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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/25/14

Written on March 25, 2014 at 6:29 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's collection of recommended reading, with a Cressey Performance flavor to it.  I grabbed dinner with a bunch of our Marlins, Cardinals, and Mets guys last night in Florida, so it seemed like only the right thing to kick things off with some baseball stuff!

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Draft Q&A: Eric Cressey, Part 1 – I was interviewed last week by Baseball America on the topics of MLB draft preparation, long-term athletic development, and some of our client success stories.  Be sure to also check out Part 2, as there are some great lessons in here, regardless of whether you work with baseball players or not.

CP Client Spotlight: Meet Stacie! – Here's a great story of a CP client who's made some awesome progress training at CP.  Stacie proves that Cressey Performance isn't just for baseball players!

Are You Foam Rolling All Wrong? – In this Daily Burn interview, CP massage therapist and strength and conditioning coach Chris Howard weighs in on the topic of foam rolling.

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6 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Strength and Conditioning Program

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

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

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

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

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

Who?

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

When?

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

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

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

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

Lastly, when will you be working with this athlete?

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

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

Where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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How?

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

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

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

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

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/17/14

Written on March 17, 2014 at 11:39 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Here's something to read while you're enjoying a pint of Guinness:

High-Protein Diets Linked to Cancer: Should You Be Concerned? – The good folks at Examine.com tackle this question that has come up in light of some questionable research that has recently been making the rounds in the mainstream media.  Also, as an aside, the Examine guys just put their Supplement-Goals Reference Guide on sale to celebrate three years since they were founded.  I'm a big fan of this resource, and at just $29, it's a tremendous resource.

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Baseball Injuries: What to Expect in the Coming Months – I wrote this piece two years ago, but the injury patterns haven't changed – aside from getting slightly worse!  You'll look at baseball injuries differently after reading it.

Love of Game, Family Fuels Seratelli's Quest – If you're looking for a guy for whom to cheer this season, make it Cressey Performance athlete Anthony Seratelli, who is in big league camp with the Mets.  This is a great story that keeps getting better with each passing year. Anthony actually lived with my wife and me for the month of January while he was up here training.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/3/14

Written on March 3, 2014 at 6:17 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy March, everyone.  I just got back from a weekend in Nashville to watch the Vanderbilt/Stanford baseball series, so I'm playing a bit of catch-up as I get back to the office.  Vanderbilt swept the series, and our Cressey Performance guys actually picked up wins in the Friday and Sunday games.  Here they (Tyler Beede and Adam Ravenelle) are with their vertically challenged strength coach.

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Luckily, I've got some great content from you nonetheless:

Interview with Eric Cressey – Mike Robertson just posted this interview with me.  We talk about several things, but the foremost one is my work with baseball players, and what makes this a unique population.

CP Client Spotlight: Meet Kat! – This is a great feature we ran on one of our adult clients, Kat Mansfield.  She talks about the progress she's made, what Cressey Performance means to her, and how it integrates with her regular yoga practice and instruction. This is something we'll be doing more and more moving forward, as a lot of people don't realize how many clients we train from other walks of life besides just baseball! We see them in bootcamp, semi-private, and personal training formats.

Course Notes: Explain Pain – Zac Cupples wrote up a fantastic review of a David Butler seminar he attended. There are several "one-liners" in here that will resound with you over and over again.

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Strength Training Programs: 3 Habits to Make You a Better Lifter

Written on February 12, 2014 at 7:35 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Andrew Zomberg.  Andrew's a fantastic coach and a great writer, so you'll be seeing much more about him around here in the future!
 

Habitual behavior happens unconsciously and compulsively. Daily activities like brushing your teeth or setting your alarm before bed are programmed into your brain simply because of the repetitive nature in which you carry out these actions.  You want to create the same kind habitual behavior in your lifting routine. But, building these habits requires specificity. In other words, it is not enough to say, “I want to be a more efficient lifter.” This big goal needs to be broken down into small, specific behaviors in order to make the change attainable.

Below are three important habits to establish in your lifting routine. These behaviors will pave the way to efficiency. Just know, reinforcing them will take time. According to a 2009 study from London’s University College, it takes 66 days to successfully adopt a new habit.  What does this mean? At first, you will have to work hard at implementing them into your lifting routine – so don’t get discouraged! Eventually, these habits will become second nature, and you will incorporate them without even thinking about it.

1. Create structure. Structure provides a baseline to achieve your fitness goals. By planning things out and establishing a purpose to be at the gym, you can ensure quality and consistency in your workouts. Structure also makes it easier to stick to a program long-term. But planning requires effort and discipline, especially in the preparation phase. To make structure and organization a habit, aim to:

  • Write everything down. This includes the load (amount of weight lifted), any modifications (regressions, progressions, etc.), and the settings (cable column adjustments, hand placements, stance, etc.). It is not practical to remember exactly what you did last week, so take the guesswork out. Keeping track of your workouts is also highly motivational. Tracking your progress provides positive feedback and reminds you just how hard you are working to attain the end goal.
     
  • Execute the program without deviation. Program designs are created for a reason. Exercise choice and exercise order aren’t just arbitrary recommendations that can be ignored. Sure, warm-ups can be boring, and of course it is easier to do a lat pull down than a chin-up, but there are no shortcuts to speed, strength and growth. So, stick to the plan!
     
  • Improve your accountability to minimize hiccups in your programming. If you have a work commitment, schedule your training session around it. If you have an injury, find a way to safely work out. If you often make excuses to skip a weekend workout, train with a partner to increase your accountability to get the gym.

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2.  Improve the proficiency of each lift. Awareness is underrated in fitness. Take single-leg work, for instance. Many “lungers” allow their knee to translate too far forward, which yields premature heel lift. Unbeknownst to their knowing, this redistributes the stress to unwanted areas and simply doesn’t target the intended areas (the hamstrings and glutes). It is so important to hone in on proper technique to ensure stability, proper body alignment, movement quality, and of course, safety. In order to improve proficiency in your programming, make a habit to:

  • Learn the right way to do each exercise. There are plenty of experts in the field who have mastered specific lifts from whom you can learn. However, please keep an open mind. Do not get caught up with just one individual. By learning from several enthusiasts, you are exposed to many different physical and verbal cues that will help perfect your lifts.
     
  • Practice lifts and all of their steps. There are several key components of a lift, including (but not limited to) the set-up, the tempo of the ascent/decent, and the lockout of the movement. Do not race through exercises. Take the time to execute the movements in their entirety in order to maximize results.
     
  • Figure out the limiting factors. These factors may include, mobility or stability restraints, lack of kinesthetic awareness or a pre-existing injury that is preventing the proper execution of a movement. There are several ways to reveal these issues.  Watch videos. Work with a training partner. Get assessed by a trained professional, like an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor. It is essential to address limiting factors because if you continue to perform in faulty movements, they will become ingrained, which prohibits growth and could eventually lead to further injury.

3.  Add variations to programs and exercises. Variations are different ways of executing movements to increase or decrease the level of difficulty, eliminate monotony or simply expand your existing knowledge base. Adding variety to your programming will not only create the necessary adaptations for growth, but it will also enhance your level of expertise in specific lifts. Variations are effective on a monthly basis. To add variations in your programs, strive to:

  • Manipulate the volume. Changing your reps and sets by either adding more or less weight in your current program will provide the muscular disturbances needed for noticeable and consistent growth.
     
  • Add more exercises to your toolbox. Your muscles will not get stronger unless you force them to do so. By utilizing different exercises, you impose new stresses to the body, eliminating monotony and allowing for adaptation. This change leads to an endless list of benefits, including the improvement of cardiovascular health, the enhancement of body composition, and the development of quality of movement.
     
  • Play around with additional training variables. Alter your base of support (stance), create new ranges of motion (deficits or partials), adjust your grip placement or modify your tempo.  Changing the variables not only warrants growth, but also helps you avoid plateaus.  Remember, repetition allows the body to adapt to the repetitive motions, so mix it up – on a monthly basis!

Andrew Zomberg is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance.  You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewZomberg.

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The Best of 2013: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on December 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm, by Eric Cressey

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2013 at EricCressey.com:

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

Installment 28
Installment 48
Installment 33
Installment 37
Installment 47

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

Installment 5
Bench Press Edition
Installment 6
Installment 7

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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

Installment 1
Installment 2

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

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/23/13

Written on December 23, 2013 at 10:16 am, by Eric Cressey

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

Squatting and Pulling with the Taller Lift - I always enjoy Charlie Weingroff's writing, even though it doesn't come frequently.  This was an excellent piece that reflects a lot of my own views on training taller athletes; just because a guy is taller doesn't mean you blindly contraindicate movements with him.

Is Post-Exercise Muscular Soreness a Valid Indicator of Muscular Adaptation – This is a great review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal from Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras, and it covers a topic that has long been debated in training circles. 

9 Tips for Consistent Workouts – This is a solid article from Charles Staley, and it's timely, in light of how many New Year's Resolutions folks will fall off the bandwagon in the next 6-8 weeks.

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Better Movement from the Inside Out

Written on October 23, 2013 at 7:14 am, by Eric Cressey

I have attended a lot of great seminars during my time in the strength and conditioning field.  In the early days, I’d walk away with a lot of valuable information that I could immediately apply. It was almost like drinking from a fire hose!

Interestingly, as the years went on, I took less and less from seminars – in spite of the fact that the fitness field was a rapidly evolving industry, with new research emerging every single day.  The reason for this is very simple: as the industry developed, so did my knowledge – which means I had developed a better filter to separate what was useful from what wasn’t a good fit for my clients.

As a result, when I attend seminars now, I’m psyched to walk away with one or two things – however small – that we can immediately apply with our clients. And, if I come across something that does more than that, it’s a game changer.

For me, the concept of working from the inside out – or proximal to distal – has been exactly that.  Since it's a recurring theme in the program in my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd use today's post to go into a bit more detail.

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Simply stated, this means that you get things right in the core before working on what’s going on with the extremities.  It seems so basic, but it’s something that’s been missed by loads of fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists for a long time.  Why stretch a shoulder or the hamstrings if you haven’t taken into consideration where the lumbar spine is positioned?

This wasn’t just one part of a seminar, though; it was a theme that kept emerging on a number of fronts. 

First, the research demonstrated that training core stability improved hip internal rotation.  That’s right; you don’t have to stretch someone into internal rotation to improve it. Just get people to "neutral" and then stay there while training, and good things happen.

Then, I checked out some of the Postural Restoration Institute seminars, applied some of their positional breathing principles, and saw athletes gain more than 30° of shoulder internal rotation without me even touching their shoulders.  Their hip internal rotation improved, and they were able to adduct and extend the hips more effectively. 

Seeing these changes in action was awesome, but at the same time, they were moments that made me think “why didn’t I ever think of this before?”  It’s just a matter of restoring proper alignment with breathing and adequate core recruitment to facilitate that breathing. When alignment is “on,” protective tension doesn’t have to kick in.

If you stretch and you’re out of alignment, you get instability.  If you strengthen and you’re out of alignment, you shift more stress to passive restraints (which may create more instability) and you get overuse injuries.

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Working proximal-to-distal is a theme you see in all our warm-ups and the way that we approach arm care with our athletes.  If you establish “good stiffness” early on, warming-up the entire rest of the body becomes a much more efficient process, as you aren’t just reaffirming bad patterns. 

As I noted, this proximal-to-distal approach is also heavily emphasized in my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, in the assessment portions, programs, and detailed exercise technique videos.  Regardless of whether you’re looking for some direction in your own training or in your work with clients, this will be a "clutch" resource to which you’ll refer for years to come.

It's on sale at a great introductory price through the end of the week; you can pick it up here.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/20/13

Written on September 20, 2013 at 7:36 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Insider Secrets to Movement Prep – This is a new "compilation" product from all of us at Elite Training Mentorship.  It's a series of videos from all the guys – me, Mike Robertson, Tyler English, Vaughn Bethell, Dave Schmitz, Steve Long, and Jared Woolever – who regularly contribute on this membership site.  If you have questions about planning a training, practice, or competition warm-up, this is a great resource for you.  The package includes 10 videos, plus several articles and exercise demonstrations.  It's on sale today through Sunday for just $29.95.

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9 Great Ideas to Improve Your Workouts – Everyone loves Dan John – and rightfully so: his articles are always great.  This one was no exception.

Who Says You Can't Get After it After 80? – This was a fun blog post from my business partner, Tony Gentilcore, about a client of ours who is over the age of 80 and still crushing it in the weight room. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/31/13

Written on August 31, 2013 at 6:14 am, by Eric Cressey

It's a bit belated in light of my traveling schedule, but here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Research Review: Older and Inflamed? Try Exercise – This was a thorough, yet understandable review of some recent research on inflammation as it relates to exercise, courtesy of the good folks at Precision Nutrition.

Training Speed to Get Strong – I wrote this article for T-Nation just over two years ago, and the information is still very on-point and important for intermediate to advanced lifters to understand.  I just didn't want it to slip into internet obscurity, so I'm bumping it up here.

Giving up the PED Guessing Game – This was one of the absolute best perspectives on the performance enhancing drugs debate, as it was written by Gabe Kapler, a former player who has been very outspoken in discussing why he decided to stay clean throughout his career. I think it's a particular good perspective because Kapler also managed in the minor leagues and mentored a lot of younger players – and because he was a heavy fitness and nutrition enthusiast himself.

I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend!

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