Master the King of All Exercises

Deadlifting Secrets 101

Everything you need to know about this complex exercise.

Free Video Training

Name:
Email:* 
The High Performance Handbook

The High Performance Handbook Is Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before...


Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Bottoms-up Kettlebell Military Press

Written on May 8, 2013 at 8:49 am, by Eric Cressey

I'll admit it: I was far from an early adopter of kettlebells.  These great training implements were apparently first introduced in Russia in the 1700s, yet I didn't really use them much until the past 3-4 years.  So, I guess you could call me a late adopter. For the record, this wasn't just a belated protest of the Soviet Union; I was also the guy who held out on getting a cell phone until after I graduated college.

In the context of this article, though, my stubbornness is actually a good thing, as it means that I heavily scrutinize things before I adopt them.  And, of course, that means that our clients at Cressey Performance don't use new equipment or exercises – and I certainly don't write about them – until I'm sold on their efficacy.  While I was sold on their efficacy several years ago, one set of exercises that I had to put to the test myself were overhead bottoms-up kettlebell variations, and in particular, those that were actual presses and not just holds.

I am, in fact, the perfect guinea pig, too.  You see, I've got a bum shoulder that's probably going to need surgery someday.  I was supposed to have it on 2003, but learned to work around it and have a successful training career in spite of some structural limitaions that came about during my youth tennis career.  That said, one of the exercises that has always hurt – regardless of how hard I rehabilitated it – was overhead pressing.

To make a long story short, I've been able to do the 1-arm bottoms-up kettlebell military (overhead) press pain free for a year or so now.

This is likely due to one or more of three different factors…

1. The instability afforded by the kettlebell.

If you look at the research on unstable surface training, muscle EMG is generally unchanged under unstable surfaces, even though force out put is dramatically lower.  What does this mean?  More of the work you're doing is for joint stability than actually moving serious weights.  That can be a great approach for folks with old injuries like mine.  In other words, adding instability means you may be able to maintain a great training effect in spite of less external loading.  Keep in mind that this applies much more to the upper body – which functions in both open- and closed-chain movement – than the lower body, which is almost exclusively closed-chain movement. I discuss this in great detail in my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training.

cressey-flat-salespage

2. The Plane of the Scapula

You'll notice that in the video above, the path the kettlebell takes on the way to being overhead is slightly out in front of the body.  Effectively, it's right between directly out to the side (frontal plane) and directly out in front (sagittal plane), as both of these positions are rough on the wrist with kettlebell training and don't lend themselves well to an individual being overhead comfortably.  As an added bonus, the plane of the scapula is generally much more shoulder friendly position as well.

3. More of a grip emphasis.

Anecdotally, you'll see a lot of the brighter minds in the business talk about how increasing grip challenges also helps to better turn on the rotator cuff, which fires reflexively.  We know that your cuff fires automatically when you pick up a suitcase or deadlift, so it makes sense that it would fire more "potently" when the grip challenge is more significant.  While this process, known as irradiation, hasn't been clearly defined or researched, it definitely seems to hold some water.  And, it goes without saying that you'll get more of a grip challenge with a kettlebell than you ever will with a dumbbell.

With these three factors in mind, I've made this my first overhead progression back with clients who are trying to get back to overhead pressing following a shoulder injury.  We have to do a lot of other stuff to get to this point in the progression, but I definitely see this as one of the initial "tests" of how good that shoulder is doing.

Keep in mind, too, that we're just talking about what goes on at the shoulder.  There are also a lot of core stability benefits, too.  By pressing with only one arm at a time, there's a greater rotary stability challenge.  Plus, all overhead pressing are great anterior core exercises, as you must effectively position the core and rib cage to ensure that the scapula and humerus do what they are supposed to do; you're resisting excessive extension the entire time.

With that in mind, you might be interested in checking out my new resource, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core.  This 47-minute presentation covers everything from functional anatomy, to the impact of breathing, to exercise progressions/regressions, and programming recommendations.  You can check it out HERE, where it's on sale at an introductory discount this week only.

AnteriorCore

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email

Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 40

Written on April 19, 2013 at 10:54 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, Greg Robins has five more tips to help you get your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs on track.

1. Clean up your unilateral deadlift technique.

If there is one exercise that I see butchered on a daily basis, it’s the 1-arm, 1-leg RDL. Furthermore, it makes coaches look like they are speaking French when they try to get people to do it right. It’s a great exercise, but here are the issues:

• It’s used right away in the majority of popular programs as the staple of unilateral hip hinging.
• It’s there because it’s difficult to hurt yourself doing, mainly due to the lack of weight in an effort to maintain some semblance of balance. Therefore, people just assume that over time people will figure it out and get better.

Just because doing it incorrectly with 5lbs is “safe” doesn’t mean it’s that productive; especially if you still can’t get the form right. It’s a hard exercise that I feel has somehow got the reputation of something easy.

Instead of getting frustrated, try doing the exercise to a dead stop every rep. You can use a KB, or elevate a DB on some mats. Allow yourself to reset every rep, just like a normal deadlift. Having two points of contact, albeit for just a moment, is enough to keep you in check.

2. If you’re stuck, evaluate your approach.

“Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum.” -Bruce Lee

There are three types of people in the gym. The first is a group of people who don’t know a thing about training philosophy. The second is a group who know enough to understand what’s important and what’s not. The third is a group who knows just enough to completely twist up their training.

The majority of you are in the third group. The other two groups are the minority. The majority is making little progress. The minority is continually improving. If this was graph here’s what it would look like:

Progress

 

If you are making good progress, keep going. If you are stalling, you may be somewhere in the middle of my chart. In this case, really evaluate your training approach. Somewhere along the way you may have begun to acquire just the right amount of exercise variations, percentage schemes, and who knows what else to halt your progress.

At this point, do two things:

One, ask “why?” Why does jumping help, why does speed work help, why this and why that? You can’t go back to group one, so you have to try and get to group 2. This means you take something you read, and you look at where that person gets their information. When you do that, you might find that jumps aren’t doing what you thought they did, either is speed work, or that new exercise with all the bells and whistles.

Second, get back the secret of group 1. When you are in the gym, shut down your analytical side. Work hard, have fun, and trust your gut.

3. Utilize benches for better push-up regression/progression.

4. Do more complexes.

Maybe it’s me, but complexes are not talked about or used nearly enough. They had a stint three years ago or so where they were all the rage, but are slowly becoming worthy of a spotlight on VH1’s “Where Are They Now.”

I can assure you they are not hung over, face down in a pillow like 70% of the other people on that show. Instead, they are alive and well and deserve a spot in your training.

A complex is any series of exercises, done in sequence, with the same weight, preferably without putting the weight down.

Why I like them:

• Limited equipment
• Time efficient
• Helps groove form on major lifts
• Time Under Tension
• Doesn’t involve running
• Sucks in just the right way
• Tension, again

Things to remember:

• They are taxing. I prefer to see them used at the end of a training session.
• If used on off days, I prefer to see them done at a conservative intensity OR done all out if you are not lifting the next day. For example, if you take the weekend off lifting, Saturday would be a good spot to hit complexes.

Here are two of my favorites:

Barbell:

Barbell RDL x 6-10
Barbell Row x 6-10
Barbell Squat and Press x 6-10
Barbell Reverse Lunge w/ Front Squat Grip x 6-10/leg

Kettlebell:

Double KB Swing x 5–8
Double KB Clean x 5–8
Double KB Press x 5–8
Double KB Front Squat x 5-8

5. Consider another variation of the “plyo push-up.”

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email

7 Ways to Get Strong Outside of the Sagittal Plane

Written on February 4, 2013 at 6:10 am, by Eric Cressey

We all know that folks don’t tend to do well in terms of health, movement quality, or performance when they spend their entire lives in the sagittal plane.  They aren’t as well prepared for life’s surprises (e.g., slipping on the ice) or life’s challenges (beer league softball fly balls to the gap).  They often lack adductor length and have poor hip rotation, and compensate with injurious movement compensation strategies at the knee and lower back.  This knowledge gave rise to a central tenet of the functional training era: multi-planar training.

Unfortunately, it’s just just as simple as telling folks to train in all three planes, as there is a progression one must go through to stay healthy while reaping the benefits of these new exercises.  I thought I’d outline my start-to-finish progression strategy.

1. Single-leg Exercises

To the naked eye, lunges, split squats, and step-ups are sagittal plane exercises.  However, what you have to appreciate is that while you’re training in the sagittal plane, you’re actually doing a lot of stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes.  It’s important that you master these drills in the sagittal plane before you start experimenting with strength work in the frontal and transverse planes. 

Progressions from basic dumbbell-at-the-side movements would be to raise the center of mass by using barbells or holding weights overhead. You could also wrap a band around the lower thigh and pull the knee into adduction and internal rotation to increase the challenge in the frontal and transverse planes.

2. Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach

At the most basic level, you can work unloaded lateral lunge variations into your warm-up. They might be in place, or alternating. As soon as folks can handle them, though, I like to progress to including an overhead reach in order to challenge anterior core stability and raise the center of mass up away from the base of support a bit.  This also gives folks a chance to work on their shoulder mobility and scapulohumeral rhythm.

For more variety on the warm-up front, check out the Assess and Correct DVD set; there are over 75 drills in there to take your mobility to a new level.

3. Plate-Loaded Slideboard Lateral Lunge

I like this as a starter progression because the plate out in front serves as a great counterbalance to allow folks to work on their hip hinge. Plus, there isn’t a big deceleration challenge on the leg that’s going through the most abduction range of motion; rather, the load is predominantly on the fixed leg, which is resisting excessive adduction (knee in).

Worthy of note: I never load this beyond 10 pounds, as folks tend to become kyphotic if the counterbalance is too heavy.  You’re better off loading with #3…

3. Dumbbell or Kettlebell Goblet Slideboard Lateral Lunge

By keeping the weight closer to the axis of rotation (hips) and minimizing the load the arms have to take on, we can load this up a bit without unfavorable compensations.

4. 1-arm Kettlebell Slideboard Lateral Lunges

This exercise builds on our previous example by adding an element of rotary stability.  You’d hold it in the rack position (or go bottoms-up, if you want variety and an increased stability challenge at the shoulder girdle). I’ve tried this with the KB held on both sides, and it’s a trivial difference in terms of the challenge created – so you can just use rotate them for variety.

5. Dumbbell (or Kettlebell) Goblet Lateral Lunge

You can load this sucker up pretty well once you’re good at it. Just be cognizant of not getting too rounded over at the upper back.

 

6. In-Place Lateral Lunge with Band Overload

This is variation that we’ve just started implementing. The band increases eccentric overload in the frontal (and, to a lesser degree, transverse) plane, effectively pulling you “into” the hip.  You have to fight against excessive adduction and internal rotation, and then “get out” of the hip against resistance.  This is something every athlete encounters, whether it’s in rotational power development or basic change-of-direction work.

As an added bonus, using a band actually provides an accommodating resistance scenario.  Assuming the partner stays in the same position throughout the drill, the tension on the band is lightest when you’re the weakest, and it’s more challenging where you’re stronger.

7. Side Sled Drags

Side sled drags are a great option for integrating some work outside the sagittal plane for folks who either a) aren’t coordinated enough for lateral lunge variations or b) have some knee or hip issues that don’t handle deceleration stress well.  As you can see, the exercise is pretty much purely concentric.  We’ll usually use it as a third exercise on a lower body strength training day – and as you can see, it can offer some metabolic conditioning benefits as well.

Keep in mind that these are just strength development progressions; we use a different collection of exercises for training power in comparable positions.  In our more advanced athletes, these drills will take place toward the end of a lower body training session – after we’ve already trained for strength in the sagittal plane, where we can load folks up better.  That said, if an individual is new to lateral lunge variations, you may want to introduce them early on in the strength training session when they’re fresh.

Have some fun with these exercise variations; I think you’ll find them to be challenging in ways you haven’t previously experienced.  And, the soreness you’ll experience will be all the proof you need!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email

Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 24

Written on November 13, 2012 at 7:37 am, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s strategies to help improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Create better tension in the Turkish Get-up.

2. Add fat to your shakes and smoothies for easy calorie addition.

For those of you looking to gain weight, here is an easy way to add more calories into your daily routine. When preparing shakes and smoothies, consider adding sources of healthy fat. Many of these options are easy to include, add a considerable amount of calories, and do so without adding a lot of actual volume.

Some of my favorites additions include: olive oil, coconut, coconut oil/butter, chia seeds, cacao nibs, almonds, walnuts, and nut butters.

3. Watch the kettlebell as reference for swing technique.

It’s great when you have a coach or training partner available to help give you feedback on your exercise form. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. One thing I love about the kettlebell swing is this easy way to gauge whether or not your form is staying on point. Check out this table I made for your convenience.

If the bottom of the kettlebell is above the wrists at lockout, there are two probable causes.  First, one may be excessively extending the spine instead of fully using the hips; the solution to this would be bracing the core at lockout to keep the rib cage down, and think about squeezing the butt cheeks together.  Second, the wrists may be “breaking” – which equates to pulling your knuckles to your nose; the solution to this is to keep the wrists locked in place, but maintain a medium/low intensity grip on the kettlebell.

If the bottom of the kettlebell is in line with the wrists at lockout, you’re in a good position!

If the bottom of the kettlebell is below the wrists at lockout, there are two potential causes.  First, you may just be raising the kettlebell with your arms instead of using the hips; the solution is to think “swing out” and think of the arms as just “connectors” between the ‘bell and your body.  Second, this faulty position may come from a “death grip” on the kettlebell; you’ll want to relax your grip to the same medium/low intensity I discussed earlier.

4. Activate the glutes in all three planes of motion.

Glute activation is obviously an important element in many of our warm-ups, and programming strategies. However, we tend to focus primarily on glute function in the saggittal plane. Bridging variations dominate weight rooms and gyms across the country. It’s important to consider the function of the glutes (max, med / min) in all three planes of movement, and train them accordingly. Make sure you include exercises that attack this muscle group in the frontal and transverse plane, as well as drills to train their function in all three planes at once.

As an example:

Side Lying Clams – Transverse Plane – external/internal rotation.

Side Lying Straight Leg Raise Variations
– Frontal Plane – abduction/adduction.

Supine Bridge Variations – Saggittal Plane – flexion/extension.

Bowler Squat – Tri-Planar – flexion/abduction/external rotation.

5. Consider using balloons in breathing intensive drills and exercises.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend my first course with the Postural Restoration Institute. While the course was not on respiration, we were introduced to a few basic principles used within their approach to aid in respiratory facilitation.

One training aid I found particularly helpful, easy to implement, and under-utilized was – of all things – a balloon!
Using a balloon gives you feedback as to how fully you are exhaling, something many of us think we do, but tend to never fully complete. Additionally, the balloon acts as a source of resistance to help fire your abdominals. This activation is particularly important in heavily extended populations, such as athletes, and active individuals.

Give it a try by including it in drills such as the dead bug, or supine 90/90 belly breathing.

 Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email

New Balance

Featured Product
Assess and Correct

YouTube Twitter Facebook