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5 Reasons Why a Powerlifting Program Might Be Just What You Need

Written on July 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from CSP Coach Greg Robins, who is my co-author on the new resource, The Specialization Success Guide: 12 Weeks to a Bigger Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.

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I realize that competing in powerlifting is a far cry from what most aspire to do. That being said, much can be learned from the approach, and much of what the general gym-goer is looking to accomplish can be reached with the help of a powerlifting program.

To be honest, when I began training alongside a few competitive lifters, competing was not even a thought in my mind. To this day, I don’t consider myself first and foremost a “competitive lifter.” I am a coach, and powerlifting simply has done the following positive things for me. I have seen it do the same for countless other people, and so I invite you take a gander, and ask yourself if you aspire for a similar outcome.

1. It teaches you the difference between “training” and “working out.”

Simply stated, if your visits to the gym don’t serve to attain a greater result in some physical endeavor, then you are simply “exercising.” Diving into a powerlifting program gives your visits to the gym a purpose. When you have a purpose for what you do, you are “training,” not “working out.“

When you make the switch, a few essential characteristics of the successful gym goer begin to emerge. For starters, you become more consistent. Knowing that each session builds off the last makes you more accountable to each training session. Consistency is the absolute must-have ingredient to accomplish any goal.

With that in mind, you ultimately become more accountable to yourself. Recovery measures like sleep and nutrition no longer become a tedious chore. Instead, you willingly make the decision to eat right, get adequate sleep, and minimalize activities that may take away from your training.

When those things organically start happening, you become more productive, see more results, and all the while never feel like they are anything but part of your way of lifes.

2. It teaches you about managing variables and gives you a consistent measurement for improvement.

The problem with most gym-goers is that they have no idea what is working, what isn’t working, or even what they are using to measure their success. Following a powerlifting program gives you three fundamental lifts from which you can measure progress. It’s cut and dry: are the numbers going up? If not, you can look back on your training and assess a few possibilities for why your strength isn’t improving. If yes, you can make note of what you are doing as a source of information to look back on should you run into a plateau down the road.
Over time, consistently working on the same end goal helps you to understand the training process as a whole. You will be able to take ownership for your plan, and optimize it for you.

SSG

3. Getting stronger just so happens to do a lot of good things for your physique, health, and lifestyle.

I’m not clueless; I know why most folks exercise. You can feed me all the lines about health, but the fact is most people just want to look good. I was no different. If I could go back in time, I would have started training like a powerlifter at age 16. If I had, I would have acquired everything I sought out from an aesthetic standpoint a LOT SOONER. When I began powerlifting, I obviously began to get a lot stronger – but I also ate better, slept more, and kicked bad habits that didn’t help my performance to the curb.

Not surprisingly, getting stronger meant I put on more muscle, eating better meant I actually got leaner, and paying attention to how my lifestyle did or did not support my training meant I was actually healthier, more productive, and just generally feeling more awesome.

I realized that looking and feeling good were just a bi-product of training with a purpose. My outlook changed, and I wasn’t caught up in superficial crap, just in paying my dues in the gym and earning my progress.

4. The powerlifting community brings out the best in the industry.

When you begin to train for the “Big 3,” you begin to enlist the help of others who do the same. You read their articles, watch their videos, attend their seminars, and so on. Maybe I’m biased, but those who put the time under the iron – and instill that mindset in others – are the people I have come to admire the most.

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It’s really not surprising to me at all. Powerlifting taught me what was important. It taught me about movement, because I had to optimize my positions in each lift. It taught me about programming, because I had to be able to objectively look back on all my training variables. It taught me about delayed gratification, because strength takes time to develop. It taught me about work ethic, because nothing comes easy in the battle of forcing adaption. Again, it taught me about what is important, because I began to only concern myself with things that had positive influences on my development. It has done the same for others who share in the pursuit of strength and they are among the best people to learn from and be around.

When you take on this identity to your training, you become part of that community.

5. It instills a sense of confidence in you that is unparalleled.

Walk around and look at the state of this country. It can be appalling. Exercising, in general, may make you feel like you aren’t wasting away, but possessing a level of physical strength far higher than the normal person makes you feel like the specimen you are.

I’m all about using powerlifting as an outlet for my aggression, my need to push the levels of what I can do, to channel my inner animal, to overcome. To some, that notion is unappealing; it’s too “meatheadish”, or too primal. I beg to differ, completely.

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In fact, through purposeful training I am more confident to share how I feel, to learn about anything and everything, to explore different avenues of self-development.

A well-defined training goal gives you an opportunity to willingly make yourself uncomfortable. In doing so you learn that even in times of adversity, or pain, that you did not choose to encounter you can get through. I walk around with a sense of confidence, not because I can lift a certain number of pounds, but because I can welcome a challenge head on, and crush it.

Can other forms of physical activity do something similar? Sure they can, but if you are part of the herd of gym-goers that walks into the gym each day and doesn’t know exactly why you there, and what the focus is for that day, then I challenge you to give a powerlifting-geared approach a shot.

You can pick up several 12-week training programs in The Specialization Success Guide that Eric and I developed, or you can dive into any other number of programs out there. I don’t care what you choose to do, but I do challenge you to see it through for a prolonged period of time. I welcome you to this community of like-minded individuals, and for those of you who do choose to run our program I thank you and look forward to hearing about your success.

For more information on The Specialization Success Guide - which is on sale through this weekend at an introductory $30 off price - click HERE.

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The Best of 2013: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on December 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm, by Eric Cressey

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2013 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This series is mostly CP coach Greg Robins' work, but I jump in here and there. Installments 28-52 ran this year.  Here were the most popular ones:

Installment 28
Installment 48
Installment 33
Installment 37
Installment 47

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – I kicked off this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was as huge a hit this year as it was last year.  My goal with this series is to feel like you have a coach right there with you. Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 5
Bench Press Edition
Installment 6
Installment 7

3. Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike - This was a three-part series co-authored with CP Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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4. Assessments You Might Be Overlooking – I just kicked off this series, but there are some important points covered in the first two installments:

Installment 1
Installment 2

We're close to wrapped up with the Best of 2013 series, but there's still more to come, so check back soon!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 7

Written on September 28, 2013 at 5:48 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we covered some strength training coaching cues that you'll want to have in your back pocket, so here's installment 7.

1. Follow your hand with your eyes.

It goes without saying the improving thoracic (upper back) mobility needs to be a big priority for many athletes.  However, individuals can lose out on the benefit of thoracic mobility drills can be performed incorrectly if one only moves through the shoulder and not the upper back.  Greg Robins covers that problem in this video, in fact:

To help ensure optimal technique, I encourage athletes, "Follow you hands with your eyes." It always seems to "right the ship" with respect to movement of the humerus.

2. Ease the bar out.

One of the biggest mistakes I see both lifters and spotters make is just picking UP the bar and handing it out from the pins on the bench press. This causes a lifter to lose his upper back tightness and start the lift from an unstable platform. Plus, the bar is more likely to drift excessively toward the hips, as opposed to staying right in the path the lifter prefers.

With that in mind, another Greg Robins video complements this tip well; check it out:

3. Get the chest to the floor before the chin.

Push-up variations are an incredibly valuable inclusion in just about any strength training program, but unfortunately, the technique goes downhill quite frequently, particularly under conditions of fatigue.  Everyone knows that we need to monitor core positioning so as to avoid excessive lumbar hyperextension (lower back arching).  However, what a lot of people may not realize is that this "sag" is only one potential extension-bias fault. 

You see, people who are in extension will find all the ways they can to shift away from a neutral posture and toward a more extended posture.  Take, for example, this shoulder flexion video. The individual doesn't just go into lumbar extension and a heavy rib flare to get his arms up overhead; rather, he also goes into a forward head posture.

I liken this to patching up a hole in a leaky roof – only to find a leak starting up somewhere else.  It's important that we patch them all!  With that said, with push-up variations, you can either cue "make a double chin" or tell folks that the chest should make it to the floor before the chin. As long as you've already controlled for excessive arching of the lower back, the cue will be spot-on.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 44

Written on June 6, 2013 at 11:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, Greg Robins is back with five tips for your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Regress TRX fallouts.

At CP, we often use TRX fallouts in our programming. They are a phenomenal choice for training the anterior core in an “anti-extension” fashion. That being said, they can also be quite difficult for many people. The good news is that these bad boys are easily regressed by moving to your knees, rather than the feet. In order to do these seamlessly make sure to adjust the straps so the handles hang to just below your waist, or slightly further for those with longer arms.

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2. Do paused deadlifts.

Paused deadlifts are an awesome way to work on proper technique. I’ll be honest with you, though, the first time I saw them my initial reaction was “that can’t be safe!” In fact, I chalked it up as one of those powerlifting staples that would definitely make you brutally strong, but only at a very high risk of injury. In reality, any exercise has a high risk if done incorrectly, and this variation is not something I would advocate just anyone try, or prescribe to their clients/athletes.

That being said, I don’t think it’s inherently dangerous. In fact, I don’t think it’s dangerous at all when executed well. In an effort to correct my own bad habit of coming forward in the deadlift, I decided to give them a shot. I was frustrated because my deadlift had seemingly regressed, and weights that generally felt fast were becoming a grind.

My very first rep sent me way forward and I bailed out and dropped the bar. I was only using about 45% of my 1RM. Reality check; my initial pull from the ground was awful. Through training this variation I was able to re-learn where my weight needed to be upon breaking the bar from the ground, and in about three weeks of using this lift after my regular work sets I was right back to pulling the weight I had before my technique relapsed.

If you have issues staying back in the deadlift, hit a sticking point around mid shin, or just want to do “authenticity” check to your deadlift, I highly recommend these. Here is a video of a set of three from a recent training session.

3. Use a bar pad when incline pressing.

Putting a bar pad on to squat is foolish. If there is a good reason you can’t have steel pressing into your back, then choose a better way to load the exercise. There is, however, a good use for this cylindrical piece of foamy goodness. One would be to pad the hips during barbell supine bridges; that’s old news. Another is to cut out a little range of motion on the bench press, specifically an incline barbell bench press. 

Before you call me as soft as the foam pad of which I speak, hear me out. Incline pressing is a great pressing exercise, but there’s one thing I don’t like about it: it tears apart the front of my shoulders. Because the inclined torso position increases range of motion, you won’t find to many people barrel chested enough to pull the lift off, chest to bar, without getting a considerable amount of humeral anterior glide in the shoulder joint. See the picture below:

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One way to avoid this is by creating an arch in the back to meet the bar before this becomes a player, in a similar fashion to the flat bench press:

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My problem with this is that: 1) the more you arch on an incline press, the less it becomes an “incline press,” and 2) the incline press can be strategically used to supplement the bench press because it removes some of the added help from leg drive and hard arching.

Instead, adding the bar bad to the middle of the bar will effectively cut a good 1.5 inches off the range of motion. This way, we can press a little more safely. It’s nice to not have to think about cutting it short, and focus on pressing the weight, knowing that when the pad touches the chest we have hit an appropriate distance. If you have a “fat” bar this would also be a nice choice to use when you incline press.

4. Remember that mayonnaise can actually be a solid condiment.

Mayo gets a bad rep. Somehow, it has become synonymous with being fat. That might be because, well, it is fat! That’s also why I like it as a condiment. Most condiments are packed with sugar, and if you’re looking to keep the sugar to a minimum, you might be running out of ways to sauce up your grub.

Unfortunately, store bought mayo is generally full of crap. Additionally it’s usually made with less than ideal ingredients. However, with a little searching you can find some brands that keep the ingredients very basic (egg yolks, oil, lemon, vinegar). Alternatively, you can easily find a solid recipe online with a quick search for “real mayonnaise recipe.” I suggest you find one that uses olive oil.

5. Make sure you have the right bench height for hip thrusts.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Bench Press Technique Edition

Written on May 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective, and in this round, I'll be focusing specifically on bench press technique.  Here are a few of the ones I find myself using most often with our athletes:

1. Push yourself away from the bar.

This is a cue that is especially important when doing sets with multiple reps, as everything after rep 1 can look worse and worse if you can’t repeat your starting position. You see, when you first unrack the weight to bench press, you want the shoulder blades packed underneath you to create a stable upper back “platform” from which you can press.  You should aim to keep this platform consistent throughout the set.

Now, imagine two bench press technique scenarios: 1) you thinking about pushing the bar away from you and 2) you thinking about pushing yourself away from the bar.  Which one is going to lead to your protracting your shoulder blades at the “finish” position? It’d be the former, for sure.  So, think about driving your upper back into the bench by pushing yourself away from the bar.  This is a great tag-along point to this previous video from Greg Robins, which discussed how important it is to just ease the bar out over the pins rather than jerking it out over them; you want the lifter to remain tight under the bar, not have to protract to go get it.

This platform discussion actually leads to my next cue…

2. Go up and get the bar.

It drives me bonkers when I see a lifter let the bar free-fall, only to bounce off the sternum and come halfway back up.  It’s a toss-up of whether this is worse for the sternum or shoulders, but regardless, it’s a bad move. 

Rather than getting dominated by gravity, I prefer to see lifters “go up and get the bar.” In other words, I don’t want them to wait for it to reach their rib cage; I want them to help the process along by actively using the muscles of the upper back to pull the bar down to them.  Additionally, they can bring the rib cage up to the bar by getting good air into the rib cage, utilizing apical expansion rather than apical breathing.  Check out this great video from Bill Hartman to learn a bit more about the differences between the two:

Beyond simply reducing the distance the bar has to travel, this bench press technique will also limit how much the humerus (upper arm) extends past the body.  When it extends past the body too much (as with a dip), the head of the humerus glides forward and can irritate the anterior structures of the shoulder.   So, this approach allows you to press heavier weights and stay healthier while doing so.

3. Get the feet out wider.

If there is something out there that would drive me bonkers me more than people who kick their feet around while bench pressing, I haven’t discovered it yet.  There’s no place for antsy feet in good bench press technique, as it’s a sign that you aren’t putting any force into the ground and definitely don’t have sufficient core stability to press heavy weights.

While some folks would cue these individuals to pull the feet up under the body and create a big arch of the lower back, I don’t think that’s necessary in the general population (although many powerlifters utilize this approach with great success).  Instead, I’ll just tell folks to get the feet out wider.  It’s much more difficult to dance around with your feet when you’re in a more abducted position, as it’s likely closer to the end of the lifter’s range of motion in the frontal or transverse plane than the narrower stance width would be.

Just getting your feet a bit wider should help you to improve leg drive, transfer force up to the bar, and avoid looking like a tap-dancing schmuck under the bar.

Give these three tips a shot during your next bench press session and I'm sure you'll feel a lot stronger and safer under the bar.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6

Written on April 23, 2013 at 7:15 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a while since I published a new installment in my “Coaching Cues” series, so here are three new ones you can put into action.

1. “Imagine I have a rope around your waist and pull it back.”

It goes without saying that teaching a proper hip hinge is essential to get the correct posterior weight shift we need for good deadlifting and squatting patterns.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be much easier said than done, as lifters with poor kinesthetic awareness and body control might not even know what it feels like.  Take, for instance, this example from my 15 Static Stretching Mistakes article; he has so much congenital laxity (loose joints) that he can perform an “extreme” toe touch without any posterior weight shift.

Just because he can do it doesn’t mean that he should do it, though. Just saying “sit back” or “hips back” doesn’t always correct this, though. I’ve spoken about the “touch your butt to an imaginary wall behind you” external focus cue here, but I also like the idea of telling folks to pretend like I’m tugging them backward with a rope, as this fits the correction into a scenario with which they’re familiar.

2. “Ribs down, scaps up.”

We work with a lot of athletes who have a heavily extended posture, and their overhead movements often look like this:

Essentially, they will substitute lumbar extension (arched lower back) in place of keeping a stable core so that the scapula (and, in turn, humerus) can move appropriately with respect to the rib cage.  Most of these athletes lack scapular upward rotation, so we need to help them to get the scapula moving a bit while keeping the ribs down.  Here’s a great exercise for which this cue would be appropriate:

In other words, you can use this cue with your core stability exercises and shoulder mobility drills in this population. Keep in mind, though, that this cue probably won’t be appropriate for folks who sit at desks all day and are really kyphotic.

3. “Push yourself away from the bar.”

One of the biggest bench press technique problems you’ll see is that folks lose their “tightness” at the top of the rep by protracting the shoulder blades too much.  This sets you up for problems – both in terms of shoulder health and strength – on sets with more than one rep. 

With that in mind, one of the easiest ways to coach folks out of this bench press technique problem is to think about pushing themselves away from the bar, as opposed to pushing the bar away from them. It gets them into the “ground yourself” frame of mind and ensures that the upper back is a stable platform from which to press. It’s not uncommon at all to see larger than normal dropoffs from 1-rep max loads to what you see on multiple-rep sets, and I firmly believe it’s because a lot of lifters lose their tightness on the subsequent reps.  So, if you find that you can bench 315 for one rep, but only 265 for three reps, this cue could very well be a solution for you.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 37

Written on March 23, 2013 at 4:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Courtesy of Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Try these two cues to keep your butt down with your bench press technique.

2. Remember to have fun!

If you are reading this post, then you probably fall into this category: You take the time to educate yourself on training and nutrition – so much so that you might tend to find yourself over analyzing and reasoning everything you do. That’s all well and good, but think back to the days when you just started training. Maybe some of you had to fight against your will to workout, but most of you probably did it because you – I don’t know – actually liked it?!

If I scrutinized everything I did in my training, I’d come to the conclusion that about 20% of the stuff I do isn’t that “intelligent” at all. Then why would I do it? After all, aren’t I supposed to know better than most? The truth is that too many people know too much for their own good. They overanalyze and dissect every little thing they do in the gym.

I used to be one of those guys who scoffed at others in the gym who did curls and triceps extensions. “Ha!” I would think. “What a waste of time, they should be doing more compound exercises.” Now I know enough to think otherwise.

Make sure your training includes some things you just want to do. Want to do curls, and shrugs, and band extensions until your arms explode? Do it. Be safe, but have some fun, for crying out loud.

3. Try spaghetti squash, a versatile vegetable that requires very little preparation.

Spaghetti squash is awesome as a vegetable side, and you can even use it to replace pasta in various recipes.  The best part is that it’s ridiculously easy to prepare.  How easy?  Try this.

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Pour a little olive oil on both halves, and then sprinkle cinnamon, salt, and pepper on there.  Bake it at 350 degrees until it softens up. 

Yep, it’s that simple.

4. Ladies, consider doing more volume.

I have trained my fair share of women. I have coached numerous figure competitors, female athletes, a few female strength athletes, and enough middle aged women that I feel like I have 5 or 6 people in my life who would willingly claim me as their son. Heck, I even train my own mom twice a week.

There are quite a few things I have realized about training women, but one stands out: they THRIVE lifting weights at about 50 – 75% of what they’re actually capable of lifting. Maybe it’s a neuromuscular coordination thing, a mental thing, or likely a hormonal thing. The point is I am very certain it is true.

50-75% is an optimal intensity for training at higher volumes. Volume is a measure of “total work done,” and knowing that, I tend to keep the volume in a woman’s program (person dependent) quite high. Smart waving through varying amounts of volume should still take place for the best result. However, the “low volume” mark for women can be set higher than that mark for men.

For the women out there, consider training at a higher volume more frequently. This is easily done by adding additional sets to your main exercises and/or by adding 1-3 drop-down sets after your main work sets. The following is an example of a drop-down set:

A1. Squat – 3 sets of 6 at 185lbs, followed by 2 sets of 10-12 at 145lbs

5. Match hand position to stance width.

Recently, Eric did a short video on hand spacing difference between the sumo and conventional deadlift. In short, with the wider sumo deadlift one should utilize a wider spacing, and with a narrower conventional stance the opposite is true. This tip is also applicable to the squat.

Many people advocate getting the hands in as close to the shoulders as possible. I find this works very well with narrower stance squat set-ups, such as the Olympic high bar squat. However, as taller individuals move their feet wider and wider they may find more success using a hand spacing that is also wider. Many folks can go super wide and manage to move the hands in quite narrow. While this does create a lot of “good stiffness,” it may not make for the best control of the bar, or ability to find the optimal spinal position.

A very narrow hand position will force the torso to extend quite a bit, keeping the torso more upright. That fits well in a stance width that depends on a more vertical back position to keep the bar over the center of the foot. However, as the feet move out wider, the lift changes, and a more pronounced forward lean is optimal for keeping the load over the center of the foot. It’s not the answer for everyone, and many people are successful doing the opposite of that. If you are having issues getting comfortable under the bar, give this a try!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 36

Written on March 14, 2013 at 5:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s tips to guide your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, courtesy of CP coach Greg Robins:

1. Appreciate the benefits of the powerlifting-style bench press technique – even if you don’t take it to an extreme.

2. Use the barbell twice.

There is something I have always made a point of doing in my training, and in many of my programs. I hadn’t realized that it had become a pseudo “rule” to my approach until I recently watched a video from Mark Bell of SuperTraining gym in California. He commented on the idea of “always using the barbell twice.” It’s a concept that more people should embody, particularly those of you who are looking to make gains in the gym, and add muscle to your frames. So what does that mean?

Basically, follow up your first main barbell exercise with another one!

Most of us will knock out our 3–5 sets of squats, presses, or deadlifts and move right into more “assistance” based work. Instead, follow up your usual upfront exercise choice by doing 3–5 more sets with that same barbell. If you want to get better at the big bang exercises, you need to do them more often. They alone are the best things you can do to make them better.

If you don’t feel like just doing more of the exact same thing, you can try a different variation, go for higher reps, modify the tempo, or add accommodating resistance.

3. Account for outside stressors.

I always try to highlight one thing with people who come to me for training advice. Shockingly, it has very little to do with the nuances of their actual training. Instead, we talk about how their training matches their ability to recover from the stresses they place on themselves. The truth is that extraordinary results are the product of an extraordinary amount of hard work. You will always get out what you put in, but only if you can handle what you put in. That concept seems to be lost on the majority of people.

Work = Recovery = Progress

The equation must stay balanced in order to make progress. Furthermore, when one side of the equation is elevated the other side must be elevated as well. To take it further, if you want to elevate progress, you will at a certain point need to elevate both ends of that equation. This is why for some individuals, smart coaches suggest they do less. It is also why, in other cases, smart coaches suggest you do more.

It’s important that we digest a few things to understand how to manipulate this equation. First, doing more work will teach your body how to recover from more work. Second, work is stress and stress is not limited to stress placed on the individual at the gym. Third, in order to make progress, one must continually be able to place more stress on the body and recover from said stress.

A well-designed progression and management of training variables will help a person to keep making progress. That being said, managing gym related stress is not the only thing one should take into account. For example, many seasoned gym goers adopt training programs designed for individuals who basically have the luxury of training as their full time job. Professional athletes, elite military personnel, and pro fitness competitors, for instance, have careers that revolve around enhancing their physical performance. Utility workers, business executives, and even strength coaches DO NOT.

You will probably not reach the level of performance these individuals have. They have the ability to optimize all their variables in order to progress. They also have built a base of work capacity and therefore a base of recovery ability over many years. You have not. Therefore, when you approach your training, you must account for things like the six hours of manual labor you do every day, the high stress of meeting your project deadline, and the seven hours on your feet coaching athletes during the day.

The solution is simple, but it takes a concerted effort to being flexible. Make sure that all components of the equation elevate and decline together. From here forward, start doing two things. One, ensure that you are raising the bar and doing a little more work. Without doing so, you will hit a standstill. Second, match the level of your training to the level of recovery you are capable of producing. If it’s deadline month, make sure that month is a lower volume approach with a deload worked in. If it’s a dead month with business and family responsibilities, make that a month where you reach a new high for work completed in the gym.

4. Get familiar with common ingredients.

How often do you read an ingredient label and see the same few words used over and over? Chances are it’s quite a bit. You aren’t exactly sure what they are, but are okay with just staying ignorant to what they are and why they’re there. As one of our current interns commented recently, “Did you know that ‘Artificial Flavor’ is a little more complex than its two-word title?” For example, let’s say you are having a “grape” beverage. The artificial flavor for grape is: methyl anthranilate. Not sure what that chemical is, but it sure sounds a lot less appealing that “artificial flavoring,” right? Now imagine what you’re eating has artificial flavoring for over ten different flavors. That’s a lot of weird chemical names that can’t pronounce, let alone understand in the context of their effects on your body. As an action point, consider looking up some of the common ingredient names you find on the back labels of your favorite foods. You might be a little surprised at what you come across.

5. Set a monthly “comfort zone” goal.

We tend to do what we’re good at. There is nothing wrong with that; why not accentuate our strengths? However, there is validity in working on our weaknesses, and experiencing new things. After all, you might just find a whole new strong point if you step outside of what you’re accustomed to doing. Furthermore, by experiencing new things, you will often draw connections between them and the things you already know and enjoy. Heck, it could even make you better at them. Consider doing one thing a month that is out of the ordinary for you. Attend a fitness class you have always avoided, or even commit to doing one thing a week in your workouts that isn’t the norm. An example might be: including single leg work on a lower body day, or doing a few sets of reps over 5 on a big exercise. Evaluate the new experience and see if it has a place in your day-to-day routine. If not, now you know first hand. If so, great!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 35

Written on March 4, 2013 at 6:43 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to get your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs headed in the right direction.

1. Add finely ground nuts to your favorite meals.

A while back, I started using a chili recipe from Precision Nutrition that called for a few cups of finely ground up cashews. The cashews did a fantastic job of thickening up the chili and adding taste and texture. Since then, I have experimented doing the same thing to a few different stews, and other dishes as well. It seemingly works every time. Making a stir fry? Add a cup of finely ground nuts. Steaming up a big bag of kale? Try adding them in, it tastes amazing!

You will find that it is a great addition for those looking to add calories. Additionally, it works great to add flavor and texture to those on more low carb style meal plans.


 

2. Recognize that assessing exercise form is not the same as assessing movement patterns.

I’ll admit to a mistake right away. I was always impressed when coaches I had met would tell me how they could accurately assess people just by watching them squat, deadlift, or perform a host of other loaded exercises. I was fortunate that I stumbled upon people like Eric’s work early on in my career as a fitness professional. At the same time, I was frustrated because I didn’t have the knowledge yet to apply a lot of the information he was presenting. I wanted to use better methods of assessment, but I couldn’t draw the connections. Admittedly, I’m still not 100% there, if anyone is ever truly 100%. Luckily, I have him as a resource, and consider every week at work a mini course in my ongoing education. Being in this position early on I was impressionable, and the idea of looking at exercises I was very familiar with as a form of assessment was appealing. In turn, I began to do the same thing. Little did I know there was a major flaw in my thinking. The flaw is really quite simple when we take a second to think about it.

Loaded exercises, and movement patterns are two different things. While we must work to establish solid movement patterns, exercises under load do not need to, nor should they necessarily, look the same. Granted, one should prove proficient in establishing correct patterns before loading similar movements, but one should not use proficiency in a loaded movement to assess a person’s adequacy in a movement pattern.

The “why” is a long-winded explanation – and one that could branch off into many sub-topics. So, for the sake of today’s pointer, just respect the difference between performing a squat with 400lbs on your back, and assessing someone’s squat pattern. How can we look for compensatory movement in a 400lbs squat? Every muscle in the body is firing on full cylinders, so differentiating between what’s doing too much, and what’s not pulling its weight is impossible. If someone pitches forward in a 400lb squat how can we look past the 400lbs on their back and say it’s a movement flaw? You would probably be better served just watching the person walk around, tie their shoes, or walk up a flight stairs. Once we have switched into the totally active form of “exercise,” assessing movement integrity is a futile effort.

3. Get a grip on your bench press technique.

4. Pay attention to hip positioning during jumps and landings.

5. Utilize open and closed loop drills in your strength and conditioning programs.

Strength and conditioning programs are not meant to imitate the demands or movements of actual game play. However, decision-making is an important component to an athlete’s success. It is also a skill that can be, and should be trained.

Many drills that are used by strength coaches and sport teams would be considered “closed loop” drills. They are predetermined, and predictable.

“Open loop” drills, on the other hand, require an athlete to make changes in direction and speed on the fly in response to a scenario or outside cue. For more on the difference between them, give this a read.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (14 high standard and 14 low standard) Australian footballers were assessed on their decision-making skills, and the cost of poor decisions in relation to their reactive agility capabilities.

It’s not surprising that the study found errors in decision making to worsen reactive agility performance. What’s also useful to know is that the footballers of a “high standard” were much less likely to make incorrect decisions.

When training athletes, especially young athletes, make sure to incorporate open loop drills that challenge both the physical and mental side to sport performance. It can be as simple as making them react to the direction to which you point, or chase a tennis ball you throw.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 32

Written on February 8, 2013 at 10:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make your nutrition strength and conditioning programs a bit more awesome.

1. Position your free hand in the correct place during unilateral upper body movements.

2. Improve exercise form by cueing spinal flexion, when appropriate.

In the following video I demonstrate a few exercises where spinal flexion is actually a good cue to keep people in better positions during the movement. It seems counter-intuitive, so what’s the deal?

First off, individuals may start of in a more extended posture. This is often the case with athletes, or really any active individuals. Therefore, cueing flexion brings you closer to neutral. This is something to which Eric devoted a lot of attention in Functional Stability Training.

As someone who is pretty extended, I often find that the appropriate positioning of my spine actually feels rounded over, or flexed. In reality, I am just less extended than usual. Try it out for yourself, and possibly try to grab a quick video so you can relate what you’re feeling to what it actually looks like. I think you will be surprised.

Second, certain exercises fit this description: They are inherently harder to execute without driving through back extension. Additionally, they are not loaded in such a way that erring on the side of being a little flexed is dangerous. With these movements, starting a bit flexed is helping, not hurting.

Third, many people who struggle with “anti-extension” exercises are simply unable to understand what should be kicking in to keep them in the right position. Taking these folks into a position of slight flexion helps them learn to use the abdominals. Before you knock it, try it out. You will find this cue gets most people to neutral, and in the cases where they remain slightly flexed you can gradually teach them to even out.

3. Pull through the floor when performing board and floor press variations.

Great benchers all have one thing in common: they use their lats well in their bench press technique. Using the lats to bench is tough to conceptualize, and even tougher to actualize when training. It was always a major issue for me, and held me back quite a bit. One great way to learn how to engage the lats is with the board press and floor press. When done the way I explain in this video you will be able to get some feed back on the “pulling” sensation you are looking for when lowering the bar. Give it a try!

4. Convert some of your favorite oils into sprays for cooking.

Most of us use oils to coat pans and dishes when cooking. One easy thing you can do to save a few calories, and dollars, is make spray bottles with your oils. It’s fairly easy to find BPA free spray bottles, or you can invest in a Misto, which is a cool little gadget too. I generally use a 3-to-1 ratio of the oil and water in my sprays and that seems to work well. You will notice right away that as little as 6oz of olive oil when converted to a spray bottle will last a LONG time! This means you save money and eliminate unnoticed calories from your diet. Too easy!

5. Consider this blueprint for being a good training partner.

I am lucky that over the past few years, I have had some really solid training partners. When you have a good team, you are always better than you could be alone. Unfortunately, my own schedule and location, has made it tough to keep a training partner around who is on the same page as me with their training. That aside, it got me thinking about what makes a great training partner. Give this a look and see where you can step your game.

  • Be consistent. Nothing is more important to your success in the gym, and nothing is more important to your training partner. SHOW UP, all the time.
  • Shut up and train. We all have better days than others, and your training partner doesn’t need to be dragged into some pity party you are hosting.
  • Coach more. Yelling things like “up!” is a giant waste of your training partner’s time. Unless he or she tends to forget which direction the bar is supposed to move, then take stock in learning what helps them. Talk technique with them, and yell out things that will make or break their lift

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