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The 5 Most Common Mistakes Young Strength and Conditioning Coaches Make

Written on June 5, 2015 at 6:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Mike Robertson, creator of the great new DVD set, Physical Preparation 101, which is on sale for $100 off through the end of the day Saturday.

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Three times per year, we start a new intern class at our facility, Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST). So, 19 times now, I’ve taught a group of interns the basics of program design, coaching, and anatomy and physiology.

And, even after all of these years, I consistently see some of the same mistakes being made by our interns.

I almost hate calling them mistakes, though. These are mistakes they often have to make to get to the next level of coaching.

Here are five of the most common mistakes young coaches make, as well as how to nip some of these problems in the bud.

#1 - Coach the Right Exercise

Coming up as a powerlifter, I thought the squat, bench and deadlift did everything besides cure cancer or promote world peace. Okay, maybe I didn’t think they were that awesome - but it was pretty darn close!

What you find over the years is that some exercises are flat-out easier to coach than others. A barbell back squat is an awesome exercise, but it may not be the best way to learn how to squat.

Think of it like this: even if you’re a good coach, how much sweaty equity does it take to coach someone on the back squat?

It takes a while, right? And, even with great coaching, it may take them quite some time to dial in the movement.

Now consider an alternative like a plate or goblet squat. You can take that same client and literally have them squatting with perfect form in a matter of minutes!

Make things easy on yourself. Rather than taking a month to teach someone a more complex exercise, give them a simpler exercise early-on and allow them to have success. Not only will you be less frustrated, but they’ll enjoy training a lot more, too.

#2 - Be Active!

When I’m taking new interns through our coaching program at IFAST, one of the first things I teach them is the sequence of positions I want them to review the clients’ movement.

In other words, they start with the sagittal plane first, or a 90-degree view. If things aren’t right in the sagittal plane (i.e. too much flexion, extension, etc.), then you know things will be off elsewhere.

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However, it’s not uncommon to see young coaches post-up in this position. Even if things look great in the sagittal plane, they’ll still hang out there for the rest of the set!

Instead, I always tell my coaches I want them to be active. Clean things up in the sagittal plane, and then move around to the front and back as well.

Chances are once things look great in one plane, there will still be things in the frontal or transverse plane (a knee caving in, the pelvis rotating to the right or left, etc.) that warrant your attention.

However, just because you’re active and seeing more doesn’t mean you want or need to fix everything all at once!

#3 - Don’t Over Cue!

I see it time and again: A young coach really starts to open their eyes and they see all the movement issues with which our clients and athletes struggle. This is all fine and dandy, until you see them throwing 1,000 cues at their client on every set!

I would liken coaching to doing triage in an emergency room. Are you worried about the kids that come in with little scrapes and bruises, or are you worried about the one who might lose a limb? Which one do you treat first?

Think of coaching in that same vein; everything isn't equally important.

What you’ll inevitably find with more time and repetitions is that one or two little cues or tips will fix 80-90% of the issues with which a client is struggling.

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#4 - Level Them Off

One of my jobs as a coach is to help my clients and athletes train at an optimal level on each and every session they’re in the gym.

If you look at arousal when training, it’s a bell curve. If your energy and motivation is too low, you’re probably not going to have a great session.

On the other hand, if you just crushed five energy drinks, blasted Pantera the entire way to the gym, and just snorted an ammonia cap, chances are you’re a little bit too aroused to put in a solid effort as well.

As a coach, I need to help get an athlete where they need to be.

Energy is too low? Maybe they need a bit more encouragement, or their favorite music station cranked up a bit.

Arousal too high? Maybe we need to get them to bang out some good breaths, or find a few relaxation strategies to bring them down a notch or two.

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As a coach, make it your job to get your clients and athletes at the appropriate level of arousal for each and every training session. They’ll be more consistently successful, and less likely to burn out as a result.

#5 - Coach in Bullet Points

When new interns start coaching exercises, their coaching may sound like this:

“Jane that looks great! Now I really need you to get your air out, tuck your pelvis underneath you, blah blah blah....”

As a client, you’ve already tuned out. You’re getting too much information, all while trying to concentrate on and execute the movement!

Instead, as a coach, make it a goal to say as little as possible while still getting the execution you're seeking.

You may have to create some context (which is best done in-between sets), but try to coach in bullet points:

* Exhale,
* Abs tight (or even just ABS!),
* Tuck,
* Etc.

The shorter and more concise you make your coaching, the more likely your client is to be able to take that information and use it effectively.

Summary

As a coach, I’ve made more mistakes than I care to remember. However, I’d also like to think those mistakes have absolutely made me a better coach.

Whether you’re a total newbie or a savvy vet, I hope these tips help you take your coaching to the next level!

If you're looking for a more extensive collection of coaching and programming tips, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Mike's new resource, Physical Preparation 101. It's on sale for $100 off through Saturday at midnight, and it has my highest endorsement. You can learn more HERE.

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15 Lessons on Physical Preparation – Installment 2

Written on June 4, 2015 at 5:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, Tim Geromini and I present the second half of our "notes" on Mike Robertson's new DVD set, Physical Preparation 101. In case you miss it, be sure to check out Installment 1. Here are eight more key takeaways:

8. Coach the heck out of the set-up.

It's very difficult to properly perform an exercise if you don't set up in the best position possible. If you watch Mike during the hands-on portion of this seminar, he is constantly adjusting the demonstrator until they are in the exact position he prefers. Often, your clients have the strength and mobility to perform exercises correctly, but are not in the best position to do so. It may only be a small tweak here or there, but subtle adjustments can make a huge difference. If it adds one minute on to your session, it's a minute worth paying for.

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9. Remember that clients are where they are right now.

One of the most difficult aspects of coaching can be to hold clients back when they really want to do more. I always prefer the clients who want to challenge themselves over the ones you have to convince to train harder. However, emphasizing quality over quantity isn’t always easy. Make sure you let the client know we are looking for quality reps.

10. You can have a template, but treat everybody as an individual.

Mike’s R7 approach is a template, but all clients are treated individually. Too often in the strength and conditioning industry we see cookie cutter programs that are a "one size fits all" approach. For instance, those with flat thoracic spines and an extended low back are treated the same as someone with significant kyphosis and flat lumbar spine. A template serves as an organized structure for which individuals can improve. Sure, everybody who trains at IFAST will have the R7 template as part of their program, but the exercises are tailored to each individual.

11. Be an efficient coach.

When you are working with a client, you should a) name the exercise, b) describe why they’re doing it, c) demonstrate the lift, and d) coach the lift. These can all be accomplished in under 20 seconds and makes all the difference. When a client knows why they are doing an exercise, they now have ownership of it. You’ll also save yourself a lot of time in the future if the client knows the name of each exercise so they don’t have to keep asking you.

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12. Coaching angles matter.

If you master the sagittal plane, the frontal and transverse planes are easier to coach. Make sure you coach from 90-degree angles; there is a lot you can miss if you aren’t in the best position to coach. The "90-degree rule" also tells us that there are times when two coaches (one front/back and one left/right) can get the coaching job done faster than just one.

13. Think of yourself as a doctor of exercise.

When you’re a qualified expert, people come to you because you’re the best. Now, this also takes into consideration the work you are willing to put in to improve your assessment and programming process. However, you should understand we are not just writing down numbers on a sheet of paper and hoping it'll work. You put in the time to learn the client’s movement patterns and compensations.

14. Remember that aerobic work has its place.

Cardiovascular health and parasympathetic dominance are important goals in any training (and recovery) program. People are far too sympathetic dominant, essentially in today’s upbeat world, where there is no "off" switch. Mike cites the equation of "Anaerobic threshold – resting heart rate = aerobic window." In other words (and quite obviously), the higher your resting heart rate, the greater your opportunity for improvements. In recent years, though, everyone seemed to want to just push the left side of the equation (anaerobic threshold) with loads of interval training.

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If you can widen the aerobic window, you’ve done a lot of good things for the client even beyond just cardiovascular health. High intensity anaerobic exercise is built from a low intensity aerobic foundation, so get your "easy" gains first. Over the long haul, when you are more resistant to fatigue, you can handle more volume and recover easier.

15. Make sure clients can keep the pelvis square as they load the hips.

The biggest benefit to split-stance and single-leg work is turning the right things on and turning the wrong things off. Most people look like wounded animals when performing single-leg work, but those who perform single-leg and split-stance exercises correctly are generally improving hip mobility and strength - and most importantly, doing so without compensation.

As a friendly reminder, Physical Preparation 101 is on sale for $100 off as an introductory sale this week, so don't miss out on this great opportunity to get an excellent new resource at a low price. You can learn more HERE.

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15 Lessons on Physical Preparation – Installment 1

Written on June 2, 2015 at 2:03 am, by Eric Cressey

With the recent release of Mike Robertson's DVD set, Physical Preparation 101, Cressey Sports Performance coach Tim Geromini and I put our heads together to highlight some of the key takeaways from this great new resource. We'll highlight seven today, and eight more in the next installment.

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1. Be specific and clear with your clients.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a huge point to hammer home. If you can’t communicate your message clearly to your client, they aren’t as likely to have success. Two of the things we like most about the Mike's R7 approach is it gives you, the coach, a great template to work from and it gives the clients a specific goal in mind. When you create a clear and specific goal for your clients, it’s much easier for them to buy in.

2. You need to be able to 100% justify everything you put in your programs.

When you write a program, there should be a reason for every exercise you put in. Not only does it hold you accountable as a coach, but its much easier for your clients to buy in when you have a specific reason for each exercise they’re doing. If you can’t justify it, you have no business putting it in their program.

3. When you’re in the gym, you want to be in a sympathetic state. When you’re out of the gym you want to be in a parasympathetic state.

Everything in your program should be geared towards balance. Recovery outside the gym means your clients are prepared to perform inside the gym. One of the best things to hear as a coach is a client telling you how much better they feel not only for their sport, but life in general. That could be a parent saying they have more energy to play with their kids or an athlete feeling healthy for the first time in years. Whether you choose to use positional breathing drills or foam rolling, training sessions aren’t complete unless there is some form of recovery before they leave.

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4. Strength helps you in everything you do.

If you want to get faster, strength will help you. If you want to get more powerful, strength will help you. If you want to lose body fat, strength will help you. One of the main things we hear as strength and conditioning coaches is, “I want to get faster and be more explosive.” While plyometric drills certainly have their place in programs (and we use them quite a bit at CSP), often, the client needs to gain strength first before they are able to express that speed and power.

5. There is value in low intensity work and high intensity work.

Low intensity work gets a bad rap and is usually thought of as just distance running. Producing energy for longer periods of time and keeping your heart rate in a set spot gives you a larger/stronger aerobic base from which you can build a foundation to produce an anaerobic performance. Prowler pushes, sleds marches, ropes, kettlebells, and a host of other modalities can work if implemented properly.

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6. The goal at the end of a training session should be to kickstart the recovery process.

To piggyback on point 3, the return to a parasympathetic state allows your body and mind to recover for not only your next session, but your daily life. If you never recovered from your last training session, why do you think your next one will be as good? An appropriate recovery protocol takes 2-3 minutes at most. At CSP, we'll often incorporate some low-key mobility drills, positional breathing, and foam rolling.

7. Be smarter with how you progress energy system development.

You wouldn’t load up a lift at 90% on day one if someone doesn’t have much of a training history, but everybody seems to do that with conditioning. Sure, it’s the sexy thing to have somebody gassed on day one, but that doesn’t necessarily set them up for success going forward. 40% is enough to yield gains with regards to strength training and the same holds to true for developing their aerobic base. Start on the lower end and build up.

If you're interested in learning more, Physical Preparation 101 is a 12-DVD set geared towards strength coaches and personal trainers, and it's on sale for an introductory $100 off discount through this Friday. Mike Robertson has been a trusted friend and colleague for over a decade, and I can guarantee you that you'll learn a lot from checking out his stuff.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/1/15

Written on June 1, 2015 at 6:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy June, everyone! Let's kick this month off on the right foot with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success - I just finished up this best-seller from Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School. It was an outstanding look at some factors that characterize those who are successful in the business world, and there are definitely a lot of applications to coaching. I've already recommended it to several friends who manage training facilities.

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Why Tommy John Surgeries Won't Cease Any Time Soon - This ESPN The Magazine article does a good job of addressing the social (as opposed to physiological rationale) for why arm injuries continue to be such a problem.

Are You Consuming, Producing, or Engaging? -  Todd Hamer is a good friend of mine who always has great insights on coaching, and this is no exception.

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12 Ways to Know if You Should Include an Exercise in a Strength Training Program

Written on May 27, 2015 at 8:50 am, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Sports Performance, whenever we're training a new staff member to write strength and conditioning programs, I always heavily emphasize the following point:

If you're going to put an exercise in a program, you need to be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion.

Without a doubt, exercise selection is one of the most important programming variables one must take into account. To that end, there are many ways that one can determine whether an exercise belongs in a strength training program (or not) - and each justification begins with a question. Here are ten questions to get the ball rolling:

1. Can it be sufficiently loaded, or does it allow you to achieve a training effect with less loading?

If one is looking to purely gain muscle mass, then a side bridge row probably isn't a great choice, as it doesn't give rise to athletes using significant loading:

Conversely, if someone has a cranky forearm and needs to find a way to maintain an upper body training effect with less gripping demands, the side bridge row can be a great option.

2. Does it offer functional carryover to an individual's life or athletic endeavor?

A deadlift is easy to sell on this front. It trains individuals to have a strong hip hinge that they'll use regardless of whether they're picking a child up off the ground, or jumping to grab a rebound. Conversely, juggling dumbbells while standing on one leg on an unstable surface isn't going to provide you with much (if any) real-world carryover. Don't waste valuable training time on unproductive exercises.

3. Does the individual have the capacity to perform the movement?

This question applies to both the osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces). As examples:

a. An individual with femoroacetabular impingement (a bony block) at the hip may not be able to get into a deep squat position. This would be a limitation on the osteokinematic front (limited hip flexion and, likely, internal rotation).

b. An individual with poor rotator cuff control might not be able to limit the anterior gliding of the humeral head during an external rotation toss to wall. This would be a limitation on the arthrokinematic front (even if the drill might look good to the naked eye).

4. Will an individual have sufficient equipment to perform it?

I always get a kick out of looking at canned, mass marketed programs that include things like the safety squat bar, chains, and sleds. Most commercial gyms don't have these things; heck, a lot of gyms don't even have kettlebells or medicine balls. Learning about equipment access up-front if you're writing a program for someone who isn't in "your gym" is an important step to save time and hassle.

As an interesting aside, I've had a lot of positive feedback on the "exercise modifications" section of The High Performance Handbook. Basically, this helps individuals modify the program to work with their equipment limitations. Versatility is very important to gym-goers!

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5. Does it allow for sufficient time under tension to yield hypertrophy (muscle building) benefits?

If you want to put muscle mass on someone, you need to have some time under tension. For that reason, an exercise like a rotational row would be an inferior hypertrophy training option, even if it is great for training power in an athletic population.

6. Does it take a lot of set-up?

If the individual performing the program is crunched for time, exercises that take considerable set-up time are generally better left out of the program.

7. Does it fit in with where an individual stands in a regression-progression continuum?

If someone can't even squat to parallel with body weight without major compensations, then programming a back squat probably isn't a good idea.

Conversely, if someone is an elite Olympic lifter with an excellent squat - both in terms of patterning and loading - then telling them to do three sets of eight goblet squats probably won't offer much benefit.

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8. Will it provide a training effect without creating significant soreness?

Sometimes, we want to avoid creating soreness. A perfect example is in-season programming for athletes, where we might avoid drills with a significant eccentric component, instead programming things like step-ups, deadlifts from the floor, and sled pushing/dragging. At other points in the year, it might be fine to have post-exercise soreness, so our exercise pool expands significantly.

9. Does it build "good stiffness" or reduce "bad stiffness?"

As we know, quality movement is a balance of mobility and stability. You need range of motion, but stability within that range of motion. Likewise, you need some rigidity, but not so much as to not allow for fluid movements. Every exercise should help you to find that "balance" in some way. For instance, look at the reverse crunch, which builds "good" stiffness in the anterior core (particularly external obliques) while reducing stiffness in the lats and lumbar erectors.

10. Will it allow an individual to train around an injury?

I'll admit: there are some exercises that I almost never use unless when we have an athlete who is on crutches, in a sling, or dealing with some other type of injury. When someone is hurt and wants to maintain a training effect without exacerbating an injury, you have to get creative.

11. Can it be used to train power?

Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses are all exercises that can be utilized to train power. Conversely, good luck trying to turn a chin-up into a power training exercise without blowing out a shoulder or elbow. An overhead medicine ball stomp would be a much better option for challenging high velocity shoulder extension.

12. Does an individual love or hate it?

Some people love certain exercises because they're good at performing them. In most cases, to make long-term progress, they need to emotionally separate themselves from those exercises a bit so that they can devote extra effort and training volume to bring up their weaknesses.

Conversely, in beginners who aren't completely "sold" on lifting weights, it's okay to use a favorite exercise to help deliver a message. I can't tell you how many women we've had over the years who love to trap bar or sumo deadlift in their initial months of training - and they actually request it in their new programs. If seeing a particular exercise in a program gets a new client fired up to put in extra effort and stay adherent, I'm all for meeting them halfway by including it.

Wrap-up

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of considerations one must take into account on the exercise selection front, but it's a good place to start. In the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other things you take into account.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/26/15

Written on May 26, 2015 at 6:56 am, by Eric Cressey

In light of the holiday weekend, I'm a day late with this week's recommended reading, but I promise it will be worth the wait:

The International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification - I very proud to have co-authored this resource for the IYCA, and it's on sale through the end of the day today (Tuesday). Just enter the coupon code MDCERTSALE at checkout to get $100 off.

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It Won't Kill You to Grill - With yesterday being the "unofficial start to summer," Brian St. Pierre's article for Precision Nutrition is very timely. He discusses how to grill without any concern for health risks.

Memorial Day Musings on Player Development - Cressey Sports Performance pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, shares some great stories on success in spite of adversity, and highlights the importance of long-term views on development.

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Fat Loss Friday: 15 Lessons on Leaning Out

Written on May 22, 2015 at 8:44 am, by Eric Cressey

Usually, my "random thoughts" series focus on anything from corrective exercises to sports performance training. However, given the release of my buddy John Romaniello's great new fat loss resource, The Omega Body Blueprint, I figured I'd throw out 15 thoughts on the subject of leaning out. Here goes!

1. We often hear about how the average American consumes a certain amount of <insert unhealthy food or beverage here> each year. What I'd be curious to hear is how much of the excess consumption comes from "nibbles," "tastes," "bites," and "samples. In other words, I'd be willing to bet that people are getting a lot of extra calories with quick tastes throughout the day - whether it's a "preview" taste of whatever they're cooking, finishing a child's meal, or trying a sample of a product as they walk through the grocery store. I'd be willing to bet that just removing these tastes from one's diet would make a significant difference in portion control for the average person who struggles with his/her weight.

2. There's been some research on how sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, but I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves. As such, I'll put it out there right here: poor sleep quality absolutely has a profound effect on body composition! Take it from a guy who has six month old twin daughters at home; the past six months have been "eye opening" from a training results standpoint, too!

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This obviously happens predominantly through endocrine mediums that modulate appetite and where we store calories; this has been well established in research on night shift workers in the past. However, we can't overlook the indirect impact it has on training quality in a more experienced athletic population. If you're chronically sleep deprived, it's going to impact your performance in the gym. I, personally, found that while my "peak" fitness levels didn't fall off, my ability to display them consistently did. In other words, as an example, I could still go out and deadlift 600+ pounds, but I couldn't do it as often or as predictably. Over time, those hills and valleys add up to a detraining effect.

Additionally, when you're dragging and crunched for time, there is a tendency to cut corners on everything from warm-ups to finding quick pick-me-ups like energy drinks. This is a very slippery slope.

3. I've never bothered to confirm that the numbers are right on the money, but over the years, I've heard that 80% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated, and that dehydration is the #1 cause of daytime fatigue. If these are, in fact, true, how come nobody ever highlights drinking more water as a means of improving fat loss efforts? It improves satiety and "displaces" calorie-containing beverages - and that's on top of helping to optimize exercise performance and "normal" health factors. I wish more folks would look to water as a "magic pill" over anything they can buy on the shelf of a supplement store.

4. Fat loss is pretty simple, until you're 90% of the way to your goal. After that, EVERYTHING matters: macros, hormones, programming, timing, and a host of other factors. This was a key point John Romaniello makes in his new e-book. You wouldn't take your Ferrari to a mechanic who specializes in working on Honda Civics, so you need to make sure you seek out expertise from people who have actually helped people to finish that final 10% on the way to the goal.

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5. Everyone has a few foods that they find irresistible - food that they always eat if they're in the house. If you're trying to drop body fat, before you take any other steps, you need to get these foods out of the house. The goal should be making "cheating" as difficult to accomplish as possible. For me, it's natural peanut butter.

6. A lot of people can only train three times per week - and that's totally fine. With that said, I'm still largely in agreement with Dr. John Berardi's observation that the most fit people you'll encounter get at least six hours of exercise in per week. In other words, if you've only got three hours to work out each week, your training definitely better be dense; you need a lot of volume and relatively short rest intervals. Don't expect to be in phenomenal shape doing a 3x5 program MoWeFr unless you have an awesome diet and are really busting your butt working hard during those three sessions.

7. When it comes to athletes, gradual reductions in body fat are the name of the game. You see, often, body weight – and not body composition – are what predicts their success. Pitchers are a perfect example; I’ve seen many who have just indiscriminately lost body weight, only to see their velocity drop considerably. This may come from the actual loss of body mass, the increased training volume that caused it, the type of training (extra aerobic activity?), or – most likely – a combination of all these factors. One thing is for sure, though: dramatic weight reductions rarely work out really well.

8. One of the biggest complaints of folks on "diets" (as much as I hate that term) is that healthy food gets too bland. Without even knowing it, a lot of them start adding sauces that are loading with extra calories, usually from sugar. Nobody ever seems to recognize that BBQ sauce and ketchup can be loaded with sugar, for instance.

Fortunately, a quick solution is to encourage them to gravitate toward using spices and herbs over sauces to add some flavor to meat and vegetables. I love turmeric, sea salt, and pepper on my eggs, as an example.

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9. Avoiding liquid calories is the still, in my opinion, the biggest dietary game-changer most folks in the general population can implement. I wish I could go back in time and eliminate every soda I drank as a kid.

10. There is an inverse relationship between strength preservation and conditioning intensity during a fat loss training phase. In other words, if maintaining strength is a high priority, you'd be wise to leave the aggressive interval training out - and instead opt for lower-intensity supplemental conditioning. Obviously, this means results will come a bit slower - but you'll hold on to your hard-earned strength gains more easily.

11. My business partner, Pete, told me a funny story the other day, and I thought I'd share it here as a good fat loss lesson.

Pete did his first "big" presentation - to an audience of about 150 fitness professionals - last month. As luck would have it, he wears a watch that also tracks his heart rate - and Pete happened to glance down at it right before he went on stage to present. His resting heart rate is normally in the 55-60bpm range - and it was up over 120bpm at that moment!

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Obviously, this is a specific challenging, unfamiliar incident that can get heart rate to spike. However, there are people out there who respond to most challenges like this; they are constantly "wired" throughout the day. This obviously has both short- and long-term health impacts, and you can bet that if you're always on edge, it's going to be a lot harder to lose body fat.

We don't have the option of just removing stressors from our lives, but we can change the way we respond to them. A few coping strategies to keep you mellow and unconditionally positive in the face of adversity might just help to get/keep you lean, too.

12. Speaking of stress, I'm a firm believer that sometimes, when it comes the war on excess body fat, we need to look at reducing stressors before we look to add stressors (via exercise and caloric restriction). Think about it: if you have a busy, overweight executive who is sleeping four hours a night and crushing terrible fast food, is the first priority to put him on a crazy high-volume exercise program? Shouldn't we try to add some quality sleep, better food, a little massage and/or meditation, and a moderate exercise program from which he can bounce back? In other words, isn't it a better bet - both for short-term health and long-term adherence - to "normalize" routines before getting on a crazy routine?

13. If you want to understand fat loss, you need to understand insulin management. For the real geeks out there, check out this paper I wrote for an exercise endocrinology course back in graduate school. There were enough references in there to last me an entire career...

14. It's very easy to fall off the bandwagon on the nutrition front when you're on vacation. If you're only going on 1-2 vacations per year, this probably isn't a big deal. However, if you're someone who travels extensively and does a lot of weekend trips, these dietary missteps can add up. Vacations are extra challenging because they often include all-you-can-eat buffets, plentiful dessert choices, and lots of alcohol. You'd be amazed at how easy it is to pack away 5,000 calories in a day if you're having two big ol' strawberry daiquiris while on the beach, and then enjoying a slice of cheesecake and two glasses of wine with dinner.

The last thing I would ever tell our clients to do is avoiding "indulging" while on vacation, so my strategy has always been to simply encourage them to get some exercise in first thing in the morning on half the days they're on vacation. In addition to the short-term metabolic benefits it yields, an exercise session has a way of keeping people accountable to their diets so that they avoid going overboard. If you work out early in the day, you're more likely to go grab a healthy breakfast - which will help to limit caloric intake later in the day. And, you're less likely to have that extra glass of wine at 11pm if you know you're going to be in the resort's health club at 8am.

Of course, this is coming from a guy who took a TRX to Costa Rica for his honeymoon, so take my recommendations with a grain of salt!

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15. I'm constantly amazed at how many calories I need to eat to maintain my body weight - and I don't consider myself an ectomorph, by any means. In fact, I'm probably more toward the endomorph ends of the spectrum. What separates me from the rest of the endomorph population in this regard? To me, it's two things:

a. I eat a very clean diet - which means I need a greater quantity of food.

b. My daily non-exercise activity level is pretty high, as I typically walk 4-5 miles per day while coaching on the floor. I'm also not very good at sitting still, whether it's tapping my foot while I'm working on the computer, or constantly bouncing around the house doing different things. I'm actually more stressed when I'm sitting still!

To this end, I think most folks who struggle with their weight need to find ways to add a bit more movement to their daily lives. Wearing a pedometer can be a great initiative in this regard.

In wrapping this article up, if you're looking from some direction from a guy who has put far more time and effort into learning about the rhyme and reason for optimal fat loss approaches, I'd encourage you to check out John Romaniello's new resource, The Omega Body Blueprint. It's on sale for 50% off through tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight, and I really enjoyed going through it.

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7 Ways to Increase Your Training Density

Written on May 19, 2015 at 3:22 am, by Eric Cressey

All things held equal, if you want to continue to improve over the course of a training career, you need to progressively increase the training stimulus. While increasing the weight used is the most well known way of progressing, increasing training density is another means of making things more challenging. In other words, you need to do more work in less (or the same amount of) time.

To that end, here are some of my favorite strategies for making your training more dense. As you'll notice, some of them are as much "mindsets" as they are actual programming strategies.

1. Be accountable to rest intervals.

Here's the breakdown of a typical powerlifting training session:

a. Lift something heavy over about 10-15 seconds.

b. Sit around cracking jokes with your training partners over about 8-10 minutes.

Repeat a and b over the course of about an hour, then do some assistance exercises and go home.

Obviously, I'm embellishing things - but not by much! I can't say that I know of many powerlifters who rigidly adhere to rest intervals - and I'm not saying that they necessarily should. However, their approach can certainly impact how "everyone else" trains in a trickle down effect, so I do think it's important for the general fitness enthusiast to be cognizant of monitoring rest intervals. If you're not careful, you can easily get distracted and wind up wasting too much time between sets.

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2. Remove distractions.

This goes hand-in-hand with point #1, as distractions compete with sticking to rest intervals. However, I think it's one thing to just procrastinate before the next set, but another thing altogether to actually get distracted by something. This might be checking your cell phone, or striking up a conversation with somebody when you know you've only got 20 seconds left before the next set needs to start. Clear out the distractions if you're trying to make your training more dense.

3. Minimize variety.

I'm normally a huge believer in variety in a training program, but when you're trying to make your training more dense, variety is actually your enemy. You see, the more variety you work into a training program, the more set-up that's required. We never realize that we might spend 10-15 minutes of every training session setting up equipment and loading/unloading plates. If you want to get a lot of volume in over a 45-60 minute period, you can't spare that 10-15 minutes. In other words, the "densest" sessions might only include four different exercises, as opposed to 6-8.

4. Don’t be afraid of drop-offs in loading.

This is another mindset note. Many individuals - myself included - absolutely hate having to drop the weight from one set to the next. However, unless you've undershot your initial weight selections, it's pretty much inevitable when you're doing several sets of higher reps. If you want to be successful with density-based training programs that involve higher-rep sets and shorter intervals, you'll have to eat a bit of humble pie when the loading starts dropping off.

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5. Incorporate back-off sets.

I discussed "back-off" sets in my recent article on the stage system. While they can be used for training strength and power, the real density benefits come with respect to accumulating volume - whether it's to increase muscle size or help with fat loss. Adding in back-off sets of 6-20 reps after your heaviest strength work can quickly increase the density of your overall training sessions.

6. Don't think that increasing high-intensity density work will yield as great an energy expenditure as increasing moderate-intensity density work.

This example might seem complex, but it won't be after this example.

Imagine you can deadlift 400 pounds, and you want to get more density in your program. Let's say that you can hit 90% of 1RM (360 pounds) for a single every 60s for ten minutes - for a total workload of 3,600 pounds.

Let's say that in this same time, you could hit a set of five reps at 75% of 1RM (300 pounds) every two minutes. That's a total workload of 7,500 pounds.

The point is that more reps - even with a noteworthy drop in intensity - will always "outdo" lower-rep work - even with more sets - when it comes to increasing the total amount of work in a given session. In other words, use your strength work to build or test strength, not to try to make for a more dense training session. Otherwise, you wind up getting stuck in a tough middle ground where you aren't building strength optimally, and really aren't making your training any denser.

7. Position exercise pairings in close proximity to one another.

If you pair up a front squat and a chin-up in the same power rack, you can get a lot of volume in without having to move around the gym at all. Conversely, swap those chin-ups for a lat pulldown, and there's a lot more walking involved. This is an especially important consideration in a commercial gym where someone might jump in on a piece of equipment while you're a few feet away.

If you're looking for a training approach that challenges density in a number of different contexts - with the end goal of helping you shed unwanted body fat - I'd highly recommend John Romaniello's new resource, The Omega Body Blueprint. It's a comprehensive training and nutrition resource that looks closely at the interaction of exercise and diet to create an optimal hormonal environment for leaning out. It was released today and is on sale at an introductory 50% off discount for this week only, and I'd strongly recommend you check it out if you're looking for some direction (and results) on the fat loss front.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/18/15

Written on May 18, 2015 at 4:54 am, by Eric Cressey

Good morning, everyone. In following with Monday tradition, here are some good strength and conditioning readings to kick off your week:

6 Mistakes Experienced Lifters Make - Ben Bruno was spot-on with his points in this article at T-Nation.

Durability on Decline for Today's Players - This MLB.com feature brings to light some pretty crazy numbers on how injury rates have gone up in professional baseball - both due to change in the game, and how players prepare.

35 Ways to Transform Your Body - As always, the folks at Precision Nutrition come through with practical advice for those looking to improve their nutrition and training programs. Here, they highlight lessons from their most successful clients.

Finally, just a friendly reminder that we're ten days out from the early-bird registration deadline for the Alex Viada seminar at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. This will surely be a great event you won't want to miss. You can get more details HERE.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 10

Written on May 15, 2015 at 9:22 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the May installment of this popular strength and conditioning series.

1. Train OUTSIDE.

One of the things I've noticed over the years - both with sprinting and long tossing - is that athletes seem to "hold back" when they're indoors. They won't run at top speed when there are only 40-50 yards of turf ahead of them because they're already worrying about decelerating before they even really get moving. And, with throwing, there just seems to be more inhibition when an athlete is throwing into a net - as opposed to throwing to a partner who is pretty far away. Maybe it's the quantifiable feedback of actual distance, or maybe it's just less restriction - but the effort is always better.

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To that end, it's mid-May and the weather is getting really nice around the country. Now is a perfect chance to get out and sprint in the grass or at the local track. Don't miss this chance, as it'll be snowing again before you know it!

2. When selecting exercises, prioritize upside over avoiding downside.

This will be the "glass is half full/empty" point of the day - and I'll use an example to illustrate it.

Let's take the question of whether or not to prescribe bench presses for baseball players. I, personally, don't prescribe them for this population, but there are still a lot of strength and conditioning coaches out there who do.

Their argument is that they aren't as big a problem as has been proposed. In other words, they're protecting against the downside.

My mindset, by contrast, is to highlight the lack of an upside. In a population where shoulder and elbow issues are astronomically high, does this exercise provide substantial benefit such that it deserves a place in our programs? Does it deliver a better training effect than a push-up variation or landmine press, for instance?

In other words, it's not just a discussion of "good vs. bad;" it's a discussion of "optimal vs. acceptable." Even if some players can "get away with" bench pressing, are we really doing right by these players if our approach to training is to simply try to justify that our exercise selection isn't doing harm?

3. Use fillers to break up power training sets.

Optimal training for power mandates that athletes take ample time between sets to recharge. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes have a tendency to rush through power work because it doesn't create the same kind of acute fatigue that you'd get from a set of higher-rep, loaded work. In other words, you'll want to rest more after a set of five squats than you would after a set of five heidens, even if you were attempting to put maximal force into the ground on each rep with both.

To that end, one thing I commonly do is pair power training exercises with low-key corrective drills. We call these drills "fillers," but that's not to say that they aren't very important. We might pair a rotational medicine ball training drill with a wall slide variation. This helps us get more quality work in with each session, but just as importantly, slows the athletes down to make sure they get the most out of their power training exercises.

4. Coach standing posture.

Static posture assessments are boring; I get it. However, they can still be incredibly telling. Here's an example...

Last weekend, during a two-day seminar I was giving, a trainer approached me and asked about his chronic bilateral knee issues. He described his soft tissue initiatives, mobility work, and strength training modifications in great detail; it was clear he'd put a lot of thought into the issue and was clearly frustrated, especially having been through physical therapy a few times without success. When he was done describing everything, I looked down at his lower body and asked, "Do you stand like that all day?"

He was just "hanging out" in a bunch of knee hyperextension. A follow-up toe touch screen looked pretty similar to this:

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The toe touch is obviously a movement fault, but he was in a bad starting position before the movement even started. If you stand in knee hyperextension all day - especially if you're a personal trainer on hard, unforgiving surfaces all day - your knees will hurt. It doesn't matter how much you foam roll or modify your strength program. You have to learn to stand correctly before you learn to move correctly.

With that said, apply this to your athletes. How many of them do this during down-time in practice or games? And, next time you watch a Major League Baseball game, watch how many position players just "hang out" like this between pitches - and wonder why we see more hip and back pain on the right side.

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Sometimes, the easiest solutions aren't the most obvious - even when they really are obvious if you know where to start looking!

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