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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 7

Written on November 18, 2014 at 7:45 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this month's edition of "musings" on the sports performance training front. Here goes...

1. Professional athletes don't need "special" exercises; they just adapt faster and need special progressions.

One of the most important lessons coaches can learn with professional athletes is that they don't need crazy advanced exercises. Far too often, coaches will assume that because a client is a high-level athlete, he/she will automatically require some fancy, innovative drill. The truth is that they need the basics, just like everyone else. You'd be amazed at how poorly some of the most high-level athletes you'll see actually move when you get them out of their sporting environments.

That said, they are unique in their ability to adapt to a given stimulus quicker than their "less athletic" counterparts. Movement quality will improve dramatically from one week to the next, and strength and power can increase much faster than you'd expect from "normal" folks. This is obviously a blessing, but can also be a burden, as it means programs may need more updating on-the-fly to continue challenging the athlete. Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that their strength levels may actually increase faster than their motor control and connective tissues can safely handle. In other words, you have to be careful not to load bad patterns or degenerative tissue tendencies.

2. Don't worry about the Absolute Strength to Absolute Speed Continuum if you're untrained or detrained.

With over 55,000 views on YouTube, this is one of my most popular videos ever:

The lessons here have tremendous value to athletes of all ages and ability levels - except novice trainees, or athletes who have recently been detrained. In other words, if we're talking about a 13-year-old kid who has zero resistance training experience, or an athlete who just finished a long, grueling season and has lost appreciable strength, then you need to build strength up first.

Effectively, treat these scenarios as if an athlete is all the way to the right (speed) end of the continuum. They need to build a foundation of strength up before they'll benefit from any of the other modalities - or even be able to perform them safely. This is one reason why handing an aggressive weighted ball program to an untrained 13-year-old kid might be harmful, and why doing a ton of plyos with a volleyball player who just finished a long season is silly. Give them what they actually need, not just what you think is "sexy."

3. Efficient rotation is efficient rotation - and consistent across multiple sports.

One thing I'm really excited about with respect to our new Jupiter, FL Cressey Sports Performance facility is working with a wider variety of rotational sport athletes beyond just baseball. My business partner, Shane Rye, is an accomplished lacrosse coach, and Jupiter also happens to be home to loads of golfers of all levels. I've also got a big tennis background, and am excited to explore opportunities on that front.

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There are a load of commonalities among all rotational sports, and it's going to be exciting to see how our training approaches impact these other sports. How can I be so sure?

Have you ever noticed how easily baseball and hockey players pick up golf? And, have you noticed how many athletes were drafted in multiple rotational sports? Think of Tom Brady in baseball and football, and Tom Glavine in hockey and baseball. These guys weren't what you'd call "powerhouse" athletes; in other words, they weren't freak athletes that played baseball and football. Rather, you could argue that they're just guys who learned to use their bodies really efficiently in rotational patterns.

4. "Where do you feel it?" is as important a question as "How does it look?"

Every once in a while, you'll observe an athlete with a movement that looks absolutely perfect, but might not be "felt" in the right place. Or, it might even actually cause pain. This is why it's so important to always solicit feedback on where an athlete (especially a beginner) feels an exercise, as opposed just assuming it was fine just because it "looked good." As an example, I commonly see athletes who "feel" all their shoulder exercise rotation drills in the front of their shoulder, which is the exact opposite of what we want.

Without getting too "geeky" on this front, many times, the reason we have discomfort or the "wrong" feeling with drills is that athletes are paying close attention to the osteokinematics - gross movements of internal/external rotation, flexion/extension, adduction/abduction - of the joint in question, but not paying attention to the arthrokinematics of that same joint. In other words, the rolling, rocking, and gliding taking place needs to be controlled within a tight window to ensure ideal movement.

In the external rotation variation, as we externally rotate the arm, the humeral head (ball) likes to glide forward on the glenoid fossa (socket). The glenohumeral ligaments (anterior shoulder capsule), rotator cuff, and biceps tendon are the only things that can hold it in the socket. In a throwing population, the capsule is usually a bit loose and the cuff is a bit weak, so the biceps tendon often has to pick up the slack - which is why some folks wind up feeling these in the front, thereby strengthening a bad pattern. There are also a bunch of nerves at the front of the shoulder that can get irritated, but that's a blog for another day!

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5. Making your room colder can be really helpful for sleep quality.

Everyone knows that turning off electronics before bed is important for sleep quality. Additionally, getting your room as dark as possible definitely makes for better sleeping. Very few people pay attention to the temperature of the room, though. I can definitely speak to its importance, though.

As many of you know, my wife and I moved to Florida in early September. As part of this transition, I made three trips back up to Boston over the course of September-November. On each of those trips, my sleep quality was insanely better than I have in Florida. The difference? Roughly 8-10°F in the temperature of my sleeping environment. With that in mind, we're cranking up the air conditioning a bit more - and thanking our lucky stars that the Florida summer has wrapped up. If you're having trouble sleeping, tinkering with the temperature in your sleeping environment might be a good place to start. Also, I'd encourage you to check out this great guest post I published a while back: Sleep:What the Research Actually Says.

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The Hard and Soft Skills of a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Written on November 15, 2014 at 6:51 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

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I haven’t always been "just" a strength coach. I’ve also done personal training, a fair bit of online writing, and have even stints of teaching dance to those willing to learn. The following is directed towards those looking to “advance” in the fitness and strength and conditioning fields. I have not worked in the collegiate strength and conditioning world, though, so take this with a grain of salt!

As I transitioned to the title of “strength coach,” I have started to associate the word “coach” with the word “leader.” The idea here is that – at the very least - there is a "need to lead" in the form of exercise to an individual or group of people.

Growing up, I wasn’t a leader by nature. I was shy, and lacked the confidence to do relatively basic things: like even just talking to people. I also wasn’t the best at sports, nor was I the strongest, fastest, or even the smartest at any given sport. However, I could study how the greats played, and from this mentality I understood that I could begin to develop myself. Some would sleep, but I would study, practice, and train, since I didn’t have any natural talent on which I could reliably lean to improve myself.

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With that said, here are some of my expectations and thoughts on what it means to be a coach in this industry.

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Understanding the basic fundamental movement patterns that are involved within a specific model or facilities movement philosophy.

First off, you won’t get to work in an ideal situation in any work environment.

Having the adaptability to understand varying philosophies of movement will allow you to determine what step to take next with a given exercise, along with a hierarchy of movement protocols.

Some coaches will always want to include power cleans in the beginning of their programs, but if you have pushback from the get-go, you might not have a job in the morning.

There are many things that you can learn from this not-so-ideal scenario:

1. Learn the best cues for how to coach the power clean (and other Olympic lifting variations).
2. Learn the regressions and progressions, along with the best programming of how to incorporate this specific item within a program.
3. If possible, it could lead to skills that can hypothetically separate you from a “on-paper” resume for your next position.

Identifying biomechanically incorrect positions and providing the “correct” position with which an athlete can excel - and coach it quickly.

In the past few years, I’ve had the fortune of watching friends, coaches, and trainers do what they do best: coach! This “skill” is often referred to as developing a “coach’s eye” for movement.

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If you don’t know your anatomy, get to studying. Admittedly, my intelligence is average as compared to others, so perhaps I overcompensate by staying up late reading these books and I have personally taken multiple classes of biology and anatomy - after my undergraduate career.

However, nothing you’ll learn in an anatomy class will replace the time you spend identifying aberrant movement patterns. With this in mind, no one expects you to take multiple anatomy classes or read some books after midnight on anatomy.

Here are some things you can do to improve your ability to coach exercises:

1. Coach anyone and everyone.

Let me clarify. You don’t need to start training a professional athlete to begin coaching. I’m sure your co-worker’s son would love to get trained at a reduced price. Heck, train the kid’s entire team! Train anyone, be professional, and overdeliver. You could be training the next Cy Young.

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2. Visit other coaches and trainers to understand how they coach exercises and program for athletes.

I remember reading from someone a lot smarter than me that they bought a coach lunch to understand how that coach got his athlete’s strong. So I did that and then some. Now, I’ve lost count of the number of lunches and after-seminar drinks I’ve bought other trainers and coaches (who are now close friends) to hear their opinion on a certain subject.

3. Purchase continuing education DVDs, make YouTube channels, start blogging - and utilize the internet to your advantage.

If you find yourself relatively “stuck” professionally, this is an option to provide options for mental and professional growth. I’ve had people ask me what kinds of things they can do to get started in the online side of things.

Funny enough, getting started involves … starting anywhere.

• My blog started out as a way for me to track workouts in 2011. Now it sees unique visitors from all over the world, and I’ve had people email me from many different continents on the world asking questions and looking for more information.
• I also started a YouTube channel to also track my lifting progress. And the camera that I used to post all of my videos? For almost all of 2011, it was an iPhone 1.
• For the record, the iPhone 4s came out late 2011.

I’m not saying I’ve reached massive success by any means, but merely starting the action of tracking and logging the things that you are already doing will help to refine your thought process, and improve your communication skills as well.

Having these videos or blog posts will allow you to interact with others while getting your message across with visual and reading components. The alternative is sitting at home after working with five clients for the day, watching Netflix, and going to sleep wondering how you can improve. Take your pick.

Adapting to regressing and progressing an athlete based on their presentation.

This is probably the most “artful” part of being a coach. If one of your regular athletes walks in after a tournament, and presents with anterior left knee pain, what do you do?

• Train upper body?
• Train the other leg?
• Train the abdominal and core reflexive movement patterns?
• Try to condition? (if necessary - but also keeping in mind that enhancing aerobic qualities has some justifications in aiding recovery time)
• Reviewing game clips to stay mentally sharp and “in the game?”

The message here is that there is always something that you can do to improve. The steps are simple - not easy, but simple.

1. Identify your weak points from a professional point of view.
2. Decide if you need to address it to become a more well-rounded professional, or have someone else fill the spot for you (if you can hire or refer out).
3. Find the actionable items that you can improve upon immediately - not tomorrow, or the next day.
4. What can you improve on now?
5. Of course, do it.

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Soft Skills

The following is a list of items that I feel are not taught in a formal manner, but could be lessons that have been instilled after a number of interactions, readings, and other forms of informal education. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, but this is why internships have provided valuable experience for me; they allow for graded exposure with which I can improve my skills in a safe environment. I can “mess up,” hopefully receive honest feedback, and improve myself both from a skills and growth point of view.

Be personable. Be likeable.

“No one cares how much you know, unless they know how much you care.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

You don’t need to be everyone’s best friend. In fact you don’t need to be anyone’s friend at all; you merely need to understand what makes a person tick, and allow yourself to be whatever that is so that they’ll connect with you. Of course, making friends and actually caring is probably the easiest approach on this front!

Look people in the eye.

Don’t be shift or falter in your gaze. Lock eyes, shake hands, and smile. Today you are alive and helping others along their own journey.

Mean what you say.

Whether it is a coaching cue or advice that will help you get to the next level, the words that I choose are often meant exactly as how I present them.

If I say move your left foot back, funny enough, I don’t mean to move your right foot. I mean move your left foot back!

I’m all for cracking jokes (and I’m often the first to laugh at even the worst of jokes), but at the same time, my responsibility as a strength coach is to elicit change. Sometimes a hard talk is necessary, in which clear lines, clear expectations, and clear meaning needs to shine through.

• If I say you should be getting more sleep, let’s figure out a way to improve the amount of sleep we receive.
• If I say your lack of attention to nutrition is what is limiting your progress, let’s figure out a way to bring awareness to what you are eating and why you are eating that way.
Change does not occur by merely thinking about it. There needs to be action.

Speak up.

There will be music in the gym. It will be loud. There will be lots of people around. Sometimes there is yelling. You will have people not pay attention.

What will you do in this case? Will you stand idly by, being the person that didn’t talk much, and therefore wasn’t memorable? Or, will you mean what you say, and say it once so it didn’t need to be repeated?

Understand how to best help an individual based off of their current psyche surrounding their immediate goals and/or injury history.

This does not immediately mean provide an amazing movement intervention.

This could mean simply listening to them and being there to vent to. Or you can talk about the football game, to take their mind off of whatever is bugging them for the next hour of training. At the same time, I’m not saying you need to be an enabler for avoiding the immediate problem, but there it’s important to be “likable” in times of stress.

Learn how to adapt to various personalities.

All kinds of personalities will walk into the gym. Some are there because they want to improve, others want to simply stick to their routine and not talk to anyone. Some even just need a place to unwind and hang out for hours at a time.

Understanding what makes a person tick will help you get along with everyone. You do not need to be best friends with everyone (some athletes/clients won’t want that); merely coexist and help them get to their goals as fast as possible!

Some may seek you out as a friend, some will seek you out for lifting advice, some on school advice, some on day to day life conversation, and others for something else completely.

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For what it is worth, I’m of the belief that change is possible at ultimately any level; my personal mindset is one of malleability.

Now, imagine this scenario: What would happen if you did not have this ability to adapt to multiple personalities? This completely shuts you off from specific populations of people that can support your business and help you grow as a coach.

Create a system for memorizing multiple names in rapid succession very quickly.

Learning names is important. Calling someone by the wrong name stings, and even if you work with people in large group settings, do your best.

Rhyming is an easy method.

Frank the Tank.

Jake the Snake.

For those that don’t have a “rhyme-able” name, say that person’s name at least three times from introduction, to small talk, to brief departure (if need be).

If that doesn’t sit well with you, utilize the power of imagery to your advantage: imagine their name plastered right between their eyebrows or forehead to emblazon an image in your own head.

Be 100% up-front with your intentions from the get-go.

Time is of the essence. If my thoughts aren’t clear, my intentions may not come across as clear, and my actions may not represent me in a manner of which I will be proud.

You’re considered a coach; act like one.

This involves being considered a role model, whether you like it or not. There can be an unwritten or even written rule that others will be going to you for advice for many different things: nutrition, mindset, or basic lifting advice.

Choose a mentor, and walk with him or her.

If you don’t have access to a mentor, purchase a DVD, watch a YouTube clip, and read their information. Draw from it the most useful information that they offer you in terms of personality, coaching cues, tools, etc., and walk with that as if they were watching your every step.

Sure, it sounds strange, but imagine if your favorite coach or whomever were to watch your every coaching cue, every action on and off the court, field, or weight room.

Would you act differently?

Would you act the same?

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Some of these things you may already do. Some of them may have never crossed your mind. I am merely passing on things that I have found to be helpful professionally and personally. If you have additional suggestions that complement mine, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

About the Author

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.

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Trust in the System: How Being an Optimist Will Help You in Strength and Conditioning

Written on November 4, 2014 at 6:57 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm always trying to learn about things we can find outside the strength and conditioning industry that may in some way benefit the way we coach athletes. I recently finished up the audiobook, The Pursuit of Perfect, by Tal Ben-Shahar, and there was a section that really stood out for me.

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It can be quickly summed up with this quote:

"Those with a positive view of old age lived on average more than seven years longer than those with a negative view."

Immediately, I began thinking about this message's implications with respect to training progress, coaching approaches, and running a business.

As an eternal optimist, this quote resonated with me. With respect to personal relationships, I joke that I don't have any enemies; I just have raving fans who are in denial. I do my best to see the good in people and always try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, even if a first impression was less than favorable. In short, I feel like good things happen if you think about good things!

Applying this to the strength and conditioning field, I've always said that I want athletes to see training with us as a competitive advantage for them. I want them to know just how meticulous we are in our assessments and programming, and how nobody else takes as much pride in delivering baseball-specific training. I want them to know we're getting out to do continuing education instead of "getting comfortable;" have developed a great network of everything from pitching coordinators, to physical therapists, to nutrition consultants, to orthopedic surgeons to help them get the best training and care; and have built a system where our training model dictates our business model (not vice versa). I want them to know we've fostered an environment where they can train around individuals with similar goals and look forward to training around people who want to "get after it."

In short, them having an extremely positive view on training with us is vital to their success. If they don't buy in, they're starting behind the 8-ball.

"Buy in" doesn't always happen, though - and it's for one of two broad reasons:

1. The athletes' personalities don't allow it; they're skeptical of everything.

2. The program simply isn't worth buying into; the athletes have no confidence in it.

In the first instance, as an example, I've actually had a few people request refunds for The High Performance Handbook before even starting the program. Conversely, I've had other folks that open up the program and instantly email me about how excited they are to try out some new exercises, or how they're really excited to finally have some good structure in their training programs.

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Which group do you think is going to train harder and with more consistency over the long haul? If you're questioning a program (or a coach) before you even try it (or him) out, you might as well just stay home. You have to get your mind right before you can get your body right.

There are parallels in the business world, too. When business owners encounter new ideas (especially from other industries) that may be worthwhile to incorporate in their existing structures, many immediately insist, "My business is different; it won't work for me." Usually, these are the same business owners who spend their entire professional careers (which are often short-lived, because they go out of business) speaking negatively about their competition, as opposed to emphasizing their own unique strengths. Clients and athletes perceive and dislike pessimism, regardless of the industry.

The "hardcore" evidence-based crowd in the health and human performance industries can trend in this direction, too. They're often so pessimistic about every new idea because it's not backed by research that they completely discount anecdotal evidence supporting new ideas. It's important to remember that everything we understand with research-backed certainty was just a theory supported by anecdotal evidence at one point, though. And, if we wait around for the peer-reviewed literature to "approve" everything we do, we'll miss out on a lot of beneficial stuff, and the industry will progress at a snail's pace.  Evidence-based practice is tremendously important, but you can't combine it with unyielding pessimism.

In the second scenario above, some programs and coaches just aren't very good. And, the problem about delivering a low-quality product is that word spreads much quicker than it does when you do a great job. In our business, if a kid drops a weight plate on his foot, word spreads quickly. If we train 100 pitchers in an off-season and none of them has an arm surgery, though, nobody really hears about it. Building credibility and a confident following of athletes takes time.

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I think college strength and conditioning is the best example. We have some athletes who absolutely dread going back to school in September because their programs are the exact same thing every year, and there is no element of individualization. It's the same old repeatedly-photocopied-program from 1989, plus loads of distance running. They have no confidence in their programs before they even show up because they've experienced it first-hand, know its reputation, and are keenly aware of the fact that it hasn't changed at all.

Conversely, take a college program that wants to do right by their guys with continuous improvement. Right now, we're hosting an Elite Baseball Mentorship at Cressey Sports Performance. It's the fifth time we've offered our upper extremity course, and we've had strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, and baseball coaches from dozens of top tier D1 schools attend over the years. Many of these coaches go out of their way to tell us just how excited their athletes are to hear that the coaching staff is attending. Seeing their coaches want to get better enhances their confidence in the program. When they return, the athletes get excited when they see new exercises implemented, a new piece of equipment in the weight room, or some updated coaching cues to clean up movement. A dedication to continuous improvement among coaches fosters an environment of optimistic, motivated athletes.

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What's the take home message of this post? Put on a happy face, be open-minded, give people the benefit of the doubt, and try new things. Doing so might not add seven years to your life, but it'll certainly help you build a life that's a lot more fun to live.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/22/14

Written on September 22, 2014 at 8:31 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Monday, everyone; I hope you all had a great weekend. Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Reverse Dieting - Authors Sohee Lee and Layne Norton just introduced this resource, and I was fortunate to get an advanced copy to review. It's a great look at how chronic dieting can significantly damage metabolism and make it difficult to keep lost body fat off (or lose body fat in subsequent "dieting" efforts). Just as importantly, they outline a strategy for overcoming these challenges. I'd definitely recommend it if you're interested in nutrition, or have dealt with problems like this on your "physique journey." 

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9 Training Concepts that Suck - While the title is unnecessarily harsh, this article from Ben Bruno is excellent.

Body Language and Leadership - I enjoy reading Gabe Kapler's stuff because he blends a successful background in baseball with a passion for training and nutrition. He also touches on everything from parenting to behavioral research and leadership. To that end, this is a great post for coaches and athletes alike. 

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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime – Part 2

Written on September 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today, I've got the second half of an article from former Cressey Sports Performance, Brooks Braga. In this article, Brooks talks about how he prepared himself for the internship with us, but you'll find that his suggestions can help you toward success in any endeavor, fitness or not. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1. -EC

In Part 1, I kicked things off with some reflections on how I used Dale Carnegie and Keith Ferrazzi's advice to build relationships and improve the quality of my interaction with clients. Here, in part 2, I'll discuss how two other authors, Chip and Dan Heath, impacted everything from my study habits to how I coached. Let's get back to the tips...

1. Make use of time in the car and daily activities!

In late December of 2013, as I was preparing to leave Milwaukee for Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, I punched in the starting and destination points on Google Maps, almost afraid to look at what came up.

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17+ hours! How was I going to pass the time? I still had one of my three yearly-allotted good ideas in the bank, so I figured I’d use it since we were so close to 2014.

As I type this, Eric’s YouTube channel has 454 YouTube videos. He has been incredibly generous on YouTube, giving out great content for free on a weekly basis that his followers can take advantage of. Now, for the good idea: take advantage of this one, as my good ideas are like Halley’s comet – they come around once every 75 years or so.

I had the idea to use a YouTube-to-mp3 converter to convert many of Eric’s YouTube videos into mp3 audio files. I was then able to fill 3 CDs worth of incredibly valuable material to listen to on my 17-hour drive to Massachusetts. There was a lot of rewinding, but I got through them multiple times. I’m convinced that listening to Eric and Greg Robins go over exercise tips and coaching cues is what allowed me to be thrown into the fire on my first day and survive during the busiest time of year at CSP.

Don’t have a 17-hour drive to your new job or internship? Consider using this method to maximize your time to and from work in the car. I had a 30-minute drive each day to CSP. That’s an hour of valuable time right there. You can also utilize time spent cooking, cleaning, and a lot more. Play YouTube interviews of the staff members if they exist, listen to videos or podcasts that will help you transition into your role, or anything else you can think of while you do daily mindless activities that eat up time.

2. Prioritize your studies.

As I was studying for a final exam in December, I had an epiphany of sorts.

What was more likely to contribute to me getting where I wanted to be in my career – spending hours studying for a class with a textbook from 1999 or using that time to study material related to my internship at one of the most well-known and connected gyms in the world?

It got me thinking about my educational priorities. As far as my career was concerned, whether or not I got an A or A- in this class was so miniscule compared to the kind of impression I made during my internship.

I'm not saying you should “dog it” in class or “settle” for mediocre grades, but rather, I’m encouraging you to ask yourself the following questions:

a. What are my goals?
b. What can I do today to work towards achieving these goals?
c. Is there something I could be doing right now that is more valuable to my long-term success than what I’m currently doing?

It will be different for you than the next person, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.

3. Tweak your environment.

If you’re anything like me, you get sidetracked easily on the computer. Consider tweaking your environment. This is a technique discussed in Switch, a fantastic book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

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For example, I regularly use the program “Self Control,” which lets me add whatever websites give me the most problems to a “block list” for a period of time that I choose. You’re unable to access these pages for the time being, and it’s actually a really great feeling. This would be “tweaking the environment.”

In my personal experience, the itchiness to check the latest news or sports scores nearly vanishes as soon as I run “Self Control.” It’s only available for Mac users, but plenty of similar programs exist.

4. Highlight exercises/ideas on which you need to spend more time.

I was pretty stunned when Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, sent me the “CSP Exercise Video Database,” a mega Excel-file-of-death with 600+ exercises, all of which I was expected to be able to coach on day 1. I thought I was doomed.

In full-blown panic mode, I decided to make a “notes” column and filled the cells of exercises I knew but thought I should come back to in yellow and did the same for the exercises I had no clue about, this time in orange. Highlighting these exercises really helped me figure out what I needed to work on and ensured I spent my time efficiently. It’s normal to get “stumped” here and there, but having a system to overcome these roadblocks makes it all part of the learning process.

Highlight ideas, themes, and exercises that you know you need to get better at when you come across them. It will help you allocate your time accordingly in the future.

5. Shrink the change.

You might think getting through 600 exercise demonstration videos, reading required material, etc., is a tall task when preparing for your internship, new job, or project. Another great technique from Switch is “shrink the change,” or breaking up large tasks into smaller ones so they don’t seem so daunting.

Does watching 25 short, 15-second videos a day still seem so impossible? If you accomplished this, you’d have it done in less than three weeks.

This also works great for reading. I set goals for reading 10 pages of two different books each night. It’s pretty cool being done with two books every three weeks! The best part is that you usually don’t want to stop after getting through 25 videos or 10 pages, either. The hardest part is just getting started.

Here are a few strategies to ensure a smooth transition into your internship or new job…

6. Talk in simple terms and utilize schemas.

Newsflash: most of your clients won’t understand what “lumbar extension,” “humeral anterior glide,” or “posterior pelvic tilt” mean.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but really try to make it point of emphasis to show the client what you’re looking for instead of using big fancy words that will leave their head spinning.

Another fantastic method is tapping into the client’s existing “schemas,” a concept talked about in another one of Chip and Dan Heath’s great books, Made To Stick.

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To illustrate an example, most clients have no issue posteriorly tilting the pelvis when you ask them to flatten out their lower back against the wall on a Back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise.

If you need to cue them into posterior pelvic tilt on an exercise without the benefit of wall feedback, say something along the lines of, “Remember how you flattened your lower back on the wall for the back-to-wall shoulder Flexion drill? Let’s get in that position again.”

This would be taking advantage of the client’s pre-existing “schema” of how to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to bring the lumbar spine into an ideal position.

7. Ask questions.

It can be intimidating being around people who know so much more than you on a daily basis, but try to take advantage of all the knowledge and experience walking around while you can.

One of the first things Tony Gentilcore said at intern orientation was “Don’t be afraid to ask questions!” This is really how you grow as a trainer. If something doesn’t make sense, ask. If you’re working with a client and you can’t remember what a certain exercise is, ask! No one expects you to be perfect! The people around you will probably be glad to help, too – regardless of the environment in which you work.

8. Write down a few trigger words of what you learn throughout the day.

Here’s a little tip I picked up from Alwyn Cosgrove, but with an added twist. Alwyn is a big believer in keeping a daily journal as you get your start in the industry. He advocates writing a paragraph each day detailing what worked with clients and what didn’t work. After a few months, you’ll know what your clients respond to and start developing your training philosophy.

The sheer magnitude of what I learned on a daily basis at Cressey Sports Performance required a little more, though. If I waited until each night to write down my experiences from the day, I surely would have forgotten a lot of what I learned.

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I decided to keep a notebook off to the side at CSP and would bring it with me on break, writing down trigger words of what I had learned that day to jog my memory for later that night. If we were going through a quieter period of the day and I wasn’t needed at that second, I would repeat the process.

9. Don’t be late, ever.

There’s no better way to make a poor impression than by being routinely late.

There’s an easy way to prevent this – if you’re able, plan on getting your own training in before the gym opens for clients. This way, even if you’re running a little behind, it will only affect your workout, not your job duties or clients.

In Summary:

• Multitask whenever possible – YouTube to mp3!
• Prioritize your studies – what is most important?
• Tweak you environment for productivity.
• Highlight things you come across that you need to improve upon.
• Shrink the change – make big tasks seem less daunting to get started.
• Talk in simple terms when instructing clients and utilize “schemas.”
• Ask questions.
• Write down thoughts throughout the day for retaining information.
• Don’t ever be late.

That wraps up this two-part article, and I hope you enjoyed it! I highly suggest you check out the Heath brothers’ Amazon page (note from EC: Decisive is also an outstanding book. Buy the three-book package; you won't regret it.). As with Part 1, feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime: Part 1

Written on September 18, 2014 at 3:02 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Brooks Braga. Brooks did a tremendous job during his time with us - and his preparation before and during the internship was a big reason why. Remember, success isn't accidental. Enjoy! -EC

In late summer of 2013, I began the process of looking for an internship that would complete my undergraduate Exercise and Sport Science Major. I stumbled upon the NSCA job board and found a position at a well-known university in which I was extremely interested. After I clicked on the link, I was expecting to see a job description and long list of duties and responsibilities. Instead, what I saw made my jaw drop.

The entire listing was just a few sentences long. The bulk of it said something along the lines of: “If you’re interested in the position, please read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and submit a one-page essay on how it has affected you.”

Um…what?

Then it hit me – I had seen this book referenced somewhere. I looked at the forum of Mike Boyle’s website, and it was mentioned everywhere. Checked Eric Cressey’s Resources page. Yep. Headed over to the “Amazon Best Sellers” lists:

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And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. “How much was this thing going to run me?,” I thought. Well, about half as much as a Chipotle burrito. I thought I could do without the $4 it costs on Amazon to get my hands on a book so many successful people highly recommend, so I made the purchase and read it cover to cover.

As I worked my way through this fascinating book, I started to realize something: being a good trainer, at least in the eyes of your clients, is probably a heck of a lot more about how you understand and relate to them than it is about whether or not you have the fanciest equipment or use post-activation potentiation methods in their programming.

Although the scope of this blog post is aimed towards those in the fitness industry, it’s my personal opinion that the techniques discussed in Dale Carnegie’s book go far beyond new trainers and interns. You should be able to apply at least 10 principles from How to Win Friends and Influence People immediately, regardless of your business or fitness situation.

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In this two-part article on “Preparing for the Opportunity of Your Lifetime,” I’ll share with you how I utilized a few of the strategies from Mr. Carnegie, other resources, and personal experiences to make sure I made the most of the biggest opportunity of my life – interning at Cressey Sports Performance. Part 1 looks at techniques for building a good relationship with co-workers and clients, while part 2 will focus more on training knowledge preparation. Both include strategies to think about before and after you arrive to ensure a seamless transition into your new role.

There are too many wildly successful trainers with subpar knowledge bases running around to count. How does this happen? Well, if you had to choose to spend multiple hours per week with someone who makes an effort to understand you versus someone who doesn’t, which one would it be, regardless of his or her training knowledge? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t focus lots of time on developing your training knowledge, but you get the idea.

Here are a few relationship-boosting strategies to employ with co-workers and clients, with quotes from How to Win Friends and Influence People below.

1. Find common ground.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

Do your homework on the staff. Read their blogs. Read their recommended reading. Watch their interviews. Read their bios on the company website. What makes them tick? Do you share any mutual interests? Think about ways to bring up common ground in your initial conversations with the staff (without forcing it or being creepy) when you arrive and you’ll find yourself having a smooth transition into being around a LOT of new people all at once.

As for clients: ask, listen, engage. Ask where they’re from, how their weekend was, etc. Jump on the first opportunity you find of common ground and you’ll find the conversation is a lot easier. CSP is home to hundreds of professional, collegiate, and high school baseball players each winter. Having played baseball in college, and then signing a professional contract myself, I made sure to find a way to bring this up humbly to create an instant connection and credibility.

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I was pretty fortunate to have this level of common ground with the client base, but the point remains the same: find mutual interests, experiences, friends, or anything else that comes to mind.

2. Write down and remember the names of people you meet.

“A person’s name is to them the sweetest sound in any language.”

I showed up on the CSP doorstep on the morning of January 2nd. Just a few hours later after intern orientation, I was tossed right into the fire during the busiest time of the year. Dozens upon dozens of professional, college, and high school baseball players and general population clients were walking around. How was I supposed to remember so many names?

I thought back to when I had read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Keith talked about how when Bill Clinton was in college at Georgetown University, he would bring an address book to parties and write down the names and information of people he would meet. Clinton would then study it and remember the individual and their story at conferences or chance encounters in the future!

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The benefits of writing down names of people you meet in public go beyond being the coolest person at the party – it gives you the chance to look over the list later on to help you remember the client’s name for the next time you see them. Believe me, using a client’s name the second time you see them can make a HUGE impression.

Keep a notebook off in the corner of the gym somewhere out of the way so that when you go on break or things get slow, you can quickly jot down the name and a few trigger words to help you remember it for the next time you see them. No more “I’m horrible with names” excuses. If you’re the type of person who remembers every name of every person you meet without trying, I envy you.

3. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

“…the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

People love to talk about what their passions. Pete Dupuis, the business director at CSP, routinely talks about how general population clients are some of the most amazing people to talk with in a gym that’s known as “the home to over 100 professional baseball players.” Many live interesting lives and have amazing stories to tell, from jumping out of planes wearing a Santa Claus suit to working in product development for one of the world’s leaders in headphones.

Ask them about their lives, interests, work, children, or anything you can think of that might be important to them. Get in the habit of referring back to their interests when you see them again. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about what you hear and the relationship that ensues.

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4. Be sincerely excited for someone when they tell you about an accomplishment or cool experience.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Think about a time when you were telling someone about an accomplishment or great experience of some sort and they seemed genuinely excited for you. Isn’t it the coolest thing ever when someone is seriously happy for something that happened to you, even though it doesn’t benefit him or her at all? If you’re not the type of person who gets excited for another’s successes, at least try to appear like you do. It will go a long way in making them feel special.

Moving into “training” techniques to use while you’re working with clients…

5. Begin with praise if bringing up a fault.

“It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”

Usually, if there are 10 things you have to get right on a certain exercise, the client is doing 8 or 9 of them correctly and 1 or 2 poorly. When you ask a client to fix a certain aspect of their form, be sure to emphasize what they’re doing right beforehand.

For example, on a single-arm cable row, you’ll often see a client moving too much through the glenohumeral joint and not enough at the scapulothoracic joint. Search for something they’re doing well before addressing the fault. In this example, consider saying something along of the lines of “Great job keeping a neutral lower back. You’re 95% of the way there. Now let’s work on what your shoulder blade is doing…”

6. Talk about your own mistakes first before criticizing someone else.

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”

Personally, I stunk at half-kneeling anti-rotation core exercises on the functional trainer when I first experimented with them. The movements feel awkward for many during their first few sets. When I’m taking a new client through the exercise and they’re having a tough time with form, I make sure to point out that I could have written a short novel about my inability to do them when I started, and that they’ll get the hang of it in no time. Show empathy and the client will keep trying until they get it right.

7. Praise slight improvements and every improvement.

“When criticism is minimized and praise emphasized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.”

If you spend all of your time dwelling on what your client is doing wrong and fail to emphasize what they’re doing right, you can be sure they are going to feel inadequate and won’t come back to work with you. Sincerely acknowledging what they are doing right will give them the extra motivation to get better.

In Summary:

• Find common ground as soon as possible
• Encourage clients and co-workers to talk about their interests
• Keep a running list of the names of people you meet, and study it
• Be genuinely excited for others’ accomplishments
• Begin with praise if bringing up a fault
• Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing someone else
• Praise slight improvements and every improvement

That’s it for part 1! Check back in soon for part 2 of the series, which will focus more on training knowledge preparation and ensuring a smooth transition into your role. In the meantime, I highly suggest you take a look at Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. Feel free to comment with your thoughts or strategies you’ve used that I didn’t cover.

About the Author

Brooks Braga (@BrooksBraga) is the Head Trainer of Athlete Performance Oconomowoc, a sports performance facility in the Greater Milwaukee area, where he works with everyone from professional and youth athletes to general population clients. Between playing college baseball and a brief stint in professional baseball, he completed an internship at Cressey Sports Performance. He operates BrooksBraga.com, where you can subscribe to his free newsletter and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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How Chronic, Prolonged Sitting Impacts Your Body – and What to Do About It

Written on September 9, 2014 at 7:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Last week, over the course of two days, I made the long drive from Hudson, MA to Jupiter, FL. Suffice it to say that all those hours in the car gave me a newfound appreciation (or distaste?) for just how hard sitting is on the body. As such, it was really timely when my friend Michael Mullin emailed along this guest post on the subject. Enjoy! -EC

Disclaimer:

In this article, the author describes a fictional scenario in order to demonstrate a point related to the degree of information and misinformation there is in the layman and professional literature. It is in no way an attempt to create alarm that these facts apply to every person and every situation. While this article is not scientifically based, the published references are meant as an example of what some studies have found of the impact prolonged sitting and being in a stressful environment has on the body. Please read this article with the intent with which it was written—to provide concrete tools to use if you have to sit for extended periods of time.

I would like to have you read the scenario below and let me know if you would want this job.

“Congratulations on being selected for the position of top minion here at Do Everything Against Design, Inc. (DEAD).  Our company is a prestigious purveyors of thneeds—and a thneed is a thing that everyone needs (5). We pride ourselves on our commitment to being on the cutting edge of business and we use only the best, most up-to-date information possible to dictate how we run our business.”

“Let me start off by saying that this job will provide all kinds of potential benefits. It is up to you to decide how committed you are. The potentials are endless—overuse injury, chronic pain, depression, increased alcohol use, drug or medication use, cancer, increased general mortality, even bullying—that’s right, just like when you were a kid—are all very real possibilities here at DEAD, Inc.”

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“So first thing we will do is get you set up with your work area and station. Here is your cubicle which studies have shown are detrimental to not only work life but also your personal life (1). And here is your ergonomically correct chair so that your body doesn’t have to move, because research has shown that sitting 90% of your day, will almost double your risk of developing neck pain (2). We are also well aware of the fact that this increased time sitting will ultimately yield to a higher mortality rate for you (3), and make you feel generally crummy, but we are willing to take your chances. In fact, don’t even bother trying to counter all this sitting with exercise, because it will increase your risk for certain cancers by up to 66% regardless of how active you are when not sitting! (4)”

“However, placing this degree of stress and strain on your body is mainly so that we can reduce the organization’s costs and increase productivity (5), which is what is most important to us. Because ‘business is business and business must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies you know’ (6). And you do want to be a team player, don’t you?”

“In fact if you do end up having any physical problems, there is a greater than 63% chance that it is actually due to work (7). And if it isn’t from sitting too much (8), then it is due to the psychological stress that this position places on you. Heck, it might even be due to me and the stress I place on you! I will give you an 80% chance that our workplace stress will be the most important factor you will have to deal with here (9).”

forward head posture man

“We have also found that this job can also really give you a great chance on becoming an alcoholic or binge drinker (10), so you have that going for you as well.”

“If stress does become greater than you can learn how to cope with, which is apparently one important part of your employment here (11), then rest assured that we don’t really have a plan in place, because 80% of facilities do not have formal programs in place to deal with workplace stress, and of those that do, only about 14% say it is effective (12). Since that’s what the research suggests, then I mean, how important can establishing a plan be?”

“The single greatest thing about this whole situation is that I will actually pay you to let me break you down, little by little, bit by bit, until you feel beaten and broken. Don’t you see? It’s a win-win situation for both of us here at DEAD, Inc!”

I decided to title this article differently from my original title, “Your Employer Is Trying to Kill You” because I thought it might be a little less inflammatory. But, if you think about it, if data were used to truly guide what we should be doing, than many jobs where employees have to sit the better part of the day are truly a form of abuse. OSHA should be having a field day with these kinds of stats!

This is not about trying to bash many of the companies that have these incredibly sedentary work environments, though. Moreover, it's also not about the fact that I disagree with how our ergonomic evaluations and standards currently are. This is more about trying to create a "Movement/Movement."

Michael Mullin

Our bodies are designed for movement. Period. Our brains are designed for processing and trying to create efficiency so that we can process more. Now that’s pretty smart, however, highly detrimental when it comes to the importance of movement. Because if we continue to listen to what our brain is telling many of us, then it will constantly suggest that we just continue to sit to conserve energy.

So what to do for those of us who have to sit regularly during the day?

  • Get up regularly, even if it means setting a timer at your desk to walk down the hall a couple of times. Not only good for the body, but also good for the brain.
  • Stand every time the phone rings in your office, even if it means you have to sit back down to do something at your computer for the call.
  • Every hour, independent of getting up for regular walks:
    • Sit at the front edge of the chair, hands resting on thighs and body in a relaxed position—not too slouched or sitting up too straight. Take a slow breath in through your nose, feeling your ribs expand circumferentially. Then slowly, fully exhale as if you are sighing out and exhale more than you typically would, without forcing or straining. Inhale on a 3-4 count, exhale on a 6-8 count, then pause for a couple of seconds. Re-inhale and repeat for 4-5 breaths.
    • Staying in this position at the front edge of the chair, reach one arm forward, alternating between sides, allowing your trunk and torso to rotate as well. Your hips and pelvis should also shift such that your thighs are alternately sliding forward and back. Perform 10 times on each side, slowly and deliberately and while taking slow, full breaths.
  • Consider using your chair differently, depending on the task:
    • When doing work on the computer, sit with the lowest part of your low back (i.e. sacrum) against the seat back, but don’t lean your upper body back. This will give the base of your spine some support, but also allow for good trunk muscle activity as well as proper thoracic circumferential breathing.
    • When doing general work such as going through papers, moving things around your desk, filing, etc., sit forward on your chair so that you are more at the edge of the chair. This will allow your legs to take more load and your trunk muscles better able to aid in support, reaching and rotating tasks.
    • When reading items or reviewing paperwork, recline back with full back contact to give your muscles, joints and discs a rest. Make sure to hold the items up at roughly shoulder height—even if you support your arms on armrests or desk.

Remember, chairs and sitting is something that WE as humans created and the current norm is in no way optimal. We were not put on this planet to sit on chairs, and in particular not ones which shut our system off and limit our movement and ability to breathe normally. Until organizations and the general mindset changes to balance work requirements, work efficiency and human health, then we will be constantly be dealing with companies such as DEAD, Inc.

Note: the references to this article are posted as the first comment below.

About the Author

Michael J. Mullin, ATC, PTA, PRC: Michael is a rehabilitation specialist with almost 25 years of experience in the assessment and treatment of orthopaedic injuries. He has published and lectured extensively on topics related to prevention and rehabilitation of athletic injuries, biomechanics and integrating Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI) principles into rehabilitation and training. He has a strong interest in system asymmetry, movement, rehabilitation and respiratory influences on training and their effect on athletics. He has extensive experience with dancers, skiers, and professional and recreational athletes of all interests. You can find him on Twitter: @MJMATC

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/7/14

Written on September 8, 2014 at 4:06 am, by Eric Cressey

My wife and I are busy getting settled in our new house in Florida, but luckily, I've got some good recommended strength and conditioning content to kick off the week while I'm tied up:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I have a new article, two new exercise tutorials, and a webinar, "11 Tips for Building and Managing a Pro Athlete Clientele."

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Your Career in Fitness: A Success Guide for Personal Trainers and Coaches - Nate Green did a tremendous job on this comprehensive post for Precision Nutrition. If you aspire to enter the fitness industry, this is a solid "road map" from which to work.

Simple Self-Assessments: Toe Touch - Miguel Aragoncillo is the newest member of the Cressey Sports Performance team, and in this post, he demonstrates some of the expertise that made him our top candidate for the position that recently opened up. He'll be a great addition to the CSP team.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/1/14

Written on September 1, 2014 at 4:12 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Labor Day, everyone! It's hard to believe that September is upon us. Rather than lament the unofficial end of summer, get excited about the following recommended readings for the week:

How the Changeup has Changed the Game - This Sports Illustrated article is "must-read" material for all up-and-coming pitchers.

17 Ways to Set Yourself Free - Martin Rooney never disappoints! In this article, he talks about how as we've added more "free" items to our diets - gluten free, fat free, sugar free, etc. - we've actually gotten more unhealthy.

9 Tips for Dedicated Lifters - Dan John has loads of wisdom to share from his years in the iron game, and this article features some great points.

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“If Only:” 7 Lessons from a Record-Setting Paralympic Medalist

Written on August 26, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, we've got a great guest post from accomplished Paralympic swimmer, Travis Pollen, who shares some wisdom to help up-and-comers avoid the same mistakes he made. Enjoy! -EC

During my Paralympic swimming career, I set two American records, won a gold medal at Nationals, and finished just one spot shy of making the team that went to London. A good deal of my success can certainly be attributed to hard work in the water. In addition to the pool sessions, though, I’m certain I owe much of my speed to weight training. I’m also certain – now that I’m both a personal trainer and graduate student in biomechanics – that my gym experience could have been even more effective had I done just seven things.

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Let’s first rewind to the summer after my first season of high school swimming, when my iron journey began in the smelly basement of the local YMCA. I’d recently stumbled upon Getting Stronger by bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl at the library. This text, though hardly “sports-specific,” became my bible.

My workouts consisted mostly of single-joint exercises performed in random order for 3 sets of 15 reps. Despite the haphazard program design, I realized significant newbie gains, and it showed in the pool. I dropped serious time in all my races the following season.

Over the next few years, I practically “maxed out” on library rentals on topics ranging from plyometrics and isometrics to active-isolated stretching and sports nutrition. Nevertheless, my progress in the weight room stalled. I eventually hired a personal trainer, who helped me get “huge,” in the words of my teammates.

But was size what I really needed? How about body-part splits, crunches, and unstable surface training? Looking back on my program, I see a ton of room for improvement. If only I had known then what I know now – if only I had done these seven things – perhaps I would’ve realized my Paralympic dreams after all.

1. If only I had adopted a training split more in line with my goals...

Although I believed I was lifting weights for performance enhancement, I was unknowingly training like a bodybuilder all along: chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Wednesday, leg (singular, since I’m an amputee) and shoulders on Saturday. Muscles, not movements, were all I knew.

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In hindsight, I was more “show” than “go,” with hulking but stiff muscles. Full-body workouts utilizing techniques like supersets (push/pull) and alternating sets (upper/lower) would have been far more time-efficient. Moreover, they would have left me suppler and with more in the tank for afternoon swim practice, as compared to having two completely smoked muscle groups from my morning body part lift.

2. If only I had prioritized strength and power…

In my prime, I could do 80 consecutive push-ups, yet I could barely bench my own bodyweight. Until I obtained my personal trainer certification, I had no concept of a strength protocol. In fact, I was under the impression that the lower the reps, the bigger you get, end of story. So for fear of getting overly bulky, I spent most of my time in the 12-15 rep range, with a heavy dose of unstable surface training thrown in, since someone I (mistakenly) trusted told me that was how you get strong.

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As a sprinter, my longest race was over in less than a minute. What I really needed was not muscular endurance, but rather power. And power can only be realized, of course, with a solid foundation of strength.

3. If only I had addressed my weaknesses and asymmetries...

I’ll admit it: I skipped leg day. Often. When my schedule got hectic and I missed my Friday workout, instead of going back and making it up, I usually just started fresh on Monday with my bread and butter: chest and triceps. These workouts were the shortest – not to mention the most fun – and I had physics homework to do! I also usually saved “abs” for last, and I almost invariably ran out of time.

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Even when I did do legs, since I didn’t use my residual limb much in the water, I decided not to waste time strengthening it outside the pool. Boy, did my blind eye towards symmetry have a negative effect on my low back. Nowadays, I’ve added bilateral rack pulls, good mornings, back extensions, and hip thrusts in an effort to even out the imbalance. All in all, more of an emphasis on my lower body and core undoubtedly would have provided a performance-enhancing boost.

4. If only I had emphasized closed chain compound lifts for my lower body...

As an amputee, it was important that I play it safe in the gym. My earliest memory of a barbell involves a crowded high school weight room, the less-than-watchful eye of the athletic trainer, high pulls, and – you guessed it – crippling low back pain the next day. After that incident, when I didn’t skip leg day, I stuck mostly to machines (and single leg balancing on a BOSU ball, of course).

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Unfortunately, the leg press and leg extension don’t offer nearly the same carryover to swim starts and turns as squats, deadlifts, and cleans. As it turns out, with proper coaching and lots of practice, I can actually perform all the aforementioned big lifts on one leg – and pretty darn well, at that.

5. If only I had trained my core for three-dimensional stability...

Swimming is all about slicing through the water with as little drag as possible. A floppy midsection that snakes from side to side with every stroke not only leaks a ton of energy but also creates serious drag. Unfortunately, ask most swim coaches, and they’ll tell you the way to a strong core is a few hundred crunches, V-ups, and Russian twists daily. These movements are minimally sports-specific, however, as the only time flexion occurs in swimming is during the flip-turn. And even then, several muscles in addition to the abdominals help generate the movement.

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To create the rigid, canoe-like core that’s truly needed for swimming (and all sports, really), core stability work is the key. Anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion exercises, plus rotational medicine ball work, surely would’ve afforded me a gold medal trunk and hips.

6. If only I had foam rolled and dynamic stretched...

Warm-up? You mean jogging to the gym and static stretching before hitting the leg press? For some reason, despite the fact that I routinely observed the college track athletes doing stick work, butt kicks, and lunges with a twist, I – along with the rest of the swimming community – failed to make the connection that these very same tools could benefit me. If, instead of endlessly stretching my triceps to no avail, I had just done some soft tissue work with The Stick each time I hit the gym, I’m positive it wouldn’t have taken them two hours to unknot every swim practice.

7. If only I had logged my workouts and practiced progressive overload...

We all like to be sore, but the reality is that soreness is not the best barometer for a good workout, especially when it detracts from performance in the target sport. I vividly remember a workout in which I did so many pull-ups I was unable to bend my arms for several days afterwards. Needless to say, this made swimming incredibly painful.

A much better way to assess the merits of a workout is through comparison to previous ones. By simply jotting down my weights, I could have actually tracked how I was doing from session to session and season to season. A workout log would have eliminated the guesswork and provided an impetus to add weight each week, instead of hovering at a 115-pound 10 RM bench press for years on end.

Until Time Machines Are Invented

Each item on the list above seems like a no-brainer now. At the time, though, I believed myself to be decently well-versed in training methodology – or at least as best I could be given the library’s offerings. Even if I didn’t know everything, I assumed my trainer was up-to-date.

If I could go back in time in my quest for Paralympic glory, I’d take with me The High Performance Handbook and get to work again that first summer. But until time machines are invented, I’m happy to settle for educating up-and-comers so they don’t repeat the same mistakes I did.

About the Authortravis7

Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains a blog and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.FitnessPollenator.com. You can also find him on Facebook.


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Cressey Performance
Individualizing the Management of
Overhead Athletes

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