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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime: Part 1

Written on September 18, 2014 at 3:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Brooks Braga. Brooks did a tremendous job during his time with us - and his preparation before and during the internship was a big reason why. Remember, success isn't accidental. Enjoy! -EC

In late summer of 2013, I began the process of looking for an internship that would complete my undergraduate Exercise and Sport Science Major. I stumbled upon the NSCA job board and found a position at a well-known university in which I was extremely interested. After I clicked on the link, I was expecting to see a job description and long list of duties and responsibilities. Instead, what I saw made my jaw drop.

The entire listing was just a few sentences long. The bulk of it said something along the lines of: “If you’re interested in the position, please read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and submit a one-page essay on how it has affected you.”

Um…what?

Then it hit me – I had seen this book referenced somewhere. I looked at the forum of Mike Boyle’s website, and it was mentioned everywhere. Checked Eric Cressey’s Resources page. Yep. Headed over to the “Amazon Best Sellers” lists:

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And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. “How much was this thing going to run me?,” I thought. Well, about half as much as a Chipotle burrito. I thought I could do without the $4 it costs on Amazon to get my hands on a book so many successful people highly recommend, so I made the purchase and read it cover to cover.

As I worked my way through this fascinating book, I started to realize something: being a good trainer, at least in the eyes of your clients, is probably a heck of a lot more about how you understand and relate to them than it is about whether or not you have the fanciest equipment or use post-activation potentiation methods in their programming.

Although the scope of this blog post is aimed towards those in the fitness industry, it’s my personal opinion that the techniques discussed in Dale Carnegie’s book go far beyond new trainers and interns. You should be able to apply at least 10 principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People immediately, regardless of your business or fitness situation.

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In this two-part article on “Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime,” I’ll share with you how I utilized a few of the strategies from Mr. Carnegie, other resources, and personal experiences to make sure I made the most of the biggest opportunity of my life – interning at Cressey Sports Performance. Part 1 looks at techniques for building a good relationship with co-workers and clients, while part 2 will focus more on training knowledge preparation. Both include strategies to think about before and after you arrive to ensure a seamless transition into your new role.

There are too many wildly successful trainers with subpar knowledge bases running around to count. How does this happen? Well, if you had to choose to spend multiple hours per week with someone who makes an effort to understand you versus someone who doesn’t, which one would it be, regardless of his or her training knowledge? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t focus lots of time on developing your training knowledge, but you get the idea.

Here are a few relationship-boosting strategies to employ with co-workers and clients, with quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People below.

1. Find common ground.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

Do your homework on the staff. Read their blogs. Read their recommended reading. Watch their interviews. Read their bios on the company website. What makes them tick? Do you share any mutual interests? Think about ways to bring up common ground in your initial conversations with the staff (without forcing it or being creepy) when you arrive and you’ll find yourself having a smooth transition into being around a LOT of new people all at once.

As for clients: ask, listen, engage. Ask where they’re from, how their weekend was, etc. Jump on the first opportunity you find of common ground and you’ll find the conversation is a lot easier. CSP is home to hundreds of professional, collegiate, and high school baseball players each winter. Having played baseball in college, and then signing a professional contract myself, I made sure to find a way to bring this up humbly to create an instant connection and credibility.

CPPro

I was pretty fortunate to have this level of common ground with the client base, but the point remains the same: find mutual interests, experiences, friends, or anything else that comes to mind.

2. Write down and remember the names of people you meet.

“A person’s name is to them the sweetest sound in any language.”

I showed up on the CSP doorstep on the morning of January 2nd. Just a few hours later after intern orientation, I was tossed right into the fire during the busiest time of the year. Dozens upon dozens of professional, college, and high school baseball players and general population clients were walking around. How was I supposed to remember so many names?

I thought back to when I had read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Keith talked about how when Bill Clinton was in college at Georgetown University, he would bring an address book to parties and write down the names and information of people he would meet. Clinton would then study it and remember the individual and their story at conferences or chance encounters in the future!

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The benefits of writing down names of people you meet in public go beyond being the coolest person at the party – it gives you the chance to look over the list later on to help you remember the client’s name for the next time you see them. Believe me, using a client’s name the second time you see them can make a HUGE impression.

Keep a notebook off in the corner of the gym somewhere out of the way so that when you go on break or things get slow, you can quickly jot down the name and a few trigger words to help you remember it for the next time you see them. No more “I’m horrible with names” excuses. If you’re the type of person who remembers every name of every person you meet without trying, I envy you.

3. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

“…the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

People love to talk about what their passions. Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, routinely talks about how general population clients are some of the most amazing people to talk with in a gym that’s known as “the home to over 100 professional baseball players.” Many live interesting lives and have amazing stories to tell, from jumping out of planes wearing a Santa Claus suit to working in product development for one of the world’s leaders in headphones.

Ask them about their lives, interests, work, children, or anything you can think of that might be important to them. Get in the habit of referring back to their interests when you see them again. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about what you hear and the relationship that ensues.

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4. Be sincerely excited for someone when they tell you about an accomplishment or cool experience.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Think about a time when you were telling someone about an accomplishment or great experience of some sort and they seemed genuinely excited for you. Isn’t it the coolest thing ever when someone is seriously happy for something that happened to you, even though it doesn’t benefit him or her at all? If you’re not the type of person who gets excited for another’s successes, at least try to appear like you do. It will go a long way in making them feel special.

Moving into “training” techniques to use while you’re working with clients…

5. Begin with praise if bringing up a fault.

“It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”

Usually, if there are 10 things you have to get right on a certain exercise, the client is doing 8 or 9 of them correctly and 1 or 2 poorly. When you ask a client to fix a certain aspect of their form, be sure to emphasize what they’re doing right beforehand.

For example, on a single-arm cable row, you’ll often see a client moving too much through the glenohumeral joint and not enough at the scapulothoracic joint. Search for something they’re doing well before addressing the fault. In this example, consider saying something along of the lines of “Great job keeping a neutral lower back. You’re 95% of the way there. Now let’s work on what your shoulder blade is doing…”

6. Talk about your own mistakes first before criticizing someone else.

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”

Personally, I stunk at half-kneeling anti-rotation core exercises on the functional trainer when I first experimented with them. The movements feel awkward for many during their first few sets. When I’m taking a new client through the exercise and they’re having a tough time with form, I make sure to point out that I could have written a short novel about my inability to do them when I started, and that they’ll get the hang of it in no time. Show empathy and the client will keep trying until they get it right.

7. Praise slight improvements and every improvement.

“When criticism is minimized and praise emphasized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.”

If you spend all of your time dwelling on what your client is doing wrong and fail to emphasize what they’re doing right, you can be sure they are going to feel inadequate and won’t come back to work with you. Sincerely acknowledging what they are doing right will give them the extra motivation to get better.

In Summary:

• Find common ground as soon as possible
• Encourage clients and co-workers to talk about their interests
• Keep a running list of the names of people you meet, and study it
• Be genuinely excited for others’ accomplishments
• Begin with praise if bringing up a fault
• Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing someone else
• Praise slight improvements and every improvement

That’s it for part 1! Check back in soon for part 2 of the series, which will focus more on training knowledge preparation and ensuring a smooth transition into your role. In the meantime, I highly suggest you take a look at Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. Feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Training Programs: Are Health and Aesthetics Mutually Exclusive?

Written on September 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm, by Eric Cressey

Roughly once a week, I run Q&A sessions on my Facebook page. Often, they give rise to good blog ideas - and today's post is a perfect example, as I received this inquiry during this week's Q&A:

"How do you think that we, as fitness professionals, can help people move from looks-based result mentality to health-based result mentality?"

This post really got me thinking, as it can definitely be viewed in a number of different ways.

questi8-n

On one hand, I "get" what this fitness professional is trying to say: there are still a lot of people out there who are steadfastly adhering to old-school "body part splits" for training when it likely isn't the most efficient way to get to their goals. We want training that improves quality of movement if we're going to stay healthy and highly functional as the years go on.

On the other hand, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with folks wanting to look better - and allowing it to dictate their training approach as the "carrot at the end of the stick."  Whether we like it or not, what one sees in the mirror does have a dramatic impact on one's health - psychological health, that is.

In order words, the question seems to imply that looking good and being healthy are mutually exclusive training goals. I simply don't think that's the case - and for a number of reasons.

First, "health" means something entirely different to everyone. We obviously have a ton of different measures of health status with respect to chronic diseases, but what about being "healthy" enough to take on life's adventures on a daily basis? I know some powerlifters who would feel incredibly "unhealthy" if they tried to play racquetball, but I can guarantee you that if you took a racquetball only guy and asked him to train with a powerlifter for two hours, he'd feel really "unhealthy" the next day, too. If you train to be "healthy" in everything you do, you just might wind up not being really good at any one thing.

Second, I'd argue that there are loads of people out there who train exclusively for aesthetics and are incredibly healthy. Natural bodybuilders come to mind, and I know of a lot of people who "recreationally" bodybuild and supplement this training with powerlifting, Olympic lifting, sprint work, and recreational sports for variety and supplemental conditioning. I'm sure there are loads of accomplished "recreational" Crossfitters out there who have perfect blood work and no joint pain to match their developed physiques, too.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it's not our job to tell people what their goals should be; it's our job to help them work toward them, even if it does conflict with our own personal biases.

However, I don't think personal biases should be a problem in this context, though. You see, if you really look at successful strength and conditioning programs, they all have a ton of things in common. In fact, it might be 90% of the program that's comparable across "disciplines."

Everybody can foam roll and do mobility warm-ups, regardless of whether they want to look or just feel good.

Compound lower body exercise can benefit anyone, whether they want a firmer backside, better athletic performance, or just to fit in their jeans a little easier.

Most folks need extra horizontal pulling (rowing), regardless of whether they want to step on a bodybuilding stage or just not wind up with shoulder pain from slouching over the keyboard every day.

Fluctuating training stress and incorporating deloading periods is important whether you want to recovery and develop bigger biceps, or you just want to make sure you have enough energy left over after training to play with your kids at the end of the day.

I could go on and on, but the key message is that we can have both health and aesthetics - and if aesthetics are a goal that helps folks to work toward that end, then so be it. I'd be lying if I said that I don't derive more motivation from seeing my abs in the mirror in the morning than I do from a report that my blood lipid panel looks good. It's human nature that we're more concerned with what is public (our appearance) than what is private (our health), so we might as well get used to it. Health goals are awesome, and accomplishments on this front should be celebrated, but don't think you're ever going to see a population shift toward wanting the "fit look" less than the "healthy feel."

Taking it a step further, though, I think improved performance can be lumped in with aesthetics and health as a result of an effective training program. Successful programs might be 75% the same, but it's tinkering with the other 25% that delivers the benefits on all three fronts.

As an example, with The High Performance Handbook, my goal was to create a versatile "main" strength training program that initially could be easily modified based on posture, joint laxity, ideal training frequency, and supplemental conditioning. On the supplemental conditioning front, folks pick different options to shift the program to athletic performance, fat loss, strength improvement, or mass gain perspectives. Thereafter, individuals can choose from a number of different "special populations" modifications, whether it's for folks who want more direct arm work, those who play overhead throwing sports, or those over the age of 50. Then, there are the obvious nutrition individualization components.

The point is that the best programs are the versatile ones that give people the wiggle room to pursue the goals - aesthetics, health, performance, or some combination of the three - that they hold dear.

HPH-main

Obviously, this question opens a big can of worms, and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/15/14

Written on September 15, 2014 at 7:09 am, by Eric Cressey

To help kick your week off on the right foot, here are three recommended strength and conditioning readings for you:

Carbohydrate Tolerance: Is it Determined by your Genes? - Helen Kollias pulled together this excellent article for Precision Nutrition. It's not just a research review, though; she also provides some important action items to help you improve your ability to tolerate carbohydrates.

The Radar Gun Revolution - Those of you who are baseball fans will appreciate this candid look at how the radar gun has changed the way that players are scouted. Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best scouts I've met always seem to know when to put the radar gun away (or leave it at home).

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No Dumbbells? No Problem - A few of my online clients don't have access to dumbbells in their home gyms, and it led me to write the "High Performance Training Without the Equipment" series a while back.

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School Size, Geography, and Early Sports Specialization

Written on September 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm, by Eric Cressey

I write a lot about my distaste for early sports specialization here on the blog, and I like to think I've examined it from a number of different angles. That said, I usually focus on the decision of an athlete and his/her parents in this context, but I rarely discuss the situational factors that may govern these decisions. Two perspectives to which I haven't paid much attention are the significant impacts that school size and geography have on young athletes' likelihood of specialization.  This is something I've been pondering more and more as we open the new Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, FL.

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Mike Robertson pointed out the school size aspect in his Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set, and it really got me to thinking. If you go to a small school and are a good athlete, chances are that you are going to "automatically" be a starter on three different sports teams during the academic year, as they might need you to actually be able to even field a team. Thinking back, my high school graduating class had about 180 kids. One sport athletes really couldn't exist if we wanted to be competitive over all three high school seasons. Not surprisingly, I never had a classmate go through Tommy John surgery, and I can count the number of ACL injuries I saw in my high school years on one hand.

Conversely, if a kid goes to a school with 800 kids in his graduating class, specialization is much tougher to do. If you've got 150 players trying out for the baseball team (and budget cuts are eliminating freshmen and JV teams left and right), you better be spending more time preparing for baseball, if that's your long-term aspiration. The "reward" is higher (more exclusive), but the risk has to be higher as well. In a situation like this, we almost have to ask whether it's better to have a kid that tries out for - and proceeds to get cut from - three teams, or if we'd rather have guys specialized along one course so that they can at least stay involved in organized athletics by actually making a team. I don't think there is an easy or even correct answer, but I do think we have to be cognizant of the challenges facing kids at larger schools.

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Geography certainly plays into this as well. As an example, it's much easier for baseball players in northern states to play basketball, too, because basketball season simply takes place while the snow is on the baseball fields. In Massachusetts, the high school baseball season starts on the third Monday in March, which is several weeks after basketball wraps up, in most cases. Conversely, high school baseball actually gets underway in Florida during the month of January; playing basketball is virtually impossible logistically. And, if fall sports go all the way until Thanksgiving, we're really dealing with a situation where kids might only get an eight-week off-season to work on their fitness and more sport-specific preparations.

We might not be able to change these factors, but we find ways to work around them. It might mean getting an athlete to play recreational basketball instead of "official" school hoops, if schedule won't allow the "real thing" to happen. And, it might mean that we need to work harder in our strength and conditioning programs to create an even richer proprioceptive environment where athletes are exposed to a wider variety of movements if these scenarios "force" them toward increased specialization.

As hackneyed a phrase as it might be, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it." I'd say that geography and school size certainly fit in the 10% category when it comes to early sports specialization; we all need to continue to improve on the 90%, though.

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How Chronic, Prolonged Sitting Impacts Your Body – and What to Do About It

Written on September 9, 2014 at 7:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Last week, over the course of two days, I made the long drive from Hudson, MA to Jupiter, FL. Suffice it to say that all those hours in the car gave me a newfound appreciation (or distaste?) for just how hard sitting is on the body. As such, it was really timely when my friend Michael Mullin emailed along this guest post on the subject. Enjoy! -EC

Disclaimer:

In this article, the author describes a fictional scenario in order to demonstrate a point related to the degree of information and misinformation there is in the layman and professional literature. It is in no way an attempt to create alarm that these facts apply to every person and every situation. While this article is not scientifically based, the published references are meant as an example of what some studies have found of the impact prolonged sitting and being in a stressful environment has on the body. Please read this article with the intent with which it was written—to provide concrete tools to use if you have to sit for extended periods of time.

I would like to have you read the scenario below and let me know if you would want this job.

“Congratulations on being selected for the position of top minion here at Do Everything Against Design, Inc. (DEAD).  Our company is a prestigious purveyors of thneeds—and a thneed is a thing that everyone needs (5). We pride ourselves on our commitment to being on the cutting edge of business and we use only the best, most up-to-date information possible to dictate how we run our business.”

“Let me start off by saying that this job will provide all kinds of potential benefits. It is up to you to decide how committed you are. The potentials are endless—overuse injury, chronic pain, depression, increased alcohol use, drug or medication use, cancer, increased general mortality, even bullying—that’s right, just like when you were a kid—are all very real possibilities here at DEAD, Inc.”

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“So first thing we will do is get you set up with your work area and station. Here is your cubicle which studies have shown are detrimental to not only work life but also your personal life (1). And here is your ergonomically correct chair so that your body doesn’t have to move, because research has shown that sitting 90% of your day, will almost double your risk of developing neck pain (2). We are also well aware of the fact that this increased time sitting will ultimately yield to a higher mortality rate for you (3), and make you feel generally crummy, but we are willing to take your chances. In fact, don’t even bother trying to counter all this sitting with exercise, because it will increase your risk for certain cancers by up to 66% regardless of how active you are when not sitting! (4)”

“However, placing this degree of stress and strain on your body is mainly so that we can reduce the organization’s costs and increase productivity (5), which is what is most important to us. Because ‘business is business and business must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies you know’ (6). And you do want to be a team player, don’t you?”

“In fact if you do end up having any physical problems, there is a greater than 63% chance that it is actually due to work (7). And if it isn’t from sitting too much (8), then it is due to the psychological stress that this position places on you. Heck, it might even be due to me and the stress I place on you! I will give you an 80% chance that our workplace stress will be the most important factor you will have to deal with here (9).”

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“We have also found that this job can also really give you a great chance on becoming an alcoholic or binge drinker (10), so you have that going for you as well.”

“If stress does become greater than you can learn how to cope with, which is apparently one important part of your employment here (11), then rest assured that we don’t really have a plan in place, because 80% of facilities do not have formal programs in place to deal with workplace stress, and of those that do, only about 14% say it is effective (12). Since that’s what the research suggests, then I mean, how important can establishing a plan be?”

“The single greatest thing about this whole situation is that I will actually pay you to let me break you down, little by little, bit by bit, until you feel beaten and broken. Don’t you see? It’s a win-win situation for both of us here at DEAD, Inc!”

I decided to title this article differently from my original title, “Your Employer Is Trying to Kill You” because I thought it might be a little less inflammatory. But, if you think about it, if data were used to truly guide what we should be doing, than many jobs where employees have to sit the better part of the day are truly a form of abuse. OSHA should be having a field day with these kinds of stats!

This is not about trying to bash many of the companies that have these incredibly sedentary work environments, though. Moreover, it's also not about the fact that I disagree with how our ergonomic evaluations and standards currently are. This is more about trying to create a "Movement/Movement."

Michael Mullin

Our bodies are designed for movement. Period. Our brains are designed for processing and trying to create efficiency so that we can process more. Now that’s pretty smart, however, highly detrimental when it comes to the importance of movement. Because if we continue to listen to what our brain is telling many of us, then it will constantly suggest that we just continue to sit to conserve energy.

So what to do for those of us who have to sit regularly during the day?

  • Get up regularly, even if it means setting a timer at your desk to walk down the hall a couple of times. Not only good for the body, but also good for the brain.
  • Stand every time the phone rings in your office, even if it means you have to sit back down to do something at your computer for the call.
  • Every hour, independent of getting up for regular walks:
    • Sit at the front edge of the chair, hands resting on thighs and body in a relaxed position—not too slouched or sitting up too straight. Take a slow breath in through your nose, feeling your ribs expand circumferentially. Then slowly, fully exhale as if you are sighing out and exhale more than you typically would, without forcing or straining. Inhale on a 3-4 count, exhale on a 6-8 count, then pause for a couple of seconds. Re-inhale and repeat for 4-5 breaths.
    • Staying in this position at the front edge of the chair, reach one arm forward, alternating between sides, allowing your trunk and torso to rotate as well. Your hips and pelvis should also shift such that your thighs are alternately sliding forward and back. Perform 10 times on each side, slowly and deliberately and while taking slow, full breaths.
  • Consider using your chair differently, depending on the task:
    • When doing work on the computer, sit with the lowest part of your low back (i.e. sacrum) against the seat back, but don’t lean your upper body back. This will give the base of your spine some support, but also allow for good trunk muscle activity as well as proper thoracic circumferential breathing.
    • When doing general work such as going through papers, moving things around your desk, filing, etc., sit forward on your chair so that you are more at the edge of the chair. This will allow your legs to take more load and your trunk muscles better able to aid in support, reaching and rotating tasks.
    • When reading items or reviewing paperwork, recline back with full back contact to give your muscles, joints and discs a rest. Make sure to hold the items up at roughly shoulder height—even if you support your arms on armrests or desk.

Remember, chairs and sitting is something that WE as humans created and the current norm is in no way optimal. We were not put on this planet to sit on chairs, and in particular not ones which shut our system off and limit our movement and ability to breathe normally. Until organizations and the general mindset changes to balance work requirements, work efficiency and human health, then we will be constantly be dealing with companies such as DEAD, Inc.

Note: the references to this article are posted as the first comment below.

About the Author

Michael J. Mullin, ATC, PTA, PRC: Michael is a rehabilitation specialist with almost 25 years of experience in the assessment and treatment of orthopaedic injuries. He has published and lectured extensively on topics related to prevention and rehabilitation of athletic injuries, biomechanics and integrating Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI) principles into rehabilitation and training. He has a strong interest in system asymmetry, movement, rehabilitation and respiratory influences on training and their effect on athletics. He has extensive experience with dancers, skiers, and professional and recreational athletes of all interests. You can find him on Twitter: @MJMATC

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How to Coach the Deadlift Set-up for Strength and Safety

Written on September 4, 2014 at 7:11 am, by Eric Cressey

I recently was asked how I approach breathing at the start of a deadlift, and - realizing that it was just the tip of the iceberg with respect to the deadlift set-up - I decided I'd post this presentation on the topic. This four-minute video is an excerpt from my longer presentation, 15 Things I've Learned about the Deadlift, which is a component of our Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body resource.

For more information, check out www.FunctionalStability.com.

FST-DVD-COVER-LB

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“If Only:” 7 Lessons from a Record-Setting Paralympic Medalist

Written on August 26, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, we've got a great guest post from accomplished Paralympic swimmer, Travis Pollen, who shares some wisdom to help up-and-comers avoid the same mistakes he made. Enjoy! -EC

During my Paralympic swimming career, I set two American records, won a gold medal at Nationals, and finished just one spot shy of making the team that went to London. A good deal of my success can certainly be attributed to hard work in the water. In addition to the pool sessions, though, I’m certain I owe much of my speed to weight training. I’m also certain – now that I’m both a personal trainer and graduate student in biomechanics – that my gym experience could have been even more effective had I done just seven things.

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Let’s first rewind to the summer after my first season of high school swimming, when my iron journey began in the smelly basement of the local YMCA. I’d recently stumbled upon Getting Stronger by bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl at the library. This text, though hardly “sports-specific,” became my bible.

My workouts consisted mostly of single-joint exercises performed in random order for 3 sets of 15 reps. Despite the haphazard program design, I realized significant newbie gains, and it showed in the pool. I dropped serious time in all my races the following season.

Over the next few years, I practically “maxed out” on library rentals on topics ranging from plyometrics and isometrics to active-isolated stretching and sports nutrition. Nevertheless, my progress in the weight room stalled. I eventually hired a personal trainer, who helped me get “huge,” in the words of my teammates.

But was size what I really needed? How about body-part splits, crunches, and unstable surface training? Looking back on my program, I see a ton of room for improvement. If only I had known then what I know now – if only I had done these seven things – perhaps I would’ve realized my Paralympic dreams after all.

1. If only I had adopted a training split more in line with my goals...

Although I believed I was lifting weights for performance enhancement, I was unknowingly training like a bodybuilder all along: chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Wednesday, leg (singular, since I’m an amputee) and shoulders on Saturday. Muscles, not movements, were all I knew.

travis2

In hindsight, I was more “show” than “go,” with hulking but stiff muscles. Full-body workouts utilizing techniques like supersets (push/pull) and alternating sets (upper/lower) would have been far more time-efficient. Moreover, they would have left me suppler and with more in the tank for afternoon swim practice, as compared to having two completely smoked muscle groups from my morning body part lift.

2. If only I had prioritized strength and power…

In my prime, I could do 80 consecutive push-ups, yet I could barely bench my own bodyweight. Until I obtained my personal trainer certification, I had no concept of a strength protocol. In fact, I was under the impression that the lower the reps, the bigger you get, end of story. So for fear of getting overly bulky, I spent most of my time in the 12-15 rep range, with a heavy dose of unstable surface training thrown in, since someone I (mistakenly) trusted told me that was how you get strong.

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As a sprinter, my longest race was over in less than a minute. What I really needed was not muscular endurance, but rather power. And power can only be realized, of course, with a solid foundation of strength.

3. If only I had addressed my weaknesses and asymmetries...

I’ll admit it: I skipped leg day. Often. When my schedule got hectic and I missed my Friday workout, instead of going back and making it up, I usually just started fresh on Monday with my bread and butter: chest and triceps. These workouts were the shortest – not to mention the most fun – and I had physics homework to do! I also usually saved “abs” for last, and I almost invariably ran out of time.

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Even when I did do legs, since I didn’t use my residual limb much in the water, I decided not to waste time strengthening it outside the pool. Boy, did my blind eye towards symmetry have a negative effect on my low back. Nowadays, I’ve added bilateral rack pulls, good mornings, back extensions, and hip thrusts in an effort to even out the imbalance. All in all, more of an emphasis on my lower body and core undoubtedly would have provided a performance-enhancing boost.

4. If only I had emphasized closed chain compound lifts for my lower body...

As an amputee, it was important that I play it safe in the gym. My earliest memory of a barbell involves a crowded high school weight room, the less-than-watchful eye of the athletic trainer, high pulls, and – you guessed it – crippling low back pain the next day. After that incident, when I didn’t skip leg day, I stuck mostly to machines (and single leg balancing on a BOSU ball, of course).

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Unfortunately, the leg press and leg extension don’t offer nearly the same carryover to swim starts and turns as squats, deadlifts, and cleans. As it turns out, with proper coaching and lots of practice, I can actually perform all the aforementioned big lifts on one leg – and pretty darn well, at that.

5. If only I had trained my core for three-dimensional stability...

Swimming is all about slicing through the water with as little drag as possible. A floppy midsection that snakes from side to side with every stroke not only leaks a ton of energy but also creates serious drag. Unfortunately, ask most swim coaches, and they’ll tell you the way to a strong core is a few hundred crunches, V-ups, and Russian twists daily. These movements are minimally sports-specific, however, as the only time flexion occurs in swimming is during the flip-turn. And even then, several muscles in addition to the abdominals help generate the movement.

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To create the rigid, canoe-like core that’s truly needed for swimming (and all sports, really), core stability work is the key. Anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion exercises, plus rotational medicine ball work, surely would’ve afforded me a gold medal trunk and hips.

6. If only I had foam rolled and dynamic stretched...

Warm-up? You mean jogging to the gym and static stretching before hitting the leg press? For some reason, despite the fact that I routinely observed the college track athletes doing stick work, butt kicks, and lunges with a twist, I – along with the rest of the swimming community – failed to make the connection that these very same tools could benefit me. If, instead of endlessly stretching my triceps to no avail, I had just done some soft tissue work with The Stick each time I hit the gym, I’m positive it wouldn’t have taken them two hours to unknot every swim practice.

7. If only I had logged my workouts and practiced progressive overload...

We all like to be sore, but the reality is that soreness is not the best barometer for a good workout, especially when it detracts from performance in the target sport. I vividly remember a workout in which I did so many pull-ups I was unable to bend my arms for several days afterwards. Needless to say, this made swimming incredibly painful.

A much better way to assess the merits of a workout is through comparison to previous ones. By simply jotting down my weights, I could have actually tracked how I was doing from session to session and season to season. A workout log would have eliminated the guesswork and provided an impetus to add weight each week, instead of hovering at a 115-pound 10 RM bench press for years on end.

Until Time Machines Are Invented

Each item on the list above seems like a no-brainer now. At the time, though, I believed myself to be decently well-versed in training methodology – or at least as best I could be given the library’s offerings. Even if I didn’t know everything, I assumed my trainer was up-to-date.

If I could go back in time in my quest for Paralympic glory, I’d take with me The High Performance Handbook and get to work again that first summer. But until time machines are invented, I’m happy to settle for educating up-and-comers so they don’t repeat the same mistakes I did.

About the Authortravis7

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains a blog and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.FitnessPollenator.com. You can also find him on Facebook.


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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 5

Written on August 21, 2014 at 9:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

This week, I've been working my way through Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn's new resource, The Elite Athletic Development Seminar. It got the wheels turning in my brain, and the end result was a new installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. Here goes...

1. Experiences are more important than stuff.

I had a good text message exchange with one of our pro athletes yesterday where we discussed how long-term happiness was really much more about the experiences you have than it is about the stuff you possess. When you're on your death bed, you'll look back a lot more fondly on time with family, lives you've positively impacted, and things you've accomplished. You won't be thinking about the nice car you drove, or overpriced watch that you wore.

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I wish that this is a mentality that more young athletes would apply to their long-term athletic development.  An amazing coach and great camp can literally change a young athlete's life. As an example, I'm always psyched to see our young athletes getting the opportunity to "rub elbows" with our pro and college athletes, who have a ton of wisdom they can impart.

On the flip side, I can't say that I've ever seen an athlete's life change dramatically when he bought an expensive new bat or glove. Don't get me wrong; appropriate equipment and apparel are super important for athletic success. However, does a 12-year-old kid need a new glove and bat every single year? It's not like he grows out of them like he would a pair of cleats, and those funds could surely be better devoted elsewhere.

It goes without saying that many young athletes (and their parents) have limited financial resources. I wonder if they'd be in a better position to succeed if they applied the stuff vs. experiences logic to how they managed these resources in the context of long-term athletic development.

2. The process is often more of a reward than the destination.

This is an awesome video that does more justice to this point than anything I can write. These kids will take away important life lessons even though they might not have won their last game. Kudos to the head coach for a job well done.

3. People are asking the wrong questions about weighted baseball throwing programs.

At least 3-4 times per week, someone asks me what I think about weighted balls. I've written about this subject in the past (here), and while my approaches have evolved substantially over the years, I'm still a fan of weighted ball programs - as long as they're implemented with the right athlete, at the right time.

There is actually a ton of research supporting the efficacy of weighted ball programs; they've been around for a long time now, but only caught on in popularity in recent years. What's different about the ones out there now, though, are that they are much higher volume (number of throws) and performed with significantly heavier and lighter balls than ever before. If you crank up volume and use more extreme intensities, you'll get more extreme results - both in terms of fantastic improvements and in throwers who actually get hurt.

So, the question shouldn't be "do weighted balls work?" Rather, the question(s) should be, "Am I physically prepared enough to take on an aggressive weighted ball program, and how can I best fit it into my developmental calendar?"

If you're a 16-year old kid who just finished a 120-inning competitive year and your rotator cuff strength is terrible, weighted baseballs aren't what you need; rather, you need rest from throwing, and quality strength training work.

If you're a professional player with a perfect 14-16 week throwing progression spanning the course of the off-season, you have a great 8-12 week block with which you can work to "get after it." Using Indians pitcher Corey Kluber as an example, we started his 2013-14 off-season throwing program on December 9, and then integrated more aggressive weighted ball work in weeks 5-9 of his off-season throwing program. The big league off-season is so short that you can't get a ton of quality work in without compromising rest after the season or mound work going into the season.

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Conversely, many of our minor league guys will started throwing November 25, and got in about eight weeks of weighted ball work (as part of comprehensive throwing programs that also worked in long toss, flat grounds, and bullpens) before heading off to spring training. Each case is unique, so each program needs to be individualized to the player.

4. Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) drills are an "equalizer" for strength and conditioning professionals.

You've likely heard me allude to the Postural Restoration Institute here on the blog in the past - and with good reason: incorporating PRI drills into our training has been the biggest game-changer in our approach over the past 4-5 years. One of the key principles of PRI is "resetting" individuals to a neutral posture prior to training. We're all asymmetrical, but many folks take this asymmetry (and/or heavily extended posture) to an extreme, and we have to get their alignment back closer to "normal" before we squat, deadlift, sprint, jump, or take on any of a number of other athletic endeavors.

Historically, when folks were deemed to be "out of neutral," we'd need a manual therapist to do soft tissue work, joint manipulation/mobilization, or various hands-on stretching techniques. As Robertson noted in his first presentation of the EAD Seminar DVD set, PRI changed the game for strength and conditioning professionals by enabling them to re-establish neutral in clients and athletes with non-manual techniques, specifically positional breathing drills. Effectively, these drills provide for "self realignment."

Sure, PRI is just one of a few tools in the toolbox nowadays that can be used to accomplish this goal, but it's the one where I've seen the quickest changes.

5. Avoid movement redundancy within the training session.

One point I've made a lot in the past - and Robertson reiterated in one of his presentations - is the fact that many young athletes have a "narrow functional movement base." Basically, they've specialized in a particular sport so early that they've missed out on gross movement competencies (or lost ones they already had from early childhood development).

While we might not be able to change the tendency toward specialization, we can change how we manage athletes who do choose to specialize. In particular, we need to expose them to a broad range of activities that create a rich proprioceptive environment when they come in to train. Key to success on this front is making sure that there aren't redundancies within the training session in terms of movement challenges. For instance, you wouldn't want to have a half-kneeling overhead medicine ball stomp, then a half-kneeling landmine press, then a half-kneeling cable row, then a half-kneeling cable chop, and a half-kneeling cable external rotation. Rather, you'd be better off mixing and matching with tall kneeling, split-stance, standing (bilateral), and even single-leg.

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The same "redundancies" should be avoided throughout the training week, too, but I've found that if you do a good job of making sure there isn't this kind of overlap in each specific training day, the longer training periods seem to take care of themselves. If you look at how Joe Kenn structures his tier system style of training, you see that redundancies just don't happen because he rotates among total-upper-lower exercises in each of his training days. I'm a firm believer that exercise selection is the single most important programming variable, and this illustrates one more reason why that's the case.

Speaking of Kenn and Robertson, their Elite Athletic Development Seminar DVD set is on sale for $150 off through tonight (Friday) at midnight. I've really enjoyed watching them, and would consider them an outstanding investment for any strength and conditioning professional. It's an experience, not just stuff! Check it out HERE.

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Bear Crawls vs. Crab Walks

Written on August 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I posted on Twitter that I was a big fan of bear crawls because they get you great serratus anterior recruitment, more scapular upward rotation, improved anterior core function, tri-planar stability, and some awesome reciprocal arm/leg activity. They're one of my favorite warm-up and end-of-workout low-level core activation drills.

For some reason, though, every time you mention bear crawls, someone asks about crab walks. Candidly, I don't think so highly of crab walks. In fact, I have never used them - and that's why I didn't have a video on hand of them. As such, this demonstration took place on my kitchen floor at 11:15PM:

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Keeping this position in mind, here are a few reasons that I don't like crab walks:

1. Bear crawls drive more scapular upward rotation by putting the lats and scapular downward rotators on slack as the athlete reaches overhead. With a crab walk, the arms aren't just at the sides; they are actually behind the sides. The lats are as short as they can possibly be - especially if the athlete is allowed to slip into lumbar extension (an arched lower back posture). Most folks lack scapular upward rotation regardless of whether they sit at a computer all day or throw a baseball for a living; we don't need exercises that feed into that problem even more. Additionally, the scapula is generally anteriorly tilted unless it's an experienced athlete with great body awareness. Anterior tilt is an issue we work to combat in just about every population - athlete and non-athlete alike.

2. Crab walks are brutal on the anterior shoulder. For the same reasons I outlined in my article, Are Dips Safe and Effective?, I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.

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3. You don't walk around like a crab in any sport that comes to mind! Seriously, this is the position you're in when you got steamrolled by a running back, or you tripped over yourself! While I get the school of thought that says it's good to be somewhat prepared for just about every potentially injurious situation you'll encounter, we've got a limited amount of training time to deliver exercises that give athletes the most bang for their buck. And, even in young athlete populations, there are literally thousands of other movements we can use with kids to create a rich proprioceptive environment with safe movements they'll actually be able to utilize on a regular basis in life. And, the bear crawl is one of these movements.

Can a lot of athletes "get away" with doing crab walks? Absolutely! However, we never know what kind of long-term structural changes are going to be in place - and we can certainly never truly appreciate what kind of missed development is in play from not including more effective exercises.

To learn more about some of our approaches to assessing and improving upper body function, be sure to check out Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/18/14

Written on August 18, 2014 at 9:44 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

The Elite Athletic Development Seminar - Mike Robertson and Joe Kenn just released the DVD set of the recording of a seminar they filmed a few months ago. There is a ton of combined experience in the strength and conditioning fields here, and it'll be worth every penny - especially at the discount introductory price that's in place this week.

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Exercise When You're Sick - I contributed to this great compilation Ryan Andrews pulled together for Precision Nutrition.

The Challenger Sale - This is the book that I'm currently reading on the suggestion of one of the baseball agents who represents several of our athletes. I'm a firm believer that everyone "sells" in their life - whether it's actual products/services, or just their ideas (as is the case with coaching athletes). This book talks about the most effective kind of salespeople - and the research shows that it's a stark contrast to who has been most effective in the past.

Also, just a friendly reminder: we're coming up on the early-bird registration deadline for the third annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar, which takes place on September 28. For more information, click HERE.

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