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The Best of 2014: Product Reviews

Written on January 7, 2015 at 6:26 am, by Eric Cressey

To wrap up my “Best of 2014″ series, I’ll highlight the top product reviews I did at this site in the last year. Here they are:

1. 2x4: Maximum Strength - I reviewed this resource by Bret Contreras back in early April, and it quickly became my favorite recommendation for a training program for folks to try after they finish my High Performance Handbook program. You can read my review of the program HERE, and Bret also authored a guest post for me during the week of its release: Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better?

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2. Lift Weights Faster - Jen Sinkler created an incredibly expansive collection of conditioning workouts one can use in their training programs. I did a "pseudo-review" when I wrote up the post, 5 Characteristics of Successful Metabolic Resistance Training Programs. She contributed some additional insights on the process with her guest post, 5 Training Tips for the Busy Adult Athlete.

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3. Ruthless Mobility - This product from Dean Somerset was only released about a month ago, but it was definitely a big hit. Also, as I recently noted, his guest post, 5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility, was so popular that it temporarily maxed out my hosting capacity here on the site!

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4. The Modern Woman's Guide to Strength Training - As I noted the other day, I definitely plan to get more female-specific content up here on the site in light of the popularity of Molly Galbraith's post, The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make With Their Training Programs. In the meantime, though, this product makes for an excellent resource for women looking for direction with their strength training programs.

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There were certainly some other great products I encountered this year, but these four proved to be the most popular with my readers. Obviously, I also introduced some new products of my own in 2014, most notably The Specialization Success Guide and Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body. We've got a few more in the pipeline for 2015 as well!

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The Best of 2014: Guest Posts

Written on December 30, 2014 at 8:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2014, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes…

1. The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make With Their Training Programs - With this great post from Molly Galbraith, for the second year in a row, my top guest post related to the topic of strength training for females. I think it's safe to say that I need to feature more female-specific content moving forward!

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2. 5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility - This post from Dean Somerset only ran a few weeks ago, but quickly became one of the biggest hits of the year.

3. 5 Ways You've Never Used a Barbell - Greg Robins shares some outside-the-box thoughts on how to get the most of barbell training beyond "the basics."

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4. Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better? - Nobody geeks out about glutes like Bret Contreras, and this article is a perfect example.

5. The 5 Most Common Errors Athletes Make With Yoga - Dana Santas goes to great lengths to apply yoga "the right way," and in this article, she talks about where many athletes and yoga instructors go astray.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2014. In the meantime, have a safe and happy new year!

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

Written on December 26, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!

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2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?

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5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/15/14

Written on December 15, 2014 at 8:26 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good fitness and nutrition reads from around the 'net:

Elite Training Mentorship - In the most recent update, I provide two exercise demonstration videos, and Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo kicks off a two-part webinar series on energy systems development.

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Chocolate and All Its Health Benefits - Examine.com always does a great job of evaluating nutrition and supplementation questions folks have, and this quick but informative article is no exception.

Mastery - I'm currently listening to this audiobook and really enjoying it, as it takes close looks at how some of the greatest "masters" of all time got to that level of proficiency and success in their chosen crafts.

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One of my favorite quotes thus far is, "The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery." The author, Robert Greene, is a huge fan of "apprenticeships," and it goes without saying that these take time. The fitness industry is no exception.

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5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility

Written on December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC

Mobility is one of those nebulous concepts that get thrown around the fitness industry a lot. You either have it or you don’t, and if you’re one of those lucky Tinman stiff-as-a-board folks who can’t touch their toes without a yardstick, you’re told to stretch and do more mobility work, which seems akin to carving out Mount Rushmore with nothing more than some sandpaper. We might be here a while if all you have available to you is simply stretching to make your mobility improve.

What we forget to do is ask a very simple question: Why do you feel tight in the first place? Muscles are incredibly dumb and won’t contract on their own. They’re usually told to contract, and they’re good soldiers that do what they’re told. You could cut a muscle out of the body and hook it up to a car battery and have it contract until either the proteins are ripped apart or until you turned off the battery. Also, muscles can’t get confused, so let’s stop using that term while we’re at it, shall we?

Typically a muscle will tense in response to a few different things. The first is the desire to produce movement, which means the normal shortening response happens and people awe and admire the massive weight EC pulls on a daily basis.

The second is as a protective means. A joint that may be unstable or a step away from being injured could cause the body to contract muscles around it in a protective “casting” method that restricts movement in the joint and calls up muscles that may cross more than one joint. An example of this would be the psoas tensing in response to anterior lumbar instability. The runners with chronic hip flexor pain and a forward lean when they pound the pavement, but who stretch their hip flexors (usually poorly and into spinal extension) 3 times a day for 20 years and still have tight hip flexors are a prime example of this. They stretch but don’t improve stability, so the psoas continues to hate life.

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The third is in response to nervous system tone, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic is best exemplified by that one kid who is always bouncing and tapping their foot, can’t seem to sit still, and always wants to run and jump everywhere, whereas parasympathetic would be the stoner who looks perennially half asleep. If you’re constantly jacked up like a cheerleader on a mixture of crack and RedBull, flexibility won’t be a strong suit of yours, even though you could probably pull a tractor with your teeth or scare old women and small children.

The Ultimate Warrior was definitely NOT parasympathetic, nor was he likely to be hitting the splits anytime soon, but he could always bring the house down.

If you’re constantly a ball of stress, your muscles will be in a constant state of “kind of on,” which is to say their contraction is like lights on a dimmer switch. They’re not all the way on, but they’re not off either, they’re just “kind of on.” Being all jacked up all the time might sound cool, but in reality it tends to cause some issues if you can’t turn it down once in a while.

Lastly, and one of the most simple of all, is alignment. If you have a muscle held in a stretched position, it’s going to reflexively increase tension to prevent the muscle from stretching too far and potentially creating an injury.

I know it’s kind of counterintuitive that a chronically stretched muscle would be tight, but consider the effects of something like low back erector muscles and posterior pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is tucked under like Steve Urkel (I’m dating myself here, but it’s a fun game trying to confuse the 20 year olds), the erectors are already on stretch without having to do anything, plus they’re contracting to keep your spine from sliding further into extension. Trying to touch your toes will result in embarrassing results.

So now that you know why muscles can be tight, we can work on them and produce much better results.

Strategy #1: Change your breathing.

One of the first things I usually see when someone tries to stretch into a bigger range of motion than they’re used to is that they wind up holding their breath. This works against you in two ways. First, when you hold your breath, you crank up your sympathetic system, which drives more neural tone to all muscles of the body and causes reflexive tensing. Second, by not breathing you pressurize the entire thoracic spine: all of the intercostal muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, and even your obliques tense to help increase intrathoracic pressure against that held breath. This causes muscles to hold tension even more.

In many instances, people will hit an end range of motion while holding their breath, and I tell them to breathe. They, in turn, gasp like they just surfaced from diving with Jacques Cousteau, and wind up getting another few inches into their range.

When trying to get range of motion, long deep inhalations and exhalations where you reach on the exhale makes a massive difference. The length of the breath increases stimulation of the vagal nerve, which is responsive to the heart and drives cardiac rate and parasympathetic stimulation into the medulla oblongata, and as a result muscle tension reduction through the whole body. Lower heart rates means a less energy demanding system, which is commonly results in lower arousal, meaning less tense muscles at rest.

Here’s a simple breathing drill you could do to help increase your overall mobility through your shoulders and hips.


Timely to give Eric a baby breathing exercise, huh?

Try this out: Test your toe touch ability and range of motion bringing your arms up over your head. Make a note of both how far you get and also how easy they both felt. One way to gauge overhead range is to stand against a wall, then bring your arms up overhead without arching your low back, and either mark the wall or make a mental note as to how high you bring your arms. Try the breathing drill and then retest your mobility and see whether it resulted in any changes.

Strategy #2: Build stability to create mobility.

As I noted earlier with respect to stability, if a joint is perceived as unstable and potentially about to be injured, the body will clamp down muscles around it. One way to see this in a graphic manner is to look at hip rotation and core function.

Try this out and see what happens: From a seated position, turn your hips side to side and see whether you have good rotational range of motion through both external rotation (where you look at the inside of your knee) or internal rotation (where you look at the outside of your knee). If you find you have poor external rotation, try doing a hard front plank and then retest. If you find you have a poor internal rotation, hit up a side plank and see what happens. Here's the test:

Here's the front plank:

Here's the side plank:

If you noticed a big increase in mobility, you likely had your hips putting on the brakes and donating some stability up to the lumbar spine. By reinstating some of that stability, the hips opened up and had lots of freedom since they weren’t working double time anymore.

Strategy #3: Change alignment from the bottom up.

Foot position can play a massive role in how well you move. Most people who tend to be flat footed wind up with tibial internal rotation, which results in internally rotated femurs. This rotation increases tension through the anterior hips and up the chain further which reduces the range of motion for overhead movements. It also reduces the force production capability through the legs, which makes you less awesome.

If you roll to the outside of the foot, more supination, you increase tension through the posterior aspect of the hip and pushes you into more external rotation, which reduces the amount of internal rotation your have available, and also reduces your ability to move freely down into hip flexion.

Use this little test and see what happens: stand up and roll your feet so that you put most of your weight on the inside, in line with the big toe, and bring your arms overhead and then touch your toes. Make a not of how high and low you go and also how easy they felt. Then roll to the outside of your feet, more weight on the baby toe side of the foot, and see what the movement results are looking like. You might find it’s different in each example, and will showcase how foot position can affect your overall mobility.

Strategy #4: Change alignment from the top down.

Neck position can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, and it plays down in a couple of simple anatomical means. For the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up. If you stand with your head jammed into the back of your neck, you’ll have some smashed up pteryhyoid and stylohyoid muscles, which will alter (not necessarily improve or decrease, but alter) the ability to move the arms around.

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Secondary to this, head position will play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord. The chord has the ability to slide up and down in the spinal canal in order to adjust for different positions. Since the nerves can’t stretch, they accommodate range differently by moving along with the rest of the body. When you’re in standing and you tuck your chin to your chest, the spinal chord moves up in the spinal canal. When you look up, your give some slack to the chord and it moves slightly lower.

What this means is that if you were to bend down to grab a bar for something like a deadlift, and you tucked your chin, your available range that the spinal chord could allow movement to occur before it was stretched would be less than if you had a neutral neck, and much less than if you were to look ahead slightly. Additionally, if you have any restrictions through areas like the sciatic arch, it will prevent movement of the nerve through this area and make your range of motion somewhat limited.

Try this out: stand tall and tuck your chin to your chest, then try to touch your toes. Right after, keep your head level with the horizon and try to touch your toes again and see where the change in range of motion comes from. If you noticed a pronounced change, it's time to get cracking on "packing the neck" during your training and everyday life.

Strategy #5: Clean up cranky fascial lines.

This is where some voodoo starts creeping in. The body is more than a collection of individual muscles that all connect to bones and do stuff. They have lines of action where multiple muscles along specific pathways will contract and relax together to produce movement. These pathways are visually represented through the work of Thomas Myers in his outstanding book Anatomy Trains, but can be shown in real time with some simple tricks.

One fun fascial line to work with is the spiral line. It’s a really cool powerful series of tissues and muscles that runs from one foot around the spine and connects to the opposing shoulder, both on the front and the back. By “tuning” fascia in the leg, you can see some pretty immediate changes in range of motion at the shoulder.

I showcased this with a live demo in a recent workshop in Los Angeles, where a participant had some shoulder issues. I had Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance fame stretch him into external shoulder rotation, then applied some light pressure to his opposing adductor group to simulate what he would do with foam rolling. Within 5 seconds, he started to get more external rotation, all without me doing anything at his shoulder and with Tony only holding his arm in a position and letting gravity pull him down.

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Try this out: If your shoulders are restricted through external rotation (like laying back to throw a baseball), foam roll your inner thigh, spending time hating life and breathing deep to try to get them to reduce tension and pain, then retest the shoulder external rotation. If you’re restricted through internal rotation, try rolling out your IT bands and see what happens.

Wrap-up

These methods aren’t guaranteed to work for every single person, but they are simple tricks that seem to work well with a lot of people. The good thing is if one of them works really well for you, you could use it on a regular basis to keep your mobility high and to use it in a new way you never had before.

Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 59% off through this Friday (12/12) at midnight.

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Mobility Training

Written on December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been almost ten years since Mike Robertson and I introduced our Magnificent Mobility DVD set. This popular DVD set certainly helped a lot of people, but as with all aspects of the incredibly dynamic strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields, we've learned a lot about mobility over the past decade. In other words, there are a lot of things I do differently with my training programs these days. I mean, seriously, I looked like I was 12 years old in this video.

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Very simply, mobility is one's ability to reach a desired position or posture. Because many folks erroneously confused it with flexibility (range of motion at a specific joint), the industry as a whole trended toward labeling all mobility issues as true shortness of tissues that crossed the joint(s) in question. As the years have progressed, though, we've smartened up to realize that folks may struggle to get to specific positions because of joint structure (e.g., femoroacetabular impingement), insufficient stiffness at adjacent joints (e.g., poor core control "presenting" as bad hip mobility), density (rather than just length) of the aforementioned tissues that cross the joint, and a host of other factors. To be more succinct, mobility is dependent on much, much more than just tissue length!

With that in mind, I thought I'd highly a few game-changers I've picked up on the mobility front over the years. This post is especially timely, as Dean Somerset's great new product, Ruthless Mobility, is on sale this week at a great introductory 59% off discount.

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1. Soft tissue work is important, even if we don’t know exactly why.

I'm honestly entertained when I hear someone insist that foam rolling is the devil, and we should never do it. People feel and move better after they do it, and it always seems to improve the quality of mobility initiatives that take place subsequently.

I certainly don't think it's truly mechanically breaking down scar tissue, but it's absolutely transiently reducing stiffness in the targeted tissues via one or more of a number of other mechanisms. Just because we can't explain them in complete certainty doesn't mean that "good" isn't being done.

2. Breathing can reduce bad stiffness and establish good stiffness.

This point could also be called, "The yoga folks have been right about breathing for a long time."

It's not uncommon to incorporate positional breathing drills that will transiently improve both flexibility and mobility. To me, that's an indicator that we're both reducing bad stiffness and establishing good stiffness. As an example, take all fours breathing in a flexed position:

I've utilized this with athletes and seen supine shoulder flexion range of motion increase by 10-15 degrees in a matter of 15-20 seconds without actually stretching the shoulder anywhere near its end-range. Additionally, scapular upward rotation (which takes place against gravity) usually improves a bit, presumably because of both the increased recruitment of serratus anterior and reduced downward pull of the lats. Again, this is very much a theory, but it's consistently being tested with great results in our training each day. And, it's much easier than doing loads of manual therapy and time-consuming static stretching (although there are still places for both of those initiatives).

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3. Not everyone conforms to the joint-by-joint approach.

The joint-by-joint approach was first introduced by Gray Cook and developed further by Mike Boyle. The concept is very sound: the body is a system of joints/segments that alternate in the need for mobility or stability. For instance, the ankles need mobility, the knees need stability, the hips need mobility, the lumbar spine needs stability, the thoracic spine needs mobility, the scapula needs stability, etc. This all makes a ton of sense, especially in the general population that is more predictable.

However, there are some glaring exceptions to this rule. You'll see folks with hypermobile hips, and excessively stiff lumbar spine segments. You'll observe thoracic spines that are so flat/extended that they shouldn't be mobilized, and shoulder blades that are so locked down that they demand more mobility training to achieve optimal function. Shoulders and elbows can really go either way.

The point is not that the joint-by-joint approach doesn't hold water; it's actually a tremendously useful paradigm I use on a daily basis. Rather, the point is that you can't "one-size-fits-all your mobility approaches." Everyone needs something slightly different, and every joint really needs a combination of mobility and stability.

4. A lot of people mistake laxity (or, worse yet, instability) for mobility.

Building on my last point, you'll find a lot of people who have so much congenital laxity that they don't need any stretching. Their mobility training is really a matter of attention to soft tissue quality and stability training.

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The problem with these folks is that they can often "cheat the tests." For example, they might have unbelievably perfect overhead squats and shoulder mobility to the naked eye, but if you actually pair these tests up with stability-oriented screens, they may fall well short of what you'd deem "acceptable" movement.

Instability - or an acquired, excessive joint range of motion - is even more problematic. This is where folks will literally "blow out" their normal anatomy to acquire a desired range of motion. An example is the anterior shoulder capsule in throwers; they'll do whatever they can to get the arm back to help generate range-of-motion to support velocity production. Eventually, the shoulder can get so loose that the active restraints (rotator cuff and biceps tendon) can't effectively hold the ball on the socket, and pain occurs with throwing.

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In consideration of both laxity and instability, just because you can get to a position does not mean that you're sufficiently stable in that position.

5. Building and maintaining mobility is like managing a bank account.

It goes without saying that it's easier to maintain mobility than it is to lose it and get it back. Everyone uses the analogy of babies and young children having freaky range of motion and perfect squat patterns, but losing them as time progresses. The assumption is that this occurs because they "make enough deposits:" targeted mobility work and a wide variety of activities throughout their days. Certainly, this is an issue, but I'd argue that it's because of excessive withdrawals, too.

Withdrawals could be sports participation where eccentric stress or direct trauma to tissue beats them down. It could be lifestyle factors like alcohol or tobacco use that negatively impact tissue quality. It could be pushing through faulty movement patterns until bone spurs result. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.

We all start with some money in the bank as children, but it's up to us to have more deposits than withdrawals in this mobility account over the course of the lifespan.

These are really just a few of many observations I've made over the years; there are countless more that could turn this article into an entire novel! With that said, if you're looking for an outstanding, up-to-date mobility resource at a great price, I'd recommend you check out Ruthless Mobility. Dean Somerset has put it on sale this week at an excellent introductory discount, and it also provides continuing education credits for the fitness professionals out there. Check it out HERE.

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Black Friday/Cyber Monday Reminders

Written on November 30, 2014 at 11:24 pm, by Eric Cressey

I just wanted to post a quick heads-up on some Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales:

1. The entire Functional Stability Training series is on sale for 25% off. To get the discount, just head to www.FunctionalStability.com and enter the coupon code BF2014 at checkout.

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2. Optimal Shoulder Performance is on sale for 25% off using the same BF2014 coupon code.

3. Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility are all on sale for 20% off. Your best bet for adding them to your cart is through Mike Robertson's product page. The discount is automatically applied; you don't need a coupon code.

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Thanks for your support!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/26/14

Written on November 26, 2014 at 7:17 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone is having a great week and is excited for a great Thanksgiving. It might be a holiday week, but it's still super busy at the new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL. Luckily, I've got some great content from around the web to share with you.

The Cost of Getting Lean - The Precision Nutrition crew gives you the cold hard facts on what it takes to get to and maintain the body composition you desire.

Foam Rolling Isn't Stretching, but It's Still Important - Dean Somerset delves into the potential mechanisms of action for foam rolling.

How to Fit Core Stability Exercises into Strength and Conditioning Programs: Part 1 and Part 2 - I wrote this two-part article back in 2011 when Mike Reinold and I released Functional Stability Training of the Core, the first in the three-part FST series. Since they're all on sale for 25% off this week, it seemed like a great time to bring these posts back from the archives.

For more information on this sale, check out www.FunctionalStability.com. It wraps up this upcoming Monday at midnight.

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Why Wait Until Friday for a Sale?

Written on November 24, 2014 at 9:50 pm, by Eric Cressey

Everyone on the planet has a sale this Friday, so Mike Reinold and I figured we'd get the week started a few days early.

From now through the end of the day this upcoming (Cyber) Monday, you can pick up any of the Functional Stability Training Products and Optimal Shoulder Performance for 25% off. Just enter the coupon code BF2014 at checkout and the discount will be applied.

Click here to check out the Functional Stability Training series.

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Click here to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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Don't miss out on this great chance to get our popular products at a big discount! And, stay tuned, as I'll have a few more sales later in the week.

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The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery

Written on November 23, 2014 at 4:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's interesting how folks like to pigeonhole people into specific specialties. Over the years, I've been called "The Shoulder Guy." I've also heard "The Deadlift Guy" and "The Mobility Guy." And, if you talked to my wife, she'd probably call me "the guy who can't empty the dishwasher without getting distracted."

The truth is that expertise is in the eyes of the beholder. And, since this is my blog, let it be known the I really see myself as "The Meatball Guy," and I'd prefer to "be holding" a meatball.

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Being a meatball connoisseur isn't just a gift, though. Much like any proficiency, it's a craft I've worked tirelessly to hone. And, while my closest friends and family are very supportive of my meatball pursuits, the truth is that not everyone understands. As an example, my phone rang the other night as my wife and I were preparing a meatball extravaganza. One of our Major League Baseball clients was calling, and it went like this:

Me: "What's up, bud?"

Him: "Nothing. What are you up to?"

Me: "You know, the usual. Just eating some meatballs."

Him: "Dude, you have to find a new meal!"

Find a new meal? Seriously? Maybe he should "just" take up playing professional football instead of baseball! And, maybe Bobby Fischer should have "just" played checkers instead of chess! Me walking away from meatballs at age 33 - the prime of my meatball career - would be analogous to Barry Sanders walking away from football healthy at age 30 after ten consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. It just wouldn't make sense. I want to change the world, one meatball at a time.

Recognizing this, today's post is about recognizing those who have helped me achieve this level of meatball expertise, but also offering key advice to the up-and-coming meatball aficionados. To that end, I present to you the 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery.

Law #1: Meatball Mastery does not occur without the help of others, so you must be open-minded.

As shocking as it may seem, I did not invent the meatball. Rather, I've stood on the shoulders of a few meatball giants who've provided my top three "go-to" healthy meatball recipes. Here they are:

1. Everyday Paleo Marvelous Meatballs (Sarah Fragoso) - These are great for a numbers of reasons, the foremost being that they are a) meat and b) in a ball shape. Beyond that, I like the fact that I get to use a lot of stuff from the spice rack that I might not otherwise use.

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2. Everyday Maven Paleo Pesto Meatballs - I'm a sucker for pesto, but unfortunately, it almost always comes in really high calorie Italian Food recipes. This is a nice alternative. Candidly, we generally make these with ground turkey instead of ground beef and add a bunch of spinach and onions. It tastes awesome, but doesn't always stick together as well as you see with ground beef, presumably since the fat content is a bit lower.

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3. Anabolic Cooking Baked Meatballs - I like this recipe because I'm a big oregano fan, and the oat bran gives a little different texture than using almond flour. This recipe is featured in Dave Ruel's Anabolic Cooking, an awesome healthy recipe cookbook I highly recommend. Fortunately, Dave is a good friend of mine, and was kind enough to give me permission to post the recipe here (click to enlarge):

BakedMeatballs

Law #2: Meatballs are a form of artistic expression.

We've been conditioned to believe that meatballs should just be a few different ingredients: meat, bread crumbs, and eggs - basically whatever it takes to make things stick together. This is like saying that a good gym should just be full of cardio machines and nothing else.

Instead, we load our meatballs up with all sorts of vegetables and spices. In terms of vegetables alone, we might include celery, onions, spinach, carrots, and peppers. Try adding these, and you'll get a heck of a lot more nutritional value - and get to feel like you're creating a completely unique piece of meatball art each time you cook.

Law #3: Meatballs can (and should) be used for special occasions and as gifts.

Meatballs aren't just a versatile food choice; they're also a gift for every occasion. I made a "meat-heart" for Valentine's Day for my wife, in fact. We're still married, so I have to assume that she loved it.

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And, what birthday would be completely without blowing out the candle on a meatball?

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I also like to incorporate meatballs into the celebration of Labor Day, Arbor Day, and Presidents' Day. And, I fully expect a meatball feast in celebration of my first Father's Day this upcoming June. Meatballs are the gifts that keep on giving.

Law #4: As with a fine wine and dinner, accompaniments matter with meatballs.

If you think meatballs can only be eaten with spaghetti, you're missing out. Some of our favorite meatball sides include baked kale chips, spaghetti squash, brussel sprouts, and sweet potato fries. Experiment and you'll find your favorite pairings.

Law #5: Don't even consider store-bought meatballs.

Next time you walk through the frozen foods section of your local supermarket, take a look at some of the pre-prepared meatball options. In most cases, they will include several ingredients you can't pronounce. When it comes to meatball ingredients, with the exception of eggs, if it wasn't green and didn't have eyes, it shouldn't belong in your meatball. This leads me to Law #6...

Law #6:  Meatballs must actually have meat.

As is often the case in mass food production these days, "soy protein concentrate" and "texturized soy flour" somehow managed to make their way into MEATballs. If you think this is limited to only the store-bought frozen versions, think again.

I like Whole Foods, including their hot foods bar. Unfortunately, one of the things I like the most about them is the fact that they display their ingredients - and it gets them in my doghouse with respect to meatballs. I'd love to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it's tough to do so after this Twitter exchange...

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Please don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Meatballs shouldn't include "filler" materials, especially when sold at WHOLE Foods.

Law #7: Meatballs must meet a minimum size threshold.

As I showed in my picture earlier, any respectable meatball should be large enough to be eaten like an apple during the "leftovers" period. If it's small enough to be eaten put on a toothpick without that toothpick breaking, then you're really just dipping your foot in the shallows of a vast meatball ocean. Go big or go home.

Law #8: Meatballs bring the world together.

Last year, I attended John Romaniello and Neghar Fonooni's wedding in New York. At the reception, they had a meatball bar that featured four different types of awesomeness. Combined, Jason Ferruggia, Adam Bornstein, Sean Hyson, and I consumed approximately 600 of them. While it was probably a horrific experience for the terrified caterers that looked on, it's strengthened our friendships. Come to think of it, in communicating with these guys over the past year, I don't think we've had a single conversation or email exchange that didn't involve meatballs.

The next time you've got an old friend with whom you've want to reconnect, send him some meatballs as an icebreaker. If he's not more than thrilled at the gesture, then he's probably not worth the effort, anyway.

Law #9: Meatballs do not require bread crumbs.

Historically, bread crumbs have been a key inclusion in both meatballs and meatloaf because they help to hold everything together. Thanks in large part to the gluten-free and paleo trends, we've learned that almond and coconut flour (or meal) are healthier ways to hold things together.

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As a quick tip, it's cheaper to buy your almond flour in bulk than it is to buy individual bags at the grocery store. We order four pounds at a time on Amazon.

Law #10: Meatballs are meant to be shared.

If there was ever a food to selfishly guard for yourself, the meatball would be it. That just wouldn't be right, though; meatballs are best enjoyed in the company of others.

Moreover, meatball recipes are meant to be shared, too. Have a favorite way of enjoying them? Please share it in the comments section below.

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