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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 12

Written on September 24, 2015 at 10:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time to bring back this coaching cues series to the forefront, as it's always been a popular one here at Here are three more cues I find myself using on a daily basis at Cressey Sports Performance

1. "Chest before chin."

One of the biggest issues we see in folks with a lack of anterior core control and/or upper body strength is that they'll shoot into forward head posture as they descend to the bottom position of a push-up. Effectively, they're substituting head/neck movement for true scapular protraction and retraction. One cue that seems to clean the issue up quite well is the "chest before chin" recommendation - which means that the chest should arrive at the floor before the chin does.

You do, however, need to make sure that the individual doesn't confuse this with simply puffing the chest out, which would put them in more extended (arched back) posture at the lumbar spine.

2. "Get your scaps to your armpits."

A huge goal of upper body corrective exercise program is to teach individuals how to differentiate between scapulothoracic movement and glenohumeral movement. In layman's terms, this means understanding that it's important to know when the shoulder blade is moving on the rib cage, as opposed to the upper arm (ball) moving on the shoulder blade (socket). Especially during overhead reaching, what we typically see in athletes is insufficient scapulothoracic movement and excessive glenohumeral movement - particularly in those athletes with noteworthy joint hyper mobility. This is one reason why we incorporate a lot of wall slide variations in our warm-ups.

Since we are really looking to teach good upward rotation (as opposed to just elevation), I always try to cue a rotational component to the scapular movement as the arms go overhead. I've found that "get your scaps to your armpits" can really get the message across, especially when this verbal cue is combined with the kinesthetic cue of me guiding the shoulder blades around the rib cage. These modifications can really help to kick up serratus anterior recruitment, as this video shows:

3. "Start in your jump rope position."

When you're working with young athletes on jumping variations - whether they're broad jumps, box jumps, or some other variations - many of them will start with an excessively wide stance. Then, they'll "dip" to create eccentric preloading (stretch) and the knees almost always cave in. As I've said before, if the feet are too wide, the knees have no place to go but in. My feeling is that many young athletes "default" to this pattern because a wider base of support generally supports a more stable position for a weaker athlete. Unfortunately, this position doesn't put them in a great posture for producing force.

The best coaching cues are the ones that build upon those movements an individual already knows, and most kids have jumped rope in the past. If you use a wide stance when you jump rope, you trip over the rope. Instead, you have to stay with the feet in around hip-width, which is right where we want our jump variations to occur.


If you're looking for more coaching tutorials and exercise demonstrations, be sure to check out Elite Training Mentorship, which is updated each month with new content from Cressey Sports Performance staff members.

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6 Ways to Simplify Your Coaching for Better Results

Written on September 10, 2015 at 4:03 am, by Eric Cressey

As you progress through a career in the fitness industry, it’s easy to fall into the complexity trap. In other words, the more you learn, the more prone you are to making things overly complex with your interaction with clients/athletes.

To be clear, it’s absolutely essential to continue growing as a professional throughout your career. However, part of this growth is learning to be more efficient in your coaching. It’s about figuring out how to get the same or better results in less time and effort. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the simpler you can keep your approach, the better.

This “simple” phenomenon isn’t confined to the fitness industry, though. In their excellent book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt cite numerous examples of how simple solutions generally far outperform complex ones:

-Simple diets outperform complex ones, as people are more adherent to nutrition recommendations that they can easily understand and apply. Sull and Eisenhardt note that simply switching to a smaller plate for meals improves weight loss outcomes.


-Individuals are less likely to actually pay their taxes when the tax code is complex.

-Employees are less likely to save for retirement when employers offer more than two 401(k) options, even when employers matched their contributions. Too many options overwhelms them – so the simple choice is to do nothing.

Author Seth Godin also wrote about our tendency to get overwhelmed in Purple Cow: “In a society with too many choices and too little time, our natural inclination is to ignore it [making a tough choice].”


How can we apply this knowledge to coaching? Try these six strategies:

1. Shut up – or at the very least, cue less.

The more cues you give – particularly if they all come as a “barrage” in a short period of time – the more likely an athlete is to get overwhelmed and tune you out. Think of all the things you want to say, and then cut it back by 50%.

2. Establish predominant learning style.

I’ve written about this previously, so I won’t reinvent the wheel:

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

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

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

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


In young athletes and inexperienced clients, you definitely want to try to determine what learning style predominates with them so that you can improve your coaching.

Conversely, in a more advanced athlete with considerable training experience, I always default to a combination of visual and auditory coaching. I'll simply get into the position I want from them, and try to say something to the point (less than ten words) to attempt to incorporate it into a schema they likely already have.

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

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

3. Speak clearly, crisply, and concisely.

I have a bad habit of mumbling and speaking too quickly, so this is something of which I’ve had to be cognizant for my entire career in strength and conditioning. It’s important to be “firm” in your auditory cues, both to ensure that the athlete actually hears and understands you, but also to reaffirm to them that you know your stuff and are confident in your cues.

4. Consider both motivation and skill.

This was a lesson I learned from Brian Grasso back in the early days of the International Youth Conditioning Association. About a decade later, the message is still tremendously useful for coaches at all levels. All athletes fall somewhere on both the motivation and skill continuum.


In terms of motivation, they may be very fired up to train, or more disinterested. The more unmotivated they are, the more you need to engage with them to determine how to push the right buttons to get them excited to train. Conversely, the more motivated athletes are, the more you should stay out of the way. Obviously, you still need to coach them, but they're not looking to be engaged with you as much, as they already have their own intrinsic motivation to want to dominate the challenge ahead.

From a skill standpoint, some athletes will obviously be quicker learners, or have a stronger training history. These athletes usually respond best to short - but direct - cueing. The last thing you want to do is slow them down and make them feel like you are micromanaging everything about their training. On the other hand, if an athlete is less skilled, you obviously need to spend some time teaching the basics, which requires you to slow things down a bit - especially since fatigue is the enemy of motor learning.

5. Catch yourself when you’re trying to simplify programming, but actually make things more complex.

You can't out-coach a crappy program. And, when it comes to trying to simplify coaching to make it more effective, everything begins with a quality program. If you're coaching the wrong exercise for the athlete, then it doesn't matter how many key coaching principles you're employing; the movement is still going to be ugly, and the training effect is still going to be subpar.

As an example, there are still a lot of folks out there who insist machines are a good method of training because they "simplify" exercises, removing stability demands and reducing the need for coaching. However, I snapped this photo of a seated leg curl while I was lifting in a commercial gym in Japan last week. If you look closely and actually count, you'll note that there are SIX adjustments that must be made to the machine just to get the lifter in the right position.


Now, let's compare that to a 1-leg hip thrust off bench, which requires virtually no set-up and is incredibly easy to coach, progress, and regress. It also blows a seated leg curl out of the water in terms of functional carryover to the real world.

Poor exercise prescription will always make coaching far more challenging and excessively complex.

6. Learn about previous training experience to best prepare progressions/regressions.

Imagine interacting with an athlete with whom you have never had any interaction whatsoever - and he's about to conventional deadlift. Ideally, in the back of your mind, you'll always have ideas in place about how you can progress and regress. However, with you knowing nothing about him, you have no idea whether he might need to be regressed to a sumo or trap bar deadlift, or even taken all the way back to a pull-through or kettlebell sumo deadlift.

This is why it's so important to have an up-front discussion with an athlete when he/she first starts training with you. You can quickly learn whether they're folks who need exercise regressions, or just better coaching to clean up faulty movement patterns.


As coaches, we have a lot of goals for our training systems. Foremost among those goals are behavior change and fun, because if we can accomplish both those things, we improve adherence to our programs and optimize outcomes. Unfortunately, when your coaching is unnecessarily complex, you overwhelm athletes - and that works against both these goals. When in doubt, always opt for the simple solution - or find ways to make complex solutions seem very simple to the athletes with whom you're working.

If you're looking for more insights on programming, coaching, and assessments, I'd strongly encourage you to check out Elite Training Mentorship. Each month, Cressey Sports Performance coaches (myself included) upload staff in-service presentations, webinars, exercise demonstrations, and articles - and there's also great content from Mike Robertson, Ryan Ketchum, Dave Schmitz, Steve Long, and Jared Woolever. You can learn more HERE.


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/6/15

Written on July 6, 2015 at 10:45 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm back in Massachusetts after a week in North Carolina with USA Baseball. It'll take me a day or two to get my feet underneath me before I can type up a new blog, but luckily, I've got some great content for you from around the web.

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, we've got some awesome content from the Cressey Sports Performance crew (myself included). We cover learning styles, coaching cues, core control, and lower extremity mobility.

Physical Preparation with Patrick Ward - Patrick is a sports scientist for the Seattle Seahawks, and he shares some awesome insights on this podcast with Mike Robertson.


Improving Communication and Developing Awareness - Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo shares some great lessons for up-and-coming coaches.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/4/15

Written on May 4, 2015 at 7:16 am, by Eric Cressey

Good morning, gang; I hope you all had a great weekend. Let's kick off the week with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Solving Sleep Problems - Adam Bornstein presents some non-obvious strategies for improving your sleep quality and quantity.

Fitness Professionals: How to Figure Out Your Learning Style - I wrote this just over two years ago, but a recent conversation with one of our interns reminded me of it. If you're a fitness professional, it'd be a good read to help with your continuing education approaches.

How to Build Success in Your Training - Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Gentilcore outlines some key success measures of which we need to be aware.

Also, just a friendly reminder that Elite Training Mentorship updates twice a month with inservices, webinars, exercise demonstrations, and articles from staff members at Cressey Sports Performance, Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training, and several other forward-thinking facilities from around the country. Be sure to check out this comprehensive continuing education resource.


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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.


Chocolate and All Its Health Benefits - 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.


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

Written on November 11, 2014 at 7:04 am, by Eric Cressey

First off, Happy Veterans Day - and a big thank you to all those out there who have served our country and protected our freedom.

Second, here are some recommended reads for the holiday:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I have a webinar entitled, "8 Things I've Learned About Core Training," along with two new exercise demonstration videos and an article.


Mike Roncarati Interview - Mike Robertson interviewed Golden State Warriors Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Roncarati, DPT, who happens to be a former Cressey Sports Performance intern. Roncarati brings some awesome thoughts to light on assessment, rehabilitation, monitoring, and managing a busy NBA calendar. He's is a super bright guy and this is "must-read" material if you're an aspiring strength and conditioning coach (or desire to work in professional sports in any capacity).

5 Resistance Training Myths in the Running World - This article is over seven years old now, but it warranted "reincarnation" in light of a conversation I had the other day with a friend who is an avid endurance athlete/distance runner.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/7/14

Written on September 8, 2014 at 4:06 am, by Eric Cressey

My wife and I are busy getting settled in our new house in Florida, but luckily, I've got some good recommended strength and conditioning content to kick off the week while I'm tied up:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I have a new article, two new exercise tutorials, and a webinar, "11 Tips for Building and Managing a Pro Athlete Clientele."


Your Career in Fitness: A Success Guide for Personal Trainers and Coaches - Nate Green did a tremendous job on this comprehensive post for Precision Nutrition. If you aspire to enter the fitness industry, this is a solid "road map" from which to work.

Simple Self-Assessments: Toe Touch - Miguel Aragoncillo is the newest member of the Cressey Sports Performance team, and in this post, he demonstrates some of the expertise that made him our top candidate for the position that recently opened up. He'll be a great addition to the CSP team.



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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/25/14

Written on August 25, 2014 at 4:24 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Check these out:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I talk about important prerequisites to performing Turkish Get-ups, and also introduce a few new exercises we like to utilize on the TRX. There is also plenty of great content from the other contributors that I think you'll enjoy, too. Each month, you get more than you'd receive at a full day seminar - but for less than half the price, and with no travel needed.


Cold Temps for a Hot Body - This was a very well written (and researched) article by Ben Greenfield, who highlights the value of exposure to colder temperatures with respect to body composition improvements. It was especially appealing to me, as my wife and I are always disagreeing over the the thermostat at our house! Hopefully this article will help me get the air conditioning turned up...

Start With Why - I always recommend that coaches be able to clearly relate the "why" behind everything in their programs. This book from Simon Sinek goes a bit further, illustrating how successful companies prioritize the "why" and then emphasize the "how" and "what" (in that order). As we work toward opening the second Cressey Sports Performance facility and effectively shift from "just" building a business to actually building a brand, it's been a good resource for me to consider how we relate the "CSP Experience" to folks.


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/6/14

Written on July 6, 2014 at 5:52 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July. After a quick blog hiatus, we're back to it today with some recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I have a webinar - "Do You Really Need More Thoracic Extension?" - as well as two exercise demonstration videos and an article. Tyler English has some excellent content in this update, too.

Connecting with Cressey - Ashley Crosby, director of social media for the Cape Cod Baseball League, came up to hang out at Cressey Performance, and wrote up her experience. Also, here is a follow-up piece on the CCBL website that goes into even more detail.


The Not-So-Ugly Truth About Gluten - TC Luoma did a great job with this piece for T-Nation.

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