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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 64

Written on September 18, 2015 at 5:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's five tips come from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo. 

1. Approach your sets and reps intelligently.

Whenever I start a new program, I’m always excited to attack the given sets and reps and put some weight on the bar. However, I won’t come into the gym every day of every training program as fresh and ready to go as I did on Week 1, Day 1.

When writing programs for our athletes, I want them to do the following things during their training sessions:

a. Move with quality and integrity.
b. Move with intensity, focusing on force production.

If you can’t bring either to a lift, one of two things is happening: you are fatigued, or the weight is too heavy. There are many causes of fatigue, whether it be from the previous day of training, previous weekend of traveling, or recent competition. 

To account for this, I can do two things: regulate sets and reps (volume), or weights used (intensity).

Fellow CSP coach Greg Robins uses the phrase:

“Programs are static, and training is a dynamic process.”

A program is a piece of paper that does not factor in your life: lack of sleep, outside stress, or fatigue from a previous competition. Training is a process that should respect how you recover from day to day.

So, if you fail or miss a rep for example, you can do one of two things:

If your program calls for 3 sets of 5 reps, that is 15 overall reps at a specific intensity. If you can’t complete the given numbers, you can:

a. Flip the numbers: 15 reps can be done using 5 sets of 3 instead. Mentally, 3 reps is easier to digest than 5, you can recover better in between sets, and you can evaluate how your body is reacting to the exercise on a more micro level. Essentially, you can do any amount of sets to accommodate for the same amount of total volume.

b. Maintain the same amount of volume and decrease the weight used: If the weights are feeling heavy for 8 sets of 3 reps, down the weight until you feel like you are moving without a significant grind.

2. Set goals by reverse engineering them.

If you want to achieve the goal of playing baseball (or any other sport, for that matter) beyond high school, keep these numbers from the NCAA in mind:

Out of 482,629 athletes in high school, less than 7% get the chance to play in college. Out of those student athletes, only 8.6% of draft-eligible players actually get drafted by a professional baseball organization. Even when combined with players who are drafted directly out of high school, you're still dealing with an incredibly low of moving on to professional baseball. And, this doesn't even take into consideration the number of players who make it to Minor League Baseball, but never advanced to the Major League level.


What's the point? Being in the top 0.5% of anything in life is very challenging, and baseball is certainly no exception.

So the question remains: if you want to achieve something great, how can you best achieve it?

There are a lot of ways to dissect and reverse engineer how to efficiently get to your goals. Locke and Latham (1) note that “specific goals direct activity more effectively and reliably than vague or general goals.”

While the path you may take will vary greatly because of the opportunities that are presented, there is always one thing you can control in the face of uncontrollable external factors, and it is your reaction to the given situation.

• If you got cut from a team, what is your plan of action to display your strengths, or improve your weaknesses?

• What is your reaction when something does not go as planned?

Using the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) is a great place to start, and whether or not you desire to play professional sports, it can also help improve your likelihood to achieve aesthetically minded goals as well.

Also, the SMART method of goal setting can be used as a metric towards modifying behaviors to more positively align yourself with those goals. Are your behaviors allowing you to achieve your goals? If not, what can you do to alter these behaviors or habits?

3. If you stray from a diet, focus on your next meal, not the next day!

When it comes to healthy nutrition, you'll often hear of people "falling off the bandwagon" for a meal - and it leading to several days of poor food choices. For this reason, I always encourage folks to "right the ship" as quickly as possible.

If you go out with friends and indulge, binge eat, or just mess up your macros, don’t give up hope for the day and plan to start over tomorrow. Tomorrow may turn into the next day, and into the next day. So what do you do?

Gather your losses and do better on your next immediate meal, instead of restarting the next day. Don’t let a bad meal turn into a bad day of eating.

This is also one reason why I don't generally advocate full-on "free" days, where folks eat anything they want as a means of "de-stressing" from six days per week of quality nutrition adherence. It's a lot easier to get things back on track after a single bad meal (whether planned or unplanned) than from a full day. 

4. Reduce time “lost” training by continuing with low-level exercises.

If you consider training at an established gym with a great training environment as “going all out” as a “100%” of your efforts, what happens when you train elsewhere?


For example, I’ll refer to four days of lifting with extra days of working on sprints/shuffles/conditioning as 100% of the whole product. If you miss one day, that is 17% of your whole workout week missing. If you miss two days, that is 34% of your workout week that you have “lost” because of travel, long days, or other extenuating circumstances.

Take this day for example:

A1. Barbell RDL - 3x4
A2. Prone Horizontal Abduction - 3x8/side
B1. DB Bulgarian Split Squat - 3x6/side
B2. Half-Kneeling Cable Chop - 3x8/side
B3. Half Kneeling 90/90 External Rotation Hold - 3x(2x6)/side

You have two arm care exercises, one lower body bilateral strength exercise, one lower unilateral exercise, and a rotary core stability exercise.

If you can’t get to the gym to do these, give this a shot:

A1. Supine Bridge March, or 1-Leg Hip Thrust with 3 Sec Pause - 3x10/side
A2. Prone Horizontal Abduction (Off Bed) - 3x8/side
B1. Bodyweight Split Squat with 3 second Pause - 3x10/side
B2. Feet Elevated Side Bridge - 3x30sec/side
B3. Standing External Rotation to Wall - 3x(2x6)/side

Certainly this is not the same, but when comparing these exercises, you can begin to identify that there is still something you can do despite not having access to coaching or equipment.

It won’t be 100% of the full effect, but any percentage of that 100 percent will be worth something when you look back over a longer period of time to evaluate your results.

5. Use density training to get more work done in less time.

Along with decreasing or regulating caloric consumption, increasing caloric expenditure can help you towards your fitness goals. Basically, doing as much work as possible in the form of density training can burn a lot of calories in a little amount of time. Utilizing non-competing muscle groups in a superset or giant set fashion will prevent fatigue and allow you to get more work done.

For example, performing a tri-set with a TRX Inverted Row, KB Goblet Reverse Lunge, and then a Stability Ball Stir the Pot will provide several biomechanical and force production benefits.

Rather than doing 3 sets of 10 for each exercise, waiting around in between sets, and then performing each set with no pre-determined intensity, do this:

A1. TRX Inverted Row - 10 reps
A2. KB Goblet Reverse Lunge - 5/side (10 reps)
A3. SB Stir the Pot - 5/side (10 reps)

Perform as many rounds of this circuit as possible in 5 minutes.


1. Locke, Edwin A., and Gary P. Latham. "The application of goal setting to sports." Journal of sport psychology 7.3 (1985): 205-222.

About the Author

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

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5 Lessons Learned From Training Those With Low Back Pain

Written on August 6, 2015 at 4:47 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset. Dean's made a name for himself as a "low back and hip" guy, and this post demonstrates this expertise. It's especially timely, given the release of his new resource, Advanced Core Training, which is on sale at a great discount this week.


I’ve had the distinct honor of working with a wide variety of clients. Some have been fresh from spinal surgical intervention following an injury, others had congenital issues where they were born with some sort of spinal irregularity, others just had low back pain. I’ve also worked with some Olympic champions, Paralympic hopefuls, professional sports teams, and pretty well every type of client in between, and today’s post is all about highlighting some of the commonalities among these very broad and different types of clients.

#1: They Usually Do Something Poorly.

I had the opportunity to do end-of-season testing on a local professional hockey team a few years ago. This meant I had direct access to some of the best hockey players in the world to see how they moved. While they could likely outskate and maneuver anyone on the ice, their ability to control their movements in the specific tasks asked were somewhat shaky on occasion, and in some instances, consistently so through the entire team.

Consider hockey players live their entire lives with their sticks on the ice and bent over. Shoulder pads prevent a lot of overhead movement, and getting checked into the boards frequently can cause some significant wear and tear on the shoulder joints, not to mention the rest of the body. Its no surprise very few of them had the ability to score well on an overhead squat assessment since they only ever put their arms overhead when they score a goal, and if you’re on an offensively challenged tem, that won’t happen much.

Additionally, since flexion is such as important position for their sports, they had no problem doing that, but had a lot of trouble controlling their spines into extension. The goalies could hit the splits in any direction, but many of their leg movement testing would have indicated that they were “tight” and required more stretching. If someone can go in and out of the splits in multiple directions, they don’t need more stretching.


With many people who aren’t elite athletes, they’ll also have some sort of a wonky movement pattern here or there. These may not directly cause injury, but they might increase the relative risk that something could happen. Think of a hip hinge, for example. A known mechanism of injury is low back flexion with loading and some degree of rotation. This is the common first timer setting up for a deadlift and not knowing what the heck they’re doing. In fact, that’s how Rob Gronkowski injured his back when he was a standout at Arizona and almost cost him a shot at the NFL.

The thing about increased risk is it won’t guarantee an injury occurs, just that there’s more likelihood that it would. If I bought a lottery ticket, there’s a 1 in 15,000,000 chance that I win big. If I bought 1000 tickets, there’s now a 1,000 in 15,000,000 million chance that I win, or 1 in 15,000 chance. It doesn’t mean I will win, just that my odds are higher.

Now, if I were to teach that beginner how to hip hinge well and reduce the pressure on their low back while also using their hips to produce the power for lifting the weight, there’s a greater chance that they will be successful and less of a chance they will get injured. Gronk showed even a great athlete who is unfamiliar with a certain movement can still do it with risk, and still get injured, just like a beginner stepping foot inside a weight room for the first time.

#2: The Value of Isometric Exercise Can’t be Overstated.

Dr. Stuart McGill’s lab at The University of Waterloo just released a very interesting study that looked at the effects of using isometric exercises like planks and dead bugs as well as more dynamic exercises such as Russian twists and rotational throws to train the core in two very different groups:

a) beginners who were naïve to resistance training and exercise in general,

b) Muay Thai athletes who were savvy to training concepts and instructions.

Half of the naïve group did isometric training and half did more dynamic training, and the same went for the savvy group. There was a control group as well; they didn’t train for the 6-week duration of the study.


Afterwards, all training groups saw improvements in both their fixed core strength and range of motion, and also in their response to more reactive stress to the spine. The isometric groups in both the naïve and savvy groups saw bigger improvements than the dynamic training groups.

While isometric exercises may seem very rudimentary and “beginner,” they can still prove beneficial to more advanced athletes and lifters, especially in terms of ease of set-up, relative risk to the individual doing them, and - most importantly - in quantitative outcomes, such as those measured in McGill’s research. It’s very exciting to see that a basic staple exercise, performed well, can benefit individuals of all experience level.

#3: Breathing is More Than Just Inhale/Exhale.

Getting beginners to do core-intensive training usually results in one question from me, repeated consistently through the entire series:

“Are you breathing?”

A go-to response for many is to hold their breath through core intensive movements. While this isn’t a bad response per se - especially if they’re trying to use a valsalva to increase spinal stability during a movement like a deadlift - not being able to inhale and exhale in pace with an exercise can actually reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Additionally, the speed of breathing can dictate whether a movement is more of a relaxation or mobility movement or whether the goal is speed and reactive capability development. In either case, being able to breathe through an entire set is vitally important to see the best potential improvements.

When breathing for improving mobility or parasympathetic activity, inhales and exhales should be long and full. I usually recommend 3-5 second inhalations and 3-5 second exhalations. For speed and power development, inhales are best with more of a sniffing action where air is taken in quickly and with some development of negative pressure through the ribs and abdomen, and exhaled forcefully and quickly, much like a martial artist throwing a strike. Boxers do this very well, exhaling on impacts to improve not only their ability to not gas out, but to improve the stiffness of their spine to improve the power of their punches.

This short, sharp exhale causes the abdominal muscles to brace very hard and very quickly, essentially momentarily turning the core into stone to allow for a solid strike to generate some impact.

Try this while you’re reading this article: place a hand on your stomach and sniff in quickly through your nose and feel what the abdominal muscles do. Then exhale sharply through pursed lips, like you would if you were throwing a very crisp jab. Did you feel how hard the abs became for the second you inhaled and exhaled? That’s your power center.

Clients along the entire continuum from rehab to elite performance can benefit from learning how to use their breathing to develop the specific goals they’re looking to accomplish. Rehab clients can use the sniff inhale and hard exhale effectively, as it doesn’t necessarily apply aberrant stressors to the spine or connective tissue, but does have a beneficial effect on the strength and reactivity of the core girdle as an entire unit. Simply doing forceful breathing, when appropriate to do so, is itself an effective conditioning tool for many.

#4: Core Strength Training Should Trump Core Endurance Training.

What’s more likely to lead to problems: having to lift 5 pounds 50 times, or having to lift 50 pounds 5 times? Most people would say lifting the heavier weight would be riskier, and I would say if the person didn’t know how to move it to reduce their risks and to take advantage of their leverages, then yes.

However, many training programs heavily prioritize development of core endurance, with higher rep ranges and longer duration isometric holds. While endurance is important, I would argue the ability to generate repeated bouts of higher threshold contractions would have much greater implications to spinal protection, athletic development, and resiliency, while also making the lower threshold contractions less stressful to the body.

A simple way to do this is to alter the methods used to get to a specific volume of training. For instance, let’s say you want to do three minutes of planking. You could do one long sustained plank for 180 seconds, or you could do 18 bouts of maximum intensity 10 second holds, where the goal is to try to contract everything so hard that your hair follicles turn into diamonds and you make it rain like never before. The three-minute sustained plank will challenge you, but you’ll be able to still do something afterwards. The 18 rounds of 10 seconds max effort planks will wreck you.


Consider it for strength training as well. Instead of doing 3 sets of 10 with a moderate weight, use a more challenging weight to get through 6 sets of 5 and using an appreciably heavier weight.

For lower capacity clients, this can be a great way of building up volume for those who may not have the endurance to go through longer sets or bigger volumes all at once. It also allows for more set-up and learning opportunities for each exercise than doing one or two larger volume sets would allow.

#5: Core Training Should be Vector, Speed, and Intensity-Specific, Not Just Muscle Specific.

Training a movement like an anti-rotation press to overhead raise sounds awesome and does a lot to work on controlling stability through transverse and frontal plane, all in a relatively slow and controlled manner. Asking, “What does this work? Like, your obliques or something?” can be a fair question, but only scratches the surface of what’s going on.

For athletes who compete in relatively specific directions and actions without the elements of contact and chaos, they can benefit from training with a high degree of specificity to their goal activities. For the less specific athlete or for the non-athletic client, they can still benefit from more variable-dependent training, depending on their goals. For instance, a 50-year-old accountant with a history of low back pain may not need to do max velocity rotational throws, but they could still benefit from some rotational velocity training to help prepare them for the eventual frozen sidewalks that they’ll have to walk around in Edmonton in a few months, or perhaps for the games of golf they’ll play when they Snow Bird south for the winter.

For rehab clients, the direction-specific element speaks volumes to whether they have a directional intolerance to certain movements. For instance, some clients can’t handle flexion-based movements very well, so involving some flexion progressions they can work with would be good, whereas full range crunches probably wouldn’t be beneficial. Slower movements to develop control would be important, but involving some higher velocity movements they could control and replicate would also be beneficial in case they encountered those kinds of scenarios on their own. An example would be if they stepped off a curb and had to catch their balance before falling or jerking their spine into a potentially disastrous situation.

Closing Thoughts

To recap, everyone from elite athletes to recovering spinal injury clients and everyone in between can involve core training into their programs in very similar ways, but with minor differences here and there to accomplish their specific goals. Most of the time it’s pretty easy to do, if you know how to do it.

This is where Advanced Core Training comes in. Dean has created a comprehensive, user-friendly guide to programming and coaching core stability exercises. You'll pick up new assessment ideas, innovative exercises, and coaching strategies you can employ to improve outcomes with your clients and athletes. The resource is on sale for $40 off this week, and it includes NSCA CEUs. Click here for more information.  

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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

Written on March 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm, by Eric Cressey

In this installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce you to one of my favorite "introduction" medicine ball exercises, the Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss.

It's incredibly useful for two primary reasons:

First, it trains hip/trunk separation through good thoracic mobility (as opposed to excessive lower back motion). Effectively executing this "separation" is key for high-level performance in any rotational sport.

Second, it teaches athletes to have a firm front side for accepting force. One common problem both hitters and pitchers can encounter is that they lack sufficient appropriate timing and multi-directional strength to “stiffen up” on the front side lower extremity.

If they can’t get this right in a controlled environment like the weight room, they sure as heck won’t be able to do it in a chaotic, competitive environment when they’re trying to adjust to a 83mph slider right after a 95mph fastball. Compare the demonstration video from above (Andrew is not a rotational sport athlete) to the following video of one of our professional pitchers, and you'll appreciate how trainable (and beneficial) these proficiencies are.

One additional point about this exercise: because there isn't aggressive hip rotation taking place, it's one of the few medicine ball drills I'll actually continue to utilize during the season with some of our baseball players. That said, I think it's a fantastic exercise that can be used for athletes and general fitness clients alike. Who wouldn't want to be more powerful with better movement quality?

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 11

Written on March 5, 2015 at 9:19 am, by Eric Cressey

In today's post, I want to cover three more coaching cues you can use to clean up your training technique. These are ones I use all the time with athletes at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Create a gap."

I use this one all the time with both rowing and pressing variations. Athletes love to keep the elbow too close to the side, and it creates an environment of faulty scapular positioning during movement of the upper arm. You can check out examples on my Instagram page, if you're interested (FAULTY vs. CORRECTED).

The answer is very simple: create a gap between the upper arm and torso. I'll usually just put my hand between the two landmarks and wiggle my fingers side to side to create a gap, as depicted by the blue line here:


2. "Don't let this plate fall."

I've written in the past (here) about how much I love bear crawls as everything from a low-level core stability exercise to a great scapular control drill. That said, one thing you'll see as a common mistake from athletes is that they'll allow their lower back and hips drift side to side on each "step." While this is indicative of the need for rotary stability at the core, usually, the problem is still something that can be fixed up pretty quickly with some basic coaching cues, starting with "slow down."

To build on "slow down" with an external focus cue, I'll set a 2.5-pound plate on the athlete's lower back. The more the lumbopelvic shifts, the more likely it is to fall.

3. "Don't break the glass."

One of the biggest mistakes we see with quad dominant athlete who have poor hip hinge patterns is that they'll break the knee forward in lieu of shifting the hips back. You'll see this on everything from lateral lunges to the eccentric (lowering) portion of deadlifts.

Obviously, we can start to address this by coaching at the hip ("push your butt back to try to touch the wall behind you"), but you can also have a positive impact on the movement by coaching the knee with an external focus cue of an imaginary pane of glass running directly up to the ceiling from the toes. Check out this still frame I took from the lowering portion of a sumo deadlift. The knee shouldn't hit the blue line that signifies the imaginary pane of glass:


The image would be more powerful from the side angle, but the plates obscure the lower leg and foot from that perspective, unfortunately. Fortunately, the lateral lunge with overhead reach is a good second shot:


That wraps it up for this edition. Hopefully, you've found these cues useful and easy to apply in your strength and conditioning programs. If you're looking for direction with respect to both programming and coaching cues, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, which features more than 200 exercise coaching videos, comprising three hours of footage of the exact cues we use with our athletes.


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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 58

Written on June 5, 2014 at 8:08 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the latest installment of Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better. Here are five tips for you to put into action right away:

1. Try homemade arm sleeves for cranky elbows.

I actually have a subluxating ulnar nerve, which basically means that it sometimes snaps back and forth over the medial epicondyle (funny bone) as my arm goes through flexion and extension. At time, when I'm lifting and playing catch a lot, it'll get a bit cranky. One of the strategies I've employed in the past is simply cutting the end off of a tube sock, then sliding it on from mid-forearm to mid-biceps.


Just like a knee sleeve can help with keeping the knees warm and compressed, a simple sock can make a pretty big difference at the elbow. We're learning more and more about how useful compression can be with facilitating recovery, too, so I actually have a lot of pitchers who'll do this between pitching outings to help them bounce back faster. You certainly can't beat the price, either! If your elbows are cranky with heavy lifting, you should first and foremost seek out treatment for it - but this might help expedite the healing process and help you to maintain a training effect while you're on the mend.

2. Make core stability exercises harder by exhaling at the fully lengthened position.

Athletes will often complain that they can't make core stability exercises harder without adding external loading. That's not true at all!  One way we can increase the challenge - and improve the training effect - is to add an exhale at the fully "lengthened" position on anterior core exercises. 


So, when you're stretched all the way out on a rollout, fallout, inchworm, or other drill, blow your air out; the ribs will come down a bit as you activate your external obliques and rectus abdominus. Then, give it a 2-3 second pause before inhaling again as you return to the starting position. As I discuss in my Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation, manipulating breathing alone will increase your time under tension dramatically.

3. When struggling to teach a new technique, coach the toughest position first.

In a past installment of this series, Greg Robins talked about the value of teaching the finish position first on certain exercises, with the TRX inverted row being an example:

Sometimes, though, I find that the quickest way to get a client to learn a tough movement is to put them in the most challenging position to acquire first.  This works extremely well with good athletes who are kinesthetic learners; they do best when they feel the positions they need to get. I've started employing this strategy with the Turkish get-up, as a lot of athletes struggle to find the hip hinge pattern it takes to go from the hip bridge position to this part:

Get-up hip hinge

Seriously, with those who struggle to pick up this transition during the movement, try just putting an athletes into this position so that they can feel it prior to teaching the entire movement. It works like a charm - and it makes sense to them, as you're putting them in a good position to support the load overhead.

4. Rock some grilled zucchini this summer.

Everyone knows that summer is grilling season.  One thing I actually hate about this time of year is that I have to be in two places when I'm cooking dinner. The grill is outside, and the oven/stove is indoors, so I invariably find myself bouncing back and forth between the two spots while I'm cooking. A quick and easy solution to this problem is to just grill your vegetables right alongside the meat - and there is no easier option on this front than zucchini, which just so happens to be "in season."  Simply cut the zucchini length-wise into 3-4 strips, then grill it like you would a hot dog.  You can throw some basil, rosemary, or other spices on it, too.


5. Value professional collaborations just like you value training partners.

Everyone knows that having a good training partner can make a huge difference with strength and conditioning success. However, not many strength and conditioning professionals realize that the same strategy can be applied to your continuing education work.  You'll get better if you have others constantly pushing you to do so as they share ideas and ask questions.  I benefit tremendously from our weekly staff inservices, where our coaches discuss various topics. I also find that seminars are more beneficial when I'm attending with a colleague with whom I can discuss different topics that are covered by the speaker.  I actually know of several training facilities where the staff watches Elite Training Mentorship presentations together so that they can best digest the information and put it into practice.


Just like "going it alone" makes it tougher to progress in the gym, flying solo in your quest to improve as a coach minimizes your professional "upside." So, as lame as it sounds, find a study buddy!

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Exercise of the Week: Integrating Hip Mobility with Core Stability

Written on April 4, 2014 at 5:14 am, by Eric Cressey

In this week's installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce one of my favorite "combo" drills for hip mobility and core stability.  I actually came up with the lateral lunge with band overhead reach myself in the summer of 2012 as I was thinking up ways for our throwers to have better rotary and anterior core stability as they rode their back hips down the mound during their pitching delivery. I introduced the exercise in phase 2 of The High Performance Handbook, and got several emails from customers who commented on just how much they liked it.  Give it a shot!

The name of the game with this exercise is "bang for your buck."  You're getting anterior core stability that'll help you prevent the lower back from slipping into too big an arch.  You're getting rotary stability that'll help prevent excessive rotation of your spine.  You're getting hip mobility that'll enable you to get into new ranges of motion.  And, you'll build lower body frontal plane stability so that you can perform outside of just the sagittal (straight-ahead) plane.

I'll usually do three sets of 6-8 reps per side. Enjoy!


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5 Ways You’ve Never Used a Barbell

Written on March 13, 2014 at 11:09 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Hi, my name is Greg, and I have a problem.

I love the barbell.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy just training with the bar, a rack, a bench, and some plates. Call me crazy, but every exercise that has ever made a serious impact on my physique and strength levels involved the barbell.

To be honest, most people don’t use the bar enough. It’s not surprising, given the state of a typical “gym” these days. For every three or four bars, there must be a few hundred other pieces of equipment.

I continually challenge people to use the bar more often. Usually, my advice centers on doing more variations of the basic lifts. For me, the staple lifts never get old. However, I know plenty of people who thrive on variety in their training. With that in mind, here are five lesser-used exercises that include the barbell.

1. Barbell Rollouts

Rollouts are a great exercise, but not everyone has a wheel or other fancy implement. Not a problem! In fact, using a barbell is just as effective, if not more effective.

One benefit is that you can make the bar heavier or lighter. This may seem like a trivial difference, since the bar stays on the floor. However, you will notice that a 185-pound bar is a heck of a lot harder to pull back to the starting position. This will make your lats work harder, and tax your core. The best part? It makes your lats and abs work together, as they should!


2. 1-arm Barbell Rows

Heavy rowing should be a staple in most people’s programs, especially those of you who want to move some appreciable weight in the gym. This variation is a serious grip challenge. It’s also a great way to load up past what the gym offers in DBs; just use a strap so you can hold on.  However you choose to do it, the basic premise is simple: perform a row in the same fashion as 1-arm DB row. In this case, keep the barbell between your legs, and make sure to use 10- and 25-pound plates so you can keep a decent range of motion.

1-arm Barbell Rows

3. Weighted Carries

Most folks look immediately to farmer’s handles, DBs, and KBs to do weighted carries. That’s all well and good, but the barbell lends itself very well to a few loaded carries as well.  Among my favorites are a barbell overhead carry, a barbell zercher carry, and a 1-arm barbell suitcase carry.




Each offers a totally different advantage. Overhead helps people work anti-extension properties in full shoulder flexion. The Zercher carry is great as an anti-extension exercise as well, and a better choice for those who can’t get overhead safely. Lastly, the suitcase carry trains core stability in virtually every plane, and even challenges the grip quite a bit.

4. Self Massage

Forgot your PVC pipe? No worries! The barbell with a small plates on each hand can make for a roller as well. It’s not for the more tender individuals, but works perfectly fine for people who have a longer history doing self-massage.


I also like the fact that the bar is much thinner than a roller, putting more direct pressure on the areas of interest. Try this baby out on your lower extremities and lats next time you hit the gym.

5. 1-arm Overhead Exercises

I’ve written previously about the benefits of bottoms-up KB exercises. They create a lot more need for shoulder stability, and tax the grip. However, the barbell can offer a similar benefit.

Since the bulk of the weight is now further from your hand, the forearm and shoulder demands increase BIG time.

It’s a great challenge on 1-arm shoulder presses, as well as Turkish Get Ups. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.



If you’ve been hunting down some new physical challenges in the gym, these should definitely get you moving. Train hard and use the barbell!

Greg will be presenting his popular "Optimizing the Big 3" training workshop at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts on August 2. 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. And, it's also been very popular with strength and conditioning professionals. For more information, click here.

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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance High-to-Low Anti-Rotation Chop w/Rope

Written on March 11, 2014 at 9:08 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we shared a new "Exercise of the Week" video here at, so I thought it'd be a good time to highlight one I was actually discussing with one of my staff members yesterday.

The split-stance high-to-low anti-rotation chop w/rope is one of my favorite "catch-all" core stability exercises.  While it primarily challenges rotary stability (the ability of the core to resist rotation), we also get some anti-extension benefit from it.  Because the cable is positioned higher up, we must use our anterior core to prevent the lower back from arching in the top position.  By adding a full exhale on each breath, you can increase the challenge to the anterior core even further – and, as Gray Cook would say, use breathing to "own the movement."  Check it out:


Another important consideration that may be overlooked is the fact that rotational movements in sports include both low-to-high (tennis forehands/backhands) and high-to-low (overhand throwing, baseball hitting, tennis/volleyball serving) patterns, yet for some reason, we see a lot more low-to-high or purely horizontal patterns trained.  I love the idea of getting the arms up overhead more often, particularly in athletes who may lose upward rotation, or people who just sit at desks all day with their arms at their sides.

We'll usually work this in during the latter half of a strength training session, and do it for 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps. This video was actually taken from The High Performance Handbook video database, as this exercise was featured in the 16-week program.



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6 More Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

Written on February 25, 2014 at 9:18 am, by Eric Cressey

I published a "Random Thoughts" article two weeks ago and it was really popular, so I figured I'd throw up another "brain dump" here.

1. I think it's important to differentiate between an athlete's 1-rep max (1RM) weight and a powerlifter's 1RM weight.  Powerlifters may have a little wiggle room in technique at heaviest loads because lifting heavy weights is, in fact, their sport.  That said, athletes lift weights to improve performance in sports other than lifting, and also to stay healthy.  To that end, we always emphasize to our athletes that if you can't lift it in perfect technique, you shouldn't be lifting it; the risk: reward ratio is too high.

2. We do a lot of overhead medicine ball throws and stomps with our athletes.  I see a lot of coaches miss out on some benefits in this context because they do all of it purely in the sagittal plane.  Try integrating variations that also require some thoracic rotation to get to the release point. Here's one of our favorites:

3. I think "protective tension" should be a mandatory course in every exercise science, athletic training, and physical therapy curriculum. Not everything that feels "tight" needs to be stretched; that tightness might be the only thing keeping a person from slipping into debilitating pain.  Take it away, and they may be in for a world of hurt. 

This is actually a perfect example of the pendulum swinging in the other direction in the training and rehabilitation world; for the longest time, we've "assumed" that stretching was the one thing we could always fall back on as being "safe."

4. Here's one of my favorite quotes from my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training:

"While both efferent (motor) and afferent (sensory) processes contribute to overall neuromuscular function, the overwhelming majority of strength and power studies to date have looked exclusively at the efferent component. As a result, afferent contributions to strength, power, and athletic performance are frequently overlooked and largely undefined."

Taking this a step further, the overwhelming emphasis in sports performance training programs is on efferent development: producing force.  What we don't realize is that in many cases, our ability to display efferent proficiency is severely limited by afferent shortcomings.  This is one reason why you see so many people who are weight room rock stars, but just don't come across as all that athletic in sporting contexts.  Sports performance training isn't just about making athletes strong.

Think about this as you're watching the NFL Combine this week.  All the tests in question are closed-loop (predictable) in nature.  The athletes all know exactly what they are supposed to do, so the evaluators are really just assessing efferent potential.  Sure, there is sensory input involved in any athletic movement, but it's certainly not being assessed here.


5. Humeral retroversion is incredibly important for throwers.  For those who aren't familiar with this term, give this classic article I wrote a read: Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl.

That said, what I don't delve into as much is what happens when a thrower doesn't have enough retroversion to allow for good lay-back, as demonstrated in the third frame in this sequence: 


Well, normally it means they'll compensate via a number of other mechanisms:

a. Increasing lumbar and/or thoracic extension

b. cranking on the anterior shoulder capsule

c. stretching a lat or subscapularis past their optimal length-tension relationship (and possibly injuring them)

d. increasing valgus stress at the elbow. This can lead to medial tensile injuries such as UCL tears, ulnar nerve irritation, and flexor/pronator strains.  Or, it can lead to lateral compressive injuries (little league elbow).


None of these compensations are really a good thing; you're much better off having good "true" ball-on-socket external rotation at the shoulder.  So, there are really two takeaways from this point:

a. Make sure kids throw sufficiently at a young age to preserve retroversion while they are still skeletally immature.

b. If someone doesn't have sufficient retroversion, make sure you're controlling what you can control: soft tissue quality, thoracic extension mobility, maximizing end-range rotator cuff strength, etc.  These are important for everyone, but particularly for someone who lacks lay-back.

6. If you don't have access to heavy dumbbells, but still want the benefits of them for upper body pressing, you have a few options.

First, you can always switch to 1-arm dumbbell bench presses.  The instability reduces the amount of weight needed to achieve a training effect.

Stability is heavily dependent on one's base of support, too.  With two feet on the ground and your entire back on the bench, you're pretty darn stable.  However, if you only set up your upper back on the bench, you'll also still be able to get a great training effect with less loading. I think you'll find it to be a very challenging core stability exercise, too.

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