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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/7/15

Written on April 7, 2015 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm making the drive from Florida to Massachusetts over the next two days, so there won't be time for new content. However, I've got some awesome reads and a "listen" to hold you over until I have a chance to blog again:

You Don't Have to Do This - I loved this post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Greg Robins. It's imperative to separate ourselves from what our clients want for themselves and what we subconsciously (or consciously) want for our clients.

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Red Flags that You're Working Out Instead of Training - My buddy Tim DiFrancesco, the strength and conditioning coach for the Lakers, just got his blog up and running. He's already got some great content up and running, too!

Charlie Weingroff Integrates All Aspects of Performance - This was an excellent podcast with Charlie at EliteFTS.com.

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Strength Strategies – Installment 2

Written on February 3, 2015 at 8:46 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins, who'll be presenting his Optimizing the Big 3 Workshop at our Hudson, MA location on March 8.

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As with our first installment, I'll break my recommendations down into four categories: mindset, programming/planning, nutrition/recovery, and technique. Here we go!

1. Mindset: Study, practice, experiment, evaluate.

The best lifters I have come across are very cerebral in their approach to something as physically driven as moving heavy loads on a barbell. This is even true of the ones you may categorize as anything but “cerebral.”

In order to master anything, you must study, practice, experiment, and evaluate.

If you want to be a high-level lifter, you will only get so far with brute physical effort, even if it is a must-have in the recipe for success. You need to treat strength as a skill, and lifting is something you can dissect and study.

Make it a point to dissect your own technique; garner a rudimentary understanding for physics, physiology, and anatomy; and study the approaches of those who have been successful in what you aim to do. With that said, when studying lifters, try to focus on those who have similar builds and lifestyles as you do. Imitating the approaches of people who are dramatically different physically (leverages) and socially (recovery capacity, training frequency) will not be nearly as productive.

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2. Planning/Programming: Instruction is the main objective of supplemental exercise selection.

Ben Franklin said, “That which hurts, instructs.” It’s one of my favorite sayings and can obviously be applied, if not more appropriately, to more than simply choosing supplemental exercises in strength training planning. However, it is quite fitting as a rule of thumb for a key piece in developing high levels of strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Getting outside of the “comfort zone” is a necessary step in achieving something outside of what one is already capable. In choosing supplementary exercises in your training, think about ways to slightly alter the classic three lifts that will do three things.

1. Teach you about the proper execution of the main lift.
2. Target weak muscles, which may otherwise “take a play off” via your ability to compensate in the main lift.
3. Get you to challenge yourself physically by executing them in such a way that is not advantageous for your usual approach.

You want to choose an exercise that essentially works as coach for your shortcomings in the main lift. For example, here are two pictures of one of my distance-based clients. The most important shortcoming in his squat was the inability to understand upper back extension, elbow placement, and head position in his set up. This resulted in forward weight shifting throughout the movement. While he did respond to some video analysis and cueing, he responded instantly to using the high bar squat as his supplementary squat exercise.

The high bar position forced him to work on all the points above and we turned his low bar numbers into high bar numbers. This quickly helped his low bar numbers have new heights, and no ceiling restricted by poor positioning.

squat comparison

Furthermore, we used the high bar squat to help him build strength in the upper back, and quads, which were no doubt less of a player in his original approach as the torso position placed greater demands on the hamstrings and low/mid back.

To top it off, we made his intensity-based work high-bar focused, and his volume-based work low-bar focused. This gave him a better chance of learning better low-bar position by not challenging him with the weight on the bar, and by giving him more time under load in the proper low set up.

While not all your supplementary work needs to hit each of the three aforementioned points, it must always hit the first one. In many cases, if you take the time to think out your approach, you will find ways where you can hit all three, and this will lead to great progress.

3. Nutrition/Recovery: Appreciate (and modify) food texture.

Nutrition is something that has always fascinated me. It’s not so much the science of the food itself, though, but rather the mental game of proper nutrition. I firmly believe the majority of somewhat health conscious people understand enough about food quality, and portion size, to achieve a physique they can be happy about, not to mention one that is healthy and capable of performing on a high level.

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The fitness industry, popular media, and major food companies have unfortunately sent us so many mixed messages, exaggerated headlines, embellished research findings, and utterly misdirected crap that many people are left more than a bit confused. Moreover, food itself serves as a readily available and affordable option for people to turn to in emotional situations ranging from despair to celebration.

One of the keys to making nutrition productive is to be able to enjoy items that are actually conducive to your efforts.

With that in mind, I challenge you to pay attention to textures when it comes to meal preparation. Acknowledging the textures you prefer and dislike is a great way to help everyone from the person looking to bring down total consumption to the person who needs to consume more.

In general, we prefer a variety of texture to our food, and yet many of us see very little of it when we consistently turn to the same foods.

Here are two quick ideas, and I am sure you can think of more.

1. Add some crunch to your chicken by tossing the chicken in some egg whites and rolling it through so panko bread crumbs.
2. Make your smoothie a little ahead of time, pour it in a bowl, toss it in the freezer a few hours. Enjoy it as a frozen treat with a spoon, instead of a lukewarm viscous liquid from a plastic shaker bottle.

Going the extra step to toast your bread, make sweet potato fries instead of the usual bake, or even tossing something with a little chewiness or crunch to a salad can make a world of difference in your compliance.

4. Technique/Exercise Instruction: Perfect the glute-ham raise.

The glute-ham raise is a phenomenal exercise for developing the posterior chain. While some find the barrier to entry too high for beginner lifters, I find the problem rests mostly with a misunderstanding of how to properly set up and execute the movement. This video should shed some light on the subject.

5. Bonus Interview!

As a bonus, and in anticipation of my upcoming “Optimizing The Big 3” workshop on March 8th at Cressey Sports Performance, I sat down with CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo to talk about the seminar, and lifting in general. Here's the entire conversation:

And, you can learn more about the workshop HERE. Don't delay, though, as the early-bird registration deadline is February 8.

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Strength Strategies: Installment 1

Written on January 14, 2015 at 7:00 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post - the first in a new series - comes from Cressey Sports Performance Coach, Greg Robins.

It’s been a while, and oh how I have missed the electronic pages of EricCressey.com. Quick and Easy Ways To Feel and Move Better was fun, but after 50+ editions, I needed something new.

To piggyback off the idea of quick useful, intelligent tips, I have decided to create a fresh new look. This time around I have decided to speak to the strength-training enthusiast in particular. In short, this new series will be devoted to those in the crowd who are most concerned with – above all else – getting stronger.

My aim is to keep this easy-to-apply and simple strategies to help you get stronger. I will organize each week into four categories, or “pillars of success” in the gym. They are mindset, planning/programming, nutrition/recovery, and technique (via a quick instructional video or photos).

Given that this is the first installment, I figured we’d start of with a BANG, so here are two in each category.

1. Mindset: success in strength training takes sacrifice.

I’ve been fortunate enough to reach many of my own goals, but also to spend time around others who have had tremendous success in their chosen endeavors. The list includes CEOs, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, elite level strength athletes, physique competitors, decorated military leaders, and a host of other “successful” individuals. There are a plethora of commonalities among these people, but the one I want to focus on is the extraordinary amount of sacrifices these people make to accomplish their goals.

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To be frank, none of us will attain the strength measures we want, the body we want, or the life we want without making sacrifices. While some may be afforded a hand-up, nobody who truly reaches an admirable level of success receives a hand-out (kudos to my girlfriend for introducing me to the hand-up vs. hand-out analogy).

If you want to do something out of the ordinary, you will make sacrifices on a daily basis that separate you from the majority of people. If what you wanted to achieve was doable by simply going through motions, showing up, and following the masses, it would not be considered extraordinary. I suppose this is common sense., but let’s face it: common sense isn’t so common anymore.

The real advice here is that one must be aware of why they are making sacrifices. Why are you choosing to get to bed rather than to watch the late night game? Why are you choosing to have one beer instead of seven? Why are you leaving early to make sure you can grab groceries before the store closes? As it is so commonly put, what is your why? Lose site of this and sacrifices become tedious chores, your goals become your master, and your life one of self-inflicted servitude. Choose instead to keep yourself focused on the goal.

2. Mindset: selfishness is a rather darker, but necessary, quality of the perennially strong.

There are a few darker truths to reaching uncommon heights. One of them happens to be one I mull around with in my head quite a bit. The truth of the matter is that in order to take extremely good care of oneself requires a degree of selfishness. In order to continually make progress, one must continually find ways to improve upon what they’re already doing. In terms of strength training, one must continue to train at a higher level in some capacity. This also means they must recover at a higher level. Training at a higher level may mean that more focus need be placed on the training sessions, including spending money on equipment or coaching, traveling further, staying longer, and so on.

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In terms of recovery, it most definitely means finding ways to reduce outside stressors, improve sleep, and dial in nutritional measures. Put in various situations, without enough regard for what YOU want, the aforementioned things will not happen often enough.

How often do we tell people with poor health to care for themselves more – to essentially put themselves, and their needs first, more often? At a much smaller level we are acknowledging that the health and vitality we want them to achieve will take some selfishness. It would be wrong to imagine that if someone wanted to achieve higher than ordinary levels of health and performance, it wouldn’t take more selfishness…because it will. It’s a darker truth, but one you can learn to communicate and help others understand so as not to appear to be merely self involved.

3. Planning and Programming: regulating on the fly.

Many informed gym goers have become savvy on following programs, utilizing technology to monitor readiness, and simply finding every way possible to “optimize” the training process. I must say, of all the strongest people I have ever been around, watched, read about, looked up to, none seem to rely on said measures.

Instead they understand the basic principles of training. When you understand the basics well – very well – you will be able to see the forest through the trees. When you see the big picture, regulating training on the fly isn’t over complicated.

Here’s a good place to get started:

You need to do more than you did last time. That’s the basic premise anyhow. With that, a plan can be formed by looking at the past training and improving on it. At a certain point, weight cannot be continually added to the bar in the same fashion. Therefore, training will revolve around two kinds of sessions. The first is geared toward the amount of weight on the bar. The second is either on the speed the weight moves, and or the amount of times weight is moved.

In any plan, there will be times when things don’t go as planned. At those times, simply keep in mind what the purpose of the training is. If the goal was to move a certain load, and you can’t do it for the planned amount, move it less times that day. If the goal was to move it fast and it’s slow, adjust to a weight you can move fast. If the goal was to move it a certain amount of times, lower the load, and move it the required amount of times.

4. Planning and Programming: unilateral stability is not limited to single-leg exercises.

Single-leg exercises are great if you want to get strong at single-leg exercises, or have some limitation that keeps you from doing bilateral exercises. Why would someone want to get strong on single-leg exercises? Pretty much for every reason possible, unless their overriding goal is to be extremely good at bi-ateral exercises! Simply stated, too much attention and energy must be given to these exercises in order to get them brutally strong that could otherwise be spent getting better on two legs, if that is your goal.

Single-leg stability, which for the sake of this tip I will differentiate from single-leg strength, is something everyone should posses. We do, after all, function in split-stance positions, kneeling positions, and on one leg all the time.

You do not need to do lunges, split squats, step-ups and so forth in order to gain acceptable levels of single-leg stability. This is good news for the squat and deadlift enthusiasts. You will want to keep a good level of unilateral stability so instead just focus more of your accessory exercise choices on movements that test single-leg stability. Examples include half-kneeling and split-stance anti-rotation presses, chops, and lifts, for starters.

Other ideas include carrying variations, and even simple things like low level sprinting, and – dare I say – walking more!

5. Nutrition: eat carbohydrates.

To my own detriment, I spent most of my lifting career still strapped in for the low-carb ride. That was really a big mistake. I initially saw great physique changes when I adopted a low carb approach, and thus I turned to it all the time. However, the truth is that what I really did was stop eating too much processed crap, and eating too much in general.

Carbohydrates are the fuel your body wants be a powerful machine. Simply put, fuel appropriately for the demand you are placing on it. If your goal is to be bigger, stronger, and faster, don’t trade in your oatmeal for a buttered-up coffee.

Assorted fruit

That said, if your training is sporadic and uninspired, and your life outside of the gym mostly sedentary, then by all means, watch the carbohydrates. If you are training 4+ days each week and trying to progressively push the limit of what you can do, eat more carbohydrates.

6. Nutrition: invest in a rice cooker.

To build off my last point, I prefer to keep my carbohydrate sources as “real” as possible. I won’t lie, I like a good bowl of cereal, and cornbread is something I could easily live on. The majority of the time I stick to five major sources of carbohydrates, and while I’ll divulge them all eventually, the first one is jasmine rice. It tastes better, digests easier, and has a better consistency than any other rice I have tried. I easily consume upward towards 8 to 10 cups of it (dry measure) in a given week. That translates to a lot more cooked. And, on that note, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about rice if I didn’t have a rice cooker.

This simple gadget will run you anywhere from $15 to $30 and is well worth it. Simply add one part rice to two parts water, press the button, and prepare the rest of your food in the 10 minutes it takes to cook. If that’s too hard for you, then there’s no hope for you as a chef. If you’re someone who struggles to put on size, make the rice cooker as routine as making coffee each morning. I’m willing to bet an added cup or two of rice to your normal intake will have you started back in the right direction.

7. Technique: keep the armpits over the bar.

8. Technique: understand the difference between flexion/extension movements and flexion/extension moments.

If you're looking for more strength insights like these - as well as in-person coaching on the squat, bench press, and deadlift - then you'll definitely want to check out Greg's upcoming seminar, "Optimizing the Big 3." Click here for more information.

Additionally, if you need some programming guidance to prioritize the squat, bench press, or deadlift, check out our collaborative resource, The Specialization Success Guide.

SSG

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Optimizing the Big 3 Seminar – March 8, 2015

Written on January 12, 2015 at 5:17 pm, by Eric Cressey

For the second time, Cressey Sports Performance staff member and accomplished powerlifter Greg Robins will be delivering his one-day seminar, "Optimizing the Big 3," at our facility in Hudson, MA. This event is a great fit for lifters who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift - and may want to powerlift competitively. And, it's also been very popular with strength and conditioning professionals. It'll take place on March 8, 2015.

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Overview:

"Optimizing the Big Three" is a one-day seminar geared towards those looking to improve the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Split into both a lecture and hands on format, the event will provide attendees with practical coaching on the technique of the classic power lifts, as well as valuable information on how to specialize movement preparation, utilize supplementary movements, and organize their training around a central focus: improved strength in these "big three" movements.

Furthermore, Greg will touch upon the lessons learned in preparation for your first few meets, to help you navigate everything from equipment selection, to meet-day logistics.

The value in learning from Greg is a matter of perspective. He has a wealth of knowledge, and experience stemming from various experiences as a coach and lifter. Greg will effectively shed light on how he has applied human movement principles, athletic performance modalities, and anecdotal evidence from working with a plethora of different populations to one main goal; optimizing the technique, health, and improvements in strength of amateur lifters.

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Seminar Agenda:

8:30-9:00AM: Check-in/Registration

9:00-10:00AM: Mechanics, Technique, and Cueing Of the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift - In this lecture Greg will break down the biomechanics of each movement, how to optimize technique, and what to consider both as a coach and lifter in teaching / learning the movements.

10:00-11:00AM: Managing the Strength Athlete: Assessing and Meeting the Demands of the Lifter - Learn what demands a high amount of volume in the classic lifts puts on the body, how to assess for it in others and yourself, and what you can do to manage the stress associated with these demands.

11:00-11:15AM: Break

11:15AM-12:45PM: General Programming Considerations for Maximal Strength - Take a look inside Greg’s head at his approach to organizing the training of a lifter. Topics will include various periodization schemes, and utilizing supplementary and accessory movements within the program as a whole.

12:45-1:45PM: Lunch (on your own)

1:45-2:15PM: Preparing for Your First Meet - Based off his own experiences, and knowledge amassed from spending time around some of the best in the sport, Greg will share some poignant information on what to expect and how to prepare for your first meet.

2:15-3:30PM: Squat Workshop

3:30-4:45PM: Bench Press Workshop

4:45-6:00PM: Deadlift Workshop 

Date/Location:

March 8, 2015

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

CP3

Cost:

Early Bird (before February 8)  – $149.99
Regular (after February 8) - $199.99

Note: we'll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction - particularly during the hands-on workshop portion - so be sure to register early, as the previous offering sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.

Registration:

Sorry, this event is sold out! Please email cspmass@gmail.com to be put on the waiting list (and announcement list for future seminars).

Still not convinced? Here is some feedback from previous attendees:

“The coaching I got was phenomenal; amazing experience!”

“Really happy with the content, and the coaching of the lifts. Definitely appreciated the appeal to reflect on training, and be able to defend all exercises you program. I had high expectations for this event and they were exceeded.”

“Honestly, I was really happy with the seminar, my only regret is I wish I asked a few more questions as Greg was really great about avoiding a dogmatic approach that is very common in this field!”

“This was awesome! I learned a ton about the big 3 and feel like I can pass on the knowledge to our clients.”

“I really like your approach to lifting and your lifting philosophy. I've been strength coaching for 20 years and I run a successful business; it's getting hard to find a good seminar. Normally, when I learn one thing I’m happy, but this last Sunday, I learned a lot. I'm really satisfied!”

“Very worthwhile and I would even attend the event again, especially for the hands on.”

“Very concise, while allowing the topics and questions to develop as the audience saw fit. It was very informative and engaging.”

“This was awesome. Definitely would attend something like this again!”

“I loved having the opportunity to actually lift, the coaching was phenomenal!”

About the Presenter

Greg Robins is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. In addition to co-authoring The Specialization Success Guide, his writing has been published everywhere from Men's Health, to Men's Fitness, to Juggernaut Training Systems, to EliteFTS, to T-Nation. As a raw competitive powerlifter, Greg has competition bests of 560 squat, 335 bench press, and 625 deadlift for a 1520 total.


The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on January 2, 2015 at 6:16 am, by Eric Cressey

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2014 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training - I'm at my best when I'm my most random, and I think these posts are a great example of that. What started as a one-time post wound up becoming a regular series based on reader feedback. Here are links to all eight installments from 2014:

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3
Installment 4
Installment 5
Installment 6
Installment 7
Installment 8

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2. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This series is mostly CSP coach Greg Robins' work, but I jumped in quite a bit in 2014. Installments 53-60 ran this year; here were the most popular ones:

Installment 53
Installment 54
Installment 57
Installment 58
Installment 59

3. Is Thoracic Spine Extension Work Necessary? - My good friend and colleague, physical therapist Eric Schoenberg, put together this in-depth series to demonstrate that not everyone needs extra thoracic extension work, contrary to what many folks think.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hypokyphosis

The Best of 2014 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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The Best of 2014: Guest Posts

Written on December 30, 2014 at 8:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2014, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes…

1. The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make With Their Training Programs - With this great post from Molly Galbraith, for the second year in a row, my top guest post related to the topic of strength training for females. I think it's safe to say that I need to feature more female-specific content moving forward!

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2. 5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility - This post from Dean Somerset only ran a few weeks ago, but quickly became one of the biggest hits of the year.

3. 5 Ways You've Never Used a Barbell - Greg Robins shares some outside-the-box thoughts on how to get the most of barbell training beyond "the basics."

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4. Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better? - Nobody geeks out about glutes like Bret Contreras, and this article is a perfect example.

5. The 5 Most Common Errors Athletes Make With Yoga - Dana Santas goes to great lengths to apply yoga "the right way," and in this article, she talks about where many athletes and yoga instructors go astray.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2014. In the meantime, have a safe and happy new year!

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Register Now for the 3rd Annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar!

Written on July 29, 2014 at 6:44 am, by Eric Cressey

I’m psyched to announce that on Sunday, September 28, we’ll be hosting our third annual fall seminar at Cressey Sports Performance.  As was the case with our extremely popular fall event over the past two years, this event will showcase both the great staff we're fortunate to have as part of our team.  Also like last year, we want to make this an affordable event for everyone and create a great forum for industry professionals and fitness enthusiasts alike to interact, exchange ideas, and learn.

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Here are the presentation topics:

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A "New" Diagnosis for the Same Old Problems - Presented by Eric Cressey

More and more individuals - both athletes and non-athletes alike - are being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. In this presentation, Eric will explain what it is, how it's treated, and - most importantly - what fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists can do to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Making Bad Movement Better – Presented by Tony Gentilcore

Tony will cover the most common technique flaws he sees on a daily basis, outlining both coaching cues and programming strategies one can utilize to improve exercise technique. He'll also cover progressions and regressions, and when to apply them.

Paleo: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Presented by Brian St. Pierre

Paleo: possibly the most hyped nutritional approach to come along since Atkins. This, of course, begs the question: do the results match the hype? Is it right for everybody? Do we really need to avoid dairy, legumes and grains to achieve optimal health? Do all clients need to take their nutrition to this level? In this presentation, Brian explores the pros and the cons, the insights and the fallacies of the Paleo movement. And, he'll discuss the accumulated wisdom from coaching over 30,000 individuals, and what that teaches us about which nutritional camp to which should really "belong."

Trigger Points 101:  – Presented by Chris Howard

In this presentation, massage therapist Chris Howard will discuss what trigger points are, why they develop, where you'll find them, and - of course - how to get rid of them! He'll pay special attention to how certain trigger points commonly line up with certain issues clients face, and how soft tissue work can play an integral in improving movement quality while preventing and elimination symptoms.

CP3

How Bad Do You Want It? – Presented by Greg Robins

In this presentation, Greg will discuss the factors that govern how individuals stick to (or abandon) their training and nutrition goals. He'll introduce real strategies to help people make changes by focusing on the most important variable: themselves.

Finding the Training Potential in Injury – Presented by Andrew Zomberg

Don't let a setback set you or your clients back in the weight room. Injuries happen, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still achieve a great training effect. Andrew will discuss the most common injuries/conditions individuals encounter, and how the fitness professional can aid in sustaining a training stimulus during the recovery phase. This will include exercise selection tips, coaching cue recommendations, and programming examples.

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

Cost:

Regular Rate – $149.99
Student Rate (must have student ID at door) – $129.99

Date/Time:

Sunday, September 28, 2014
Registration 8:30AM
Seminar 9AM-5PM

Continuing Education:

0.6 NSCA CEUs pending (six contact hours)

Click Here to Sign-up (Regular)

or

Click Here to Sign-up (Students)

We’re really excited about this event, and would love to have you join us! However, space is limited and each seminar we’ve hosted in the past has sold out quickly, so don’t delay on signing up!

If you have additional questions, please direct them to cspmass@gmail.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!


5 Deadlift Technique and Programming Lessons

Written on July 19, 2014 at 7:27 am, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I deadlifted 600 for three reps for the first time.  This is a number I've been after for quite some time.

After the lift, I got to thinking about some good lessons I could "teach" in light of this milestone for me. Here are five quick Saturday morning thoughts:

1. Personal records sometimes happen when you don't expect them.

I honestly didn't feel particularly great when I started the training session yesterday. In fact, if you'd asked me prior to the lift if I was going to be setting a PR in the gym that day, I would have said, "Absolutely not." However, a thorough warm-up and a few extra sets of speed deadlifts on the "work-up" did the trick.  Make sure to never truly evaluate where you stand until you've actually done your warm-up.

2. It's really important to take the slack out of the bar.

If you watch the video above, you'll notice that I pull the bar "taut" before I ever really start the actual lift. Every bar has a bit of slack in it, and you want to get rid of it early on. Check out this video on the subject:

You can actually get a feel for just how much slack there is in the bar if you observe how much it bends at the top under heavy weights. This doesn't happen to the same degree with "regular" barbells.

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3. Don't expect to accomplish a whole lot in the training session after a lifetime PR on a deadlift.

Not surprisingly, heavy deadlifting wipes me out. Interestingly, though, it wipes me out a lot more than heavy squatting. From a programming standpoint, I can squat as heavy as I want - and then get quality work in over the course of the session after that initial lift. When the "A1" is a deadlift, though, it's usually some lighter, high-rep assistance work - because I mostly just want to go home and take a nap after pulling any appreciable amount of weight!

4. Percentage-based training really does have its place.

For a long time, I never really did a lot of percentage-based training for my heavier work. On my heavy days, it was always work up, see how I felt, and then make sure to get some quality work in over 90% of my 1RM. As long as I was straining, I was happy. Then, I got older and life got busier - which meant I stopped bouncing back from these sessions as easily. Percentage-based training suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.

I credit Greg Robins, my co-author on The Specialization Success Guide, with getting me on board the percentage-based training bandwagon. He was smarter than me, and didn't wait to get old to start applying this approach when appropriate.

SSG

5. You've got to put force in the ground.

This is a cue I've discussed at length in the past, but the truth is that I accidentally got away from it for a while myself.  Rather than thinking about driving my heels through the floor to get good leg drive, it was almost as if I was trying to "just lift the bar." It left me up on my toes more than I wanted, and my hamstrings got really cranky. 

I took a month to back down on the weights and hammer home the heels through the floor cue with speed work in the 50-80% range, and it made a big difference. I've got almost 15 years of heavy deadlifting under my belt, and even I get away from the technique that I know has gotten me to where I am. Technical improvement is always an ongoing process.

Looking for even more coaching cues for your deadlift technique? Definitely check out The Specialization Success Guide. In addition to including comprehensive programs for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, it also comes with detailed video tutorials on all three of these "Big 3" lifts. And, it's on sale at the introductory $30 off price until tonight at midnight. Check it out HERE.

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My Top 5 Powerlifting Mistakes

Written on July 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

With this week's release of Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide, I got to thinking about some of my biggest mistakes with respect to developing the Big 3 (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Here are the top five mistakes I made in my powerlifting career:

1. Going to powerlifting equipment too soon (or at all).

Let me preface this point by saying that I have a tremendous amount of respect for all powerlifters, including those who lift in powerlifting equipment like bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits. Honestly, they just weren't for me.

I first got into a bench shirt when I was 160 pounds, and my best raw bench press was about 240-250 pounds. I was deadlifting in the high 400s, and squatting in the mid 300s. In hindsight, it was much too soon; I simply needed to develop more raw strength. My squat and bench press went up thanks to the suit and shirt, respectively, but just about everything I unracked felt insanely heavy. I just don't think I had enough training experience under my belt without any supportive equipment to feel truly stable under big weights. It's funny, though; my heaviest deadlifts never felt like this, as it was the "rawest" of any of the big 3 lifts for me.

There's more, though. Suits and shirts were just an annoying distraction for me. I absolutely hated the time and nuisance of having to put them on in the middle of a lift; training sessions easily dragged on to be three hours, when efficiency was something I'd always loved about my training. Perhaps more significantly, getting proficient with equipment took a lot of time and practice, and the more I was in it, the less athletic I felt. I spent too much time box squatting and not enough free squatting, and felt like I never developed good bottom-end bench press strength because the shirt did so much of the work for me.

At the end of my equipped powerlifting career, I had squatted 540, bench pressed 402, deadlifted 650, and totaled 1532 in the 165-pound weight class. Good numbers - enough to put me in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 for a few years in a row - but not quite "Elite." I tentatively "retired" from competitive powerlifting in December of 2007 when Cressey Sports Performance grew rapidly, but kept training - this time to be athletic and have fun.

For the heck of it, in the fall of 2012, I decided to stage a "raw" mock meet one morning at the facility. At a body weight of 180, I squatted 455, bench pressed 350, and deadlifted 630 for a 1435 total. In other words, I totaled "Elite" by 39 pounds...and did the entire thing in 90 minutes.

Looking back, I think I could have been a much more accomplished competitive lifter - and saved money and enjoyed the process a lot more along the way - if I'd just stuck with raw lifting. Again, I don't fault others for using bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits, but they just weren't for me.  I would just say that if you do decide to go the equipped route, you should be prepared to spend a lot more time in your equipment than I did, as my dislike of it (and lack of time spent in it) was the reason that I never really got proficient enough to thrive with it in meets.

2. Not understanding that fatigue masks fitness.

Kelly Baggett was the first person I saw post the quote, "Fatigue masks fitness." I thought I understand what it meant, but it wasn't until my first powerlifting meet that I experienced what it meant.

Thanks to a powerlifting buddy's urging, I went out of my way to take the biggest deload in my training career prior to my first meet. The end result? I pulled 510 on my last deadlift attempt - after never having pulled more than 480 in the gym.

You're probably stronger than you realize you are. You've just never given your body enough of a rest to actually demonstrate that strength.

3. Not getting around strong people sooner.

I've been fortunate to lift as part of some great training crews, from the varsity weight room at UCONN during my grad degree, to Southside Gym in Connecticut for a year, to Cressey Sports Performance for the past seven years.

When I compare these training environments to the ones I had in my early days - or even what I experience when I have to get a lift in on the road at a commercial gym - I can't help but laugh. Training around the right people in the right atmosphere makes a huge difference.

To that end, beyond just finding the right program, I always encourage up-and-coming lifters to seek out strong people for training partners, even if it means traveling a bit further to a different gym. Success happens at the edge of your comfort zone, and sometimes that means a longer commute and being the weakest guy in a room.

4. Spending too much time in the "middle zone" of cardio.

A lot of powerlifters will tell you that "cardio sucks." I happen to think it's a bit more complex than that.

Doing some quality work at a very low intensity (for me, this is below 70% of max heart rate) a few times a week can offer some very favorable aerobic adaptations that optimize recovery. Sorry, but it's not going to interfere with your gains if you walk on the treadmill a few times a week.

Additionally, I think working in some sprint work with near-full recovery can be really advantageous for folks who are trying to get stronger, as it trains the absolute speed end of the continuum.

As I look back on the periods in my training career when I've made the best progress, they've always included regular low-intensity aerobic work - as well as the occasion (1x/week) sprint session. When did cardio do absolutely nothing except set me back? When I spent a lot of time in the middle zone of 70-90% of max heart rate; it's no man's land! The take-home lesson is that if you want to be strong and powerful, make your low-intensity work "lower" and your high-intensity work "higher."

As an aside, this is where I think most baseball conditioning programs fail miserably; running poles falls right in this middle zone.

5. Thinking speed work had to be "all or nothing."

"Speed work" is one of the more hotly debated topics in the powerlifting world. I, personally, have always really thrived when I included it in my program. If you want to understand what it is and the "why" behind it, you can check out this article I wrote: 5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs.

A lot of people say that it's a waste of time for lifters who don't have an "advanced" level of strength, and that beginners would be better off getting in more rep work. As a beginner, I listened to this advice, and did lots of sets of 5-8 and never really focused on bar speed with lower reps.  The end result? I was slower than death out of the hole on squats, off the chest on bench presses, and off the floor with deadlifts. And, it doesn't take much strength training knowledge to know that if you don't lift a weight fast, your chances of completing that lift aren't particularly good.

To the folks who "poo-poo" speed work, I'd just ask this: do you really think focusing on accelerating the bar is a bad thing?

Here's a wild idea, using bench presses as an example. If a lifter has a heavier bench press day and a more volume/repetition oriented day each week, what would happen if he did an extra 3-4 sets of three reps at 45-70% of 1-rep max load during his warm-up? Would that be a complete waste of time? Absolutely not! In fact, the casual observer would never even notice that it was happening.

The point is that speed work is easy to incorporate and really not that draining. You can still do it and get a ton of other quality work in, so there is really no reason to omit it. Having great bar speed will never hurt your cause, but not training it certainly can.

Looking to avoid these mistakes and many more - all while taking the guesswork out of your squat, bench press, and deadlift training? Check out The Specialization Success Guide, a new resource from Cressey Sports Performance Coach Greg Robins and me. This comprehensive product to bring up the "Big 3" is on sale at at $30 off introductory price this week only.  You can learn more HERE.

SSG

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12 Weeks to a Bigger Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift

Written on July 15, 2014 at 5:49 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm happy to announce to my new product - a collaborative effort with Cressey Sports Performance coach and regular EricCressey.com contributor Greg Robins - is now available. If you're looking to improve on the Big 3 - squat, bench press, and deadlift - this resource is for you! Check it out: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.

SSG

This resource includes three separate 12-week specialization programs to improve one of the "Big 3" lifts, and it's accompanied by a 140+ exercise video database and detailed video coaching tutorials on squat, bench press, and deadlift technique. To sweeten the deal, we've got two free bonuses available if you purchase this week at the introductory price.

“As a former international athlete, The Specialization Success Guide gave me the structure I needed to not only get back into form, but has put me on track to crush my previous PRs across the board. Currently squatting 565, benching 385 and deadlifting 620, I am stronger, more mobile, and happy to report that my only regret is not having started this program earlier. SSG has been a game changer for me and I am excited to see where it takes me next!”

Jake S.
Needham, MA


“The Specialization Success Guide is legit! This program is ideal for those who want to get stronger, put on lean muscle, and improve their major lifts. The simplicity makes the program easy to follow and the exercise video library ensures everything is done right. Within the simplicity of the program you will find specific details that will target weak areas of your lifts to get you closer to your goals.

“Prior to running the SSG, Greg had been writing my programs for a year and a half using the same principles and philosophies you will find in The Specialization Success Guide. Greg’s programing has helped me add over 50 pounds to my back squat and a recent PR squat of 420lbs (2.2x my body weight), and I will be closing in on a triple body weight deadlift soon thanks to insights from him and Eric – just as you’ll find in this manual on the Big 3.”

Dave R.
Seattle, WA

Again, this resource - which comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee - is only on sale at the introductory $30 off price this week, so don't miss out. Click the following link to learn more: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.


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