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7 Ways to Make Your Strength Training Programs More Efficient

Written on October 21, 2014 at 9:00 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm a big believer in pursuing maximum efficiency in our training programs. We want exercises and training strategies that deliver the biggest "bang for our buck," as most people don't have all day to spend in the gym. That said, supersets, compound exercises, and other well-known approaches on this front are staples of just about all my programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the typical strategies just don't get the job done sufficiently. There are periods in folks' lives that are absurdly busy and require approaches to kick the efficiency up a notch further. With us opening a new facility right as our busiest season is upon us - and my wife pregnant with twins - you could say that this topic has been on my mind quite a bit these days. With that in mind, here are seven strategies you can utilize to get a great training effect as efficiently as possible.

1. Switch to a full-body split.

Let's face it: you might never get in as much work on a 3-day training split as you do on a 4-day training split. However, you can usually get in just as much high quality work. I've always enjoyed training schedules that had me lifting lower body and upper body each twice a week. However, usually, the last few exercises in each day are a bit more "filler" in nature: direct arm work, secondary core exercises, rotator cuff drills, and other more "isolation" drills. In a three-day full-body schedule, you should really be just focusing on the meat and potatoes; it's the filler you cut out.

Additionally, I know a lot of folks who actually prefer full-body schedules over upper/lower splits. This was one reason why I included 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training options in The High Performance Handbook.

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2. Do your foam rolling at another point during the day.

There has been a lot of debate about when the best time to foam roll is. While we generally do it pre-training with our athletes, the truth is that the best time is really just whenever it's most convenient - so that you're more likely to actually do it! If you'd rather foam roll first thing in the morning or at night right before bed, that's totally fine. As long as you get it in, over the long haul, you really won't see a difference if you compare pre-training to another point in the day.

3. Do a second, shorter session at home. (Waterbury, PLP program example)

Remember that not all training sessions have to actually take place in a gym. Rather, you might find that it's possible to get in 1-2 of your weekly training sessions at home. As an example, I have an online consulting client who has a flexible schedule on the weekends, but a crazy schedule during the week. He does two challenging sessions with heavier loading on the weekends (lower body on Saturday and upper body on Sunday). Then, he'll work in some filler work with body weight, band, and kettlebell exercises on Tuesday and Thursday. He's still getting in plenty of work in during the week, but he doesn't have to set aside extra time to drive to and from the gym. Obviously, a home gym alone can make for more efficient programs, too!

4. Move to multi-joint mobility drills.

If you're in a rush to get in a great training effect - and abbreviated warm-up - don't pick drills that just mobilize a single joint. Rather, pick drills that provide cover a lot of "surface area." Here are a few of my favorites, as examples:

Typically, you're going to want to do fewer ground-based drills and more drills where you're standing and moving around.

5. Dress in layers.

Speaking of warm-ups, it'll take you longer to warm-up if you dress lightly - especially as the winter months approach. Athletes always comment that they get (and stay) warm better when they wear tights underneath shorts, or sweatshirts and sweatpants over t-shirts and shorts. Of course, you can remove layers as you warm up.

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Additionally, if you're an early morning exerciser, you can expedite the warm-up process by taking a hot shower upon rising. A cup of coffee can help the cause as well.

6. Add in mobility fillers.

If you're going to shorten the warm-up a bit, you can always "make up" for it by working in "fillers" between sets of your compound exercises. I actually incorporate this with a lot of the programs I write, anyway. If you look at our baseball athletes, they're often doing arm care drills in between sets of squats, deadlifts, and lunges. They get in important work without making the sessions drag on really long, but at the same time, it paces them on the heavier, compound exercises so that they aren't rushing.

7. Use "combination" core movements.

Usually, the word "core" leads to thoughts of unstable surface training, thousands of sit-ups, or any of a number of other monotonous, ineffective, flavor-of-the-week training approaches. In reality, the best core training exercises are going to be compound movements executed in perfect form. Overhead pressing, Turkish get-ups, 1-arm pressing/rows/carries, and single-leg movements (just to name a few) can deliver a great training effect. Complement them with some chops/lifts, reverse crunches, dead bugs, and bear crawls, and you're pretty much covered.

There are really just seven of countless strategies you can employ to make your training programs more efficient. Feel free to share your best tips on this front in the comments section below. And, if you're looking to take the guesswork out of your programming, I'd encourage you to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/20/14

Written on October 20, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It's a big week for us at Cressey Sports Performance, as we're in the home stretch and about to get into our new training facility in Jupiter, FL. If you want to follow along, I'll be posting some progress pics on my Instagram account. While I won't have much time to pull together new content this week, I can definitely tell you the following articles will be well worth your time!

Widening the Aerobic Window - Mike Robertson has published some excellent stuff on energy systems development in the past, and this article does a great job of building on them.

The Six Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up - I reincarnated this old post on Twitter yesterday, and it was a big hit. So, I thought I'd remind the EricCressey.com readers, too.

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How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are - I always love reading research on social phenomenons and how people behave. This Wall Street Journal article highlights some entertaining stuff in this realm.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/15/14

Written on October 15, 2014 at 6:47 am, by Eric Cressey

For this week's installment of "Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read," we've got something for just about every taste in the health and human performance industry: nutrition, sports performance, and psychology/mentality:

Blood Sugar Management: What Your Doctor Doesn't Know About Glucose Testing - Dr. Brian Walsh of Precision Nutrition discusses how monitoring blood glucose is more complex than one might think.

17 Helpful Things Hyper-Neurotic People Can Do for a Better Life - Miguel Aragoncillo is the newest edition to the Cressey Sports Performance team, and here, he talks about ways to relax instead of overanalyzing.

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Exercise of the Week: Heidens with External Rotation Stick - We were talking about this exercise in quite a bit of detail yesterday at our Elite Baseball Mentorship, as it's one I really like to work in with our pitchers to teach them to accept force. 

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The Overhead Lunge Walk: My Favorite “Catch-All” Assessment

Written on October 12, 2014 at 7:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

We spend a good chunk of our lives standing on one-leg. Obviously, that means we need to train on one leg, but it's also important that fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists assess folks when they're in single-leg stance, too. Enter the overhead lunge walk, which is likely my favorite assessment because of just how comprehensive it is.

Why is it so great? Let's examine it, working from the upper extremity to the lower extremity.

First, you can evaluate whether someone has full extension of the elbows. Just tell folks to "reach the fingers to the sky." In a baseball population, as an example, you can quickly pick up on an elbow flexion contracture, as it's quick and easy to make a comparison to the non-throwing side.

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Additionally, you can screen for congenital laxity, as a lot of hypermobile (loose jointed) folks will actually hyperextend the elbows during the overhead reach.

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At the shoulder girdle, you can evaluate whether an individual has full shoulder flexion range of motion:

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You can also tell whether the aforementioned hypermobile folks actually move excessively at the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder, as they'll actually go too far into flexion instead of moving through the shoulder blades.

You can determine whether an individual has an excessively kyphotic, neutral, or extended thoracic spine. If they're kyphotic, they'll struggle to get overhead without compensation (arching the lower back or going into forward head posture). If they've got an excessively extended thoracic spine, they'll actually go too far with the overhead reach (hands will actually wind up behind the head if it's combined with a very "loose" shoulder).

You can tell whether an individual is able to fully upwardly rotate the shoulder blades in the overhead position.

You can tell whether someone preferentially goes into forward head posture as a compensation for limited shoulder flexion, poor anterior core control, or a lack of thoracic spine extension or scapular posterior tilt.

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You can evaluate whether an individual has enough anterior core control to resist extension of the lumbar spine (lower back) during overhead reaching. This is a great test of relative stiffness of the rectus abdominus and external obliques relative to the latissimus dorsi.

You can evaluate whether an individual is in excessive anterior or posterior pelvic tilt from the side view.

Also from the side view, you can determine whether the athlete hyperextends the knees in the standing position.

With the lunge, you can see if an athlete is quad dominant - which is clearly evidenced if the stride is short and the knee drifts out past the toes of the front leg. You can also venture a guess as to whether he or she has full hip extension range of motion.

Also with the lunge, you can determine how much control the athlete has over the frontal and tranverse planes; does the knee cave in significantly?

You can make a reasonably good evaluation of foot and ankle function. Does the ankle collapse excessively into pronation? Or, does he stay in supination and "thud" down?

Does the athlete handle the deceleration component effectively, indicating solid eccentric strength in the lower extremity?

As you can see, this assessment can tell you a ton about someone's movement capabilities and provide you with useful information for improving your program design. Taking it a step further, though, it goes to show you that if you select the right "general" assessments, you can make your assessment process much more efficient.

Looking for more thoughts on the assessment and corrective exercise front? I'd strongly encourage you to check out Post-Rehab Essentials from Dean Somerset. This outstanding resource is on sale for $30 off through Monday, 10/13, at midnight. You can learn more HERE.

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7 Random Thoughts on Corrective Exercise and Post-Rehab Training

Written on October 8, 2014 at 7:10 am, by Eric Cressey

If you've read much of my stuff (most notably this article), you likely appreciate that I think it's really important for fitness professionals to understand corrective exercise and post-rehab training. Folks are demonstrating poorer movement quality than ever before, and injuries are getting more and more prevalent and specific. For the fitness professional, corrective exercise can quickly become a tremendous opportunity - or a huge weakness. To that end, given that Dean Somerset's great resource, Post-Rehab Essentials, is on sale this week, I wanted to devote some thoughts to the subject with these seven points of "Eric Cressey Randomness."

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1. Refer out. - With more and more certifications and seminars devoted to corrective work, the industry has a lot more "corrective cowboys:" people who are excited to be able to "fix" everything. Unfortunately, while this passion is admirable, it can lead to folks taking on too much and refusing to refer out. To that end, I think it's important for us to constantly remind fitness professionals to not work outside their scope of practice.

Referring out is AWESOME. I do it every single day - and to a wide variety of professionals. It provides me with more information, and more importantly, helps me toward the ultimate goal of getting the client/athlete better. Trainers often worry that if they refer out, they'll lose money. This generally isn't true, but even if it was, it's a short-term thing. If you appreciate the lifetime value of the client, you'll realize that getting him/her healthy will make you more profitable over the long-term.

Additionally, I've developed an awesome network of orthopedic specialists in the greater Boston area. As a result, I can generally get a client in to see a specialized doctor for any joint in about 24-48 hours. It's an awesome opportunity to "overdeliver" to a client - but it never would have come about if I hadn't been willing to refer out. As an added bonus, we'll often get referrals from these doctors as well.

2. Ancillary treatments are key. - For my entire career, I've been motivated by the fact that I absolutely hate not knowing something. It's pushed me to always continue my education and not get comfortable with what I know, and it's helped me to be open-minded to new ideas. However, I'm humble enough to recognize my limitations. I know a lot about elbows, but I'm not going to do your Tommy John surgery. I've worked with more pitchers than I can count, but I'm not a pitching coach. And, even if I was able to do all these things, there's no way I'd have time to do them all and leverage my true strengths. In other words, I rely heavily on competent professionals around me for everything from sport-specific training, to manual therapy, to diagnostic imaging, to surgery, to physical therapy, to nutritional recommendations. Surround yourself with great people with great skillsets, and corrective exercise quickly becomes a lot easier.

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3. Soft tissue work is effective.

Here's what I know: people feel better after they foam roll, and their range of motion improves. Additionally, soft tissue treatments have been around for thousands of years for one reason: they work!

For some reason, though, every 4-6 months, somebody with a blog claims that foam rolling is the devil and doesn't work, and then dozens of people blow up my email address with questions about whether the world is going to end.

The truth is that we know very little about why various soft tissue approaches work. I recall a seminar with bodywork expert and fascial researcher Thomas Myers from a few year back, and he commented that we "know about 25% of what we need to know about the fascial system." If Myers doesn't have all the answers, then Johnny Raincloud, CPT probably hasn't found the secrets during his long-term stay in his parents' basement.

With that in mind, I do think it's safe to say that not all people respond the same to soft tissue work, and certainly not all soft tissue approaches are created equal. Foam rolling doesn't deliver the same results as an instrument-assisted approach, and dry needling likely works through dramatically different physiological avenues than cupping. As a result, we're left asking the client: "does it make you feel and move better?" If the answer continues to be "yes," then I'll keep recommending various soft tissue treatments - including foam rolling - until someone gives me a convincing contrarian argument with anecdotal evidence.

4. Strength can be corrective.

Ever had a friend with anterior knee pain (patellar tendinopathy) who went to physical therapy, did a bunch of leg extensions, and somehow managed to leave asymptomatic? It was brutally "non-functional" and short-sighted rehab, but it worked. Why?

Very simply, the affected (degenerative or inflamed) tissues had an opportunity to rest, and they came back stronger than previously. A stronger tissue is less likely to become degenerative or inflamed as it takes on life's demands.

Good rehab would have obviously focused on redistributing stress throughout the body so that this one tissue wouldn't get overloaded moving forward. In the patellar tendon example, developing better ankle and hip mobility would be key, and strength and motor control at the hip and lumbar spine would be huge as well. Certainly, cleaning up tissue quality would be a great addition, too. However, that doesn't diminish the fact that a stronger tissue is a healthier tissue.

This also extends to the concept of relative stiffness. As an example, a stronger lower trapezius can help to overcome the stiffness in the latissimus dorsi during various upper extremity tasks.

And, a stronger anterior core can ensure corrective spine and rib positioning during overhead reaching - again, to overcome stiff lats.

Don't ever forget that it's your job to make people stronger. If you get too "corrective" in your mindset, pretty soon, you've got clients who just come in and foam roll and stretch for 60 minutes, then leave without actually sweating. You still have to deliver a training effect!

5. Minimalist sneakers might be your worst nightmare if you have high arches.

I love minimalist sneakers for my sprint and change-of-direction work. I don't, however, love to wear them on hard floors for 8-10 hours a day. I'm part of the small percentage of the population that has super high arches and doesn't decelerate very well, so cushioning is my best friend. Throwing in a $2 "cut-to-fit" padding in my sneakers has done wonders for my knees over the years, and I'll actually wear through them every 4-6 weeks.

The New Balance Minimus 00 is a sneaker I've been wearing recently to overcome this. It's a zero drop shoe (no slope down from the heel to the toe), and while lightweight, it offers a bit more cushioning (and lateral support, for change of direction) than typical minimal options.

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All that said, just don't force a round peg in a square hole with respect to footwear. Some people just aren't ready for minimalist footwear - and even if they are ready to try them out, make sure you integrate usage gradually.

6. The pendulum needs to swing back to center with respect to thoracic spine mobilizations. - Thoracic spine mobility deficits are a big problem in the general population, given the number of people who spend too much time sitting at a computer. Athletes are a bit of a different situation, though, as some actually have flat (excessively extended) thoracic spines and don't need more mobility. As an example, check out the top of this yoga push-up before we corrected it.

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This athlete has a flat thoracic spine, limited shoulder flexion, and insufficient scapular upward rotation. So, he'll logically go to the path of least resistance: excessive thoracic motion (as evidenced by the "arch" in his upper back). The shoulder blades don't rotate up sufficiently, and he's also "riding" on the superior aspect of his glenohumeral (shoulder ball-and-socket) joint. Here is it, "mostly" corrected a few seconds later:

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By getting him to "fill up" the space between his shoulder blades with his rib cage (encouraging more thoracic flexion) and cueing better upward rotation of his scapula, we can quickly recognize how limited his shoulder flexion is. In the first photo, he's forcing shoulder ROM that isn't there, whereas in the second one, he's working within the context of his current mobility limitations.

If we just feed into his thoracic spine hypermobility with more mobilizations, we'll just be teaching him to move even worse.

7. You'll never address movement impairments optimally unless nutrition and supplementation are spot on. - It never ceases to amaze me how many athletes will bust their butts in the gym and in rehab, following those programs to a "T" - but supplement that work with a steady diet of energy drinks and crappy food. I'm not talking about debating whether grains and dairy are bad, and whether "paleo" is too extreme for an athlete; those are calculus questions when we should be talking about basic math. A lot of athletes literally don't eat vegetables or drink enough water. That's as basic as it comes. Movement quality will never improve optimally unless you're healthy on the inside, too.

This article was actually a lot of fun to write, so I'll probably turn it into a series for a bit down the road. In the meantime, though, I'd encourage you to check out Dean Somerset's Post-Rehab Essentials resource to learn more in this regard. I don't hesitate to endorse this comprehensive corrective exercise resource, as the content is fantastic, Dean is an excellent teacher, and the product provides some continuing education credits. As an added bonus, Dean has put it on sale this week for $30 off - and it's backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee. Check it out HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/6/14

Written on October 6, 2014 at 8:10 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I include an in-service on the top 10 mistakes I see with medicine ball training. I also have two new exercise demonstration videos, and an article on how to prevent "training boredom."

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5 Thoughts on Sprinting - This informative post from Mike Robertson draws on insights from his own experience and what he's learned from others.

Squatting Semantics - Charlie Weingroff presents a quick, but informative look at the different kinds of squats and benefits that each affords - assuming technique is correct.

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Coaching the Close-Grip Bench Press

Written on October 3, 2014 at 6:39 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that the bench press is one of the "Big 3" lifts for a reason: it offers a lot of bang for your upper body training buck. That said, the close-grip bench press is an awesome variation, as it can be more shoulder-friendly and offer slightly different training benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of lifters struggle to perfect close-grip bench press technique, so I thought I'd "reincarnate" this video I originally had featured on Elite Training Mentorship. Enjoy!

If you're looking for a more detailed bench press tutorial - and a comprehensive bench press specialization program - I'd encourage you to check out Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide.

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Have a great weekend!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/30/14

Written on September 30, 2014 at 6:01 am, by Eric Cressey

This week's recommended reading is a day late in light of my travels, but fortunately, I've got some good content to make up for my tardiness. Here you go!

Contagious: Why Things Catch On - I listened to this audio book from Jonah Berger on my ride down to FL in early September, and really enjoyed it. If you like Chip and Dan Heath's writing, you'll like Berger's, too.

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The Return of the Oriole Way - I'm a big Buck Showalter fan. I think his preparation and leadership is very admirable, and every guy I've ever trained has raved about how we'll he's prepared his team. This article delves into how his approach - and Dan Duquette's effective work as GM - helped to get the Orioles to where they are.

Fitness and Menstrual Health - Dr. Spencer Nadolsky presents a comprehensive look at a topic that has a significant influence on how our female readers feel, look, and perform. I especially like the fact that he differentiated between "energy deficit" and "nutrient deficiency" as causes.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 6

Written on September 25, 2014 at 3:38 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this month's sports performance training musings. Many of these thoughts came about because we have a lot of our professional baseball guys back to kick off their off-season training, so I'm doing quite a few assessments each week. In no particular order...

1. There is a difference between "informative" assessments and "specific" assessments.

I recently spoke with a professional baseball pitcher who told me that his post-season evaluation included a 7-site body fat assessment, but absolutely no evaluation of scapular control or rotator cuff strength/timing.  Skinfold calipers (especially in the hands of someone without a ton of experience using them) are hardly accurate or precise, but they can at least be "informative." In other words, they tell you something about an athlete. 

However, I wouldn't call a body fat assessment a "specific" assessment. In other words, it's really hard to say that "Player X" is going to get injured because his body fat is 17% instead of 15%.

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Conversely, we absolutely know that having poor scapular control and rotator cuff function is associated with a dramatically increased risk of injury in throwers. Checking out upper extremity function is a "specific" assessment.

This example, to me, illustrates why good assessments really are athlete- and sport-specific. Body fat assessments mean a lot more to hockey players than they do to baseball players, but nobody ever attributed a successful NHL career to having great rotator cuff strength.

Don't assess just for the sake of assessing; instead, assess to acquire pertinent information that'll help guide your program design to reduce injury risk and enhance performance.

2. Extremes rarely work.

Obviously, in a baseball population, most athletes have at least some kind of injury history. It's generally a lot of elbows and shoulders, but core and lower extremity injuries definitely show up on health histories. When I see these issues, I always try to ask plenty of questions to get a feel for what kind of training preceded these injuries. In the majority of cases, injuries seem to come after a very narrow focus - or specialization period.

Earlier this week, I saw a pro baseball guy with chronic on-and-off low back pain. He commented on how it flared up heavily in two different instances: once in college, and the second time during his first off-season. In both cases, it was after periods when he really heavily emphasized squatting 2-3 times per week in an effort to add mass to his lower body. Squats were the round peg, and his movement faults made his body the square hole. Had he only squatted once a week, he might have gotten away with it - but the extreme nature of the approach (high volume and frequency) pushed him over the edge.

I've seen command issues in pitchers who threw exclusively weighted balls, but rarely played catch with another human being. I've seen plenty of medial elbow discomfort in athletes who got too married to the idea of adding a ton of extra weight to their pull-ups.

General fitness folks, powerlifters, and other strength sport athletes can get away with "extreme" specialization programs. Heck, I even co-created a resource called The Specialization Success Guide!

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However, athletes in sports that require a wide array of movements just don't seem to do well with a narrow training focus over an extended period of time. Their bodies seem to crave a rich proprioceptive environment. I think this is why "clean-squat-bench press only" programs leave so many athletes feeling beat-up, unathletic, and apathetic about training.  

3. Consider athletes' training experience before you determine their learning styles.

I'm a big believer in categorizing all athletes by their dominant learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

Visual learners can watch you demonstrate an exercise, and then go right to it.

Auditory learners can simply hear you say a cue, and then pick up the desired movement or position.

Kinesthetic learners seem to do best when they're actually put in a position to appreciate what it feels like, and then they can crush it.

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In young athletes and inexperienced clients, you definitely want to try to determine what learning style predominates with them so that you can improve your coaching. Conversely, in a more advanced athlete with considerable training experience, I always default to a combination of visual and auditory coaching. I'll simply get into the position I want from them, and try to say something to the point (less than ten words) to attempt to incorporate it into a schema they likely already have.

This approach effectively allows me to leverage their previous learning to make coaching easier. Chances are that they've done a comparable exercise - or at least another drill that requires similar patterns - in previous training. As such, they might be able to get it 90% correct on the first rep, so my coaching is just tinkering.

Sure, there will still be kinesthetic learners out there, but I find that they just aren't as common in advanced athletes with significant training experience. As such, I view kinesthetic awareness coaching as a means to the ultimate end of "subconsciously" training athletes to be more in tune with visual and auditory cues that are easier to deliver, especially in a group setting.

4. Separate training age from chronological age.

This can be a difficult concept to relate, so I'll try an example.

I have some 16-year-old athletes who have trained with us at Cressey Sports Performance for 3-4 years and have great anterior core awareness and control. I'd have no problem giving them the slideboard bodysaw push-up, which I'd consider a reasonably advanced anterior core and upper body strength challenge that requires considerable athleticism.

Conversely, I've had professional baseball players in their mid 20s who've shown up on their first day with us and been unable to do a single quality push-up. The professional athlete designation might make you think that they require advanced progressions, but the basics still work with the pros. You might just find that they picked things up quicker - and therefore can advance to new progressions a bit more rapidly than the novice 13-year-old.

Quality years of training means a lot more than simply the number of years a young athlete has been alive, so make sure you're working off the right number!

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4 Reasons We Struggle With “Diets”

Written on September 23, 2014 at 7:02 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we featured some nutrition content on EricCressey.com, so today, I've got a guest post from Sohee Lee, whose last contribution here was a big hit. It's very timely, as her new resource, Reverse Dieting, was just released and is on sale this week. Enjoy! -EC

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Dieting necessarily implies some form of restriction – normally starting with some sort of calorie suppression. The truth is, most dieters take the restriction a little too far – a combination of too few calories and too many foods on the forbidden list.

It should go without saying that resorting to extremes when it comes to fat loss will rarely end well. Yet perhaps due to the mentality that working harder should yield better results, this crash dieting phenomenon refuses to let up.

What’s ironic, however, is that the United States is the single most diet-obsessed nation in the world, but we’re also the most obese. This is no coincidence. The National Weight Control Registry reports that we spend a grand total of $20 billion a year on the diet industry (books, drugs, products, and surgeries), with approximately 108 million people on a diet in the U.S. at any given moment.

While there are a multitude of socioeconomic, technological, and environmental factors that contribute to this alarming rate, the truth is that when it comes to fat loss, we humans are fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. Our bodies were not designed to subsist on a food-deprived state. By embarking on crash diets, then, we fire up the biological and psychological mechanisms that protect against starvation and incline us, ultimately, to more weight gain.

Here are four common mistakes that you might be making with your diet.

1. You don’t consume enough protein.

Of the three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fats – protein is the most important when it comes to muscle retention while on a diet. Dietary protein is considered muscle sparing, meaning that it increases protein synthesis, and it can also be utilized for the synthesis of glucose, or glycogenesis. Additionally, protein is considered an "expensive" molecule to be used as energy, so to speak, and consequently has a thermic effect.

When it comes to dietary consumption, people tend to fall in two camps: the first camp, mostly the general population, doesn’t consume nearly enough, while the second camp, consisting primarily of athletes and bodybuilding aficionados, perhaps consumes more than necessary. The majority of people tend to fall in the former category.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the average American male ingests 102 grams of protein per day and the average American female consumes 70 grams. Is this too much or too little?

The reality is that the body is actually highly efficient at absorbing amino acid, the constituents of protein. The small intestines and liver use a good portion of these amino acids for their own energy and protein synthesis before the remaining gets shuttled into the bloodstream – and at that point, they are further utilized by other tissues, including your heart and skin. Only after all of this happens do the amino acids get used in muscle building.

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As for the myth that high protein intake is damaging to the kidneys, those whispers can be laid to rest. A number of studies and reviews suggest that “there is no reason to restrict protein in healthy individuals” and have found no adverse effect with an intake up to 1.27 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day (1). In fact, those same studies make one question whether low protein intake may actually be a cause of renal function decline.

What happens when you’re in a caloric deficit with insufficient protein, then, is that you lose lean body mass. Which, when you think about it, is not desirable, because the ultimate goal is fat loss, isn’t it? With loss of muscle mass, you become a softer, doughier version of your former self – not anymore defined or chiseled. And ultimately, your relative bodyfat actually increases, which thereby increases your bodyfat percentage as well. Doesn’t sound so great, does it?

We can then flip the question to: if a high protein diet is not harmful to my health, then how much is optimal? More specifically, how much should be consumed per meal when dieting?

The general rule of thumb is to aim for your body weight in grams of protein each day. So if you weigh 150lbs, then you should be consuming approximately 150g protein. Obviously the exact number is going to vary from one individual to the next based on age, exercise regimen, dieting history, level of leanness, and other factors, but it’s a good starting point.

2. You go too hard, too fast.

It’s true that we live in an obese nation, consisting largely of folks who eat way beyond their bodies’ caloric needs. Sitting on the opposite end of the pendulum, however, are those who grossly undereat in an effort to shed fat faster.

Ah, you might be saying, but clearly the more I undereat, the faster progress I will make.

To that end, you swear off all your favorite foods, and exercise all of a sudden becomes your part-time job. You swap out burgers and fries for spinach and dry chicken. You’re convinced that if you push yourself to the extremes, you will reap extraordinary rewards.

The thinking is logical enough. Work hard, do well; work harder and do even better; work the hardest you possibly can and achieve the best body of your dreams. Right?

If only it were that simple.

Unfortunately, the body is incredibly complex – far more than we tend to give it credit for. We fool ourselves a la the Dunning-Kruger effect (2), which is a cognitive bias by which people tend to overestimate their competence in any given task.

We are equipped with a number of psychological and biological mechanisms that work to ensure that fat loss does not occur.

Don’t think of a pink polar bear.

Polar Bear (Sow), Near Kaktovik, Barter Island, Alaska

Don’t do it.

Anything but a pink polar bear.

Don’t!

Hard to resist, isn’t it?

From a psychological standpoint, we do not fare well with being told that we cannot do something. In fact, research has shown that being forbidden from something actually increases our desire for that very thing (3). Why? Simply because it focuses our attention onto that specific matter instead of away from it, and all of a sudden, that’s all we can think about it.

Moreover, crash diets rely heavily on willpower – which might seem like a good thing at first glance, but willpower is incredibly exhaustible. What’s more, self control when it comes to work, family, relationships, dogs, and diet all rely on the same willpower storage (4). So if you’re facing a good deal of work stress, that will deplete your willpower, leaving less room to adhere to your strict diet. Eventually you’ll reach a point at which it’s impossible to say no to those cookies, and you’ll find yourself scarfing down everything but the kitchen sink.

There are a number of physiological changes that take place as well. A reduction in energy intake leads to the body’s anti-starvation mechanisms kicking in; they include decreased thermogenesis and increased appetite due to reduced levels of leptin and a spike in ghrelin, the hunger hormone (5). These, coupled with an increased in metabolic efficiency, make it exponentially more difficult to lose fat – and the more drastic the measures, the more extreme these biological responses.

What does this mean? You’re hungry, cranky, and fatigued, and all you can think about is your favorite chocolate cake that you’ve deemed off-limits. That, to me, doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

hangry

3. You’re impatient.

Ah, but you want results yesterday.

And who’s got the time to patiently wait three months, six months, or even a year?

Is it really necessary to be diligent for that long? Can’t you just take a pill, tap your shoes together, and wake up the next morning to a new-and-improved you?

I wish there were an easier way. But the truth is, consistency is the name of the game.

Most people will give a diet program maybe five days – two weeks if they’re lucky – before they jump ship onto the next cool fad. From Atkins to Zone to Paleo, they can’t seem to make up their minds.

The truth is, most of the popular diets out there do work, to some extent. The key, however, is actually sticking with the program long enough to elicit the desired results.

Does it provide you with sufficient protein? Adequate calories? Abundant food choices? If so, then you’re probably fine.

Just because you “only” lost one pound this past week does not mean that it’s not working. In fact, it’s a sign that it’s working just fine. So, instead of throwing in the towel or lamenting the time that you’ve supposedly wasted, might I suggest a radical idea: keep going.

4. You don’t have a plan for after the "diet" is done.

Nine times out of ten, here’s what happens with fat loss: in our angst to get to the final destination as soon as possible, we overlook the fact that there’s going to come a time when the diet is over. And when that happens, we need to be just as, if not more, prepared with a plan of attack.

Assuming that you can simply go back to your former lifestyle of potato chips and drive-throughs and easily maintain your results is a naïve yet common train of thought. But what many fail to appreciate is that oftentimes, weight loss maintenance is perhaps more difficult than the actual weight loss itself.

1024px-Potato-Chips

Why? Because the body is not static. It continues to respond to external stimuli. Meaning that if you all of a sudden consume calories in gross excess, the body will react by storing that extra energy in the form extra body fat and lean mass.

There are a number of routes to entertain at this point. One, you can continue to stay in a caloric deficit on the same diet program and keep up the intense training regimen – though from a longevity standpoint, I doubt that sounds very enticing. Two, you can bump up your calories slightly and enjoy the fruits of your labor for the time being. This also means you can slowly dwindle down any conditioning or cardio you may have been performing.

Lastly, if you’re interested in reverse the negative metabolic adaptation that occurred during fat loss, you may want to consider reverse dieting. This is a process by which you slowly and methodically increase your caloric intake in an effort to increase metabolic capacity and build some muscle while keeping fat gain at bay. This is a proven system in which people have been able to more than double their daily caloric intake while experiencing exponential strength gains.

reversedieting

Conclusion

The above is the culmination of the lessons I’ve learned through years of making mistake after fat loss mistake, plus my observations from working with hundreds of fat loss clients. My hope is that I can save you a good deal of stress, time, and energy by laying out the fundamental mistakes made in dieting that backfire.

I’ve found that, for just about every individual, if they stick to the principles above, they will see sustainable results. And ultimately, that’s the goal, isn’t it – to get off the yo-yo dieting wagon and stay lean for good, once and for all?

You have all the tools you need to succeed. Good luck on your journey.

Note from EC: In Reverse Dieting, Sohee and Dr. Layne Norton created an excellent resource. If there is someone in your life who struggles with "yo-yo dieting" - the inability to keep bodyfat off after diets - then this would be a great read (and plan) for them, especially at the great introductory deal that's in place for the next few days.

Also, references for this article are posted as the first comment below.

About the Author

Sohee Lee (@SoheeFit) graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Human Biology (Psychosocial and Biological Determinants of Health). Since completing an internship at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, she has worked as a coach and nutrition consultant at Tyler English Fitness in Canton, CT as well as New York City's Peak Performance. She currently works as a fitness writer, coach, and entrepreneur. Sohee is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Sohee faced anorexia and bulimia in the past, thus her main interests include eating disorders and the psychology behind relationships and decisions that we make as humans. She loves to talk fitness and admires those fit-minded people who can push and pull heavy weights. You can find her on Facebook and at her website, www.SoheeFit.com.

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