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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/7/15

Written on April 7, 2015 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm making the drive from Florida to Massachusetts over the next two days, so there won't be time for new content. However, I've got some awesome reads and a "listen" to hold you over until I have a chance to blog again:

You Don't Have to Do This - I loved this post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Greg Robins. It's imperative to separate ourselves from what our clients want for themselves and what we subconsciously (or consciously) want for our clients.

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Red Flags that You're Working Out Instead of Training - My buddy Tim DiFrancesco, the strength and conditioning coach for the Lakers, just got his blog up and running. He's already got some great content up and running, too!

Charlie Weingroff Integrates All Aspects of Performance - This was an excellent podcast with Charlie at EliteFTS.com.

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Are You Willing to Ask for Help?

Written on April 4, 2015 at 12:01 am, by Eric Cressey

For a huge chunk of my life, I was a complete control freak. Looking back, I was convinced that I could "handle" everything that came my way - both in terms of expertise and actual time commitment. It was always easier to do it myself than it was to find someone else to do it, as I knew I'd have to be looking over their shoulder and second-guessing their work, anyway.

Then I hit a critical threshold.

Around 2006, my clientele grew exponentially right after I moved to Boston. All of a sudden, I was training clients seven days per week and - in many cases - over 13 hours per day. On top of that, my online presence was growing, product sales were rolling, and I had more writing and speaking opportunities than ever before. I was still powerlifting competitively, so training had to be a priority. With multiple revenue streams, my financials were getting more and more complex. And, last (but certainly not least), I'd just started dating Anna (who is now my wife), so that relationship was a big priority as well. I wanted to do it all.

Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and I was using almost all of them - which meant sleep was getting pushed out. The success that I'd dreamed of for years was actually kicking my butt. For the first time in my life, I recognized that I needed help.

As it turns out, "help" was a bit complex. It entailed opening Cressey Sports Performance and bringing on my business partner, Pete Dupuis, to handle the managerial side of things. Tony Gentilcore also joined in to help out with managing a rapidly-growing clientele.

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This help was game-changing for me. In spite of the exhaustion that went with starting a new business, I felt invigorated and the long hours didn't phase me. Having others' expertise and efforts working alongside my own afforded me more time and opportunities to focus on what I did really well: evaluating, programming, and coaching.

Months later, we brought on Brian St. Pierre as our first employee. We asked him to "help" step up our nutritional offerings for our clients, and he crushed it. It's been an important part of our business ever since. Chris Howard later "helped" to bring in massage therapy. Greg Robins and George Kalantzis "helped" build up our strength camps. We hired a fantastic accountant who has "helped" simply our finances and save us a lot of money. Later, it was a payroll company to "help" with that side of things, and an office manager to "help" manage the daily chaos at our facility so that Pete can focus on business development. I've got a lawyer, financial adviser, landscaper, cleaning lady, part-time nanny, and host of other people who "help" me on a regular basis. I refer clients out to physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, and many other ancillary professionals who can "help" our clients. Now, I have the "help" of two new business partners - Brian Kaplan and Shane Rye - with the opening of our Jupiter, FL facility this past fall.

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I say this not to brag, but to show you how asking for help and being willing to outsource tasks that don't best leverage my skillset has completely changed my life for the better time and time again. It's freed up time to focus on things I do REALLY well. This has allowed me to grow my businesses, be a better husband and father, and have great satisfaction with my job (if I can even really call it a "job"). Time and time again, asking for help and outsourcing has proven to be a good decision - and I started out as the biggest micromanaging skeptic you could possibly imagine.

What does this have to do with YOU, though?

If you want a contract drafted up, you go to a lawyer.

If you want your taxes done, you go to an accountant.

For some reason, though, most folks try to take on their most precious commodity - the body - by themselves. And, this is probably why we see so many crazy fad diets, and so many brutal displays of "what in the world is that exercise, and is he really going to hurt himself?" on display at most commercial gyms. And, it's one reason why many people really aren't happy with their physiques, functional capacity, or physical quality of life.

The truth is that many of these people are just a few months away from looking, feeling, and moving dramatically better. They just need to seek out help - just like I have (albeit in different contexts).

This blog is obviously about fitness, and if you're reading it, I'm guessing that means that you've looked to me for help. Thank you for your vote of confidence.

To that end, I'm confident that one outstanding way in which I can help you is by directing you to The High Performance Handbook. I'm confident that it's a versatile program that can really help the overwhelming majority of my readers to get closer to their goals and educate them in the process. It also happens to be on sale for $50 off through tonight (Saturday) at midnight HERE.

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But even beyond The High Performance Handbook program, I hope this blog has made you think a bit about how you can find help to simplify your life and create opportunities to focus on what you do REALLY well. It's made a world of difference for me.

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15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on April 1, 2015 at 6:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies. You can check it out HERE for $50 off this week.

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That said, let's get to the random thoughts...

1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.

There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!

2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?

3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability." 

4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:

5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.

6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).

7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.

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8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.

You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?

My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.

What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.

The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.

9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.

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10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.

When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.

When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.

So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."

11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.

If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.

12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.

That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.

13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing these competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.

With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.

14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:

a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat

Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.

15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!

If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!

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Save $50 on The High Performance Handbook!

Written on March 30, 2015 at 8:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm psyched to announce that for the first time ever, I'm putting my most popular product, The High Performance Handbook, on sale. Through this Saturday at midnight, you can get this versatile strength and conditioning resource for $50 off the normal price.

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I went to great lengths to ensure that this resource doesn’t just offer a training program that delivers outstanding results; it also educates you along the way. You’ll learn about some of the things that are unique about your body, and how you need to manage your training accordingly. It’s almost like a choose-your-own adventure book for people looking to achieve their training goals.

Also, I should note: I’d highly recommend you pick up the Gold Package of The High Performance Handbook, as it includes an awesome nutrition and lifestyle guide from Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition. There is some really eye-opening and useful stuff in there; I learned a ton myself from reading it!

You can learn more (and pick it up) at the following link:

           --> The High Performance Handbook <--

Thanks for your continued support of EricCressey.com!


Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better – Installment 61

Written on March 24, 2015 at 4:00 am, by Eric Cressey

This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Use “discovery learning” as a way to improve retention for movement patterns.

Going to continuing education courses consistently allows me to adjust my perspective based on the “latest” information available in the industry. However, one of the biggest things that allows me to shift my perspective further is to listen in and converse with other professionals during lunch breaks to further understand the topic at hand in a more productive way.

This first point divulges how to implement a sense of discovery about movement patterns and gives some very straight forward tips for coaching anything that is new to your clients or athletes.

Keep these points in mind when using this new technique of teaching.

Use your athlete/client's words and language to help them learn a movement better.

Not every person will know where their glutes are, for example. Have the athlete just point to the part of their body where they feel it; you don’t need a PhD in Exercise Science to teach a basic movement pattern.

Remove body parts.

If a hip hinge is too difficult, reduce the neuromuscular challenge by having them start on two knees instead of two feet. Now the movement is largely a singular hinging pattern when they start on their knees, instead of stabilizing on their feet.

2. Consider reducing the number of “corrective exercises” you perform.

I’m a big fan of Dan John and his easily quotable phrase, “Keep the goal the goal.” Maintain your perspective of the goal at hand. If your goal is to improve strength, lose fat, or improve at your sport, how many corrective exercises are you performing? How much time are you utilizing doing foam rolling? Minimize your time spent analyzing your own problems by seeking out the best coaches, therapists, or nutrition coaches, and get to work on that goal. Sometimes, you'll find that exercises can even be combined to improve efficiency without sacrificing the benefit.

Corrective exercises are supposed to correct something. By omitting these movements, will the athlete miss any crucial movement patterns? Play “Devil’s Advocate” and make sure to incorporate all that is necessary, but no more. If you aren't careful, your "correctives" can wind up becoming a cumbersome majority of your training sessions.

3. Learn the difference between blocked and random practice - and apply each appropriately.

On the topic of training youth athletes, I recently attended a seminar in which blocked vs. random practice was presented. For the purposes of this article, blocked practice is specific training of a singular skill with no changes in environmental surroundings (like swinging a bat against a pitching machine over and over). Conversely, random practice involves having an individual adapt to the surroundings and incorporate different (but similar) skills (like swinging a bat for different scenarios - with a live pitcher).

The biggest question of the day was, "Which athlete excelled when it came time for performance?"

When tested in the short-term, blocked practice performed better than random practice. This makes sense, because if you practice a singular skill over and over, you will get better at that skill.

However, when enough time passed for participants to “forget,” retention of skills was the name of the game. So when retaining skills for a longer term, blocked practice did not do as well, and practicing “randomly” prevailed.

From a logical point of view, this is similar to memorizing sentences when you’re cramming for a final exam. Sure, you’ll do great if the teacher just has the same exact sentences or questions as the book - but what happens if the teacher forces you to critically think, and asks questions that are different than the material presented during class?

This leads quite appropriately into the context of a long term athletic development model. By increasing skills and techniques in a broad sense, athletes will more easily acquire specific sport skills. Conversely, with early sports specialization, athletes are practicing (almost always) one skill over and over, and struggle when diverse, more unpredictable movement is required for success.

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What are the actionable items you can take away from this?

If you coach youth athletes, or you yourself have a young son or daughter:

• Encourage them to try multiple sports.
• Allow them to “figure it out” when it comes to decision making skills, especially as it applies to sports.
• Provide feedback - but much, much later after the competition, game, or practice session.
• This will allow for them to come up with their own unique thoughts, and allow them to be uninhibited when it comes to creating a solution to whatever problems occur during a game.

While this is a “Quick and Easy Way to Move and Feel Better” series, I imagine that we can help everyone of all ages move and even feel better by taking this information and acting on it.

4. Try this quick oatmeal snack.

I’ve been preparing for a powerlifting meet for the past few months, and an easy go to snack in the morning and/or at night is a quick oatmeal snack.

It’s fast, needs little ingredients, is a flexible snack, or even as a snack if your goal is to gain mass.

PB2 Oatmeal

• 1/2 cup Oatmeal
• 2 tbsp Chocolate Peanut Butter or Powdered Peanut Butter
• 1 Scoop of Protein Powder
• Handful of [Frozen] Blueberries
• Honey for taste
• 1 cup of almond or whole milk

Macros
Fat: ~9g
Carbs: ~54g
Protein: ~42g

Prep time: Pour the oats in first, followed by milk, then heat to 90-120 seconds. Then, add everything in and mix it up. The easy clean-up makes this a go-to for the past few weeks/months with all the snow in Massachusetts!

5. Remember that band can increase resistance - or assist in cleaning up a movement pattern.

Whether your goal is maximal strength, increased hypertrophy, or even learning an exercise for the first time, bands are a useful tool.

Band placement is critical for learning how an exercise can increase resistance, or assist during a movement.

For example, you can improve strength by performing a band resisted push-up, or help the push-up by utilizing a band under the waist to elicit a “pop” out of the bottom of the push-up (where the exercise is most difficult).

Band Assisted Push-Up - Miguel

At the same time, bands can help to improve reactive core engagement, or in other words, your body will have to reflexively react in a favorable way.

About the Author

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/23/15

Written on March 23, 2015 at 6:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Good morning, gang. I hope you all had a great weekend. We're going to kick off the week with some recommended strength and conditioning reading from around the 'net:

Settling the Great Grain Debate - My good friend and former Cressey Sports Performance coach Brian St. Pierre did a fantastic with this review for Precision Nutrition.

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Is it time to turn our attention toward central mechanisms for post-exertional recovery strategies and performance? - This is a science-heavy but outstanding article that was recently published in Frontiers in Physiology. It'll be required reading (and discussion) for an upcoming in-service at our facility.

Want to Get Strong? Quit Switching Training Programs Every Week. - As the title implies, this old article of mine begs readers to stay on programs long enough to actually evaluate if they work.

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How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Written on March 19, 2015 at 6:23 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from the good folks at Examine.com, a great website to which I refer often for unbiased information on supplements and nutrition. Enjoy! - EC

Protein is everyone’s favorite macronutrient. Why?

1. The media doesn’t go crazy over it like it does over fats and carbs.
2. It’s been proven to help build muscle.
3. Protein shakes are as well-known (and used) as energy drinks.

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Although there is the occasional study or media report that suggests too much protein can cause organ damage or increase cancer risks, these concerns are typically overblown. People with certain medical conditions may exacerbate their symptoms by eating too much protein, but the most likely damage that excessive protein will do to a health person is lighten their wallet.

The most frequent question posted online about protein consumption is a simple one: what’s the optimal daily protein intake?

Protein intake recommendations

The Examine.com page on recommended protein intake breaks down the existing research on protein intake. Recommended daily protein intake depends largely on health goals and activity level:

0.8 g/kg body weight (0.36 g/lb) if your weight is stable and you don’t exercise
1.0-1.5 g/kg (0.45-0.68 g/lb) if your goal is weight loss or you’re moderately active
1.5-2.2 g/kg (0.68-1 g/lb) if your goal is weight loss and you’re physically active

People who are obese should calculate their daily protein intake based on their goal weight, not existing body weight (in order to not ingest too many calories).

At least one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight a day is sufficient for an athlete. Studies show that there isn’t a significant practical difference between 1.5 to 2.2 g/kg(0.68 – 1g/lb) of daily protein intake. For a 180 lb athlete, this is 122 to 180 grams of protein (the difference being the equivalent of about two chicken breasts).

Protein intake and bulking

Bulking and weight gain doesn’t necessarily require increased protein intake. Muscle growth is affected by protein availability and protein elimination rates, or how fast protein is used up in metabolic reactions.

The more calories the body has to work with, the more efficiently it utilizes protein because fewer amino acids are converted into glucose. However, increasing protein intake may not be necessary during a bulk, because the added calories are contributing toward more efficient protein use. Ingesting protein also increases protein signaling, which is necessary for muscle growth. That being said, exercise has a similar effect, which means working hard in the gym could render the extra signaling effect from additional protein intake negligible during a bulk.

Excessive protein intake

There is enough evidence to support the safety of 0.8-1.2g/kg (about .5g/lb) of protein per day. Although there is little evidence to suggest excessive protein intake may be harmful, there are also not many studies on the topic.

People with kidney or liver damage should consult their doctor when determining how much protein to eat. Too much protein can overwork previously damaged organs and can exacerbate symptoms. Otherwise healthy people can eat an extra chicken breast or opt for another protein shake without worrying about their health.

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Supplementing to replace protein intake

People who cannot eat enough protein due to finances, diet preferences, or motivation often turn to supplementation to avoid eating yet another can of tuna.

The two best supplementation options for conserving muscle mass during caloric restriction are leucine and β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (HMB). Leucine is the primary amino acid in protein that’s primarily responsible for signaling muscle tissue to grow. HMB, leucine’s metabolite, also helps preserve lean mass and reduces the rate of catabolism. Leucine turns into HMB at a 5% rate, so one gram of HMB is equivalent to about 20 grams of leucine.

Supplementation should only be used if dietary changes cannot be made to meet your protein requirements. It is however, worth noting that consuming protein in the form of actual food can yield benefits that supplementation can’t. But if dietary changes are not practical, supplementation can help improve muscle growth and minimize muscle loss.

Ideal sources of protein

As long as the protein is coming from a bioavailable source (not pure gelatin) and contains all the essential amino acids, it doesn’t matter what food it’s coming from.

Protein sources do matter in the context of the overall diet. For example, eating fatty tuna means there will be less room in the diet for other calories, since the fat in the tuna means the protein source contains more calories overall. Prioritizing lean meats can help keep calorie count low, or free up some calories for treats.

Worrying about the differences between whey protein vs casein protein vs hemp protein (and other protein powders) is an exercise in futility. The primary distinction between them is how you find their taste, and potentially their consistency (as casein is gel-like, it’s usually more applicable in baking situations). The slight difference in micronutrients is literally not worth the headache.

The bottom line on protein

The media and supplement industry overcomplicate recommended protein intake because it generates clicks, creates dogma, and helps sell product. As long as you’re eating a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise frequently, one gram of protein per kilogram to pound of body a day is plenty for your muscle and health-related goals. Yes, you read that correctly: 1 gram per kg to lb is likely sufficient. That means if you're 200lbs, targeting between 90 to 200g of protein is fine. People tend to overthink how much protein they need, and unless you are on a diet or an endurance athlete, you don't actually need as much protein as is often suggested. That said, having more is also likely not detrimental.

Examine.com is the internet's largest and most trusted unbiased resource with respect to supplement reviews. In celebration of their 4th anniversary, they've put all of their guides on sale for 40% off HERE.

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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.

Tribes-Godin

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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