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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/10/14

Written on April 10, 2014 at 6:24 am, by Eric Cressey

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

Cressey Performance Week at T-Nation - Three members of the CP staff had articles published at T-Nation this week. Greg Robins was up first, with Bench Press More in Four Weeks. Tony Gentilcore followed, with Building a Superhuman Core. Then, finally, I had an article published yesterday: How to Build Bulletproof Shoulders.  Suffice it to say that I'm a very lucky guy to have such an awesome staff!

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I provided a presentation called, "20 Ways to Build Rapport on a Client's First Day."  Additionally, I've got an article, as well as two exercise demonstrations - and this complements some great stuff from the rest of the ETM crew.  Check it out.

etmLogo

10 Nuggets, Tips, and Tricks on Energy Systems Development - Mike Robertson wrote this last week, and I thought it was a fantastic look at some key points coaches need to understand with respect to "conditioning."

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6 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Strength and Conditioning Program

Written on March 24, 2014 at 4:35 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Planning the training of an athlete is mainly a question of considering variables. The success of a strength and conditioning program is largely the result of how well a coach can manage these variables, as well as the implementation of the training program.

In order to effectively begin the planning process, a coach must ask himself six questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Many coaches instinctively weigh the answers to these questions in order to develop the training as a whole. I am no different. That being said, I recently watched a presentation from James Smith in which he organized common consideration into the familiar WWWWWH format. His acknowledgment of these considerations was the inspiration for this article, so thank you, James.

Who?

The first consideration must be the athlete with whom you’ll be working. Each athlete is different, and thus each athlete will need an individualized approach to his or her preparation. We are quick to label a program or exercise “sport specific,” but in reality, a good programs are exercise selection are “athlete specific.”

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Are you planning the training of a male or female? What is the athlete’s age?

The sex of the athlete may call for different training parameters. The same is true of the athlete’s age, as well as the interaction of the two factors.

Furthermore, what are their movement or orthopedic limitations, and injury history? This is a huge question in both the terms of exercise selection and workload. This consideration will also affect the answer of subsequent questions. Not to jump ahead, but the “why” you are training an athlete can be greatly influenced by their limitations.

Lastly, who is the athlete from a preparation level? This question can lend itself to the “when” as well as the “how.” However, an athlete’s “identity” is largely a product of their preparation to date. What is their level of skill or sport mastery, general and specific work capacity, limit strength, explosive strength, and exercise technique?

What?

The main question here is, “what is the athlete’s sport?“

The training plan must aid an athlete in attaining a high level of sport mastery. Do you as the coach understand the parameters and demands of the athlete’s sport?

How do the improvements of different categories translate to the improvement of the athlete in their sport? The special work capacity of the soccer player differs greatly from that of the sprinter. Limit strength, for example, may hold a higher priority to the football player than the baseball player.

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Also of consideration for some sports is the position or primary event of the athlete. Offensive lineman are a lot different than quarterbacks, and goalies have markedly different demands than midfielders. Obviously, this consideration weighs more heavily in some sports than others.   

When?

Asking “when?” leads us to series of questions based on time.

When is the athlete’s competitive season, and when is the off-season? The answer to this question helps us to form an idea of the length of any training stages.

For example, a Major League Baseball season consists of spring training, plus 26 weeks and 162 regular season games, plus a possible 20 additional post-season games. In other words, a MLB player spends more time in the competitive season than he does in the off-season. Factor in a block for restoration from the competitive season, and you have very little time to actually prepare the athlete for the following season. Now, ask yourself the difference in the length of the competitive season for a minor league player, college player, and high school player? Each offers different lengths of time for the coach to prepare the athlete. Therefore, while each athlete’s training should be geared toward producing the best possible result on the field, each athlete will be able to spend different amounts of time on improving certain abilities.

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Football, on the other hand, has a pre-season, plus a 17-week competitive season, and a possible additional 3-4 post-season games. The football player has considerably more time to prepare in the off-season.

Lastly, when will you be working with this athlete?

Will you have them for a few weeks, a single off-season, the next four years, or the next eight years? Furthermore, when will you be monitoring their training, and when will they be carrying out the training plan without your guidance?

These final answers MUST be taken into account when developing the strength and conditioning program of an athlete. A coach must train for the future, and knowing that you will influence an athlete for multiple years rather than multiple weeks greatly changes the approach.

Where?

Where are you receiving this athlete in their preparation and skill development timetable? While a coach may receive an athlete who has developed a high level of skill, they will not necessarily have a high level of physical preparation. The two are not linked.

Is this the first time ever dedicating any time to physical preparation as opposed to skill development?

Has the athlete acquired a high level of physical preparation, and lacks the skill development to move forward?

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The answers to these questions will help you as the coach better determine the means, and minimal effective dose, for this athlete to make improvements to their game.

To back track, you must also ask yourself where the athlete is in relation to their competitive season. If you receive an athlete one week after the close of business, as opposed to one month before the start of business, the training focus must be in line with the plan, regardless of what you see them lacking in on a global scale.

One month before the competitive season is not the time to makes gain on maximal strength, even if that is a weak link. Moreover, one week after the competitive season is not the time to place a majority focus on skill development, regardless of the fact that an athlete may be greatly lacking in this quality.

 

Why?

This may be the single best question you can ask yourself as a coach. Why are you working with this athlete?

The answer to that question is the sum of all the questions you have asked yourself up to this point. On a general level, the answer is the same: to improve the athlete’s sport outcome.

The real question you are asking is on a far more specific level.

You are not working with a professional athlete for the same reason you are working with a freshman in high school. Additionally, you may not be working with professional athlete A for the same reasons you are working with professional athlete B.

Each athlete will produce different answers to the questions of Who, What, When, and Where. Therefore, the “why” is different in each athlete’s case, and the training must be tailored to that individual’s needs.

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How?

How is the final question, and one that has many different answers. This is not an article on training philosophies, and so the answer to this question is different for each of you. That said, once you get to this final question, all pre-requisite variables have been established.

From here, you as the coach must form the training plan. How will you sequence the training, and what means, methods, amounts of volume, intensity, and frequency will you use?

In ending, qualified coaches will ask themselves these six questions before ever entering a single digit or exercise name into their template. Not doing so is to completely ignore the preparation process as a whole. Consider the training process on a much larger scale than just a single workout, or four-week phase. Instead, investigate where an athlete falls in the scheme of physical preparation and skill mastery on a career-long basis. Use the information gathered to enter the athlete into the proper phase of preparation and to focus the training to the needs of each athlete on an individual basis.

Looking for a program that helps you with individualization and takes the guesswork out of self-programming?  Check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market.

HPH-main

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5 Ways You’ve Never Used a Barbell

Written on March 13, 2014 at 11:09 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Hi, my name is Greg, and I have a problem.

I love the barbell.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy just training with the bar, a rack, a bench, and some plates. Call me crazy, but every exercise that has ever made a serious impact on my physique and strength levels involved the barbell.

To be honest, most people don’t use the bar enough. It’s not surprising, given the state of a typical “gym” these days. For every three or four bars, there must be a few hundred other pieces of equipment.

I continually challenge people to use the bar more often. Usually, my advice centers on doing more variations of the basic lifts. For me, the staple lifts never get old. However, I know plenty of people who thrive on variety in their training. With that in mind, here are five lesser-used exercises that include the barbell.

1. Barbell Rollouts

Rollouts are a great exercise, but not everyone has a wheel or other fancy implement. Not a problem! In fact, using a barbell is just as effective, if not more effective.

One benefit is that you can make the bar heavier or lighter. This may seem like a trivial difference, since the bar stays on the floor. However, you will notice that a 185-pound bar is a heck of a lot harder to pull back to the starting position. This will make your lats work harder, and tax your core. The best part? It makes your lats and abs work together, as they should!

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2. 1-arm Barbell Rows

Heavy rowing should be a staple in most people’s programs, especially those of you who want to move some appreciable weight in the gym. This variation is a serious grip challenge. It’s also a great way to load up past what the gym offers in DBs; just use a strap so you can hold on.  However you choose to do it, the basic premise is simple: perform a row in the same fashion as 1-arm DB row. In this case, keep the barbell between your legs, and make sure to use 10- and 25-pound plates so you can keep a decent range of motion.

1-arm Barbell Rows

3. Weighted Carries

Most folks look immediately to farmer’s handles, DBs, and KBs to do weighted carries. That’s all well and good, but the barbell lends itself very well to a few loaded carries as well.  Among my favorites are a barbell overhead carry, a barbell zercher carry, and a 1-arm barbell suitcase carry.

overheadbbcarries

zercher

1-armfarmers

Each offers a totally different advantage. Overhead helps people work anti-extension properties in full shoulder flexion. The Zercher carry is great as an anti-extension exercise as well, and a better choice for those who can’t get overhead safely. Lastly, the suitcase carry trains core stability in virtually every plane, and even challenges the grip quite a bit.

4. Self Massage

Forgot your PVC pipe? No worries! The barbell with a small plates on each hand can make for a roller as well. It’s not for the more tender individuals, but works perfectly fine for people who have a longer history doing self-massage.

rolling

I also like the fact that the bar is much thinner than a roller, putting more direct pressure on the areas of interest. Try this baby out on your lower extremities and lats next time you hit the gym.

5. 1-arm Overhead Exercises

I’ve written previously about the benefits of bottoms-up KB exercises. They create a lot more need for shoulder stability, and tax the grip. However, the barbell can offer a similar benefit.

Since the bulk of the weight is now further from your hand, the forearm and shoulder demands increase BIG time.

It’s a great challenge on 1-arm shoulder presses, as well as Turkish Get Ups. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

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If you’ve been hunting down some new physical challenges in the gym, these should definitely get you moving. Train hard and use the barbell!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 54

Written on February 8, 2014 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's random strength and conditioning and nutrition tips from Greg Robins:

1. Use a kettlebell to off-set load 1-arm TRX rows.

The TRX (and other suspension trainers) are a great tool for any kind of training. They offer closed-chain horizontal rowing options, which for a long time were only doable by using a barbell inside the power rack.

The only downside is that after some time people’s body weight becomes a bit to easy. We got past that with some of the options Eric mentioned in 10 Ways to Progress Inverted Rows.

With the 1-arm variation, body weight is enough of a challenge to the row portion. However, challenging the rotational stability aspect of the row, while still working at an angle that is doable for the working arm, may take some external loading. Check out this quick fix:

2. Use avocado oil for a change of pace in the kitchen.

Recently, one of our bootcamp clients was nice enough to give me a bottle of avocado oil as a gift for the holidays.

Funny story: it was wrapped tightly and kept its shape; in fact, I thought it was a bottle of scotch! Oh well, maybe next year…

I’ve been using it in the kitchen, and I love it! It’s definitely worth trying out as another option to complement mainstays like coconut and olive oil.  And, in addition to tasting great, it offers some other really great benefits.

For starters, it boasts a really high cooking temperature – over 500 degrees to be exact. It’s also got a solid fatty acid composition, which is great news for our cardiovascular system. Lastly, it not only boasts a ton of antioxidants itself, but actually helps absorption of nutrients in other foods as well. In fact, this study showed that adding avocado oil to a salad boosted carotenoid absorption up to 400%!

Avocado

3. Watch out for this mistake with reverse lunge technique.

At Cressey Performance, reverse lunge varietions are staples in our programming. Reverse lunges offer a great single leg exercise that is more hip dominant, and often time knee friendly, than the forward and walking lunge variations. A big reason for this is the fact that it’s less decelerative in nature – unless, of course, you make the mistake I outline below:

4. Consider this approach to integrating heart rate variability (HRV) data into your training.

A few months ago I began charting my HRV scores using the BioForce technology from Joel Jameison.

I know a lot of folks are talking about using the data to help them maximize their training. Here is what I did, and I think it’s a solid approach for others to try as well.

I decided to record my HRV scores, but not act on them for the first three months I used the application. I wanted to chart the data alongside my training, which for the most part stays organizationally the same year-round. I use block periodization to train for powerlifting meets. Over the course of about 20 weeks, I go through longer periods of loading at lower intensities, medium periods at higher intensities, and shorter periods at very high intensities.

As it stood, I would stay in the first block for four weeks, second for three, and third for two.

I noticed that my HRV scores were high enough to train at full intensity each of my three training days in the first block, all four weeks. However in the second block, I was not fully recovered going into my third week. Moreover, I was also not fully recovered moving into my second week of the last block.

I didn’t change my approach this go-round. Instead, I plan next cycle to load the first block all four weeks, split the second block into two 2-week loading phases, and the third block into two 1-week loading phases.

If you were about to begin using HRV I would recommend the same approach. If your training was productive already, as mine was, chart HRV scores alongside what you normally do, but don’t change the organization. Look for trends like this and adjust the next go around.

This will keep you from second-guessing yourself based on the data, and help you use trends to optimize your training next cycle.

5. Try setting your hands like this on back squats for optimal positioning.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 52

Written on January 14, 2014 at 6:31 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we published an installment of Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better, but we're back at it today, thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, who has these five tips for you:

1. With deadlift technique, take tension out of the bar one hand at a time.

In my experience the single most difficult lesson to teach a newcomer to deadlifting is how to leverage their weight against the bar. This concept goes by many names, for example: taking the slack out, pulling the tension out, etc. Whatever your cue of choice, learning how to leverage is the “ah-ha” moment for many new lifters. In the following video, I demonstrate a drill that I find very helpful. It may just need to be done in the beginning stages of learning the lift, or it might be something you use for the rest of your life. Either way, it’s definitely worth a look:

2. Use this example to teach the difference between retraction and posterior tilting of the shoulder blades.

To piggy back off the video in point 1, check out this quick video on how to differentiate between retraction, and posterior tilting of the shoulder blades, and why it’s important to learn the latter when setting up for a deadlift.

3. Mimic a good standing posture with prone bridge variations.

The prone bridge, or “plank” exercise is probably the most popular core training exercise since the sit-up. It is an absolute go-to in our programming when teaching people how to resist extension and train the anterior core properly. Unfortunately, it’s also butchered more often than not.

A truly well done prone bridge is one that mimics correct alignment in a good standing posture. It is NOT just a position sans any low back extension. Let’s take a look at what I mean.

First, you need to position the shoulder blades correctly. Too often, people will excessively protract the scaps and embrace a more rounded over upper back position, seen here:

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Instead, slightly tilt the shoulder blades back, and place them in a position more like the one seen here:

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Next, do not allow excessive flexion of the spine from top to bottom:

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In this last picture, we are allowing the person to completely dominate the movement with the rectus abdominis and are not promoting proper recruitment from the internal and external obliques or the transverse abdominis.

To bring this all together, here is a picture of good standing posture with 90 degrees of shoulder flexion; note the similarities to a properly executed prone bridge.

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4. Try out this variation of the lower trap raise.

I like this variation for a few reasons:

  • It allows some of the more extended populations to stay in a better spinal positioning.
  • It promotes proper positioning of the shoulder blades in a back squat or overhead squat exercise.
  • It takes away some of the resistance gravity places on us in a prone positioning.
  • It helps develop a proper squat pattern and bottom position
  • It’s efficient, allowing people to train multiple aspects of good movement at the same time.
  • For more advanced populations you can get rid of the wall, and do it in a freestanding deep squat position.

5. Remember that not everything needs to be “difficult.”

Throughout a strength-training program, you will have exercises that are meant to be loaded up to their limit, and others that are there purely to practice a position or motor control pattern. As a client or athlete becomes more advanced, certain exercises will become less challenging. This doesn’t mean that you need to continually find ways to make a movement harder and harder. Too often, when we do so, we take away from the integrity of the movement.

Sure, you can load up your basic deadlift, squat, and lunge patterns until the cows come home, but exercises like the rollout, prone bridge, or side plank will eventually reach a limit in ways that you can productively make them “harder.” This by no means renders them useless, though. In fact, by loading them excessively, or adding an infinite amount of bells and whistles to them, you will mostly find ways to compensate and stray further from their intention. As they become easier to complete, it just changes their purpose from one of teaching the body, to one of reminding the body how to recruit properly.

Some exercises do have a ceiling, and once it’s reached, you don’t need to try and blast through it. Let them serve their purpose, and let the big movements account for your substantial progressions.

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The Best of 2013: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on December 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm, 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 blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2013 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This series is mostly CP coach Greg Robins' work, but I jump in here and there. Installments 28-52 ran this year.  Here were the most popular ones:

Installment 28
Installment 48
Installment 33
Installment 37
Installment 47

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – I kicked off this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was as huge a hit this year as it was last year.  My goal with this series is to feel like you have a coach right there with you. Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 5
Bench Press Edition
Installment 6
Installment 7

3. Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike - This was a three-part series co-authored with CP Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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4. Assessments You Might Be Overlooking – I just kicked off this series, but there are some important points covered in the first two installments:

Installment 1
Installment 2

We're close to wrapped up with the Best of 2013 series, but there's still more to come, so check back soon!

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The Best of 2013: Guest Posts

Written on December 29, 2013 at 7:58 am, by Eric Cressey

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2013, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year.  Here goes…

1. 7 Myths of Strength Training for Women – This post by former Cressey Performance intern Sohee Lee made me realize that we need to feature more female-specific content in 2014, as it was a huge hit!

2. Sleep: What the Research Actually Says – The good folks at Examine.com contributed this incredibly well-researched hit from 2013.

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3. 6 Common Turkish Get-up Mistakes – CP coach Greg Robins walks you through the issues we find ourselves correcting most frequently with this complex exercise.

4. Pelvic Arch Design and Load-Carrying Capacity – Dean Somerset never disappoints with his creative topics and awesome insights on functional anatomy and corrective exercise.

5. 5 Indirect Core Stability Exercises for the Upper Body – Greg Robins gets his second hit in the top 5! There are some great video demonstrations here.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2013.

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3 Considerations for the Aging Athlete

Written on December 17, 2013 at 9:06 am, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Performance, we’re largely known for our work with baseball players, but that’s not to say that we don’t have our fair share of “weekend warriors” – those who like to get after it in the gym well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s – in the mix.  With that in mind, we haven’t done a great job of reflecting this in our online content, so we’re going to start to remedy that today!  In today’s post, CP coach Greg Robins introduces his top three recommendations for the aging athlete. -EC

1. Seek out a professional evaluation.

Without fail, we are approached daily at Cressey Performance by individuals looking for our “pitchers” program, our “strength” program, or any other number of set approaches to dealing with one type of scenario. The truth is, we don’t have those lying around anywhere. Instead of writing “outcome-specific” programs, we write “athlete-specific” programs. Where am I going with this?

There is no “older athlete” specific program. There are only trends in training older athletic populations that must be considered when evaluating them, and then writing their programs. To be honest, the older athlete needs this attention to detail moreso than many of the younger athletes we see at CP. Why?

It’s simple, really: older athletic populations have accumulated decades of the same repetitive movements, on top of a growing list of nagging injuries, serious injuries, aches, pains, and so on.  

If injury is derived from this equation…

 

 Number of repetitons x Force of each repetition

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Amplitude of each repetiton x Relaxation between repetitons

 

…then you can imagine just how much higher the figure for “N” has grown in comparison to their considerable younger counterparts.  And, keep in mind that degenerative changes kick in easier and linger longer as we age.

In short, the first and most important consideration for the older athlete is to have their movement evaluated by a qualified professional so as to formulate a safe and productive plan of action for training. Without this information exercise selection becomes a shot in the dark, rather than a well formulated choice of movements to meet the person where they are at.  For those looking to self-evaluation, Assess and Correct would be a good a great DVD set to review.

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2. Improve your recovery.

Aging populations will find that their ability to recover from bouts of intense exercise has steadily diminished as they age. Therefore, recovery measures must take a front seat in their approach to getting better while staying healthy. These populations should place a premium on the standard sources of improved recovery, namely sleep and nutrition. However, I would like to touch upon another factor, often neglected, that can help tremendously in the older athlete’s approach.

Aerobic capacity, or improved aerobic fitness, will be paramount to their success. Your body runs on three main energy systems:

  • Aerobic
  • Anaerobic
  • ATP – PCr

When it comes down to producing energy, the body’s currency is ATP. All of these energy systems are channels for producing the currency of your body’s energy. Each has their way of doing so, and each does so in a different context.

Many of us associate aerobic exercise with long duration activities, and therefore a long duration of ATP generation. We see anaerobic exercise as short duration, and therefore, a short duration of ATP generation. In short, that’s mostly correct. You can view ATP-PCr as an even shorter duration generation that the anaerobic energy system. While ATP-PCr, and the anaerobic energy systems are capable of producing a lot of ATP quickly, they also run out of currency quite fast as well.

The facilitation of the aerobic energy system is important because it’s always in play. In other words, the better trained it is, the more ATP it is generating for you over the course of the entire bout of exercise. This leads to better ATP production in general – in the short term, the ability to repeat the short term, and the long haul in total. That’s important to the older athlete, and any athlete for that matter.

Need proof that it matters? Here’s a 2001 study showing a positive correlation between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity bouts of exercises published in 2001.

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To take it a step further, a well-conditioned aerobic system doesn’t just help you recover during the workout; it also helps you to recover between workouts, faster! It plays a large role in giving you the energy required to repair, and helps you to “switch” into your autonomic nervous system, which is optimal for increased recovery.

I highly recommend you read further on how this relationship plays out, how to train it, and how to evaluate it by reading Mike Robertson’s article here. Also, you’ll benefit from checking through the lengthy list of information and tools from Joel Jamieson.

3. Manage Volume Better.

If we take into account our first two bullet points, then it’s important that we address training volume in general. Mismanaged training volume can accelerate the equation in our first point, as well as hinder our recovery efforts laid out in point number two.

In general, aging athletes will need to be more cognizant of the total work they are doing and its effect on their outputs. A positive in training this population is that they have spent considerably more time listening to their body. This is important, and should not be disregarded. Instead of blindly following any program, I would urge the older athlete to learn from past experiences and back down when their body is telling them to do so. Many times, the more experienced the athlete; the better they are at doing this.

Additionally, I would challenge the older athlete to deload, or “back off” more often. This is an easy way to manage the volume of training in their favor. Many programs will load for 3-4 weeks and then unload for one. However, older athletes can benefit from cycling in periods of backed down volume and intensity more often. Here are two such scenarios.

  1. High / Low Organization

High – Low organization is among my favorite ways to train an older athlete. It was developed originally to train very high-level athletes to ensure top outputs every time they train. By getting a high output one week, and then letting them recover the next week, there was much less chance of accumulating fatigue, and having the athlete continually training at something less of what they were actually capable of achieving. This gave them a chance to repeat high outputs more often, as well as top those efforts.

It makes sense in the training of older athletes as well. In a similar fashion to these high-level trainees, high outputs will take a lot out of the tank for the older populations. Since our goal is still to improve the performance of older athletes, while minimizing injury, this is a great approach.

  1. High / Medium / Low Organization

This is another solid option. In this example we are loading an athlete for two weeks, and then unloading them for one. The first week would be high intensity; the second medium (with slightly more volume), and the third week low in both intensity and volume. It’s basically a play on the first example, and can be used for an older athlete who may be able to handle more volume. It’s also a better choice for the older strength athlete who will need the second week of increased volume to continue making progress on the lifts, as well as the technical practice of performing the lifts under decent load more often.

If you’re looking for more deloading strategies, I’d encourage you to check out Eric’s e-book on the subject: The Art of the Deload.

art-of-the-deload2

In conclusion, the older athlete needs to place a premium on correct movement, recovery measures, and management of volume or training stress. With those three considerations in mind, there is lots of room for improvement at any age!

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The 5 Best Indirect Core Stability Exercises for the Upper Body

Written on November 15, 2013 at 9:24 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

These tips came about out of necessity in my own program, but can be tremendously useful to just about all gym goers. In the past, I placed most of my core work on lower body training days. Typically, I only have three days where I can really train hard, and only one of those days is upper body focused. That means I need to pack in a lot of volume into that one day.  Realizing that core stability was one of my major weaknesses, I tried to figure out a way to include more core stability exercises without adding time to my training schedule or losing out on volume elsewhere.

With that in mind, I started to do more indirect core work via my upper body accessory movements. In light of this revelation, here are my five favorite movements, why they’re worth a look, and how to perform them. I should note: I have intentionally included a balance of push and pull type movements.

1. Kettlebell Overhead Press Variations

Overhead pressing, when done correctly, presents a tremendous challenge to the anterior core, as we must brace to prevent excessive arching of the low back.

If we make the movement one sided, we add the additional challenge of not side bending. In other words, it becomes a rotary and lateral core challenge.

Additionally, I prefer to overhead press a kettlebell over a dumbbell. The shape of the KB, and the way it’s held, promote a much smoother groove in which to press.

Lastly, the KB press offers some very simple, yet challenging, variations. You can perform them half kneeling (one knee down), tall kneeling (both knees down), or simply hold the KB upside down (bottoms-up) for an added stability challenge.

Check out this video on how to perform the tall kneeling KB press, one my favorite variations. The points discussed in the video carry over to each of the other variations mentioned.

2. Band Resisted Ab-Wheel Rollouts or Barbell Rollouts

Here’s one that probably caught most of you by surprise. In many people’s eyes, the ab wheel rollout is a direct core stability exercise. In many cases, I would agree with you. When a person first begins to learn this movement, without the band, it is far more challenging to hold the proper spinal position than it is to roll back to the start.

Furthermore, the demand on your upper body to roll back isn’t that high when the wheel is unloaded.

Once someone has become proficient at the unloaded wheel, you can actually load this movement. Adding bands to the wheel, or using a loaded barbell, creates quite a bit more work for the upper body, and in turn the core, which is trying to resist unwanted movement.

These two variations will help you not only build a strong midsection, but also add volume targeting the lats and long head of the triceps as well.

3. Split Stance Overhead Triceps Extension

This one is a killer, and I love it. It gets thrown out the window completely by most people, as if it’s just another triceps extension that’s just a waste of time. The truth is, it as a brutal exercise in anti-extension when done correctly.

With the lever arm being so far away from the lower back, even a small amount of weight can create a serious challenge in keeping the core braced and the ribs down. Not to mention, the movement also goes along way to develop the triceps. Lastly, the need to control the load more, and stay strict with the form, usually leaves people’s elbows feeling a lot better than other extension exercises.

4. 3-Point Dumbbell Row

Anyone who has ever done a 3-point dumbbell row – somewhat strictly and with enough weight – knows that is a brutal test in anti-rotation. If you think about exercises like the renegade row, or even a 1-arm push up, the 3-point row offers much of the same benefits.

If you need to be more efficient with your training, and add some additional core training into the mix, I would choose this row over the traditional 1-arm DB row every time.

5. Half-Kneeling Push/Pull

This one requires some set-up, but it’s worth the hassle. The half-kneeling push-pull is the ultimate challenge in moving your upper extremities around a stable mid-section. Unlike many off-loaded push or pull exercises, you do not get the opportunity to brace one side of the body and focus your attention mainly on the moving side. Instead, both sides are actively going through concentric and eccentric motions while you brace the midsection and engage the glutes to keep the pelvis under control. Check out this video, and give it a try:

That wraps it up! These exercises are great additions to the bottom half of your programming on an upper body day and work extremely well in a more full body type programming effort as well. Enjoy!

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6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes

Written on October 30, 2013 at 6:23 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post on the Turkish Get-up comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

The Turkish Get-up has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and rightfully so, as it's a fantastic exercise.  It is also, however, a complex exercise with many different components that must be "synced up" to get the most benefits of the drill.  With that in mind, I wanted to use today's article to discuss the six most common Turkish Get-up technique mistakes I see, and how I correct them with our clients at Cressey Performance.

Mistake #1: Not actively getting up.

While I didn’t sequence these in any particular order, this mistake is the most common. Too often, people roll into the start of a get-up instead creating tension and actively moving into the first position. This first movement is the definitive step in the get-up, in my opinion. If you cannot reach your forearm actively, you are either using to much load, or approaching the exercise incorrectly. Check out the video below for sign of rolling, or passive movement, and for tips on how to do it correctly.

Mistake #2: Not creating enough “space.”

One cue I use all the time when teaching the get-up is to “not let your masses move into your spaces.” In other words, if the body stays in proper alignment, you will have certain amounts of space present between your torso and your limbs / head. When we lose these spaces, you can be sure that you are beginning to rely on passive stability measures, as opposed to creating tension and actively holding positions.

Mistake #3: Rocking instead of hinging.

The transition from three points of contact to two (or from two to three, on the way back down) is common place for get-up mistakes. Mostly, people tend to rock off, or to the ground. Instead they should utilize a hip hinge pattern to shift the weight completely onto the back knee. This way they can easily lift, or place the hand back onto the ground.

Mistake #4: Keeping the joints too soft.

In some ways, this mistake could fall into the category of not creating enough space. However, I want to hone in on the importance of extension at a few joints during the movement. Often times I will see people keep these joints in slight flexion, when they should be extended. It is of note that you should also watch for people who tend to hyperextend at the elbows and knees and cue them to stay neutral, so as to promote an active form of stability.  You could also apply this to the grip, which should be firm; you don't want to see the hands open.

Mistake #5: Not engaging the anterior core.

We may have very well beat the “anti-extension” theme to death on this site. That being said, it’s a problem we see time and time again.  It also happens to be very common with most folks' Turkish Get-up technique. Make sure you are keeping the ribs down, and core braced throughout this exercise.

Mistake #6: Starting with an incorrect bottom arm position.

As with any exercise, if you don't set up correctly, your technique will always be suboptimal. With respect to the Turkish Get-up, this is particularly important in the context of where the bottom arm is positioned at the start of the movement.

I hope these suggestions help you to improve your Turkish Get-up technique, as this is one exercise you really want to include in your strength training programs because of the many benefits it delivers. And, optimizing technique will ensure that you receive all of those benefits!

If you're looking for how we might incorporate Turkish Get-up variations in our strength training programs, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available today.

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