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Are You Changing Behaviors with Motivation, Ease, or Both?

Written on May 8, 2015 at 8:23 pm, by Eric Cressey

I recently finished up the audio edition of the book, The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behavior, by Adam Ferrier.

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It was a good "listen" that included a lot of strategies to create behavioral changes - and all of these strategies fell under two broader headings. If you want to change a behavior, you either need to a) increase the motivation to change or b) make it easier to change.

My mind, of course, immediately began to race as I thought about all the different ways this applies to individuals' success (or lack thereof) in strength and conditioning programs. There are countless examples of how we can impact both variables to improve outcomes in the fitness world. Let’s take a look at a few.

Motivation

Encouraging athletes to train as part of a group, or having clients work with trainers/coaches definitely increases motivation. Someone is always waiting for you, so you’ll be more motivated to avoid missing training sessions.

Likewise, running challenges or contests can be very motivating for clients, as there may be a prize – or even just bragging rights – at stake.

I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people who purchased The High Performance Handbook have gotten great results not just because it's a good program, but because actually spending money on it increases the likelihood that they'll work really hard on the program!

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Ease

To be clear, ease doesn’t refer to making the actual training easy. Rather, it refers to incorporating strategies that make it easier for clients to behave in ways that will achieve a great training effect. We really don’t want to lower the standard; instead, we want the client/athlete to realize that the standard is achievable with the right approaches.

Having more flexible scheduling options may make it easier for clients to remain adherent to their programs. For instance, my wife loves to take part in the Strength Camps at Cressey Sports Performance, but the sleeping/eating schedule for our twins can sometimes be very erratic. Luckily, there are classes every hour from 5:30AM to 10:30AM every MoWeFr, so she can make game-time decisions on which one she attends.

Incorporating a body weight only (or minimal equipment) home workout into a client’s training program may also make it easier for that individual to get a training effect. Many exercisers can get overwhelmed if they think that every session mandates a lot of equipment, an actual gym, and plenty of time.

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These are just a few examples of how modifications to motivation and ease can quickly yield favorable outcomes in strength and conditioning programs. If you’re struggling to get the results you want – either for yourself or your clients/athletes – start by looking at these variables. Manipulating one or both may lead to the behavior changes you need to take progress to the next level.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 9

Written on April 30, 2015 at 8:16 am, by Eric Cressey

With only a day to spare, here's the April edition of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training.

1. Don't forget pauses can be beneficial with single-leg training, too.

Working pauses into your lifting can yield tremendous benefits, as they reduce contribution of the stretch-shortening cycle and force a lifter to work much harder to produce force from a dead-stop. For some reason, though, they usually only get applied to "big bang" bilateral exercises like squats, bench presses, and (obviously) deadlifts. I actually really like to program pauses into single-leg work to improve carryover to what athletes really encounter in athletics and the real world. Here's an example:

2. Try the 1-arm cable rotational row from a low setting.

I love incorporating rotational rows in our athletes' programming. Many coaches only program this as an upright variation where the cable is set at chest height. I think this overlooks the importance of athletes learning how to "accept" force on that front hip. Hip rotation rarely occurs in isolation in athletics; rather, it is generally concurrent with flexion/extension and abduction/adduction. By lowering the cable a bit, you challenge things in a bit more of a sport-specific manner - and, in the process, add some variety to your athletes' programs.

3. Make sure put your intensive rotator cuff work after your overhead work.

I recently reviewed a program that paired Turkish get-ups with cable external rotations. While both are great exercises, the last thing you want to do is fatigue the rotator cuff before you go overhead, where it needs to work really hard to keep the humeral head depressed relative to the glenoid fossa. Likewise, be careful about doing all your cuff stuff early in the session, then progressing to overhead carries later. My feeling is that you just do enough to turn the cuff on during the warm-up, then train your highest stabilization demands (e.g., overhead supporting/carrying), and then head to the more direct (fatigue producing) stuff.

4. Different strength qualities make different athletes successful.

We have two athletes - both left-handed pitchers - make Major League Baseball debuts this week. The first, Jack Leathersich, is a relief pitcher for the New York Mets, and he just has one of those insanely "quick arms." In other words, it's almost as if he doesn't know how to throw a ball softly; it really jumps out of his hand. I think it's a function of his natural "reactive ability."

The second, Tim Cooney, is getting a start in his big league debut today for the St. Louis Cardinals.  He's not as naturally reactive as Jack is, but you could make the case that Tim is the strongest pound-for-pound professional pitcher we train. I've seen him do Turkish get-ups with a 100-pound kettlebell, and walking lunges with the heaviest dumbbells in the gym. He can make up for less reactive proficiency by falling back more on pure strength. I think this "strength reserve" also helps Tim as a starter, whereas reactive capabilities tend to fall off as fatigue sets in, which is probably why Jack has thrived as a reliever.

This static-spring relationship closely parallels the absolute strength to absolute speed one I shared in the past.

The more "static" guys are strong and need more reactive training, which largely takes place on the speed end of the continuum. The more "spring" guys need to keep prioritizing strength as a foundation for effective stretch-shortening cycle function, as you can't display force quickly if you don't have enough force in the first place.

I'll be back soon with another installment during the month of May!

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How to Use the Stage System for Size, Strength, and Speed

Written on April 9, 2015 at 11:09 am, by Eric Cressey

The stage system is one of the most versatile programming strategies around.

Training for scary strength? It excels at that. Training to build size so you can upgrade those extra-medium T-shirts? It can be adjusted for hypertrophy. Want to get faster for sports? The stage system has you covered.

Read more...

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/7/15

Written on April 7, 2015 at 6:52 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm making the drive from Florida to Massachusetts over the next two days, so there won't be time for new content. However, I've got some awesome reads and a "listen" to hold you over until I have a chance to blog again:

You Don't Have to Do This - I loved this post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Greg Robins. It's imperative to separate ourselves from what our clients want for themselves and what we subconsciously (or consciously) want for our clients.

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Red Flags that You're Working Out Instead of Training - My buddy Tim DiFrancesco, the strength and conditioning coach for the Lakers, just got his blog up and running. He's already got some great content up and running, too!

Charlie Weingroff Integrates All Aspects of Performance - This was an excellent podcast with Charlie at EliteFTS.com.

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15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on April 1, 2015 at 6:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies. You can check it out HERE for $50 off this week.

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That said, let's get to the random thoughts...

1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.

There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!

2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?

3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability." 

4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:

5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.

6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).

7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.

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8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.

You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?

My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.

What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.

The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.

9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.

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10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.

When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.

When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.

So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."

11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.

If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.

12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.

That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.

13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing these competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.

With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.

14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:

a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat

Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.

15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!

If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!

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Repetition vs. Randomness: Which Will Get You Fit Faster?

Written on March 12, 2015 at 9:38 am, by Eric Cressey

In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal goes to great lengths to discuss the various factors that make consumers fall in love with certain offerings. One factor he highlights in great depth is novelty - or randomness..

As an example, Eyal talks about how we never get tired of our email because we know that each time we check it, there are going to be 100% unique messages waiting for us. Each new email experience may bring noteworthy news, new challenges, different emotions, or just a quick break from the "real" world in which we live. Checking our emails - even if we do so hundreds of times per day - always brings novelty. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media websites and apps are all endlessly novel, too.

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Conversely, think about the game Farmville (yes, that annoying Facebook game for which you always get invites). In spite of small variations to the user experience, the game is always the same - and that's why people play it for hours on end - but ultimately give it up after a few weeks. The novelty wears off.

We can find similar parallels all across our daily lives. There's a reason so many people tune in to watch a reality TV show about the Kardashians; they say dumb things, fight a lot, and spend money on extravagant crap...to create novelty. Sorry, but a reality TV show about an accountant who pretty much does the same thing every day really doesn't drive ratings through the roof; it's just not at all novel.

Maybe you have a favorite restaurant because they have different weekly specials, whereas other spots don't rotate the menu. You probably have that one friend you adore because he/she always overreacts to things, gets easily flustered, or says the most random things - all of which provide endless entertainment value. Maybe you read this website because I make it seem random by talking about everything from training, to corrective exercise, to nutrition, to sports performance, to business, to my kids and dog.

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This randomness also has a place in fitness. Novelty is one factor that makes Crossfit popular; each workout is different, and that randomness can improve exercise adherence. Randomness also accounts for some of the success folks have working out with friends and training partners; your social experience for each training session is different when you have familiar faces with whom you interact (as opposed to working out by yourself in silence).

It goes without saying, however, that your entire program can't be random. Research has demonstrated time and time again that any periodization is better than no periodization at all with respect to improving a variety of fitness qualities. You need repetition to initially learn movement patterns, build strength and power on top of them, and - just as importantly - quantify these improvements. And, you need to plan to ensure that a training effect is achieved at an appropriate rate while reducing the risk of injury. It's an old adage, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

How, then, do we reconcile this need for repetition with our conscious and subconscious tendencies toward randomness, which likely actually improve exercise adherence? This reconciliation begins by recognizing the following:

All successful strength and conditioning outcomes are derived from a blend of repetition and randomness.

This is the classic discussion of strength and conditioning program design combining art (randomness/novelty) and science (repetition). It's important to note that there is an inverse relationship between randomness and motivation (but not necessarily training experience).

The lower the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for randomness to keep exercise engaging. This is working out.

The higher the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for repetition to deliver a specific physiological effect. This is training.

To somewhat arbitrarily assign percentages, lower motivation folks (who are generally - but not always - beginning exercisers) might need 80% randomness and 20% repetition. The best coaches can usually push that 20% up substantially by disguising repetition as "fun" that might seem random. This is particularly important in working with very young athletes; you want repetition, but with variety. Different drills might teach the same movement skills. As an example, are these two drills actually delivering dramatically different training outcomes (besides the fact that I don't have a cool beard in my video)? Probably not.

Conversely, higher motivation folks - and athletes seeking out a specific training effect - can afford less deviation from the plan for randomness. Sorry, but if your goal is to throw a baseball 100mph, an off-season of cycling 100 miles per day isn't going to get you closer to that goal, even if you do enjoy it. Specificity matters.

However, we can't ignore the need for novelty in high-motivation trainees and athletes' program. There has to be some randomness included to avoid boredom in training programs. To me, there are five great ways to do this:

1. Incorporate another sport - Get your athletes out for some ultimate frisbee, or even just play tag instead of movement/sprint training. We worked this in with our pro baseball guys this off-season and it was a big hit. Just make sure the options you choose aren't high-risk for the athletes in question.

2. Add finishers - You never want to overuse finishers, but they can be awesome motivators and team builders, when done in groups. Perhaps most importantly, they take place after the primary training effect has already been accomplished. Just make sure not to overdo it and impose too much fatigue in a single session.

3. Implement new training equipment - You don't have to go out and buy an entire new gym of equipment; rather, simple changes can make a big difference. Draping chains over someone's back instead of using bands for loading push-ups is enough variety for some athletes. Throwing a Fat Gripz on a dumbbell provides a different training stimulus without overhauling your programs. These are just a few examples.

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4. Get in a different training environment - This goes hand-in-hand with option #1 from above, but just getting outside of your "typical" gym setting can be a great change of pace. Some of my best training sessions ever have taken place when I've been on the road and lifted at either friends' gyms or even random commercial gyms. These new locations might offer different training equipment, or you might even find extra focus lifting in a place where you don't know anyone (this is especially true for me, as it's very easy to get distracted training in a gym that may be filled with your clients!). Heck, this 616-pound deadlift was in Slovenia after I'd delivered a full two-day seminar!

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5. Different conditioning workouts - It's generally much easier to quickly quantify improvements in strength than it is to do so with conditioning. For that reason, the strength portion of your programs may be best suited for the "repetition" aspect of your training, whereas the conditioning (unless you're a competitive endurance athlete) is a good place to implement some randomness. As an example, I lift four days a week and do some form of "conditioning" on two other days. This conditioning might be rowing, sprinting, the Airdyne, the slideboard, barbell complexes, body weight circuits, kettlebell medleys, or any of a number of other options. It's where I find some randomness and can still use exercise to clear my head - and I actually find that I feel better when I get more variety in movements during my conditioning work.

One resource to which I commonly refer on this front is Jen Sinkler. Last year, she introduced her extremely thorough (and entertaining) resource, Lift Weights Faster. Effectively, it gives you hundreds of innovative conditioning workouts to try out when you need some randomness (and good challenges) in your life. I probably refer to the original resource 3-4 times per month, and it actually provided some great ideas that we incorporated in programs for our clients (particularly in our morning group strength camps).

As such, you can imagine how excited I was when I heard she was introducing Lift Weights Faster 2, which debuted this week at a great introductory price. I've reviewed the product, and it's fantastic - including this conditioning session I did yesterday:

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This great discount ends tomorrow (Friday) at midnight, so don't delay on checking out this great collection of workouts and extensive exercise library. You can learn more HERE.

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Conditioning for Powerlifters (and Anyone Who Just Wants to Get Strong)

Written on March 10, 2015 at 9:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post is an interview orchestrated by Jen Sinkler, the creator of the expansive new conditioning resource, Lift Weights Faster 2.0. Enjoy! -EC

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Full disclosure: I didn’t actually expect to actually like powerlifting. I just wanted to experience it once, and to distract a training buddy who’s always trying to get the rest of us to enter triathlons. (No. Hey, look, something shiny and heavy!) Nonetheless, last August, I entered my first powerlifting meet, and to my surprise, I did like it. Very much. I liked it enough to enter a meet every two months for the past six months, bringing me to a total of four meets by February.

I followed lifting plans from fellow Movement Minneapolis coach Jennifer Blake, and during another training cycle I got coaching from big ole squatter Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems. Partly because I was so new to the specificity of powerlifting training and partly because my plans (which I adapted daily based on biofeedback) were on point, I saw dramatic improvement from meet to meet, regularly adding 25-35 pounds to my squat in the two months between competitions. It won’t always be like this, of course, but it sure is satisfying while it lasts. Also satisfying: I took home best overall female lifter in three of my four meets, and the trophies tend be exceedingly pointy and dangerous.

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What I didn’t do a tremendous amount of in those first four months of my powerlifting-specific training was conditioning. I could say I was worried about my gains, I suppose, but it’s more accurate to say I just needed to wrap my training sessions up in the interest of time, so conditioning was what got axed. Until late December, that is, when I started finalizing the pieces of my conditioning manual, Lift Weights Faster 2. That put me in the mood to play with lighter weights: to do more kettlebell and barbell circuits, to do sprint workouts and calisthenics. So…that’s what I did. And I’m pleased to say that not a gain was lost (and in fact, I continued to see improvements in all three lifts).

That’s because, when wielded well, conditioning is extremely useful for powerlifters. I’ve tapped two experts in the field to explain how and why you can incorporate it into your maximum-strength plan.

Intros to the Experts

julia1Julia Ladewski, CSCS, is a powerlifter and physique competitor who spent eight years as a Division I strength and conditioning coach and five in a private sports-performance facility. Julia now trains clients both online and at her husband's private training and powerlifting facility, The Region Barbell Club. She is a highly competitive and elite-level powerlifter, totaling 1102 at 132 pounds and 1085 at 123 pounds. She has been a member of Team EliteFTS since 2005, and regularly speaks at a number of conferences..

AlexVAlex Viada, CSCS, has over 12 years of experience coaching athletes, specializing in training powerlifters, triathletes, and military athletes. A graduate of Duke University (biochemistry) and a MS(c) in physiology, Alex spent eight years in clinical research and health-care consulting before transitioning to coaching full-time. His company, Complete Human Performance, has worked with nationally ranked and national-record-holding powerlifters and strongman competitors, Kona-qualifying triathletes, Boston qualifiers, and bodybuilders. He has attained (and maintained) an elite powerlifting total in the 220-pound class while competing in numerous endurance events -even ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons.

Sinkler: Is handling conditioning for powerlifters tricky? It seems a little like serving two masters — one that cares only about max strength, and one that cares more strength endurance.

Ladewski: Serving two masters is always difficult, but conditioning can be done year-round. Like any other sport that has in-seasons and off-seasons, you’ll vary your conditioning depending on where you are in your training and the importance of that conditioning to your goals.

Pounding some conditioning the day before a heavy squat session can definitely affect your training. But with careful planning, you can be well-conditioned, stay in your weight class, lose body fat, and still perform at a high level.

Viada: Handling conditioning for powerlifters is very tricky. Powerlifters fall on the extreme end of the pure strength spectrum, obviously. They view limit strength as the competition, or sport proficiency (and correctly so), with a far lesser emphasis on strength-endurance. Any sort of endurance or conditioning programming for them needs to be carefully introduced and needs to clearly show the lifter that the endurance training interferes minimally and has tangible benefits.

If there is one thing I would like to dispel, however, it’s the thought that endurance is a separate, unattainable dimension of athleticism for strength athletes. It’s just another dimension of athleticism that can exist together with strength. One doesn’t need to look much further than the NFL or Rugby League to see remarkably strong individuals with far-better-than-average conditioning. Athleticism needs to be viewed on a spectrum, not as a series of yes-or-no options.

Sinkler: Why is conditioning for powerlifters important? What purpose(s) does it serve?

Ladewski: Years ago, it was kind of a big joke for powerlifters to just get bigger and bigger to lift big weights. While there is some truth behind that, it's shifted a bit towards being strong, leaner and healthier. Aside from the health benefits that even the general population receives from conditioning (heart health, better bloodwork, and so on), powerlifters are finding that having a level of conditioning is beneficial for their training, as well.

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To be strong, one needs to be able to do a lot of work. More work requires a level of conditioning. If I do two sets of pushups and I'm completely spent and ready to call it a day, then my training — even for strength — will suffer. Of course there’s also the benefits of staying closer to your weight class, having less overall body fat, and having fewer achy joints.

Viada: Conditioning is important not only for general health, but is also important to sport itself. So why would a powerlifter look to improve aerobic conditioning? Can it help sport performance? The answer is (provided that deleterious effects can be minimized) an absolute yes.

Though powerlifting competition is a pure ATP/CP sport, recovery even over the course of a workout taps into aerobic systems heavily (for substrate replenishment and recovery between higher volume sets).

Improved aerobic capacity can lead towards greater overall work capacity and training volume, as well as faster recovery between sets.

Improvement in muscle glycogen stores and increased mitochondrial density would also greatly improve training quality (by allowing higher workout volume), and though event-day sport performance will not be directly impacted, more (and longer) quality training sessions are a major benefit.

Is aerobic training necessary for the powerlifter? No. But all else being equal, these positive effects are decidedly worthwhile for the majority of lifters, and I’m of the opinion that a lifter with superior aerobic capacity will have more productive training sessions than one who is absolutely exhausted after walking to the monolift.

Sinkler: Very well said. What kinds of conditioning activities do you program for your powerlifting clients? How do you include said activities without detracting from their powerlifting performance?

Ladewski: For powerlifting, I like to do a variety of things. Much of it depends on the individual, but sled dragging (upper and lower body work), prowler pushes and interval circuits work well. Bodyweight, high-rep band work, even kettlebell stuff works really well. Planning it around their regular strength work is important. as well. Don't underestimate walking, either. Brisk walking is great for powerlifters.

Viada: For strength athletes, I will often prescribe fast-paced rucking with moderate loads at low to moderate intensities, steady-state cycling or Airdyne, rowing, and aqua jogging (swimming tends to be a poor choice, as strength athletes often sink like rocks, and the additional shoulder mobility that swimming requires and develops can hurt strength and stability in pressing movements).

I also program circuit training for them, but there’s a tendency among powerlifters to go too high intensity on it. Lots of powerlifters load up too much weight and miss the benefit. So, I steer them away from circuit until they learn how to go low intensity. Once they learn to use less weight, it goes back in.

Sinkler: That makes sense. You mentioned that people often miss out on the benefit of circuit training. Talk a little more about that. And, how can circuit training, in particular, be used to develop greater work capacity?

Viada: This is actually a huge pain point for me in training athletes. We train a huge number of military athletes, fighters, obstacle-course racing competitors, CrossFit athletes, and the like, and we heavily utilize circuit training, though we’re often loathe to call it that. Circuit training, if properly implemented, has tremendous value in developing specific work capacity in certain movements, training individuals to perform while fatigued, building and developing “pacing” ability, and yes, even eliciting several positive cardiovascular adaptations.

That said, for athletes, circuit training should be specific — durations should be selected that are comparable to the demands of their sport, modalities and exercises should closely track movements and muscle groups the athletes need to develop strength-endurance in, and overall the emphasis should be on movement quality, not simply throwing a hodgepodge of different exercises at them.

For the general population, there’s greater flexibility, but I always come back to one point: there’s sometimes the sense that I dislike circuit training, but nothing could be further from the truth. The issue is that many individuals do not like using appropriately submaximal weights. If a load is so heavy that it interrupts the flow of a circuit, changes pacing, forces the use of the Valsava maneuver (or otherwise occludes bloodflow), the point is being missed entirely.

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During resistance training or HIIT, a combination of muscle occlusion and the Valsava maneuver actually increases blood pressure but occludes venous return; in other words, since everything is tensed during every repetition or short interval, no blood is flowing during muscular contraction, and less is flowing into the heart. When an individual is running or biking, this isn’t the case, venous return is actually increased. In essence, with weight training, though the heart rate is increasing, it’s not necessarily pumping more blood. With cardiovascular training, it is. This is why going too heavy on circuits can provide less of an aerobic benefit.

Whatever weight you want to pick, use less. If done properly, a circuit or complex intended to develop overall (general) work capacity should start taxing the heart and lungs around the same time as the muscles. Ego is the enemy here; people use 75 to 80 percent of their maximum loads when they should be using 25 to 30 percent!

The body itself is a load — moving a weight in a complex is no different than moving the body in a run, the difference is only when individuals decide that if they’re not groaning under the weight, they’re not working their muscles. If individuals can reign in that tendency, circuits can be extremely useful for conditioning, developing both general and specific work capacity, and otherwise building both strength and endurance in general populations.

Sinkler: That’s really useful, actionable advice, thank you. Generally speaking, how often do you include conditioning for your powerlifting clients? How long do these sessions last, and on what days do you do them?

Ladewski: During meet prep, I keep it to about two sessions a week. If there's not a meet on the horizon, I'll prescribe three to four days. Personally, I like short, intense sessions. Timewise, it works for busy schedules. Plus, I like using athletic movements, moving fast and pushing hard.

Circuit training is actually a great way for powerlifters to work in conditioning. It works really well after the main strength moves. If you take some of your accessory work and circuit that together at the end, you can get some really good conditioning work and not feel like you have to add in another session or detract from your heavy lifting.

A good, 30- to 45-minutes walk in the sun is also excellent for recovery, de-stressing, and conditioning.

Viada: It’s important to consolidate stressors as much as possible, and to approach strength and endurance as a single entity. One term used lately that I enjoy — and Chad Wesley Smith writes frequently on this concept — is “consolidation of stressors.” That term really represents the cornerstone of this method — high-intensity, low-volume work and high-volume, low-intensity work each requires its own sort of recovery, but most critically, an individual can train one extreme while recovering from another.

“Recovery” is systemic to an extent, but it is also structurally specific — a long, low-intensity bike ride taxes the athlete in very different ways than a heavy squat session, but fast sprint intervals may present similar challenges to the body as that same squat session. In the former case, it would make sense to place those two workouts at opposite ends of the training week, but in the latter case, it would make sense to do them most likely in the same session.

Any high-intensity work should be done concurrently with high-intensity strength training, and the majority of the low-intensity, high-volume work should be done after any sort of volume workouts. Important to remember: Sport practice takes priority. The lifter should only use remaining work capacity to work on conditioning.

Frequency does not have to be significant — two or three 20- to 30-minute sessions is often enough for the majority of pure powerlifters with whom I’ve worked. This is already enough to see some benefits without detracting from sport focus, and with rotating modalities, the workouts should flow seamlessly. Examples include 20 to 30 minutes of row intervals after deadlift work, steady-state cycling after volume squatting, or easy rucking on the first of two days off would be enough conditioning volume.

Sinkler: What other factors do you consider?

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Ladewski: When starting conditioning, the main factor is the person's current conditioning level and how much they can handle at the moment. And what their current goals are: are they in meet prep? Off-season? Do they have body fat to lose? And also, what do they enjoy doing? If they hate running, I probably won't include a lot of running. If they aren't well-versed in kettlebells, then I probably won't include much of that kind of training until they learn it better. I want to find things that are challenging for them but that they also enjoy doing.

Sinkler: Anything else you want to say on the topic of conditioning for powerlifters?

Ladewski: When powerlifters hear the word conditioning, they automatically think "cardio,” and worry about long, boring, workouts, having to run, about losing muscle. But conditioning doesn't have to be like that.

Conditioning is typically what powerlifters would call general physical preparedness, or GPP. It amounts to preparing the body to handle more work as training gets more intense.

Start with some off-season conditioning and build up. Then maintain a level of conditioning during your meet prep, as well, and your body will thank you.

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Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website, www.jensinkler.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/4/15

Written on March 4, 2015 at 11:33 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a busy week, so I've gotten a late start to putting out new content. Fortunately, I came across some good reads from around the 'net. Check these out:

The Positivity Trap: How Upbeat Coaches Can Kill Client Results - I thought this was a very interesting perspective from Krista Scott-Dixon at Precision Nutrition.

Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 5 - I published this article last year right around this time, and I think it's a good reminder for athletes who are both pitchers and position players. Managing weekly scheduling can be tough, and this article provides some thoughts on how to best accomplish it.

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Teaching Humility and Success - Todd Hamer is an old friend of mine in the strength and conditioning world, and I loved this post from him on building character in our athletes.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/28/15

Written on January 28, 2015 at 7:30 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Here are three articles worth reviewing:

7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum - This Andrew Zomberg article is specifically targeted toward all my friends who are snowed in up in the Northeast. If you want to get your training in when the gym isn't open, you've got to be a little creative.

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5 Reasons Your Program Isn't Working - This article's messages might seem like common sense, but let's face it: common sense isn't so common anymore. It's great stuff from Mike Robertson at T-Nation.

Risky Fitness - Jen Sinkler takes a close look at risk: reward considerations in training programs. This appeals to me heavily, as a lot of my one-time consultations are folks who have traveled long distances to help undo the damage of irresponsible training programs.

Have a great Wednesday!

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The Most Important Three Words in Strength and Conditioning

Written on January 20, 2015 at 9:07 am, by Eric Cressey

From 2007 to 2009, I was a big sleeper stretch guy. All our throwing athletes did this stretch at the end of their training sessions, and we meticulously coached the technique to make sure it accomplished what we *hoped* it would accomplish. I featured it in the program in my first book, Maximum Strength, and this picture of me even shows up in the first row of photos on Google Images if you search for "sleeper stretch."

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Then, in March 2010, I attended my first Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) event and "saw the light." I left the course with some great new positional breathing drills that often delivered quick results in terms of improving shoulder internal rotation - without having to actually stretch the shoulder, a joint that doesn't really like to be stretched. Looking back, we were probably trying to "stretch" out an alignment issue - and that never ends well.

We've since progressed our approach, complementing PRI exercises with thoracic spine mobility drills and manual therapy at the shoulder in those who present with true internal rotation deficits. Only after they've still come up short following these initiatives do we actually encourage stretching of the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint. And, even when that happens, it's gentle side-lying cross-body stretching with the scapula stabilized; this has proven safer and more beneficial for improving internal rotation.

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The three preceding paragraphs about my experiences with the sleeper stretch could really be summed up in three words:

                           I was wrong.

It's not the only time I've been wrong, either.

I wish I'd done more barefoot work and ankle mobility training with the basketball players with whom I worked early in my career.

I wish I'd not just assumed that all athletes needed more thoracic mobility when, in fact, there are quite a few who have hypermobile t-spines.

I wish I'd focused more on the benefits of correct breathing - especially full exhalation - with athletes sooner in my career.

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In my own powerlifting career, I wish I'd spent more time free squatting and less time box squatting. And, I wish I'd competed "raw" instead of with powerlifting equipment.

I've made some errors in the ways I evaluated, trained, and programmed for athletes. I've made dumb decisions in both my business and personal life. However, at the end of the day, I can attribute a lot of my improvements as a person and a professional to the fact that I was completely comfortable admitting, "I was wrong." Heck, I'm so comfortable recognizing my mistakes that I've written entire posts on the subject!

This is trait just about every successful strength and conditioning coach generally shares. Humility is an essential trait for personal and professional advancement, especially in a dynamic field like strength and conditioning where new research and training techniques emerge on a daily basis.

This isn't just limited to strength and conditioning, though. If you asks a lot of the best surgeons in the country, they'd admit that they were wrong in doing a lot of lateral release (knee) surgeries and thermal capsule (shoulder) shrinkage procedures earlier in their careers. And, they'd probably admit that they misdiagnosed a lot of cases of thoracic outlet syndrome as ulnar neuropathy. If they aren't willing to admit their past mistakes, you probably ought to find a different doctor.

If you're an athlete, the same can be said of seeking out a strength and conditioning coach. If the person writing your programs hasn't learned from his/her mistakes, are you really getting a "modern" or forward-thinking program that has been tested in the trenches? We've all seen those programs - both in training and rehabilitation - that have been photocopied so many times over the years that they're barely legible.

Likewise, if you're an up-and-coming strength and conditioning coach, you want to seek out mentors that'll admit their past mistakes and reflect on how they learned from them. Only then can they help you avoid making them, too. You're better off learning under someone who has 15 years of strength and conditioning experience than someone who has 15 years of the same year of experience.

Finally, if you're an established professional, the only way to grow is to get outside your comfort zone. Five years from now, if you're not looking back on your current approaches and wondering what the heck you were thinking, then you're stuck in the bubble on the left.

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You need to visit other facilities, talk with other coaches, and empower your employees/co-workers with a voice that challenges the norm. I learn a lot from my staff on a daily basis. And, looking back on that first PRI event I attended, I was the only "non-clinician" in the room. I was surrounded by PTs, PTAs, respiratory therapists, pelvic floor therapists, and ATCs. I got out of my element and it changed the course of my career dramatically.

Looking back on these experiences when I was clearly wrong, part of me wants to send individual apology notes to all the athletes I saw early in my career. By that same token, though, I feel like thank you notes might be more appropriate, as these mistakes played an essential role in my growth as a coach and person.

If you're looking for different perspectives on continuing education, I'd encourage you to check out our online resource, Elite Training Mentorship, which updates frequently with innovative contributions from various strength and conditioning experts, including the Cressey Sports Performance staff.

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