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5 Lessons on Coaching

Written on December 18, 2014 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I've got a guest post from John O'Neil, who is wrapping up his internship at the new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL this week. John brings an excellent perspective, having been a CSP athlete before entering the strength and conditioning field. Enjoy! -EC

Late in my senior year of college, I didn’t know what I would do next. I wasn’t passionate about my major- mathematics- and couldn’t see myself sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers. My main passion is strength and conditioning and I wanted to become a strength coach. I contacted everyone whom I regularly read to see if I could spend my internship with them, and I quickly realized that the industry is filled with people looking to help out. Todd Bumgardner offered me an internship and I got my introduction to coaching at Ranfone Training Systems in Hamden, CT. I was fortunate enough to go from a summer there to a fall internship at the new Cressey Sports Performance – Florida, where I continue my transition from S&C junkie to S&C coach.

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Here are some of the major takeaways I’ve had as I’ve gone from someone obsessed with the industry to someone actually in the industry:

1. You are a coach.

The most important thing I realized early on in my internships is that I was a coach, first and foremost. I needed to stop worrying about understanding PRI concepts when I wasn’t great at coaching a goblet squat. A basketball coach isn’t worrying about how his team can implement the triangle offense if his team can’t make a layup. During my first weekend at RTS, we hosted a Nick Winkelman seminar. Afterwards, I thanked Nick and told him I was less than a week in to my coaching career and that his cueing and motor learning lessons were stuff that I was looking forward to implementing. Nick responded by telling me that the most important thing at this stage of my career is to get great at coaching what you know, then expand how much you know. Your base of knowledge is only as useful as you can coach it.

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2. Understand your impact.

One conversation I had with Todd early in my internship has resonated with me throughout. “My greatest skill as a coach is my ability to relate to my athletes,” he said. It had nothing to do with the science-related knowledge he has gained over the years. As a coach, your most important role in working with youth athletes isn’t to make sure they can perform a half-kneeling chop correctly; it’s to make sure you’re having a positive influence on said athlete’s life. Most of the people you work with won’t make a living performing these movements and may not even be an athlete beyond high school. Make sure your athletes know you care about them as people first and athletes second.

3. Understand the level of your athlete.

A typical day at CSP could involve working with a 12 year old kid who has never lifted a weight, a MLB player, and a 50-year-old with a 9-to-5 job. Each of these people will need to be coached very differently, and it’s important not only to get great at coaching exercises but coaching to populations as well. The kid is much more likely to need hands-on attention (kinesthetic), the pro athlete probably just wants to see and do (visual), and the middle-aged person might just want to be told what to do (auditory). While these aren’t set in stone, being able to coach everything you coach in different styles is very important.

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4. Understand what kind of “vibe” do you give off.

Admittedly, this is an area in which I struggle, but have worked hard to improve. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t always convey the sense that I want to be where I am. Case in point, many of my girlfriend’s friends think I don’t like them because of the vibe I give off when I’m surrounded by them, which obviously isn’t the case. As evidenced by the energy that Mike, Todd, and Scott bring to the gym, everyone that trains at RTS knows their coaches want to be there, often times more than they do. Todd told me that I won’t get the results I want unless my clients know that I love this stuff as much as I do, and during my two internships it’s something I’ve been very conscious of. While I’ll never be a “rah-rah” style leader, I find it important to implement strategies to build rapport with every client and make sure they know that I want to be there. These are all simple, but easy to let slide. Tony Gentilcore’s blog posts on introverted coaches (here and here), as well as Miguel Aragoncillo’s Hard and Soft Skills of a Strength Coach are great reads that really explain these methods in depth.

5. You must have philosophical flexibility.

Both RTS and CSP share a common trait that I’m sure many in the industry do as well: they are constantly striving to get better as coaches as much as their athletes are striving to get better on the field. In my exit interview at RTS, Mike Ranfone said to me that their goal is not only to offer the best product they can at the time, but to insure that they will offer an even better product one year from now. At CSP, this is the same. Each of these places doesn’t have their system; they have a system that they believe to be the best they can give to the athletes at the current time.

In the strength and conditioning field, people aren’t reinventing the wheel; they are working to see if they can make it spin better.

While your core philosophy will remain the same – good functional movement is good functional movement, and your athletes will still be looking to get faster, stronger, and stay healthy – always be willing to look at new ideas and see how they can make your system better.

While I have learned a lot throughout my two internships, these are the main points that I will take with me wherever I wind up coaching in the future. I’ve stressed to myself to make sure that I realize that each hour I am in the gym is not my 6th, 7th, 8th… hour. Rather, it’s a certain athlete’s first, and I want to make sure that my presence there positively impacts their life. I’ve had a great time as an intern at both locations and would highly recommend going the internship route to anyone interested in becoming a coach.

About the Author

John O'Neil has be reached at joh.oneil@gmail.com, or you can follow him on Twitter.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/15/14

Written on December 15, 2014 at 8:26 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some good fitness and nutrition reads from around the 'net:

Elite Training Mentorship - In the most recent update, I provide two exercise demonstration videos, and Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo kicks off a two-part webinar series on energy systems development.

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Chocolate and All Its Health Benefits - Examine.com always does a great job of evaluating nutrition and supplementation questions folks have, and this quick but informative article is no exception.

Mastery - I'm currently listening to this audiobook and really enjoying it, as it takes close looks at how some of the greatest "masters" of all time got to that level of proficiency and success in their chosen crafts.

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One of my favorite quotes thus far is, "The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery." The author, Robert Greene, is a huge fan of "apprenticeships," and it goes without saying that these take time. The fitness industry is no exception.

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5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility

Written on December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC

Mobility is one of those nebulous concepts that get thrown around the fitness industry a lot. You either have it or you don’t, and if you’re one of those lucky Tinman stiff-as-a-board folks who can’t touch their toes without a yardstick, you’re told to stretch and do more mobility work, which seems akin to carving out Mount Rushmore with nothing more than some sandpaper. We might be here a while if all you have available to you is simply stretching to make your mobility improve.

What we forget to do is ask a very simple question: Why do you feel tight in the first place? Muscles are incredibly dumb and won’t contract on their own. They’re usually told to contract, and they’re good soldiers that do what they’re told. You could cut a muscle out of the body and hook it up to a car battery and have it contract until either the proteins are ripped apart or until you turned off the battery. Also, muscles can’t get confused, so let’s stop using that term while we’re at it, shall we?

Typically a muscle will tense in response to a few different things. The first is the desire to produce movement, which means the normal shortening response happens and people awe and admire the massive weight EC pulls on a daily basis.

The second is as a protective means. A joint that may be unstable or a step away from being injured could cause the body to contract muscles around it in a protective “casting” method that restricts movement in the joint and calls up muscles that may cross more than one joint. An example of this would be the psoas tensing in response to anterior lumbar instability. The runners with chronic hip flexor pain and a forward lean when they pound the pavement, but who stretch their hip flexors (usually poorly and into spinal extension) 3 times a day for 20 years and still have tight hip flexors are a prime example of this. They stretch but don’t improve stability, so the psoas continues to hate life.

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The third is in response to nervous system tone, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic is best exemplified by that one kid who is always bouncing and tapping their foot, can’t seem to sit still, and always wants to run and jump everywhere, whereas parasympathetic would be the stoner who looks perennially half asleep. If you’re constantly jacked up like a cheerleader on a mixture of crack and RedBull, flexibility won’t be a strong suit of yours, even though you could probably pull a tractor with your teeth or scare old women and small children.

The Ultimate Warrior was definitely NOT parasympathetic, nor was he likely to be hitting the splits anytime soon, but he could always bring the house down.

If you’re constantly a ball of stress, your muscles will be in a constant state of “kind of on,” which is to say their contraction is like lights on a dimmer switch. They’re not all the way on, but they’re not off either, they’re just “kind of on.” Being all jacked up all the time might sound cool, but in reality it tends to cause some issues if you can’t turn it down once in a while.

Lastly, and one of the most simple of all, is alignment. If you have a muscle held in a stretched position, it’s going to reflexively increase tension to prevent the muscle from stretching too far and potentially creating an injury.

I know it’s kind of counterintuitive that a chronically stretched muscle would be tight, but consider the effects of something like low back erector muscles and posterior pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is tucked under like Steve Urkel (I’m dating myself here, but it’s a fun game trying to confuse the 20 year olds), the erectors are already on stretch without having to do anything, plus they’re contracting to keep your spine from sliding further into extension. Trying to touch your toes will result in embarrassing results.

So now that you know why muscles can be tight, we can work on them and produce much better results.

Strategy #1: Change your breathing.

One of the first things I usually see when someone tries to stretch into a bigger range of motion than they’re used to is that they wind up holding their breath. This works against you in two ways. First, when you hold your breath, you crank up your sympathetic system, which drives more neural tone to all muscles of the body and causes reflexive tensing. Second, by not breathing you pressurize the entire thoracic spine: all of the intercostal muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, and even your obliques tense to help increase intrathoracic pressure against that held breath. This causes muscles to hold tension even more.

In many instances, people will hit an end range of motion while holding their breath, and I tell them to breathe. They, in turn, gasp like they just surfaced from diving with Jacques Cousteau, and wind up getting another few inches into their range.

When trying to get range of motion, long deep inhalations and exhalations where you reach on the exhale makes a massive difference. The length of the breath increases stimulation of the vagal nerve, which is responsive to the heart and drives cardiac rate and parasympathetic stimulation into the medulla oblongata, and as a result muscle tension reduction through the whole body. Lower heart rates means a less energy demanding system, which is commonly results in lower arousal, meaning less tense muscles at rest.

Here’s a simple breathing drill you could do to help increase your overall mobility through your shoulders and hips.


Timely to give Eric a baby breathing exercise, huh?

Try this out: Test your toe touch ability and range of motion bringing your arms up over your head. Make a note of both how far you get and also how easy they both felt. One way to gauge overhead range is to stand against a wall, then bring your arms up overhead without arching your low back, and either mark the wall or make a mental note as to how high you bring your arms. Try the breathing drill and then retest your mobility and see whether it resulted in any changes.

Strategy #2: Build stability to create mobility.

As I noted earlier with respect to stability, if a joint is perceived as unstable and potentially about to be injured, the body will clamp down muscles around it. One way to see this in a graphic manner is to look at hip rotation and core function.

Try this out and see what happens: From a seated position, turn your hips side to side and see whether you have good rotational range of motion through both external rotation (where you look at the inside of your knee) or internal rotation (where you look at the outside of your knee). If you find you have poor external rotation, try doing a hard front plank and then retest. If you find you have a poor internal rotation, hit up a side plank and see what happens. Here's the test:

Here's the front plank:

Here's the side plank:

If you noticed a big increase in mobility, you likely had your hips putting on the brakes and donating some stability up to the lumbar spine. By reinstating some of that stability, the hips opened up and had lots of freedom since they weren’t working double time anymore.

Strategy #3: Change alignment from the bottom up.

Foot position can play a massive role in how well you move. Most people who tend to be flat footed wind up with tibial internal rotation, which results in internally rotated femurs. This rotation increases tension through the anterior hips and up the chain further which reduces the range of motion for overhead movements. It also reduces the force production capability through the legs, which makes you less awesome.

If you roll to the outside of the foot, more supination, you increase tension through the posterior aspect of the hip and pushes you into more external rotation, which reduces the amount of internal rotation your have available, and also reduces your ability to move freely down into hip flexion.

Use this little test and see what happens: stand up and roll your feet so that you put most of your weight on the inside, in line with the big toe, and bring your arms overhead and then touch your toes. Make a not of how high and low you go and also how easy they felt. Then roll to the outside of your feet, more weight on the baby toe side of the foot, and see what the movement results are looking like. You might find it’s different in each example, and will showcase how foot position can affect your overall mobility.

Strategy #4: Change alignment from the top down.

Neck position can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, and it plays down in a couple of simple anatomical means. For the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up. If you stand with your head jammed into the back of your neck, you’ll have some smashed up pteryhyoid and stylohyoid muscles, which will alter (not necessarily improve or decrease, but alter) the ability to move the arms around.

Sternocleidomastoideus

Secondary to this, head position will play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord. The chord has the ability to slide up and down in the spinal canal in order to adjust for different positions. Since the nerves can’t stretch, they accommodate range differently by moving along with the rest of the body. When you’re in standing and you tuck your chin to your chest, the spinal chord moves up in the spinal canal. When you look up, your give some slack to the chord and it moves slightly lower.

What this means is that if you were to bend down to grab a bar for something like a deadlift, and you tucked your chin, your available range that the spinal chord could allow movement to occur before it was stretched would be less than if you had a neutral neck, and much less than if you were to look ahead slightly. Additionally, if you have any restrictions through areas like the sciatic arch, it will prevent movement of the nerve through this area and make your range of motion somewhat limited.

Try this out: stand tall and tuck your chin to your chest, then try to touch your toes. Right after, keep your head level with the horizon and try to touch your toes again and see where the change in range of motion comes from. If you noticed a pronounced change, it's time to get cracking on "packing the neck" during your training and everyday life.

Strategy #5: Clean up cranky fascial lines.

This is where some voodoo starts creeping in. The body is more than a collection of individual muscles that all connect to bones and do stuff. They have lines of action where multiple muscles along specific pathways will contract and relax together to produce movement. These pathways are visually represented through the work of Thomas Myers in his outstanding book Anatomy Trains, but can be shown in real time with some simple tricks.

One fun fascial line to work with is the spiral line. It’s a really cool powerful series of tissues and muscles that runs from one foot around the spine and connects to the opposing shoulder, both on the front and the back. By “tuning” fascia in the leg, you can see some pretty immediate changes in range of motion at the shoulder.

I showcased this with a live demo in a recent workshop in Los Angeles, where a participant had some shoulder issues. I had Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance fame stretch him into external shoulder rotation, then applied some light pressure to his opposing adductor group to simulate what he would do with foam rolling. Within 5 seconds, he started to get more external rotation, all without me doing anything at his shoulder and with Tony only holding his arm in a position and letting gravity pull him down.

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Try this out: If your shoulders are restricted through external rotation (like laying back to throw a baseball), foam roll your inner thigh, spending time hating life and breathing deep to try to get them to reduce tension and pain, then retest the shoulder external rotation. If you’re restricted through internal rotation, try rolling out your IT bands and see what happens.

Wrap-up

These methods aren’t guaranteed to work for every single person, but they are simple tricks that seem to work well with a lot of people. The good thing is if one of them works really well for you, you could use it on a regular basis to keep your mobility high and to use it in a new way you never had before.

Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 59% off through this Friday (12/12) at midnight.

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Mobility Training

Written on December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's been almost ten years since Mike Robertson and I introduced our Magnificent Mobility DVD set. This popular DVD set certainly helped a lot of people, but as with all aspects of the incredibly dynamic strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields, we've learned a lot about mobility over the past decade. In other words, there are a lot of things I do differently with my training programs these days. I mean, seriously, I looked like I was 12 years old in this video.

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Very simply, mobility is one's ability to reach a desired position or posture. Because many folks erroneously confused it with flexibility (range of motion at a specific joint), the industry as a whole trended toward labeling all mobility issues as true shortness of tissues that crossed the joint(s) in question. As the years have progressed, though, we've smartened up to realize that folks may struggle to get to specific positions because of joint structure (e.g., femoroacetabular impingement), insufficient stiffness at adjacent joints (e.g., poor core control "presenting" as bad hip mobility), density (rather than just length) of the aforementioned tissues that cross the joint, and a host of other factors. To be more succinct, mobility is dependent on much, much more than just tissue length!

With that in mind, I thought I'd highly a few game-changers I've picked up on the mobility front over the years. This post is especially timely, as Dean Somerset's great new product, Ruthless Mobility, is on sale this week at a great introductory 59% off discount.

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1. Soft tissue work is important, even if we don’t know exactly why.

I'm honestly entertained when I hear someone insist that foam rolling is the devil, and we should never do it. People feel and move better after they do it, and it always seems to improve the quality of mobility initiatives that take place subsequently.

I certainly don't think it's truly mechanically breaking down scar tissue, but it's absolutely transiently reducing stiffness in the targeted tissues via one or more of a number of other mechanisms. Just because we can't explain them in complete certainty doesn't mean that "good" isn't being done.

2. Breathing can reduce bad stiffness and establish good stiffness.

This point could also be called, "The yoga folks have been right about breathing for a long time."

It's not uncommon to incorporate positional breathing drills that will transiently improve both flexibility and mobility. To me, that's an indicator that we're both reducing bad stiffness and establishing good stiffness. As an example, take all fours breathing in a flexed position:

I've utilized this with athletes and seen supine shoulder flexion range of motion increase by 10-15 degrees in a matter of 15-20 seconds without actually stretching the shoulder anywhere near its end-range. Additionally, scapular upward rotation (which takes place against gravity) usually improves a bit, presumably because of both the increased recruitment of serratus anterior and reduced downward pull of the lats. Again, this is very much a theory, but it's consistently being tested with great results in our training each day. And, it's much easier than doing loads of manual therapy and time-consuming static stretching (although there are still places for both of those initiatives).

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3. Not everyone conforms to the joint-by-joint approach.

The joint-by-joint approach was first introduced by Gray Cook and developed further by Mike Boyle. The concept is very sound: the body is a system of joints/segments that alternate in the need for mobility or stability. For instance, the ankles need mobility, the knees need stability, the hips need mobility, the lumbar spine needs stability, the thoracic spine needs mobility, the scapula needs stability, etc. This all makes a ton of sense, especially in the general population that is more predictable.

However, there are some glaring exceptions to this rule. You'll see folks with hypermobile hips, and excessively stiff lumbar spine segments. You'll observe thoracic spines that are so flat/extended that they shouldn't be mobilized, and shoulder blades that are so locked down that they demand more mobility training to achieve optimal function. Shoulders and elbows can really go either way.

The point is not that the joint-by-joint approach doesn't hold water; it's actually a tremendously useful paradigm I use on a daily basis. Rather, the point is that you can't "one-size-fits-all your mobility approaches." Everyone needs something slightly different, and every joint really needs a combination of mobility and stability.

4. A lot of people mistake laxity (or, worse yet, instability) for mobility.

Building on my last point, you'll find a lot of people who have so much congenital laxity that they don't need any stretching. Their mobility training is really a matter of attention to soft tissue quality and stability training.

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The problem with these folks is that they can often "cheat the tests." For example, they might have unbelievably perfect overhead squats and shoulder mobility to the naked eye, but if you actually pair these tests up with stability-oriented screens, they may fall well short of what you'd deem "acceptable" movement.

Instability - or an acquired, excessive joint range of motion - is even more problematic. This is where folks will literally "blow out" their normal anatomy to acquire a desired range of motion. An example is the anterior shoulder capsule in throwers; they'll do whatever they can to get the arm back to help generate range-of-motion to support velocity production. Eventually, the shoulder can get so loose that the active restraints (rotator cuff and biceps tendon) can't effectively hold the ball on the socket, and pain occurs with throwing.

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In consideration of both laxity and instability, just because you can get to a position does not mean that you're sufficiently stable in that position.

5. Building and maintaining mobility is like managing a bank account.

It goes without saying that it's easier to maintain mobility than it is to lose it and get it back. Everyone uses the analogy of babies and young children having freaky range of motion and perfect squat patterns, but losing them as time progresses. The assumption is that this occurs because they "make enough deposits:" targeted mobility work and a wide variety of activities throughout their days. Certainly, this is an issue, but I'd argue that it's because of excessive withdrawals, too.

Withdrawals could be sports participation where eccentric stress or direct trauma to tissue beats them down. It could be lifestyle factors like alcohol or tobacco use that negatively impact tissue quality. It could be pushing through faulty movement patterns until bone spurs result. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.

We all start with some money in the bank as children, but it's up to us to have more deposits than withdrawals in this mobility account over the course of the lifespan.

These are really just a few of many observations I've made over the years; there are countless more that could turn this article into an entire novel! With that said, if you're looking for an outstanding, up-to-date mobility resource at a great price, I'd recommend you check out Ruthless Mobility. Dean Somerset has put it on sale this week at an excellent introductory discount, and it also provides continuing education credits for the fitness professionals out there. Check it out HERE.

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Correcting Common Landmine Press Mistakes (Video)

Written on December 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm a huge fan of incorporating landmine press variations into strength training programs. These awesome exercises are great for building scapular upward rotation, core stability, upper body strength, thoracic mobility, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, folks commonly struggle with technique with the landmine press, so I wanted to use today's video to cover how we coach these drills.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/26/14

Written on November 26, 2014 at 7:17 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone is having a great week and is excited for a great Thanksgiving. It might be a holiday week, but it's still super busy at the new Cressey Sports Performance facility in Jupiter, FL. Luckily, I've got some great content from around the web to share with you.

The Cost of Getting Lean - The Precision Nutrition crew gives you the cold hard facts on what it takes to get to and maintain the body composition you desire.

Foam Rolling Isn't Stretching, but It's Still Important - Dean Somerset delves into the potential mechanisms of action for foam rolling.

How to Fit Core Stability Exercises into Strength and Conditioning Programs: Part 1 and Part 2 - I wrote this two-part article back in 2011 when Mike Reinold and I released Functional Stability Training of the Core, the first in the three-part FST series. Since they're all on sale for 25% off this week, it seemed like a great time to bring these posts back from the archives.

For more information on this sale, check out www.FunctionalStability.com. It wraps up this upcoming Monday at midnight.

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Why Wait Until Friday for a Sale?

Written on November 24, 2014 at 9:50 pm, by Eric Cressey

Everyone on the planet has a sale this Friday, so Mike Reinold and I figured we'd get the week started a few days early.

From now through the end of the day this upcoming (Cyber) Monday, you can pick up any of the Functional Stability Training Products and Optimal Shoulder Performance for 25% off. Just enter the coupon code BF2014 at checkout and the discount will be applied.

Click here to check out the Functional Stability Training series.

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Click here to check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

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Don't miss out on this great chance to get our popular products at a big discount! And, stay tuned, as I'll have a few more sales later in the week.

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The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery

Written on November 23, 2014 at 4:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's interesting how folks like to pigeonhole people into specific specialties. Over the years, I've been called "The Shoulder Guy." I've also heard "The Deadlift Guy" and "The Mobility Guy." And, if you talked to my wife, she'd probably call me "the guy who can't empty the dishwasher without getting distracted."

The truth is that expertise is in the eyes of the beholder. And, since this is my blog, let it be known the I really see myself as "The Meatball Guy," and I'd prefer to "be holding" a meatball.

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Being a meatball connoisseur isn't just a gift, though. Much like any proficiency, it's a craft I've worked tirelessly to hone. And, while my closest friends and family are very supportive of my meatball pursuits, the truth is that not everyone understands. As an example, my phone rang the other night as my wife and I were preparing a meatball extravaganza. One of our Major League Baseball clients was calling, and it went like this:

Me: "What's up, bud?"

Him: "Nothing. What are you up to?"

Me: "You know, the usual. Just eating some meatballs."

Him: "Dude, you have to find a new meal!"

Find a new meal? Seriously? Maybe he should "just" take up playing professional football instead of baseball! And, maybe Bobby Fischer should have "just" played checkers instead of chess! Me walking away from meatballs at age 33 - the prime of my meatball career - would be analogous to Barry Sanders walking away from football healthy at age 30 after ten consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. It just wouldn't make sense. I want to change the world, one meatball at a time.

Recognizing this, today's post is about recognizing those who have helped me achieve this level of meatball expertise, but also offering key advice to the up-and-coming meatball aficionados. To that end, I present to you the 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery.

Law #1: Meatball Mastery does not occur without the help of others, so you must be open-minded.

As shocking as it may seem, I did not invent the meatball. Rather, I've stood on the shoulders of a few meatball giants who've provided my top three "go-to" healthy meatball recipes. Here they are:

1. Everyday Paleo Marvelous Meatballs (Sarah Fragoso) - These are great for a numbers of reasons, the foremost being that they are a) meat and b) in a ball shape. Beyond that, I like the fact that I get to use a lot of stuff from the spice rack that I might not otherwise use.

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2. Everyday Maven Paleo Pesto Meatballs - I'm a sucker for pesto, but unfortunately, it almost always comes in really high calorie Italian Food recipes. This is a nice alternative. Candidly, we generally make these with ground turkey instead of ground beef and add a bunch of spinach and onions. It tastes awesome, but doesn't always stick together as well as you see with ground beef, presumably since the fat content is a bit lower.

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3. Anabolic Cooking Baked Meatballs - I like this recipe because I'm a big oregano fan, and the oat bran gives a little different texture than using almond flour. This recipe is featured in Dave Ruel's Anabolic Cooking, an awesome healthy recipe cookbook I highly recommend. Fortunately, Dave is a good friend of mine, and was kind enough to give me permission to post the recipe here (click to enlarge):

BakedMeatballs

Law #2: Meatballs are a form of artistic expression.

We've been conditioned to believe that meatballs should just be a few different ingredients: meat, bread crumbs, and eggs - basically whatever it takes to make things stick together. This is like saying that a good gym should just be full of cardio machines and nothing else.

Instead, we load our meatballs up with all sorts of vegetables and spices. In terms of vegetables alone, we might include celery, onions, spinach, carrots, and peppers. Try adding these, and you'll get a heck of a lot more nutritional value - and get to feel like you're creating a completely unique piece of meatball art each time you cook.

Law #3: Meatballs can (and should) be used for special occasions and as gifts.

Meatballs aren't just a versatile food choice; they're also a gift for every occasion. I made a "meat-heart" for Valentine's Day for my wife, in fact. We're still married, so I have to assume that she loved it.

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And, what birthday would be completely without blowing out the candle on a meatball?

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I also like to incorporate meatballs into the celebration of Labor Day, Arbor Day, and Presidents' Day. And, I fully expect a meatball feast in celebration of my first Father's Day this upcoming June. Meatballs are the gifts that keep on giving.

Law #4: As with a fine wine and dinner, accompaniments matter with meatballs.

If you think meatballs can only be eaten with spaghetti, you're missing out. Some of our favorite meatball sides include baked kale chips, spaghetti squash, brussel sprouts, and sweet potato fries. Experiment and you'll find your favorite pairings.

Law #5: Don't even consider store-bought meatballs.

Next time you walk through the frozen foods section of your local supermarket, take a look at some of the pre-prepared meatball options. In most cases, they will include several ingredients you can't pronounce. When it comes to meatball ingredients, with the exception of eggs, if it wasn't green and didn't have eyes, it shouldn't belong in your meatball. This leads me to Law #6...

Law #6:  Meatballs must actually have meat.

As is often the case in mass food production these days, "soy protein concentrate" and "texturized soy flour" somehow managed to make their way into MEATballs. If you think this is limited to only the store-bought frozen versions, think again.

I like Whole Foods, including their hot foods bar. Unfortunately, one of the things I like the most about them is the fact that they display their ingredients - and it gets them in my doghouse with respect to meatballs. I'd love to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it's tough to do so after this Twitter exchange...

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Please don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Meatballs shouldn't include "filler" materials, especially when sold at WHOLE Foods.

Law #7: Meatballs must meet a minimum size threshold.

As I showed in my picture earlier, any respectable meatball should be large enough to be eaten like an apple during the "leftovers" period. If it's small enough to be eaten put on a toothpick without that toothpick breaking, then you're really just dipping your foot in the shallows of a vast meatball ocean. Go big or go home.

Law #8: Meatballs bring the world together.

Last year, I attended John Romaniello and Neghar Fonooni's wedding in New York. At the reception, they had a meatball bar that featured four different types of awesomeness. Combined, Jason Ferruggia, Adam Bornstein, Sean Hyson, and I consumed approximately 600 of them. While it was probably a horrific experience for the terrified caterers that looked on, it's strengthened our friendships. Come to think of it, in communicating with these guys over the past year, I don't think we've had a single conversation or email exchange that didn't involve meatballs.

The next time you've got an old friend with whom you've want to reconnect, send him some meatballs as an icebreaker. If he's not more than thrilled at the gesture, then he's probably not worth the effort, anyway.

Law #9: Meatballs do not require bread crumbs.

Historically, bread crumbs have been a key inclusion in both meatballs and meatloaf because they help to hold everything together. Thanks in large part to the gluten-free and paleo trends, we've learned that almond and coconut flour (or meal) are healthier ways to hold things together.

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As a quick tip, it's cheaper to buy your almond flour in bulk than it is to buy individual bags at the grocery store. We order four pounds at a time on Amazon.

Law #10: Meatballs are meant to be shared.

If there was ever a food to selfishly guard for yourself, the meatball would be it. That just wouldn't be right, though; meatballs are best enjoyed in the company of others.

Moreover, meatball recipes are meant to be shared, too. Have a favorite way of enjoying them? Please share it in the comments section below.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 7

Written on November 18, 2014 at 7:45 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this month's edition of "musings" on the sports performance training front. Here goes...

1. Professional athletes don't need "special" exercises; they just adapt faster and need special progressions.

One of the most important lessons coaches can learn with professional athletes is that they don't need crazy advanced exercises. Far too often, coaches will assume that because a client is a high-level athlete, he/she will automatically require some fancy, innovative drill. The truth is that they need the basics, just like everyone else. You'd be amazed at how poorly some of the most high-level athletes you'll see actually move when you get them out of their sporting environments.

That said, they are unique in their ability to adapt to a given stimulus quicker than their "less athletic" counterparts. Movement quality will improve dramatically from one week to the next, and strength and power can increase much faster than you'd expect from "normal" folks. This is obviously a blessing, but can also be a burden, as it means programs may need more updating on-the-fly to continue challenging the athlete. Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that their strength levels may actually increase faster than their motor control and connective tissues can safely handle. In other words, you have to be careful not to load bad patterns or degenerative tissue tendencies.

2. Don't worry about the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum if you're untrained or detrained.

With over 55,000 views on YouTube, this is one of my most popular videos ever:

The lessons here have tremendous value to athletes of all ages and ability levels - except novice trainees, or athletes who have recently been detrained. In other words, if we're talking about a 13-year-old kid who has zero resistance training experience, or an athlete who just finished a long, grueling season and has lost appreciable strength, then you need to build strength up first.

Effectively, treat these scenarios as if an athlete is all the way to the right (speed) end of the continuum. They need to build a foundation of strength up before they'll benefit from any of the other modalities - or even be able to perform them safely. This is one reason why handing an aggressive weighted ball program to an untrained 13-year-old kid might be harmful, and why doing a ton of plyos with a volleyball player who just finished a long season is silly. Give them what they actually need, not just what you think is "sexy."

3. Efficient rotation is efficient rotation - and consistent across multiple sports.

One thing I'm really excited about with respect to our new Jupiter, FL Cressey Sports Performance facility is working with a wider variety of rotational sport athletes beyond just baseball. My business partner, Shane Rye, is an accomplished lacrosse coach, and Jupiter also happens to be home to loads of golfers of all levels. I've also got a big tennis background, and am excited to explore opportunities on that front.

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There are a load of commonalities among all rotational sports, and it's going to be exciting to see how our training approaches impact these other sports. How can I be so sure?

Have you ever noticed how easily baseball and hockey players pick up golf? And, have you noticed how many athletes were drafted in multiple rotational sports? Think of Tom Brady in baseball and football, and Tom Glavine in hockey and baseball. These guys weren't what you'd call "powerhouse" athletes; in other words, they weren't freak athletes that played baseball and football. Rather, you could argue that they're just guys who learned to use their bodies really efficiently in rotational patterns.

4. "Where do you feel it?" is as important a question as "How does it look?"

Every once in a while, you'll observe an athlete with a movement that looks absolutely perfect, but might not be "felt" in the right place. Or, it might even actually cause pain. This is why it's so important to always solicit feedback on where an athlete (especially a beginner) feels an exercise, as opposed just assuming it was fine just because it "looked good." As an example, I commonly see athletes who "feel" all their shoulder exercise rotation drills in the front of their shoulder, which is the exact opposite of what we want.

Without getting too "geeky" on this front, many times, the reason we have discomfort or the "wrong" feeling with drills is that athletes are paying close attention to the osteokinematics - gross movements of internal/external rotation, flexion/extension, adduction/abduction - of the joint in question, but not paying attention to the arthrokinematics of that same joint. In other words, the rolling, rocking, and gliding taking place needs to be controlled within a tight window to ensure ideal movement.

In the external rotation variation, as we externally rotate the arm, the humeral head (ball) likes to glide forward on the glenoid fossa (socket). The glenohumeral ligaments (anterior shoulder capsule), rotator cuff, and biceps tendon are the only things that can hold it in the socket. In a throwing population, the capsule is usually a bit loose and the cuff is a bit weak, so the biceps tendon often has to pick up the slack - which is why some folks wind up feeling these in the front, thereby strengthening a bad pattern. There are also a bunch of nerves at the front of the shoulder that can get irritated, but that's a blog for another day!

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5. Making your room colder can be really helpful for sleep quality.

Everyone knows that turning off electronics before bed is important for sleep quality. Additionally, getting your room as dark as possible definitely makes for better sleeping. Very few people pay attention to the temperature of the room, though. I can definitely speak to its importance, though.

As many of you know, my wife and I moved to Florida in early September. As part of this transition, I made three trips back up to Boston over the course of September-November. On each of those trips, my sleep quality was insanely better than I have in Florida. The difference? Roughly 8-10°F in the temperature of my sleeping environment. With that in mind, we're cranking up the air conditioning a bit more - and thanking our lucky stars that the Florida summer has wrapped up. If you're having trouble sleeping, tinkering with the temperature in your sleeping environment might be a good place to start. Also, I'd encourage you to check out this great guest post I published a while back: Sleep:What the Research Actually Says.

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The Hard and Soft Skills of a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Written on November 15, 2014 at 6:51 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

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I haven’t always been "just" a strength coach. I’ve also done personal training, a fair bit of online writing, and have even stints of teaching dance to those willing to learn. The following is directed towards those looking to “advance” in the fitness and strength and conditioning fields. I have not worked in the collegiate strength and conditioning world, though, so take this with a grain of salt!

As I transitioned to the title of “strength coach,” I have started to associate the word “coach” with the word “leader.” The idea here is that – at the very least - there is a "need to lead" in the form of exercise to an individual or group of people.

Growing up, I wasn’t a leader by nature. I was shy, and lacked the confidence to do relatively basic things: like even just talking to people. I also wasn’t the best at sports, nor was I the strongest, fastest, or even the smartest at any given sport. However, I could study how the greats played, and from this mentality I understood that I could begin to develop myself. Some would sleep, but I would study, practice, and train, since I didn’t have any natural talent on which I could reliably lean to improve myself.

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With that said, here are some of my expectations and thoughts on what it means to be a coach in this industry.

Hard Skills

Understanding the basic fundamental movement patterns that are involved within a specific model or facilities movement philosophy.

First off, you won’t get to work in an ideal situation in any work environment.

Having the adaptability to understand varying philosophies of movement will allow you to determine what step to take next with a given exercise, along with a hierarchy of movement protocols.

Some coaches will always want to include power cleans in the beginning of their programs, but if you have pushback from the get-go, you might not have a job in the morning.

There are many things that you can learn from this not-so-ideal scenario:

1. Learn the best cues for how to coach the power clean (and other Olympic lifting variations).
2. Learn the regressions and progressions, along with the best programming of how to incorporate this specific item within a program.
3. If possible, it could lead to skills that can hypothetically separate you from a “on-paper” resume for your next position.

Identifying biomechanically incorrect positions and providing the “correct” position with which an athlete can excel - and coach it quickly.

In the past few years, I’ve had the fortune of watching friends, coaches, and trainers do what they do best: coach! This “skill” is often referred to as developing a “coach’s eye” for movement.

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If you don’t know your anatomy, get to studying. Admittedly, my intelligence is average as compared to others, so perhaps I overcompensate by staying up late reading these books and I have personally taken multiple classes of biology and anatomy - after my undergraduate career.

However, nothing you’ll learn in an anatomy class will replace the time you spend identifying aberrant movement patterns. With this in mind, no one expects you to take multiple anatomy classes or read some books after midnight on anatomy.

Here are some things you can do to improve your ability to coach exercises:

1. Coach anyone and everyone.

Let me clarify. You don’t need to start training a professional athlete to begin coaching. I’m sure your co-worker’s son would love to get trained at a reduced price. Heck, train the kid’s entire team! Train anyone, be professional, and overdeliver. You could be training the next Cy Young.

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2. Visit other coaches and trainers to understand how they coach exercises and program for athletes.

I remember reading from someone a lot smarter than me that they bought a coach lunch to understand how that coach got his athlete’s strong. So I did that and then some. Now, I’ve lost count of the number of lunches and after-seminar drinks I’ve bought other trainers and coaches (who are now close friends) to hear their opinion on a certain subject.

3. Purchase continuing education DVDs, make YouTube channels, start blogging - and utilize the internet to your advantage.

If you find yourself relatively “stuck” professionally, this is an option to provide options for mental and professional growth. I’ve had people ask me what kinds of things they can do to get started in the online side of things.

Funny enough, getting started involves … starting anywhere.

• My blog started out as a way for me to track workouts in 2011. Now it sees unique visitors from all over the world, and I’ve had people email me from many different continents on the world asking questions and looking for more information.
• I also started a YouTube channel to also track my lifting progress. And the camera that I used to post all of my videos? For almost all of 2011, it was an iPhone 1.
• For the record, the iPhone 4s came out late 2011.

I’m not saying I’ve reached massive success by any means, but merely starting the action of tracking and logging the things that you are already doing will help to refine your thought process, and improve your communication skills as well.

Having these videos or blog posts will allow you to interact with others while getting your message across with visual and reading components. The alternative is sitting at home after working with five clients for the day, watching Netflix, and going to sleep wondering how you can improve. Take your pick.

Adapting to regressing and progressing an athlete based on their presentation.

This is probably the most “artful” part of being a coach. If one of your regular athletes walks in after a tournament, and presents with anterior left knee pain, what do you do?

• Train upper body?
• Train the other leg?
• Train the abdominal and core reflexive movement patterns?
• Try to condition? (if necessary - but also keeping in mind that enhancing aerobic qualities has some justifications in aiding recovery time)
• Reviewing game clips to stay mentally sharp and “in the game?”

The message here is that there is always something that you can do to improve. The steps are simple - not easy, but simple.

1. Identify your weak points from a professional point of view.
2. Decide if you need to address it to become a more well-rounded professional, or have someone else fill the spot for you (if you can hire or refer out).
3. Find the actionable items that you can improve upon immediately - not tomorrow, or the next day.
4. What can you improve on now?
5. Of course, do it.

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Soft Skills

The following is a list of items that I feel are not taught in a formal manner, but could be lessons that have been instilled after a number of interactions, readings, and other forms of informal education. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but this is why internships have provided valuable experience for me; they allow for graded exposure with which I can improve my skills in a safe environment. I can “mess up,” hopefully receive honest feedback, and improve myself both from a skills and growth point of view.

Be personable. Be likeable.

“No one cares how much you know, unless they know how much you care.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

You don’t need to be everyone’s best friend. In fact you don’t need to be anyone’s friend at all; you merely need to understand what makes a person tick, and allow yourself to be whatever that is so that they’ll connect with you. Of course, making friends and actually caring is probably the easiest approach on this front!

Look people in the eye.

Don’t be shift or falter in your gaze. Lock eyes, shake hands, and smile. Today you are alive and helping others along their own journey.

Mean what you say.

Whether it is a coaching cue or advice that will help you get to the next level, the words that I choose are often meant exactly as how I present them.

If I say move your left foot back, funny enough, I don’t mean to move your right foot. I mean move your left foot back!

I’m all for cracking jokes (and I’m often the first to laugh at even the worst of jokes), but at the same time, my responsibility as a strength coach is to elicit change. Sometimes a hard talk is necessary, in which clear lines, clear expectations, and clear meaning needs to shine through.

• If I say you should be getting more sleep, let’s figure out a way to improve the amount of sleep we receive.
• If I say your lack of attention to nutrition is what is limiting your progress, let’s figure out a way to bring awareness to what you are eating and why you are eating that way.
Change does not occur by merely thinking about it. There needs to be action.

Speak up.

There will be music in the gym. It will be loud. There will be lots of people around. Sometimes there is yelling. You will have people not pay attention.

What will you do in this case? Will you stand idly by, being the person that didn’t talk much, and therefore wasn’t memorable? Or, will you mean what you say, and say it once so it didn’t need to be repeated?

Understand how to best help an individual based off of their current psyche surrounding their immediate goals and/or injury history.

This does not immediately mean provide an amazing movement intervention.

This could mean simply listening to them and being there to vent to. Or you can talk about the football game, to take their mind off of whatever is bugging them for the next hour of training. At the same time, I’m not saying you need to be an enabler for avoiding the immediate problem, but there it’s important to be “likable” in times of stress.

Learn how to adapt to various personalities.

All kinds of personalities will walk into the gym. Some are there because they want to improve, others want to simply stick to their routine and not talk to anyone. Some even just need a place to unwind and hang out for hours at a time.

Understanding what makes a person tick will help you get along with everyone. You do not need to be best friends with everyone (some athletes/clients won’t want that); merely coexist and help them get to their goals as fast as possible!

Some may seek you out as a friend, some will seek you out for lifting advice, some on school advice, some on day to day life conversation, and others for something else completely.

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For what it is worth, I’m of the belief that change is possible at ultimately any level; my personal mindset is one of malleability.

Now, imagine this scenario: What would happen if you did not have this ability to adapt to multiple personalities? This completely shuts you off from specific populations of people that can support your business and help you grow as a coach.

Create a system for memorizing multiple names in rapid succession very quickly.

Learning names is important. Calling someone by the wrong name stings, and even if you work with people in large group settings, do your best.

Rhyming is an easy method.

Frank the Tank.

Jake the Snake.

For those that don’t have a “rhyme-able” name, say that person’s name at least three times from introduction, to small talk, to brief departure (if need be).

If that doesn’t sit well with you, utilize the power of imagery to your advantage: imagine their name plastered right between their eyebrows or forehead to emblazon an image in your own head.

Be 100% up-front with your intentions from the get-go.

Time is of the essence. If my thoughts aren’t clear, my intentions may not come across as clear, and my actions may not represent me in a manner of which I will be proud.

You’re considered a coach; act like one.

This involves being considered a role model, whether you like it or not. There can be an unwritten or even written rule that others will be going to you for advice for many different things: nutrition, mindset, or basic lifting advice.

Choose a mentor, and walk with him or her.

If you don’t have access to a mentor, purchase a DVD, watch a YouTube clip, and read their information. Draw from it the most useful information that they offer you in terms of personality, coaching cues, tools, etc., and walk with that as if they were watching your every step.

Sure, it sounds strange, but imagine if your favorite coach or whomever were to watch your every coaching cue, every action on and off the court, field, or weight room.

Would you act differently?

Would you act the same?

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Some of these things you may already do. Some of them may have never crossed your mind. I am merely passing on things that I have found to be helpful professionally and personally. If you have additional suggestions that complement mine, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

About the Author

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

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