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12 Ways to Know if You Should Include an Exercise in a Strength Training Program

Written on May 27, 2015 at 8:50 am, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Sports Performance, whenever we're training a new staff member to write strength and conditioning programs, I always heavily emphasize the following point:

If you're going to put an exercise in a program, you need to be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion.

Without a doubt, exercise selection is one of the most important programming variables one must take into account. To that end, there are many ways that one can determine whether an exercise belongs in a strength training program (or not) - and each justification begins with a question. Here are ten questions to get the ball rolling:

1. Can it be sufficiently loaded, or does it allow you to achieve a training effect with less loading?

If one is looking to purely gain muscle mass, then a side bridge row probably isn't a great choice, as it doesn't give rise to athletes using significant loading:

Conversely, if someone has a cranky forearm and needs to find a way to maintain an upper body training effect with less gripping demands, the side bridge row can be a great option.

2. Does it offer functional carryover to an individual's life or athletic endeavor?

A deadlift is easy to sell on this front. It trains individuals to have a strong hip hinge that they'll use regardless of whether they're picking a child up off the ground, or jumping to grab a rebound. Conversely, juggling dumbbells while standing on one leg on an unstable surface isn't going to provide you with much (if any) real-world carryover. Don't waste valuable training time on unproductive exercises.

3. Does the individual have the capacity to perform the movement?

This question applies to both the osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces). As examples:

a. An individual with femoroacetabular impingement (a bony block) at the hip may not be able to get into a deep squat position. This would be a limitation on the osteokinematic front (limited hip flexion and, likely, internal rotation).

b. An individual with poor rotator cuff control might not be able to limit the anterior gliding of the humeral head during an external rotation toss to wall. This would be a limitation on the arthrokinematic front (even if the drill might look good to the naked eye).

4. Will an individual have sufficient equipment to perform it?

I always get a kick out of looking at canned, mass marketed programs that include things like the safety squat bar, chains, and sleds. Most commercial gyms don't have these things; heck, a lot of gyms don't even have kettlebells or medicine balls. Learning about equipment access up-front if you're writing a program for someone who isn't in "your gym" is an important step to save time and hassle.

As an interesting aside, I've had a lot of positive feedback on the "exercise modifications" section of The High Performance Handbook. Basically, this helps individuals modify the program to work with their equipment limitations. Versatility is very important to gym-goers!

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5. Does it allow for sufficient time under tension to yield hypertrophy (muscle building) benefits?

If you want to put muscle mass on someone, you need to have some time under tension. For that reason, an exercise like a rotational row would be an inferior hypertrophy training option, even if it is great for training power in an athletic population.

6. Does it take a lot of set-up?

If the individual performing the program is crunched for time, exercises that take considerable set-up time are generally better left out of the program.

7. Does it fit in with where an individual stands in a regression-progression continuum?

If someone can't even squat to parallel with body weight without major compensations, then programming a back squat probably isn't a good idea.

Conversely, if someone is an elite Olympic lifter with an excellent squat - both in terms of patterning and loading - then telling them to do three sets of eight goblet squats probably won't offer much benefit.

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8. Will it provide a training effect without creating significant soreness?

Sometimes, we want to avoid creating soreness. A perfect example is in-season programming for athletes, where we might avoid drills with a significant eccentric component, instead programming things like step-ups, deadlifts from the floor, and sled pushing/dragging. At other points in the year, it might be fine to have post-exercise soreness, so our exercise pool expands significantly.

9. Does it build "good stiffness" or reduce "bad stiffness?"

As we know, quality movement is a balance of mobility and stability. You need range of motion, but stability within that range of motion. Likewise, you need some rigidity, but not so much as to not allow for fluid movements. Every exercise should help you to find that "balance" in some way. For instance, look at the reverse crunch, which builds "good" stiffness in the anterior core (particularly external obliques) while reducing stiffness in the lats and lumbar erectors.

10. Will it allow an individual to train around an injury?

I'll admit: there are some exercises that I almost never use unless when we have an athlete who is on crutches, in a sling, or dealing with some other type of injury. When someone is hurt and wants to maintain a training effect without exacerbating an injury, you have to get creative.

11. Can it be used to train power?

Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses are all exercises that can be utilized to train power. Conversely, good luck trying to turn a chin-up into a power training exercise without blowing out a shoulder or elbow. An overhead medicine ball stomp would be a much better option for challenging high velocity shoulder extension.

12. Does an individual love or hate it?

Some people love certain exercises because they're good at performing them. In most cases, to make long-term progress, they need to emotionally separate themselves from those exercises a bit so that they can devote extra effort and training volume to bring up their weaknesses.

Conversely, in beginners who aren't completely "sold" on lifting weights, it's okay to use a favorite exercise to help deliver a message. I can't tell you how many women we've had over the years who love to trap bar or sumo deadlift in their initial months of training - and they actually request it in their new programs. If seeing a particular exercise in a program gets a new client fired up to put in extra effort and stay adherent, I'm all for meeting them halfway by including it.

Wrap-up

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of considerations one must take into account on the exercise selection front, but it's a good place to start. In the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other things you take into account.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 11

Written on March 5, 2015 at 9:19 am, by Eric Cressey

In today's post, I want to cover three more coaching cues you can use to clean up your training technique. These are ones I use all the time with athletes at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Create a gap."

I use this one all the time with both rowing and pressing variations. Athletes love to keep the elbow too close to the side, and it creates an environment of faulty scapular positioning during movement of the upper arm. You can check out examples on my Instagram page, if you're interested (FAULTY vs. CORRECTED).

The answer is very simple: create a gap between the upper arm and torso. I'll usually just put my hand between the two landmarks and wiggle my fingers side to side to create a gap, as depicted by the blue line here:

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2. "Don't let this plate fall."

I've written in the past (here) about how much I love bear crawls as everything from a low-level core stability exercise to a great scapular control drill. That said, one thing you'll see as a common mistake from athletes is that they'll allow their lower back and hips drift side to side on each "step." While this is indicative of the need for rotary stability at the core, usually, the problem is still something that can be fixed up pretty quickly with some basic coaching cues, starting with "slow down."

To build on "slow down" with an external focus cue, I'll set a 2.5-pound plate on the athlete's lower back. The more the lumbopelvic shifts, the more likely it is to fall.

3. "Don't break the glass."

One of the biggest mistakes we see with quad dominant athlete who have poor hip hinge patterns is that they'll break the knee forward in lieu of shifting the hips back. You'll see this on everything from lateral lunges to the eccentric (lowering) portion of deadlifts.

Obviously, we can start to address this by coaching at the hip ("push your butt back to try to touch the wall behind you"), but you can also have a positive impact on the movement by coaching the knee with an external focus cue of an imaginary pane of glass running directly up to the ceiling from the toes. Check out this still frame I took from the lowering portion of a sumo deadlift. The knee shouldn't hit the blue line that signifies the imaginary pane of glass:

SumoDL

The image would be more powerful from the side angle, but the plates obscure the lower leg and foot from that perspective, unfortunately. Fortunately, the lateral lunge with overhead reach is a good second shot:

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That wraps it up for this edition. Hopefully, you've found these cues useful and easy to apply in your strength and conditioning programs. If you're looking for direction with respect to both programming and coaching cues, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, which features more than 200 exercise coaching videos, comprising three hours of footage of the exact cues we use with our athletes.

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

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

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

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

Written on December 26, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!

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2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?

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5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Installment 9

Written on November 12, 2014 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been nine months since I last posted an update to this coaching cues series, so this post is long overdue! Here are three technique coaching cues you can put into action:

1. "Follow the arm with the eyes."

We'll often see individuals who try to do thoracic mobility drills like the side-lying windmill, but wind up turning them into potentially harmful stretches for the anterior shoulder. Basically, you'll see too much arm movement and not enough upper back movement. One way to increase movement of the upper back is to "drive" it with the eyes, which effectively keeps us in a more neutral neck position. Check out the demonstration video from The High Performance Handbook video library for more details:

2. "Build up tension through the hamstrings over the next five seconds."

I normally don't like internal focus cues, but this would be an exception. I generally use this cue specifically when we have a beginning lifter who is learning to deadlift, but it can also be incorporated with an intermediate lifter who struggles with early knee extension and the hips shooting up too early. Basically, it slows the lifter down, but still encourages him to apply force into the floor.

I'll have the individual set up the starting position, but not initiate the deadlift unless everything is perfect - from the feet up to the head. Then, I'll tell him to gradually build up tension in the hamstrings over the course of five seconds, with the bar slowly breaking the floor at the end of that period of time. It won't lead to great bar speed (something we ultimately want), but that's not of great concern when we're simply trying to optimize technique.

As an important add-on, make sure the athlete has already taken the slack out of the bar before you initiate the hamstrings cues:

3. "Where the arm goes, the shoulder blade goes" - and vice versa.

This is a coaching cue I recently heard physical therapist Eric Schoenberg use at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, and I loved it. It simplified something I'd been trying to create with kinesthetic coaching (actually putting an athlete's shoulder blade in the position I wanted).

There are a lot of folks out there still teaching clients and athletes to "lock down" the scapula during rowing exercises, or make the rowing motion segmented into "retract and THEN pull." The truth is that the upper extremity doesn't work like this in the real world; otherwise, we'd all move like robots. Healthy upper extremity action is about smooth, coordinated movements of the scapula on the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) while the ball and socket (glenohumeral joint) maintain a good congruency, just like a sea lion balancing a ball on his nose.

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If you move the ball (humerus) without moving the socket (sea lion) with it, the ball falls off (comes unstable). The same thing can happen if you move the socket without moving the ball. The question then becomes: what active or passive restraints have to pick up the slack for the excessive motion that takes place? It can be the biceps tendon, rotator cuff, labrum, or shoulder capsule.

If we teach people to move the shoulder blade and humerus independently of one another - and load that pattern - we're really just establishing a faulty movement strategy that can't be safely reproduced under higher velocities. You can learn a bit more in this video:

Hopefully you enjoyed these tips and will benefit from applying them in your strength training programs. If you have other exercises you'd like covered, please just let me know in the comments section below.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 60

Written on October 24, 2014 at 7:36 pm, by Eric Cressey

This installment of quick training and nutrition tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Spread the floor...correctly.

Spreading the floor is a cue that can get butchered very easily. For a new lifter, there is no easily understandable point of reference for what "spreading the floor" even means. Simply barking external cues such as “spreading the floor” may elicit incorrect movement patterns that are better understood with visual cuing, which saves time to begin with.

Watch and listen to this video for more detail:

2. Focus on the bigger picture.

Whether you’re a frequent gym goer, or a trainer or coach looking to help your clients, the following tip is useful when using new exercises and programs. If you’re using this information for yourself to help improve your approach to lifting, just replace the title of “athlete” with “you!"

Say a younger athlete walks into your facility on Day 1 after an assessment. This is their Day 1, and their first exercise after warm-ups is Trap Bar Deadlifts.

How heavy do you tell the athlete to go?

1. As heavy as the rep scheme will allow.
2. As heavy as they think they should go.
3. As heavy as possible, as long as the movement looks clean.
4. Teach that athlete the requisite movement patterns before progressing.

Choice number 4 is a safe bet!

If someone comes in and does not understand the concept of a Trap Bar Deadlift, it is unlikely that you will go as heavy as the rep scheme will allow, all for the simple fact that this person does not even understand the movement, let alone how to properly prepare for a max rep.

The good thing is that you can reinforce a hip hinge movement pattern in a number of ways, and it does not have to be a strict “you can only do this exercise if you have it on your sheet."

Further, sometimes, clients can come in feeling good, bad, sore, or any of a host of other sensations. While these feelings are very subjective and it is a case by case basis, the idea is that you want to keep movement quality above all else despite the external factors that you cannot control.

If a specific movement does not “feel” good due to external factors, regress appropriately. Live to fight and train another day, as opposed to blindly continuing in the fashion of “Well, it’s on the paper.”

In the case of the athlete, performing a kettlebell deadlift in a sumo stance can be appropriate depending on their training experience, especially if you have heavier kettle bells to teach a hip hinge pattern.

To put this statement in another light - how many times will any given athlete perform a deadlift, squat, or lunge? If an athlete begins an appropriately designed strength training program at the age of 14, and continues this program effectively until he is 18, you have over four years of consistent lifting to improve a specific number.

To extrapolate further, given a 4-day lifting program over 52 weeks in a year add up to 208 opportunities to practice a specific movement pattern. Take out holidays, vacation times, finals and midterms for school, and random weeks where there are snags in scheduling (likely about 7-8 weeks of "off time"), and you have a whopping 44 weeks to train a wide variety of movement patterns.

I’m in it for the long haul, so when you have an athlete hell-bent on getting a specific number, it is helpful to remember that the point is to improve in the gym in order to improve on the field.

3. Check out "The Obstacle is the Way."

One habit that I’ve gained over the past few years is learning how to pick up a book that is outside of my comfort zone in order to expand my mental horizons and challenge my current thought processes. Fortunately for me, many of the staff at CSP crush audiobooks and regular books alike, and not just anatomy and physiology minded books either.

A school of thought with which I’ve aligned my mentality is the stoic philosophy - not just a Dead Poets Society rant on free thinking, but rather the attitude on valuing action over non-action and pontificating on the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’s” of life. One book that exemplifies this actionable philosophy is The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, and I have recommended this book to every staff member here to gain a better understanding of how to approach work, life, and other situations.

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To give a primer on the book, it essentially boils down to the aptly named title - that is, if there is an obstacle, then there is no other way around it but to simply stare it down and get to work on whatever that available solutions present themselves.

It is not quick, nor easy, but it is simple enough to understand, with possible long lasting effects, which can provide guidance in the face of adversity for any individual, not just athletes.

4. Try Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and whey protein.

Barring fancy names for a quick snack, I’ve been crushing yogurt ever since I started working at Cressey Sports Performance. Consuming Greek yogurt has allowed me to capitalize on macros, and depending on the brand of yogurt you get, you can get upwards of up to 22g of protein per cup. Add in a scoop of whey protein, and some powdered peanut butter (powdered peanut butter is used to aid in the consumption of the yogurt, and doesn’t take away from the flavor, but enhances upon it), and you have yourself a delicious snack.

I have been going with Greek yogurt, with vanilla whey protein powder, and finally adding in powdered peanut butter. It tastes like peanut butter cheesecake, which is an unreal thought in the first place.

5. Utilize a variety of movements in an exercise program.

There are hidden benefits to varying the position that you perform an exercise within your program. When you’re training the anterior core or the various anti-rotation, flexion, or extension movements, utilize different lower body positions to maximize movement variability. This will allow your body to build a stable foundation from which it can improve and build upon as you progress from one exercise to the next.

Here's a basic 3-4 month progression for cable chop variations, where you'll send 3-4 weeks on each step. This will allow a better foundation to be met prior to simply performing all exercises in a standing position.

1. Tall Kneeling Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
2. Half Kneeling Cable Chop (Inside Knee Up) - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
3. Standing Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side
4. Split Stance Cable Chop - 3 sets of 10 reps per side

Further, you can vary the breathing patterns that you use within these contexts in order to optimize their effectiveness. When teaching this pattern to athletes, it is important to first allow a constant stream of inhalations and full exhalations, while watching for mechanical positioning of the lower ribs and pelvis, as ideal positioning involves reducing anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension (arching of the lower back). As you find yourself learning how to "own" this specific exercise, introduce a full exhale while maintaining your position as you perform the concentric portion of the exercise.

About the Author

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

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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.

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Exercise of the Week: Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL

Written on July 26, 2014 at 6:28 am, by Eric Cressey

If there's one thing I've learned to love in working with older athletes and lifters, it's "joint-friendly" exercises. Obviously, these drills lower the injury risk, but taking it a step further, these are options that allow us to create a great training effect with minimal loading. This exercise of the week is a perfect example - and it also affords some great benefits in terms of building mobility.

Keep in mind that this isn't a "beginner exercise." Rather, you need to be proficient with both the reverse lunge and 1-leg RDL components before you attempt to combine them.

My apologies in advance for how sore this will make you!

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Career Capital in the Fitness Industry: Part 2

Written on July 24, 2014 at 3:48 am, by Eric Cressey

In the first installment of this two-part article, I discussed why "Follow Your Passion" isn't usually very good advice in any realm, but especially in the fitness industry. In case you missed it, you can check it out: Career Capital in the Fitness Industry: Part 1.

To briefly bring you up to speed, author Cal Newport emphasizes that acquiring "rare and valuable skills" is far more important to long-term job satisfaction, as we're more likely to enjoy careers in which we are wildly proficient. These skills are known as "career capital," and we can "redeem" them for improved quality of life - whether it's better pay, more influence within a company, more flexible hours, working from home, or a number of different benefits. As Newport's title related, you need to be So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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Newport's points got me to thinking about what "rare and valuable skills" one needs to be very successful in the fitness industry. I think it's a particularly interesting question, as there are a ton of people that make career changes to enter the fitness industry because (and these are just a few factors):

a) A lot of people love to exercise, so being around exercise all day seems fun.

b) It's perhaps the starkest contrast to a desk job, which many people abhor.

c) Wearing workout clothes to "work" sounds cool.

d) Fitness jobs generally provide more flexible hours, albeit it inconvenient times (you work while others play).

e) There is very little barrier to entry in the fitness industry; anyone can be a personal trainer TODAY, if they so desire.

While a lot of people are able to make enough to "survive"with this transition, it's a big stretch to say that a lot of people THRIVE. Folks who make a ton of money and have outstanding job satisfaction are few and far between.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people fall flat on their faces with this career change. It's usually that they can't get a sufficient, sustainable clientele off the ground, or that they just realize that the new career isn't what they expected it to be. What separates those who manage to succeed, though? Here are the "rare and valuable skills" I see as tremendously valuable for "sustainability"in the fitness industry.

1. Professionalism

This matters in any industry, but it's especially important in the fitness industry, where it's tremendously easy to differentiate yourself because there are so many remarkably unprofessional trainers out there. There are trainers taking calls on their cell phones during sessions, and others who refuse to wear sleeves while training clients. There are coaches who have been using the same program for 25 years, and others who are sleeping with clients. Heck, I once had an intern show up for his first day of work in a Miller Light t-shirt! You really can't make this stuff up.

Call me crazy, but if you want to make a living as a fitness PROFESSIONAL, it might be a good idea to actually act PROFESSIONALLY.

Professionalism isn't something that comes in a day, though. I didn't really appreciate what it meant when I was just getting started in the fitness industry; my views on it have changed over the course of the past 15 years. Image - both your own and that of your business - evolves over time. As an example, it might start with showing up on time and looking the part early on in a career, whereas 15 years later, it might be making sure that your staff doesn't say anything stupid on social media to detract from your professional image. So, you could say that you're actually cultivating a specific kind of professionalism within the fitness industry - and no matter how good a person or hard a worker you think you are, it takes time to build.

2. Versatility

I think this might be the single-most important factor governing success in the fitness industry.

Being versatile enables you to make friends with introverts and extroverts alike. It helps you to work with kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners. It makes you to be accessible over multiple communication medius: email, phone, text message, and Skype (to name a few). It assists you in managing different personalities on your staff, if you wind up in a leadership position. It makes evolving easier in a very dynamic field. It's what allows you to acquire new skills and become a bigger contributor to a team. One of our Cressey Sports Performance staff members, Chris Howard, is a great example. He can evaluate athletes, write programs and coach - but also has a master's degree in nutrition and is a licensed massage therapist. And, he can make friends with anyone. He's built versatility capital.

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I should note: don't confuse versatility with trying to be everything to everyone. It just means that you'll be able to get better results underneath the specific umbrella where you're most qualified - and chances are that there will be more "umbrellas" under which you can choose to fall. Yes, you can redeem your versatility capital for the ability to pick what you enjoy doing (and that's what Chris has done at CSP).

3. Perseverance

Again, perseverance is important in any career, but it's particularly vital in the fitness industry, where you will have to pay your dues early on. This might include unpaid internships, brutally long hours (including the dreaded AM/PM split), and standing around on hard floors for 12 hours each day. And, you have to realize that in that last hour of the day, no matter how much your feet hurt and you want to go to sleep, you have to deliver the same quality product to clients.

This is why I always laugh on the inside when I hear an up-and-coming trainer complaining about having to work "floor hours" at a commercial gym. They don't realize that every single second they spend on that gym floor - even if they aren't actually training a client - is building a little toughness that'll sustain them over the long haul. It's better to build a callus (have plenty of exposure to being on the floor) than it is to develop a blister (jump into a training position cold turkey, only to wind up with knee and low back pain and a cranky demeanor by the end of your first day).

As an aside, I'll never hire anyone I hear complaining about old bosses or jobs....ever. If that's all that you can think of discussing during a job interview or in a cover letter, you have a negativity problem, lack the ability to walk a mile in another's shoes, and don't really understand how true learning and professional growth takes place.

4. Unique Expertise in a Specific Population

I'm a firm believer that the fitness industry is getting more and more "niched." Athletes are specializing earlier, and winding up with more "specialized" injuries that require specific preventative and rehabilitative training approaches. People are more overweight and unhealthy than ever, and it's given rise to entirely new industries. If you need proof, just consider how many more bariatric surgeries and hip replacements we are doing now than we did 20 years ago! The world is changing, and becoming more specialized. As the somewhat hackneyed saying goes, "generalists starve while specialists thrive."

Here's the problem, though: you have to be a generalist before you become a specialist. It takes years to acquire a skill set broad enough that you can select the areas where you're particularly proficient and leverage them to create a sustainable (and enjoyable livelihood). It's why doctors do residencies and fellowships after they've finished med school course work and clinical rotations! Nobody gets to go directly to a fellowship just because they have an undergraduate degree; they have to earn that right over time. Effectively, they're redeeming career capital to pursue a specialty.

Fitness works similarly. If you haven't taken the time to learn structure (anatomy), function, dysfunction, assessment, and programming in a broad group of clients/athletes, you'll never be prepared to handle a specific population. There is a right and wrong way to move, and you need to appreciate it before getting to how specific individuals deviate from it.

Once you get past this general education stage, though, you can really change the game. Candidly, most of the resumes I encounter for internships and jobs look very much the same. What jumps out at me is when something has a unique specialty that jumps off the page; they demonstrate that they have the potential to add instant value to our business. When they can do that AND fill an existing need we have, it's a great fit.

On our staff, Greg Robins is a great example. When he initially applied, I loved his military background, which made him an instant leader and someone that could oversee our internship program. He also had a track record of building successful bootcamp programs (and got ours off the ground at CSP).

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Since then, he's gotten heavily into powerlifting, attended multiple Postural Restoration Institute courses, and taken a particular interest in hip dysfunction cases and sprint mechanics. He's expanding his skill set in particular realms without diluting the general foundation he'd established. You can't build a pyramid without a strong foundation, but once that foundation is in place, you can do some cool stuff - and cool stuff earns you career capital.

5. A Mental Library

If you haven't heard of Dr. James Andrews, you'd be wise to look him up. Suffice it to say that he's the most renowned sports orthopedist of all time.  I've been fortunate to interact with him at a few conferences and over the phone when he's provided second opinions on MRIs over the years, and he's as good a person as he is a surgeon. Dr. Andrews is widely renowned not only for his surgical skills, but also for his tremendous bedside manner and accessibility.

However, what I think is perhaps even more remarkable - and what makes Dr. Andrews such a sought-after consultant - is the fact that he has an absurd number of case studies compiled in his brain. No matter how ugly and atypical your shoulder, elbow, knee, or hip MRI is, he's probably seen 500 just like it over the years. He can speak to whether these issues respond to conservative treatment, and if so, what the best course of action is. If not, he can speak to whether surgery is warranted, and if so, what procedure is the right fit. You just can't get that with the small town orthopedic surgeon who does two rotator cuff repairs each year, and treated one ACL tear back in 2002. Interacting with a lot of people builds a lot of career capital in your memory "bank."

If you need any proof that being good at what you do is a great predictor of job satisfaction, Dr. Andrews is 72 years old and still going strong. I don't imagine that he needs the money at this point, and he actually does a lot of pro bono outreach work to try to combat overuse injuries in youth sports. Compiling and redeeming career capital put him in a position pursue this mission.

Again, there are parallels in the fitness industry. At risk of sounding overconfident, I get to interact with over 100 throwing shoulders/elbows every single day, so I've built a great sample size from which to draw over the past eight years.

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Some trainers have seen dozens of post-pregnancy cases, cardiac/pulmonary rehab folks, or NFL Combine prep cases . The only way to acquire a fully loaded memory bank is to encounter a lot of people in a specific population.

Closing Thoughts

These are just five examples of where one can acquire career capital in the fitness industry - and there are certainly many more ways to do things. Additionally, under each one of these examples are many specific actions that can build to create a "wealth" of knowledge and experience - "rare and valuable skills" - that can someday surely be redeemed for a career you'll genuinely love. That same success and job satisfaction aren't guaranteed if you simply "following your passion," though, so be sure to take that advice with a big grain of salt.

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Career Capital in the Fitness Industry – Part 1

Written on July 22, 2014 at 7:02 am, by Eric Cressey

I just finished reading a fantastic book, So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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In his book, author Cal Newport goes to great lengths to demonstrate just how terrible "follow your passion" is as career advice. It's a compelling read, especially for those who are working hard to develop a career they genuinely enjoy.

Newport argues against the "passion" approach, as it can lead individuals down a road that may not be financially viable; just because you enjoy something doesn't mean that you'll be able to make a living doing it. This may be because there isn't sufficient demand in the market for it, or because you might not have sufficient "career capital" to be successful enough early on to actually stay in business. "Career capital," according to Newport, consists of "rare and valuable skills;" you need these to acquire the "traits that define great work." And, as the author also points out, being very good at what you do is actually more closely linked to job satisfaction than income alone.

Newport continues with several case studies to support this "Career Capital Theory:" people work long and hard to acquire rare and valuable skills (don't forget Malcom Gladwell's 10,000-Hour Theory) that give them more and more control over their careers by making them coveted and/or indispensable in their field of study. This control doesn't just afford them more compensation and flexible schedules, but also enables them to gradually test the waters to determine whether one specific avenue or "niche" is best for long-term career satisfaction.

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This is a stark contrast to the fitness industry, where many folks have lost their life savings opening gyms because they enjoyed exercise - but didn't have the rare and valuable skills required to be successful in the fitness industry. It leads to the question: why are some people very successful in the fitness industry - even with mid-life career change - while others fail miserably? What are the "rare and valuable skills" that allow them to succeed?

Before I answer these questions, though, I thought I might shine a little light on how Newport's theories spoke directly to me. To be candid, growing up, I never expected to work in the fitness industry. In fact, it was quite the opposite: I went to college thinking I was going to be an accountant.

However, around that time, I had some health problems, and as I got healthy, had to learn a lot about proper training, nutrition, and recovery so that I could put weight back on and get my strength back. I realized that it was something I enjoyed, and learning in this realm came somewhat naturally to me. After much deliberation, I decided to transfer to a new school to pursue exercise science - but I still "hedged my bet" by doing a double major in sports management and exercise science. I had two years of business school under my belt, and wanted to continue to nuture my entrepreneurial spirit (and avoid losing a lot of college credit).

Over the next two years, I worked for $7/hour at a gym to learn everything I could about the industry - all while I was taking classes. Simultaneously, I was rehabbing my shoulder from a chronic tennis-related condition, so I was "accidentally" finding a niche within a niche. Without even knowing it, I was building career capital while testing the waters to make sure it was actually what I wanted to do. I might not have gotten 10,000 hours under my belt by the age of 22, but I was definitely well on my way - and it put me in a position to know that I wanted to go to graduate school for exercise science.

At graduate school, I had the opportunity to "feel out" what I wanted to do without much risk. I got involved in the human performance laboratory to see if research was for me (it wasn't). It was only when I volunteered in varsity strength and conditioning that I found something I genuinely enjoyed, and I recognized that I could do well and be very happy working in collegiate strength and conditioning. Interestingly, I spent most of my time working with soccer and basketball players while I was there.

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As it turns out, I tested the waters in the private sector when I first left graduate school, and enjoyed working in that realm. Over the subsequent few years, I trained as many people - athletes and non-athletes alike - as I could possibly fit into my schedule. I honed my skill set, learned about what I enjoyed the most, gradually created more and more autonomy in my schedule, became financially stable, and recognized a sustainable, underserved population (baseball players) where I had unique expertise. Without even recognizing it, I had built career capital and started to "purchase" the coaching life I wanted.

That was 2007, when we founded Cressey Sports Performance. I've had seven more years to acquire career capital in a number of different contexts - actual training knowledge, interactions with athletes, managing employees, cultivating business relationships, evaluating opportunities, and a host of other areas - to put us the position we're in (opening a second location in Jupiter, FL).

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Back in 1999, I had no idea training baseball players would be my ideal job. And even if I had known, I probably would have fallen flat on my face if I'd tried to follow this passion. I didn't have enough rare and valuable skills to be successful at that point.

Fast-forward five years to 2004, and my current business partner and I watched the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series together. It was an awesome moment for us as baseball fans.

Another five years later, we owned a business and were training two of the athletes that were on the 25-man Red Sox roster that won that World Series. It was an awesome moment for us as business owners who'd earned and redeemed career capital.

"Follow your passion" IS horrible career advice; "build career capital" isn't. In Part 2, I'll discuss what "rare and valuable skills" one needs to be successful in the fitness industry. In the meantime, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Newport's book, So Good They Can't Ignore You.

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