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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/17/15

Written on March 17, 2015 at 7:56 am, by Eric Cressey

Let's get this week off on the right foot with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us - An incoming Cressey Sports Performance intern asked for some additional recommended reading on top of the normal material they have to cover before they start up, and this was the first book that came to mind. This Seth Godin work is a quick read, but a classic, in my opinion.

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Examine.com - This is really an entire site to check out, but it's one I heavily endorse and it warrants a mention on its 4th anniversary. The internet's largest and most trusted unbiased resource with respect to supplementation has all its guides on sale for 40% off this week.

When Should Youth Pitchers Learn Curveballs? - Several people have asked me this question lately, and it seemed like a good time to bring this old post from Matt Blake back to the forefront.

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Repetition vs. Randomness: Which Will Get You Fit Faster?

Written on March 12, 2015 at 9:38 am, by Eric Cressey

In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal goes to great lengths to discuss the various factors that make consumers fall in love with certain offerings. One factor he highlights in great depth is novelty - or randomness..

As an example, Eyal talks about how we never get tired of our email because we know that each time we check it, there are going to be 100% unique messages waiting for us. Each new email experience may bring noteworthy news, new challenges, different emotions, or just a quick break from the "real" world in which we live. Checking our emails - even if we do so hundreds of times per day - always brings novelty. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media websites and apps are all endlessly novel, too.

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Conversely, think about the game Farmville (yes, that annoying Facebook game for which you always get invites). In spite of small variations to the user experience, the game is always the same - and that's why people play it for hours on end - but ultimately give it up after a few weeks. The novelty wears off.

We can find similar parallels all across our daily lives. There's a reason so many people tune in to watch a reality TV show about the Kardashians; they say dumb things, fight a lot, and spend money on extravagant crap...to create novelty. Sorry, but a reality TV show about an accountant who pretty much does the same thing every day really doesn't drive ratings through the roof; it's just not at all novel.

Maybe you have a favorite restaurant because they have different weekly specials, whereas other spots don't rotate the menu. You probably have that one friend you adore because he/she always overreacts to things, gets easily flustered, or says the most random things - all of which provide endless entertainment value. Maybe you read this website because I make it seem random by talking about everything from training, to corrective exercise, to nutrition, to sports performance, to business, to my kids and dog.

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This randomness also has a place in fitness. Novelty is one factor that makes Crossfit popular; each workout is different, and that randomness can improve exercise adherence. Randomness also accounts for some of the success folks have working out with friends and training partners; your social experience for each training session is different when you have familiar faces with whom you interact (as opposed to working out by yourself in silence).

It goes without saying, however, that your entire program can't be random. Research has demonstrated time and time again that any periodization is better than no periodization at all with respect to improving a variety of fitness qualities. You need repetition to initially learn movement patterns, build strength and power on top of them, and - just as importantly - quantify these improvements. And, you need to plan to ensure that a training effect is achieved at an appropriate rate while reducing the risk of injury. It's an old adage, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

How, then, do we reconcile this need for repetition with our conscious and subconscious tendencies toward randomness, which likely actually improve exercise adherence? This reconciliation begins by recognizing the following:

All successful strength and conditioning outcomes are derived from a blend of repetition and randomness.

This is the classic discussion of strength and conditioning program design combining art (randomness/novelty) and science (repetition). It's important to note that there is an inverse relationship between randomness and motivation (but not necessarily training experience).

The lower the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for randomness to keep exercise engaging. This is working out.

The higher the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for repetition to deliver a specific physiological effect. This is training.

To somewhat arbitrarily assign percentages, lower motivation folks (who are generally - but not always - beginning exercisers) might need 80% randomness and 20% repetition. The best coaches can usually push that 20% up substantially by disguising repetition as "fun" that might seem random. This is particularly important in working with very young athletes; you want repetition, but with variety. Different drills might teach the same movement skills. As an example, are these two drills actually delivering dramatically different training outcomes (besides the fact that I don't have a cool beard in my video)? Probably not.

Conversely, higher motivation folks - and athletes seeking out a specific training effect - can afford less deviation from the plan for randomness. Sorry, but if your goal is to throw a baseball 100mph, an off-season of cycling 100 miles per day isn't going to get you closer to that goal, even if you do enjoy it. Specificity matters.

However, we can't ignore the need for novelty in high-motivation trainees and athletes' program. There has to be some randomness included to avoid boredom in training programs. To me, there are five great ways to do this:

1. Incorporate another sport - Get your athletes out for some ultimate frisbee, or even just play tag instead of movement/sprint training. We worked this in with our pro baseball guys this off-season and it was a big hit. Just make sure the options you choose aren't high-risk for the athletes in question.

2. Add finishers - You never want to overuse finishers, but they can be awesome motivators and team builders, when done in groups. Perhaps most importantly, they take place after the primary training effect has already been accomplished. Just make sure not to overdo it and impose too much fatigue in a single session.

3. Implement new training equipment - You don't have to go out and buy an entire new gym of equipment; rather, simple changes can make a big difference. Draping chains over someone's back instead of using bands for loading push-ups is enough variety for some athletes. Throwing a Fat Gripz on a dumbbell provides a different training stimulus without overhauling your programs. These are just a few examples.

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4. Get in a different training environment - This goes hand-in-hand with option #1 from above, but just getting outside of your "typical" gym setting can be a great change of pace. Some of my best training sessions ever have taken place when I've been on the road and lifted at either friends' gyms or even random commercial gyms. These new locations might offer different training equipment, or you might even find extra focus lifting in a place where you don't know anyone (this is especially true for me, as it's very easy to get distracted training in a gym that may be filled with your clients!). Heck, this 616-pound deadlift was in Slovenia after I'd delivered a full two-day seminar!

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5. Different conditioning workouts - It's generally much easier to quickly quantify improvements in strength than it is to do so with conditioning. For that reason, the strength portion of your programs may be best suited for the "repetition" aspect of your training, whereas the conditioning (unless you're a competitive endurance athlete) is a good place to implement some randomness. As an example, I lift four days a week and do some form of "conditioning" on two other days. This conditioning might be rowing, sprinting, the Airdyne, the slideboard, barbell complexes, body weight circuits, kettlebell medleys, or any of a number of other options. It's where I find some randomness and can still use exercise to clear my head - and I actually find that I feel better when I get more variety in movements during my conditioning work.

One resource to which I commonly refer on this front is Jen Sinkler. Last year, she introduced her extremely thorough (and entertaining) resource, Lift Weights Faster. Effectively, it gives you hundreds of innovative conditioning workouts to try out when you need some randomness (and good challenges) in your life. I probably refer to the original resource 3-4 times per month, and it actually provided some great ideas that we incorporated in programs for our clients (particularly in our morning group strength camps).

As such, you can imagine how excited I was when I heard she was introducing Lift Weights Faster 2, which debuted this week at a great introductory price. I've reviewed the product, and it's fantastic - including this conditioning session I did yesterday:

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This great discount ends tomorrow (Friday) at midnight, so don't delay on checking out this great collection of workouts and extensive exercise library. You can learn more HERE.

LWF2 Bundle

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Conditioning for Powerlifters (and Anyone Who Just Wants to Get Strong)

Written on March 10, 2015 at 9:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post is an interview orchestrated by Jen Sinkler, the creator of the expansive new conditioning resource, Lift Weights Faster 2.0. Enjoy! -EC

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Full disclosure: I didn’t actually expect to actually like powerlifting. I just wanted to experience it once, and to distract a training buddy who’s always trying to get the rest of us to enter triathlons. (No. Hey, look, something shiny and heavy!) Nonetheless, last August, I entered my first powerlifting meet, and to my surprise, I did like it. Very much. I liked it enough to enter a meet every two months for the past six months, bringing me to a total of four meets by February.

I followed lifting plans from fellow Movement Minneapolis coach Jennifer Blake, and during another training cycle I got coaching from big ole squatter Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems. Partly because I was so new to the specificity of powerlifting training and partly because my plans (which I adapted daily based on biofeedback) were on point, I saw dramatic improvement from meet to meet, regularly adding 25-35 pounds to my squat in the two months between competitions. It won’t always be like this, of course, but it sure is satisfying while it lasts. Also satisfying: I took home best overall female lifter in three of my four meets, and the trophies tend be exceedingly pointy and dangerous.

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What I didn’t do a tremendous amount of in those first four months of my powerlifting-specific training was conditioning. I could say I was worried about my gains, I suppose, but it’s more accurate to say I just needed to wrap my training sessions up in the interest of time, so conditioning was what got axed. Until late December, that is, when I started finalizing the pieces of my conditioning manual, Lift Weights Faster 2. That put me in the mood to play with lighter weights: to do more kettlebell and barbell circuits, to do sprint workouts and calisthenics. So…that’s what I did. And I’m pleased to say that not a gain was lost (and in fact, I continued to see improvements in all three lifts).

That’s because, when wielded well, conditioning is extremely useful for powerlifters. I’ve tapped two experts in the field to explain how and why you can incorporate it into your maximum-strength plan.

Intros to the Experts

julia1Julia Ladewski, CSCS, is a powerlifter and physique competitor who spent eight years as a Division I strength and conditioning coach and five in a private sports-performance facility. Julia now trains clients both online and at her husband's private training and powerlifting facility, The Region Barbell Club. She is a highly competitive and elite-level powerlifter, totaling 1102 at 132 pounds and 1085 at 123 pounds. She has been a member of Team EliteFTS since 2005, and regularly speaks at a number of conferences..

AlexVAlex Viada, CSCS, has over 12 years of experience coaching athletes, specializing in training powerlifters, triathletes, and military athletes. A graduate of Duke University (biochemistry) and a MS(c) in physiology, Alex spent eight years in clinical research and health-care consulting before transitioning to coaching full-time. His company, Complete Human Performance, has worked with nationally ranked and national-record-holding powerlifters and strongman competitors, Kona-qualifying triathletes, Boston qualifiers, and bodybuilders. He has attained (and maintained) an elite powerlifting total in the 220-pound class while competing in numerous endurance events -even ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons.

Sinkler: Is handling conditioning for powerlifters tricky? It seems a little like serving two masters — one that cares only about max strength, and one that cares more strength endurance.

Ladewski: Serving two masters is always difficult, but conditioning can be done year-round. Like any other sport that has in-seasons and off-seasons, you’ll vary your conditioning depending on where you are in your training and the importance of that conditioning to your goals.

Pounding some conditioning the day before a heavy squat session can definitely affect your training. But with careful planning, you can be well-conditioned, stay in your weight class, lose body fat, and still perform at a high level.

Viada: Handling conditioning for powerlifters is very tricky. Powerlifters fall on the extreme end of the pure strength spectrum, obviously. They view limit strength as the competition, or sport proficiency (and correctly so), with a far lesser emphasis on strength-endurance. Any sort of endurance or conditioning programming for them needs to be carefully introduced and needs to clearly show the lifter that the endurance training interferes minimally and has tangible benefits.

If there is one thing I would like to dispel, however, it’s the thought that endurance is a separate, unattainable dimension of athleticism for strength athletes. It’s just another dimension of athleticism that can exist together with strength. One doesn’t need to look much further than the NFL or Rugby League to see remarkably strong individuals with far-better-than-average conditioning. Athleticism needs to be viewed on a spectrum, not as a series of yes-or-no options.

Sinkler: Why is conditioning for powerlifters important? What purpose(s) does it serve?

Ladewski: Years ago, it was kind of a big joke for powerlifters to just get bigger and bigger to lift big weights. While there is some truth behind that, it's shifted a bit towards being strong, leaner and healthier. Aside from the health benefits that even the general population receives from conditioning (heart health, better bloodwork, and so on), powerlifters are finding that having a level of conditioning is beneficial for their training, as well.

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To be strong, one needs to be able to do a lot of work. More work requires a level of conditioning. If I do two sets of pushups and I'm completely spent and ready to call it a day, then my training — even for strength — will suffer. Of course there’s also the benefits of staying closer to your weight class, having less overall body fat, and having fewer achy joints.

Viada: Conditioning is important not only for general health, but is also important to sport itself. So why would a powerlifter look to improve aerobic conditioning? Can it help sport performance? The answer is (provided that deleterious effects can be minimized) an absolute yes.

Though powerlifting competition is a pure ATP/CP sport, recovery even over the course of a workout taps into aerobic systems heavily (for substrate replenishment and recovery between higher volume sets).

Improved aerobic capacity can lead towards greater overall work capacity and training volume, as well as faster recovery between sets.

Improvement in muscle glycogen stores and increased mitochondrial density would also greatly improve training quality (by allowing higher workout volume), and though event-day sport performance will not be directly impacted, more (and longer) quality training sessions are a major benefit.

Is aerobic training necessary for the powerlifter? No. But all else being equal, these positive effects are decidedly worthwhile for the majority of lifters, and I’m of the opinion that a lifter with superior aerobic capacity will have more productive training sessions than one who is absolutely exhausted after walking to the monolift.

Sinkler: Very well said. What kinds of conditioning activities do you program for your powerlifting clients? How do you include said activities without detracting from their powerlifting performance?

Ladewski: For powerlifting, I like to do a variety of things. Much of it depends on the individual, but sled dragging (upper and lower body work), prowler pushes and interval circuits work well. Bodyweight, high-rep band work, even kettlebell stuff works really well. Planning it around their regular strength work is important. as well. Don't underestimate walking, either. Brisk walking is great for powerlifters.

Viada: For strength athletes, I will often prescribe fast-paced rucking with moderate loads at low to moderate intensities, steady-state cycling or Airdyne, rowing, and aqua jogging (swimming tends to be a poor choice, as strength athletes often sink like rocks, and the additional shoulder mobility that swimming requires and develops can hurt strength and stability in pressing movements).

I also program circuit training for them, but there’s a tendency among powerlifters to go too high intensity on it. Lots of powerlifters load up too much weight and miss the benefit. So, I steer them away from circuit until they learn how to go low intensity. Once they learn to use less weight, it goes back in.

Sinkler: That makes sense. You mentioned that people often miss out on the benefit of circuit training. Talk a little more about that. And, how can circuit training, in particular, be used to develop greater work capacity?

Viada: This is actually a huge pain point for me in training athletes. We train a huge number of military athletes, fighters, obstacle-course racing competitors, CrossFit athletes, and the like, and we heavily utilize circuit training, though we’re often loathe to call it that. Circuit training, if properly implemented, has tremendous value in developing specific work capacity in certain movements, training individuals to perform while fatigued, building and developing “pacing” ability, and yes, even eliciting several positive cardiovascular adaptations.

That said, for athletes, circuit training should be specific — durations should be selected that are comparable to the demands of their sport, modalities and exercises should closely track movements and muscle groups the athletes need to develop strength-endurance in, and overall the emphasis should be on movement quality, not simply throwing a hodgepodge of different exercises at them.

For the general population, there’s greater flexibility, but I always come back to one point: there’s sometimes the sense that I dislike circuit training, but nothing could be further from the truth. The issue is that many individuals do not like using appropriately submaximal weights. If a load is so heavy that it interrupts the flow of a circuit, changes pacing, forces the use of the Valsava maneuver (or otherwise occludes bloodflow), the point is being missed entirely.

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During resistance training or HIIT, a combination of muscle occlusion and the Valsava maneuver actually increases blood pressure but occludes venous return; in other words, since everything is tensed during every repetition or short interval, no blood is flowing during muscular contraction, and less is flowing into the heart. When an individual is running or biking, this isn’t the case, venous return is actually increased. In essence, with weight training, though the heart rate is increasing, it’s not necessarily pumping more blood. With cardiovascular training, it is. This is why going too heavy on circuits can provide less of an aerobic benefit.

Whatever weight you want to pick, use less. If done properly, a circuit or complex intended to develop overall (general) work capacity should start taxing the heart and lungs around the same time as the muscles. Ego is the enemy here; people use 75 to 80 percent of their maximum loads when they should be using 25 to 30 percent!

The body itself is a load — moving a weight in a complex is no different than moving the body in a run, the difference is only when individuals decide that if they’re not groaning under the weight, they’re not working their muscles. If individuals can reign in that tendency, circuits can be extremely useful for conditioning, developing both general and specific work capacity, and otherwise building both strength and endurance in general populations.

Sinkler: That’s really useful, actionable advice, thank you. Generally speaking, how often do you include conditioning for your powerlifting clients? How long do these sessions last, and on what days do you do them?

Ladewski: During meet prep, I keep it to about two sessions a week. If there's not a meet on the horizon, I'll prescribe three to four days. Personally, I like short, intense sessions. Timewise, it works for busy schedules. Plus, I like using athletic movements, moving fast and pushing hard.

Circuit training is actually a great way for powerlifters to work in conditioning. It works really well after the main strength moves. If you take some of your accessory work and circuit that together at the end, you can get some really good conditioning work and not feel like you have to add in another session or detract from your heavy lifting.

A good, 30- to 45-minutes walk in the sun is also excellent for recovery, de-stressing, and conditioning.

Viada: It’s important to consolidate stressors as much as possible, and to approach strength and endurance as a single entity. One term used lately that I enjoy — and Chad Wesley Smith writes frequently on this concept — is “consolidation of stressors.” That term really represents the cornerstone of this method — high-intensity, low-volume work and high-volume, low-intensity work each requires its own sort of recovery, but most critically, an individual can train one extreme while recovering from another.

“Recovery” is systemic to an extent, but it is also structurally specific — a long, low-intensity bike ride taxes the athlete in very different ways than a heavy squat session, but fast sprint intervals may present similar challenges to the body as that same squat session. In the former case, it would make sense to place those two workouts at opposite ends of the training week, but in the latter case, it would make sense to do them most likely in the same session.

Any high-intensity work should be done concurrently with high-intensity strength training, and the majority of the low-intensity, high-volume work should be done after any sort of volume workouts. Important to remember: Sport practice takes priority. The lifter should only use remaining work capacity to work on conditioning.

Frequency does not have to be significant — two or three 20- to 30-minute sessions is often enough for the majority of pure powerlifters with whom I’ve worked. This is already enough to see some benefits without detracting from sport focus, and with rotating modalities, the workouts should flow seamlessly. Examples include 20 to 30 minutes of row intervals after deadlift work, steady-state cycling after volume squatting, or easy rucking on the first of two days off would be enough conditioning volume.

Sinkler: What other factors do you consider?

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Ladewski: When starting conditioning, the main factor is the person's current conditioning level and how much they can handle at the moment. And what their current goals are: are they in meet prep? Off-season? Do they have body fat to lose? And also, what do they enjoy doing? If they hate running, I probably won't include a lot of running. If they aren't well-versed in kettlebells, then I probably won't include much of that kind of training until they learn it better. I want to find things that are challenging for them but that they also enjoy doing.

Sinkler: Anything else you want to say on the topic of conditioning for powerlifters?

Ladewski: When powerlifters hear the word conditioning, they automatically think "cardio,” and worry about long, boring, workouts, having to run, about losing muscle. But conditioning doesn't have to be like that.

Conditioning is typically what powerlifters would call general physical preparedness, or GPP. It amounts to preparing the body to handle more work as training gets more intense.

Start with some off-season conditioning and build up. Then maintain a level of conditioning during your meet prep, as well, and your body will thank you.

Looking for Circuit-Training Ideas?

If you’re looking to amp up your GPP in productive ways, I’ve put together a mammoth 180-workout pick-and-choose library called Lift Weights Faster 2. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of nearly 270 exercises (from classic moves to more unusual ones), a video library that includes coaching on 30 of the more technical lifts, 10 challenge-workout videos, plus a dynamic warm-up routine, I’ve combined my training and athletic experience with my long background in magazine publishing to create a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that you’ll want to turn to all the time.

Every workout is organized by the equipment you have available and how much time you’ve got, with options that last anywhere from five up to 30 minutes. And, to sweeten the deal, it's on sale at a great introductory discount through this Friday at midnight.

For more info, click HERE.

LWF2 Bundle


Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website, www.jensinkler.com.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 11

Written on March 5, 2015 at 9:19 am, by Eric Cressey

In today's post, I want to cover three more coaching cues you can use to clean up your training technique. These are ones I use all the time with athletes at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Create a gap."

I use this one all the time with both rowing and pressing variations. Athletes love to keep the elbow too close to the side, and it creates an environment of faulty scapular positioning during movement of the upper arm. You can check out examples on my Instagram page, if you're interested (FAULTY vs. CORRECTED).

The answer is very simple: create a gap between the upper arm and torso. I'll usually just put my hand between the two landmarks and wiggle my fingers side to side to create a gap, as depicted by the blue line here:

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2. "Don't let this plate fall."

I've written in the past (here) about how much I love bear crawls as everything from a low-level core stability exercise to a great scapular control drill. That said, one thing you'll see as a common mistake from athletes is that they'll allow their lower back and hips drift side to side on each "step." While this is indicative of the need for rotary stability at the core, usually, the problem is still something that can be fixed up pretty quickly with some basic coaching cues, starting with "slow down."

To build on "slow down" with an external focus cue, I'll set a 2.5-pound plate on the athlete's lower back. The more the lumbopelvic shifts, the more likely it is to fall.

3. "Don't break the glass."

One of the biggest mistakes we see with quad dominant athlete who have poor hip hinge patterns is that they'll break the knee forward in lieu of shifting the hips back. You'll see this on everything from lateral lunges to the eccentric (lowering) portion of deadlifts.

Obviously, we can start to address this by coaching at the hip ("push your butt back to try to touch the wall behind you"), but you can also have a positive impact on the movement by coaching the knee with an external focus cue of an imaginary pane of glass running directly up to the ceiling from the toes. Check out this still frame I took from the lowering portion of a sumo deadlift. The knee shouldn't hit the blue line that signifies the imaginary pane of glass:

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The image would be more powerful from the side angle, but the plates obscure the lower leg and foot from that perspective, unfortunately. Fortunately, the lateral lunge with overhead reach is a good second shot:

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That wraps it up for this edition. Hopefully, you've found these cues useful and easy to apply in your strength and conditioning programs. If you're looking for direction with respect to both programming and coaching cues, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, which features more than 200 exercise coaching videos, comprising three hours of footage of the exact cues we use with our athletes.

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Strength Exercise of the Week: Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Band

Written on March 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since I posted an "Exercise of the Week," but hopefully today's offering will atone for that, as this is one of my favorite exercises to program in the late off-season period for our athletes. Check out the video below to learn how to deadlift using a trap bar and bands.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding Stress and Adaptation

Written on February 25, 2015 at 7:24 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. Enjoy! -EC

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Your body has its own bank account.

It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.

In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.

For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept.

Stress and Adaptation

We all have training-related goals:

  • look like a Superhero
  • cut your body fat down to 6%
  • deadlift 500 pounds
  • have a 30-inch vertical jump
  • bench press 300 pounds
  • win a competition in the sport of your choice

Whatever your goal, you're relying on one of the most basic survival/evolutionary mechanisms to make it happen: adaptation.

And let's make one thing perfectly clear: while we may come across as sophisticated humans, deep down, we're still biological animals who survive to pass on as many of our own genes as we can. That's really the name of the game: do whatever you have to do to survive, so you can pass along more genes than the next guy or girl.
It sounds barbaric because it is, but deep down, it's a driving force we can't escape.

Thus, our "system's" number one goal is survival, and it's going to do everything it can to make sure that happens. Enter adaptation: the way in which we react to stressors in our environment to improve our likelihood of survival.
Before we talk about how it works, here are two definitions with which you need to be familiar:

1. Homeostasis: the body’s desire to stay within normal ranges needed to function and survive. For example, your blood prefers to stay within a pH range of 7.35-7.45 because that's where it's happy, that's where it functions well, and that's where we have the best chance of survival.

2. Allostasis: the body’s adaptive response to maintain homeostasis. In other words, how the body manages to maintain homeostasis in the face of a stressor. Think of it like those bumpers you set up in the gutters at the bowling alley: you need to stay within those set limits or else all hell will break loose.

When considering adaptation, this is the basic process* it follows:

*Please know that adaptation, stress, allostasis and everything we're talking about today is an incredibly complex topic. In order to make it more approachable, we're going to dumb it down a bit so you can focus on the big picture. Thus, if you're a big science person, please don't get all worked up because I know there's way more to this than what we're going to talk about today.

Step 1: You provide a stressor.

Step 2: Stressor threatens homeostasis and thus survival.

Step 3: The body, via allostasis, works to maintain homeostasis in the face of this stressor.

Step 4: You adapt to the original stressor in order to limit the amount of stress it can place on your system in the future.

Here's what that would look like in a graph (notice how it resembles a training cycle?):

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As you can see, there's a decrease in performance while your body attempts to manage the unfamiliar stressor. Remember, it's trying hard to maintain homeostasis so you can stay alive.

Eventually, however, you adapt (supercompensate) above a level you were at previously. This is to ensure that the same stressor in the future won't have as large of an impact on your system.

Here's an easy example of this process in action: think back to when you first did back squats...what happened?

For starters, they were probably pretty ugly, but I'm also willing to bet you were sore the next day.

What about four weeks down the road when you squatted the same weight as you did on day one; were you as sore and/or beat up the next day?

Absolutely not. Why? Squatting was an incredible stressor the first time you did it. It's something your body had never encountered. But after a few weeks of exposure, your body had started to adapt to the new and repeated stressor to limit its overall effect on the system. This is the reason you must periodize your training; stimuli must change over time to continue the process of adaptation.

To review: your body’s goal is to limit the impact a stressor can have on your system to increase your likelihood of survival, and improve your chances of passing on copies of your own genes.

The way our body makes it all happen is via adaptation and the adaptation reserve.

The Adaptation Reserve

In a far-off land, behind desert and mountainous terrain, guarded by an army of manticores (do yourself a favor and Google that), you'll find your adaptation reserve.

While the adaptation reserve may seem like a mythological creature you've never managed to catch, it's really just your own personal bank account. It represents the resources your body uses to buy new things (adapt).

You have to keep in mind there's a finite amount of resources in this reserve. Think back to a time when you were a kid and saved up money to buy something you really wanted: you passed on buying other goods because you knew you needed to save up "X" amount of dollars to purchase "Y" toy.

Great. However, what happened after you did by the toy for which you’d been saving? You had no more money.

Does that mean you'll never be able to buy a new toy again? No. It just means you have to save up and make deposits into the account until you have enough resources to do so.

But what determines the size of the bank account? How do you make withdrawals and deposits? Is there more than one account?

Your Body's Bank Account

Below is a fictional image of your body's bank account (adaptation reserve), and it's full of your body's adaptive currency.

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Feeling good after a restful weekend, you head off to the gym to crush a deadlift session, because you really want to pull 500lbs.

The following morning you wake up and take a look at your imaginary body bank statement to realize you made a big withdrawal the previous day. Hitting deadlifts over 90% of your 1-rep-max must have really used up a lot of your adaptive reserve because the account is vastly diminished.

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This, in a nutshell, is what's happening on a daily basis: you introduce or encounter different stressors that act upon your body in a certain way, and then your body uses its adaptive reserve to respond/adapt.

Remember, your main goal is survival, and in order to increase your likelihood of survival you have to limit the impact stressors have on your system.

A More Realistic Story

For as awesome as it would be for your training session to be the only stressor you encounter, that's simply not the case.

Our life is full of stressors: work, relationships, traffic, etc. Each of these has an impact on your system and it's ability to adapt.

It's not as simple as, "Oh, I lifted today, and that's the only stressor I encountered."

Do I wish for both you and me that that's the case? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it's entirely unrealistic.

There's a good chance you’re stressed about a project at work. Perhaps you didn't sleep at all last night because you had too much caffeine late in the afternoon. Or, maybe you think your significant other is cheating on you and you spend all day and night stressing about it.

The point is this: there are an infinite number of stressors in our lives which all detract from our adaptive currency.

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The Size of the Bank Account

An obvious question to consider is: how do I increase the size of my bank account?

Besides genetics, which you have no control over, we can relate the size of the bank account to your overall fitness level. Another way of saying the same thing is to improve your GPP or work capacity.

If you've read anything I’ve written in the past, then you should be familiar with the concept of building a pyramid. In order to one day achieve high, optimal levels of performance, you must put in the time and groundwork to build yourself a monster base. That means attacking things like movement quality, base strength levels, aerobic fitness, and a host of other factors.

Depending on where you're at and what your goals are, you'll have to focus on different fitness qualities.
For example, are you a heavily extended stress ball posture with a resting heart rate in the low 70's? If so, you need to spend a fair amount of time doing low-level aerobic work and working on full exhalation because your body could never handle the type of work required to perform at high levels.

As your work capacity improves, however, you give yourself the potential to one day attack a more aggressive training program because you have the adaptive reserve in place to actually be able to handle large levels of stress.

Do you think Zach Hadge (with a 700+ pound deadlift) trained the way he does now eight years ago? Absolutely not. He spent a ton of timing building himself up to handle the volume and intensity levels he trains at now.

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Ultimately, if you have aspirations to be a monster in both training and life, you have to put in the work on the front end to build yourself a large bank account.

Withdrawals and Deposits

We began touching on this concept earlier, but when you look at your training program you have to consider what's making withdrawals from your bank account, what's making deposits, and how big of a deposit/withdrawal you're making.

At the end of the day, you're not making progress if you don't have any adaptive currency to spend. To keep this simple, rest and recovery makes deposits to your account. This includes things like active rest days, sleep, and quality nutrition.

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Withdrawals, on the other hand, involve all forms of stress.

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For example, let's consider three different training loads and the impact they'll have:

1. Stimulative: a very moderate training load from which one can recover quickly.

2. Developmental: this can be broken down further into high, medium and low, but for today just know that a developmental load triggers the adaptive responses and takes 2-3 days to recover from. For reference sake, a developmental load will fall somewhere between a 6-9 on an RPE scale out of 10.

3. Maximal: this is all you have. A true, "I have to do this or I die" type effort. It crushes your system (especially central nervous system) and takes a long time to recover from.

Here's another thing to consider: different types of fatigue. For example, there's a big difference in CNS fatigue (running a sprint) and local muscular fatigue (doing a bunch of curls). In all honesty, you're probably starting to look at separate bank accounts all adding up to one master account – but let's not go down that path today. Just focus on one bank account, and nail down this concept of stress and adaptation in broad terms (you have to see the forest before you can look at the individual trees).

Hopefully this is all beginning to make sense: training is really just an advanced form of stress management. All forms of stress will have an impact on the body, but the extent of that stress depends on things like volume, intensity, training history, genetics, nutrition, sleep, and a host of other factors.

The End

If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be that you view your training goals as goods you have to buy with money.

It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, gain weight, have bigger arms, squat more weight, run a better 40 etc. etc. because each of those qualities requires an investment from your body, and your body only has so much to give at any one time.

You have to be methodical in the way you apply stress if you ever hope to see big improvements from your training. Just doing high-intensity work for the sake of doing high-intensity work is a waste of time without figuring out where it falls in the grander scheme of overall development.

Ask more questions, don't be afraid to push the envelope, and structure your training and life in a way that sets you up to succeed.

About the Author

James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting and Crossfit. He works with athletes from the middle school to professional level, is the founder of Rebel Performance, and works as a strength and conditioning coach at Pure Performance Training in Boston, Massachusetts. You can also connect with James on Facebook.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/23/15

Written on February 23, 2015 at 7:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Monday, folks! Here are some good strength and conditioning articles to kick off your week:

Hip Extension and Rotational in the Baseball Swing - Here's a "reincarnation" from the archives, courtesy of Houston Astros Minor League Hitting Coordinator, Jeff Albert. It seems only fitting, giving that spring training is underway!

The 5 Best Ways to Get Stronger - I couldn't agree more with all of the points Mike Robertson made here. There are some excellent strategies here for intermediate lifters.

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I Don't Even Want to Be Here - This was a great post from Kevin Neeld on the importance of positivity in coaching youth athletes, and always praising effort over outcomes.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/17/15

Written on February 17, 2015 at 5:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good reads from the past week in the strength and conditioning world:

Forget Calorie Counting - Brian St. Pierre and Ryan Andrews present a great perspective on portion control and meal planning for Precision Nutrition.

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Left Out - I thought this was a really well written piece from Andrew McCutchen for The Players Tribune. While I don't agree with the notion that you have to do the travel ball circuit and attend every tournament to get noticed as an up-and-coming player, I do think his message of improving baseball development opportunities in underprivileged areas is incredibly important.

Common Themes Between Out of Shape Clients and Pro Athletes - Dean Somerset pulled together this post that I don't think anyone except Dean would even think to write - and it came out really well.

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Strength Strategies – Installment 2

Written on February 3, 2015 at 8:46 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins, who'll be presenting his Optimizing the Big 3 Workshop at our Hudson, MA location on March 8.

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As with our first installment, I'll break my recommendations down into four categories: mindset, programming/planning, nutrition/recovery, and technique. Here we go!

1. Mindset: Study, practice, experiment, evaluate.

The best lifters I have come across are very cerebral in their approach to something as physically driven as moving heavy loads on a barbell. This is even true of the ones you may categorize as anything but “cerebral.”

In order to master anything, you must study, practice, experiment, and evaluate.

If you want to be a high-level lifter, you will only get so far with brute physical effort, even if it is a must-have in the recipe for success. You need to treat strength as a skill, and lifting is something you can dissect and study.

Make it a point to dissect your own technique; garner a rudimentary understanding for physics, physiology, and anatomy; and study the approaches of those who have been successful in what you aim to do. With that said, when studying lifters, try to focus on those who have similar builds and lifestyles as you do. Imitating the approaches of people who are dramatically different physically (leverages) and socially (recovery capacity, training frequency) will not be nearly as productive.

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2. Planning/Programming: Instruction is the main objective of supplemental exercise selection.

Ben Franklin said, “That which hurts, instructs.” It’s one of my favorite sayings and can obviously be applied, if not more appropriately, to more than simply choosing supplemental exercises in strength training planning. However, it is quite fitting as a rule of thumb for a key piece in developing high levels of strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Getting outside of the “comfort zone” is a necessary step in achieving something outside of what one is already capable. In choosing supplementary exercises in your training, think about ways to slightly alter the classic three lifts that will do three things.

1. Teach you about the proper execution of the main lift.
2. Target weak muscles, which may otherwise “take a play off” via your ability to compensate in the main lift.
3. Get you to challenge yourself physically by executing them in such a way that is not advantageous for your usual approach.

You want to choose an exercise that essentially works as coach for your shortcomings in the main lift. For example, here are two pictures of one of my distance-based clients. The most important shortcoming in his squat was the inability to understand upper back extension, elbow placement, and head position in his set up. This resulted in forward weight shifting throughout the movement. While he did respond to some video analysis and cueing, he responded instantly to using the high bar squat as his supplementary squat exercise.

The high bar position forced him to work on all the points above and we turned his low bar numbers into high bar numbers. This quickly helped his low bar numbers have new heights, and no ceiling restricted by poor positioning.

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Furthermore, we used the high bar squat to help him build strength in the upper back, and quads, which were no doubt less of a player in his original approach as the torso position placed greater demands on the hamstrings and low/mid back.

To top it off, we made his intensity-based work high-bar focused, and his volume-based work low-bar focused. This gave him a better chance of learning better low-bar position by not challenging him with the weight on the bar, and by giving him more time under load in the proper low set up.

While not all your supplementary work needs to hit each of the three aforementioned points, it must always hit the first one. In many cases, if you take the time to think out your approach, you will find ways where you can hit all three, and this will lead to great progress.

3. Nutrition/Recovery: Appreciate (and modify) food texture.

Nutrition is something that has always fascinated me. It’s not so much the science of the food itself, though, but rather the mental game of proper nutrition. I firmly believe the majority of somewhat health conscious people understand enough about food quality, and portion size, to achieve a physique they can be happy about, not to mention one that is healthy and capable of performing on a high level.

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The fitness industry, popular media, and major food companies have unfortunately sent us so many mixed messages, exaggerated headlines, embellished research findings, and utterly misdirected crap that many people are left more than a bit confused. Moreover, food itself serves as a readily available and affordable option for people to turn to in emotional situations ranging from despair to celebration.

One of the keys to making nutrition productive is to be able to enjoy items that are actually conducive to your efforts.

With that in mind, I challenge you to pay attention to textures when it comes to meal preparation. Acknowledging the textures you prefer and dislike is a great way to help everyone from the person looking to bring down total consumption to the person who needs to consume more.

In general, we prefer a variety of texture to our food, and yet many of us see very little of it when we consistently turn to the same foods.

Here are two quick ideas, and I am sure you can think of more.

1. Add some crunch to your chicken by tossing the chicken in some egg whites and rolling it through so panko bread crumbs.
2. Make your smoothie a little ahead of time, pour it in a bowl, toss it in the freezer a few hours. Enjoy it as a frozen treat with a spoon, instead of a lukewarm viscous liquid from a plastic shaker bottle.

Going the extra step to toast your bread, make sweet potato fries instead of the usual bake, or even tossing something with a little chewiness or crunch to a salad can make a world of difference in your compliance.

4. Technique/Exercise Instruction: Perfect the glute-ham raise.

The glute-ham raise is a phenomenal exercise for developing the posterior chain. While some find the barrier to entry too high for beginner lifters, I find the problem rests mostly with a misunderstanding of how to properly set up and execute the movement. This video should shed some light on the subject.

5. Bonus Interview!

As a bonus, and in anticipation of my upcoming “Optimizing The Big 3” workshop on March 8th at Cressey Sports Performance, I sat down with CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo to talk about the seminar, and lifting in general. Here's the entire conversation:

And, you can learn more about the workshop HERE. Don't delay, though, as the early-bird registration deadline is February 8.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/28/15

Written on January 28, 2015 at 7:30 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Here are three articles worth reviewing:

7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum - This Andrew Zomberg article is specifically targeted toward all my friends who are snowed in up in the Northeast. If you want to get your training in when the gym isn't open, you've got to be a little creative.

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5 Reasons Your Program Isn't Working - This article's messages might seem like common sense, but let's face it: common sense isn't so common anymore. It's great stuff from Mike Robertson at T-Nation.

Risky Fitness - Jen Sinkler takes a close look at risk: reward considerations in training programs. This appeals to me heavily, as a lot of my one-time consultations are folks who have traveled long distances to help undo the damage of irresponsible training programs.

Have a great Wednesday!

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