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The High Performance Handbook

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What I Learned in 2012

Written on January 31, 2013 at 8:57 am, by Eric Cressey

I wrote my first “What I Learned in” feature at T-Nation back in 2006. A lot has happened in over the past seven years, too. I’m not longer the young whippersnapper picking fights on the T-Nation forum anymore. Rather, I’ve morphed into an old man with a receding hairline – and I prefer to yell at the television and complain about the damn kids who walk on my lawn, rather than arguing with folks on the internet.

Continue reading…


Deadlift Technique: How to Take the Tension Out of the Bar

Written on January 29, 2013 at 7:09 pm, by Eric Cressey

If you’re looking to improve your deadlift technique, don’t overlook this crucial set-up cue that takes place right before you initiate the pull. Some folks call it “taking the slack out of the bar,” while I call it “taking the tension out of the bar” (and into your body).  Regardless, you need to do it!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/28/13

Written on January 28, 2013 at 9:28 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s a list of recommended strength and conditioning reads to kick off your week on the right foot:

Omega-6 vs. Omega-3: Who Cares? – The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is a topic that’s been scrutinized heavily in analyzing the typical American diet, but if you’re someone who is already good about picking healthy food options, you may be making things far too complex.  Dr. Mike Roussell clarifies in this article.

Is Metabolic Resistance Training Right for Everyone? – This was a guest post I published from Joe Dowdell back in 2011, and a conversation I had about progressions in beginners made me think of it.  This is a “must-read” for up-and-coming trainers who deal with deconditioned folks in the general population.

Will Your College Go Out of Business Before You Graduate? – I thought this was a tremendously interesting post from Mark Cuban.  While it might not seem related to the fitness industry at first glance, I suspect that our field could be among the first ones affected if a scenario like this emerged.  With such a low barrier to entry in this industry, it’s not unreasonable to think that folks will shun the $250,000 (or more) exercise science degree and just go right to the trenches. I touched on this a little bit a while back in my blog posts, Is An Exercise Science Degree Really Worth it? – Part 1 and Part 2.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 30

Written on January 25, 2013 at 11:08 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s strength and conditioning tips, courtesy of Greg Robins.

1. Stress the “Hip Shift” with rotational med ball drills.

In this video I would like to detail the most important factor when using medicine ball exercisess to improve rotational power. Additionally, I have included a couple drills to help athletes with shifting from one hip to the other.

2. Consider adding work before you take away rest.

Often, you will set up your training sessions based on work to rest ratios. For example:

5 sets of 5 with one minute of rest.

OR

30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.

Whether we are working to improve an athlete’s work capacity, or programming for a fat loss client, the idea is that we are calling for consistent high output efforts with incomplete rest intervals.

My suggestion is that you add repetitions or small increases in time BEFORE you take away rest. Why? The answer is simple: if you want high outputs, you are more likely to get them when you have more rest, albeit incomplete rest. Over the course of a program, use a progression where you add work first, then go back to where you started and take away rest the second go around. This way you are more likely to get better outputs.

Using our first example:

The first month would include adding 1 rep per workout or adding a few seconds while keeping the 1 minute, or 30 seconds of rest, respectively. In the following month, you can keep the work at 5 reps or 30 seconds and take away small amounts of rest each workout. In the months to follow you can start to combine elements of each.

3. Know when to buy organic produce when you’re on a budget.

I have never been in a situation where I didn’t need to count my pennies when it came to buying food for the week. That being said, I have filled my head with too much information not be informed when it comes to the safety of the food I buy. Therefore, I have to be consider how I can stay smart with my food choices and my finances. One of the best pieces of advice I received a while back had to do with when to buy organic produce. As a rule of thumb, I buy organic fruits and veggies when I plan on eating the skin, and I don’t when I plan on removing the skin.

For example, when it comes to berries, apples, and leafy greens, I always go organic. When I buy bananas, pineapple, or spaghetti squash, I just buy the cheapest I can find. Keeping this in mind, I also tend to buy fruits and veggies that fit my budget at the time in respect to my rule of thumb. Give it a try and save some dough!

4. Try this variation of the reverse crunch.

5. Consider this study when developing your strength and conditioning programs.

Earlier this year, I presented at our first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I spoke on the various qualities of “strength” an athlete may acquire and display. A large part of what I stressed was the relationship between strength qualities and how some exercises (and improvement of said exercises) share a more direct relationship with increased performance in an athlete’s sport of choice.

Recently, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers examined how various field related strength and performance tests correlate to a golfer’s club head speed (CHS). Not surprisingly, it was found that better rotational medicine ball throw outputs and squat jump outputs correlated with better CHS.

The study describes the finding as “movements that are more concentrically dominant in nature may display stronger relationships with CHS.”

The take away is that we must make sure that our athletes have great absolute strength (which can be measured eccentrically), but also the ability to call upon that strength quickly and use it concentrically. If there is a major deficit between their ability to use their strength against a very sub maximal load (such as a golf club, baseball, or their body), then we are missing the mark in making them more productive on the field. Be sure to test and improve not only maximal strength numbers, but also power outputs in time dependent situations. These can include testing and programming various jumps, sprints, and throws.

Looking to take the guesswork out of your strength and conditioning programs?  Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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21 Reasons You’re Not Tim Collins

Written on January 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm, by Eric Cressey

On March 31, 2011, Cressey Performance athlete Tim Collins made his major league debut on opening day for the Kansas City Royals.  As one of the shortest players in Major League Baseball, Tim made for a great story, especially considering he was an undrafted free agent sign who never received interest from any college baseball programs, let alone Division 1 schools.  In light of this unlikely ascent to baseball’s biggest stage, Tim’s story was featured on Yahoo Sports, MLB.com, and Men’s Health, and I also wrote up this post, which was among my most popular of all time.  By the end of the day, Tim was trending worldwide on Twitter when my business partner and I went out to dinner with Tim and his folks to celebrate his big-league debut – even though nobody in downtown Kansas City recognized him outside of his uniform.

Not surprisingly, Tim’s phone was bombarded by text messages and phone calls all that afternoon and evening. However, I never could have imagined that we, too, would get bombarded with requests after Tim got to the show.  Since that date, we’ve received hundreds of emails (in addition to some phone calls to the office, one of whom asked to speak with Tim – in the middle of July while he was in-season) that all essentially go like this (this is copied and pasted):

“Hi, I am a 5-7 lefty pitcher that also weights 170lb but only throws 80 mph. I read the articles about Tim Collins and was wondering if you could send me the workouts that he does in the off-season with you because I’m just like him. What leg exercises/lifts did he perform. Also did he just focus on legs, core and light upper body. If I lifted upper body I get really stiff because I have a similar stature like Collins, so did he basically avoid upper body lifts or did he just perform light lifts on the upper body. Finally after I lift I have been running a mile after that to loosen up my muscle to stay flexible, is that a good or bad idea. Thanks.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I think it’s absolutely awesome that Tim’s story has inspired guys to want to work hard to achieve their goals in spite of their stature – and we’ve certainly received loads of comments from folks who always put a smile on my face in this regard.  However, it frustrates (and entertains) me to think that some guys assume that they are just a program (actually, five year worth of programs) away from throwing 97mph and pitching in the big leagues.  Programs are just a bunch of words and numbers typed into Microsoft Excel and printed out; it’s how they’re carried out that really matters.  Additionally, there is a lot more to long-term baseball success than just following a strength and conditioning program; you also have to prepare on the baseball side of things and attain a skill set that differentiates you.  To that end, I thought I’d take this time to highlight 21 reasons you’re not Tim Collins.

1. You don’t have Tim’s training partners.

Tim’s had some of the same training partners since back in 2007, and in addition to pushing him in the gym, they’ve also served as a network for him to share ideas and solicit feedback.  If you just do “his programs” in a commercial gym by yourself (with obnoxious Nicky Minaj music in the background), you’re not going to get the same outcome. True story: in the fall of 2009, Tim trained alongside Paul Bunyan. This experience gave him the size, strength, and courage needed to grow a beard that would become a beacon for humanity in Kansas City and beyond.

2. Your beard is not this good.

Everyone knows that beards improve the likelihood of baseball success, not to mention all-around happiness in the rest of one’s life. I can’t send you a strength and conditioning program that will make your facial hair grow.

3. You don’t put calories in the right place like Tim does.

Tim can eat a ton of food and a LOT more of it goes to muscle than fat.  Just because you’re 5-7, 150 pounds and left-handed doesn’t mean you won’t become a fat slob if you crush 8,000 calories a day.  Sorry.

4. You don’t have Tim’s awesome support network.

Tim is fortunate to have a great family, from his parents, to his sisters, to his fiance.  This is especially important for an undrafted free agent who didn’t get much of a signing bonus.  His parents put a roof over his head and fed him while he worked his way through the minor leagues.

More significantly, though, people don’t realize that the foundation of becoming a big leaguer doesn’t come from a training program; it comes from the values that are instilled in you by those around you when you’re young.  As a perfect example, Tim’s father, Larry, is one of the hardest-working guys you’ll ever meet.  He teaches, has a painting business, and even just accepted a prestigious award for outstanding community service in the Worcester area.  A few sheets of paper with exercises, sets, and reps written on them won’t foster the kind of habits that will get you to “the show.”

5. You probably don’t enjoy the process like Tim does.

Tim likes training.  In fact, all of our clients knew Tim well before he made it to the big leagues, as he was always at the gym. He has been putting in eight hour days of hanging around the office (on top of his training) for five years now.  If you don’t enjoy training, you probably around going to become a gym rat.  And, if you don’t teach yourself to enjoy the training process, your chance of getting to your ideal destination will surely be diminished.  This was taken at 7pm on a Tuesday night, as a frame of reference:

6. You might not have Tim’s luck.

Then Blue Jays general manager JP Ricciardi “discovered” Tim by accident when he was out to scout another player.  How many of you have GMs just “pop in” to your Legion games – and conveniently do it on a day when you strike out 12 straight guys?

7. Your name isn’t Matt O’Connor.

Meet Matt O’Connor, Cressey Performance athlete and student at Emory University. He is sometimes mistaken for Tim when he’s at CP.

If we were going to pick anyone to be “just like Tim Collins,” it would be Matt – purely for efficiency’s sake.

8. You might not have a switch you can flip on and off.

One of the things most folks don’t know about many high level lifters is that they joke around all the time during training sessions.  When I was lifting at one of the best powerlifting gyms in the world, guys were always busting each other’s chops between sets. However, when the time comes to move weights, they get very serious very quickly.  They know how to flip the switch on at will. 

However, they also know how to turn the switch off when they don’t need it.  This is true of a lot of the most successful baseball players I’ve encountered; they leave work at work.  The guys who are constantly “on” and let the game consume their lives often have bad relationships with teammates and stress themselves into bad results.

I think part of what has made Tim successful – especially as a relief pitcher – is that he can turn his brain and his body on at a moment’s notice, but knows how to go back to “normal Tim” when the time is right.

9. You probably don’t even have a bulldog, and if you do, I guarantee you that his underbite isn’t this awesome.

10. You don’t have Tim’s curveball.

I actually remember reading somewhere that Tim’s curveball had more top-to-bottom depth than any other curveball in Major League Baseball, and I spoke to one MLB advanced scout who said he rated it as an 80.  Keep in mind that average fastball velocity is higher in Low A than it is in the big leagues.  Tim’s velocity improvements might have been a big part of him advancing through the minor leagues, but he doesn’t even get his first opportunity unless he has a great curveball.  And, no, I don’t have his “curveball program” to send you.

11. You don’t have Tim’s change-up.

If Tim’s curveball is what got him to the big leagues, it was his change-up that has kept him there.  Interesting fact: he threw two change-ups in the 2010 season – and both led to home runs. It took a lot of work to develop the change-up he has now.  But you just need his programs.  Riiiight.

12. You can’t ride a unicycle.

I don’t know of the correlation between unicycling ability and pitching success, but there has to be something there.

13. You might not respond to success like Tim has.

I often see one of two things happens when guys are successful in pro sports, and everyone comes out of the woodwork asking for something.  They either a) trust everybody or b) trust nobody.  I think Tim’s done a great job of finding a happy medium.  He puts his trust in others and doesn’t second guess them, but still guards his network carefully.

14. You might not be as willing to make sacrifices as he is.

This might come as a surprise, but Hudson, MA really isn’t that beautiful in the winter.  Most pro guys move to Arizona, Florida, or California in the off-season, but Tim sacrifices that lifestyle to train with us and be close to the support network I mentioned earlier. Asking to just have a program (actually, 50+ programs) emailed to you means that you aren’t willing to make sacrifices on that level, which leads to…

15. You wouldn’t be doing your program in the same training environment.

I know a lot of pro guys who struggle to find a throwing partner in the off-season.  If that’s an issue, it’s a safe assumption that they don’t exactly have many (if any) training partners or a good training environment in which to execute the program, either.  You don’t just need the right people; you need quite a few of them, with the right equipment at your fingertips. At risk of sounding arrogant, I think we’ve done a great job of creating that at CP.

16. You don’t have just the right amount of laxity.

Congenital laxity is a big consideration in training throwing athletes.  Some guys have naturally looser joints, while others tend to be very stiff.  The really “loose” guys need more stability training and little to not flexibility work, while the tight guys need a hearty dose of mobility drills.  Generally speaking, the best place to be (in my opinion, at least) is middle-of-the-road.  Tim falls right there, with a small tendency toward being a bit more loose, which favors his aggressive delivery.

17. You don’t throw to a left-handed catcher in the off-season.

And, even if you do, your left-handed catcher probably doesn’t have a mitt with his name on it. It’s definitely a crucial part of the Tim Collins developmental experience.

18. You probably can’t score a 21 on the Functional Movement Screen.

Many of you are probably familiar with Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen, a seven-part assessment approach used in a number of fitness and strength and conditioning settings nowadays.  A perfect score is a 21, but you don’t see it very often – usually because everyone gets dominated by the rotary stability test, where a perfect score (3) is essentially a same-sided birddog. The first time I saw Tim drop to the floor and do this effortlessly, my jaw just about hit the floor.  Luckily, he can repeat it on command like it’s nothing, so I snapped a video (this was the first try, with no warm-up).

He’s scored a 21 on this two spring trainings in a row – and that implies that he actually moves quite well.  Most people don’t need his program, as they have a lot more movement quality issues to address.

19. You ice after you throw.

Tim iced after pitching one time, and hated it; he’ll never do it again.  Not everyone is the same, though; some guys swear by it.  You might be one of those guys.

20. You’ve never personal trained a nine-week old puppy.

21. You “muscle” everything.

One of the traits you’ll see in a lot of elite athletes is that they don’t get overly tense when they don’t have to do so.  If you’re squatting 500 pounds, you want to establish a lot more rigidity, but if you’re participating in the vast majority of athletic endeavors, you want effortless, fluid movement – almost as if you aren’t trying.  If you just tense up and try to muscle everything, it becomes harder to take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle.  Teaching an athlete to relax is challenging – but I never had to even address it with Tim; it was something he just “had.”

There’s a saying in the strength and conditioning world that “it’s easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.”  I think this quote applies perfectly to Tim’s development.  Not everyone has that natural reactive ability from the get-go, so different training approaches are needed for different individuals. 

Again, in closing, I should emphasize that it’s great that Tim has become an inspiration to shorter pitchers to pursue their dreams.  However, as is always the case, young athletes simply following the exact training programs of professional athletes is a bad idea, as these programs may not be appropriate for their bodies or point on the athletic development continuum.  To that end, I encourage all young athletes to educate themselves on how they are unique – and find the right people and programs to pursue their dreams in accordance with those findings. And, for the record, Tim agrees!

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Simplicity and Individualization: The Hallmarks of Every Successful Program

Written on January 21, 2013 at 7:01 pm, by Eric Cressey

This past weekend, I spoke at a baseball conference that featured an outstanding lineup.  Sharing the stage were:

  • Lloyd McClendon (former MLB player and current Detroit Tigers hitting coach)
  • Jerry Weinstein (Colorado Rockies catching coach)
  • Gary Gilmore (Coastal Carolina head Coach)
  • Rich Maloney (Ball State head coach)
  • Shaun Cole (University of Arizona pitching coach)
  • Gary Picone (former Lewis & Clark head coach)

I picked up some great insights over the weekend, but the two themes that seemed to resound with me over and over again were that all of these guys emphasized simplicity and individualization.

On the simplicity side of things, all of these coaches emphasized not making things more elaborate than they needed to be.  Paraphrasing Hall-of-Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, Coach Maloney hammered home “making the routine play routinely.”  This really hit home with me, as many baseball players I encounter are looking for the latest and greatest throwing program, supplement, or training gadget to take them to the next level.  Meanwhile, the simple answer is just that they need train a little harder, eat a little better, and be a little more patient and attentive.

On the individualization side of things, McClendon, for instance, emphasized that while all great hitters get to the same important positions, many of them start at different positions.  And, they each require different drills to “get right,” and different players do better with shorter sessions in the cage than others.

In one way or another, every single speaker touched on – and, in most cases, specifically mentioned – keeping things simple and individualized.  To that end, I thought I’d post five random thoughts on both of these factors:

Simplifying Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

1. Magical things happen when you get stronger.  Learn to put more force into the ground and you will throw harder, swing faster, jump higher, and run faster.

2. Don’t miss sessions. The off-season is never as long as you want it to be, and it’s your time to “put money in the bank” from a training adaptation standpoint.  And, in-season, it’s easy to put things off until tomorrow – but that doesn’t mean that you should, as there is a tomorrow for tomorrow, too, and that’s a slippery slope.

3. Do what you need, not just what you’re good at doing. If you throw hard, but can’t throw strikes, do more bullpen work.  If you throw strikes, but can’t throw hard, do more velocity drills: long toss, weighted ball work, etc.

4. Don’t add more volume without taking something away.  You can’t do high volume strength training, high volume medicine ball work, high volume throwing, high volume hitting, and high volume sprint work all at once.  If you add something new, take something away.

5. Don’t power through bad technique or pain. If you can’t do something with good technique, slow it down and practice it at an easier pace. If that still doesn’t work, regress the drill/exercise.

Individualizing Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

1. Coach the same exercises differently. Different players respond to different cues, but they often mandate different cues as well.  For instance, a wall slide with overhead shrug would be cued differently for someone with scapular depression and anterior tilt than in someone with scapular elevation and adduction. The goal is to make the movement look right, but there are different roads to get to this point.

2. Assess for congenital laxity. If someone has crazy loose joints, don’t stretch them. If they’re stiff as a board, include more mobility drills and static stretching.

3. Inquire about innings pitched. The more innings a pitcher has thrown, the more down-time he’ll need and the longer it’ll take to get his rotator cuff and scapular control back to a suitable level in the off-season.

4. Master the sagittal plane first.  If you can’t do a body weight squat or lunge, then you probably aren’t going to have the rotary stability necessary to do aggressive rotational medicine ball throws or plyos in the frontal plane.

5. Appreciate each player’s injury history and find out where they usually get soreness/pain.  Simply asking these questions and reviewing a health history can tell you a lot about where a player might break down moving forward.  If you aren’t asking or assessing, you’re just guessing.

These five thoughts on individualization might seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people in the industry simply throw a one-size-fits-all program up on the dry erase board and expect everyone to do it exactly the same.  Some folks might thrive, but others might wind up injured or regressing in their fitness levels in some capacity.  This is where we begin to appreciate the incredibly essential interaction between individualization and simplicity.  Nothing is more simple than this:

Determine an athlete’s unique needs, and then write a program and provide coaching cues to address them.

There is nothing more basic and simple than a needs evaluation.  You can’t determine that something is too complex if you have no idea where an athlete stands in the first place!

Why then, do we have entire teams doing the same program with the same coaching cues?  Usually, it’s because it makes someone’s job easier, or it allows them to get more athletes through the babysitting service to make more money.  That’s not how you keep athletes healthy, win games, or educate athletes about how their bodies are unique.

So with all that in mind, remember to keep things simple – and that begins with an assessment so that you can create an individualized training experience.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 29

Written on January 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm, by Eric Cressey

CP Coach Greg Robins and I just pulled together the following tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs. Enjoy!

1. Improve the learning curve on core stability exercises with this tip:

2. Improve your grip with some easy changes.

Grip strength is an important quality to train in your program. It is beneficial if you plan on moving some heavy loads, or excelling at sports that rely heavily on the lower arm. I am by no means an expert in advanced grip work; however, I can offer some quick ways to start including it in your strength training program by making a few easy changes.

a. Start using a double overhand grip as long as possible with your deadlift technique. Too often, I see people instantly utilize a mixed grip when pulling. Even some more advanced lifters I have trained with do not try to improve their double overhand grip. Generally, they just have a number in mind where they switch from overhand to mixed, and it’s been the same even as their lift has improved hundreds of pounds over the past few years.

b. Make at least 1/3 of the exercise variations that rely heavily on elbow flexion (i.e. curls, rows, chin-ups) more grip intensive. Do so by using towels around the handle or something like Fat Gripz. Additionally, use different implements – such as softball grip and ropes – for rows and chin-ups.

c. Lastly, pick up a new “grip specific” exercise to work on, and change it every four weeks. These can include, grip crushers, plate pinches. Guys like John Brookfield and Jedd Johnson put out tons of innovative exercises to make your handshake something people fear.

3. Soup up your bench seat with just a few bands.

This is a nice little trick for those of you who might find the bench at your gym a little “slick.” My good friend and former CP intern Angel Jimenez, showed this to me originally. I believe the credit goes back to bench guru Dave Tate, though. While I can’t take the credit, I will share the info!

4. Pause more, lift more.

How often do you miss reps near the top? I am willing to bet that it’s not often. Furthermore, I bet 90% of the people reading this who say they do, really just have no pop out of the bottom of a lift and it catches up to them at lockout. You don’t need to work on strength at lockout as much as you do as strength at the bottom. That being said, when I look at most people’s strength training programs, the assistance work involves board presses, rack pulls, and high box squats. I was guilty of it too. The fact is, you like those variations because they are easier and allow you to lift more weight. The truth is you need to take the load down and start working the bottom portion of the range of motion more.

Enter the pause. Start working in paused squats in the hole, start pausing bench presses on the chest, and finally start making sure rep work on the deadlift is done to a complete stop (and, in my opinion, a complete reset, too).

5. Add some Olympic lifts to your training without missing out on your meat and potatoes.

The Olympic lifts can be a great addition to a comprehensive strength training program for those who can perform them safely.  However, it goes without saying that there can be a very steep learning curve for picking up the exercises.  For that very reason, earlier this week, I published a guest blog from Wil Fleming on clean and jerk technique fixes – a great compliment to his new DVD, Complete Olympic Lifting (on sale at a ridiculously low price until Friday at midnight, by the way).

One of the biggest concerns many folks have is that the learning curve will be so steep that they may miss out on a lot of actual training as they work their way through the fundamentals of Olympic lifting with light weights.  This is a very real concern, too, as even working at a lighter weight for a lot of practice reps can take a lot out of you.  In fact, I’ve had a lot of inquiries from folks who wanted to include Olympic lifting in Show and Go, but weren’t sure how to do so.  My suggestions to them are very simple:

a. Pick one lift or the other (clean or snatch) to practice in each of your lower body sessions each week. If you want to work on jerks, you can plug it in at the start of an upper body day.

b. Do it at the start of your training session (right after your warm-up), and promise yourself that you won’t go for more than thirty minutes.

c. Drop one set from each of the rest of the lower body exercises in the session to make up for the volume you’ve added.

You won’t become wildly proficient in a matter of a few days with this approach, but slow and steady can win the race – even when it comes to lifts with high power output.  An hour of practice per week will effectively allow you to ride a few horses (learning while maintaining a training effect) with one saddle (your limited time, energy, and recovery capacity).

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Strength Training Programs: Coaching the Dumbbell Pullover

Written on January 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

For some reason, the pullover has become one of those old strength training exercises that has fallen out of favor with in the iron game.  I’m not sure why, as it definitely has some utility on a number of fronts, provided that you do it correctly.  Check out today’s video to learn the “why” and “how” of the dumbbell pullover:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/15/13

Written on January 15, 2013 at 9:16 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning stuff you should read:

Sprinting Lessons – This was an absurdly detailed blog post on Bret Contreras’ site; it details the thoughts of coach Greg Potter on developing elite sprinters. There are a lot of great tidbits in here.

Bootcamp in a Box – Mike Robertson, Molly Galbraith, and Jim Laird just released this product this week. Candidly, I haven’t seen it yet, but there are two reasons I’m a) excited to see it and b) encouraging you to check it out, too. First, these are three bright people who have a lot to offer the fitness industry, so there is sure to be a lot of excellent information in there.  Second, a lot of the technique, progressions/regressions (or lack thereof), and overall programming strategies you see at bootcamps is so atrocious that having a product like this at your fingertips is a great way to separate yourself from the pack.

The Real Biggest Losers? The Show’s Audience – This article was a reprinted letter Dr. Yoni Freedhoff sent to the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding their endorsement of The Biggest Loser.  This season, the show is including a few children as contestants, and this certainly has a lot of people concerned on a number of fronts. Dr. Freedhoff highlights many of these concerns in a very well researched and prepared letter.

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Olympic Lifting: 6 Clean and Jerk Technique Fixes

Written on January 14, 2013 at 7:53 am, by Eric Cressey

Almost a year ago, Olympic lifting expert Wil Fleming wrote a guest blog, The 7 Most Common Power Clean Mistakes, here at EricCressey.com.  It was one of our most popular posts of the year – and several folks commented on how they’d love to see something along the same lines with respect to the clean and jerk.  Wil agreed to author up a sequel, and the timing is fitting, as he just released his brand new DVD, Complete Olympic Lifting.  I got an advanced copy of the DVD and it’s outstanding – not to mention extremely affordable.

6 Clean and Jerk Technique Fixes
By: Wil Fleming

The power clean gets a lot of love. If you are like me, it was one of the “Big 3” you learned the first time you were in the weight room: squat, bench, and power clean. Of course, it was the “Big 6” if you included curls, preacher curls, and more bench.

The power clean’s older and cooler sister, the clean and jerk, doesn’t get as much love, but I am here to begin the love fest, by sharing with you six ways to improve your clean and jerk.

1. Use combos to learn the full movement.

When talking about the full clean and jerk, it is important to remember that we are talking about a movement in which athletes compete in the Olympic games. This is a movement that individuals spend years and years trying to perfect, yet we often prescribe it for use with athletes who have been training with us for months, or even weeks.

As coaches, we do not similarly prescribe that athletes do an Olympic style long jump, shot put throw, or hammer throw. Each of these movements are explosive and would certainly have benefits for improved performance (to some degree), but we are aware of the fact that the technical difficulty of these events would far outweigh the performance benefits.

Technically challenging movements should be entirely removed from programming at this stage. The clean and jerk is definitely challenging, but one can argue that the performance benefits may outweigh the time spent teaching it. If they are to be prescribed, they must be done so with a specific task list to ensure proper completion. One foot must go before the other, as we walk our way to the movement we would like to see completed.

In the case of the clean and jerk there are individual tasks that need to be learned first: the hang clean, power jerk, power clean, and split jerk. Once these requisite skills are all done to a comfortable level of proficiency, we can begin to teach athletes to move towards the full competition-style clean and jerk.

To do this, my number one tool is the “combo,” a 1+1 lift to get athletes to move athletes to completion.

Start with a 1+1+1. I use a Power clean + front squat+ power jerk. In this movement, athletes will receive the bar in the high catch position (re-position the feet if necessary) and move into a front squat. They’ll finish the movement with a power jerk, as in the video below.

Next, we move onto a Power clean to front squat + split jerk. In this movement we eliminate the re-set of the feet, and receive the bar, pause in that position, and then move into a front squat for the rest of the way down. Finish this movement with a split jerk, or a power jerk if the athlete is not comfortable in the split.

Finally we can move onto a full clean and jerk. We will get into some tips on how to make this more than just a power clean to front squat later, but the basic premise is we must encourage athletes to get better at moving under the bar to make this a distinct movement. In the meantime, just eliminate the pause and immediately front squat the weight at the time of the catch.

Here’s the entire progression in one video:

Each of these “combos” falls into a distinct phase of training, likely spending 3-4 weeks in combo 1 and combo 2 before attempting to complete the full clean and jerk movement. I typically program the movements as 1+1+1 x2 x3-4, or 1 rep of each movement two times for 3-4 sets.

2. Jerk with either foot forward.

There are three primary ways that athletes can jerk the bar overhead: power jerk, split jerk, squat jerk. I like to think of them on a scale of simple to ridiculously complex, or if we are thinking in terms of things to which everyone can relate we can put them on my Vin Diesel scale of movies.

Simple= power jerk = Fast and Furious (all of them): it gets the job done, and is a classic in many people’s books.

Better= split jerk= XXX: vastly under appreciated, coming back for an encore, which is very good news, and a must-include in your training and DVD library.

Ridiculously complex= squat jerk= Chronicles of Riddick/Pitch Black: hard to get down with, and popular in China.

The split jerk is the most common technique used for a really simple reason: the primary issue that folks have to deal with in the jerk is forward and back (sagittal) stabilizing factors. In short the bar doesn’t want to stay above you and you have to have a really stable or really strong (although both are preferred) base of support to keep it there.

With the issue of stability at hand, it brings us to why it is so important to learn to jerk with either foot forward.

A quick disclaimer: if you are an Olympic lifter, get really good with one foot forward and quit reading this point right now. If you are an athlete, though, read on.

I am not going to tell you that jerking and putting one foot forward of the other does anything to create “single leg strength;” there is a slight difference in force production, but not enough to matter. What I am going to tell you is that changing positions rapidly is what makes it difficult on most athletes. Keep people static and they are as solid as their base of strength. Start switching stances, and positions rapidly, and you will see people separate. Switching stances in equal numbers will show you if you have any weak links in your chain.

There is a difference in the amount of force absorbed on the lead leg and the rear leg on the jerk, and this is an important point to consider. Deceleration rarely happens bilaterally and absorption is the name of the game.

As an athletic movement, the jerk needs to be done with either foot forward – not just the same one all the time.

3. Learn great overhead position.

The clean and jerk has become so simplified that at some point people started just calling it “ground to overhead,” as if there is no goal other than to get the bar over your head in any way possible. It’s the same as just calling The Godfather “just acting;” there is a little more to it.

This problem is likely magnified by taking a look at the elite lifters of the world, watch ten videos of ten different lifters and you will likely find yourself looking at ten different jerks. So if they all do it differently, is there any truly correct position overhead?

Yes, there is; you have to appreciate that taking a snippet of video from a near maximum attempt is a bad time to look at the technique of an individual lifter. It would be much more appropriate to watch them jerk from the blocks in training or at sub-maximal clean and jerk weights.

The ideal position in the jerk should center the bar over your spine, and importantly keep the front shin vertical for the most stable position possible. It should truly be a 90/90 split squat position, only slightly extended.

The go-to move to practice this position is the split stance press + overhead split squat. Maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis will likely be the limiting factor for most individuals, but doing this drill in training is going to be the best way to learn and maintain great position overhead.

4. Pull your way under the bar.

Now it’s time for a total game changer. The clean is all about the pull UP right? Wrong, – at least if you are paying attention to the greatest athletes in the sport.

Let’s start with some concepts. There are really four variables that go into a clean and its success. The first two aren’t that variable – and we will get to the second two in a minute.

1) The height of the bar at the completion of the second pull. This is primarily a function of how tall an athlete is. So, if you are 6’4” you are likely going to pull it higher I am at 5’11”.

2) The height of the bar at the receiving position. This can definitely change based on bar speed, but we are talking about Olympic lifting, and deep squat catches, so in truth this height is only based on how tall an athlete is. I will likely catch lower than you if you are a towering giant.

3) The speed of the bar at the completion of the second pull. This seems like it is a variable, but in truth it is pretty consistent at differing heights. That is, if the bar gets to your chest then it was going speed X, and if it only gets to your waist height it was likely going speed Y – and that goes for almost everyone. We’re talking about the Olympic style clean, so this is actually almost a constant for most people.

4) The speed of the lifter as they move to receive the bar. Now here is the variable of all variables. Elite lifters know this, and if you watch enough video you will see it too; the ability to get under the bar quickly is the separation point between good, great, and elite.

Now you can’t change your height so those are out in terms of improving your lifts. You can certainly change your strength levels, allowing you to pull the bar faster, and I am a big advocate for making this happen, At some point, though, even as the total weight lifted moves up, it will only go so fast. So what you can change is your own speed to the bar.

To move faster to the bar I like to think of pulling myself under the bar, but not with the hands. I have to pull hard with my hips to get enough hip flexion to receive the bar low.

5. Elevate the start position.

I always say that the number 1 mistake I see for athletes in the Olympic lifts is starting from the ground when they have no ability to get in a good starting position.

Continuing to start from the floor position when you aren’t able to get there and maintain a neutral spine is the absolute definition of Olympic weightlifting insanity.

There is no machismo necessary in the Olympic lifts. Can we go ahead and get that out of the way? There is too much to be gained by doing them well, and too much to be lost by doing them poorly to have an ego.

Rather than trying to start every rep from the ground, feel free to elevate the start position. Try using a 3” block or even another bumper plate. This slight elevation will still force you to make a good first pull from the start, but will save your lower back until you gain enough hip mobility to do it right.

Here is a video from when I was dealing with some hip mobility issues that required me to lift from an elevated position. It got the job done, all the while I was improving hip mobility to spare my back.

6. Translate the torso from the ground to knees.

With the Olympic lifts, there are lots of variables that account for individual athletes’ differences in size, strength, and personal preferences, but there is one constant that is true among nearly all lifters:

From the point of lift off to the point where the bar passes the knees (the end of the first pull), the torso angle remains constant. There is no change from when the bar breaks the ground and when the bar passes the knees.

In fact, a 2012 study by Ikeda et al. compared female lifters in all classes at the 2008 Asian championships. This study was conducted on the snatch, but showed that torso angles above the horizontal were nearly constant for all athletes, at both the break point from the ground and when the bar passes the knees.

The joint angles themselves might not be exactly the same as the clean, but the mechanism for the first pull should be similar, and an active drive through the heels along with knee extension should drive the bar from the floor to knee level.

Changes in torso angle can lead to the bar being too far in front of the athlete and inefficiency in the second pull.

Want to see this in action? Take a look at the video below to see what I mean.

Conclusion

There are obviously a lot of pieces to work on if you want to be proficient on the clean and jerk. Just a month ago, I revamped what I was doing, and have seen big changes to my lifts in a very positive direction. The journey towards better movement is always continuing. These six strategies are a great start to getting you or your athletes to moving bigger weights more safely.

To learn more about Wil’s approach to teaching the Olympic lifts, check out his new DVD, Complete Olympic Lifting, which is on sale for 40% off this week only. 

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