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Is One-on-One Personal Training Really Dead?

Written on July 25, 2015 at 6:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Just about every fitness business coach out there will vehemently assert that one-on-one training is "dead," and that you have to go with semi-private (small group) training to stay relevant and profitable. Obviously, we work with almost exclusively semi-private training at Cressey Sports Performance, so I think there is some merit to this assertion.

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The rationale for both the business and client is sound. The business can see more clients in a given amount of time, which is a deviation from popular trainers being limited to the number of hours they can train. The client gets more affordable training, allowing them to participate more frequently and do so with a more flexible schedule. Plus, there is added camaraderie from training alongside others in a motivating environment. Win/win, right? 

With that said, there are still some very profitable fitness facilities doing extremely well with one-on-one training thanks to their geography. Usually, these facilities are in affluent cities like New York where rent is very expensive and higher training prices can be charged. It's also common with celebrity trainers who may have clients who seek out privacy during training sessions. My last three true one-on-one clients have all been MLB All-Stars who had short time-frames with which to work, significant injury histories, and challenging family schedules that didn't make our semi-private "pro group" hours feasible for them.

Taking this a step further, though, I've always said:

       Your business model should never dictate your training model.

Business rationale aside, though, I'm of the belief that one-on-one training is vital to the long-term success of the coaches, not just the business in question. One-on-one training is where you hone your craft, learning to get more efficient with your cueing. It's where you learn how to be conversational with clients without interfering with the flow of the session. It's when you learn how to "read" clients: do they learn best with visual, auditory, or kinesthetic cues? It's when you learn to manage a schedule, and build rapport with clients who are new to the "gym scene."

Every single one of our coaches at both the Massachusetts and Florida facilities were successful personal trainers before they were successful semi-private coaches. And, each of our interns needs to demonstrate proficiency in a one-on-one context before we'd ever consider letting them handle scenarios with multiple athletes simultaneously. We hire exclusively from our internship program, so nobody works at CSP unless they've thrived in one-on-one training already; I feel like it's that important.

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You see, we might be predominantly semi-private training, but all of our clients receive a lot of one-on-one attention, particularly in the first 1-2 months of training. We created the baseball strength and conditioning "niche," and a big differentiating factor is that we meticulously coach arm care drills in ways that are slightly different for each athlete, depending on their presentation. Can you imagine teaching a prone 1-arm trap raise to 5-6 people at the same time?

One of the "concessions" you make with larger group training is that you are going to let some less-than-perfect reps "go." I've watched large hands-on sessions at conferences with fitness professionals as the participants, and there are bad reps all the time - and this is in a population that should know exercise technique better than anyone! It's just reality. For me, though, I don't want a single bad rep performed with any of our arm care work. The baseball shoulder has so little margin for error that anything less than perfection with technique is unacceptable.

If we teach it meticulously up-front, we not only create a great movement foundation that will make it easier for the individual to thrive in a semi-private environment, but also clearly establish in the client's eyes that we are still taking into account their unique needs. We can do all this because we have sufficient staffing to make this work.

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Conversely, if you're a single trainer and insist on billing in a semi-private environment and don't want shoddy exercise technique under your roof, you better carve out some time in your schedule for individual instruction. You have to move well before you move a lot.

What does this mean for the original assertion that "one-on-one is dead" (with a few notable exceptions)? Well, I'd argue that it should read:

One-on-one training is dead from a billing standpoint. It's still vitally important from a coaching standpoint - particularly in facilities that don't want to just deliver a "vanilla" product.

The same coaches who tell you to go to semi-private training will usually encourage you to go to watered down, one-size-fits-all programming templates. That might work okay if you're just doing general fitness training, but it fails miserably if you're working with clients who want to be absolutely awesome at what they do.

One-on-one training takes place every single day at Cressey Sports Performance, a "semi-private" facility that has done double-digit growth in every year since it opened in 2007. And, I know of loads of other facilities that incorporate it extensively under the semi-private umbrella.

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One-on-one training isn't dead. It's just being called something else.

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Register Now for the 4th Annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar!

Written on July 22, 2015 at 7:10 pm, by Eric Cressey

We're very excited to announce that on Sunday, September 13, we’ll be hosting our fourth annual fall seminar at Cressey Sports Performance. As was the case with our extremely popular fall event over the past three years, this event will showcase the great staff we're fortunate to have as part of our team. Also like last year, we want to make this an affordable event for everyone and create a great forum for industry professionals and fitness enthusiasts alike to interact, exchange ideas, and learn.

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Here are the presentation topics:

Pete Dupuis -- Empowering Your Fitness Team

This presentation will serve as an introduction to the Cressey Sports Performance method for leveraging each coach's unique skill-set in an effort to create a superior training experience. In this presentation, Pete will discuss the importance of cultivating distinctive assessment skills, personal brand development, and the importance of employing a broad spectrum of personality types on your fitness team.

Greg Robins -- What Matters Most

One of the characteristics that makes the fitness industry special is the variety of approaches. However, it can also be a bit noisy. Constant access to new ideas and the plethora of free information may leave trainers, coaches and clients a bit confused. In this presentation, Greg will reflect on what he has found to matter most, both in getting you and your clients where you want to be.

Chris Howard -- Referred Pain: What is it and what does it tell us?

Practically every fitness professional has encountered an athlete or client dealing with referred pain whether they knew it or not. In this presentation, Chris will discuss what referred pain is, what it tells us about our clients, and training modifications to alleviate our client’s pain. Whether you are a strength coach, personal trainer, physical therapist or athletic trainer, this presentation will provide a new perspective on your client’s pain.

Tony Bonvechio -- Creating Context for More Efficient Coaching

Coaches put endless focus into what they say, but this presentation will illustrate the importance of how they say it. Creating context with your clients goes beyond internal and external cueing, and the ability to create "sticky" teaching moments will get your athletes moving better and more efficiently. Tony will discuss different cueing approaches, how they resonate with different learning styles, and how to say more with less to help your clients learn new movements with ease.

Tony Gentilcore -- Spinal Flexion: A Time and Place

Spinal flexion is a polarizing topic in the fitness world. Spine experts have illuminated the risks associated with loaded spinal flexion, leading to crunches and sit-ups getting labeled as taboo. In this presentation, Tony will discuss when encouraging spinal flexion - specifically on the gym floor - can address pain and dysfunction in our athletes and clients while also improving performance.

Miguel Aragoncillo – Cardio Confusion: A Deeper Look at Current Trends

Designing the cardiovascular aspect of a comprehensive exercise program often leaves us with more questions than answers: Is it helpful for body composition or performance? Should you run or should you sprint? Are there other ways to improve cardiovascular fitness? In this presentation, Miguel will discuss the trends and evaluate existing research of various conditioning methods. Finally, he’ll offer practical strategies for immediate application with your Monday morning clients.

Eric Cressey – Bogus Biomechanics and Asinine Anatomy

The strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields are riddled with movement myths that just never seem to die. Drawing heavily on case studies, scholarly journals, and what functional anatomy tells us, Eric will “bust” some of the common fallacies you’ll encounter in the strength and conditioning field today. Most importantly, he’ll offer drills and strategies that can be utilized immediately with clients and athletes in place of these antiquated approaches.

**Bonus 2:30PM Saturday Session**

George Kalantzis and Andrew Zomberg-- The Method Behind CSP Strength Camp Madness

Group training is rapidly overtaking one-on-one training as the most profitable fitness service. However, an effective group fitness system is often difficult to create and sustain. In this session, George and Andrew will take participants through an actual CSP strength camp. The training session will be accompanied by a brief presentation and handouts that dive into the components of programming, coaching and marketing strategies to drive new business and client retention within a group training model.

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

Cost:

Regular Rate – $149.99
Student Rate – $129.99

The early bird registration deadline is August 13.

Date/Time:

Sunday, September 13, 2014
Registration 8:30AM
Seminar 9AM-5PM

**Bonus session Saturday, September 12 at 2:30pm.

Continuing Education:

0.8 National Strength and Conditioning Association CEUs pending (eight contact hours)

Click Here to Sign-up (Regular)

or

Click Here to Sign-up (Students)

We’re really excited about this event, and would love to have you join us! However, space is limited and each seminar we’ve hosted in the past has sold out quickly, so don’t delay on signing up!

If you have additional questions, please direct them to cspmass@gmail.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!

PS - If you're looking for hotel information, The Extended Stay America in Marlborough, MA offers our clients a heavily discounted nightly rate of just under $63.00. Just mention "Cressey" during the booking process in order to secure the discount. Their booking phone number is 508-490-9911.


Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/20/15

Written on July 20, 2015 at 6:02 am, by Eric Cressey

 I hope everyone had a great weekend. For some reason, there was a ton of great content around the 'Net in the past week, so I actually had my work cut out for me in paring this down to my top three choices. Check them out:

When You Know it's Time to Get Out - This was an absolutely fantastic post from Dave Tate that appealed to me on multiple levels: small business success rates, retirement from strength sports, and the need for experienced coaches to "give back" to the strength and conditioning community. 

5 Things I've Been Wrong About and How I Updated My Thoughts on Them - I really enjoyed this post from Dean Somerset. The best in the industry are humble enough to recognize that they might not have all the answers, but are constantly trying to ask the right questions. I actually discussed this a few months ago in my article, The Most Important Three Words in Strength and Conditioning.

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U.S. Women Were Multi-Sport Athletes Before Focusing on Soccer - The headline really says it all, but this USA Today article is a good bit of "ammunition" for those fighting the war against early sports specialization. 

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Why Do We Give Caffeine a Free Pass?

Written on July 16, 2015 at 5:36 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I've got a somewhat personal story to share with you - and there are several great lessons at the end, so be patient as you read through!

As many of you know, the fall/winter of 2014-15 was a crazy time period for the Cressey family. First, in early September, my wife and I moved to Florida to prepare for the opening of our new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL. After months of planning, the facility finally opened up in early November.

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It wasn't very easy to just open up shop in another state without regular trips back to Massachusetts to check in on the facility and our house. This took place on top of my normal responsibilities both in the gym and in managing my online presence and consulting business. And, I continued to train hard in the gym myself.

To make things a bit more complex, this move took place while my wife was pregnant...with twins. Their original due date was December 17, but they decided to arrive about three weeks early on November 28. They're both doing great, but early on, there was some time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for supplemental oxygen and feeding tubes. 

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Needless to say, there were a lot of long hours over the fall and winter. While I'm accustomed to long hours, I was not accustomed to doing these long hours with only 2-3 hours of sleep per night thanks to newborn twins.

I often tell our athletes that with programming and training, you can't just keep adding. If you put something new in, you usually have to take something else away. And, if you absolutely insist on adding without taking something away, then you better be ready to really dedicate yourself to recovery modalities, whether it's massage, naps, or a host of other options. There was no time for any of that stuff, though. What was there time for?

Caffeine - and a lot of it.

Each morning, I'd drink a pot of coffee. As I recall, the half-life of caffeine is about eight hours if you don't exercise - and it held pretty true, in my case. My morning caffeine would usually wear off in the early afternoon after I was done training our pro crowd. Stubbornly, I refused to pare back on my training volume, so 4-5 days a week, I'd also crush an energy drink around 3pm to get ready to lift. The pick-me-up would often work. I'd have a good training session here and there that would remind me that I "still had it."

Not surprisingly, I'd crash and burn and have a horrible 4-5 days of training after a session like this. The "ups" were still pretty "up," but the "downs" were a lot longer and harder to bounce back from. You can't display your work capacity if you can't leverage your recovery capacity, and I had none.

Early in the spring, things started catching up to me. I was down about 10 pounds since the girls had been born, and wasn't any leaner. My strength had started to fall off pretty quickly, and I wasn feeling pretty banged up in the gym. Most significantly, I was starting to get sick pretty regularly - and I almost NEVER get sick.

In early May, I gave a weekend seminar that also included a 5-6 hour Friday presentation, so I was on my feet talking for about 30 hours over the course of three days. On the way home, my flight was delayed, and I didn't get back to my house until about 3am. I woke up the next morning feeling horrible, and actually wound up going home sick from work the next day. It was right then that I knew I needed to fix things.

The next morning, I went to 50/50 regular/decaf coffee, and cut out all caffeine for the rest of the day. What happened next absolutely stunned me.

For about 3-4 weeks, I felt absolutely horrendous. I've heard of caffeine withdrawals coming in the form of a headache (and I certainly had one), but that was just the tip of the iceberg for me. Every joint in my body hurt. I was waking up with cold sweats - and going through 2-3 shirts - every single night. I was so exhausted by the end of the day that I was going to bed by 8pm on 2-3 days per week. It was literally like I had the flu for an entire month. As a final kicker, I was waking up every morning around 4am with a raging headache that would only go away 10-15 minutes after my first sip of coffee - so it wasn't possible to just "sleep it off."

Not surprisingly, my training was terrible during this month. I pared back to 3x/week lifting, and my only "off-day" activity was walking with my wife and daughters.

         Caffeine might not be heroin, cocaine, or even
          nicotine, but it is absolutely, positively a drug.

I can only imagine what serious, long-term drug abusers go through when they try to kick a habit - because I've got a high pain tolerance and a lot of patience, and those four weeks sucked!

Fortunately for you, though, there are some invaluable lessons to be learned from my story.

1. Short-term gain often equates to long-term pain.

I mustered up "fake energy" to have average training sessions for 2-3 months - and in the process, put myself in a position where I had terrible sessions for a month on the tail end. It's better to be "consistently good" throughout the year.

2. This is what a lot of young athletes do!

I see a lot of diet logs from teenage athletes, and they usually leave a lot to be desired. Most kids drink too many sports drinks and sodas, and consume too little water. Fruits and vegetables are sorely lacking, and there are enough processed carbs to sink a battleship - and certainly no healthy fats to keep things afloat.

In spite of all these shortcomings, a lot of young athletes are on a constant search to find a "better pre-workout." Maybe, just maybe, the pre-workout wouldn't be necessary if these athletes were eating right and sleeping sufficiently.

It's one thing for a stressed-out 34-year-old entrepreneur with newborn twins at home to go down this path. It's another thing altogether for a resilient, untrained 16-year-old to think that he needs stimulants to be able to perform in the weight room or on the field.

3. Coffee is a slippery slope.

Ever have that friend who set out with good dietary intentions, but found ways to justify bad food choices?

"Well, you said sweet potatoes were a good carb source for me. So, I figured regular potatoes were just as good. And, if potatoes are okay, then I can make homemade french fries. And, if homemade french fries are okay, then the ones I have at my favorite fast food restaurant have to be okay, too, right?"

You can justify absolutely anything you want. With coffee, we know there are potential health benefits with respect to type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular health, certain types of cancer, and many other facets of health. Of course, this assumes moderation. Drinking a gallon of caffeinated coffee per day isn't going to give you extra protection against problems in these areas. Furthermore, don't expect the same health benefits of coffee to extend to crushing an energy drink or Mountain Dew to get a quick pick-me-up.

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4. We need to be very careful about glorifying caffeine, regardless of form.

For some reason, in the fitness industry, caffeine gets a lot of love because it's been proven to improve performance in a number of physical challenges, from strength and power events to endurance sports. Some of those benefits can be reduced when an athlete has become desensitized to caffeine from habitual use, though.

Not surprisingly, though, we're seeing more and more athletes - and fitness professionals, too - who are crushing energy drinks throughout the day. They're always firing up their sympathetic nervous systems and staying in perpetual "perform" mode when they should be able to tone it down and switch to recovery mode. 

I find it interesting that a simple cup of coffee can be viewed as a morning routine, ergogenic aid, and social beverage - and that probably explains why so many people consume caffeine to excess. They want it for all three of these things every single day.

Keep in mind that I'm preaching moderation in caffeine consumption, not complete abstinence. I'm still drinking coffee every morning and have no plans to eliminate it.

5. Stress is stress, whether you "feel" it or not.

If you'd asked me how I felt in December and January, I would have said "surprisingly good." I'm a guy who never gets too up or down, so in spite of my Type A personality, I rarely actually feel "stressed." Interestingly, in what was one of the most physiologically stressful times of my life, I pretty much powered through it (with the help of way too much caffeine) without feeling too awful. Obviously, eventually it caught up to me. With our athletes, we need to recognize high levels of stress sooner so that we can tone down training and add in more recovery modalities.

6. It's very easy to forget what it's like to actually feel good.

I've been taking my training very seriously for about 15 years now, so I like to think that I'm pretty in tune with how my body is feeling.

Additionally, I work with a lot of high-level athletes, particularly baseball players. Most elite athletes have incredible kinesthetic awareness and can sense when little things are "off."

Interestingly, though, it's not uncommon for athletes to get into "funks." We see MLB pitchers struggle with repeating their mechanics in spite of the fact that they're in the top 0.001% of people who play the game of baseball worldwide. We also see athletes who have annoying injuries that linger for extended periods of time and really change the way that they move. Small hinges can swing big doors - and sometimes you don't even recognize when the door is wide open.

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I felt pretty darn bad for 4-5 months, but was able to tune it out because there were parenting and work responsibilities that had to get done. And, there was no way I was missing training. So, I effectively convinced myself that I felt fine. What can I say? Otherwise intelligent people often make really bad decisions when it comes to managing their own health, as it's hard to emotionally separate yourself from the situation like you would with a client or friend.

It took a few days of feeling really awful to snap me out of it. Two months later, I'm feeling a heck of a lot better and am back to have great training sessions. It was a great learning experience - and something that will definitely impact the way I interact with our athletes - but certainly not an ordeal I'd wish on anyone! 

Hopefully, next time you reach for that third cup of coffee or mid-afternoon energy drink, you'll think twice - and recognize that you're probably only doing so to mask a short-sighted decision in another aspect of your life.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/13/15

Written on July 13, 2015 at 6:39 am, by Eric Cressey

It's Monday, so let's get right to a week of content with some featured posts from around the 'net.

10 Conversations to Have Before Signing Your Gym Lease - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, did somewhat of a "brain dump" for all the potential gym owners out there. Be sure to read this if you're considering opening your own place.

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Diet or Deception: The Problem with Nutrition Secrets - Adam Bornstein is a fantastic writer who always delivers "no BS" content as an entertaining read. This is an awesome example.

Technique Tuesday with Tony - We've started some new weekly features on the CSP-MA Facebook page, and on Tuesdays, Tony Bonvechio goes over some coaching cues with a 2-3 minute video. This week, he talks about how to keep your elbows under the bar while squatting.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/6/15

Written on July 6, 2015 at 10:45 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm back in Massachusetts after a week in North Carolina with USA Baseball. It'll take me a day or two to get my feet underneath me before I can type up a new blog, but luckily, I've got some great content for you from around the web.

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, we've got some awesome content from the Cressey Sports Performance crew (myself included). We cover learning styles, coaching cues, core control, and lower extremity mobility.

Physical Preparation with Patrick Ward - Patrick is a sports scientist for the Seattle Seahawks, and he shares some awesome insights on this podcast with Mike Robertson.

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Improving Communication and Developing Awareness - Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo shares some great lessons for up-and-coming coaches.

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How Much Work Are You Actually Doing?

Written on July 1, 2015 at 11:23 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm fortunate to do 99% of my training sessions at Cressey Sports Performance, where we've got all the equipment I can possibly desire and a great training environment to keep me motivated.

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Occasionally, though, I have travel - and that's when the other 1% of my training takes place. Usually, this means under-equipped hotel gyms or commercial gyms that can make for some good people watching. This morning was one example.

Normally, when someone in the fitness industry visit a commercial gym, they instantly go into "gym snob" mode and try to nitpick on all the things people are doing wrong, whether it's poor exercise selection or horrendous training technique. While I certainly recognize these things, I like to think of myself as an eternal optimist. If I can find the good in a commercial gym - whether it's a trainer's approach or some new piece of equipment I haven't seen - then there is a good chance I'll have something solid to bring back to improve CSP.

Today, there was one big lesson that really stood out in my mind: some people were doing a lot of actual "work."

Yes, by "work," I'm referring to Force x Distance.

Whether it was on machines or with free weights, these individuals (who, unsurprisingly, were typically very fit), were challenging themselves with appreciable loads. And, they were generally doing so through a full range of motion.

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Taking it a step further, though, they were doing so without wasting time. There wasn't just work; rather, there was significant work done without a lot of standing around.

Conversely, there were also folks who spent a lot of time standing or sitting around. Sets were few and far between, and supersets just weren't happening. There weren't compound exercises, and they weren't choosing challenging weights. In fact, exertion wasn't really present in any capacity. I couldn't help but wonder why anyone would bother to get up at 5:30am to "work out" if that individual didn't actually want to do much actual "work?"

Believe it or not, I think this is a more common problem than we realize. There are a lot of people struggling to make fitness progress because they think that they train a lot harder than they actually do. I don't necessarily fault them, though, as a lot of them have never been taught how much volume and intensity is needed for progress, and even fewer have actually gotten into a training environment that forced them to take on a challenging training program.

So, how do you know if you're working hard or not? Is it sweat on your shirt, or wobbly legs as you leave the gym? Sure, those are somewhat subjective signs, but they're a good start.

Speaking more objectively, though, I would just say that lifters should be able to get in warm-up work and then 20+ sets of mostly compound lifts in 60-75 minutes. And, in most cases (particularly beginner and intermediate lifters), the weight used on these sets should increase from week to week.

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If you're not able to get that much quality work in over the course of that much time, there is a good chance you're doing too much waiting around between sets, or you're getting caught up doing some other low-priority training initiative.

From time to time, I think it's useful to do a "training audit" to see where you stand on this front. Review your recent programs to see if you're getting in enough quality work to continue making progress. I've even seen accomplished powerlifters do this and realize that with all the heavy singles and long rest periods, they were actually getting in very little total work in training sessions. They added in more assistance work and incorporated some backoff sets in to bump up their total work number to get back to making better progress.

You may also find that you're doing so much work that you could benefit from a back-off period. That might come in the form of volume, intensity, or frequency reductions.

The important thing is that you are cognizant of the hard work it takes to succeed. And, even more importantly, you'll understanding where you are relative to that benchmark.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/30/15

Written on June 30, 2015 at 4:48 am, by Eric Cressey

 Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

The Coaching Grey Zone: When to Simply Shut Up - Dean Somerset makes some great points on when the best coaching approach is to just leave an athlete/client alone.

A Day with Alex Viada: The Hybrid Athlete - We hosted Alex Viada for a seminar at Cressey Sports Performance, and it was fantastic. In this article, Tony Gentilcore summarizes some of the key takeaways.

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EliteFTS Sports Performance Podcast with Chris Doyle - This is an awesome interview with Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. He's a super bright and down-to-Earth guy.

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3 Ways to Create Context for More Effective Coaching

Written on June 24, 2015 at 7:46 am, by Eric Cressey

 Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Tony Bonvechio.

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Social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk said, “Content is king, but context is God.” He was talking about Internet marketing, but the same holds true for coaching.

Our goal as coaches is to get our athletes into the right positions as quickly and safely as possible. There are many ways to do this, but the best ways all use context to flip on the metaphorical light bulb deep within an athlete’s brain. Much like marketing, the content of our coaching is only as good as its ability to create context for our athletes.

Cueing and Context

There’s lots of buzz about internal versus external cueing (with most coaches agreeing the latter trumps the former), but without context, it doesn’t matter how precise your coaching cues are. It doesn’t matter if you tap into your athlete’s auditory, visual or kinesthetic awareness. If your coaching cues don’t conjure up a somewhat familiar position or sensation, your coaching will be ineffective.

People love context because they love familiarity. It’s the reason why we leave a familiar song on the radio even if we don’t actually enjoy it. It’s why we always order the same meal at a restaurant or buy the same car, if only a model year newer. It’s not so much brand loyalty as it is the confidence we feel in a familiar scenario. And when athletes are confident, they perform at their best.

But for many, strength training is anything but familiar. Throw a new athlete into a new environment with new coaches and new movements, and everything is, well, new. Context is painfully hard to find. It’s our job as coaches to create it.

This goes beyond internal versus external cueing. When’s the last time a young athlete had to push his butt back to the wall or spread the floor outside of the weight room? Yes, these are useful cues, but they pale in comparison to referencing movements and sensations they’ve experienced over and over. Your athletes have stockpiled heaps of complex movements while playing their sport(s), so use them as bridges to new movements in the weight room.

Coaches must constantly challenge themselves to refine their coaching skills and become more efficient. Striving to provide context in every coaching interaction will help you do just that. Here are three reliable ways to create context while communicating with your clients.

Relate to an Exercise

A well-designed training program will build upon itself from exercise to exercise. The warm-up creates context for power development, which builds context for strength training, which builds context for conditioning. Fellow CSP Coach Miguel Aragoncillo often calls this the “layering” effect, where we gradually introduce athletes to layers of a movement to make it easier to learn and retain.

For example, we use positional breathing drills to get the ribs and pelvis in position for proper inhalation and exhalation. Then, we use exercises like dead bugs and bird dogs to teach athletes to brace while moving their extremities. Then, when we hit our first strength movement of the day, whether it’s a deadlift, lunge or press, we can refer to the warm-up for context on proper technique.

Context becomes especially useful when progressing athletes from low-speed movements to high-speed ones. The faster the movement, the more concise your cues must be.

For example, you’d be hard pressed to get athletes to think about what’s happening while landing from a jump. Which cues are processed more easily?

“Hip hinge! Tripod foot! Externally rotate your femurs!”

Or…

“Land where you jumped from!”

If you’ve done your job as a coach by teaching a good take-off position, the second option should happen almost automatically. Not coincidently, this position will come up during many other exercises, providing context for all of them.

The entire training session should create material for you to call upon later, so don’t gloss over the little things early on.

Relate to a Sport

Working with baseball players after playing baseball for the majority of my life gives me a distinct advantage. I speak their language. I’ve walked in their cleats. I can create context by relating many of our exercises to familiar movements on the baseball diamond. Similarly, if you relate anything in the gym to an athlete’s sport, you’ll win them over quickly.

Recently, I was working with a young athlete who was struggling to do a trap bar deadlift. No matter how I cued him or physically put him in position, he couldn’t get there on his own. Just as I was about to regress to a simpler exercise, I took a shot in the dark. Our conversation was as follows:

Me: What position do you play in baseball?
Athlete: First base.
Me: So what do you do when the third baseman throws the ball too high?
Athlete: I do this. (Goes to do a countermovement jump)
Me: Stop!
Athlete: (Paused in a perfect hip hinge) What?
Me: Right there! Grab the bar.

He proceeded to do a set of five textbook deadlifts and nailed every set after that. Where internal and external cues failed, context prevailed.

You can duplicate this scenario for almost any sport.

Basketball: “How do you guard the ball handler?”
Football: “How do you take the snap from under center?”
Tennis: “How do you wait for the serve?”
Hockey: “How do you take the faceoff?”

The list goes on. With athletes, context is everywhere. Get to know their sport and speak their language. And if you can help them understand how their workouts will make them better at their sport, you’ll gain their trust and get their best effort.

tonyb

Relate to a Feeling

Perhaps the best way to make your coaching cues last a lifetime is to get in touch with your athletes’ feelings. Before you dismiss me as some Kumbaya-singing hippy, let me explain myself.

Many coaching cues are transient. Sure, cores brace, glutes squeeze and necks pack whenever we ask them to, but as soon as we turn our backs, things often go awry. Even the best lifters sometimes miss a key point on their pre-lift checklist of body parts to organize, and one weak link in the chain can lead to suboptimal (and even dangerous) movement.

If you simply take the time to implant a crucial feeling into an athlete’s mind (i.e. “Feel that? That’s what I want you to feel when you squat.”), they won’t soon forget it. It’s often easier to navigate one’s way to a feeling than think about multiple body parts at once.

I consider myself a decent bench presser, but when I set up, I don’t go from head to toe, double-checking if I’m retracted here or extended there. I know what I’m supposed to feel so I just feel it and lift. That’s how mastery occurs and eventually gets us to the coveted state of unconscious competency, as described by psychologist Thomas Gordon in his four-stage approach to learning. Miguel recently drew the four-stage matrix on our whiteboard during a meeting with the interns:

whiteboard

Basically, we aim to go from being incompetent while thinking about it to being competent without thinking about it. We don’t want athletes to constantly think about their movement on the field. They need to move automatically or they’ll get left in the dust. Similarly, we need to coach them in the weight room with the intention of movements and exercises becoming automatic.

This is where taking 5 to 10 minutes of a single 90-minute training session can pay huge dividends down the road. Rather than hastily resorting to a regression when an athlete is struggling, create context and get the athlete to feel the right position. Get your hands on them. Ask, “What do you feel?”

Whether it’s pulling the bar away from someone during a deadlift to get their lats turned on (“Don’t let me take the bar from you. Feel that?”) or doing lateral mini-band walks to prevent knee valgus during squats (“Feel that? That’s what I want you to feel during squats.”), these extra steps are always worth the extra coaching effort.

It’s akin to the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Are you giving fish by always hand-holding athletes into position? Or are you teaching them how to fish by helping them discover the answer so they’ll always be able to access it?

Conclusion

Familiarly allows an athlete to let his or her guard down and perform to the best of their ability. Creating context with your coaching cues puts them in a familiar setting and opens the door for better movement. Instead of simply relying on internal and external focus cues, strive to create context wherever possible. I’m confident your athletes will move better and learn faster.

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at www.BonvecStrength.com.
 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/23/15

Written on June 23, 2015 at 5:20 am, by Eric Cressey

 I hope everyone had a great Father's Day weekend. Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

EC on Joe DeFranco's Industrial Strength Podcast - Joe and I chatted about everything from training rotational sport athletes to raising twin daughters!

eric-cressey-industrial-strength-show-ep16

EC on the Well-Traveled Wellness Podcast - This interview with me covered offseason programming, career longevity and usage, injury prevention and more.

Cluster Sets for More Gains in Less Time - I've long been a fan of cluster training, and in this article, Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio outlines the "who-what-when-where-why-how" of performing this set/rep approach.

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