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Strength Exercise of the Week: Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Band

Written on March 1, 2015 at 2:37 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since I posted an "Exercise of the Week," but hopefully today's offering will atone for that, as this is one of my favorite exercises to program in the late off-season period for our athletes. Check out the video below to learn how to deadlift using a trap bar and bands.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding Stress and Adaptation

Written on February 25, 2015 at 7:24 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. Enjoy! -EC

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Your body has its own bank account.

It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.

In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.

For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept.

Stress and Adaptation

We all have training-related goals:

  • look like a Superhero
  • cut your body fat down to 6%
  • deadlift 500 pounds
  • have a 30-inch vertical jump
  • bench press 300 pounds
  • win a competition in the sport of your choice

Whatever your goal, you're relying on one of the most basic survival/evolutionary mechanisms to make it happen: adaptation.

And let's make one thing perfectly clear: while we may come across as sophisticated humans, deep down, we're still biological animals who survive to pass on as many of our own genes as we can. That's really the name of the game: do whatever you have to do to survive, so you can pass along more genes than the next guy or girl.
It sounds barbaric because it is, but deep down, it's a driving force we can't escape.

Thus, our "system's" number one goal is survival, and it's going to do everything it can to make sure that happens. Enter adaptation: the way in which we react to stressors in our environment to improve our likelihood of survival.
Before we talk about how it works, here are two definitions with which you need to be familiar:

1. Homeostasis: the body’s desire to stay within normal ranges needed to function and survive. For example, your blood prefers to stay within a pH range of 7.35-7.45 because that's where it's happy, that's where it functions well, and that's where we have the best chance of survival.

2. Allostasis: the body’s adaptive response to maintain homeostasis. In other words, how the body manages to maintain homeostasis in the face of a stressor. Think of it like those bumpers you set up in the gutters at the bowling alley: you need to stay within those set limits or else all hell will break loose.

When considering adaptation, this is the basic process* it follows:

*Please know that adaptation, stress, allostasis and everything we're talking about today is an incredibly complex topic. In order to make it more approachable, we're going to dumb it down a bit so you can focus on the big picture. Thus, if you're a big science person, please don't get all worked up because I know there's way more to this than what we're going to talk about today.

Step 1: You provide a stressor.

Step 2: Stressor threatens homeostasis and thus survival.

Step 3: The body, via allostasis, works to maintain homeostasis in the face of this stressor.

Step 4: You adapt to the original stressor in order to limit the amount of stress it can place on your system in the future.

Here's what that would look like in a graph (notice how it resembles a training cycle?):

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As you can see, there's a decrease in performance while your body attempts to manage the unfamiliar stressor. Remember, it's trying hard to maintain homeostasis so you can stay alive.

Eventually, however, you adapt (supercompensate) above a level you were at previously. This is to ensure that the same stressor in the future won't have as large of an impact on your system.

Here's an easy example of this process in action: think back to when you first did back squats...what happened?

For starters, they were probably pretty ugly, but I'm also willing to bet you were sore the next day.

What about four weeks down the road when you squatted the same weight as you did on day one; were you as sore and/or beat up the next day?

Absolutely not. Why? Squatting was an incredible stressor the first time you did it. It's something your body had never encountered. But after a few weeks of exposure, your body had started to adapt to the new and repeated stressor to limit its overall effect on the system. This is the reason you must periodize your training; stimuli must change over time to continue the process of adaptation.

To review: your body’s goal is to limit the impact a stressor can have on your system to increase your likelihood of survival, and improve your chances of passing on copies of your own genes.

The way our body makes it all happen is via adaptation and the adaptation reserve.

The Adaptation Reserve

In a far-off land, behind desert and mountainous terrain, guarded by an army of manticores (do yourself a favor and Google that), you'll find your adaptation reserve.

While the adaptation reserve may seem like a mythological creature you've never managed to catch, it's really just your own personal bank account. It represents the resources your body uses to buy new things (adapt).

You have to keep in mind there's a finite amount of resources in this reserve. Think back to a time when you were a kid and saved up money to buy something you really wanted: you passed on buying other goods because you knew you needed to save up "X" amount of dollars to purchase "Y" toy.

Great. However, what happened after you did by the toy for which you’d been saving? You had no more money.

Does that mean you'll never be able to buy a new toy again? No. It just means you have to save up and make deposits into the account until you have enough resources to do so.

But what determines the size of the bank account? How do you make withdrawals and deposits? Is there more than one account?

Your Body's Bank Account

Below is a fictional image of your body's bank account (adaptation reserve), and it's full of your body's adaptive currency.

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Feeling good after a restful weekend, you head off to the gym to crush a deadlift session, because you really want to pull 500lbs.

The following morning you wake up and take a look at your imaginary body bank statement to realize you made a big withdrawal the previous day. Hitting deadlifts over 90% of your 1-rep-max must have really used up a lot of your adaptive reserve because the account is vastly diminished.

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This, in a nutshell, is what's happening on a daily basis: you introduce or encounter different stressors that act upon your body in a certain way, and then your body uses its adaptive reserve to respond/adapt.

Remember, your main goal is survival, and in order to increase your likelihood of survival you have to limit the impact stressors have on your system.

A More Realistic Story

For as awesome as it would be for your training session to be the only stressor you encounter, that's simply not the case.

Our life is full of stressors: work, relationships, traffic, etc. Each of these has an impact on your system and it's ability to adapt.

It's not as simple as, "Oh, I lifted today, and that's the only stressor I encountered."

Do I wish for both you and me that that's the case? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it's entirely unrealistic.

There's a good chance you’re stressed about a project at work. Perhaps you didn't sleep at all last night because you had too much caffeine late in the afternoon. Or, maybe you think your significant other is cheating on you and you spend all day and night stressing about it.

The point is this: there are an infinite number of stressors in our lives which all detract from our adaptive currency.

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The Size of the Bank Account

An obvious question to consider is: how do I increase the size of my bank account?

Besides genetics, which you have no control over, we can relate the size of the bank account to your overall fitness level. Another way of saying the same thing is to improve your GPP or work capacity.

If you've read anything I’ve written in the past, then you should be familiar with the concept of building a pyramid. In order to one day achieve high, optimal levels of performance, you must put in the time and groundwork to build yourself a monster base. That means attacking things like movement quality, base strength levels, aerobic fitness, and a host of other factors.

Depending on where you're at and what your goals are, you'll have to focus on different fitness qualities.
For example, are you a heavily extended stress ball posture with a resting heart rate in the low 70's? If so, you need to spend a fair amount of time doing low-level aerobic work and working on full exhalation because your body could never handle the type of work required to perform at high levels.

As your work capacity improves, however, you give yourself the potential to one day attack a more aggressive training program because you have the adaptive reserve in place to actually be able to handle large levels of stress.

Do you think Zach Hadge (with a 700+ pound deadlift) trained the way he does now eight years ago? Absolutely not. He spent a ton of timing building himself up to handle the volume and intensity levels he trains at now.

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Ultimately, if you have aspirations to be a monster in both training and life, you have to put in the work on the front end to build yourself a large bank account.

Withdrawals and Deposits

We began touching on this concept earlier, but when you look at your training program you have to consider what's making withdrawals from your bank account, what's making deposits, and how big of a deposit/withdrawal you're making.

At the end of the day, you're not making progress if you don't have any adaptive currency to spend. To keep this simple, rest and recovery makes deposits to your account. This includes things like active rest days, sleep, and quality nutrition.

pic5

Withdrawals, on the other hand, involve all forms of stress.

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For example, let's consider three different training loads and the impact they'll have:

1. Stimulative: a very moderate training load from which one can recover quickly.

2. Developmental: this can be broken down further into high, medium and low, but for today just know that a developmental load triggers the adaptive responses and takes 2-3 days to recover from. For reference sake, a developmental load will fall somewhere between a 6-9 on an RPE scale out of 10.

3. Maximal: this is all you have. A true, "I have to do this or I die" type effort. It crushes your system (especially central nervous system) and takes a long time to recover from.

Here's another thing to consider: different types of fatigue. For example, there's a big difference in CNS fatigue (running a sprint) and local muscular fatigue (doing a bunch of curls). In all honesty, you're probably starting to look at separate bank accounts all adding up to one master account – but let's not go down that path today. Just focus on one bank account, and nail down this concept of stress and adaptation in broad terms (you have to see the forest before you can look at the individual trees).

Hopefully this is all beginning to make sense: training is really just an advanced form of stress management. All forms of stress will have an impact on the body, but the extent of that stress depends on things like volume, intensity, training history, genetics, nutrition, sleep, and a host of other factors.

The End

If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be that you view your training goals as goods you have to buy with money.

It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, gain weight, have bigger arms, squat more weight, run a better 40 etc. etc. because each of those qualities requires an investment from your body, and your body only has so much to give at any one time.

You have to be methodical in the way you apply stress if you ever hope to see big improvements from your training. Just doing high-intensity work for the sake of doing high-intensity work is a waste of time without figuring out where it falls in the grander scheme of overall development.

Ask more questions, don't be afraid to push the envelope, and structure your training and life in a way that sets you up to succeed.

About the Author

James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting and Crossfit. He works with athletes from the middle school to professional level, is the founder of Rebel Performance, and works as a strength and conditioning coach at Pure Performance Training in Boston, Massachusetts. You can also connect with James on Facebook.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/23/15

Written on February 23, 2015 at 7:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Monday, folks! Here are some good strength and conditioning articles to kick off your week:

Hip Extension and Rotational in the Baseball Swing - Here's a "reincarnation" from the archives, courtesy of Houston Astros Minor League Hitting Coordinator, Jeff Albert. It seems only fitting, giving that spring training is underway!

The 5 Best Ways to Get Stronger - I couldn't agree more with all of the points Mike Robertson made here. There are some excellent strategies here for intermediate lifters.

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I Don't Even Want to Be Here - This was a great post from Kevin Neeld on the importance of positivity in coaching youth athletes, and always praising effort over outcomes.

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Long-Term Athletic Development: Optimizing A Young Athlete’s First Day at the Gym

Written on February 19, 2015 at 8:40 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, John O'Neil. I'd like to devote more attention to long-term athletic development here at EricCressey.com in 2015, and John will be helping me do so.

This article is geared towards working with a youth athlete who is in a gym for the first time. I have identified steps that I believe to be important with getting the ball rolling toward the athlete’s long-term athletic development, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.

The Physical

1. Establish Point A.

While athletic goals can be diverse, they all fall under the simple structure of getting from point A to point B in an efficient and appropriate manner. We need to be able to address the biggest differences between what an athlete’s current Point A is and what their potential Point B is, and provide them the skills to achieve them. It doesn’t matter what assessment system you use--just that you have the ability to identify where an athlete is the first time they are standing in front of you. For youth athletes, who may not know where their Point B is yet, it’s important that we give them a variety of motor skills that allows them succeed in a number of potential athletic goals years down the road.

image1
It’s our job to determine what lies within the arrow, and understand that if an athlete’s goals change, we have still put him closer to his new Point B than he was at the original Point A.

2. Give the athlete success.

Success is not something you can learn about on paper and enact. It is something you have to experience. While I understand it is not always practical depending on the schedule of your facility, in my opinion, it is important to give the athlete some type of training effect on Day 1. As a beginner athlete in the gym, success is given via the instant gratification of knowing that you got better today--in essence, you are one (small) step past Point A where you started. The sooner we can give an athlete confidence in their ability to execute the necessary motor skills in a gym to build strength, move more efficiently, and perform on the field, the sooner they will take ownership of their program and be able to convert what you are teaching them from their short to long-term memory.

3. Know which motor skills you want a youth athlete new to the gym to have in place.

Dan John’s basic human movement skills are a great place to start. Every advanced athlete, regardless of their sport, should be able to hip hinge, squat, push, pull, carry, and perform single-leg movements. While not all of these are always realistic to truly pattern in on Day 1, give the athlete the knowledge of and the physical basics of what you are trying to get them to do. In a baseball population, some of the most important movements will also include teaching the athlete true external rotation, scapular control, and the ability to safely get overhead. As an example, here’s a basic drill (usually included in the warm-ups) to educate athletes about where they should and should not be feeling exercises in their shoulder as their arm goes into external rotation.

4. Know which practical weight-room skills you want the athlete to have in place.

Identify the basic implements, grips, and stances used in your programming, and select exercises to teach these while also teaching the basic movement skills. A perfect example is an Anterior-Loaded Barbell Reverse Lunge, which teaches the athlete to get strong on one leg with an efficient lunge pattern, and also teaches them a front-squat grip with a barbell. We have to ask: How much of the overlap in the Venn Diagram can we get athletes proficient in, or at least give them a comfort level with, on Day 1?

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Another great example is a kettlebell goblet squat, as the athlete learns both the goblet grip and the squat pattern. As Eric has written in the past, barring any contraindication, a majority of Day 1 Cressey Sports Performers learn the trap bar deadlift, but many athletes new to lifting may need more direct work to effectively pattern the hip hinge component of a deadlift. One of my favorite exercises is a tall-kneeling banded hip hinge with a dowel. This teaching tool puts the athlete in a position where they cannot fail without knowing it, thanks to having a physical external cue in both places that are important to the hip hinge--hinging at the hips (the band) and maintaining a neutral spine (the dowel).

hinge

The Mental

1. Put the athlete in an environment where they are comfortable and want to be.

For someone who has never been in a gym, it is important to schedule their assessment and first training session at a time when the gym is not busy. In order to really promote athletes taking ownership of their programming and truly wanting to pursue long-term athletic development, the gym needs to feel like a safe haven rather than an overwhelming place of chaos. The athlete could be coming from a difficult situation at home or in their personal life and it is our job to make the gym a place of comfort and enjoyment. If the gym is very slow/quiet, you might even have the athlete choose which music they want to listen to. The places we learn the best are the places we are the most comfortable and the happiest being in.

2. Assess the athlete in a way that tells them that you’ve seen, dealt with, and given success to many, many people just like them.

A majority of your athletes won’t have a clue what you’re looking at, but they’ll know if you come across as confident and sure of what you are seeing. In the baseball population at CSP, this is easy to portray to an athlete because they know the success that professional baseball players have had while training there. During the assessment, you might even be able to figure out whether the athlete is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, which will be invaluable when you are cueing the bigger movements.

3. Create context with the athlete that allows you and your staff to optimize your relationship with them, both as a person and an athlete.

Athletes are comfortable with coaches they know truly care about them, and, they respond best to cues that are already within their existing schemas. As coaches, we are always working to expand the amount of schemas we can tap into because we need to know what clicks best with the athlete. If talking about video games makes the athlete want to be there and listen to you, relate to them that way. If talking to a 14 year-old about why they don’t use Facebook anymore and how they only use Snapchat and Instagram is the best way to make them think you’re someone who’s cool to be around and worth listening to, then that’s the route you should take. The best time to create said context is when you are showing the athlete how to foam roll. The correctives/warm-ups and the lifts will be more task-oriented, and hopefully by that point you know what to talk about and how to talk to the athlete.

Conclusion

The challenge as a coach is choosing how much information you can give the athlete that they can actually retain. One of my favorite ideas to think about as a coach is Miller’s Law--the idea that a person can only hold approximately seven items in their working memory. At the end of the day, you can’t expect an athlete of any level to retain everything from their first training session, but you can give the athlete a concept of a few basic motor patterns and a few different grips, implements, and stances in the weight room. Most importantly, you can send that athlete home with the knowledge that they are one step closer to their goals.

If you're looking for more insights on training youth athletes, be sure to check out the International Youth Conditioning Association High School Strength and Conditioning Certification, which is on sale through the end of the week.

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About the Author

John O’Neil is a strength and conditioning coach at The Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, NJ. He previously interned at Cressey Sports Performance and Ranfone Training Systems. You can contact him at john@annexsportsperformance.com and on Twitter

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/17/15

Written on February 17, 2015 at 5:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good reads from the past week in the strength and conditioning world:

Forget Calorie Counting - Brian St. Pierre and Ryan Andrews present a great perspective on portion control and meal planning for Precision Nutrition.

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Left Out - I thought this was a really well written piece from Andrew McCutchen for The Players Tribune. While I don't agree with the notion that you have to do the travel ball circuit and attend every tournament to get noticed as an up-and-coming player, I do think his message of improving baseball development opportunities in underprivileged areas is incredibly important.

Common Themes Between Out of Shape Clients and Pro Athletes - Dean Somerset pulled together this post that I don't think anyone except Dean would even think to write - and it came out really well.

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7 Thoughts on Speed, Agility, and Quickness Training

Written on February 11, 2015 at 7:53 pm, by Eric Cressey

A huge majority of sporting outcomes are heavily dependent on speed, agility, and quickness. The fact that these athletic qualities are such "game changers" also makes them a fun topic to cover in lectures and writing. To that end, I thought I'd pay specific attention to speed, agility, and quickness in today's post. It's especially timely, given the great introductory sale on Complete Speed Training that's going on this week.

1. Footwear matters.

To me, all speed, agility, and quickness training discussions need to begin with footwear, as it directly impacts how you produce and reduce force with respect to the ground.

If you're in heavier sneakers, good luck trying to "feel" fast.

If you're in shoes with huge heel lifts, just try recruiting your posterior chain effectively during your movement training.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you're in sneakers without the right amount of lateral support, have fun trying to change directions. This has been a huge issue with some of the minimalist sneakers on the market; athletes will actually roll out of the shoes during changes of direction in spite of the fact that they have sufficient neuromuscular control to execute the exercise perfectly. It's one reason why I was so glad to contribute to the discussion when New Balance was designing the newest versions of the Minimus.

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Before you worry about cutting-edge training programs and meticulous coaching cues, make sure you've got the right stuff on your feet.

2. Don't overlook individual differences.

It's incorrect to assume that all athletes need to be coached the same with respect to movement training drills. Different athletes have different builds, and there will be subtle deviations from "the ideal" positions we envision in our minds. Obviously, limb and torso lengths play into this, but joint structure may impact things as well. As an example, someone who lacks hip internal rotation - whether it's because of a bony block, capsular changes, or hip retroversion - might need to work from a more "open" (toes slightly out) athletic stance.

Understanding what "normal" looks like is important, but don't think "abnormal" is necessarily always inappropriate.

3. It's easier to make a fast guy strong than it is to make a strong guy fast.

I heard this line so long ago that I honestly don't even remember where it originated. Still, I wish I'd really appreciated just how true it really was back then!

Many athletes are blessed with natural reactive ability. They're really proficient at using the stretch-shortening cycle to create awesome athletic movement - even in the absence of what one might consider "good strength." These athletes thrive when you simply get them stronger.

At the other end of the spectrum, you'll find athletes who are very strong but completely unable to display that force quickly. They need to spend more time training speed than they do working on continuing to build (or maintain strength).

If you compare these two scenarios, though, the former (fast guy getting stronger) takes place much quicker than the latter (strong guy getting fast). There are a lot of different reasons this is the case, but at the end of the day, I think the biggest one is that it's difficult to teach an athlete to relax.

Guys who are naturally fast seem to "accidentally" know how to turn off unwanted muscular tension. Guys who are naturally strong usually resort to brute force to try to solve every problem. If you need further proof, just watch me (or any other powerlifter) play golf!

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4. Movement quality falls off with a growth spurt - but good training can help attenuate that drop-off.

When kids hit puberty and their adolescent growth spurt, it's not uncommon to see some seriously uncoordinated athletes on the field, ice, or court. Beyond just the range of motion limitations that may have emerged overnight as bone growth has outpaced that of muscles and tendons, we also have to appreciate that the center of mass has moved further up away from the base of support - and that creates a more unstable environment.

This dramatic shift in the 12-15 age range explains why kids who dominated the youth ranks often don't pan out as high-level high school or collegiate ranks. Just being a Little League all-star doesn't really predict being a Major League Baseball all-star very well at all.

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The good news is that we can attenuate - or minimize - the drop-off in athleticism that takes place with the adolescent growth spurt by incorporating effective training principles. As always, playing multiple sports and engaging in activities that provide a wide range of movements is essential. Moreover, we can integrate mobility drills and coach athletes on proper movement quality. And, finally, not to be overlooked is the role of strength training. Put 10-15 pounds of muscle mass on a young athlete's lower body, and his center of mass will definitely be much closer to the base of support, creating a more stable environment. Of course, the strength that also emerges from that training will also go a long way in improving movement quality. This is why I think ages 11-12 are some of the best times to get involved in entry-level strength training programs, even if it's just 1-2 times per week.

5. Moving well is as much about "reads" as it is about speed.

If you talk to most up-and-coming baseball players, they're generally concerned with their "60 times." If a player runs below a 6.5, he'd be considered elite caliber speed. Running between 6.6 and 6.7 would be excellent speed, 6.8-6.9 average speed, and 7.0 and below would be sub-par. These numbers are testing pretty regularly at various events in the high school ranks, but not much thereafter.

As a result, we don't really have a true frame of reference for how "fast" guys are in the big leagues. Well, I'm here to tell you that you'd be sorely disappointed if you tested 60s of all MLB players. There would be a lot of 6.8-7.1 speed among position players, and you might only find 2-3 sub-6.7 guys on each roster. Game-changing speed really isn't as common as you might think, and for every Billy Hamilton or Jacoby Ellsbury, there are a lot of guys who have become good baserunners more because they have learned how to run the bases, get good jumps, and understand situational baseball.

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Baserunning is very much an art as much as it is an athletic endeavor, so you can do all the speed, agility, and quickness drills you want, but they won't have nearly the effect you desire if guys simply don't understand how to read and react to the game around them. This is surely the case in every other sport you'll encounter short of track and field, too.

6. Good movement training programs need a mix of coaching and competition.

If you want to get faster, I think it's crucial to have both coaching and a competition elements in your training. With respect to coaching, you obviously have to cue athletes into higher quality movements; otherwise, you're just further ingraining faulty patterns. This is analogous to driving an out-of-alignment car as fast as you can.

Conversely, I think there is something to be said about shutting up and just letting athletes run fast and compete with each other. Most elite sprinters train as part of groups, not individually. The same can be said of the best NFL combine preparation set-ups; guys push each other to get better. Timing and mirror drills are great ways to cultivate this competitive spirit in the training environment.

Ideally, you get a little bit of both competition and coaching in every movement training session. As I look at our typical week with our pro guys, our heaviest speed, agility, and quickness days are Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesdays tend to be less coaching intensive and more competition as the athletes sprint together. On Saturdays, things are more coaching intensive as we work indoors with everything 30 yards or less in distance. I'll do more video work, and rarely have more than one guy sprinting at a time. As the season approaches, we'll integrate more of the coaching intensive work prior to strength training on Mondays as well.

7. Video has changed the game.

Video - and more specifically, slow-motion video - has changed how we coach movement training dramatically. We spend a lot of time coaching proper angles - whether it's torso lean or shin positioning - and being able to freeze-frame videos and show athletes where they are at various points in time can help an athlete to acquire or hone new skills much quicker than in previous years. If you're not videoing speed, agility, and quickness work, start!

One word of caution, though: don't let video interrupt the "flow" of the session. If you're not careful, you can wind up watching and discussing video for 5-10 minutes between each set. It's important to use the video as a resource, but not rely on it so heavily that it interrupts quality work. 

Wrap-up

Speed, agility, and quickness training are incredible broad topics, so I'm really just scratching the surface with these seven observations. If you're looking for a more exhaustive resource from one of the best coaches and teachers in the strength and conditioning field, I highly recommend Complete Speed Training from Lee Taft. This excellent product is on sale for $100 through this Friday at midnight.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/5/15

Written on February 5, 2015 at 8:29 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone's week is going well. It's a bit late, but here is a collection of recommended strength and conditioning reading for the week:

How and Why to Make the Perfect Super Shake - We're big fans of "super shakes" for getting in healthy calories in a convenient way, especially if you're a teenage athlete who hates waking up early for breakfast. Check out this great "how to" infographic on the topic from our friends at Precision Nutrition.

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers - This is a book I should have read a long time ago, but for some reason, I never got around to it. I'm now halfway through listening to it, and I regret not doing so sooner. It could have made my education regarding stress and the autonomic nervous system a lot more efficient!

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Baseball Injuries: What to Expect in the Next Few Months - Football season is over, so it's time for baseball! Pretty soon, you'll be hearing about how "Player X is on the disabled list with Injury Y." In this article from a while back, I discuss exactly why this is the case. 

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Strength Strategies – Installment 2

Written on February 3, 2015 at 8:46 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins, who'll be presenting his Optimizing the Big 3 Workshop at our Hudson, MA location on March 8.

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As with our first installment, I'll break my recommendations down into four categories: mindset, programming/planning, nutrition/recovery, and technique. Here we go!

1. Mindset: Study, practice, experiment, evaluate.

The best lifters I have come across are very cerebral in their approach to something as physically driven as moving heavy loads on a barbell. This is even true of the ones you may categorize as anything but “cerebral.”

In order to master anything, you must study, practice, experiment, and evaluate.

If you want to be a high-level lifter, you will only get so far with brute physical effort, even if it is a must-have in the recipe for success. You need to treat strength as a skill, and lifting is something you can dissect and study.

Make it a point to dissect your own technique; garner a rudimentary understanding for physics, physiology, and anatomy; and study the approaches of those who have been successful in what you aim to do. With that said, when studying lifters, try to focus on those who have similar builds and lifestyles as you do. Imitating the approaches of people who are dramatically different physically (leverages) and socially (recovery capacity, training frequency) will not be nearly as productive.

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2. Planning/Programming: Instruction is the main objective of supplemental exercise selection.

Ben Franklin said, “That which hurts, instructs.” It’s one of my favorite sayings and can obviously be applied, if not more appropriately, to more than simply choosing supplemental exercises in strength training planning. However, it is quite fitting as a rule of thumb for a key piece in developing high levels of strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Getting outside of the “comfort zone” is a necessary step in achieving something outside of what one is already capable. In choosing supplementary exercises in your training, think about ways to slightly alter the classic three lifts that will do three things.

1. Teach you about the proper execution of the main lift.
2. Target weak muscles, which may otherwise “take a play off” via your ability to compensate in the main lift.
3. Get you to challenge yourself physically by executing them in such a way that is not advantageous for your usual approach.

You want to choose an exercise that essentially works as coach for your shortcomings in the main lift. For example, here are two pictures of one of my distance-based clients. The most important shortcoming in his squat was the inability to understand upper back extension, elbow placement, and head position in his set up. This resulted in forward weight shifting throughout the movement. While he did respond to some video analysis and cueing, he responded instantly to using the high bar squat as his supplementary squat exercise.

The high bar position forced him to work on all the points above and we turned his low bar numbers into high bar numbers. This quickly helped his low bar numbers have new heights, and no ceiling restricted by poor positioning.

squat comparison

Furthermore, we used the high bar squat to help him build strength in the upper back, and quads, which were no doubt less of a player in his original approach as the torso position placed greater demands on the hamstrings and low/mid back.

To top it off, we made his intensity-based work high-bar focused, and his volume-based work low-bar focused. This gave him a better chance of learning better low-bar position by not challenging him with the weight on the bar, and by giving him more time under load in the proper low set up.

While not all your supplementary work needs to hit each of the three aforementioned points, it must always hit the first one. In many cases, if you take the time to think out your approach, you will find ways where you can hit all three, and this will lead to great progress.

3. Nutrition/Recovery: Appreciate (and modify) food texture.

Nutrition is something that has always fascinated me. It’s not so much the science of the food itself, though, but rather the mental game of proper nutrition. I firmly believe the majority of somewhat health conscious people understand enough about food quality, and portion size, to achieve a physique they can be happy about, not to mention one that is healthy and capable of performing on a high level.

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The fitness industry, popular media, and major food companies have unfortunately sent us so many mixed messages, exaggerated headlines, embellished research findings, and utterly misdirected crap that many people are left more than a bit confused. Moreover, food itself serves as a readily available and affordable option for people to turn to in emotional situations ranging from despair to celebration.

One of the keys to making nutrition productive is to be able to enjoy items that are actually conducive to your efforts.

With that in mind, I challenge you to pay attention to textures when it comes to meal preparation. Acknowledging the textures you prefer and dislike is a great way to help everyone from the person looking to bring down total consumption to the person who needs to consume more.

In general, we prefer a variety of texture to our food, and yet many of us see very little of it when we consistently turn to the same foods.

Here are two quick ideas, and I am sure you can think of more.

1. Add some crunch to your chicken by tossing the chicken in some egg whites and rolling it through so panko bread crumbs.
2. Make your smoothie a little ahead of time, pour it in a bowl, toss it in the freezer a few hours. Enjoy it as a frozen treat with a spoon, instead of a lukewarm viscous liquid from a plastic shaker bottle.

Going the extra step to toast your bread, make sweet potato fries instead of the usual bake, or even tossing something with a little chewiness or crunch to a salad can make a world of difference in your compliance.

4. Technique/Exercise Instruction: Perfect the glute-ham raise.

The glute-ham raise is a phenomenal exercise for developing the posterior chain. While some find the barrier to entry too high for beginner lifters, I find the problem rests mostly with a misunderstanding of how to properly set up and execute the movement. This video should shed some light on the subject.

5. Bonus Interview!

As a bonus, and in anticipation of my upcoming “Optimizing The Big 3” workshop on March 8th at Cressey Sports Performance, I sat down with CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo to talk about the seminar, and lifting in general. Here's the entire conversation:

And, you can learn more about the workshop HERE. Don't delay, though, as the early-bird registration deadline is February 8.

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Avoid this Common Wall Slide Mistake

Written on January 29, 2015 at 9:32 am, by Eric Cressey

Those of you who have followed my work for any length of time surely know that I'm a big fan of including wall slide variations to improve scapular (shoulder blade) control. To get the benefits of these drills, though, it's important to use the right technique. Here's one mistake we commonly see, especially in really "tight" athletes who have a lot of stiffness in their lats to overcome:

Apologies for the contribution from Cressey Sports Performance mascot Tank Cressey at the 1:05 mark! This guy thought it'd be a good idea to bark hello to the UPS guy in the middle of my video.

TankTrapBar

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/28/15

Written on January 28, 2015 at 7:30 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Here are three articles worth reviewing:

7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum - This Andrew Zomberg article is specifically targeted toward all my friends who are snowed in up in the Northeast. If you want to get your training in when the gym isn't open, you've got to be a little creative.

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5 Reasons Your Program Isn't Working - This article's messages might seem like common sense, but let's face it: common sense isn't so common anymore. It's great stuff from Mike Robertson at T-Nation.

Risky Fitness - Jen Sinkler takes a close look at risk: reward considerations in training programs. This appeals to me heavily, as a lot of my one-time consultations are folks who have traveled long distances to help undo the damage of irresponsible training programs.

Have a great Wednesday!

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