and do our best to reach out to them and know that we care. Wins and losses are very temporary in our minds, but friendships are for life.

2. Always be calm.

In the 30 years I knew my uncle, I never once heard him yell. Ever.  He didn’t even raise his voice, or ever get flustered.  Uncle Marty wasn’t shy, by any means, but he was a pensive and effective communicator – and had unbelievable patience.  This was the case whether he was a soccer coach or at work as an accountant/CFO: always calm and collected.  I think a big reason for his success on this front was that he was unbelievably prepared; he took a ton of pride in preparation for everything that he did, whether it was long days at work, or even just preparing dinner.

This is something I’ve tried to emulate as a coach.  I very rarely yell, and have a tremendous amount of patience when it comes to long-term athletic development, as I firmly believe that we have put in the right amount of preparation so that things should work if we just communicate effectively with our athletes.  It’s been my experience that extreme “highs” and “lows” are counterproductive in the life and development of a young athlete, so we try to be a stable, patient influence in their lives.

3. Always be positive.

There is enough negativity in the world – particularly in the world of sports.  The pressure in youth sports is over the top, and we’ve never had more stories of over-the-top parents yelling at kids, coaches, and referees/umpires at Pee Wee and Little League games.  Sadly, when you look at the behavior of many professional athletes, it doesn’t get much better.  In fact, this week in MLB alone, two high profile players both had DUI and hit-and-run charges against them.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of outstanding coaches doing the right thing, and they don’t get the attention they deserve. My uncle was one of those guys.

His attitude – win or lose – was always the same, whether he was a coach or fan. I simply never saw him get down about sports, even though he was one of the biggest sports fans I knew (particularly for UCONN basketball).  Uncle Marty had perspective, and he could always make people laugh, even if it only took a few candy corns.

My rule is simple: be unconditionally positive – especially when dealing with young athletes.  Kids don’t have bad days unless someone else projects that behavior on them.  My uncle coached hundreds – if not thousands – of kids as head of the youth soccer program in his town, but I never heard of him having a bad experience with a single one of them.

4. Always be approachable.

After my uncle’s passing, we were looking at some photos from this past Thanksgiving at our house.  One that jumped out at me was a picture of my uncle on our living room couch chatting with a Cressey Performance athlete.  This athlete had moved out from Colorado to train for an extended period of time, so I invited him to spend Thanksgiving with our family.  They’d never met before, but wound up chatting for almost an hour.

That was Uncle Marty.  While he wasn’t an extrovert, by any means, he was a tremendous listener with a great demeanor, and for that reason, he could talk with anyone.  In fact, after my sister-in-law met Marty for the first time, she called my wife the next day just to comment on how easy it was to talk to him.  At our wedding, he tied a purple napkin into a pirate hat, put it on, and danced all night long.  Sure enough, by the end of the night, he had 135 new friends: everyone in attendance.

I’ve always wanted to come across as an approachable guy, both as a coach at our facility, and as a presenter on a seminar tour.  I try to do more listening than talking, and don’t like closing the door to my office – ever.

These four attributes are really just a few examples of why he was such a special man in not only my life, but in the lives of everyone he met.  I’m not sure that a single blog post does justice to the fact that I lost an uncle, coach, mentor, friend, and unconditionally positive influence.

However, I think it does remind us that we can draw inspiration as coaches and trainers from all walks of life, not just seminars, books, DVDs, and coursework.  I hope all of you have an Uncle Marty in your lives, too.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/27/12

Written on March 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here are some recommended strength and conditioning readings for the week:

Recovery: Athlete vs. Average Joe – Patrick Ward summarized some great research on how it takes a lot more to negatively impact performance when you reduce the outside stress in one’s life.

Force of Habit – This article by Lindsay Berra just ran in ESPN The Magazine.  Lindsay interviewed me for the piece on Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction), and while I wasn’t mentioned in the final version, I thought she did an outstanding job of outlining some complex topics – everything from the mechanics to the politics – in the piece.

21 Strength Exercises for Injury-Free Mass – Bret Contreras provides some great options – and the rationale for them – for those looking to make their strength training programs a little more joint-friendly over the long-term.

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The Truth About Meal Frequency: Is Intermittent Fasting for You?

Written on March 26, 2012 at 7:46 am, by Eric Cressey

Today’s guest nutrition blog comes from former Cressey Performance intern Tyler Simmons.

“It’s best to eat 5 – 7 times a day.”

“Eating every three hours fuels your metabolism.”

“If you skip meals, your body goes into ‘starvation mode,’ you gain fat, and burn muscle for energy.”

Chances are that you’ve probably heard something like the above statements if you’ve read anything about diet or exercise in the last ten years. Many of you (myself included) probably spent a lot of time preparing and eating meals, in the hopes of optimizing fat loss and better muscle gain.

What does the data really show about spacing out your meals? When I started researching the topic of meal frequency in 2010, I assumed there was ample scientific evidence to back up these nearly unanimous claims that smaller, more frequent meals were better than larger, less frequent meals. Boy, was I disappointed.

To my surprise, the scientific literature had some different things to say. My research focused on how changing meal frequency impacts two different things: 1) Metabolic Rate and 2) Weight Loss. What I found was compelling evidence that reduced meal frequency, sometimes known as Intermittent Fasting (IF), could actually help me, so I started an experiment.

In the summer of 2010 I was living in Alaska doing construction and labor, as well as doing off-season training for Track and Field (sprinting, jumping, and lifting). For years I had focused on eating every 2-3 hours, but based on my new findings, I decided to limit all omy food intake to an 8-hour window, leaving 16 hours of the day as my fasting portion.

Despite doing fasted, hard labor all day, then lifting, sprinting, and playing basketball, I managed to set records on all my lifts at the end of the summer. Not only was I stronger than ever, but I got leaner too.

Here’s pictures from before and after, about 2 months apart:

Getting lean wasn’t even my main goal; the idea that I could be free from eating every three hours without suffering negative side effects was extremely liberating. No longer was I controlled by arbitrary meal times and tupperware meals in a lunch box. During this summer, I developed the ability to go long periods of time (18-24 hours) without food, and not get tired, cranky, our mentally slow down.

So why didn’t I catabolize my muscles, drop my metabolic rate, and end up looking like skinny-fat Richard Simmons (no relation)?

The Science

The idea that eating several smaller meals is better came from a few pieces of information. The first was because of an association between greater meal frequency and reduced body weight in a couple of epidemiological studies, although this only shows a correlation, not causation. Breakfast eaters are more likely to engage in other health activities, such as exercise, which explains the relationship. In the most comprehensive review of relevant studies, the authors state that any epidemiological evidence for increased meal-frequency is extremely weak and “almost certainly represents an artefact” (1).

The second piece is related to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), which is the amount of energy needed to digest and process the food you eat. Fortunately, this is dependent on total quantity of food, not on how it’s spaced, making the distinction irrelevant.

So, now we can see that the supposed benefits from increased meal frequency do not hold up to closer inspection, but why would we want to purposefully wait longer in between meals?

Originally, researchers thought Caloric Restriction (CR) was the bee’s knees. Preliminary research showed that CR slows aging, reduces oxidative damage, and reduces insulin and levels. All good, right? Unfortunately, these benefits come with some nasty trade-offs, including reduced metabolic rate, low energy levels, constant hunger, and low libido, pretty much what you would expect from chronically restricting food intake. These were not happy animals.

Recent research has shown that Intermittent Fasting or reduced meal frequency can convey many of the benefits of CR while avoiding the negative side effects. Some of these benefits include:

  • Favorable changes to blood lipids
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Decreased markers of inflammation
  • Reduction in oxidative stress
  • Increased Growth Hormone release
  • Greater thermogenesis/elevated metabolic rate
  • Improved fat burning
  • Improved appetite control

Some of these effects may be secondary to the reduction of calories due to improved appetite control, or they may be primary effects of IF, the research is not conclusive on this yet.

One of the most interesting findings was that contrary to conventional wisdom, reduced meal frequency actually causes an increase in thermogenesis (metabolic rate), which is mediated through the increase of catecholamines (stress hormones), such as adrenaline and norepinephrine (1,2). Yep, you read that right: instead of slowing your metabolism down, it speeds it up. Catecholamines also help with the liberation of fatty acids from fat cells, making them available to be burned as energy.

That’s the “why” and the “how” for some of the effects of IF. Whatever the mechanism for it, IF seems to be effective for at least some people, myself included. But before you rush off to go start fasting 16 hours a day, here are some tips and caveats.

Important Considerations

Many people ask me if IF is good or bad, but as with most things, it depends. IF is not appropriate in certain situations. It can be good or bad, depending on who you are (your current health status/lifestyle) and what your goals are. IF is a stressor on the body; one of the primary effects is an increase in stress hormones. If you’re lacking sleep, eating low quality foods, stressed out about your job, and excessively exercising then don’t start an IF protocol. It will backfire and you will end up fat and tired!

Only experiment with an IF program if you are getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night, eating a high quality diet, appropriately recovering from exercise, and don’t have too many mental/emotional stressors.

As far as what goals this works for, common sense applies here. IF is generally best for people who are already moderately lean and are trying to get leaner. If you’re trying to put on 30 pounds of mass, don’t start IF. If you’re an athlete with a very heavy training load, don’t try IF.

For those of you who fit the criteria of goals and health status, I suggest experimenting with the 8-hour fed/16-hour fasted periods. Eat quality foods to satiation in your eating window, especially focusing on the post-training period.

Keep in mind that IF is not for everyone, but it can be a powerful tool at certain times.  Most importantly, even if IF isn’t for you, remember that you shouldn’t stress out if you miss a meal occasionally!

Additional Note/Addendum

Many readers have noted that this is similar to what Martin Berkhan does in his LeanGeans protocol. Martin Berkhan was certainly influential in the thought process behind this, and I don’t mean to take anything away from him. To be clear, LeanGains is much more complex than a 16:8 fasting:eating period. LeanGains involves calculating calorie intake, fluctuating calorie intake +20% on training day/ -20% on off days, macronutrient cycling (high carb/low carb), supplementing with BCAA’s, etc. I didn’t use any of these techniques during my ten week experiment, I just ate to satiety during an 8-hour window. Martin is a great resource for people that want to learn more, especially on the body composition side of things. His website is leangains.com.

About the Author

Tyler Simmons is the owner and head Nutrition/Strength & Conditioning Coach at Evolutionary Health Systems. He has his bachelors in Kinesiology with a focus in Exercise Science and Exercise Nutrition from Humboldt State University. A former collegiate athlete, Tyler specializes in designing training and nutrition programs for athletes of all levels, as well as general population. Learn more at EvolutionaryHealthSystems.com.

Related Posts

Why You Should Never Take Nutrition Advice from Your Government
Anabolic Cooking: Why You Don’t Have to Gag to Eat Healthy

References

1. Bellisle, F., & McDevitt, R. (1997). Meal frequency and energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition, 77, 57-70.

2. Mansell, P., & Fellows, I. (1990). Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans. The American Journal of Physiology, 258, 87-93.

3. Staten, M., Matthews, D., & Cryer, P. (1987). Physiological increments in epinephrine stimulate metabolic rate in humans. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, 253, 322-330.

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Strength Training Programs: The 7 Most Common Power Clean Technique Mistakes

Written on March 22, 2012 at 8:20 am, by Eric Cressey

In response to my article, The 7 Habits of Highly Defective Benchers, I had a few reader requests for a similar article on power clean technique.  Fortunately, I knew just the guy to write it for us: my buddy Wil Fleming.  Wil did a tremendous job writing up the International Youth Conditioning Association Olympic Lifting Course, and he shares some of his knowledge along these lines with us below. 

I had the unbelievable good fortune of learning to Olympic lift under the guidance of a former Olympian and a couple of national team coaches. Unfortunately, many athletes learn how to do the Olympic lifts from a coach who hasn’t had that type of training.

As a result, the power clean may be the single worst looking lift in most weight rooms.  Seriously, I know you can picture it.

Walking into many high school weight rooms, and you’ll invariably see some kid who has WAAAY too much weight on the bar getting ready to show off what he thinks is pristine power clean technique.  He’ll roll it around for a minute on the floor, then muscle it up and catch it in a position that makes you wonder how he has so much flexibility in his adductors (history in gymnastics?).

I am by no means the most explosive athlete; in fact, I definitely wasn’t at one point, but I learned from the best.  And, just as importantly, I learned to not make some of the mistakes that plague athletes trying to do the power clean.   Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #1: Missing too many lifts

I actually had a coach recently tell me about his plan for having athletes max out. It went like this.

“Well we put about 15-20 lbs more on the bar than the athlete can do and then have him try it. He usually misses it, then we do that same thing again. Once they miss it a second time, we drop about 5-10 lbs and try it a 3rd time.  Sometimes they get it.”

Wait, what?

Exactly.

The sad part is that I think this is the mode that a lot of athletes get into when training. They think that just a basic overload in the lift is a good thing.

In truth, the power clean is a really complex pattern and overload isn’t always rewarded; technique is rewarded.  If you train knowing you are going to miss lifts, you are…drumroll here…going to miss lifts.

Something I learned – and something I instill with my athletes – is that missed lifts are a part of training, but they are not a consistent part of training. You’ll learn far more by completing lifts than by missing lifts.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #2: Starting from the floor when you can’t make it there in good position.

Is a power clean a power clean if you don’t start from the floor?

This is a mistake that I see all too often and with serious consequences.  Athletes are told and made to start from the floor with the power clean when in truth they have no ability to get down to the start position and maintain any semblance of structural integrity.

The true start position for the clean is uncomfortable, to say the least.  It requires hip mobility, ankle mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and tremendous trunk stability.  Most athletes are lacking in at least one of these areas.

Lacking the mobility and stability to actually achieve these positions means that an athlete will default to easier patterns to get to a bar resting on the ground. Typically, this will mean that they will achieve the movement from lumbar flexion, and then the cycle of back injuries occur.

As you can see in the photos below, this isn’t a position that you often see in the local high school weight room. (Photo Credit:  http://nielpatel.blogspot.com)

Fortunately – especially in young athletes – working to improve mobility in each of these areas can help tremendously in getting lifters in the right position.

In the meantime, just beginning the lifts from a slightly elevated (but static) position (A low block or another bumper plate) can help athletes get into a start position that does not include lumbar flexion.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #3: No consistency in the start position

In any movement – from a golf swing to a bench press – we preach consistency. The pattern that we create time and again is the one to which we will default when the going gets tough.

The power clean is no different, but if I walk into most weight rooms and training facilities, I see something entirely different.

Roll the bar around for a minute, hop up and down, roll the bar around some more and LIFT!!!

“But wait, I do three rolls every time, so my pattern is the same.”

The approach to the power clean should be the same every time you approach the bar.  Early on in training, I sought to eliminate inconsistency by crouching by the bar before beginning the lift.  Still, I found difficulty achieving a consistent position in my lift off from the floor.

My training really took off when I took a three-step process to get the bar in my hands.

1, Cover my laces with the bar, brace the core and lock in the lats.
2. RDL to my knees.
3. Squat to the bar.

The first step is really about verifying that I have the proper relation to the bar and that my body is prepared to maintain a stable position throughout the lift. Keeping the bar close to the body on the initial lift-off will allow for the most efficient bar path while maintaining the right position.

Making an RDL movement to the knees allows my hips to be behind the bar. Getting the hips away from the bar will allow the hips to remain loaded throughout the lift.

Squatting to the bar maintains a consistent torso angle down to the start position, meaning that on lift-off the shoulders will remain forward of the bar.

With this three-part pattern, I am able to guarantee that I, or any athletes I coach, make it to the start position consistently.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #4: Pulling the bar too fast off the ground.

Lots of weight on the bar? Only one way to pull it: HARD. Right?

Not really.  The first pull off the ground is all about maintaining consistent position and gaining momentum into the second (more aggressive pull).

As a beginning lifter, I don’t think that there is any mistake more common than pulling too fast off the ground.  Speed is king in the Olympic lifts and coaches preach it from day one.

There is only one issue. A bar that is moving too fast will inhibit an athlete’s ability to make an aggressive second pull.

Think of it this way: If a car were driving past you at 90 miles per hour and you were asked to push on the bumper to make it go faster, you would have very little time to improve upon the speed of the car and therefore have no effect on its acceleration.

Imagine the same car moving past you at 5 miles per hour.  If you were to push on the bumper of this car, you could greatly improve its acceleration and velocity.

The same is true with the Olympic lifts. Pulling too fast before reaching the mid-thigh will make your second pull much less effective.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #5: Pulling around the knees

This is another really common problem among novice lifters.

The bar trajectory off the floor should be back. Struggling with this is pretty easy to do because the overall “feel” of the power clean is straight up.

The bar must always start in front of the center of gravity (on the floor away from the hips), and the first pull should be used to align the bar with the center of gravity.  Aligning the bar even more to the front of the center of gravity is a common problem that leads to a lot of missed lifts and poor catch positions.

If the knees do not go back on the first pull, the athlete will be misaligned forward of the toes in the above the knee position and not be able to put the full power of hip extension into the lift.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #6: Not finishing the Second Pull

Pretty early on, some athlete that you train will realize that the lower they can go to catch the bar, the greater likelihood they will have in being successful in catching the lift.

Not finishing the second pull (the fast pull) from the mid-thigh upwards means that the athlete did not reach full hip extension and did not close the gap between their body and the bar.

Not reaching full extension with the hips is a big no-no because it is the primary reason that athletes do Olympic lifts in the first place.  Explosively pulling on the bar to hip extension in the point right?

The Olympic lift happens fast, and as coaches we can miss things like this.  Assuming you don’t have Superman vision, the easiest way to spot this problem is watch for an athlete jumping forward in the catch.  A complete hip extension will result in the athlete catching the bar in the same position on the platform or slightly behind the starting position. Jumping forward is the red flag for an incomplete pull.

Power Clean Technique Mistake #7: Catching the bar like a starfish

The starfish is a magnificent creature, but it likes to spread its appendages all over the place, and that has no place in the power clean.  And, we all know that we have seen a starfish in the weight room before.

We talk and talk about the force production that is such a valuable part of Olympic lifts, but equally valuable is the force absorption that must occur at the moment of the catch.

When an athlete catches like a starfish they are putting themselves in a position that will lead to injury.  If this pattern is the reaction to absorbing a stress on the body, then I really fear the moment when they come down from a maximal effort jump in competition.

So, do yourself a favor and don’t allow any starfish appearances in the weight room.

Conclusion

Try as we might, some of these things will always occur when you have people doing power cleans. Eliminate the majority of the problems and you will have people safely pulling a lot of weight, fast.

About the Author

Wil Fleming, CSCS, is a member of the International Youth Conditioning Association Board of Experts, and co-owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Bloomington, IN.   To learn more about Wil’s teaching system for the Olympic lifts, be sure to check out the IYCA Olympic Lift Instructor Course. To follow him on Twitter, click here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/21/12

Written on March 21, 2012 at 4:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a list of recommended reading for the week:

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Half-Kneeling Band Overhead Shrug – Here, Tony Gentilcore highlights an exercise we use quite a bit at Cressey Performance with some of our athletes who are stuck in scapular downward rotation.  It’s a big hit with those guys with low shoulders (especially right-handed pitchers).  As an aside, I actually prefer the tall kneeling version over the half-kneeling variation, but that’s minutia.

An Interview with Dr. Stuart McGill: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part interview by Chad Waterbury with Dr. McGill was fantastic.  All of McGill’s work is must-read material if you’re in the fields of health and human performance.

The Red Meat Scare: What Do We Make of It? – Jonny Bowden does a great job of discussing the flaws in the way some folks have interpreted some recent research on red meat consumption and its relationship to mortality.

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My Interview for SportsRehabExpert.com

Written on March 19, 2012 at 2:15 am, by Eric Cressey

I just wanted to give you all a quick heads-up on a free audio interview I did for the Sports Rehab to Sports Performance Teleseminar Series.  We talk about my experience with the Postural Restoration Institute, power development for baseball, shoulder mobility/stability, and a new product of mine. You can access the interview HERE.

I was just one of several interviews, so I’d encourage you to check out the entire series.  I especially like the fact that you can download these interviews so that you can listen to them at a later date – or while you’re on the car or train.

Enjoy!

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Bench Press Technique: Should You Keep Your Feet Up?

Written on March 16, 2012 at 8:52 am, by Eric Cressey

A while back, I published an article, Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?, that was the single most popular in the history of EricCressey.com.  One particularly important point I made was that chronically driving the scapulae into depression with overuse of the lats could lead to various injuries in lifters and athletes.

In the comments section after the article, one reader had a great question along these lines: Isn't benching with a big arch and cueing "down and back" with the shoulder blades during a bench press the exact same thing?  Shouldn't the feet be up on the bench to get people out of extension?

I think it is a similar thing, but not the exact same thing.  And, I am not a fan of bench pressing with the feet up on the bench.

Before I get into the details of why, though, we should make an important differentiation between "gym" bench press technique and the bench press technique used by competitive powerlifters in competition.

In competition powerlifting bench press technique, the goal is to shorten the range of motion of the bar while maximizing leg drive.  Putting yourself in a big lower back arch and tucking the feet up under you more is the way to do this.  Additionally, equipped powerlifters wear bench press shirts that pull the shoulder blades forward, and the humerus into extension past the body.  Accordingly, the lifter has to consciously pull the shoulder blades down and back to counteract this tension and not jack up the anterior aspect of the shoulder.  After about 20 minutes of searching my laptop, I found this old video of me from 2005 when I was a legit 165-pounder (you can tell by the ostrich legs).  Notice the big arch and how much upper back involvement I needed to "fight" the shirt (and, for the record, I was never good at using the shirt...hated those things):

The Average Joe doesn't need to worry about these factors when he's lifting in the gym; he just needs to figure out what gives him the optimal set-up to stay healthy and still benefit from the exercise.  Still, I think we can learn a few things from the powerlifting approach.

First, I’m not convinced that such substantial loads for the upper body alone are a good thing. There are smaller joint structures and more mobility than stability than we see in the lower body, which can handle far greater loads. Sharing the load with the lower body tends to better distribute overall training stress.  Bringing the feet up on the bench takes this away.

Second, folks are more likely to go into excessive humeral extension (elbows pass the body) in the bottom position with a “sunken” chest. So, they either jack up the anterior aspect of the shoulder there – or the elbows flare out and we deal with a host of other stability issues.

Third, in standing, we actually have a "normal" lordotic curve.  I think it's optimal to maintain this lordotic curve on the bench rather than take it away completely.  Core stability isn't about cranking someone into excessive extension or flexion; it's about learning how to maintain neutral.  A "middle of the road" approach like the one in the videos below is fine for most lifters (you'll notice a slight arch is even more important on the close grip bench press, as there is a greater tendency for humeral extension past neutral when the hands are closer together):

Fourth, there is something to be said about learning from very strong people and their experiences.  We learned about how bracing was far superior to hollowing in terms of core stability by simply looking at world class squatters and what they did under insane loads.  Along these same lines, you simply don't see world class bench pressers with the feet up and shoulder blades winging out. The flat back posture shifts guys into an abducted scapulae position from the get-go – and it becomes excessive at the top of the press. Internal rotation with protraction closes down the subacromial space and can cause increased rotator cuff impingement as well.  A similar thing actually happens when guys have to lift off the racks to themselves to start the lift, and it's one reason why I always recommend getting a bench press handoff.

Fifth, you have to appreciate that the amount of time spent in scapular depression and lumbar extension (if you are even past the point of "neutral") is relatively trivial.  If this position provides some extra stability, and doesn't take place for long enough to yield chronic adaptations, I'm all for it.

Hopefully, this brief overview explains why I don't like to have the feet up with bench press technique.  If you're looking to learn more, I'd encourage you to check out The Specialization Success Guide, a resource I co-authored with Greg Robins.  It features some thorough bench press technique advice, as well as proven bench press specialization strength training programs.

SSG

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/13/12

Written on March 13, 2012 at 9:09 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a little of recommended reading for the week:

Deloading on 5×5 Weight Training Programs - The 5×5 sets and reps approach is a very popular one, but most people ignore a very crucial factor that influences how successful this approach is: deloading.  Learn more from this older post of mine.

Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents – It always seems like calcium gets a lot more love than vitamin D when it comes to bone health, but here’s a recently published prospective cohort study that shows that vitamin D is most likely the bigger player in preventing stress fractures.  Just one more reason to supplement!

The Myth of In-Season “Maintenance” Training – I thought Ben Bruno did a good job relaying an important message about the value of in-season training, particularly among youth athletes.  The overwhelming majority of kids can continue to get strong with good training in-season, so they need to view in-season strength and conditioning as developmental.  Otherwise, it becomes one step forward (off-season), one step backward (in-season) for an entire high school career.

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Strength Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Dumbbell Floor Press

Written on March 12, 2012 at 2:53 am, by Eric Cressey

I’m out of town for a few days, but fortunately, Ben Bruno was kind enough to write up this guest blog.  I enjoy Ben’s writing – particularly his ability to constantly innovate – and I’m sure you will, too.

Common sense tells us that the one arm dumbbell bench press is an upper body exercise (duh!), but if you’ve ever done them with considerable loads, then you know that the legs aren’t just passive players in the mix. They don’t just help to provide a little bit of leg drive; more importantly, they help to create a stable base so you don’t tip clear off the bench.

Don’t believe me? Try doing a set with your feet in the air and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Just make sure to put padding on the floor around you first.

To mimic this effect in a safer fashion, try one arm dumbbell floor presses with your legs straight.

You’ll find there’s a tendency for your torso to want to rotate towards the arm pressing the weight and for the contralateral leg to want to shoot up off the floor as the weight gets heavier or you get further into a set.  As such, you have to be cognizant of that and squeeze your glutes and brace your core to prevent that from happening since you can’t rely on your feet to provide the base of support.

It’s a great exercise because it’s self-limiting and reflexively teaches you how to create total body tension—no cueing needed.

It’s also a nice shoulder-friendly alternative for people who might experience pain with full range of motion dumbbell pressing, or for people with lower-body injuries that won’t allow them to push through their feet.

Start with your legs wider and move them closer together as you feel more comfortable. Similarly, you can start with the non-working arm resting at the floor at first to give some additional stability, but work towards placing your hand over your abdomen as you improve.

You’ll need to start with a substantially lighter weight than you’d use for regular dumbbell presses (I’d say 60% would be a good starting point), but your numbers will climb back up quickly as you get the hang of it.

Give it a try!

Ben Bruno publishes a free daily blog at www.BenBruno.com.

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5 Reasons to Be Excited About the Future of the Fitness Industry

Written on March 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm, by Eric Cressey

Growing up, my mother always told me that I had a remarkable ability to spot the good (and bad) in people; I generally could get pretty quick reads on what kind of folks I was encountering, and then choose my friends/colleague accordingly.  As a result, as I think back on it, this is probably why I never had "bad" friends: people who got into trouble or rolled with the wrong crowd.

More recently, my wife has commented on how I always seem to find the good in people. I shrug off not-so-positive nuances in their behaviors and can become friends with just about anyone.  I think this has helped me a lot as a coach, employer, and presenter.

So, I guess you could say that I'm an optimist.  In my eyes, this glass is half full.

This applies to not only my interaction with other people, but also to the way that I view the fitness industry in which I make my living.

Every day, I hear people pissing and moaning about how many things are wrong with the fitness industry:

1. The barrier to entry is too low and most personal trainers suck.

2. Heart disease is still on the rise.

3. People use too many machines and not enough free weights.

4. The functional training revolution has turned many personal training sessions into a circus act.

5. Crossfit butchers exercise technique and ignores periodization.

Cry me a river.  If you're so down on our industry, do something to change it – or just pick a new one.  I've met thousands of trainers over the years, and there is no bigger turn-off to me than when someone goes on and on about how terrible the industry is and how awful the trainers they're around are.  I've also heard people bring it up in internship and job interviews, and it's a huge turnoff that puts them in the "rejected" pile instantly.

As I've said in the past, "small hinges swing big doors," so if you're frustrated with where the industry is headed, start with yourself and what you can change to make things better.  For me, that starts with optimism.  I look at the quotes above and think:

1. That low barrier to entry has also opened doors to some ridiculously outstanding personal trainers who are changing lives every single day.  And, having more terrible personal trainers has afforded more opportunities for others to show just how good they are, comparatively speaking.

2. That means more cardiac rehabilitation jobs are opening up.  Plus, all the research on cardiovascular disease has taught us a ton on how to modify training, nutrition, and supplementation approaches for our otherwise healthy clients.  There's no way that we know as much about low carb diets nowadays if cardiovascular disease and diabetes research hadn't received so much attention and funding over the past 20 years.

3. If other facilities are relying heavily on machines, but I'm not, it's an opportunity for me to show one more stark contrast that makes Cressey Performance training a better fit.  It's one more way for me to educate someone and win them over.

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Additionally, the heavy reliance on expensive machines in the 1980s and 1990s likely gave rise to an entire industry of portable training devices like the TRX in the 21st century (remember the old business advice: if you want to be successful, do the opposite of what everyone else is doing).  Were it not for the TRX and other devices that provide similar portability and versatility, we might not be able to pull off semi-private training and bootcamp set-ups on the level that they take place in the fitness industry today.

4. The functional training revolution has also produced some outstanding coaches who effectively bridge the gap between corrective exercise and high performance training.  It's brought about more collaboration among fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists.  And, on an industry-wide level, it's helped us to inform clients that exercise should enhance quality of life and improve the way you move, not just make you stronger, more muscular, and less fat while you suffer through pain.

5. Crossfit has also created a tremendous camaraderie among thousands of athletes, and motivated loads of people to exercise when they might have otherwise become sedentary.  They've created a competitive outlet for a lot of former high school, college, and professional athletes.  And, there are some Crossfit franchisees who actually do an outstanding job with coaching technique and catering programming to each individual's needs.  You can't just judge them all based on the garbage you see on Youtube.

I could go on and on all day, but the truth is, the folks doing the criticizing often ought to take a look in the mirror, as they're usually in need of a lot of improvements in their own right.  I'm not perfect, and neither is anybody else – and that's a great thing, as we can always find ways to get better.  To that end, in the spirit of optimism, here are five current fitness industry trends that bode well for those of us looking forward to where the next few decades will take us.

1. New fitness research every single day – For the longest time, all researchers seemed to care about was aerobic exercise, but then, in the 1990s, there was a big boom of resistance training research that continues to this day.

It's exciting to be in such a dynamic field, as it keeps you on your toes and guarantees that you'll be constantly improve if you simply attempt to stay up-to-date with new research.

2. Increased communication across disciplines – There are more opportunities than ever for professionals in the health and human performance fields to network and learn from each other, and collaborate on treatments/training for patients/clients/athletes.  Look at professional sports teams; they've gone from just having an athletic trainer in the old days, to now also having strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, massage therapists, nutritionists, chiropractors, sports psychologists, acupuncturists, you name it.  This same "team-oriented" approach has extended to the private sector, whether it's under one roof or simply in collaborative efforts in similar geographic areas.

3. Improved business resources - In years past, personal trainers were supposed to work long "floor hours" at big box gyms in the hopes that they could bully gym goers into personal training with them.  It pissed most people off, made the trainer look like a super sketchy used car salesman, and didn't exactly give this fitness professional an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise.  Plus, in the past, people would open gyms simply because they liked to exercise and thought it'd be cool – and most of those operations went belly up pretty quickly.  Nowadays, there are much more solid resources available to fitness professionals if they're looking to do a better job of not only building a business, but managing it.  So, without having the actual numbers in front of me, the success rates are probably higher – especially if you have #4…

4. Sustainability within a niche – As you probably know, I train a ton of baseball players; it's about 85% of our clientele at Cressey Performance.  I'm not sure that this would have been possible ten years ago.  While early youth sports specialization has been a terrible idea in the context of injuries, it has given rise to increased specialization in training to prevent injuries, and management of the injuries that are already in place.  The end result is that it is more feasible for a fitness professional to make a career out of his/her true passion.  In my case, it's been baseball.

5. Accessibility to training information – Let's face it: you probably would have not have heard of Eric Cressey (much less EricCressey.com) if it wasn't for the internet.  I'd likely still be training loads of baseball players in Hudson, MA – but I don't know that I would have as many guys coming from across the country to train with me if it wasn't for the internet.  It's made our expertise easier to perceive, and working with those players has made me a better coach faster.

That same ease of information gathering is available in a wide variety of formats.  In the old days, you had to hit up a library, buy a book out of a catalog, or visit a coach locally to observe.  Nowadays, you can order books, DVDs, webinars, podcasts, and video presentations completely online.  You can easily apply for an internship across the country, email a coach or facility you'd like to visit to observe, or pick out a seminar of interest – and then instantly book a flight, rental car, and hotel to make it happen.  You can hop on pubmed.com and search thousands of journals for specific information you want.  You can read free blogs, newsletters, and articles in areas of interest to you.  In short, you can get better faster than ever before.  A while back, I jokingly tweeted "Using the phrase 'I'm bored' is synonymous with saying 'I'm too lazy to read to educate myself in my free time.'"  The truth is that I wasn't joking, though; you can always be doing something to improve yourself professionally if you're willing to put the time and effort in.

This is one reason why I'm so psyched to be a part of Elite Training Mentorship, the online resource we introduced almost two years ago.

You get frequent updates from several contributors – Mike Robertson, Dave Schmitz, Tyler English, Vaughn Bethell, Steve Long, Jared Woolever, and me – all industry professionals who are running successful facilities.  The information covers several facets of the industry, too. You get everything from videoed staff in-services, to webinars, to sample programs, to coaching demonstrations, to articles from the contributors.  And, you get it conveniently, as you can access it from any computer, iPad, or phone.  There's no need to book a plane ticket, hotel, or rental car like you would with a regular seminar. To learn more, check out Elite Training Mentorship.

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