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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/16/13

Written on May 16, 2013 at 7:31 am, by Eric Cressey

With Show and Go on sale this week, I thought I'd use today's recommended reading post to point you in the direction of some related content:

My Top 10 Strength and Conditioning Mistakes – This is a free 23-minute webinar I made back when Show and Go first launched.  Regardless of your training experience, I'm sure you'll find some pearls of wisdom in there.

5 Reasons You Aren't Getting Stronger – I wrote this around the time that Show and Go was released, too.  It's one of the more popular articles ever published on this site. There is a small amount of overlap with the aforementioned webinar, but important points do deserve repetition!

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Is Show and Go Okay for Females? You Tell Me. – A lot of ladies ask if Show and Go can be a good fit for them, so I pulled together this compilation of ladies crushing heavy weights. 

To take advantage of this week's sale on Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, click here.

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5 Traits of Successful Athletes

Written on May 15, 2013 at 6:24 am, by Eric Cressey

With Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better on sale for this week, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak at the final chapter of this resource.  While most people want the programs (the what), I think it’s also important to understand the “how,” too.  In other words, if you give two trainees the exact same program, why do they often get remarkably different results?  Sure, genes play into this, but there are additional factors that influence one’s long-term success.  You can learn about a few of them below. – EC

All this in mind, as I sit here to write up this last chapter, it’s important for me to actually make it into something useful for you.  To that end, I thought back to the most accomplished athletes and lifters with whom I’ve interacted over the years to brainstorm up some traits that typify almost all of them.  What words do I think of when considering these individuals?

Consistency – Their outstanding results are never about just a 16-week program, finding a magic pill, or taking shortcuts.  They don’t skip out on 2-3 months here and there because work gets busy.  They never let minor aches and pains sidetrack them because they find ways to train around these issues and rehabilitate them in the process.  They can’t fathom taking 19 weeks to complete a 16-week program.  Training is an integral part of their lives, so they do it with more consistency than their less-accomplished peers.  In the grand scheme of things, the programming, technique, and training environment are important – but just showing up is the single-most important thing.

Focus – When it’s time to train, the cell phone goes off.  There’s no talking about the boozing that went on at the bars the weekend before, or complaining about problems with the new girlfriend.  When these successful trainees are in the gym, they are there for one reason: to lift heavy stuff and get better.

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Training Partners/Environment – Successful individuals realize that they’ll never be as well off alone as they will be with the help of the individuals around them, so they surround themselves with the right people.  The end result is constant, detailed feedback; handoffs and spots whenever they’re needed; accountability to ensure the aforementioned consistency; and camaraderie that improves results exponentially. 

Realistic Expectations – My best deadlift is 660 pounds, but to be honest, on about 363 days of the year, I don’t think I could come within 20 pounds of it.  It just isn’t possible to be at your best for every training session – and it gets even harder to be close to that “peak” feeling as you get more experienced and accomplished.  Push too hard when you aren’t feeling it, and you’ll set yourself back.  The most accomplished powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strength sport athletes out there know when to push and when to hold back to take deloading periods; they have realistic expectations of themselves and listen to their bodies.

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Insatiable Desire to Improve – Some of the best athletes I’ve ever met and worked with have also been the most inquisitive and open-minded to suggestions.  They are constantly looking for new ways to improve, and appreciate that the field of strength and conditioning is a very dynamic one in which new research emerges almost daily.  They recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so they borrow bits and pieces from many different philosophies to find what works best for them.

For more information, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.  It's on sale this week at a big discount.

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This Week Only: Save Big on Show and Go

Written on May 13, 2013 at 6:03 am, by Eric Cressey

For only the second time since its release (and first time since 2011), I'm putting Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better on sale. It's my birthday a week from today, so I figure I can use the proceeds to buy myself some hair plugs or a few rounds of Bingo, now that I'm getting old.

Joking aside, though, through this Saturday (5/18) at midnight, you can get this resource for just $77 (48% off the normal price).

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With me working on a new project that'll be due out later this year, now is the perfect time to give the Show and Go program a test-drive, as it'd be a great option for setting you up to give the next generation of "Cressey Madness" a go in the fall.  Don't take that to mean that the Show and Go program is outdated, though, as I still get great feedback on the program every single day of the week.

For more information, head here.

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5 Ways to Avoid Boredom in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on May 3, 2013 at 6:29 am, by Eric Cressey

On Wednesday, my business partners and I surprised our staff and interns by blocking off a few hours of training sessions at Cressey Performance – so that we could take them out to see the new movie, Pain and Gain. While the movie has a strength training theme to it, it doesn’t even come close to qualifying as “continuing education” for our crew.

Rather, we had two reasons for taking the crew to the movies for a few hours.  First, we wanted to reward them for all their hard work during a long and busy baseball off-season. Second, we wanted to mix things up a bit for them, as things slow down a bit at the CP during the month of April, and we still want to make coming to work fun even when the days might feel a bit longer.

It’s easy to draw a parallel from this experience to what many people encounter with their strength training programs.  Good programs change before people adapt to them physiologically, but rarely do you consider that some people may have adapted to those programs psychologically much earlier.  In other words, some people get bored quickly and need to shake things up to keep training fun.  To that end, here are six strategies you can employ to make sure that you don’t find going to the gym monotonous.

1. Get a new strength and conditioning program.

At Cressey Performance, we generally change programs with our athletes and clients every four weeks.  With all of them on their own individualized programs, this obviously makes for a lot of program design responsibilities for our staff.  However, an individual gets excited when he or she receive a programs that isn’t only new, but uniquely his or hers.

I often see people do the same programs for months and months upon end. There might be a small percentage of the strength training population who can tolerate it, but based on my interaction with thousands of the clients over the years, long-term results are far better when people are having fun.  So, if you’ve been doing the same program since 1994, you might want to consider shuffling things up a bit.

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2. Tinker with an existing strength and conditioning program.

It’s not mandatory that you overhaul the program; you might just need to tinker with things.  Maybe you increase volume significantly in one training session or week to really challenge someone before deloading in the subsequent week.  Perhaps you modify exercise selection or the sets/reps scheme from week to week. The variations you can add are limited only by your creativity, but the important thing is that there is some variation in there, particularly if the individual doing the program is someone who gets bored easily.

3. Meet up with a new training partner.

I speak a lot about the importance of having good training partners and camaraderie in the gym. With this in mind, I’m convinced that the fact that people meet and train alongside new people every time they come to Cressey Performance has a lot to do with our success.  While consistency is certainly a valuable qualify to have in a training partner, the truth is that people seem to work harder when they’re surrounded by new people.  It may kick-start a little competitive fire or even just be a matter of people not wanting to be perceived as “non-hard-working.”  Whatever it is, sometimes the people surrounded you during a training session can have a big impact on the effort you put in – and the excitement you take away from the session.

4. Try some new training equipment.

A lot of fitness enthusiasts complain when they go on vacation and check out the hotel gym for the first time – only to discover less than stellar equipment selections. I’m not sure how people got the idea that a vacation resort would make a power rack, glute ham raise, and 2,000 pounds of free weights a priority when designing a resort for the masses, but some people do have this expectation nonetheless.

I’m much more of a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so I view vacation training as an opportunity to shuffle my training up with some equipment access.  It’s not going to kill you to use some machines for a week, and you won’t waste away if you do more body weight exercises for a few days.  Chances are that you’ll make yourself really sore and – when you’re hitting the dessert bar for the fifth time – you’ll feel a little better about yourself knowing that you still worked hard and have the physical reminder of it.

Even if you’re not on vacation, you can change things up very easily.  It could be as simple as throwing a pair of Fat Gripz on the bar or dumbbell, or using a specialty bar for some squats or lunges.

5. Compete with yourself.

One of the biggest mistakes I see among gym-goers is that they rarely track their progress.  It only takes a few seconds to write down what you did in a given session, but for some reason, most people don’t log their training sessions.  If you can’t remember what you’ve done, how can you determine if you’re making progress in the direction of your goals?  This is one reason why I love Fitocracy; it’s a quantifiable means of tracking exercise progress, and it also offers ways for you to compete with not only yourself, but others, too.

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There’s something wildly motivating about seeing improvements from week to week – even if they’re only represented by a few numbers on a sheet of paper.  If you find yourself getting bored in the gym easily, then I’d suggest that you start tracking things a bit more closely so that you can head off that boredom before it sets in.  Plus, you might actually find that there’s a reason to celebrate progress instead of just loathing the trips to the gym!

These are just five strategies to help you keep your strength and conditioning programs and sessions from getting boring, and there are surely many more.  What have you done to keep the monotony at bay and keep things interesting?

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3 Strategies to Avoid Getting Too Comfortable with Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on April 12, 2013 at 6:06 am, by Eric Cressey

In the past, I’ve written about how fond I am of the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who’ve written best sellers like Made to Stick and Switch. These books have provided insights about why certain ideas are accepted while others are rejected, and outlined strategies to implement paradigm shifts effectively. Effectively, they analyze how people behave and process information in order to help readers make effect positive changes in business and in life. On my recent vacation, I read their newest release, Decisive, which discusses all the factors that affect whether we make good or bad decisions. I stumbled upon a gem in this great read that I think applies heavily to folks’ fitness programs.

In reference to a meta-analysis of the psychology literature, the Heaths write: “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the brothers note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

Think about how this applies to the fitness community. There are a lot of folks who go to the gym and do what they’ve always done because it’s comfortable. It’s much easier to just go and do an exercise that you already know than it is to have to learn something new. And, beyond just the comfort factor, being willing to adopt new ways also means that you may have to accept that your old ways weren’t up to snuff – and that can be a bitter pill to swallow when it means thousands of hours at the gym may have been used inefficiently.

People want to confirm their awesomeness, not refute it.

One of my most important roles as a strength and conditioning coach is to help people embrace change when it comes to exercise. This generally means that I make a living “dis-confirming” what others are doing in their own exercise programs; otherwise, I wouldn’t be needed.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule (in powerlifting, for instance, you want to be as efficient and consistent as possible with the three main lifts), change means creating a disturbance that least leads to greater fitness adaptation. It may be a richer proprioceptive environment to better prepare someone for life’s demands, a different metabolic conditioning stress to drop body fat, an exercise variation to help someone avoid an overuse injury, or a new warm-up to improve movement quality on the way to achieving a goal.

Change must, however, be implemented differently for each individual. Some folks are ready to jump right into the deep end, and others are more reluctant and need to be eased into adjustments. Some folks may really need a complete program overhaul, while others might just need some tinkering.

How, then, do you know where you stand without someone like me there to help you? I’d ask yourself these five questions to determine if you’re getting too comfortable:

1. In the past four months, have you been moving toward your goals or further away from them?

2. What have you sacrificed to make this progress? This may be time, energy, money, or allowing a different fitness quality to detrain (e.g., losing metabolic conditioning as you put on muscle mass and strength). Are you comfortable with this sacrifice?

3. Are you motivated to get to the gym when the time comes to train?

4. Have you remained healthy during the program, or does it hurt to do certain exercises?

5. Can you do the things you want to do in life? Can you walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? Are you capable of putting your own luggage in the overhead compartment on a plane? Does it bother you that you can’t fit into some of your clothes? Will you make up an excuse to not play catch with your son because your shoulder is killing you?

If any of these questions left a bad taste in your mouth, then you need to evaluate how you can better structure your workout routines. And, in order to do so, you need an unbiased perspective, because we’re all wired to simply agree with ourselves.

1. Get a training partner. – Training partners aren’t just about offering spots, carpools, or accountability to show up for all your training sessions; they’re also there to give you brutal honesty when you need it. Find someone who can tell you when you’re spinning your wheels or being an idiot.

2. Outsource your training. – It might mean you buy a book or DVD and follow the recommended program or hire someone to work with you in person. At CP, our staff members write programs for each other and we all train together so that we can all work toward our individual goals with impartial feedback along the way. Interestingly, we have many fitness professionals who have looked to us for their own training. We have several clients who are personal trainers and strength coaches who appreciate outsourcing things to us in the same way that their clients do to them. Additionally, Show and Go has been very popular with fitness professionals not only because they can look at how the programs are structured, but also follow the program to shake up their own workout routines.

3. Think up alternatives. – The Heath brothers talk extensively about how the best way to come to a good decision is to realize that there is an “And” and not just an “Or.” In other words, not all questions are “yes/no” or “A/B” in nature – even if we try to make them that way. It’s important to brainstorm and investigate alternative solutions that could work best.

As an example, think of a lifter whose shoulder hurts and thinks he needs to stop training until it’s healthy. He might wonder, “Should I train through pain or stop?” The alternative answer is to train around pain, finding exercises that help one maintain a training effect without exacerbating the injury. I know: it sounds logical to assume one would pursue this third option, but you’d be amazed at how many people shut it down altogether. They avoid comprehensive decision-making processes, and you can imagine how this may apply to decisions they encounter in other aspects of their lives.

There are surely many other ways to determine whether you’re getting too comfortable and, if so, what to do about it. However, these were a few ideas to get the ball rolling and make you consider if you’re really heading in the right direction with your training.

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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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10 Ways to Sustain a Training Effect in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on October 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm, by Eric Cressey

I’m going to let you in on a little shocker: I really don’t train as hard as I used to train.

Blasphemy, I know.  Every strength and conditioning coach is supposed to constantly be pursuing a mythical level of fitness at all times.  Because it’s my job to make people healthier and more athletic, I, in turn, am expected to be able to bench press 800, vertical jump 40 inches, complete a marathon in under three hours, and be able to fart lightning at a moment’s notice.  While I can make a decent run at the last challenge after a batch of my mom’s famous calico beans recipe, I guess I’m just content with not making optimal progress.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I haven’t let myself turn into a blob, and I’m still training 5-6 days a week.  The goals, however, have shifted since my last powerlifting meet in December of 2007. Nowadays, I get a lot more excited about watching one of our minor league guys get a big league call-up than I do about a ten-pound squat personal record after a 16-week training cycle. I worry more about being a better husband, business partner, boss, and coach than I do about whether I’m 10 or 11% body fat, and whether it’ll make my weight class. And, I certainly expect these priorities to change even more when my wife and I decide to have kids.

In short, I think I’m a lot like a solid chunk of the exercising population.  Training hard excites me, but it doesn’t define me anymore.

Interestingly, though, I really haven’t wasted away like one might expect. In fact, I’ve gotten stronger while keeping my weight about the same – or slightly lower, right where I want to be.  Just for the heck of it, I staged my own little mock raw powerlifting meet this morning and totaled 1435 at a body weight of 180.6 (1396 is considered an “Elite” total, as a frame of reference).  I used the giant cambered bar for squatting, simply because my shoulder gets cranky when I back squat. Sue me.

A few notes on the mock/impromptu meet:

1. Thanks to the CP staff and interns for helping with spots, handoffs, and videos – and putting up with my musical selection (which I think, for the record, was an outstanding representative sample of modern training music).

2. I weighed in at 180.6 first thing that morning (about three hours before I lifted).  I didn’t have to cut weight.

3. I had a scoop of Athletic Greens, three cups of coffee with vanilla protein powder, and five eggs with spinach, peppers, and onions for breakfast, then drank a bottle of water at the facility before I started.  So, I really didn’t carb up for this “meet” (or really prepare for it in any capacity, for that matter). I did have an accidental open mouth kiss with my dog, Tank, while I was foam rolling when he licked my face while I wasn’t looking.  I’m not sure if making out with a puggle constitutes ergogenic assistance? 

4. Speaking of Tank, he makes a great cameo during my opening squat.  He’s eating air, in case you’re wondering.

5. The great thing about squats in powerlifting meets is that they can look like good mornings to parallel and still pass.  Score!

6. I haven’t free squatting with a wider, powerlifting style stance in about three years. So, you can say that I was a bit rusty, as evidenced that my stance width was a bit erratic from attempt to attempt (and especially narrow on the third squat).

7. The first squat and last deadlift were exactly 90 minutes apart.  Talk about efficiency!

All that said, I really don’t think I could have even come close to this total back in 2007, and according to some research that says strength peaks at age 29, I should be on the downslope, especially if I’m not training as hard. So, what gives?

I suspect it has a little something to do with the fact that I have a pretty good idea of how to sustain a strength training effect. Much of it has to do with my experiences with in-season athletes; some of them waste away if they don’t pay attention to detail and stay consistent with their training.  Meanwhile, others come back so strong that you’d think they never left.  Here are some of the factors that have surely helped me (and them) over the years.

1. Very little alcohol consumption.

My first date with my wife was April 22, 2007. She’s seen me drink twice in the entire time we’ve known one another. I’m absolutely not going to stand on a soapbox and say that I don’t think other people should drink; they can do what they want, but it just really isn’t for me.

That said, if you’re concerned with helping your strength training gains along (or simply sustaining them), simply have a look at the research on alcohol’s negative effect on effect on endocrine status, sleep quality, neural drive, tissue quality, and recovery from exercise.  People who drink a lot feel and move like crap.  Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

2. Early to bed, early to rise.

I find the 6AM world far more entertaining, refreshing, and productive than the 1AM world.  I feel better, train better, recovery better, and am an all-around happier person when I get to bed early and awake early without an alarm.  For me, 10:30PM to 6AM is pretty much the norm.

Now, for those who insist that sleeping 1:30AM to 9AM counts exactly the same, check out some of the research on night shift workers and their health; it’s not good.  As a rule of thumb, one hour before midnight is worth two after midnight – and it certainly helps to try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.  Post-Thanksgiving meal naps are spectacular, too.

3. A foundation of strength and mobility.

In talking with our athletes about the relationship between off- and in-season training, I use the analogy of a bank account.  During the off-season, you make deposits (work hard and acquire a training effect).  When you go in-season, you make withdrawals (play your sport). If the withdrawals exceed the deposits, you’re in trouble – and that’s why in-season training is so important.

Now, for the general fitness folks, this simply means that if you put a lot of “money in the bank,” you’ll be prepared for the day when life gets crazy and you miss a few days in the gym.  You have more wiggle room to go on a spending spree.

Mobility works the same way.  Once you’ve built it, it’s hard to lose unless you really go out of your way to avoid moving for an extended period of time.

4. Regular manual therapy.

I’m very fortunate to have two outstanding manual therapists in my office on a weekly basis.  Chris Howard is a massage therapist and does a tremendous job with more diffuse approaches, recovery modalities, and some focal work with the Fibroblaster tool.  Nate Tiplady utilizes Graston Technique, Active Release, fascial manipulation, and chiropractic adjustments.  Along with regular foam rolling, these guys have made a big difference in me staying healthy, which leads me to…

5. No missed training sessions.

I’m fortunate to have been very healthy over the years.  Like everyone, I’ve had minor niggles here and there, but haven’t pushed through them and let them get out of hand.  It’s better to skip benching one day and do higher rep floor presses than it is to push through some pain and wind up with a torn pec.  If long-term consistency is your goal, you have to be willing to assess risk: reward in your training on a regular basis.

Moreover, training is a part of my life, just like brushing my teeth, feeding the dog, or checking my email.  It’s not an option to “squeeze it out” because the schedule gets too full.  I make time instead of finding time.  Of course, it’s a lot easier when your office is part of a 15,000+ square-foot gym!

6. Lots of vegetables and quality protein.

Call me crazy, but I’d take grass-fed meatloaf and spinach and onions cooked in coconut oil over a chocolate cake any day of the week.  I’m not making that up; I just don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

In Precision Nutrition, Dr. John Berardi talks about the 90% rule: as long as you’re good with your nutrition 90% of the time, you can get away with slip-ups or intentional cheat meals for the other 10%.  If you eat five meals a day, that’s 31-32 “clean” meals and 3-4 “whoops” meals each week.  When I think about it in that context, I’m probably more like 95-98% adherent, and the other 2-5% is me grabbing a protein bar on the fly while I’m coaching at CP. I could certainly do a lot worse.

I’m sure Dr. Berardi would agree that if you get closer to 100%, you likely have a little wiggle room with your training program. For example, you might be able to cut back slightly on the amount of conditioning needed to meet your goals.

7. Great training partners.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to lift in a number of great environments, from my time in the University of Connecticut varsity weight room, to my days at Southside Gym, to Cressey Performance 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0.  You’ve always got spotters nearby, and there are always guys to give you feedback on weight selection and technique.  We crack jokes, play loud music, and challenge and encourage each other.  I’m convinced that this factor more than any other can absolutely revolutionize the way many folks train; they need human interaction to get out of their comfort zone and realize what they’re capable of accomplishing in the right environment.

8. Planned deloads.

I rarely take a week of training off altogether, but at least once a month, I’ll reduce training stress substantially for 5-7 days to recharge.  The secret to avoiding burnout is to understand the difference between overload, overreaching, and overtraining.  The former two are important parts of the training equation, but if you are always seeking them 24/7/365, you can wind up with the latter. I talk about this in great detail in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

9. Accountability.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons many people struggle to achieve their fitness goals is that they are only accountable to themselves – and that’s a slippery slope if you aren’t blessed with great willpower and perseverance.  It’s one reason why we encourage our clients to tell their friends and family about their fitness goals; they’ll constantly be reminded of them in conversation throughout the day.

Being in the fitness industry is a blessing because your peers and your clients/athletes are your accountability.  Fat personal trainers don’t have full schedules.  Weak people don’t become strength coaches of NFL teams.  And, in my shoes, it’s magnified even more because I’m in front of thousands of people every single day through the videos on this website, DVDs that we’ve produced, and seminars at which I present.  Even if “tapping out” on my training was something that interested me, I have too much at stake.  Think about where you can find that level of accountability in your life to help you reach your goals.

10. Cool implements to keep things fun.

I live really close to our facility, so I often joke that I have the best 15,000 square-foot home gym you’ll ever see.  We’ve got a bunch of specialty bars, bumper plates, slideboards, sleds, tires, sledgehammers, turf, kettlebells, dumbbells, bands, chains, farmer’s walk handles, TRX units, medicine balls, a glute-ham, chest-supported row, functional trainers, benches, and a host of other implements that I’m surely forgetting.  There is absolutely no excuse for me to ever get bored with training, as I have an endless source of variety at my fingertips.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “But Eric, I don’t have anything cool at my commercial gym!”  My response to that has five parts:

a. If they didn’t have what you needed, why did you give them your money instead of taking your business elsewhere?
b. Have you considered outfitting home gym?
c. They probably have a lot more than you might think, but you just need to be more creative and prepare a bit more.
d. Remember that there are many different ways to add variety to programming beyond just changing exercise selection.  You can tinker with sets, reps, rest intervals, training frequency, tempo, range-of-motion, and a host of other factors.
e. Have you used a strength and conditioning program written by a qualified coach? He or she may see the same equipment through a different lens than you do. 

These are surely just ten of countless factors that one can cite when it comes to sustaining performance over the long haul, and I’m sure that they’ll change as I get older.  With that said, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section: what factors have contributed to you making (or sustaining) progress with your strength and conditioning programs?

Looking for a program to take the guesswork out of your programming?  Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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The Superset Survival Guide

Written on October 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm, by Eric Cressey

I’ve come to realize that over the past 13 years in strength and conditioning, I’ve gotten a little spoiled. Many of my readers are some of the more educated weight-training consumers on the ‘Net. I’ve been around Division 1 athletes who have four years of strength and conditioning continuity in their lives. I’ve lifted alongside world-class powerlifters. And, now, I have a host of athletes at Cressey Performance who are completely “indoctrinated” with my training philosophies, as it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.

So, I guess you could say that I’ve become a bit of a lifting snob in the sense that I assume I’m always surrounded by people who know how to interpret my programs, leaving me to just program, coach technique, help select weights, and turn up the volume on the stereo.

I came to the realization that I was just in a fantasyland, though, when my second book, Maximum Strength, was published in June of 2008.

This book, which had a bit more “mass market” flavor than the overwhelming majority of my work, was being sold online and in bookstores from Idaho to Thailand – and many of the people buying it were Average Joes who didn’t know how to interpret the programs I’d written. One question that I received in about 50 different emails sticks out in my mind:

“I’ve recently purchased your book and have a quick question related to the training schedules. I see the “A1 and A2″ / “B1 and B2″ designations, but am not sure I fully understand if I’m supposed to alternate the exercises that day (for example, do a set of one-arm DB push press and then do a set of close-grip chin-up and cycle through to complete 3 sets each) or am I supposed to pick one exercise for week 1 and then choose the other exercise in week 2?”

The answer, as the overwhelming majority of my readers knows, is that A1 and A2 indicates a superset. You go back and forth between the two (in all weeks), and once you’ve completed A1 and A2, you move on to B1 and B2, then C1 and C2, and so on. So, you do all the exercises in all the weeks. The idea is pretty simple:

Supersetting makes your training far more efficient.

So, rather than doing a set of bench presses and then standing around for two minutes before the next set, you superset the bench presses with a variation of rows or a flexibility exercise, for instance. You increase training density, and can use the pairings to bring up weak areas.

All that said, we know superset training works; it might be one of the few things that the overwhelming majority of strength coaches and personal trainers agree on, in fact! However, I often see poor choices in terms of exercise pairings in the lay population. For instance, you’ll often see people supersetting walking dumbbell lunges and chin-ups, both of which are pretty grip-intensive. As such, I thought it’d be a good time to throw out some of my favorite supersets.

1. The “Regular Ol’ Push-Pull” Superset

This is probably where we’ve come to recognize the value of supersets more than anywhere else. Do a set of presses, and instead of just waiting 2-3 minutes to go back to another set of presses, we go to a pull in the middle. Let’s look at what this works out to over the course of five sets, assuming a two-minute rest between sets and a duration of thirty seconds between sets:

Option A – Just “Press ‘n Wait”
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
Total Time: 10 minutes, 30 seconds

Option B – Pairing a press and a pull with a “moderate” rest between push and pull
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
Total Time: 14 minutes

Effectively, you’ve doubled your training density while only investing 33% more time. And, if you cut the rest intervals down to 45s between the end of a press set and start of the pull set, you actually keep the rest between sets of presses the same as you did in Option 1 and be down to 11 minutes, 45 seconds. You don’t have to be an economist – or even a graduate of the 6th grade – to know that this is a wise training investment. “More work in less time” holds merit in lifting heavy stuff just like it does in the business world.

The logical next question is, of course, what kind of “pushes” and “pulls?” It’s a pretty easy division to make, via four categories:

1. Vertical Push (overhead pressing)
2. Vertical Pull (chin-up/pull-up variations, lat pulldowns)
3. Horizontal Push (bench press and push-up variations)
4. Horizontal (rowing variations)

Pair the vertical pushes with the vertical pulls, and horizontal pushes with the horizontal pulls. And, if you’re feeling frisky, you can pair horizontal pushes with vertical pulls, or horizontal pulls with vertical pushes. Your imagination is the only limit.

A word of advice: you’ll never get completely perfect antagonist relationships. For example, the long head of the triceps is going to be at least somewhat active in every one of these variations because it is both a shoulder extensor (pull-ups and rows) and an elbow extensor (all presses). The long head of the biceps flexes both the shoulder (all presses) and elbow (pull-ups and rows) on top of contributing to shoulder joint stability in all tasks. Your rotator cuff is going crazy in all these movements.

In short, consider gross movement schemes and try to avoid blatantly obvious overlap in muscle recruitment, but don’t get bogged down in minutia when selecting your pairings.
 

 2. The “True Mark of Your Common Sense” Superset

Without further ado, here it is:

A1) Deadlift variation
A2) Heavy panting!

I throw this in here simply because I want people to realize that not everything in your training needs to be supersetted with another exercise. Sometimes standing around – or at the very most, doing an unrelated stretch or easy mobilization – is exactly what you want. I once heard about a trainer who supersetted back squats with stiff-leg deadlifts. This less-than-enlightened individual overlooked the fact that:

a) both exercises heavily tax the posterior chain
b) both movements absolutely destroy you – which just might compromise technique
c) intervertebral discs – and not just muscles and the nervous system – are relaxing between sets, too.

There are, however, a few ways to make the downtime between deadlift sets more productive…

3. The “Stiff Ankle” Superset

We do all our deadlifting variations without shoes on at Cressey Performance, as this allows athletes to keep the weight on the heels to better activate the posterior chain. It also brings the lifter closer to the ground, so hip mobility deficits can’t interfere with getting down to the bar without a rounded back.

Being shoeless also lends itself well to working on some ankle mobility, as being in sneakers typically gives us a false sense of good range of motion at this joint, so a low-key filler between deadlifts is ankle mobility work:

A1) Deadlift variation
A2) Ankle mobilization of your choice

Knee-break ankle mobilizations are one option. Here, the goal is to keep the heel down while going into dorsiflexion (knee over toe); don’t allow the knees to deviate inward or the toes to turn out, though.

4. The “Front Squat/Vertical Pull” Superset

It’s a bit easier to superset squats with other movements than deadlifts – but only in specific cases, such as…

A1) Front Squat Variation
A2) Vertical Pull Variation

As I mentioned in my article Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns, the lats are anatomically less effective as spinal stabilizers during the front squat, which accounts for some of the discrepancy between one’s front squat and back squat. If we’re not using them as much in stabilization for the front squat, we might as well use them for actually generating movement.

For variation, you can squat to various depths, from pins or a box, or against bands/chains. With the vertical pull, you have several grip choices (neutral/supinated/pronated/alternate, and plus different grip widths).

As you get stronger and stronger, though, pairing anything with a squat can get to be a pain in the butt. With that in mind, one substitute we’ve used is pairing reverse lunges with a front squat grip with any of the vertical pulling variations – and just extended the rest time a bit.

You can also use any of a number of other lunge variations that use a bar (dumbbells won’t work because of the grip challenge). We use the giant cambered bar a lot, for instance:

5. The Unilateral Superset

I get quite a few questions about how to plug single-leg exercises into supersets.

A1) Single-leg Exercise – side #1
A2) Single-leg Exercise – side #2

I structure programs this way because I want people to rest between sides on these movements. Grips falter, scapular stabilizers get fatigued, and there is always a bit of overlap from side to side on these movements. As such, I like to shoot for 30-45 seconds between sides – during which time people can regroup and focus on the quality of the next set instead of rushing right into it.

That said, we generally pair our lower body work with some kind of core stability or mobility drill. So, I guess it would technically be treated like a triset (or quad-set, if one of these drills is performed on each side). Examples might be:

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #1
A2) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #2
A3) Stability Ball Rollouts

or…

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #1
A2) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #2
A3) Split-Stance Cable Lift – side #1
A4) Split-Stance Cable Lift – side #2

Of course, to keep things less cumbersome, I’d simply write these up as:

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges
A2) Split-Stance Cable Lift

Anyway, moving on…

6. The “Miserable Lower Body Experience” Superset

As I noted above, one of the problems I see with a ton of lower body superset is that they combine complex exercises like squats and deadlifts with other fatiguing exercises – and as a result, the squat and/or deadlift form because absolutely atrocious and potentially injurious. From my perspective, effective lower body pairings are safe, but sufficiently compound and functional enough to activate enough muscle mass and have some functional carryover to the real world.

I know most of you won’t have a sled or a glute-ham raise at your disposal, but I’m throwing this out there anyway, as it makes for a great finisher at the end of a lower body day:

A1) Reverse Sled Drags
A2) Glute-Ham Raises

The reverse sled drags are about as quad dominant as you can go, and the glute-ham raises crush the posterior chain.  Don’t have a sled or glute-ham raise set-up, though? All you’ll need are a bench, a lat pulldown or seated calf raise, some balls, and a good stomach. You can instead pair dumbbell Bulgarian split squats with natural glute-ham raises. For the latter, just set up in reverse and lock your ankles under the pads, controlling yourself down slowly and (most likely) giving yourself a push off with your arms to get back to the top.

7. The “Miserable Upper Body Experience” Superset

Our entire staff trains together at Cressey Performance, and this pairing is widely recognized as the most brutal upper body superset we’ve ever done.

A1) Bench Press Clusters: 4 x (4×2) – 10s
A2) Farmer’s Walk: 4x80yds – but go as far as you can on the last set

For those of you who aren’t familiar with clusters, for 4 x (4×2) – 10s, this would be four total clusters. Each cluster consists of 4 sets of 2 reps with 10 seconds rest between sets. The idea is that by putting these “mini-rests” between sets of 2, you can use a heavier weight for your sets than if you’d just done eight straight reps. So, training is more dense (anyone notice a theme here?). All told, you might wind up doing 32 reps with as much as 85% of your 1-rep max.

After the cluster, of course, we went to A2, nearly vomited, and then came back to do another cluster. The first time four of us did this, there was a 25% attrition rate after the second round, and the remaining three of us made it through all four – but couldn’t lift our arms for about three days without yelping like chihuahuas giving birth.

To the naked eye (and stomach), this would just seem like torture, but whether we recognized it or not, we were onto something. Bench presses are a push and require some lower trap activation for a good “tucked” upper body positioning. Farmer’s walk are more of a pull and rely heavily on the upper traps. Lower traps depress the scapula, and upper traps elevate it.

8. The “Productive Rest during Plyos” Superset

We do a lot of medicine ball drills, jumping, and change-of-direction work with our athletes to develop power. With this type of training, it’s important to allow for adequate rest between sets, even if athletes don’t actually feel tired. To that end, we’ll often pair these drills up with some kind of mobility or activation drill, as it allows us to:

a) slow an athlete down
b) work on an inefficiency
c) shorten the learning loop (meaning that if we work on the inefficiency from “b,” we’ll best integrate those changes with compound exercises like medicine ball throws or jump training)

Here’s an example we might use for medicine ball training for an athlete with limited shoulder flexion and an excessive anterior pelvic tilt/lorsdosis:

A1) Step-Behind Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput: 3×3/side, 6lb

A2) Bench T-Spine Mobilizations: 3×8


 

B1) Recoiled Rollover Stomps to Floor: 3×4/side, 12lb


 

B2) Wall Slides with Overhead Shrug and Lift-off: 3×8

Of course, you can plug in just about anything for the A2 and B2 “fillers,” depending on what inefficiencies the athlete needs to address.

9. The “Where the Heck do I put Turkish Get-ups” Superset

The Turkish get-ups is one of the most big-bang exercises you can do; it offers great core and shoulder stability challenges while testing hip mobility in a fundamental movement pattern: transitioning from the supine to upright position. It does, however, often lead to confusion in program design, as folks sometimes struggle with determining where to put this exercise in strength training programs. On one hand, it’s a technically intensive exercise that you want to put first in a training day. On the other hand, it’s probably more of a “core” exercise than a true upper extremity loading drill, so one might be tempted to put it later in a training session. What to do?

Personally, I agree with the former approach. In fact, one of my favorite places to put them is as part of a A1/A2 pairing that also includes vertical pulling. The get-up is more of an approximation exercise at the shoulder, meaning that it pushes the humeral head (ball) back into the glenoid fossa (socket). Conversely, pull-up variations are traction exercises, meaning the ball is pulled away from the socket. So, a sample pairing might be:

A1) Weighted Chin-ups: 4×5
A2) 1-arm Kettlebell Turkish Get-ups: 4×3/side

10. The “Get Out of the Sagittal Plane” Superset

Let’s face it: traditional strength training is very sagittal plane dominant. However, when it comes to participating in sports or just encountering random things in everyday life, we have to be comfortable working in other planes of motion. And, specific to our baseball players, we need to make sure that our athletes are prepared for a sport that largely takes place in the frontal and transverse planes. And, that’s why I like this superset.

A1) Plate-Loaded Slideboard Lateral Lunges

A2) Wide-Stance Anti-Rotation Chop with Rope

With A1, you’re building some strength in the frontal plane while improving adductor length. If you don’t have a slideboard, you can throw a towel, furniture slider, or paper plate on a tile or wood floor. Or you can just do dumbbell goblet lateral lunges.

With the second drill, obviously, you’re working on rotary stability and getting some hip mobility at the same time. When you pair two drills like this up, you’ll find that the core stability work helps to make the transient improvements in hip mobility “stick” a little better.

Supersetting My Closing Thoughts

A1) Your imagination really is your primary limit with respect to coming up with supersets you can use. Just stick to the basics and don’t get cute.

A2) Remember that good pairings are both safe and appropriate in light of your goals (e.g., not pairing two grip intensive exercises).

B1) Don’t forget that there is absolutely a time and place for rest, and it is usually better to “casually alternate” between sets, as opposed to raising back and forth.

B2) Just because I am showing you a way to make your training more dense and efficient does not mean that you should go ahead and start doing 50 sets per training session just so that you can continue to spend three hours in the gym. Keep it short and sweet.

C1) Good luck.

C2) Thanks for reading.

Looking for a comprehensive resource to take the guesswork out of your programming? Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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How to Train Harder and Smarter Without a Power Rack

Written on October 5, 2012 at 6:14 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: Unfortunately, my gym doesn’t have a power rack.  I don’t want my strength training program to completely fall to pieces without it.  Any ideas?

A: First off, in most cases, you have the option of finding a new gym – even if it just means driving a bit further and buying a day pass for the day of the week that you’d need a power rack for one or more of your strength exercises.  Of course, all this additional planning can throw you for a loop if you’ve already got a busy schedule.

Luckily, this is something we addressed in the “Exercise Modifications” chapter of Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, so there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel!

This is a common limitation that is surprisingly easy to work around in your training. To be honest, the only components you’ll miss are squatting, barbell overhead pressing (and push presses), and barbell incline pressing (this, of course, assumes that you have a flat bench press set-up).

You might also be surprised to know that we actually have quite a few athletes who we don’t allow to squat because of functional (e.g., poor thoracic spine mobility, short hip flexors) or structural (e.g., rigid ankle anatomy, femoroacetabular impingement) mobility limitations.  These athletes rely predominantly on extra deadlifting variations and plenty of extra single-leg work. My personal favorites for replacing squatting variations are barbell lunge and split-squat variations because they provide the benefits of axial loading.  If you’re strong enough to clean the weight up and get it into position, you can do these for higher reps and get a good training effect.

Unfortunately, without a power rack in place, it’s tough to set up for these single-leg variations.  Fortunately,  you can also use variations where dumbbells are held at the sides and still get appreciable loading.  Heavy sled pushes can also provide variety, if you have access to the appropriate equipment; the only downside is that you don’t get much of an eccentric stress challenge.

So, a “typical” lower body training session for someone with no power rack might include sumo deadlifts, walking dumbbell lunges, and barbell supine bridges.  Even if you aren’t squatting, you’re still getting a hefty lower body challenge.

With respect to barbell overhead pressing, simply replace it with dumbbell overhead pressing, or have two training partners hand the bar up to you so that you can receive it in the “rack” position. Incline pressing can be replaced with either dumbbell pressing from this position or a flat bench press variation.

To take the guesswork out of your programming as you take your training to a new level, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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How to Deadlift When You Can’t Pull from the Floor with Good Form

Written on September 9, 2012 at 10:44 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that I’m a big fan of deadlift variations, as they’re among the most “big-bang” exercises you can do to get a ton of return on your training “investment.”  That said, not everyone can conventional deadlift safely from the floor because of mobility restrictions or the way they’re built.  With that in mind, I thought I’d outline some solutions to this common deadlift technique problem in today’s blog.  This post is actually modified from the Show and Go main guide, which features a comprehensive exercise modifications chapter for those with limitations along these lines.

The solution to this dilemma is actually a multi-faceted one. First, if you aren’t deadlifting barefoot or in flat-soled sneakers, start; it’ll make a big difference in your ability to get down to the bar. 

For those looking for a specific recommendation, I’m a big fan of the New Balance Minimus for those who can’t go barefoot in the gym.

Second, if you’re basing your frustrations on your conventional deadlift mobility, try sumo deadlifts to see if things improve. I’ve found that many individuals with longer femurs can sumo deadlift without a problem, but conventional deadlifts give them fits. Effectively, with a sumo deadlift, you pull between your legs instead of over the top/outside of them.

In reality, for these folks, we use rack pull, trap bar, and sumo deadlift variations – but rarely (if ever) conventional deadlifting from the floor.  They need to work on deadlift technique a lot before they get to this final progression.

Third, if moving to a different deadlift variation doesn’t help, simply elevate the bar on risers or plates to the point where you can position yourself in the bottom position without a rounded back.

Work on building up your strength from this position and attack your mobility warm-ups with consistency, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to work your way down to the floor eventually.

Also, one more important note I should make is that just being able to get down to the floor with good posture does not mean that you actually have good deadlift technique.  It takes time to integrate this mobility as part of a proper deadlift – and this is done with submaximal loading, not just jumping to 500 pounds.  So, start with lighter weights and gradually work your way up.  I really like speed work in the 40-60% of 1RM zone as a teaching tool for “aspiring” conventional deadlifters.  Do 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps.

Give these tips a try and you’ll be deadlifting in one form or another safely for the long haul!  And, don’t forget to check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, a great resource for those looking to clean up their deadlift technique and start moving some bigger weights.

 

 

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