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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/11/14

Written on August 11, 2014 at 3:53 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's a quick list of recommended strength and conditioning reading to kick off the week:

Lessons in Leadership from a Marine Turned Strength Coach - George Kalantzis, the newest member of the Cressey Sports Performance team, offers up a tremendous perspective on how his military experience prepared him for the strength and conditioning field.

How Soon Should Kids Focus on Only One Sport? - Lou Schuler stopped by Cressey Sports Performance a few weeks ago and interviewed me on this subject, and article he wrote as a follow-up is fantastic.

Walking with a Purpose - Current Cressey Sports Performance intern Hannah Wellman provided this excellent guest post for Tony Gentilcore's website. Expect a contribution from Hannah here at EricCressey.com in the not-so-distant future.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/4/14

Written on August 4, 2014 at 8:44 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Check it out:

The Functional Training Handbook - I contributed a chapter a few years ago for this compilation that was edited by Dr. Craig Liebenson, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this incredible lineup from the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning communities. I'm actually reading through the entire thing myself now, too!

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Long-Term Success: What You Can Learn from Corey Kluber - This is a guest blog I had published on Gabe Kapler's site last week. Young athletes would be wise to follow Corey's lead on a number of fronts with respect to preparation.

All About Infant Nutrition - This isn't really about strength and conditioning, but since my wife and I have twins on the way, I've taken an even bigger interest in nutrition surrounding pregnancy. This was an excellent, comprehensive piece from the Precision Nutrition folks - and I'm sure the parents out there will benefit.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/20/14

Written on July 20, 2014 at 9:36 am, by Eric Cressey

After a one-week hiatus, it's time for another installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

So Good They Can't Ignore You - This is a tremendous book that was recommended to me by my good friend, Luka Hocevar. If you've ever gotten the career tip of "follow your passion," this book will set you straight with outstanding examples of why it's terrible advice, and how to best build the career you want. I'll be discussing it in more detail in an upcoming blog as well.

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Butt Wink is Not About the Hamstrings - Amen, Dean Somerset, amen. Your butt isn't tucking under when squat because you have "tight hamstrings."

Dinosaur Logic - This is a great post from Dirk Hayhurst about the idiocy of people thinking that professional pitchers (with Masahiro Tanaka's recent injury as the example) are getting hurt because they're weak and getting babied. It actually came out right after this article I wrote on a similar topic, but from a different perspective: Are Pitchers Really Getting Babied?

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Cressey Sports Performance Just Turned 7!

Written on July 14, 2014 at 4:48 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance co-founder and vice president, Pete Dupuis.

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Lost in all of the excitement surrounding yesterday’s announcement of Cressey Sports Performance’s soon-to-open second facility, is the fact that our business officially turned seven years old yesterday! It was on the 13th of July way back in the summer of 2007 that Eric, Tony and I decided to dive headfirst into an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

Rather than recycle the same old song and dance covering a list of our seven proudest moments, I will be taking a new approach in the 2014 edition of our annual birthday post. This time around, I’m going to outline the seven reasons that we are in a position to begin expanding our business and brand to other parts of the country.

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This isn’t going to be a seven-point bullet list of “how to add additional locations to your existing model”. Instead, this is going to be my way of highlighting the importance of employing good people who genuinely care about their clients, care about each other, and make it a priority to have fun every time they show up to work. I don’t think that Eric or I currently do enough to illustrate how much we appreciate our team, so this piece is a long time coming.

Gym owners with book smarts are useless without a good team

The first discussion point I like to cover during our business consultations here at CSP is the fact that the foundation of our success is quality customer service. Who really cares if you’re exceptionally talented at assessing athletes and designing individualized programming if you’re socially inept to an extent that people can’t bring themselves to spend 90-minutes with you?

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With this in mind, it should make perfect sense that I believe the seven “reasons” we’re in a position to expand are actually the collection of faces that our clients see on a daily basis. We couldn’t possibly open a second gym AND continue to operate our showcase facility simultaneously without an exceptional team of individuals who are dedicated to making both places special.

To give you a feel for what I’m talking about, consider this…

Over 3,000 athletes have now trained at CSP. That means 3,000+ assessments, some multiple of that number in individualized programs, and just a shade under 100,000 supervised training sessions executed since 2007. It is probably going to blow some people’s minds when I tell you that Eric didn’t assess every athlete and write every one of these programs himself. In fact, assessment and programming responsibilities are spread evenly throughout my staff of strength coaches here at CSP, and each one of them has their own unique specialties under our "umbrella."

What I think makes our staff amazing

This piece serves as MY perspective on what makes our entire staff unique, inspiring, caring, talented, ambitious, etc. There are, in fact, exactly seven of us who qualify as full-time staff here at CP. Since I happen to be one of the seven, you’re all about to get cheated out of a seventh “reason”, because I’m most certainly not covering what I like about myself!

Here’s a look at six people who I believe qualify as the crème of the fitness industry crop, beginning with our newest team members:

Stacie Leary – Office Manager

While Stacie is not a coach here at CSP, she is the first person that every single client through the door encounters. Stacie started as a client in 2013 and fell in love with the training environment. When our last Office Manager Paige departed (CP Hall of Fame staff member, by the way), Stacie was the first to inquire about the position.

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In the brief time since she’s been a part of our team, I’ve had more than a few clients find their way into my office to tell me that she’s doing an exceptional job. Her attention to detail borders on psychotic, which is EXACTLY what we need at the front end of our business.

Most importantly to me, Stacie genuinely cares about doing her job to the best of her ability. This is reflected on an almost daily basis as I receive text messages and emails from her making suggestions for improving the customer experience here at CSP. All of these messages roll in during times when she is “off the clock.”

Andrew Zomberg – Strength and Conditioning Coach

There are a lot of characteristics about Andrew that I appreciate, but my favorite happens to be the way he came to be part of the “CSP Family.”

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Back in the beginning of 2012, we decided to hire a new full-time strength coach. We chose to open the opportunity up to candidates from all different backgrounds and Andrew submitted an application. When the dust settled on the close to 100 candidate materials we reviewed, he happened to be in the final three candidates for a position that ultimately went to Greg Robins.

Fast-forward to the spring of 2013, when I found Andrew’s name at the top of the applicant pool for our coming summer internship. While this may not have been the most shocking occurrence in the world, I really appreciated the fact that he was eager to earn a spot in an unpaid internship program a year after just barely missing out on a paid opportunity with us. Not to mention the fact that Andrew and his wife were expecting a child, and settling in to a new life in New Hampshire after having recently relocated from Philadelphia.

Long story short, he genuinely cared about becoming a better coach. His decision to put in hundreds of unpaid hours to accomplish this over the coarse of that summer ultimately resulted in a full-time offer being extended his way. I’ve been thrilled by his contribution. And, his devotion to continuing education still remains strong; he spent his last "day off" observing elbow and knee surgeries.

Greg Robins – Strength and Conditioning Coach

As noted above, Greg became a member of our team back in the spring of 2012. Since that time, he’s coached thousands of hours of training sessions, assessed countless athletes, and designed more programs than he probably ever imagined he would. He’s also been a regular contributor to EC’s website, and helped me to build a thriving bootcamp program here at CSP.

Outside of being a well-liked coach on the training floor, Greg is undoubtedly the quirkiest individual I’ve ever met. He sings loudly (completely off-tune) at unexpected times, has survived entirely on the brisket he smoked in his backyard for multiple weeks at a time, and has a strange fashion sense.

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This past spring, as we were transitioning our Office Manager role from Paige to Stacie, I asked that each of my coaches work a single day of the week at the front desk so that they could gain an appreciation for the front end of our services. I think that our coaches tend to underappreciate this piece of the client experience, so this seemed to be the most effective way to educate them.

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Greg took the role seriously, showing up for his first day at the front desk wearing a blazer. When I asked what inspired him to clean up his look, he told me “I wear gym clothes in the gym, and office clothes in the office. There’s no in between with me.” As you can see above, I requested that he pose for a picture. Since he insisted that we figure out a way to incorporate the plant and a baseball bat, I opted for a nice spread of images.

Never a dull moment with Mr. Robins, and I love it.

Chris Howard – Wears many hats

Other than our co-founders, Chris is by far the longest tenured CSP staff member. He completed an internship with us during the fall of 2008 and ultimately joined the team as a full-time strength coach just over a year later upon completion of a massage therapy program. Chris is a strength coach, licensed massage therapist, nutrition guru, and internship education coordinator here at CSP. He does it all.

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I know for a fact that Chris cares as much about this place as us owners do. I say this because he makes his way in to my office at least once a week with one or more ideas of how we can improve our systems. He is single-handedly responsible for recording and documenting all of the content delivered in our weekly in-services and for creating an on-boarding manual for our incoming interns which essentially has them arriving on day-one ready to coach. Most importantly, he takes the initiative to systemize, organize and distribute all of this material on his own.

Earlier, I mentioned that my staff members care about not only our clients, but also each other. Chris clearly illustrated this concept just a few short weeks ago when he and his longtime girlfriend Jess volunteered to drive to my house on a Saturday night and babysit my three month old son so that my wife and I could escape for our first date night as parents.

Much like the rest of my team, Chris is as much a friend as he is an employee.

Tony Gentilcore – Co-Founder & Strength and Conditioning Coach

Tony is the most humble personality in the fitness industry. As one of the faces of CSP, Tony is a prime example of the continuity our clients look forward to in their training sessions. What these clients usually do not realize is that outside of the walls of our facility, Tony has thousands of loyal readers, Twitter followers, and fans in general who rely on his training insight on an almost daily basis.

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One of the problems with being as nice as Tony can be, is that he is vulnerable to relentless verbal assaults from people like Matt Blake, and often finds himself the subject of our “Quote of the Day” featured on the CSP Facebook Page. To this day, the most “liked” quote I’ve ever shared came from a 14-year-old female client who said:

“You know what, Tony…at first you appear to be a pretty intimidating guy with your big arms and shaved head. But then you wont stop talking about your cat, and I realize that you’re painfully soft.”

As much as it is fun to bust on his gentle nature, this underappreciated style is what makes him such an effective coach and talented writer. He was standing right there alongside me with a broom in-hand seven years ago as we prepared a brutally hot empty warehouse to be our first gym, and for that reason will forever share a bond with Eric and me.

Eric Cressey – President, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Future Exhausted Dad

Given that you are reading this on Eric’s website, I obviously do not need to outline his resume.

All I will say is this: Eric literally cares about every single aspect of how this business operates, from the program design, to the equipment selection, to social media, and everything in between. He eats, sleeps, and breathes Cressey Sports Performance.

One of the more common questions I receive from industry professionals considering opening their own facility is how to go about finding a business partner who clicks with you on both a personal and professional level. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this question. I say this because Eric is truly one of a kind. Not only is he the smartest person in every room he walks into, but he also happens to have a work ethic that does not exist in anyone else. It is for this reason that I expect CSP to be uniquely productive and successful for years to come.

How’s that for a competitive advantage?!?!

Pete Dupuis – Vice President & Business Director

This guy shows up, answers calls, writes a few emails, and calls it a day. His report card reads: “Meets Expectations.”

Note from EC: in working in some humor, Pete has failed to give himself the tremendous amount of credit he deserves. Without him, the trains don't run on time at CSP, as every hour of training requires an hour of planning that goes on behind the scenes. And, logistics aside, we have Pete to thank for the unique look of our facility, witty "Quotes of the Day"on our Facebook page, and the fact that every training session is actually a social experience where clients feel right at home. We wouldn't be where we are without him and the immense amount of intellectual and emotional "capital" he's invested in the business.

Here's to seven more years of fun!

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Cressey Sports Performance is Coming to Florida!

Written on July 13, 2014 at 5:53 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s with great excitement that today, I can announce that we’ll be opening a second Cressey Sports Performance location – this one in Jupiter, Florida – this September!

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We’ve carefully contemplated this decision for years, turning down many other opportunities for expansion until we felt the time, location, and situation was right. And, most importantly, we wanted to make sure that our second location would be the right scenario for us offer the same high-quality training experience and family environment that’s available at our original facility in Massachusetts.

Cishek Quote 

Cressey Sports Performance – Florida will be a 7,770 square-foot facility that will offer both semi-private and private training for athletes of all ages and ability levels, and certainly for anyone looking to look, feel, and move better. For those who aren’t familiar with Jupiter, it’s on the east coast of Florida – roughly 90 minutes north of Miami and 45-60 minutes north of Fort Lauderdale, and just over 2 hours southeast of Orlando. Our facility is right off the main turnpike, I-95, and very accessible to spring training facilities for the St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins, and New York Mets – not to mention some of the best “baseball hotbeds” in the country. We feel strongly that it’ll be a great place to utilize our passion and expertise to help athletes stay healthy, perform at a high level, and work toward their goals with our comprehensive, synergistic approach to long-term athletic development. This approach has played an instrumental role in more than 60 clients from our MA facility being selected in the Major League Baseball Draft over the past four years.

Kluber Quote

As part of this expansion (and as you may have noticed from my initial paragraph), we’ll be going through a very subtle “rebranding,” shifting from Cressey Performance to Cressey Sports Performance. Folks have always said that our logo looked like a “CSP” more than a “CP,” and we felt that the shift would make it easier to better demonstrate what our services are all about. So, expect to see #CSPFamily posts on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), and that’s how we’ll refer to the brand moving forward.

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Joining us in this endeavor are two incredibly skilled, passionate coaches, Brian Kaplan and Shane Rye. And, even more importantly, they’re two genuinely great people who are in the fitness industry for all the right reasons, and serve as outstanding role models for impressionable young athletes. Over the years, I’ve sent many of my professional athletes to Brian and Shane, and the feedback has been outstanding. They’ve also spent considerable time at our Massachusetts location, and we’ve collaborated in a distance-based context on a number of amateur players and general fitness clients, so we’re very excited to see what happens when we put our heads together under one roof!

Fuld Quote

My wife and I will be splitting our year between our Massachusetts and Florida locations. And, of course, our mascot, Tank, will be “taking his talents to South Beach” (or at least a few hours away from it).

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We’re also extremely excited to continue our strong relationship with New Balance, a company that has done things right in the baseball community, providing great footwear, equipment, and experiences while heavily emphasizing charitable involvement among its athletes. New Balance Baseball will be prominently featured at CSP – Florida, and we’re grateful for their support. We’re also excited to announce more great collaborative baseball efforts in the future between New Balance and CSP.

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Additionally, I’m happy to announce a new collaboration between Cressey Sports Performance and TRX, a company that has done a great job of pushing innovation and cutting-edge training, equipment, and education in the field of strength and conditioning. TRX equipment and ideas have long been an integral part of our training system, and we’re pumped to take things to the next level.

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I could go on and on about how excited I am about the facility, but there are still a lot of loose ends to tie up before we open, so I’ll hold off on going into crazy details (especially since I won't have pictures for you until our renovations are complete). Still, if you’re looking for more information on the facility, our approaches to training, and the services we'll offer at CSP-Florida, email CSPFlorida@gmail.com and we’ll take good care of you.

Schilling Quote

Thanks to everyone has supported Cressey Sports Performance over the years. We look forward to seeing you in Florida when we’re up and running!

PS – We are also looking forward to providing an accessible continuing education opportunity for fitness professionals in Florida, so we’ll be hosting several seminars throughout the year. If you'd like to get on our mailing list to be notified of events on that front, please shoot us an email to let us know. Thanks!


Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/16/14

Written on June 16, 2014 at 4:42 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time to kick off the week with a collection of recommended reading. This week, we've got a "squat technique" theme:

Short Topic: There's a Squatting Controversy? Seriously? - This was a quick blog from Bill Hartman, but it poses a question that a lot of people probably haven't considered.

How Deep Should I Squat? - Cressey Performance co-founder Tony Gentilcore takes a closer look at what may limit squat depth - and how to fix it.

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To Squat or Not to Squat? - I wrote this article back in 2009, but the recommendations still hold water.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/8/14

Written on June 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm, by Eric Cressey

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

An Interview with Matt Blake - This was a good podcast with CP Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake. They discuss long-term pitching development and the interaction between our strength and conditioning work with his mechanical coaching.

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Elite Training Mentorship - For this month's update, I did a business webinar - The Top 10 Financial Mistakes Trainers Make - as well as two exercise demonstrations and an article. You'll also find content from Vaughn Bethel and Tyler English.

Assisted Jump Variations - Ben Bruno introduces some good ideas on regressing power training exercises for general fitness populations who may not be ready for more complex, high-impact options.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 58

Written on June 5, 2014 at 8:08 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the latest installment of Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better. Here are five tips for you to put into action right away:

1. Try homemade arm sleeves for cranky elbows.

I actually have a subluxating ulnar nerve, which basically means that it sometimes snaps back and forth over the medial epicondyle (funny bone) as my arm goes through flexion and extension. At time, when I'm lifting and playing catch a lot, it'll get a bit cranky. One of the strategies I've employed in the past is simply cutting the end off of a tube sock, then sliding it on from mid-forearm to mid-biceps.

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Just like a knee sleeve can help with keeping the knees warm and compressed, a simple sock can make a pretty big difference at the elbow. We're learning more and more about how useful compression can be with facilitating recovery, too, so I actually have a lot of pitchers who'll do this between pitching outings to help them bounce back faster. You certainly can't beat the price, either! If your elbows are cranky with heavy lifting, you should first and foremost seek out treatment for it - but this might help expedite the healing process and help you to maintain a training effect while you're on the mend.

2. Make core stability exercises harder by exhaling at the fully lengthened position.

Athletes will often complain that they can't make core stability exercises harder without adding external loading. That's not true at all!  One way we can increase the challenge - and improve the training effect - is to add an exhale at the fully "lengthened" position on anterior core exercises. 

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So, when you're stretched all the way out on a rollout, fallout, inchworm, or other drill, blow your air out; the ribs will come down a bit as you activate your external obliques and rectus abdominus. Then, give it a 2-3 second pause before inhaling again as you return to the starting position. As I discuss in my Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation, manipulating breathing alone will increase your time under tension dramatically.

3. When struggling to teach a new technique, coach the toughest position first.

In a past installment of this series, Greg Robins talked about the value of teaching the finish position first on certain exercises, with the TRX inverted row being an example:

Sometimes, though, I find that the quickest way to get a client to learn a tough movement is to put them in the most challenging position to acquire first.  This works extremely well with good athletes who are kinesthetic learners; they do best when they feel the positions they need to get. I've started employing this strategy with the Turkish get-up, as a lot of athletes struggle to find the hip hinge pattern it takes to go from the hip bridge position to this part:

Get-up hip hinge

Seriously, with those who struggle to pick up this transition during the movement, try just putting an athletes into this position so that they can feel it prior to teaching the entire movement. It works like a charm - and it makes sense to them, as you're putting them in a good position to support the load overhead.

4. Rock some grilled zucchini this summer.

Everyone knows that summer is grilling season.  One thing I actually hate about this time of year is that I have to be in two places when I'm cooking dinner. The grill is outside, and the oven/stove is indoors, so I invariably find myself bouncing back and forth between the two spots while I'm cooking. A quick and easy solution to this problem is to just grill your vegetables right alongside the meat - and there is no easier option on this front than zucchini, which just so happens to be "in season."  Simply cut the zucchini length-wise into 3-4 strips, then grill it like you would a hot dog.  You can throw some basil, rosemary, or other spices on it, too.

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5. Value professional collaborations just like you value training partners.

Everyone knows that having a good training partner can make a huge difference with strength and conditioning success. However, not many strength and conditioning professionals realize that the same strategy can be applied to your continuing education work.  You'll get better if you have others constantly pushing you to do so as they share ideas and ask questions.  I benefit tremendously from our weekly staff in-services, where our coaches discuss various topics. I also find that seminars are more beneficial when I'm attending with a colleague with whom I can discuss different topics that are covered by the speaker.  I actually know of several training facilities where the staff watches Elite Training Mentorship presentations together so that they can best digest the information and put it into practice.

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Just like "going it alone" makes it tougher to progress in the gym, flying solo in your quest to improve as a coach minimizes your professional "upside." So, as lame as it sounds, find a study buddy!

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Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes?

Written on June 3, 2014 at 3:13 am, by Eric Cressey

I received the following question the other day, and thought it'd make for a good Q&A to post here. Enjoy!

Q: I was hoping to get your thoughts on whether or not I should incorporate Olympic lifting shoes with my training. I tried them out the other day, and they helped me to squat pretty deep, which is pretty significant, as I've always struggled to even make it to parallel without the "butt-wink" happening. Would you recommend I make them a part of my training so that I can get the benefits of squatting?

A: This is a great question; unfortunately, it's not a simple answer - so bear with me!

First and foremost, if you're an Olympic lifter, by all means, wear Olympic lifting shoes. It's how you compete and specificity is important. And, as we know, competing at the highest level of athletics always suggests an element of assuming a greater risk to achieve a greater reward - at least as compared to "simply" training.

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If, however, you're an athlete in a different sport - or just a general fitness enthusiast - I don't think they're necessary. And, they may even be problematic if long-term improvements to your movement quality and health are goals of yours.  I'll explain - but first, we need to understand the two primary reasons folks wear them.

First, there is the firmness factor. O-lifting shoes have a very solid heel without "give;" this makes them a better platform against which to produce force, as compared to normal sneakers. This firmness isn't exclusive to O-lifting shoes; you'll also find it in some minimalist shoes, Chuck Taylors, or no shoes at all. Most powerlifters know this, and it's why they generally lift in "firm" footwear that allows better heel contact with the floor.  This leads us to point #2...

There is a prominent heel-lift in these shoes. I've seen heel lifts ranging from everything from a 0.5 to 1.25 inches. In the sneaker world, however, everything is generally related in terms of heel-toe drop, or % grade.  For a long time, the standard running shoe was a 12mm heel-toe drop from 24mm (heel) to 12mm (toe), which creates a 8% grade. The tricky part about interpreting what this means in the context of Olympic lifting shoes is that I can't say that I've ever seen anyone list the height of the toe, so we don't really know the grade. The 0.5 inch lifts are surely pretty moderate, as 0.5 inches equates to 12.7mm, whereas the 1.25 inch ones would be 31.75mm, which is actually in excess of what you see with the much maligned Nike Shox (25mm).

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This obviously leads to the question, why isn't a firm shoe alone sufficient? What's the rationale for the massive heel lift? Effectively, it's a crutch that helps lifters with mobility or stability deficits reach squat depth easier.

To squat deep, you need to be proficient on a number of fronts, the foremost of which are:

1. You must have sufficient dorsiflexion range of motion (knee over toe ankle mobility).

2. You have to have sufficient hip internal rotation (can be limited by muscular, capsular, alignment, or bony issues).

3. You have to have sufficient hip flexion (can be limited by muscular, capsular, alignment, or bony issues; this typically isn't much of a problem).

4. You have to have adequate knee flexion (this is rarely an issue; you'd need to have brutally short quads to have an issue here).

5. You need to have adequate core control - specifically anterior core control - to be able to appropriately position the pelvis and lumbar spine. This is especially true if we're talking about an overhead squat, as it's harder to resist extension with the arms overhead.

If you lack ankle mobility, you either turn the feet out, go up on your toes, or rely on the crutch that a heel lift provides.  By elevating the heel, rather than going from neutral to dorsiflexion, you are going from plantarflexed to neutral.  Effectively, it brings you a few yards behind the starting line so that you don't false start, if that makes sense (if it doesn't, don't worry; I'll have more on this in the video below).

If you lack hip internal rotation, you turn the toes out so that you're internally rotating from an externally rotated position to neutral, as opposed to going from neutral to an internally rotated position.

I think that we all agree that these positional changes allow you to make up for a lack of mobility - but that doesn't mean they're necessary a good thing, as you're effectively loading an aberrant movement pattern. As Gray Cook has taught us, if you continue to pile fitness (strength) on top of dysfunction, bad things happen.

As you may have noticed, I've left out proficiency #5 from above: you have to have adequate anterior core control.  And, it's because I've saved the best for last; this is a HUGE issue.

I'm going to let the cat out of the bag and say that I think we've "over-diagnosed" ankle mobility restrictions. Most people automatically assume that if they have a poor squat pattern, it's because they have an ankle mobility problem. I'd estimate that in 90% of cases of people who think their ankle mobility stinks based on a bad squat pattern, they actually test pretty well when you look specifically at the joint, as opposed to relying solely on a gross movement pattern.  Why?  There is a tremendous interaction between mobility and stability. In this video, I elaborate:

As further proof of the fact that different athletes will demonstrate their patterns of insufficient control of extension differently, check out these four posture pictures of athletes who had poor squat patterns. In the first, you'll find a pretty "classic" extension posture that's distributed over multiple joints. Note the anterior pelvic tilt and lordosis, plus the relatively neutral knee and ankle positions.

Ext1

In the second, note the plantarflexed ankles; this athlete has shifted his "extension compensation" further down. Do you think he'll have much of a squat pattern with that resting presentation? He might have perfectly good ankle mobility, but he's completely unable to shut off his plantarflexors (calves); that's where he's "finding" his stability.

Ext2

In this third example, the athlete has dumped forward at the pelvis and lumbar spine to create what could be considered a swayback posture - even though his ankles actually look pretty neutral.

Ext3

Finally, we'll look more full-body for our fourth example. Obviously, this athlete is in a heavily extended pattern through the pelvis and lumbar spine, but note also the positioning of the arms; his lats are so "on" that he carries his elbow considerably behind his humeral head, and the scapula dives into anterior tilt. There's a forward head posture, and while you can't appreciate it well from this angle, this athlete also had a ton of "tone" in his scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, and subclavius. He found his stability further up the chain.

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Every single one of these out-of-whack presentations is a way for the athletes to shift their faulty movement patterns around to "get by." Athletes are tremendous compensators - but they all do it differently. I think we can all agree that these are issues that should be addressed, right? Well, they were - and the athletes felt a lot better from the training interventions.

How does this relate back to Olympic lifting shoes, though?  Well, every single one of these athletes could demonstrate a perfect squat pattern if I put them in a pair of shoes with this dramatic a heel lift. It's like giving the most uncoordinated kid in the neighborhood training wheels...for good. At some point, you've got to lose the training wheels and learn to ride the bike. And, at some point you need to stop covering up your poor movement patterns and work to address them - rather than just loading them - if you want to stay healthy.

To me, squatting with a pronounced heel lift is really no different than squatting through a "butt-wink;" they are both compensations to allow a lifter to maintain the position of the center of mass within the base of support in the face of a gross extension pattern. Both fundamentally alter the ideal squat pattern, though. Conversely, if you use goblet squat or TRX overhead squats to train the pattern with a subtle counterbalance, though, you're keeping the movement intact, but reducing the challenge to the lifter.

In folks who have really poor squat patterns, I'd much rather see them work to improve the squat pattern for a bit, as opposed to considerable loading of the classic back squat. While they're working on improving the pattern (through these exercises and other breathing and core stabilization drills), they can train the heck out of the lower body with deadlift variations, single-leg drills, barbell supine bridges/hip thrusts, sled pushing/dragging, and a host of other exercises.  Once their squat pattern has improved, progressing to a front squat is a great first step, with the back squat coming a bit later on.

With all that said, before I get any hate emails, let me be abundantly clear: if you move well (i.e., have a good squat pattern to below parallel in bare feet), then by all means, feel free to use Olympic lifting shoes for your squatting and Olympic lifting, if it tickles your fancy. After all, it's only 5-10% of your training volume, most likely. Just make sure to a) only wear them for these exercises, b) maintain the underlying "heel-less" squat pattern, and c) pick the shoes with the smaller heel lift (0.5" instead of 1.25"). You might also consider wearing more minimalist footwear for the rest of your training sessions to "cancel" the O-lifting shoes out. And, again, if you're a competitive Olympic lifter, please feel free to rock whatever you want - and crush big weights doing so.

If, however, you're an athlete in another sport who uses squatting and Olympic lifting as part of your training, I don't think it's a useful addition. And, it's certainly not an appropriate initiative if you are just someone who is looking for a way to work around your poor mobility. Ignoring a fundamental movement flaw - and certainly loading it - will always come back to bite you in the butt.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/2/14

Written on June 2, 2014 at 7:22 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading.  With the MLB Draft this Thursday, I thought I'd rock a baseball-specific theme this week.

How to Hack the MLB Draft - Former big leaguer Dirk Hayhurst describes his experience with the MLB Draft - and how scouting can sometimes be a crap-shoot based on false assumptions.

Strength and Conditioning Program Success: The Little Things Matter - I wrote this up just after our big 2011 MLB draft, and the lessons still hold true.

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MLB Draft: Pitchers' health concerns becoming more and more prevalent - This USA Today article was well-written, and really sets the stage for anyone "in the know" to ask a great question: if this is such a big "concern," how come there isn't a single organization that is investing consider time and resources proactively to prevent these issues? They'll spend millions on a single player, but won't put an extra $200/day into feeding their minor leaguers nutritious food?

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