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15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Save $50 on The High Performance Handbook!

Written on March 30, 2015 at 8:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

I'm psyched to announce that for the first time ever, I'm putting my most popular product, The High Performance Handbook, on sale. Through this Saturday at midnight, you can get this versatile strength and conditioning resource for $50 off the normal price.

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I went to great lengths to ensure that this resource doesn’t just offer a training program that delivers outstanding results; it also educates you along the way. You’ll learn about some of the things that are unique about your body, and how you need to manage your training accordingly. It’s almost like a choose-your-own adventure book for people looking to achieve their training goals.

Also, I should note: I’d highly recommend you pick up the Gold Package of The High Performance Handbook, as it includes an awesome nutrition and lifestyle guide from Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition. There is some really eye-opening and useful stuff in there; I learned a ton myself from reading it!

You can learn more (and pick it up) at the following link:

           --> The High Performance Handbook <--

Thanks for your continued support of EricCressey.com!


Strength and Conditioning Programs: Understanding Stress and Adaptation

Written on February 25, 2015 at 7:24 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, James Cerbie. Enjoy! -EC

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

Your body has its own bank account.

It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.

In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.

For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept.

Stress and Adaptation

We all have training-related goals:

  • look like a Superhero
  • cut your body fat down to 6%
  • deadlift 500 pounds
  • have a 30-inch vertical jump
  • bench press 300 pounds
  • win a competition in the sport of your choice

Whatever your goal, you're relying on one of the most basic survival/evolutionary mechanisms to make it happen: adaptation.

And let's make one thing perfectly clear: while we may come across as sophisticated humans, deep down, we're still biological animals who survive to pass on as many of our own genes as we can. That's really the name of the game: do whatever you have to do to survive, so you can pass along more genes than the next guy or girl.
It sounds barbaric because it is, but deep down, it's a driving force we can't escape.

Thus, our "system's" number one goal is survival, and it's going to do everything it can to make sure that happens. Enter adaptation: the way in which we react to stressors in our environment to improve our likelihood of survival.
Before we talk about how it works, here are two definitions with which you need to be familiar:

1. Homeostasis: the body’s desire to stay within normal ranges needed to function and survive. For example, your blood prefers to stay within a pH range of 7.35-7.45 because that's where it's happy, that's where it functions well, and that's where we have the best chance of survival.

2. Allostasis: the body’s adaptive response to maintain homeostasis. In other words, how the body manages to maintain homeostasis in the face of a stressor. Think of it like those bumpers you set up in the gutters at the bowling alley: you need to stay within those set limits or else all hell will break loose.

When considering adaptation, this is the basic process* it follows:

*Please know that adaptation, stress, allostasis and everything we're talking about today is an incredibly complex topic. In order to make it more approachable, we're going to dumb it down a bit so you can focus on the big picture. Thus, if you're a big science person, please don't get all worked up because I know there's way more to this than what we're going to talk about today.

Step 1: You provide a stressor.

Step 2: Stressor threatens homeostasis and thus survival.

Step 3: The body, via allostasis, works to maintain homeostasis in the face of this stressor.

Step 4: You adapt to the original stressor in order to limit the amount of stress it can place on your system in the future.

Here's what that would look like in a graph (notice how it resembles a training cycle?):

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As you can see, there's a decrease in performance while your body attempts to manage the unfamiliar stressor. Remember, it's trying hard to maintain homeostasis so you can stay alive.

Eventually, however, you adapt (supercompensate) above a level you were at previously. This is to ensure that the same stressor in the future won't have as large of an impact on your system.

Here's an easy example of this process in action: think back to when you first did back squats...what happened?

For starters, they were probably pretty ugly, but I'm also willing to bet you were sore the next day.

What about four weeks down the road when you squatted the same weight as you did on day one; were you as sore and/or beat up the next day?

Absolutely not. Why? Squatting was an incredible stressor the first time you did it. It's something your body had never encountered. But after a few weeks of exposure, your body had started to adapt to the new and repeated stressor to limit its overall effect on the system. This is the reason you must periodize your training; stimuli must change over time to continue the process of adaptation.

To review: your body’s goal is to limit the impact a stressor can have on your system to increase your likelihood of survival, and improve your chances of passing on copies of your own genes.

The way our body makes it all happen is via adaptation and the adaptation reserve.

The Adaptation Reserve

In a far-off land, behind desert and mountainous terrain, guarded by an army of manticores (do yourself a favor and Google that), you'll find your adaptation reserve.

While the adaptation reserve may seem like a mythological creature you've never managed to catch, it's really just your own personal bank account. It represents the resources your body uses to buy new things (adapt).

You have to keep in mind there's a finite amount of resources in this reserve. Think back to a time when you were a kid and saved up money to buy something you really wanted: you passed on buying other goods because you knew you needed to save up "X" amount of dollars to purchase "Y" toy.

Great. However, what happened after you did by the toy for which you’d been saving? You had no more money.

Does that mean you'll never be able to buy a new toy again? No. It just means you have to save up and make deposits into the account until you have enough resources to do so.

But what determines the size of the bank account? How do you make withdrawals and deposits? Is there more than one account?

Your Body's Bank Account

Below is a fictional image of your body's bank account (adaptation reserve), and it's full of your body's adaptive currency.

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Feeling good after a restful weekend, you head off to the gym to crush a deadlift session, because you really want to pull 500lbs.

The following morning you wake up and take a look at your imaginary body bank statement to realize you made a big withdrawal the previous day. Hitting deadlifts over 90% of your 1-rep-max must have really used up a lot of your adaptive reserve because the account is vastly diminished.

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This, in a nutshell, is what's happening on a daily basis: you introduce or encounter different stressors that act upon your body in a certain way, and then your body uses its adaptive reserve to respond/adapt.

Remember, your main goal is survival, and in order to increase your likelihood of survival you have to limit the impact stressors have on your system.

A More Realistic Story

For as awesome as it would be for your training session to be the only stressor you encounter, that's simply not the case.

Our life is full of stressors: work, relationships, traffic, etc. Each of these has an impact on your system and it's ability to adapt.

It's not as simple as, "Oh, I lifted today, and that's the only stressor I encountered."

Do I wish for both you and me that that's the case? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it's entirely unrealistic.

There's a good chance you’re stressed about a project at work. Perhaps you didn't sleep at all last night because you had too much caffeine late in the afternoon. Or, maybe you think your significant other is cheating on you and you spend all day and night stressing about it.

The point is this: there are an infinite number of stressors in our lives which all detract from our adaptive currency.

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The Size of the Bank Account

An obvious question to consider is: how do I increase the size of my bank account?

Besides genetics, which you have no control over, we can relate the size of the bank account to your overall fitness level. Another way of saying the same thing is to improve your GPP or work capacity.

If you've read anything I’ve written in the past, then you should be familiar with the concept of building a pyramid. In order to one day achieve high, optimal levels of performance, you must put in the time and groundwork to build yourself a monster base. That means attacking things like movement quality, base strength levels, aerobic fitness, and a host of other factors.

Depending on where you're at and what your goals are, you'll have to focus on different fitness qualities.
For example, are you a heavily extended stress ball posture with a resting heart rate in the low 70's? If so, you need to spend a fair amount of time doing low-level aerobic work and working on full exhalation because your body could never handle the type of work required to perform at high levels.

As your work capacity improves, however, you give yourself the potential to one day attack a more aggressive training program because you have the adaptive reserve in place to actually be able to handle large levels of stress.

Do you think Zach Hadge (with a 700+ pound deadlift) trained the way he does now eight years ago? Absolutely not. He spent a ton of timing building himself up to handle the volume and intensity levels he trains at now.

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Ultimately, if you have aspirations to be a monster in both training and life, you have to put in the work on the front end to build yourself a large bank account.

Withdrawals and Deposits

We began touching on this concept earlier, but when you look at your training program you have to consider what's making withdrawals from your bank account, what's making deposits, and how big of a deposit/withdrawal you're making.

At the end of the day, you're not making progress if you don't have any adaptive currency to spend. To keep this simple, rest and recovery makes deposits to your account. This includes things like active rest days, sleep, and quality nutrition.

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Withdrawals, on the other hand, involve all forms of stress.

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For example, let's consider three different training loads and the impact they'll have:

1. Stimulative: a very moderate training load from which one can recover quickly.

2. Developmental: this can be broken down further into high, medium and low, but for today just know that a developmental load triggers the adaptive responses and takes 2-3 days to recover from. For reference sake, a developmental load will fall somewhere between a 6-9 on an RPE scale out of 10.

3. Maximal: this is all you have. A true, "I have to do this or I die" type effort. It crushes your system (especially central nervous system) and takes a long time to recover from.

Here's another thing to consider: different types of fatigue. For example, there's a big difference in CNS fatigue (running a sprint) and local muscular fatigue (doing a bunch of curls). In all honesty, you're probably starting to look at separate bank accounts all adding up to one master account – but let's not go down that path today. Just focus on one bank account, and nail down this concept of stress and adaptation in broad terms (you have to see the forest before you can look at the individual trees).

Hopefully this is all beginning to make sense: training is really just an advanced form of stress management. All forms of stress will have an impact on the body, but the extent of that stress depends on things like volume, intensity, training history, genetics, nutrition, sleep, and a host of other factors.

The End

If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be that you view your training goals as goods you have to buy with money.

It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, gain weight, have bigger arms, squat more weight, run a better 40 etc. etc. because each of those qualities requires an investment from your body, and your body only has so much to give at any one time.

You have to be methodical in the way you apply stress if you ever hope to see big improvements from your training. Just doing high-intensity work for the sake of doing high-intensity work is a waste of time without figuring out where it falls in the grander scheme of overall development.

Ask more questions, don't be afraid to push the envelope, and structure your training and life in a way that sets you up to succeed.

About the Author

James Cerbie (@JamesCerbie) is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting and Crossfit. He works with athletes from the middle school to professional level, is the founder of Rebel Performance, and works as a strength and conditioning coach at Pure Performance Training in Boston, Massachusetts. You can also connect with James on Facebook.

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6 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Strength and Conditioning Program

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

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

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

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

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

Who?

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

When?

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

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

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

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

Lastly, when will you be working with this athlete?

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

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

Where?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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How?

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

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

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

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

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6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes

Written on October 30, 2013 at 6:23 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post on the Turkish Get-up comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins.

The Turkish Get-up has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and rightfully so, as it's a fantastic exercise.  It is also, however, a complex exercise with many different components that must be "synced up" to get the most benefits of the drill.  With that in mind, I wanted to use today's article to discuss the six most common Turkish Get-up technique mistakes I see, and how I correct them with our clients at Cressey Sports Performance.

Mistake #1: Not actively getting up.

While I didn’t sequence these in any particular order, this mistake is the most common. Too often, people roll into the start of a get-up instead creating tension and actively moving into the first position. This first movement is the definitive step in the get-up, in my opinion. If you cannot reach your forearm actively, you are either using to much load, or approaching the exercise incorrectly. Check out the video below for sign of rolling, or passive movement, and for tips on how to do it correctly.

Mistake #2: Not creating enough “space.”

One cue I use all the time when teaching the get-up is to “not let your masses move into your spaces.” In other words, if the body stays in proper alignment, you will have certain amounts of space present between your torso and your limbs / head. When we lose these spaces, you can be sure that you are beginning to rely on passive stability measures, as opposed to creating tension and actively holding positions.

Mistake #3: Rocking instead of hinging.

The transition from three points of contact to two (or from two to three, on the way back down) is common place for get-up mistakes. Mostly, people tend to rock off, or to the ground. Instead they should utilize a hip hinge pattern to shift the weight completely onto the back knee. This way they can easily lift, or place the hand back onto the ground.

Mistake #4: Keeping the joints too soft.

In some ways, this mistake could fall into the category of not creating enough space. However, I want to hone in on the importance of extension at a few joints during the movement. Often times I will see people keep these joints in slight flexion, when they should be extended. It is of note that you should also watch for people who tend to hyperextend at the elbows and knees and cue them to stay neutral, so as to promote an active form of stability.  You could also apply this to the grip, which should be firm; you don't want to see the hands open.

Mistake #5: Not engaging the anterior core.

We may have very well beat the “anti-extension” theme to death on this site. That being said, it’s a problem we see time and time again.  It also happens to be very common with most folks' Turkish Get-up technique. Make sure you are keeping the ribs down, and core braced throughout this exercise.

Mistake #6: Starting with an incorrect bottom arm position.

As with any exercise, if you don't set up correctly, your technique will always be suboptimal. With respect to the Turkish Get-up, this is particularly important in the context of where the bottom arm is positioned at the start of the movement.

I hope these suggestions help you to improve your Turkish Get-up technique, as this is one exercise you really want to include in your strength training programs because of the many benefits it delivers. And, optimizing technique will ensure that you receive all of those benefits!

If you're looking for how we might incorporate Turkish Get-up variations in our strength training programs, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available today.

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Better Movement from the Inside Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Wait is Over: Get The High Performance Handbook – and Win a Trip to Train at Cressey Performance!

Written on October 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm, by Eric Cressey

After over a year of hard work in getting it ready, I’m beyond ecstatic to announce that my new resource, The High Performance Handbook, is now available for sale.  You can pick it up at www.HighPerformanceHandbook.com.

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I went to great lengths to ensure that this resource doesn’t just offer a training program that delivers outstanding results; it also educates you along the way. You’ll learn about some of the things that are unique about your body, and how you need to manage your training accordingly.  It’s almost like a choose-your-own adventure book for people looking to achieve their training goals.

To celebrate this exciting launch and thank you for your continued support, I’ve decided to sweeten the deal for anyone who purchases the product before Tuesday at midnight (PST).  If you do so, you’ll be automatically entered to win a number of prizes, most notably an all-expenses-paid trip to get evaluated and train with us at Cressey Performance.  If you’re selected, I'll pay for your airline ticket, put you up in a nice hotel, feed you, and “coach you up” alongside all our regular clients.  And, even if you don’t win this one, you’ll still receive some awesome free bonuses no matter what. 

Also, while you’re at it, I’d highly recommend you pick up the Gold Package of The High Performance Handbook, as it includes an awesome nutrition and lifestyle guide from Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition.  There is some really eye-opening and useful stuff in there; I learned a ton myself from reading it!

Again, you can pick it up at www.HighPerformanceHandbook.com.

Thanks again for your continued support.


Now Available: Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body!

Written on June 17, 2013 at 4:10 am, by Eric Cressey

I am very excited to announce that my new product, Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body, is now available. This collaborative effort from Mike Reinold and me follows up on the first module in our Functional Stability Training system, FST for the Core, which was a big hit.  Since then, we've had a lot of inquiries about when the follow-up resources in this series would be available – and today's the day.

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FST for the Lower Body is a comprehensive program that combines the way Mike approaches rehabilitation projects with how I approach strength and conditioning programs.  We talk about a ton of topics that merge our philosophies.

The resource takes a hard look at the lower extremity and how to most effectively optimize function.  By addressing alignment, strength, mobility, and dynamic motor control, you can maximize your rehabilitation and training programs to reach optimal performance.

The lower extremities work in conjunction with the core to provide mobility, strength, and power to the entire body.  Any deficits throughout the lower body’s kinetic chain can lead to injury, dysfunction, and a decrease in performance.  FST for the Lower Body aims to help formulate rehabilitation and training programs designed to optimize how the lower body functions.

The FST for the Lower Body program can be applied to rehabilitation, injury prevention, and performance enhancement programs.

For the rehabilitation specialist, the information will help you restore functional activities faster.  For the fitness and performance specialists, the information will help you achieve new progress with your clients to maximize functional and athletic potential.  For the fitness enthusiast, the information will help you gain control of your lower body, maximize functional movement, and reduce wear and tear due to faulty movement patterns.

Here is the outline of presentations and lab demonstrations in the program:

  1. Reinold: Training the Hip for FST of the Lower Body
  2. Reinold: Assessing Lower Body Alignment and Movement
  3. Cressey: Preparing the Adductors for Health and Performance
  4. Cressey: Hip Internal Rotation Deficits: Why You Have Them and What to Do About Them
  5. Reinold: Training the Foot and Ankle for FST for the Lower Body
  6. Reinold: Understanding and Implementing Neuromuscular Control Progressions into Your Programs
  7. Reinold: How to Integrate Neuromuscular Control Progressions
  8. Cressey: 15 Things I've Learned About the Deadlift
  9. Cressey: Developing Lower Extremity Strength and Power Outside the Sagittal Plane

This video resource is available as a purely-online product, or you can also order the DVD set, if you'd prefer to have a physical copy for your library.  And, this week only, it's on sale for just $79.95, far less than you'd pay for even a half-day fitness or rehabilitation seminar.  For more information and to purchase, head here.

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5 Ways to Avoid Boredom in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

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

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

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

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

1. Get a new strength and conditioning program.

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

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

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2. Tinker with an existing strength and conditioning program.

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

3. Meet up with a new training partner.

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

4. Try some new training equipment.

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

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

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

5. Compete with yourself.

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

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

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

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 35

Written on March 4, 2013 at 6:43 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to get your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs headed in the right direction.

1. Add finely ground nuts to your favorite meals.

A while back, I started using a chili recipe from Precision Nutrition that called for a few cups of finely ground up cashews. The cashews did a fantastic job of thickening up the chili and adding taste and texture. Since then, I have experimented doing the same thing to a few different stews, and other dishes as well. It seemingly works every time. Making a stir fry? Add a cup of finely ground nuts. Steaming up a big bag of kale? Try adding them in, it tastes amazing!

You will find that it is a great addition for those looking to add calories. Additionally, it works great to add flavor and texture to those on more low carb style meal plans.


 

2. Recognize that assessing exercise form is not the same as assessing movement patterns.

I’ll admit to a mistake right away. I was always impressed when coaches I had met would tell me how they could accurately assess people just by watching them squat, deadlift, or perform a host of other loaded exercises. I was fortunate that I stumbled upon people like Eric’s work early on in my career as a fitness professional. At the same time, I was frustrated because I didn’t have the knowledge yet to apply a lot of the information he was presenting. I wanted to use better methods of assessment, but I couldn’t draw the connections. Admittedly, I’m still not 100% there, if anyone is ever truly 100%. Luckily, I have him as a resource, and consider every week at work a mini course in my ongoing education. Being in this position early on I was impressionable, and the idea of looking at exercises I was very familiar with as a form of assessment was appealing. In turn, I began to do the same thing. Little did I know there was a major flaw in my thinking. The flaw is really quite simple when we take a second to think about it.

Loaded exercises, and movement patterns are two different things. While we must work to establish solid movement patterns, exercises under load do not need to, nor should they necessarily, look the same. Granted, one should prove proficient in establishing correct patterns before loading similar movements, but one should not use proficiency in a loaded movement to assess a person’s adequacy in a movement pattern.

The “why” is a long-winded explanation – and one that could branch off into many sub-topics. So, for the sake of today’s pointer, just respect the difference between performing a squat with 400lbs on your back, and assessing someone’s squat pattern. How can we look for compensatory movement in a 400lbs squat? Every muscle in the body is firing on full cylinders, so differentiating between what’s doing too much, and what’s not pulling its weight is impossible. If someone pitches forward in a 400lb squat how can we look past the 400lbs on their back and say it’s a movement flaw? You would probably be better served just watching the person walk around, tie their shoes, or walk up a flight stairs. Once we have switched into the totally active form of “exercise,” assessing movement integrity is a futile effort.

3. Get a grip on your bench press technique.

4. Pay attention to hip positioning during jumps and landings.

5. Utilize open and closed loop drills in your strength and conditioning programs.

Strength and conditioning programs are not meant to imitate the demands or movements of actual game play. However, decision-making is an important component to an athlete’s success. It is also a skill that can be, and should be trained.

Many drills that are used by strength coaches and sport teams would be considered “closed loop” drills. They are predetermined, and predictable.

“Open loop” drills, on the other hand, require an athlete to make changes in direction and speed on the fly in response to a scenario or outside cue. For more on the difference between them, give this a read.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (14 high standard and 14 low standard) Australian footballers were assessed on their decision-making skills, and the cost of poor decisions in relation to their reactive agility capabilities.

It’s not surprising that the study found errors in decision making to worsen reactive agility performance. What’s also useful to know is that the footballers of a “high standard” were much less likely to make incorrect decisions.

When training athletes, especially young athletes, make sure to incorporate open loop drills that challenge both the physical and mental side to sport performance. It can be as simple as making them react to the direction to which you point, or chase a tennis ball you throw.

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