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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 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 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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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 33

Written on February 15, 2013 at 9:47 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here’s this week’s list of tips to make your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs more awesome.

1. Go narrower to improve wider.

People tend to spend a lot of time searching for that elusive exercise that will aid them in bringing up one of their big main lifts. Many are successful in their quest, and over time learn that one movement has great transfer to another. As an example, many people find improvements in the traditional good-morning has direct transfer to improvement in both their squat and deadlift.

Sometimes, however, what you’re searching for isn’t that far removed from what you’re already doing. Slight tweaks to the main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), will cause you to make huge improvements to the lift in question. Some examples include: creating more range of motion, altering the tempo, or utilizing a different bar. One tweak in particular doesn’t get enough attention, which is unfortunate because it yields consistently great results. So what’s the change? Go narrower to improve wider.

If you want to improve your back squat, consider doing a few training cycles of narrow stance high bar back squats. When you return to a lower bar, wider stance position, you will have great return.If you want to improve the bench press, consider doing more bench sessions, or more sets within a bench session, with a narrower grip.

Lastly, if you’re a sumo style puller, work to bring up your conventional pull. If you already pull conventional, utilize snatch grip deadlifts. The set up for a snatch grip pull is generally a bit narrower, and forces you to drop the hips more so than the conventional deadlift.

2. Don’t limit your grip training to exercises that close the hand.

Admittedly, I have a pretty weak grip. Granted, there are different qualities to grip strength, just as there are different strength qualities. My ability to resist the opening of my hand is pretty good; due mainly to many years of holding heavy stuff. In my recent efforts to improve my ability “crush” and “pinch” I have done a few things. A few in particular I brought up in this Installment 29. Another approach that’s yielded a noticeable difference is training my hand “opening” strength.

The benefit to training finger extension is two-fold. First, doing so helps to keep the joints of the lower arm healthy. If you are doing a lot of heavy lifting or playing sports that are grip intensive, you’re spend a considerable amount time flexing the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Simply doing some work in the opposite direction will create some much-needed balance. Second, improving your opening strength will improve your closing strength. Stronger and healthier is never a bad combination, so what are some exercises to train finger extension. Here are a few I picked up in John Brookfield’s Mastery of Hand Strength.

3. Monitor outputs for more productive “conditioning.”

As I have harped on a few times, conditioning is somewhat of a “garbage term” mainly because it is too generally applied. What you do for conditioning should be in line with your training goals. If your goal is increased performance, in power development for sport or weightlifting, you want to make sure you’re training in a way that aids your end goal. Many conditioning protocols are designed to more or less run people into the ground. If not that, then they are not really designed with any rhyme or reason at all, except to include a day of moving around that makes you sweat and generally hate life for 15–30min. While something of this nature may be productive for fat loss, or to fill an exercise quota in general fitness populations, it is actually taking away from your efforts the other 3–4 days per week. Here are two easy ways to improve your conditioning days. Each is based on the concept of repeating quality outputs.

In scenario 1, you will adjust rest to produce consistent outputs. This is pretty simple. Start to monitor what you get done, and then adjust rest to continually do the same or better. For example, say you are doing 15yd shuttle sprints. You want to get 10 quality sprints in, and you have set a rest interval of 45 seconds between each one. You run the first two in 4.4s and 4.42s, respectively. Your third time is 4.56. At this point you would add 10s to the rest. You run three more with this rest all under 4.5sec. Your seventh sprint is 4.6, what do you do? Add 10s to the rest. Continue like this until all ten sprints are complete.

The same concept can be used for exercises done for repetitions under a given interval. For example, rounds one through three you were able to knock out 15 kettlebell swings in 20s. The fourth round you only got 14. Add 10s of rest, and continue.

In scenario 2, you will monitor outputs and end conditioning sessions (or the exercise) when outputs become unrepeatable. I’d use this after you have done a fair amount of work in scenario 1. This way you have a solid idea of what a good rest interval would be to accomplish ten sets of a given exercise and be able to repeat the same output every time. Once you have an idea of how you are going to set it up, you simply stop the exercise, or session, once you can no longer achieve the same output. Each week, or each session, your goal would be to get more sets in, with the same rest interval before you can no longer achieve the same output.

4. Clean up your step-up execution with this variation.

5. Teach your bench press spotter to give a proper hand-off.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 32

Written on February 8, 2013 at 10:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to make your nutrition strength and conditioning programs a bit more awesome.

1. Position your free hand in the correct place during unilateral upper body movements.

2. Improve exercise form by cueing spinal flexion, when appropriate.

In the following video I demonstrate a few exercises where spinal flexion is actually a good cue to keep people in better positions during the movement. It seems counter-intuitive, so what’s the deal?

First off, individuals may start of in a more extended posture. This is often the case with athletes, or really any active individuals. Therefore, cueing flexion brings you closer to neutral. This is something to which Eric devoted a lot of attention in Functional Stability Training.

As someone who is pretty extended, I often find that the appropriate positioning of my spine actually feels rounded over, or flexed. In reality, I am just less extended than usual. Try it out for yourself, and possibly try to grab a quick video so you can relate what you’re feeling to what it actually looks like. I think you will be surprised.

Second, certain exercises fit this description: They are inherently harder to execute without driving through back extension. Additionally, they are not loaded in such a way that erring on the side of being a little flexed is dangerous. With these movements, starting a bit flexed is helping, not hurting.

Third, many people who struggle with “anti-extension” exercises are simply unable to understand what should be kicking in to keep them in the right position. Taking these folks into a position of slight flexion helps them learn to use the abdominals. Before you knock it, try it out. You will find this cue gets most people to neutral, and in the cases where they remain slightly flexed you can gradually teach them to even out.

3. Pull through the floor when performing board and floor press variations.

Great benchers all have one thing in common: they use their lats well in their bench press technique. Using the lats to bench is tough to conceptualize, and even tougher to actualize when training. It was always a major issue for me, and held me back quite a bit. One great way to learn how to engage the lats is with the board press and floor press. When done the way I explain in this video you will be able to get some feed back on the “pulling” sensation you are looking for when lowering the bar. Give it a try!

4. Convert some of your favorite oils into sprays for cooking.

Most of us use oils to coat pans and dishes when cooking. One easy thing you can do to save a few calories, and dollars, is make spray bottles with your oils. It’s fairly easy to find BPA free spray bottles, or you can invest in a Misto, which is a cool little gadget too. I generally use a 3-to-1 ratio of the oil and water in my sprays and that seems to work well. You will notice right away that as little as 6oz of olive oil when converted to a spray bottle will last a LONG time! This means you save money and eliminate unnoticed calories from your diet. Too easy!

5. Consider this blueprint for being a good training partner.

I am lucky that over the past few years, I have had some really solid training partners. When you have a good team, you are always better than you could be alone. Unfortunately, my own schedule and location, has made it tough to keep a training partner around who is on the same page as me with their training. That aside, it got me thinking about what makes a great training partner. Give this a look and see where you can step your game.

  • Be consistent. Nothing is more important to your success in the gym, and nothing is more important to your training partner. SHOW UP, all the time.
  • Shut up and train. We all have better days than others, and your training partner doesn’t need to be dragged into some pity party you are hosting.
  • Coach more. Yelling things like “up!” is a giant waste of your training partner’s time. Unless he or she tends to forget which direction the bar is supposed to move, then take stock in learning what helps them. Talk technique with them, and yell out things that will make or break their lift

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 30

Written on January 25, 2013 at 11:08 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are this week’s strength and conditioning tips, courtesy of Greg Robins.

1. Stress the “Hip Shift” with rotational med ball drills.

In this video I would like to detail the most important factor when using medicine ball exercisess to improve rotational power. Additionally, I have included a couple drills to help athletes with shifting from one hip to the other.

2. Consider adding work before you take away rest.

Often, you will set up your training sessions based on work to rest ratios. For example:

5 sets of 5 with one minute of rest.

OR

30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.

Whether we are working to improve an athlete’s work capacity, or programming for a fat loss client, the idea is that we are calling for consistent high output efforts with incomplete rest intervals.

My suggestion is that you add repetitions or small increases in time BEFORE you take away rest. Why? The answer is simple: if you want high outputs, you are more likely to get them when you have more rest, albeit incomplete rest. Over the course of a program, use a progression where you add work first, then go back to where you started and take away rest the second go around. This way you are more likely to get better outputs.

Using our first example:

The first month would include adding 1 rep per workout or adding a few seconds while keeping the 1 minute, or 30 seconds of rest, respectively. In the following month, you can keep the work at 5 reps or 30 seconds and take away small amounts of rest each workout. In the months to follow you can start to combine elements of each.

3. Know when to buy organic produce when you’re on a budget.

I have never been in a situation where I didn’t need to count my pennies when it came to buying food for the week. That being said, I have filled my head with too much information not be informed when it comes to the safety of the food I buy. Therefore, I have to be consider how I can stay smart with my food choices and my finances. One of the best pieces of advice I received a while back had to do with when to buy organic produce. As a rule of thumb, I buy organic fruits and veggies when I plan on eating the skin, and I don’t when I plan on removing the skin.

For example, when it comes to berries, apples, and leafy greens, I always go organic. When I buy bananas, pineapple, or spaghetti squash, I just buy the cheapest I can find. Keeping this in mind, I also tend to buy fruits and veggies that fit my budget at the time in respect to my rule of thumb. Give it a try and save some dough!

4. Try this variation of the reverse crunch.

5. Consider this study when developing your strength and conditioning programs.

Earlier this year, I presented at our first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I spoke on the various qualities of “strength” an athlete may acquire and display. A large part of what I stressed was the relationship between strength qualities and how some exercises (and improvement of said exercises) share a more direct relationship with increased performance in an athlete’s sport of choice.

Recently, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers examined how various field related strength and performance tests correlate to a golfer’s club head speed (CHS). Not surprisingly, it was found that better rotational medicine ball throw outputs and squat jump outputs correlated with better CHS.

The study describes the finding as “movements that are more concentrically dominant in nature may display stronger relationships with CHS.”

The take away is that we must make sure that our athletes have great absolute strength (which can be measured eccentrically), but also the ability to call upon that strength quickly and use it concentrically. If there is a major deficit between their ability to use their strength against a very sub maximal load (such as a golf club, baseball, or their body), then we are missing the mark in making them more productive on the field. Be sure to test and improve not only maximal strength numbers, but also power outputs in time dependent situations. These can include testing and programming various jumps, sprints, and throws.

Looking to take the guesswork out of your strength and conditioning programs?  Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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