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8 Nutritional Strategies For Those Who Can’t Gain Weight

Written on January 28, 2014 at 8:23 am, by Eric Cressey

Throughout the off-season, my wife and I have professional baseball players staying with us quite a bit.  It's become very common for athletes to come to Boston for a few days, do a little "crash course" at Cressey Performance on training and nutrition, and then head back home, where I'll program for them from afar.

In almost all these cases, one of the biggest eye-opening experiences for these athletes is eating with the Cresseys.  They learn new recipes and cooking practices, and many are a bit amazed at how much I eat in spite of the fact that I'm only about 185 pounds.  They come to Boston expecting to learn about arm care, pitching mechanics, and strength and conditioning, but the nutrition add-on is a nice bonus.

As an example, Anthony Seratelli signed with the New York Mets this off-season, and is heading to Major League Spring Training with them in just a few weeks.  He arrived on January 7 – exactly three weeks ago today – and is now up eight pounds already.  Sure, some of this is old weight that he had to "recoup," and some is likely just water weight.  However, being heavy enough going into spring training is profoundly important, particularly for position players like Anthony who are out in the field almost every day between February and October.  Below are some nutritional strategies we've employed with not only Anthony, but a lot of our other skinny guys.

1. Get around big eaters, and make eating a social challenge.

With the skinny guys who complain about how they "eat all the time and still can't gain weight," it's not uncommon for them to get a big slice of humble pie when dining around bigger eaters.  In the Cressey household this month, Anthony had to keep up with me at every dinner – so if I got seconds, so did he.

I've also had athletes who always made a point of going out to eat with each other after training sessions.  It's instant accountability with respect to caloric instake.  Sushi is a great option in this regard.

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2 Big Leaguers, 3 100mph Arms, 2 Cresseys, an Absurd Amount of Sushi, & a Bus Boy Photobomb

2. Cook with more oil.

When an athlete's day is spent "uncomfortably full," finding convenient ways to add calories is incredibly important – especially if that individual has multiple training sessions per day and can't be worried about getting sick in the gym or on the field. Adding in some healthy oils – olive and coconut are my two "go-to" choices – can make it easier to get an extra 200+ calories at each meal.  The healthy fats the athletes get are nice perks of this approach, too.

3. Eat faster.

We always tell people who want to lose weight to eat slower, but many people fail to appreciate that eating faster is actually a great option for true "hard-gainers." You see, it takes time for the body to perceive fullness, so if you can get your calories in a bit faster, you can essentially trick yourself out of fullness. 

As an interesting aside to this, my business partner, Pete, is one of the slowest eaters on the planet.  No joke: it'll take him four hours to finish a protein bar.  And, not surprisingly, any time that Pete has put weight on in the past, he's had to be "uncomfortable full" for months on end.

Brian St. Pierre discussed this "speed of eating" phenomenon in The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide, if you're interested in learning more.

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4. Have convenient calories wherever you can’t miss them.

One other strategy Anthony uses are homemade protein bars.  They're made with healthier ingredients, and without preservatives. This means they have to be refridgerated, but it also means that they're going to go bad if he doesn't get in 2-3 per day, so there is incentive to consume them faster.  It's an easy 1,000 calories on top of his normal meals, and also provides some convenience when he's away from the kitchen.  Most importantly, though, he has to see them every time he opens the refridgerator for anything, so they're ultra-convenient.

5. Use liquid nutrition.

With most of our clients, we heavily emphasize eating real food and not getting calories from drinks.  In those who struggle to gain weight, however, big shakes can really help.  Royals pitcher Tim Collins was a good example, as he'd have a 1,000+ calorie shake after each training session for his first few years of training until he arrived at a good weight…45 pounds heavier.

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With that said, stay away from those garbage high-calorie weight gainers.  They're usually loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats – not to mention low-quality protein. I would always much rather have guys make their own shakes with a decent low-carb protein powder, and then add almond or whole milk, coconut oil, fruits, natural nut butters, Greek yogurt, oats, ground flax, and even veggies.  If you're going to take in 1,000 calories in a shake, you might as well get some nutritional value from it.

6. Write it down.

One of the best ways to evaluate how much you're eating – whether you're trying to lose fat or gain muscle – is to simply write it down.  I'd estimate that in 95% of cases, having a "hard-gainer" do thise immediately eliminates the "but I eat all the time" argument.  Sometimes, just knowing that you aren't trying as hard as you think you are is the biggest key to subsequent progress.

7. Review medications.

Many medications can have a profound impact on appetite.  The most prominent effects I've seen are with ADD/ADHD medications, as most reduce appetite.  In one instance, we had an athlete struggle to gain weight for almost two years on Adderall, but then he put on over 40 pounds in a year after switching to Focalin for his ADHD.  It's completely outside of my scope of practice to make recommendations on this front, but if appetite suppression is a concern, it'd be good to talk with your doctor about other options that might be available.

8. Make time instead of finding time.

Having an insanely busy schedule usually leads people to eat unhealthy, convenient foods – and they get fatter.  Many folks who are underweight actually go in the opposite direction; they simply forget to eat when things get busy.  To that end, if you want to gain weight, you need to make eating a priority – and that starts with plugging a specific time you'll eat into your schedule.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 39

Written on April 10, 2013 at 9:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s nutrition and strength and conditioning tips from Greg Robins.  Hopefully, they make your week a little more awesome!

1. Try these tips for a better late night smoothie.

If you’re after increased strength, performance, and muscle mass, you need to conquer two variables. One is eating nutrient dense foods (and plenty of them), and the other is getting quality sleep. Many people turn to a smoothie later in the evening as an easy way to add additional calories to their day. If you’re in this boat, consider using some ingredients that will help you tackle both of the previously mentioned variables. Check out this smoothie, and give it a try!

12-16oz Almond Milk (almonds are high in magnesium, which can help you relax!)
½ -1 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt (yogurt is rich in calcium – which can reduce stress – and contains tryptophan – which can aid in sleeping!)
½-1 Banana (These guys are also high in magnesium, as well as potassium, which will aid in relaxation and stress reduction!)
1 Cup Dark Cherries (cherries are rich in melatonin!)
¼- ½ Cup Raw Oats (oats are also rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium!)

For additional protein needs, you can throw in a scoop of whey as well!

2. Consider this video for your sumo deadlift technique.

3. Prioritize adherence for nutritional success.

Nutrition is an area that frustrates me. It goes beyond the fact that deep down, I wish ice cream, cereal, and anything engulfed by bread was the pinnacle of healthy eating. My frustration has to do with how we approach nutrition. What I am about to tell you is not revolutionary, nor does it apply solely to nutrition.

If you want to be successful, prioritize adherence.

If I asked a handful of people what the priorities would be in helping someone improve nutrition, they would likely spit out a few things. Eat real food, drop the carbs, and so on. All these ideas are worth considering, but all leaps and bounds away from the top of the priority list.

Nutrition is often limited by the person, not by the information. The information is there; it’s everywhere, although some information is better than others. The reason changes aren’t being made has more to do with the person (or with YOU).

If I were to choose one thing to prioritize in a nutrition plan, it would be adherence. Adherence is your ability to stay the course, or stick to the plan. When you ask yourself “What do I need to know about this person?,” and “What can I do to make sure this person can be successful adhering?,” you will see what needs to be prioritized. The same goes for you. Make changes slowly, and choose things to which you know you can adhere.

4. Try this front squat technique cue.

5. If it’s important, just do it.

Recently, I had a conversation about whether implementing a certain training strategy had value in my programs. Interestingly, the debate wasn’t about whether or not using a certain exercise was worth it; instead, it was about “how” worth it. The exercises in question were ones that have a lot of reward. The problem was whether or not people would take them seriously enough not only to do them correctly, but also to learn from them and keep their lessons in mind throughout the rest of the training day – not to mention the rest of the day in general.

As an example, let’s use breathing drills. We know that breathing drills are important. Challenging someone to change their breathing, and to be aware of it more often, can have incredible transfer in improving a number of different qualities. However, the average person tends to miss the value of their application. While we can debate the quality of coaching, and explanation they are receiving, in relation to its continued practice; the truth is no amount of information is enough to make someone do something they are not willing to practice. If the majority of people aren’t going to do it, is it worthwhile to include it at all?

YES, I think so. With our example, let’s say that adding breathing drills takes two minutes of additional time. Now let’s imagine only 20% of the people who do them actually take the concept to heart. 120 people will come through our facility on a given day. That means 24 people will have picked up a concept that has incredible value. In fact, those 24 people have completely revamped their thought process, and are benefiting from it ten-fold. That may seem like a futile effort, but in the end, the others didn’t receive anything negatively from their inclusion, and the 24 who bought in have received a mighty return.

The take home message is that if something is worth doing, then you need to include it. If people choose not to do it enough, or not do it properly, it’s their loss. If you don’t include something based purely on whether or nor not you think it’s going to hit home with your athletes, it’s like counting them out from the start. Give them a chance to succeed using the best of what you know. Furthermore, as the ones who benefit begin to show improvement, the likelihood that others will follow suit is very high.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 37

Written on March 23, 2013 at 4:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Courtesy of Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Try these two cues to keep your butt down with your bench press technique.

2. Remember to have fun!

If you are reading this post, then you probably fall into this category: You take the time to educate yourself on training and nutrition – so much so that you might tend to find yourself over analyzing and reasoning everything you do. That’s all well and good, but think back to the days when you just started training. Maybe some of you had to fight against your will to workout, but most of you probably did it because you – I don’t know – actually liked it?!

If I scrutinized everything I did in my training, I’d come to the conclusion that about 20% of the stuff I do isn’t that “intelligent” at all. Then why would I do it? After all, aren’t I supposed to know better than most? The truth is that too many people know too much for their own good. They overanalyze and dissect every little thing they do in the gym.

I used to be one of those guys who scoffed at others in the gym who did curls and triceps extensions. “Ha!” I would think. “What a waste of time, they should be doing more compound exercises.” Now I know enough to think otherwise.

Make sure your training includes some things you just want to do. Want to do curls, and shrugs, and band extensions until your arms explode? Do it. Be safe, but have some fun, for crying out loud.

3. Try spaghetti squash, a versatile vegetable that requires very little preparation.

Spaghetti squash is awesome as a vegetable side, and you can even use it to replace pasta in various recipes.  The best part is that it’s ridiculously easy to prepare.  How easy?  Try this.

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Pour a little olive oil on both halves, and then sprinkle cinnamon, salt, and pepper on there.  Bake it at 350 degrees until it softens up. 

Yep, it’s that simple.

4. Ladies, consider doing more volume.

I have trained my fair share of women. I have coached numerous figure competitors, female athletes, a few female strength athletes, and enough middle aged women that I feel like I have 5 or 6 people in my life who would willingly claim me as their son. Heck, I even train my own mom twice a week.

There are quite a few things I have realized about training women, but one stands out: they THRIVE lifting weights at about 50 – 75% of what they’re actually capable of lifting. Maybe it’s a neuromuscular coordination thing, a mental thing, or likely a hormonal thing. The point is I am very certain it is true.

50-75% is an optimal intensity for training at higher volumes. Volume is a measure of “total work done,” and knowing that, I tend to keep the volume in a woman’s program (person dependent) quite high. Smart waving through varying amounts of volume should still take place for the best result. However, the “low volume” mark for women can be set higher than that mark for men.

For the women out there, consider training at a higher volume more frequently. This is easily done by adding additional sets to your main exercises and/or by adding 1-3 drop-down sets after your main work sets. The following is an example of a drop-down set:

A1. Squat – 3 sets of 6 at 185lbs, followed by 2 sets of 10-12 at 145lbs

5. Match hand position to stance width.

Recently, Eric did a short video on hand spacing difference between the sumo and conventional deadlift. In short, with the wider sumo deadlift one should utilize a wider spacing, and with a narrower conventional stance the opposite is true. This tip is also applicable to the squat.

Many people advocate getting the hands in as close to the shoulders as possible. I find this works very well with narrower stance squat set-ups, such as the Olympic high bar squat. However, as taller individuals move their feet wider and wider they may find more success using a hand spacing that is also wider. Many folks can go super wide and manage to move the hands in quite narrow. While this does create a lot of “good stiffness,” it may not make for the best control of the bar, or ability to find the optimal spinal position.

A very narrow hand position will force the torso to extend quite a bit, keeping the torso more upright. That fits well in a stance width that depends on a more vertical back position to keep the bar over the center of the foot. However, as the feet move out wider, the lift changes, and a more pronounced forward lean is optimal for keeping the load over the center of the foot. It’s not the answer for everyone, and many people are successful doing the opposite of that. If you are having issues getting comfortable under the bar, give this a try!

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Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Increase Strength, Be More Awesome: Live Q&A #6

Written on February 9, 2013 at 8:25 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s time for another live Q&A here at EricCressey.com!  I figured that it’s a great time to do this, as I’m currently snowed in!  This is the view of my mailbox right now, in fact:

To get your questions answered, just post your inquiry in the comments section below, and I’ll approve it and then reply.  

My only rule is that your question must be limited to five sentences or less.  I’ll answer the first 25 that are posted, so please don’t bother posting questions if you come to this post days, weeks, or months after it was originally posted.

With that said, head on down to the comments section below and ask away! 

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 31

Written on February 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

Courtesy of Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make your nutrition strength and conditioning programs a bit more awesome.

1. Try some back extension isometric holds on the glute-ham raise.

2. Invest in a PVC dowel for your training.

Too often people break the bank to buy flashy gym equipment in their efforts to get results. Even more disappointing is the mass amounts of money gym owners spend on this equipment to lure people in. If you have visited CP before, then you probably noticed that we do just fine without a ton of flashy equipment. The truth is that you can meet all your goals with very little equipment. The missing ingredient is often YOU; the accessories don’t need to be fancy. For example, a PVC dowel will run you less than a few bucks!

So what can you do with this sucker? Take a look at this video where I will break down a sequence movements in less than three minutes that will have tremendous benefits to your health and fitness. In addition to these drills, a PVC dowel is something everyone should have at their disposal when teaching newcomers basic barbell lifts. It is a much better option (due to its weight) than starting off with an unloaded bar.

3. Consider breaking the mold when setting up intervals for fat loss.

If you ask most people how to set up rest to work intervals in a fat loss geared program, a common answer would be as follows: Beginners will need a ratio where they work less than they rest, and more advanced trainees will need the opposite. In many cases, this may be true. Surely people with longer training histories will be better conditioned. I want to challenge the norm in this scenario.

Often times, I try to see where I can pull principals from the more “Strength and Conditioning” side of the spectrum and apply them to the general population. You see, I am in a unique spot where I wear two hats: both programming for many athletes and for adult boot camp classes. There is a saying in the S&C community that goes: “It’s much easier to get someone who is fast in shape, than it is to make someone who is in shape, fast.” Without getting into too much detail, here is how we can use this concept to alter our interval set up.

Many times the general fitness trainee will not understand or have the ability to push himself. Furthermore, he won’t be capable of very high outputs. Therefore, setting up an interval scheme where the work interval is 1/3 or more of the rest interval will be less productive in my experience than something closer to even or less. Yes, you can make the argument that we would be training completely different energy systems, but I can assure you that following an inverted approach to the norm will get you better results. So how would this break down?

Beginners: Work equal or more than they rest: this way they move more, work harder, and build work capacity. Their outputs are generally low and they need a base of “conditioning.” Moving more will be more productive for fat loss at this time.

Advanced: Work less than they rest: at this point they’re capable of higher outputs and you will get better efforts each work interval when you allow them to recover. Fostering better quality work intervals will be more productive for fat loss at this time.

Intermediate: A combination of both: switch the intervals from a more “advanced” set up to a more “beginner” template during the same training session. Additionally, place an emphasis on coaching them to work harder in short work interval scenarios.

Obviously this doesn’t pan out for every population, and can’t be viewed as a rule of thumb, by any means. For those of you running group classes, or wondering how to set up your own training, this approach will work very well.

4. Try these two great eccentric-less “pulling” conditioning options.

In past posts, I have talked about the benefits of using exercise choices that are eccentric-less. They are especially useful on “off” days where you may be performing supplemental conditioning work. Unfortunately, many of the staple exercise choices (e.g., med ball throws and sled pushes) would be considered “pushes.” Here are two ways I incorporate pulling variations into my conditioning workouts while minimizing eccentric stress.

5. Use coconut butter as a binder when making low carb protein bars.

If you have attempted to make non-bake protein bars, then I know you have struggled with two big problems. One, the binders for which they call – honey, agave nectar, etc. -  for are high in carbohydrates. Two, they don’t bind well! Often, they lose their shape and mostly fall apart.

Recently, I stumbled upon a great solution. Here’s the short story. I start every day off with a short fast. When I break the fast, I tend to begin the day with a healthy fat, fish oil, greens powder, and vitamin D. For the longest time, my fat of choice was coconut oil. Lately, I have been using coconut butter instead. It tastes better, and I like the consistency. In the morning, I will warm up the jar, mix the butter and separated oil back together and place two TBSP in a tiny tupperware container. By the time I go to eat it, the butter has fully hardened, and I can pop it out of the tupperware and eat it like a piece of white chocolate (which is also awesome!). This led me to try the following and it works great!

a. Place 3TBSP of coconut butter (warm and liquified) into a “mini bread” or protein bar sized dish (you can make one from tin foil if needed).
b. Mix in a little bit of protein powder and some finely chopped nuts.
c. Place in fridge until hardened
d. Unwrap, and EAT!

It’s seriously that easy. You can add things like oats, berries, cocoa nibs, etc. The coconut butter binder works perfectly as long as you keep the bars in a cool dry place.

On a related note, if you’re looking for additional protein bar recipes, I’d strongly recommend you check out Anabolic Cooking by Dave Ruel; he has several that are fantastic.

 

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 30

Written on January 25, 2013 at 11:08 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s strength and conditioning tips, courtesy of Greg Robins.

1. Stress the “Hip Shift” with rotational med ball drills.

In this video I would like to detail the most important factor when using medicine ball exercisess to improve rotational power. Additionally, I have included a couple drills to help athletes with shifting from one hip to the other.

2. Consider adding work before you take away rest.

Often, you will set up your training sessions based on work to rest ratios. For example:

5 sets of 5 with one minute of rest.

OR

30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.

Whether we are working to improve an athlete’s work capacity, or programming for a fat loss client, the idea is that we are calling for consistent high output efforts with incomplete rest intervals.

My suggestion is that you add repetitions or small increases in time BEFORE you take away rest. Why? The answer is simple: if you want high outputs, you are more likely to get them when you have more rest, albeit incomplete rest. Over the course of a program, use a progression where you add work first, then go back to where you started and take away rest the second go around. This way you are more likely to get better outputs.

Using our first example:

The first month would include adding 1 rep per workout or adding a few seconds while keeping the 1 minute, or 30 seconds of rest, respectively. In the following month, you can keep the work at 5 reps or 30 seconds and take away small amounts of rest each workout. In the months to follow you can start to combine elements of each.

3. Know when to buy organic produce when you’re on a budget.

I have never been in a situation where I didn’t need to count my pennies when it came to buying food for the week. That being said, I have filled my head with too much information not be informed when it comes to the safety of the food I buy. Therefore, I have to be consider how I can stay smart with my food choices and my finances. One of the best pieces of advice I received a while back had to do with when to buy organic produce. As a rule of thumb, I buy organic fruits and veggies when I plan on eating the skin, and I don’t when I plan on removing the skin.

For example, when it comes to berries, apples, and leafy greens, I always go organic. When I buy bananas, pineapple, or spaghetti squash, I just buy the cheapest I can find. Keeping this in mind, I also tend to buy fruits and veggies that fit my budget at the time in respect to my rule of thumb. Give it a try and save some dough!

4. Try this variation of the reverse crunch.

5. Consider this study when developing your strength and conditioning programs.

Earlier this year, I presented at our first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I spoke on the various qualities of “strength” an athlete may acquire and display. A large part of what I stressed was the relationship between strength qualities and how some exercises (and improvement of said exercises) share a more direct relationship with increased performance in an athlete’s sport of choice.

Recently, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers examined how various field related strength and performance tests correlate to a golfer’s club head speed (CHS). Not surprisingly, it was found that better rotational medicine ball throw outputs and squat jump outputs correlated with better CHS.

The study describes the finding as “movements that are more concentrically dominant in nature may display stronger relationships with CHS.”

The take away is that we must make sure that our athletes have great absolute strength (which can be measured eccentrically), but also the ability to call upon that strength quickly and use it concentrically. If there is a major deficit between their ability to use their strength against a very sub maximal load (such as a golf club, baseball, or their body), then we are missing the mark in making them more productive on the field. Be sure to test and improve not only maximal strength numbers, but also power outputs in time dependent situations. These can include testing and programming various jumps, sprints, and throws.

Looking to take the guesswork out of your strength and conditioning programs?  Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 27

Written on December 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm, by Eric Cressey

 Here’s this week’s list of tips to fine-tune your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, compliments of CP Coach Greg Robins.

1. Improve your squat by starting neutral.

2. Remember: “Everything should made as simple as possible, and not simpler.”

At Cressey Performance, we are fortunate to be in an environment where we are constantly learning.

As an example, this past week we had a spectacular in-service delivered by Eric Schoenberg of Momentum Physical Therapy and Performance. Eric is someone with whom we work closely. I respect Eric immensely as he has the rare ability to make things simple. When I hear him speak, I am reminded of the quote from Albert Einstein:

      “Everything should made as simple as possible, and not simpler.”

In his presentation, Eric made one point in particular that really hit home with me.

His talk mainly focused on helping us create a united front on how we coach many of the arm care and movement drills used by our athletes; as many of them swing between his clinic and our gym floor. When pressed with questions on the specifics of these exercises (where should the shoulder blades be, what muscle are making this happen, that happen, etc?) he stressed the importance of making the movement just look and feel good.

If it looks good and feels good, it’s probably good. If it looks like poop, and feels like poop, it’s probably poop.

Makes sense, right? Everyone is a little different, and everything may measure out to be a little different, but it holds true in the majority of cases.

However, there are times when it might look good to the eye and feel fine to the athlete, but not actually be good. These are the cases we don’t want to make simpler. As an example, what if an overhead squat looks phenomenal, but when you assess the individual on the table, you notice considerable tissue shortness at the hips? These individuals may have phenomenal core stability to overpower their stiff hips, but still need to work hard on tissue length to prevent injury.

Focus on making things look good, and know what “good” looks like, and you’ll be in a great position 90% of the time. However, don’t ever forget about that 10%.

3. Get out of extension before bridging exercises.

4. Make water less boring.

I strive to drink a gallon of water every day. And, 80% of the year, I accomplish that objective just fine. I don’t dislike the taste because, well, it doesn’t taste like anything.

However, I guess the lack of taste is why I sometimes find myself falling off the wagon. When I can’t stand the thought of drinking another ounce of water, I simply spice it up. For many of you, doing so may be just what you need to start making hydration more enjoyable. It seems like a stupidly obvious suggestion, but I guarantee that half of the people who read this don’t drink enough water. I also guarantee they would if it tasted like something worth putting in their mouth.

We all know the benefits of cooking ahead of time. If you are struggling to drink enough water, then prepare a few gallons of flavored water ahead of time, too. Squeeze in lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, or anything else you want to include. Spread throughout the entire gallon, the squeeze of half of an orange is going to add a trivial amount of calories to your intake; don’t get worked up about it.

5. Overhaul your dishware for portion control.

Here is an easy tip to control portion size without even thinking about it. Take a look at your dishes: I’m willing to bet they are pretty massive. If you’re in the market for new kitchenware, or just looking for a strategy to reduce calorie intake, consider downsizing your plates and bowls. If there’s less to fill, you will be forced to consume a smaller helping.

Additionally, this is a great strategy for damage control at holiday parties. Many times, people will offer dinner plates and smaller plates for appetizers and desserts. Choose the smaller plate and limit yourself to what you can fit on top. This is another simple tip, but an incredibly effective way to make your nutrition program more successful if you struggle with portion control.

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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.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 19

Written on September 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make you just a little more awesome.

1. Consider assigning rest intervals, or using “active rest” to better facilitate the desired training effect.

Assigning rest intervals is a topic of hot debate. Many coaches are against it, some are strong advocates for it, and many don’t pay much attention to it at all. My stance, as it tends to be with so many strength and conditioning topics, is “situationally dependent.”

For many athletes (particularly younger or less experienced ones), assigning rest intervals simply adds an unnecessary variable. Why? It’s largely because the primary goal with these athletes is developing strength and muscle mass. These goals are pretty easily achieved in novice populations. They have little to no training experience and moving weight is going to cause these adaptations, generally regardless of the amount of rest they take between sets.

In more experienced athletes, though, different strength qualities must be trained in order to further advance the transfer of training to sport improvement. In these cases, the amount of rest can definitely alter the training effect, even when moving loads of the same intensity. In his text, Special Strength Training Manual For Coaches, Yuri Verkhoshansky outlines a few basic parameters in regards to this philosophy.

Consider an example: moving a load of 70-90% of one-rep max for as many as 3-10 total repetitions over 4-8 sets, with rest intervals of 3-4 minutes, yields a training effect geared more towards explosive strength development.

Moving a similar load (70-80%) for 6-12 total repetitions over the course of 3-6 sets, with rest intervals of 1-2 minutes, yields a training effect more geared towards maximal strength and muscular hypertrophy. In both cases, the load and set/rep scheme is basically the same. However, by giving the athlete time to recover (3-4 min), we allow them to apply a near maximal output against the resistance every set. This greatly alters the result of the training.

Verkoshansky goes on to provide a number of examples where rest is the most altered variable differentiating between working on explosive capabilities rather than maximal strength, hypertrophy, or localized muscular endurance. Keep this in mind when you utilize exercises in an effort to develop explosive strength, such as jumps or throws. If your goal is to make athletes more explosive, you need to make them rest. At Cressey Performance, we do this by pairing exercises such as med ball throws with mobility drills, which forces an athlete to take more time between sets. This approach has commonly been referred to as “active” rest.

2. Teach people how to be coached.

Does this sound familiar? Your client or athlete is in the middle of a set. He or she is on rep 2 of 5 and you call out a coaching cue: “chest up!” All of a sudden, they turn their head – right in the middle of the repetition – and ask, “what?”

Needless to say, this isn’t a great situation. Luckily, it is one that is easily avoided if you take the time to coach the “little” things right from the get-go. Some of you might be reading this and saying: “Duh, Greg.” Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. In fact, I bet the majority of you don’t touch on the nuances of lifting and getting coached with your clients until an event like this takes place. Do everyone involved a favor: before you teach them anything concerning technique, teach them how to be coached. Make sure they understand that at no point during a lift should they turn their head, talk, or stop midway through, unless instructed to do so. A mentor of mine used to start every new client by getting them in a mock squat position and moving to various spots around them, asking if they could hear him. It was meant to prove that in order to be coached, they didn’t need to move their head. Again, it seems rudimentary, but it’s very important.

3. Roll your adductors on an elevated surface.

Many of you already roll out your adductors (inner thighs). However, in most cases, it is primarily done on the ground. While doing so on the ground is definitely beneficial, you will find the position to be somewhat awkward. Additionally, it is tough to apply enough pressure on the ground to actually get a good effect. Check out this video to see how we utilize an elevated surface to get into a better position; you can also utilize a med ball instead of a foam roller to improve the training effect.

I realize many gyms don’t have this luxury, but you will find that using a weight bench also works, but might feel somewhat awkward. Instead of placing the opposite foot on the ground, just place the opposite knee on the ground instead to make up for the lack of surface height.

4. Go ahead, eat some chocolate!

Who doesn’t like to indulge in some chocolate, and a good cry?  Okay, well at least the chocolate, right? In his popular book, The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth, Dr. Jonny Bowden makes a point to include dark chocolate. Thank goodness, because that stuff is delicious! The best part is that consuming the right kind of chocolate is actually great for our health as well. For starters, cocoa is rich in flavonoids. These are compounds found in plants that help protect the organism from various toxins. When we consume the plant, we also receive the benefits of these compounds.

It is interesting to note that the flavonoids found in cocoa help synthesize nitric oxide. Every meathead knows that nitric oxide helps increase blood flow, that’s why they crush NO workout products like nobody’s business.  Well, that and they think they’re going to make them hyooooge. Seriously, though, the flavonoids ability to modulate nitric oxide has a great effect on decreasing cardiovascular issues (such as high blood pressure) and can help to improve insulin sensitivity. Seek out real chocolate bars, not the kind you find in a mini mart. Make sure it’s at least 60% cocoa or more to get these benefits. Furthermore, while the fat content in real dark chocolate is primarily good fat, it does contain a fair amount of “bad” fat, so it is best consumed in moderation.

5. Volunteer or donate to charity.

This blog has never been about politics, nor will it ever be.  However, with the recent releases of tax returns from both candidates in the presidential race, it’s pretty awesome to see both Romney and Obama donating approximately 20% of their income in 2011 to charity.  I figured this could be the first blog to highlight something that’s not negative about either candidate!  Hopefully more Americans will follow their lead on this front – or at least volunteer their time if they don’t have the resources to contribute financially.  Remember, these tips are about ways to feel better – and that includes the psychological benefit you’ll receive from helping others.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 13

Written on August 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here is this week’s list of quick and easy ways to feel and move better.

1. Get on the same page with other coaches in your facility.

In the past six years, I have split the vast majority of my coaching among three different facilities. Therefore, I can speak with certainty on the how important it is to have universal coaching cues. Every coach has a unique coaching style that gives clients and athletes a new perspective; this style should be nurtured and not destroyed. However, putting universal coaching cues in place doesn’t have to come at the expense of their “style.” If you are the owner of a facility, make sure to outline some general cues for the staff to use. It will also help to get coaches working together on “tougher” cases where the first set of cues may not elicit the desired response. This extra collaboration will help you teach more efficiently, and you’ll have fewer confused athletes and clients: both good things!

2. Stop blaming the program.

I see it all the time, and apparently it’s human nature? Instead of looking at the reasons one might be letting oneself down, it’s easier to instantly look to find errors in their “program.” The truth is that nobody has any business scrutinizing anything but themselves until they are doing these things CONSISTENTLY: showing up, sleeping enough, eating appropriately, and putting in sufficient effort. If you do all four of those day in and day out, then we’re off to a good start. However, it’s still not the program’s fault. As examples, here are two other common reasons you aren’t allowing your strength and conditioning program to work for you. One, you miss reps and get too impatient choosing weights. If you continue to miss lifts, you’ll continue to make no progress. Two, you take too long to train. Don’t blame the workouts for not helping you lose body fat. They hardly become workouts when you take two hours to mosey through them.

Make the little things a habit, check your ego, train with a purpose, and good things will happen. It’s not the program’s fault!

3. Consider skipping breakfast…seriously!

Breakfast has been revered for years as the most important meal of the day. After all, in order to get the day started off right, you need to get breakfast, right?  However, what if getting breakfast “right” meant not eating breakfast at all?

If we look to some of today’s most popular nutrition schemes, we can find a few similarities. For example, intermittent fasting (IF) and carb back loading disciples both pass on the morning chow. Furthermore, the idea of consuming carbohydrates in the morning is slowly becoming a thing of the past. The research is pretty interesting, and so are the results and conclusions of these nutritional gurus.

The basic premise is that upon waking our hormone levels are raised in such a manner that we are in a near ideal state to use fat for energy. Consuming food, and especially the typical morning carbohydrate varieties, will actually alter the hormone levels and put us in a far less ideal scenario to promote fat loss, and muscle building throughout the day.

After reviewing the work of John Kiefer and the various sources on IF, I began waiting on breakfast until a few hours after waking. Even then, I limit my calories substantially until mid afternoon, with the bulk of them coming in the evening. It may seem backwards from the typical beliefs, but I have seen great improvements in energy, body composition, and strength gains. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

4. Match your set-up to your body for bigger lifts.

Here is one you can apply right away. In the past I would choose my stance and hand-widths based on what I saw other successful people doing. A lot of the big squatters were wide, so I would put my feet nice and wide.

Then, I started to video more of my training. I looked at how my body reacted to the loads, especially lifts up over 90%. What I realized was that certain reactions from my body weren’t so much a result of the weight being too heavy, or a lack of cueing, but the way I set up.

I decided to work with how I was built. My back was wide, so I moved my hands out on the bench press, and my feet to match; the bench numbers took off. My hips are pretty narrow, so I moved my squat stance in; it helped me to stay in better control, and I began to handle heavier weights much more confidently. Luckily for me, my deadlift stance was already narrow, but that would explain why for years it was the only respectable lift I had.

When you set up, take how you’re built into account, rather than relying on just what you have seen work for others. As a coach, do the same with your athletes and clients. Look at how they are put together and choose stances, and even exercise choices, that make sense for their body.  Several years ago, Eric and Mike Robertson had a multi-part series that touched on this: Overcoming Lousy Leverages Part 1 and Part 2.  I’d encourage you to check them out.

5. Stop using weighted bats and donuts to warm up.

To touch upon something more baseball specific, a recent study performed in Kanoya, Japan at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports, found that performing a warm up with a weighted bat had adverse effects acutely on timing for hitters. This is something that has shown to be true a few times, and it makes perfect sense.

In a similar fashion to other sport specific overloaded exercises, it can be detrimental to add weight to a movement too specific to the actual sport movement. For example, overloading sprint mechanics too heavily (via sleds, or resistance bands) has been shown to negatively affect the sprint mechanics of athletes.

Instead, consider using your time in the on deck circle more intelligently. Study the pitcher’s mechanics to help time your approach. Additionally, try and locate his release point so that you can get eyes on the ball earlier come your at bat. For strength coaches, let this be another example of how overloading the mechanics of an actual sport skill can ruin the mechanics at game speed.

All this said, there may be merit to adjusting bat load in terms of chronic adaptations; just don’t do it right before you step up to the plate.

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