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My Top 5 Powerlifting Mistakes

Written on July 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

With this week's release of Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide, I got to thinking about some of my biggest mistakes with respect to developing the Big 3 (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Here are the top five mistakes I made in my powerlifting career:

1. Going to powerlifting equipment too soon (or at all).

Let me preface this point by saying that I have a tremendous amount of respect for all powerlifters, including those who lift in powerlifting equipment like bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits. Honestly, they just weren't for me.

I first got into a bench shirt when I was 160 pounds, and my best raw bench press was about 240-250 pounds. I was deadlifting in the high 400s, and squatting in the mid 300s. In hindsight, it was much too soon; I simply needed to develop more raw strength. My squat and bench press went up thanks to the suit and shirt, respectively, but just about everything I unracked felt insanely heavy. I just don't think I had enough training experience under my belt without any supportive equipment to feel truly stable under big weights. It's funny, though; my heaviest deadlifts never felt like this, as it was the "rawest" of any of the big 3 lifts for me.

There's more, though. Suits and shirts were just an annoying distraction for me. I absolutely hated the time and nuisance of having to put them on in the middle of a lift; training sessions easily dragged on to be three hours, when efficiency was something I'd always loved about my training. Perhaps more significantly, getting proficient with equipment took a lot of time and practice, and the more I was in it, the less athletic I felt. I spent too much time box squatting and not enough free squatting, and felt like I never developed good bottom-end bench press strength because the shirt did so much of the work for me.

At the end of my equipped powerlifting career, I had squatted 540, bench pressed 402, deadlifted 650, and totaled 1532 in the 165-pound weight class. Good numbers - enough to put me in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 for a few years in a row - but not quite "Elite." I tentatively "retired" from competitive powerlifting in December of 2007 when Cressey Sports Performance grew rapidly, but kept training - this time to be athletic and have fun.

For the heck of it, in the fall of 2012, I decided to stage a "raw" mock meet one morning at the facility. At a body weight of 180, I squatted 455, bench pressed 350, and deadlifted 630 for a 1435 total. In other words, I totaled "Elite" by 39 pounds...and did the entire thing in 90 minutes.

Looking back, I think I could have been a much more accomplished competitive lifter - and saved money and enjoyed the process a lot more along the way - if I'd just stuck with raw lifting. Again, I don't fault others for using bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits, but they just weren't for me.  I would just say that if you do decide to go the equipped route, you should be prepared to spend a lot more time in your equipment than I did, as my dislike of it (and lack of time spent in it) was the reason that I never really got proficient enough to thrive with it in meets.

2. Not understanding that fatigue masks fitness.

Kelly Baggett was the first person I saw post the quote, "Fatigue masks fitness." I thought I understand what it meant, but it wasn't until my first powerlifting meet that I experienced what it meant.

Thanks to a powerlifting buddy's urging, I went out of my way to take the biggest deload in my training career prior to my first meet. The end result? I pulled 510 on my last deadlift attempt - after never having pulled more than 480 in the gym.

You're probably stronger than you realize you are. You've just never given your body enough of a rest to actually demonstrate that strength.

3. Not getting around strong people sooner.

I've been fortunate to lift as part of some great training crews, from the varsity weight room at UCONN during my grad degree, to Southside Gym in Connecticut for a year, to Cressey Sports Performance for the past seven years.

When I compare these training environments to the ones I had in my early days - or even what I experience when I have to get a lift in on the road at a commercial gym - I can't help but laugh. Training around the right people in the right atmosphere makes a huge difference.

To that end, beyond just finding the right program, I always encourage up-and-coming lifters to seek out strong people for training partners, even if it means traveling a bit further to a different gym. Success happens at the edge of your comfort zone, and sometimes that means a longer commute and being the weakest guy in a room.

4. Spending too much time in the "middle zone" of cardio.

A lot of powerlifters will tell you that "cardio sucks." I happen to think it's a bit more complex than that.

Doing some quality work at a very low intensity (for me, this is below 70% of max heart rate) a few times a week can offer some very favorable aerobic adaptations that optimize recovery. Sorry, but it's not going to interfere with your gains if you walk on the treadmill a few times a week.

Additionally, I think working in some sprint work with near-full recovery can be really advantageous for folks who are trying to get stronger, as it trains the absolute speed end of the continuum.

As I look back on the periods in my training career when I've made the best progress, they've always included regular low-intensity aerobic work - as well as the occasion (1x/week) sprint session. When did cardio do absolutely nothing except set me back? When I spent a lot of time in the middle zone of 70-90% of max heart rate; it's no man's land! The take-home lesson is that if you want to be strong and powerful, make your low-intensity work "lower" and your high-intensity work "higher."

As an aside, this is where I think most baseball conditioning programs fail miserably; running poles falls right in this middle zone.

5. Thinking speed work had to be "all or nothing."

"Speed work" is one of the more hotly debated topics in the powerlifting world. I, personally, have always really thrived when I included it in my program. If you want to understand what it is and the "why" behind it, you can check out this article I wrote: 5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs.

A lot of people say that it's a waste of time for lifters who don't have an "advanced" level of strength, and that beginners would be better off getting in more rep work. As a beginner, I listened to this advice, and did lots of sets of 5-8 and never really focused on bar speed with lower reps.  The end result? I was slower than death out of the hole on squats, off the chest on bench presses, and off the floor with deadlifts. And, it doesn't take much strength training knowledge to know that if you don't lift a weight fast, your chances of completing that lift aren't particularly good.

To the folks who "poo-poo" speed work, I'd just ask this: do you really think focusing on accelerating the bar is a bad thing?

Here's a wild idea, using bench presses as an example. If a lifter has a heavier bench press day and a more volume/repetition oriented day each week, what would happen if he did an extra 3-4 sets of three reps at 45-70% of 1-rep max load during his warm-up? Would that be a complete waste of time? Absolutely not! In fact, the casual observer would never even notice that it was happening.

The point is that speed work is easy to incorporate and really not that draining. You can still do it and get a ton of other quality work in, so there is really no reason to omit it. Having great bar speed will never hurt your cause, but not training it certainly can.

Looking to avoid these mistakes and many more - all while taking the guesswork out of your squat, bench press, and deadlift training? Check out The Specialization Success Guide, a new resource from Cressey Sports Performance Coach Greg Robins and me. This comprehensive product to bring up the "Big 3" is on sale at at $30 off introductory price this week only.  You can learn more HERE.

SSG

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12 Weeks to a Bigger Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift

Written on July 15, 2014 at 5:49 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm happy to announce to my new product - a collaborative effort with Cressey Sports Performance coach and regular EricCressey.com contributor Greg Robins - is now available. If you're looking to improve on the Big 3 - squat, bench press, and deadlift - this resource is for you! Check it out: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.

SSG

This resource includes three separate 12-week specialization programs to improve one of the "Big 3" lifts, and it's accompanied by a 140+ exercise video database and detailed video coaching tutorials on squat, bench press, and deadlift technique. To sweeten the deal, we've got two free bonuses available if you purchase this week at the introductory price.

“As a former international athlete, The Specialization Success Guide gave me the structure I needed to not only get back into form, but has put me on track to crush my previous PRs across the board. Currently squatting 565, benching 385 and deadlifting 620, I am stronger, more mobile, and happy to report that my only regret is not having started this program earlier. SSG has been a game changer for me and I am excited to see where it takes me next!”

Jake S.
Needham, MA


“The Specialization Success Guide is legit! This program is ideal for those who want to get stronger, put on lean muscle, and improve their major lifts. The simplicity makes the program easy to follow and the exercise video library ensures everything is done right. Within the simplicity of the program you will find specific details that will target weak areas of your lifts to get you closer to your goals.

“Prior to running the SSG, Greg had been writing my programs for a year and a half using the same principles and philosophies you will find in The Specialization Success Guide. Greg’s programing has helped me add over 50 pounds to my back squat and a recent PR squat of 420lbs (2.2x my body weight), and I will be closing in on a triple body weight deadlift soon thanks to insights from him and Eric – just as you’ll find in this manual on the Big 3.”

Dave R.
Seattle, WA

Again, this resource - which comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee - is only on sale at the introductory $30 off price this week, so don't miss out. Click the following link to learn more: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.


Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 59

Written on July 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's time to rock and roll with a new installment of quick tips you can put into action with your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs:

1. Enjoy some cherries!

Cherries are in-season right now in the Northeast, and my wife and I have been enjoying them regularly. In addition to being really tasty and loaded with nutrients and some fiber, there is actually a bit of research to suggest that eating them may help us overcome muscular soreness. Granted, working around the cherry pits is a bit of a pain in the butt - especially if you want to use them in a shake - but it's still worth the effort. Enjoy!

cherry

2. Watch baggy shorts with kettlebell swings.

Rugby players and female athletes excluded, most athletes prefer longer shorts that are a bit baggier these days. I don't anticipate a return to the era of Rocky and Apollo anytime soon, so it's important to appreciate this fashion sense and coach accordingly.

The biggest issue with baggy shorts is that they can get in the way on exercises like kettlebell swings and pull-throughs where you want to keep the weighted implement (kettlebell or rope/cable) close to the family jewels. When the shorts are too baggy, they can actually get in the way.  With that in mind, when an athlete is wearing baggy shorts and performing these exercises, it's best to have him folder over the waistband a bit so that the material won't block the movement path.

3. Find your biggest windows of adaptation.

Dr. John Berardi gave a great presentation at the Perform Better Summit in Chicago last weekend, and while there were a lot of outstanding points, one stood out the most for me. While "JB" is an incredibly bright guy with seemingly infinite knowledge, he never overcomplicates things when counseling folks on the nutrition side of things.  In fact, he stressed fixing the most glaring problems for individuals before even considering anything more "sexy." On the nutrition side of things, it might be as simple as correcting vitamin/mineral deficiencies, getting omega-3 fatty acids in, improving hydration status, or eating protein at every meal.  When things like these are out of whack, it doesn't matter what your macronutrient ratios or, or whether you eat two or six times per day.

It got me to thinking about how we can best apply this to training. One thing that popped to mind: a lot of people jump to advanced training strategies when they simply haven't gotten strong in the first place. If you are a male and only bench press 135 pounds, you don't need wave loading, drop sets, German Volume training, or accommodating resistances; you just need to show up and keep adding weight to the bar each week with straight sets, as boring as they may seem. And, if you aren't training very hard or frequently enough, you need to increase your effort, not find a fancier program.

Likewise, there are a lot of people who look to add, add, and add to their training volume, but never pay attention to recovery. If you're sleeping three hours a night or eating a horrible diet, a lack of training volume probably isn't what is keeping you from reaching your goals.

The takeaway message is that everyone has different windows of adaptation where they can improve. And, what a novice lifter needs is usually much different than what an experienced trainee should incorporate.

4. If you're going to sprint, start on the grass.

It's an awesome time of year to get out and do your conditioning in the beautiful weather. For me, this means I get to get outside and do longer sprints than I can do the rest of the year when the weather is less than stellar and I'm limited to a 45-yard straightaway at the facility. A common mistake I see among folks at this time of year, though, is heading right out to the track or an even more unforgiving surface: pavement. If you want to start sprinting, grass is your best friend - and it's even better if you can find a slight hill up which you can sprint. For more tips on this front, check out my old article, So You Want to Start Sprinting?

5. Try some band-resisted broad jumps before deadlifting.

Whenever I'm not feeling so hot when I first go to deadlift, it's usually because I just haven't warmed up thoroughly enough. I've found that the bar speed almost always seems to "come around" when I add in a few sets of plyos before returning to try deadlifts again. Without a doubt, my favorite option on this front is band-resisted broad jumps:

These are a great option because they offer a little bit of resistance to push you more toward the strength-speed end of the continuum, but perhaps more importantly, the band reduces the stress you encounter on landing, as it effectively deloads you. Next time you're dragging and it's time to deadlift, try two sets of five jumps.

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Back Squat Technique: How to Find the Right Grip

Written on July 2, 2014 at 5:50 am, by Eric Cressey

A lot of lifters struggle to find the right hand position on the bar during back squats; in many cases, it's because there are physical limitations blocking them from getting where they want to be - and doing so pain-free. Check out today's video to learn more:

Looking for more technique coaching cues and insights like this? Check out Greg Robins' "Optimizing the Big Three" seminar at Cressey Performance on August 24.

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Upcoming Seminar: Optimizing the Big Three

Written on June 30, 2014 at 9:28 am, by Eric Cressey

We're excited to announce that Cressey Performance staff member and accomplished powerlifter Greg Robins will be delivering a one-day seminar on August 24, 2014 at our facility in Hudson, MA. This event is a great fit for lifters who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift - and may want to powerlift competitively.

robins

Overview:

"Optimizing the Big Three" is a one-day seminar geared towards those looking to improve the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Split into both a lecture and hands on format, the event will provide attendees with practical coaching on the technique of the classic power lifts, as well as valuable information on how to specialize movement preparation, utilize supplementary movements, and organize their training around a central focus: improved strength in these "big three" movements.

Furthermore, Greg will touch upon the lessons learned in preparation for your first few meets, to help you navigate everything from equipment selection, to meet-day logistics.

The value in learning from Greg is a matter of perspective. He has a wealth of knowledge, and experience stemming from various experiences as a coach and lifter. Greg will effectively shed light on how he has applied human movement principles, athletic performance modalities, and anecdotal evidence from working with a plethora of different populations to one main goal; optimizing the technique, health, and improvements in strength of amateur lifters.

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Seminar Agenda:

8:30-9:00AM: Check-in/Registration

9:00-10:00AM: Mechanics, Technique, and Cueing Of the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift - In this lecture Greg will break down the biomechanics of each movement, how to optimize technique, and what to consider both as a coach and lifter in teaching / learning the movements.

10:00-11:00AM: Managing the Strength Athlete: Assessing and Meeting the Demands of the Lifter - Learn what demands a high amount of volume in the classic lifts puts on the body, how to assess for it in others and yourself, and what you can do to manage the stress associated with these demands.

11:00-11:15AM: Break

11:15AM-12:45PM: General Programming Considerations for Maximal Strength - Take a look inside Greg’s head at his approach to organizing the training of a lifter. Topics will include various periodization schemes, and utilizing supplementary and accessory movements within the program as a whole.

12:45-1:45PM: Lunch (on your own)

1:45-2:15PM: Preparing for Your First Meet - Based off his own experiences, and knowledge amassed from spending time around some of the best in the sport, Greg will share some poignant information on what to expect and how to prepare for your first meet.

2:15-3:30PM: Squat Workshop

3:30-4:45PM: Bench Press Workshop

4:45-6:00PM: Deadlift Workshop 

Date/Location:

August 24, 2014

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

CP3

Cost:

Early Bird (before July 24)  – $149.99
Regular (after July 24) - $199.99

Note: we'll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction - particularly during the hands-on workshop portion - so be sure to register early, as this will fill up quickly.

Registration:

Sorry, this event is SOLD OUT! Please contact cspmass@gmail.com to get on the waiting list for the next time it's offered.

About the Presenter

Greg Robins is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance. His writing has been published everywhere from Men's Health, to Men's Fitness, to Juggernaut Training Systems, to EliteFTS, to T-Nation. As a raw competitive powerlifter, Greg has competition bests of 560 squat, 335 bench press, and 625 deadlift for a 1520 total.


What Cirque du Soleil Can Teach You About How to Build Muscle

Written on June 28, 2014 at 3:34 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm in Chicago to speak at the Perform Better Summit this weekend, but fortunately, my good friend Chad Waterbury provided this guest post for today. Enjoy! -EC

In 2001, I went with a buddy to Vegas. I wish I could say the trip was replete with all the temptations that Sin City had to offer, but it was strictly business.

At the time, I had a packed personal training calendar that kept me busy from dawn to dusk. Most of my clients were guys that wanted to build muscle, so I had them do a combination of heavy and high-rep training to failure.

That’s how bodybuilding protocols worked back then, and most of them still do today. I made my clients work hard and they trained each major muscle group about twice per week.

Now this is where my Vegas trip comes in.

That year I went to see the Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere. Many of my clients had seen the popular show and they mentioned that I should make a point to attend, mainly because of two heavily-muscled gymnastics that display mind-blowing feats of strength: the Alexis Brothers.

As my brain assimilated what I was seeing. I remember feeling blown away. What astonished me most weren’t the incredible routines they did, even though they were the coolest and most impressive things I’d ever seen.

Nope, I was absolutely shocked by the frequency they had to perform that routine. These guys were doing 10 shows per week!

What the Alexis brothers were doing defied all the “laws” of training and recovery I’d been taught in college, textbooks, and online write-ups. That moment I had an epiphany, if you will: I was going to have my clients train their underdeveloped muscles with a higher frequency. I was determined to figure out just how often a person with average genetics could stimulate a muscle group and still recover.

Eleven years later, in 2012, I had accumulated a huge amount of data on frequent training that I was ready to share. So, I released my High Frequency Training (HFT) training system to teach my audience how to build muscle using this approach.

My approach for HFT was pretty simple. First, you would choose an exercise you could do for anywhere from 12-20 reps before failure. Then you would perform a target number of total reps each day, say, 50. Finally, you would add a rep each day over the course of a few months.

It was a very good system, especially with exercises such as the pull-up, and many people gained a lot of muscle from it.

However, I still felt I could make HFT better. So over the last two years I continued to experiment with different training protocols while taking in the feedback from those who were following HFT.

What did I learn? A whole lot. Now my frequent training plans are shorter, and more specialized for each major muscle group. There are three components for making a frequent training plan work for you.

1. Understand whether a muscle responds best to high or low reps: The biceps won’t grow with high rep training; if they did, collegiate rowers would have massive guns. The quadriceps, however, will definitely grow with high reps – just ask any cyclist.

2. Stimulate the muscle group as quickly as possible: When you start working a muscle more often the last thing you want to do is spend more time in the gym. Plus, if the extra workouts are too long you’ll burn out fast. You must stimulate that muscle as quickly as possible, and it doesn’t take long if you know what to do.

Here’s one example for the pecs:

Push-up Iso-Squeeze: Get in the top position of a push-up, then attempt to pull your hands together as intensely as possible for 10 seconds (any longer than that and you won’t be recruiting the largest motor units).

HFT-pu-pic

Do 5 sets of that iso-squeeze with two minutes rest between sets every other day. It works!

3. Spare the joints: All forms of exercise stress the joints, but some do more than others. If you start doing an overhead triceps extension or leg curl every day, you’ll run into joint problems in a hurry. That’s why my latest muscle-building system, HFT2, incorporates instructional videos so you can learn how to best spare the joints and target the muscles.

As an example. Here’s how I spare the knees for the Goblet Squat:

Keep these three points in mind as you train with a higher frequency and you’ll get much better results.

Note from EC: we've already started experimenting with some of Chad's ideas on the high frequency training front, and I think it has tremendous merit. If you're looking for some direction to take the guesswork out of these applications, I'd encourage you to check out Chad's new resource, High Frequency Training 2, which is on sale through Tuesday at midnight.

HFT2


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Supplementation Without Evidence: How to Approach Things that *Might* Work Intelligently

Written on June 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today, we've got a guest post from Kamal Patel on the ever-controversial topic of supplementation. Kamal was instrumental in creating the great new resource, the Examine.com Stacks Guide. Enjoy! -EC

Science is a process used to uncover the truth, or at least get as close to the truth as possible. It isn’t the only option out there, but it is definitely the best one currently available to us and has served humanity very well.

Thing is, with all the praise science gets (deservingly so), people sometimes forget it is a process. Just because something is “unproven” does not mean it’s crap - it just means that enough research hasn’t been conducted. People are too quick to think that “proven” is synonymous with “effective” and that “unproven” is synonymous with “not effective.”

Consider creatine. We all know that it works for increasing power output because of the mountain of evidence and anecdotes for it, but what if we went back in time to 5 years before creatine had human evidence? What if we also took a few kilograms of our favorite white powder with us in this time machine; would the fact that no evidence existed at this point somehow render the powder completely useless?

No. Things work whether you like them or not, and things fail whether you like them or not. Science just shows us which is which, it doesn’t make them so. The only real difference is in the questions left unanswered.

FlPills

These ‘unproven’ supplements can still be really good, but they have to be approached differently from other ‘proven’ supplements. In the end they are both potential options for your usage, but the body of evidence needs to be considered.

How to approach unproven agents for yourself

When you come across a supplement which looks promising but doesn’t have much evidence for it, ultimately the choice of whether or not to use it is up to you. You can honestly run out and buy anything if you want, but at the least: look into the toxicology of it.

Take something like arginine - if you overdose on it, the side effects are diarrhea. Then you take something like Thunder God Vine, where the side-effect is gradual death of the immune system. Big difference!

How to responsibly approach unproven agents for others

It is difficult to recommend unproven supplements for others because unproven supplements tend to also have less safety data. There’s a difference between modifying your own body and recommending something to someone else. It’s something to approach cautiously.

You can easily tell somebody to “just take 5 grams of creatine a day and forget about it” - since it’s well researched that’s a safe statement. In the case of unproven supplements, you need to read over the evidence with them and let them come to their own decisions. A lot more prudency is needed here.

In the end though, unproven options could be amazing. Take cissus for example (which we’ve talked about here before): the one study on it was conducted in men with work-related muscle and joint soreness (a rare population to get studied in regards to joint health, almost everything is in osteoarthritis) and it has a very good reputation with athletes. It is a prototypical “unproven supplement that could be great but we do not have enough evidence yet.”

Stacking the known and the unknown

It is clear that stacks should be focused primarily around what is known to work and is known to be safe, but given the possibilities out there for personalizing your own stack, you can be smart about it. At the very least learn how to approach these things so you remain safe, add in new compounds so you can clearly attribute what supplement did what, and use a trial and error approach to find what works for you.

Eric said that the question he hates being asked the most is: “What supplements should I take?” That’s pretty much the same question we get: “What supplements should I take for ______?”

And that’s why we created our Stack Guides. It’s not just about “take this” and “don’t take that” - it’s a lot more subtle than that. There are promising supplements out there (like cissus), and you need to be a bit more nuanced than that.

stackbooks

We’re an independent, 100% transparent and unbiased source. Since we don’t sell any supplements, you know that our recommendations are all based on sound science, not us trying to make a quick buck.

Each stack also includes:

  • Stacks catered not only to a goal (ie. fat loss) but also demographics (ie. for people who cannot easily tolerant stimulants)
  • Nonsupplemental tips to help maximize efficacy
  • Practical considerations when dealing with the components, like how to easily avoid minor side-effects of inconveniences
  • Safety information on possible drug-drug interactions (although not all could be mentioned, referring to your medical doctor is still mandatory)
  • Tips to help future supplement additions
  • Free lifetime updates - as new research comes out, the stack guides will be updated accordingly

Note from EC: I've reviewed the resource and it's fantastic. I really could have used something this incredibly thorough when I was an "up and comer"in the industry and blowing far too much money on supplements that simply didn't work. If you're someone who purchases supplements regularly, I view this guide as an investment and not an expense; it'll actually save you a lot of money (especially since it's on sale at an introductory price this week). Click here to learn more.

About the Author

Kamal Patel is the director of Examine.com. He has an MBA and an MPH (Master of Public Health) from Johns Hopkins University, and was pursuing his PhD in nutrition when he opted to go on hiatus to join Examine.com. He is dedicated in making scientific research in nutrition and supplementation accessible to everyone.

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7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum

Written on June 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm, by Eric Cressey

Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Italy, and fitness nuts that we are, we frequented several hotel gyms - none of which were particularly well equipped. Here's the one from hotel in Florence; yes, it was just dumbbells up to 10kg.

photo-63

Immediately upon leaving, I sent an email to Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg (@AndrewZomberg), who I knew was the guy to write up a post on having a great training effect without much equipment. This is what he pulled together; enjoy! -EC

Greater equipment availability generally yields greater efficiency because in order to induce structural or functional adaptations, you have to “force” the body to do so. Unfortunately, getting to a gym is not always feasible. The good news? Resistance training does not always have to depend on cable machines, power racks, and barbells.

Inaccessibility to gym equipment can be discouraging. The good news is that by creating structured programs and discovering new ways to challenge yourself with progressions, you can easily elicit a comparable training effect, just as if you were in a gym. Here are some options:

1. Body Weight Exercises

Undoubtedly, your body weight is the easiest, most accessible piece of equipment to utilize anywhere, anytime. Allowing for a more natural range of motion, body weight exercises enhance spatial awareness and improve the proficiency of movements since no other load is being used.

Progression: Alter the range of motion by increasing the total distance of the movement. For example, when doing a push-up, rather than keeping your feet in contact with the floor, try elevating them to increase stability demands of the core as well as the shoulder girdle. You can also add isometrics to any bodyweight exercise at halfway points and end ranges to impose added stress. You can use tri-sets to keep rest periods short and work in some bonus mobility work.

Sample Bodyweight Workout

Perform each tri-set three times:

A1) Body-Weighted Squats
A2) Push-up
A3) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations

B1) Reverse Lunge
B2) Prone Bridge Arm March
B3) Rocking Ankle Mobilizations

C1) 1-Leg Hip Thrusts off Bench
C2) Side Bridge
C3) Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

2. TRX Suspension Training

Easily portable, this piece of equipment can be anchored almost anywhere and targets virtually every muscle group. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for full-body awareness, as most of the exercises call for optimal body alignment from head to toe. It also places a significant emphasis on the core by challenging your ability to resist unwanted movement in every plane of motion at the lumbar spine.

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Progression: Lengthen the lever arm to reposition your center of mass further from the anchor to increase the total range of motion. Or, slow down the lift to create a greater time under tension effect thus imposing muscular damage for hypertrophy gains.

Sample TRX Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

TRX Anti-Rotation Press: x 8/side
TRX Inverted Row: x 10
TRX Bulgarian Split-Squat: x 8/leg
TRX Push-up: x 8
TRX Fallouts: x 10
TRX Overhead Squat: x 8

On a related note, if you haven't checked out EC's article, 10 Ways to Progress an Inverted Row, it's definitely worth a read!

3. Dumbbell and Kettlebell Exercises

Often found in hotel gyms, these are very affordable for the home or office and provide a wide range of exercise selection. Their biggest advantage is they provide enough options to gain a solid training effect. If the weight selection is too low, you can use higher volume schemes and minimize rest periods. When completing these complexes, execute the exercises without dropping the implement to increase the overall intensity.

DB Progression: Use stability balls, or half and tall kneeling positions to create a greater instability factor. Or, focus on the eccentric portion by taking a few more seconds to lower the weight in order to stress the muscle.

KB Progression: Turn the kettlebell upside down to a “bottoms-up” position to change the dynamic of the exercise. By moving the object’s center of mass further from the rotation (your wrist), you create more instability, forcing co-contractions of all the muscles of the upper extremity.

Sample Dumbbell Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

DB Goblet Squat: x 8
DB Renegade Row: x 8/arm
Offset DB Split-Squat: x 8/side
1-Arm DB Floor Press: x 10/arm
DB Prone Arm Marches: x 6/arm
DB Burpees: 3 x 15

Sample Kettlebell Complex:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

KB Front Squat: x 6/side
KB 1-Arm Row: x 8/arm
KB 1-Arm, 1-Leg RDL: x 8/leg
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm KB OH Press: x 10/arm
KB Swings: x 20
1-Arm KB Bottoms-up Waiter’s Carry: x 25 yards/arm

4. Resistance Bands

Very portable, bands are inexpensive and create an accommodating resistance effect. In other words, where you are biomechanically the weakest, the band will reduce its level of tension at that given position. The same effect will occur as you become biomechanically stronger; the level of tension will increase at that specific range. Bands also allow for direct arm and hip care for deeper muscles that provide the adequate stability for these multi-planar joints.

Progression: Play around with your base of support. Utilizing a narrow stance or tall kneeling position will alter the stability demands, making it more challenging to maintain joint neutrality. Or, add isometrics at the end range by holding the contraction for 5 seconds.

Sample Band Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Band Squats: x 10
Band-Resisted Push-up: x 10
Side-Bridge w/Row: x 8/arm
X-Band Walks: x 12/side
Standing Split-Stance Vertical Anti-Extension Press: x 12
1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift: x10/arm

5. Medicine Balls

Affordable and found in many hotel gyms, these are great for linear and rotational power, given how quickly you must produce force for maximal output, and how the stretch-shortening cycle plays into each exercise. Medicine balls are also good for core activation due to their emphasis on optimal alignment with overhead and rotational patterns.

Progression: Speed up the movement to increase your heart rate and enhance your power skills. Or, simply add more volume to the complex.

Sample Medicine Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Med Ball Slams: x 12
Rotational Scoop Toss: x 8/side
Side-to-Side Overhead Slams: x 8/side
Tall Kneeling Chest Passes: x 12
Hip-Scoops to Wall: x 12

6. Gliders

Very portable, gliders (our favorite is the ValSlide) can conveniently be replaced by household items - like furniture sliders or even towels - if you're in a pinch. Given their size and usage, these disks provide a tremendous amount of direct and indirect core work, since most of the exercises force you to fight against gravity in an anti-extension and anti-rotational manner. Gliders also improve stability due to the unnatural surface environment on which each exercise is performed.

Progression: Change your base of support by elevating an arm or leg off the floor. Decreased points of stability will call for greater concentration of the core in order to maintain optimal spinal alignment during each movement. If accessible, add an external load such as a weighted vest for a real challenge.

Sample Glider Routine:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Reverse Lunges: x 8/leg
1-arm Push-up: x 8/arm
Leg Curls: x 12
Bodysaws: x 10
Mounting Climbers: x 30 seconds

7. Stability Ball Exercises

A staple in most hotel gyms and very affordable for home or office use, stability balls provide a level of volatility that challenges your strength. Basically, in order to combat the dynamic perturbations of stability balls, additional muscles must co-contract to prevent joint deviations.

Progression: Elevate your feet or attempt pause reps at the end range to make the unstable environment even more challenging. Or, create additional perturbations by having a training partner hit the ball in different directions in an effort to knock you off your stability during the lift.

Sample Stability Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Elevated Push-ups: x 8
Leg Curls: x 10
Stability Ball Rollouts: x 10
Dead Bugs – arms and legs: x 6/side

A Few Notes

  • Be sure to invest a few minutes with soft-tissue work and ground-base and dynamic movements to prepare your body for the workout and prevent injury.
  • Be mindful of areas that need more emphasis than others. For example, structural balance is a common issue due to postural adaptations. Placing more emphasis on the posterior chain and upper back will reduce the overused areas and still provide a solid training effect.
  • Select "casual" rest intervals for most programs. But if you decide to create a greater disturbance, reduce the rest time. Just make sure the load is relatively low so form is not compromised. For complexes, the goal is not to put the object down until you have completed the entire round of exercises prescribed!
  • Make an effort to log your workouts. Noting your exercise selection, volume, load, and tempo will spare time in programming your next workout so you do not backtrack but rather progress.

Give some of these ideas a try next time you're in an "equipment pinch" and I think you'll find them to be a lot harder than they look!

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4 Business Lessons I’ve Learned from Clients

Written on June 18, 2014 at 6:28 am, by Eric Cressey

Several months ago, my business partner, Pete, pulled together a guest article on how training clients often have some amazing stories to tell if you're just willing to listen. You can read it HERE. That said, after the article was published, we received quite a few inquiries from folks asking for more fitness business themed articles here at EricCressey.com. To that end, I thought I'd pull together one today - and it features the top four business lessons I've learned from clients.

Lesson #1: You don't have to be first, but definitely don't be last.

Back in my first few years of personal training, I would train the same client Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6am. He loved to talk business, and we often wound up on the topic of investing. One day, he made a comment on how he'd purchased quite a bit of stock in True Religion (a jeans company) for a few bucks in 2004 - only to see it jump to almost $25/share in less than a year.

TR

Now, he certainly was no "jeans connoisseur," nor would he ever imagine even spending several hundred dollars on a pair of jeans. Hence, he wasn't the first one to jump on board the designer jeans bandwagon. Nonetheless, he was bright enough to recognize a good thing early on, and act on his instinct.

Not surprisingly, he did something very comparable with his own business, which involved high-end car detailing work. He wasn't the first one to do it, but he certainly wasn't late to the game - and he did it better than anyone else in his area.

Years later, I saw parallels in what we did with strength and conditioning for baseball players. We weren't the first people to train baseball players, but we did see recognize it as a remarkably underserved population - and were able to improve on a lot of the significant flaws we saw in other programs around the country.

Lesson #2: Your customers hire and fire you every day.

We're very fortunate to have a great landlord, and he's the one who first dropped this line on me. The fact that he recognizes it is likely the reason why he has been an awesome landlord, too.

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It's not good enough to be on top of things 3-4 days a week, but then useless on the other ones. Sadly, you see this all the time in the world of athletics; athletes can tell you when their coaches are in bad moods, and that absolutely shouldn't be the case. Being successful as a coach and business owner is all about delivering a consistently high-quality product, and you can't do that if you're moody or unresponsive. In fact, one of the first things we look at in bringing on interns and staff members is whether or not they're unconditionally positive. If you can't put on a happy face and get the job done even when things aren't going well for you, then you won't go far in any profession.

Lesson #3: Clients probably appreciate you for reasons you don't expect.

As part of our work with professional baseball players, we deal with quite a few agents. In fact, in many cases, these agents are also the ones referring the players to us in the first place. Last year, I was having a conversation with one of them, and he mentioned in passing something that surprised me: "The thing I appreciate about you guys the most is your accessibility."

I was really surprised, as I'd always assumed that folks appreciated our baseball-specific expertise first and foremost. And, while this is certainly important, me returning phone calls, emails, and text messages promptly was the most important thing to him. It makes sense; if I'm delayed in getting back to him, then he's delayed in getting back to his client, which makes him look bad.

Chances are that your clients don't care that you can name all 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, or that you just bought another safety squat bar for your gym. There are likely reasons they keep coming back of which you're not aware. If you put some thought into it, you might just find ways to improve your business by catering to these factors more. As an example, we knew athletes loved the sense of family and community at our facility, so we added a lounge with a TV, couch, ping pong table, and counter for eating in our new facility in 2012.

CP-Family

Lesson #4: People who neglect their health generally struggle in other facets of their lives as well.

Early in my training career, I had a client who was approximately 120 pounds overweight - and he would always show up late for training sessions. It's one thing for a "normal" client to show up a bit late for a session, but when you're dealing with a severely obese client who is a legitimate risk for a heart attack, you can't just skip the warm-up and cool-down. In other words, his 60-minute session quickly became one where we could only get in 15-20 minutes of quality work.

Why was he always late? He had just started a business. And, just like he lost absolutely no weight in spite of having a trainer twice a week, his company also went out of business. Of course, I make this observation in hindsight, and I certainly wasn't cheering against him - but I do think it taught me an important lesson.

Youth and high school athletics teach kids about time management, teamwork, leadership, punctuality, professionalism, decision-making, and a host of other key success qualities. I firmly believe that many of these qualities are constantly "reaffirmed" in adult fitness programs; if you consistently show up and execute on the objectives you've set forth, you'll get closer to your goals. With each new training session and healthy meal, you're "grooving" these qualities more and more in your brain. 

Conversely, if it's okay to be late for a training session (or skip it altogether), who is to say that it won't eventually be okay to do it for an important business meeting? And, if it's okay to waste money on personal training sessions you won't use, who is to say that you won't waste money on silly expenditures with your business? And, if you're okay consistently bombarding your body with unhealthy food choices, who is to say that you won't be consistently adding "bad apples" to your staff?

Obviously, the last paragraph takes some leaps of faith, but I think that it's very safe to say that most people who are what we might consider "good decision makers" generally do so in all aspects of their lives. The reason they do so is because - whether they recognize it or not - they follow specific reasoning processes to arrive at those decisions. In their outstanding book, Decisive, authors Chip and Dan Health cover the decision-making process in a great amount of detail; I'd highly recommend it, if you haven't read it already. 

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What I think it particularly interesting is the book's subtitle: "How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work." There aren't separate books for "life" and "work" because good decision-making shares common traits across multiple disciplines.

Closing Thoughts

I've surely learned far more lessons from my clients than I could ever squeeze into a single post, but these are four that popped to mind when I sat down to type this morning. To that end, in the comments section below, I'd love to hear about the lessons you've learned from clients and athletes in your training career.

And, if you're looking for more insights for starting up a successful fitness business, I'd encourage you to check out The Fitness Business Blueprint.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/16/14

Written on June 16, 2014 at 4:42 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time to kick off the week with a collection of recommended reading. This week, we've got a "squat technique" theme:

Short Topic: There's a Squatting Controversy? Seriously? - This was a quick blog from Bill Hartman, but it poses a question that a lot of people probably haven't considered.

How Deep Should I Squat? - Cressey Performance co-founder Tony Gentilcore takes a closer look at what may limit squat depth - and how to fix it.

good overhead squat

To Squat or Not to Squat? - I wrote this article back in 2009, but the recommendations still hold water.

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