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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.

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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. 

kneelingfallout

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.

Grilled_zucchini

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 in-services, 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.

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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!

HPH-main

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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 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!

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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.

overheadbbcarries

zercher

1-armfarmers

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.

rolling

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.

1-armoverhead

1-armbarbellget-up

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!

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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 EricCressey.com, 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:

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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.

HPH-main

Enjoy!

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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.

cressey-blog

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: 

Baseball_pitching_motion_2004

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).

compressive-forces

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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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 8

Written on February 18, 2014 at 8:14 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the eighth installment of my series on coaching cues.  Try putting these three cues to work for you.

1. Bear hug a tree.

I love anti-rotation chops as a way to train rotary core stability. Unfortunately, a lot of people butcher the technique so that they can really load up the weight on these. In short, the closer the arms are to the body, the easier the exercise.  So, if you really bend the elbows, you can use a lot more weight without getting as good of a training effect.  With that in mind, I tell folks to "bear hug a tree" as they're doing these exercises, as it ensures that the elbows are only slightly bent, but still well out in front of the body.

2. Be heavy on the pad.

Chest-supported rows (also known as T-bar rows) are an awesome exercise to strengthen the upper back, and the presence of the pad on the front of the torso is a great external focus point to keep the lifter's technique sound.  That is, of course, only if people use it!

One of the most common mistakes I see is that people will keep their hips on the lower pad, but then extend heavily through their lumbar spine (lower back) to lift the weight.  In reality, it should be a neutral spine posture from top-to-bottom; the ribs have to stay down. The cue I like to give athletes is to "be heavy on the pad." Keeping the chest firmly on the pad prevents the rib cage from flaring up when it should just be movement of the scapula and upper arms.

3. Pull the bar into your upper back.

This was a coaching cue that made a huge difference with my squat. One of the biggest mistakes you see lifters make when back squatting is that they don't take control of the bar. Rather than pulling it down into the upper back to create a good "shelf," they just let it sit there. The last thing you want to be under heavy weights is passive.  By pulling the bar into the upper back, you not only dictate the bar path (it can't roll), but also get the lats engaged as a core stabilizer.

While on the topic of squatting, if you're looking for a thorough squat technique resource, I'd encourage you to check out Jordan Syatt's new resource, Elite Performance Squatting. It's a great two-hour presentation.

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Better Movement from the Inside Out

Written on October 23, 2013 at 7:14 am, by Eric Cressey

I have attended a lot of great seminars during my time in the strength and conditioning field.  In the early days, I’d walk away with a lot of valuable information that I could immediately apply. It was almost like drinking from a fire hose!

Interestingly, as the years went on, I took less and less from seminars – in spite of the fact that the fitness field was a rapidly evolving industry, with new research emerging every single day.  The reason for this is very simple: as the industry developed, so did my knowledge – which means I had developed a better filter to separate what was useful from what wasn’t a good fit for my clients.

As a result, when I attend seminars now, I’m psyched to walk away with one or two things – however small – that we can immediately apply with our clients. And, if I come across something that does more than that, it’s a game changer.

For me, the concept of working from the inside out – or proximal to distal – has been exactly that.  Since it's a recurring theme in the program in my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd use today's post to go into a bit more detail.

HPH-main

Simply stated, this means that you get things right in the core before working on what’s going on with the extremities.  It seems so basic, but it’s something that’s been missed by loads of fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists for a long time.  Why stretch a shoulder or the hamstrings if you haven’t taken into consideration where the lumbar spine is positioned?

This wasn’t just one part of a seminar, though; it was a theme that kept emerging on a number of fronts. 

First, the research demonstrated that training core stability improved hip internal rotation.  That’s right; you don’t have to stretch someone into internal rotation to improve it. Just get people to "neutral" and then stay there while training, and good things happen.

Then, I checked out some of the Postural Restoration Institute seminars, applied some of their positional breathing principles, and saw athletes gain more than 30° of shoulder internal rotation without me even touching their shoulders.  Their hip internal rotation improved, and they were able to adduct and extend the hips more effectively. 

Seeing these changes in action was awesome, but at the same time, they were moments that made me think “why didn’t I ever think of this before?”  It’s just a matter of restoring proper alignment with breathing and adequate core recruitment to facilitate that breathing. When alignment is “on,” protective tension doesn’t have to kick in.

If you stretch and you’re out of alignment, you get instability.  If you strengthen and you’re out of alignment, you shift more stress to passive restraints (which may create more instability) and you get overuse injuries.

claivicle

Working proximal-to-distal is a theme you see in all our warm-ups and the way that we approach arm care with our athletes.  If you establish “good stiffness” early on, warming-up the entire rest of the body becomes a much more efficient process, as you aren’t just reaffirming bad patterns. 

As I noted, this proximal-to-distal approach is also heavily emphasized in my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, in the assessment portions, programs, and detailed exercise technique videos.  Regardless of whether you’re looking for some direction in your own training or in your work with clients, this will be a "clutch" resource to which you’ll refer for years to come.

It's on sale at a great introductory price through the end of the week; you can pick it up here.

highperformance-handbook-banner

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Categorizing Core Stability Exercises: Not As Easy As One Might Think

Written on October 3, 2013 at 9:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Most people try to segment their core stability work into multiple categories when they are writing strength and conditioning programs.  As I discuss and demonstrate in today's video, though, they aren't as easy to subdivide as one might think:

If you're looking for more assessment, coaching, and programming strategies with respect to core stability exercises, I'd encourage you to check out our resource, Functional Stability Training of the Core. It's available in both online-only and DVD versions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/12/13

Written on September 12, 2013 at 7:35 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's recommended strength and conditioning reading:

How Concern Over Pitcher Usage Can Actually Give College Coaches a Recruiting Advantage – I've been very outspoken in the past about how prior overuse invariably winds up predicting future injury, and this article reflects on the topic as well – including a mention of CP athlete and Vanderbilt Tyler Beede. If you're looking for a good complementary resource, check out this page, which tracks the highest pitch counts in D1 baseball each season.

Real Core Training: Offset Loading: I have to show some love for former CP intern Kyle Arsenault for having his first article published at T-Nation.  It came out great!

Interview with Me – I appeared on the "Smart Science of Slim" podcast.  You can check it out here on YouTube:

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 48

Written on July 19, 2013 at 6:12 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins, here are five nutrition and strength and conditioning tips to kick off your weekend on the right foot.

1. Train upward rotation without true vertical pressing.

At Cressey Performance, the majority of our athletes are overhead throwers. Training overhead athletes means that you need to train upward rotation of the scapula. While pressing overhead could serve as one option, we find that it isn’t always the best option. Too often, people are unable to achieve an overhead position, while also keeping the rest of the body in correct alignment. Namely, most folks will have considerable amounts of rib flare and lumbar spine extension.

Instead, it would be advantageous to train upward rotation with exercises that allow for considerable shoulder flexion, but also promote better overall positioning. So how is that done? A few of our favorite exercises are as follows:

Yoga push ups: These offer a close chained pressing movement that allows a person to get shoulder flexion, and when cued correctly, a considerable amount of upward scapular rotation. Make sure when performing this variation that you press directly into the upwardly rotated position, while shrugging and protracting the shoulder blades. One nice cue is to “push the floor away completely.”

Landmine presses: These exercises are my favorite class of open chain pressing movement to stress upward rotation. Instead of completing the movement with the shoulder blade still packed back, shrug and protract the shoulder blade a bit. A perfect cue with this one is to “reach out” when pressing.

Obviously, if you're already someone who is shrugged up and protracted all day (desk jockey), it's not a good fit for you.  In a more athletic population, though, it's usually a very good fit.

2. Use the “stir the pot” exercise…safely.

Anterior core weakness is something we combat on a daily basis here at CP. With the plethora of overly extended athletes that come through our door, we are always looking for new ways to challenge their core stability. While the standard prone bridge is a staple, after some training, we need to progress individuals to something more challenging.

Stir the pot is a fantastic way to do just that. The added demands of both the stability ball, and the small amount of movement from the shoulders adds a difficult variation to the aforementioned prone bridge.

Please note that even with former Division 1, high caliber athletes, this exercise may be a little too advanced. We recommend that you wipe the sweat off your forearms before doing this drill, and be sure to dismount the ball safely – or just omit this exercise until you're prepared to do so. Watch the video below (all the way through) to see exactly what I mean:

3. Make your “fillers” more effective

The idea of “fillers” has become quite popular, and for good reason: everyone is busy, and utilizing them is a terrific way to maximize training efficiency. So, what’s a filler?

Most commonly, fillers are low-level activation, mobility, stability, and motor control drills. They should not be strenuous enough to take away from your program, but when used correctly, they can aid in improving movement quality, outputs, and results. In order to make them the most effective, fillers should be personalized to fit your body type.

Hypermobile (excessively “loose”) people should spend time getting stable, and hypomobile (“stiff”) people should spend time getting loose.

Loose people are already able to get to just about any range of motion they desire. In fact, they are generally able to get to some ranges that are not desirable. Therefore, they are better served doing low-level activation and stability based drills between sets. This will help them “own” positions better and promote better control within their ranges of motion.

Stiff people, on the other hand, need to fit in some extra mobility work as often whenever possible. Their time is best spent working on various mobility drills, as well as some low level activation drills. Doing so will help them to move better in general, and get into more advantageous positions when performing the exercises in their program.

The drills each population chooses can be individualized based on the needs of the person and / or the demands of the exercise with which they are paired.

Many hypermobile people need better core, hip, and shoulder stability. So, drills like dead bugs, bowler squats, wall slides, body weight Turkish get-ups, and rotator cuff activation drills work great.

Many stiff people could use more thoracic spine (upper back) mobility, hip mobility, and ankle mobility. Drills like ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobilizations are solid options.

Regardless of your body type, choose variations that don’t compete too heavily with the exercises with which they are paired. Furthermore, choose variations that hit areas which need extra attention for YOU, or that will aid in YOUR ability to reach good positioning with the exercise in question.

4. Put your lacrosse ball in an old tube sock.

If you use lacrosse ball to roll out against the wall, chances are you have a heck of a time getting the thing not to slip, and fall to the ground. Next thing you know, it’s like the meatball from the old nursery rhyme, rolling across the floor and out the door – or however it goes.

One tip I picked up while reviewing the book The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Claire Davies was to place your ball in a long tube sock. By doing so you can keep your hand on the sock and make sure the ball stays up the entire time. Give it a try!

TriggerPointTherapyWorkbook

5. Try an Icee for a Refreshing Treat!

With a few days well over 90 degrees here in Massachusetts, I’ve been pulling out every trick I know to stay cool. It’s a well known fact that 80% of my shirts are black to conceal the mass amount of sweating I do on a regular basis. One of my favorite tricks also happens to be great way to curb hunger and keep my sweet tooth at bay. If you’re looking for an easy, low-calorie way to cool off and stay satiated try out this recipe:

Ingredients:

4-6 oz of water

5 or so large ice cubes

1 cup frozen strawberries

1 fresh squeezed lemon

(optional: add stevia for sweetness)

Directions: Place all these ingredients in a blender, blend, and enjoy.

This strawberry lemonade ice will hit the spot on a hot day, or any day, where you need to quiet the groan of your hungry belly!

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