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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/10/14

Written on March 10, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope you all had a great weekend.  Before the Monday Blues can set in, here are some recommended strength and conditioning reads to get the week started off on the right foot.

Is Nutrient Timing Dead? – Not a week goes by the Dr. John Berardi and his team at Precision Nutrition don't kick out some awesome nutrition-related content. Former CP employee and current PN team member Brian St. Pierre (who authored The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide) took the lead on this great article.

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Reality: You Can't Run a Sub 5.0 Forty – This article is absolutely awesome because it highlights just how inflated most high school 40 times are. 

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month's ETM, I've got two new exercise demonstration videos, an article, and a webinar called "5 Important Upper Body Functional Anatomy Considerations." There's also some great content from Tyler English and Vaughn Bethell this month.

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Strength and Conditioning: What I Learned in 2013

Written on February 5, 2014 at 7:22 am, by Eric Cressey

This is the eighth time I’ve recapped some of the bigger discoveries of the previous year in an article.   As I look back on the previous seven years of content, I notice a number of key observations that have immeasurably improved the way that I coach and program for athletes.  To that end, I hope that the 2013 recap offers some solid pearls of wisdom you can apply right away.

1. Frequent soft tissue work throughout the day works best.

We might not know exactly why soft tissue approaches – everything from foam rolling, to massage, to instrument-assisted modalities – work, but we do know that they help people feel and move better.  With that in mind, we’re always searching for ways to help people get faster results with less discomfort.

Earlier this year, Chris Howard, the massage therapist at Cressey Performance, was flipping back through an old massage therapy textbook and found a little pearl: a suggestion that shorter, frequent exposures to soft tissue work throughout the day is likely more effective than one longer session.  And, it certainly makes sense; our bodies “learn” and adapt better with frequent exposures. 

Candidly, it always drives me bonkers when I see someone foam roll for 30 minutes at the start of the session.  You aren’t going to magically fix everything in one session; you have to be patient and persistent.  In fact, Thomas Myers (an authority on fascia and bodywork), has commented that prominent changes may take 18-24 months to set in. 

Nowadays, when we have an athlete who is particularly balled up in one area, we heavily emphasize repeated exposures.  We recommend that they split massage therapy sessions up into shorter appointments throughout the week.  And, we’ll have them hop on the foam roller 5-6 times per day for 30-60s, as opposed to just grinding away at the same spot in one lengthy session.  It’s not convenient, but the results are definitely noticeably better.

2. Understanding an individual’s movement learning style can improve your coaching effectiveness instantly.

I’ve always divided folks I coach into three categories, according to their dominant learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.

Visual learners can watch an exercise be performed, and then go right to it.

Auditory learners can simply hear a cue, and then go to town.

Kinesthetic learners need to actually be put in a position to appreciate what it feels like, and then they can rock and roll.

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While most individuals are a combination of all three categories, one invariably predominates in every single case I’ve ever encountered.  With this in mind, determining an individual’s learning style during my assessment is something I started to do in 2013.  If you can streamline the cues you give, athletes will pick movements up faster, and you’ll be able to get in more quality work from the session.

I should also note that no one of these three categories is “superior;” they’re just different.  I’ve had professional athletes from all three categories.

3. External focus cues rock.

Building on the coaching cues theme, the best presentation I saw this year was Nick Winkelman’s Perform Better talk on external focus cues.

As a brief background, an internal focus cue would be one that made you think about how your body is moving.  Examples would be “extend your hips” or “tuck your elbows.”

Conversely, an external focus cue would have you focus on something in your surrounding environment. Examples would be “rip the bar apart” or “drive your heels through the floor.”  The bar and the floor are points of external focus.

Most coaches use a combination of the two – but with a greater emphasis on internal focus cues.  As Nick demonstrated with an extensive review of the literature, we out to reverse this trend, as external focus cues almost universally lead to improved performance and technique when compared to internal focus cues.

With this research in mind, evaluate the cues you give yourself before each lift.  When you deadlift, are you telling yourself to “keep the chest up” or are you reminding yourself to “show the logo on your shirt to the guy in front of you?”  Sometimes, relating things just a little bit differently can yield dramatic changes.

4. You should learn as much about recovery as you do about training at an early age.

Every decade in life seems to come with new “scare tactics” to make you think that your body is going to fall apart when you hit 30, 40, 50, 60, etc.  I turned 32 in 2013, so I’ve now had almost three years to stew over this.  Recovery just isn’t the same as you age, not matter how great you are with diet, sleep, and monitoring training volume, as degenerative changes kick in faster.  I can tell you this and I’m only at the start of the gradual downslope!

I’ve heard that, on average, strength peaks at age 29.  Obviously, this can change dramatically based on training experience.  However, in my line of work – professional baseball – the “prime” for players is widely regarded as ages 26-31.  Effectively, this constitutes just before the peak, the peak itself, and then just after the peak.  The higher the peak, the longer a playing career a player has.  This is one reason it’s so important to establish a strong physical foundation with athletes early in their career; it’s what will likely sustain their skillsets for longer.

It is equally important, however, to learn about what recovery strategies work well for you at an early age.  In fact, I’d say that not paying more attention to recovery in my younger years was one of the biggest mistakes I made.  It would have not only made my progress faster, but just as importantly, it would have prevented accumulated wear and tear for down the road (i.e., now).

Everyone responds differently to various recovery protocols.  I have guys who love ice baths, and others who absolutely hate icing.  I’ve seen players thrive with compression approaches, and others who saw no change. 

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Some high-level athletes can do great with seven hours of sleep, and others need 9-10 each night. Recovery is a 100% individual thing – and it’s constantly changing as you age and encounter new training challenges.

For that reason, don’t just get excited about the latest, greatest training program on the market.  Rather, try to get just as excited about finding a way that you can bounce back effectively between sessions.  It might be nutrition, supplementation, manual therapy, movement schemes, or initiatives like ice or compression.  The sooner you learn it, the better off you’ll be when you start hearing more and more of the “scare tactics” about age.

Conclusion

These four items were just the tip of the iceberg, as the strength and conditioning field is incredibly dynamic and new information emerges on a daily basis. Luckily, it's easy to stay up to speed on the latest cutting-edge information.  If you're looking for an affordable online resource to help you in this regard, check out Elite Training Mentorship.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/6/14

Written on January 6, 2014 at 8:04 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the first 2014 installment of this weekly series.  Check out these recommended strength and conditioning reads:

Elite Training Mentorship – This month's update from me includes a presentation on the difference between anterior shoulder instability and laxity, and I talk about our approaches with athletes who may encounter these issues. There are also some great additions from Vaughn Bethell and Tyler English this month.

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How to Hip Hinge Like a Boss – My buddy (and Cressey Performance co-founder) Tony Gentilcore did a great job with this piece.  If you struggle with hip hinging, this is a good place to start.

Perception, Threat, Pain, and Purple – Bill Hartman makes an awesome point about dealing with people with pain.  Hint: it's about much more than just having a good series of assessments and corrective drills!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/4/13

Written on October 4, 2013 at 6:49 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month's update, I go into a ton of detail with a video on scapular assessment and its implications for program design and coaching. I've also got two exercise demonstrations and an article to accompany what the rest of the ETM crew has provided for great content this go-round.

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The Low-Down on Levers – This is an excellent post by Dean Somerset – as we've come to expect from Dean, by this point!

Why You Should Fill Your Company With Athletes – I found this article at Forbes.com really interesting.  We always hear people talk about how athletics prepare kids for real life, but nobody ever discusses exactly how they do so.  This article was the first thing I've read that went down that road.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/14/13

Written on August 14, 2013 at 8:18 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship – In our August update, I have an in-service called "7 Ways to Progress a Push-up," as well as two new exercise demonstrations and an article.  Add in great content from Mike Robertson, Vaughn Bethell, Tyler English, Dave Schmitz, and the Smarter Group Training guys, and you've got loads of new valuable training information waiting for you.

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Lessons in Coaching – This article from Mike Robertson should be "must-read" material for all new strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers.

7 Squat Dilemmas Solved – This squat article from Bret Contreras is a great complement to the excellent piece Dean Somerset wrote for T-Nation a few weeks ago.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/18/13

Written on April 18, 2013 at 10:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship – My in-service this month talked a lot about the business of fitness and how we developed our baseball niche.  I also uploaded a few articles and exercise demonstrations to complement the contributions from the rest of the ETM crew.  If you aren’t checking this great resource out yet, do so!

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Fascinating Facts About Sleep – This was a fantastic piece by TC Luoma at T-Nation about the importance of sleep – and you’ll definitely learn something.

Foam Rolling and Increased Joint ROM – This was a study summary from Patrick Ward.  It’s a great read for those who are skeptical of the benefits of foam rolling.

Also, in light of this week’s tragedy in Boston, I’d call this a must-view video.  It’s the moment of silence, video tribute, and national anthem from before the first Boston Bruins game after the event.

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Fitness Professionals: Figuring Out Your Learning Style

Written on March 25, 2013 at 11:58 am, by Eric Cressey

One of the more profound realizations any fitness professional can make is that not all clients and athletes learn the exact same way.  Some athletes simply need to be told what to do.  Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way.  And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues.

These learning styles aren’t specific to the athletes’ training experience, demeanor, intelligence, injury history, or previous coaching experiences.  I’ve had professional athletes and very inexperienced athletes from various walks of life in each categorization.  People are just wired the way they’re wired, and you’re better off working with that, as opposed to changing it.

Every good fitness professional gets to this realization eventually on the coaching front, but I’m constantly amazed at how individuals never stop to consider how it might apply to their own learning.  In other words, just like you can make faster fitness progress when you have the right cues, you can also acquire a lot more knowledge as a coach when you appreciate your own unique learning style.  Let me explain.

I’m an auditory and visual learner.  I can watch a DVD, read a book, or listen to a presenter and retain information very well.  I find hands-on sessions at seminars to be far less productive than lectures.  I don’t get excited about going to seminars that are just full days of exercise; I’d rather just read the handouts or watch a DVD of the event at 8x fast-forward (yes, I often watch DVDs in fast forward).  This makes me dramatically different than most fitness professionals, though.  In my experience, far more than half of attendees at seminars thrive in the hands-on components, and struggle to learn and apply knowledge from reading book chapters.

What does this mean for you?  Very simply, you need to figure out what your learning style is and then plan your continuing education accordingly. 

If you do well with hands-on learning, attending a workshop with 1,500 attendees probably isn’t going to be a great learning experience for you. A 600-page book would probably bore you to death. You’d be better off seeking out a more intimate learning experience like a mentorship – or even just hiring a personal trainer you respect to coach you through something you’d like to learn.

If you’re more like me and do well with just reading or listening, a lecture-based experience might work great, even with a larger crowd.  And, books might be a much more affordable option for continuing education, as you can get a ton of information without travel expenses.

If you’re an observational learner, make sure that you get to seminars (like the Perform Better tour) that have practical components to complement the lectures.  Pick up DVDs and order webinars in lieu of buying books.  And, make trips to visit other gyms to learn; we have trainers come to visit us at Cressey Performance all the time, for example.

The great thing about technology in today’s society is that it’s made the same great information available via multiple mediums.  If you want to learn Shirley Sahrmann’s methods, for instance, you can read her books, watch her DVDs, go take a course with her, or study in a fellowship until a therapist who has trained under her.  And, you can even pursue all of these avenues with someone who has previously learned from her, but figured out how to relate information in a manner that might be more user-friendly for you. 

The sky is the limit; you just need to figure out what works best for you.

This is one reason why I’m so proud of the resource we’ve put together with Elite Training Mentorship.  It combines in-service lectures, articles, exercise demonstrations, sample programs, and case studies all in one place; there is something for everyone.  If you haven’t checked it out already, I’d encourage you to do so.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/12/13

Written on March 12, 2013 at 12:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Some Thoughts on Crossfit – I thought Patrick Ward did an excellent job writing up this post, which features a review of a recent study performed on the efficacy of Crossfit.

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month’s update, I contributed an in-service on evaluating and managing “tight hamstrings” as well as a few articles and exercise demonstrations. Vaughn Bethell and Tyler English also contributed some excellent stuff, so check it out!

Unilateral Work: Don’t Forget the Upper Body – I wrote this blog post over at Men’s Health almost two years ago, but was reminded of it during a conversation I had with an athlete this week.  It seems like as good a time as any to bring it back to life!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 5

Written on March 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today marks the fifth installment of a series that looks at the coaching cues we use at Cressey Performance. Here are three more cues we find ourselves using with our athletes all the time.

1. Move the hands in or out to improve your deadlift technique.

When you’re learning how to deadlift, understanding hand positioning is really important – but each deadlift variation is unique in terms of what you have to do with your grip.  Check out this video to understand why:

2. Squat between your legs instead of over them.

In the past, I’ve spoken at length about how stance width impacts where the knees go.  Move the feet out too wide, and the knees have no place to go but in.  Bring them in closer, and it’s much easier to get the knees out.  Check out this video for more details:

So, for many folks, bringing the feet in can really help – particularly with the deadlift.  However, squats can be a bit trickier, as the stance coming in can lead to a lot more forward lean and individuals not positioning the torso correctly. Individuals will squat as if they are trying to touch the belly to the quads.  There are, in fact, some accomplished lifters who do this, but their bellies are very big, and the Average Joe isn’t fat enough to pull this mechanical advantage off! Most folks wind up turning this approach into a really ugly good morning.

This is why I like the cue of telling folks to squat between the legs instead of over the top of them.  Some people grasp it a lot better than “spread the floor” or “knees out.”  They can also understand positionally if you show them a bad set-up followed by a good set-up, like this classic photo (notice how the knees around outside the torso from the rear view):

3. Pretend your biceps is a rotisserie chicken.

This is, without a doubt, the strangest cue I’ve given.  However, it works.

When we’re doing our (shoulder) external rotation variations, we want to make sure the humeral head (ball) is centered in the glenoid fossa (socket), as that is the primary functional of the rotator cuff.  This cue gets the job done:

Looking for more detailed coaching tutorials like this?  Check out Elite Training Mentorship, an extensive online education program that features my staff in-services, exercise demonstrations, and articles – as well as the contributions of several other accomplished fitness professionals.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/7/13

Written on February 7, 2013 at 5:32 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reads:

Eric Cressey on Specialized Training for Baseball Players – I was recently interviewed by New England Baseball Journal on managing the training of baseball players, and what advice I’d give to up-and-coming players.

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month’s update, I contributed an in-service on scapulohumeral rhythm as well as a few articles and exercise demonstrations.  There’s also some great stuff from Vaughn Bethell and Tyler English, so check it out!

5 Keys to a Productive Bullpen Session – CP athlete Chad Rodgers wrote up this great blog that should be a “must-read” for all up-and-coming pitchers.  Chad shares what he learned in the professional ranks after being drafted out of high school.

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