Home 2010 November (Page 2)

Cheat Your Way Thin: An Interview with Joel Marion

Today, I’m featuring an interview Tom Venuto did with Cheat Your Way Thin author Joel Marion, as it’s a great interview that delves into the science of leptin and how it can be strategically manipulated for fat loss – even if it’s during the holiday season.

Tom: Cheating on your diet to lose more weight seems counterintuitive if not utterly illogical, but depending on how you approach it, I’m in complete agreement that there’s a strong argument for it from two different angles – psychological and physiological. What do you think are the psychological benefits to the dieter allowing cheat days as opposed to being 100% strict on your diet?

Joel: First, it absolutely increases adherence across the board, there’s no getting around that. It makes ―dieting‖, a concept which generally (and absurdly) demands that people forgo their favorite foods for months and months at a time, actually livable, and more importantly ENJOYABLE.

I was actually just talking about this with another trainer the other day. For most people, Day 1 of a diet—when they finally buckle down and decide they need to go on one—is the worst day of their life. It’s depressing. ―No pizza, for like, 3 months while I attempt to lose this 30 lbs. Yeah, right. Anyone who thinks that’s actually going to happen is completely deluded and this is exactly why 99% of people fail with restrictive dieting.

Two, let’s say you do cheat (not strategically) and eat something you’re not supposed to while dieting. Guilt, failure, and a slew of other feelings that you should NEVER have to feel while on a diet surface and make you feel as though you ―just don’t have it in you or that you lack willpower or that you don’t have what it takes to stick with a program and achieve your goals. That’s terrible.

Flat out, dieting, in the calorie restrictive, self-sacrificing manner we have learned it, is flat out unrealistic for the vast majority of people. If you told me I had to give up pizza for 3 months to get lean, I’d be one fat dude. The trade off isn’t worth it, and neither are the painfully slow results that most ―diets yield. Tom: On the physiological side, there are a lot of benefits to “cheating” after a period of restrictive dieting. There’s a lot going on in the body when you do this, but much of it seems to revolve around one hormone, leptin. Would you explain in as simple terms as possible for the layperson, what is leptin? Joel: Leptin is awesome (or at least when you know how to manipulate it, it is). Get on its ―bad side, however, and you’re pretty much doomed to be overweight. In the simplest terms, leptin is a hormone that communicates your nutritional status to the rest of your body. From there, your body then makes decisions on what to do with things like fat burning and metabolism, based on the messages it’s receiving from our friend leptin. High leptin levels = heightened fat burning and metabolism Low leptin levels = decreased fat burning and metabolism There’s a little more to it than that, but you asked for simple terms. Leptin has also been deemed the ―anti-starvation hormone, which is essentially is its major function in the body, to prevent, or at least dramatically slow the negative adaptations (from a survival standpoint) when food is scarce or when energy intake drops substantially (i.e. starvation).  This was great for our hunter and gather ancestors, but terrible for the dieter.

And while dieting certainly isn’t as extreme as starvation, it really is nothing more than a lesser degree of exactly that, carry slightly lessened, but still very troubling consequences for the dieter.

Getting into some of the research on leptin, research has shown that after only seven days of calorie restriction, leptin drops on average 50% -- putting you at roughly 50% of your fat burning potential. That’s after only ONE week.  And as long as you continue to fail to provide your body with the energy it’s hoping to receive, adaptations get worse, leptin falls harder, and metabolism takes an even greater hit. The good news is, it only takes one day of ―overfeeding‖ or ―cheating‖ to bring leptin levels back to baseline and restore things like plummeted thyroid hormones, fat burning enzymes, a manageable (not insatiable) appetite, and metabolism overall.

The problem with overfeeding, however, is that if you fail to properly set up the rest of the diet in an extremely strategic manner around a cheat day or overfeed day, overfeed days can backfire and lead to a one-step-forward one-step-back phenomenon. This is something we cover heavily in Cheat Your Way Thin—the ideal way to set up the other 6 days each week, based on a plethora of research, to ensure that each cheat day accelerates, not detracts, from progress.

Tom: Are you saying that you can significantly manipulate leptin with nutritional intervention, including cheat days, and that if we can scour the research and make a punch list of things that keep leptin levels as normal as possible and prevent leptin from dropping like it would with a linear low calorie or low carb diet, this is going improve our results?

Joel: Absolutely, no question about it. Keeping metabolism consistently high and avoiding the negative hormonal adaptations of dieting equates to better, faster results; there’s no way around that. That’s in addition to the psychological/adherence benefits, which obviously, if you’re actually still doing the diet 6 or 8 weeks into the plan, you’re going to experience infinitely better results than if you quit after two weeks every time. Tom: Are you claiming that these techniques will actually increase fat loss, or simply prevent the bad stuff that happens with restrictive dieting, like the adaptive decrease in metabolism and the increase in appetite, which could then lead to plateaus? I think this is an important distinction. Joel: Preventing the bad stuff = increasing the good stuff (i.e. fat burning). If your metabolism slows, that means you are burning fewer calories, right? So for instance, let’s say your BMR was 2000 cals/day when you first started dieting, and then through restrictive dieting over a period of a month or two (and the subsequent decrease in leptin and metabolism), you’re now only burning 1500 cals/per day. If you had kept leptin ―happy through strategic cheating and metabolism did NOT drop off, you’d still be burning an extra 500 calories a day. Do you think that burning an extra 500 calories a day is valuable in terms of faster fat loss? Without question.

Essentially, by ―preventing the bad things from occurring, you automatically and absolutely increase fat loss beyond what would be possible without taking measures to manipulate leptin and keep metabolism at its height, week to week. Simply put, use strategic cheating in the proper way, and by the end of each week you’ll have lost more fat than if you simply chose to remain ―strict seven days a week. That equates to increased fat loss any way you look at it.

Tom: I’ve been looking at some research that says some folks have plenty of leptin but they also have leptin resistance. I haven’t seen many people really address this leptin resistance issue aside from saying it exists. Do you think this is a common problem and does your program offer any insights into the causes as well as solutions? Joel: Okay, the other thing I didn’t mention while trying to give you the ―simple definition earlier was that leptin levels aren’t just mediated by calorie intake alone—they’re also affected by the amount of body fat you are carrying. High levels of body fat = high levels of leptin Low levels of body fat = low levels of leptin

Now, from everything I said earlier, that makes it sound like fat people with high levels of body fat should actually be the leanest people around if leptin actually made a difference (and lean people should be gaining weight like nobody’s business, because of extremely low leptin levels).

This is where leptin resistance and leptin sensitivity come in. Similar to insulin resistance, if leptin receptors are constantly being bombarded by high levels of leptin, they start to become less sensitive to the hormone. This is what happens with insulin in Type II diabetics. People eat crap food and loads of highly processed carbohydrates for years, flood their bloodstream with insulin every hour of the day, and gradually over time insulin receptors become so desensitized to the hormone to the point that insulin no longer ―works.

It’s the same with leptin. Overweight people, who have been overweight for years, become resistant to the hormone because of massive amounts of leptin (caused by high body fat levels and high calorie intakes) slamming receptors for extended periods of time. On the other hand, lean people can get by with lower levels of leptin, relatively speaking, because their receptors are extremely sensitive to the hormone. It’s important to note, however, that this is relative to the person and their individual ―baseline levels of leptin when food intake is normal. For example, let’s say, and I’m just pulling out a totally arbitrary number for simplicity’s sake, a particular person with a low level of body fat has a baseline level of leptin is ―10 (I’m leaving out the μg/L units of measure left and all that jazz for simplicity as well). ―10 is all this person needs for normal metabolic functioning to occur because they are highly sensitive to leptin. On the other hand, ―10 wouldn’t be nearly enough to maintain normal metabolism for a much larger, and subsequently less leptin sensitive individual. So, you can see what I mean when I say that it’s all relative. Another important thing to note is that calorie restriction lowers leptin independent of body fat. So, let’s say this same person from above went on a diet. And they’re leptin levels went down to ―5. Sure, they’re very sensitive to leptin, but ―5 ain’t going to get the job done even for them. When leptin levels fall below baseline levels, whatever baseline levels are relative to the person, negative metabolic adaptations occur.

Getting back to leptin resistance, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that it’s totally reversible, but the bad news is that someone who has been overweight for years (and is thus probably leptin resistant) can’t just jump right into a full-out strategic cheating and carb-cycling program and have it be effective—simply put, in this case, the dietary strategies we use to manipulate leptin wouldn’t really be of use to them because they’re resistant to the hormone and it’s not going to matter if we’re doing all these different things to manipulate leptin—they already have plenty of leptin running around.

For this person, the focus would then be on reversing the leptin resistance and restoring leptin sensitivity, and that is done one way: clean eating + exercise, and yes, with a moderate calorie restriction. Pretty much all the same dietary measures one would take to increase insulin sensitivity (clean eating, low-carbs, low-glycemic carbs, etc).

Carbohydrate intake also affects leptin levels, so someone is this position would certainly want to avoid highly processed carbs or anything that is going to give leptin a significant spike.

I generally recommend 2-3 weeks of lower-carb dieting (with strategic cheating interspersed) before beginning with the full blown program, and that’s actually the purpose of the ―priming phase of the Cheat Your Way Thin program. For the Cheat Your Way Thin Holiday Edition, we also included some other leptin resistance reversing strategies as well (still allowing for plenty of holiday cheating).

Tom: I’ve found a lot of evidence to suggest that an overweight person and an already lean person have some significant physiological differences that can influence how they respond to a particular diet. Do you suggest a different approach for the overweight person and the already lean dieter who is trying to get even leaner (for example a bodybuilder or figure competitor)?

Joel: In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I’ll say this. The leaner you get, the more leptin becomes a limiting factor and the more you have to do to manipulate it. Because of this, we often increase the frequency of cheat days to once every 5 days for very lean individuals, or even every 4 days in some extreme instances like with bodybuilders or figure competitors prepping for a show. Some advanced diet and exercise strategies are also needed to make that type of frequent approach work.

Similarly, for the very overweight person, when we first transition them to using strategic cheat days, we may start with a cheat day once every 9 or 10 days, as opposed to once a week.

For the vast majority falling in between these two extremes, however, the once per week approach works best (and is great for consistency as cheat days always fall on the same day each week allowing people to plan their cheat day around whatever day is generally their most social day of the week).

Tom: I’m a firm believer in cycling calories up and down and doing that by manipulating carb intake which I call carb cycling, for many of the same reasons that you have a cheat day. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different ways to carb cycle, like 5 days keto and 2 days of high carb, the rotation of high, low and medium days, and various mixtures of high and low carb days. What is your basic methodology for introducing the higher calorie cheat days and why do you prefer your method over some of the other ways that people do carb cycling?

Joel: As for methodology, it’s based on the research I shared earlier that leptin falls off by about 50% after only one week, while only taking one day of ―overfeeding or ―cheating to ramp levels back up to baseline. So this is the basis of the weekly cheat day.

That said, we actually do use carb cycling in addition to Cheat Days to make the program even more effective, but carb cycling alone, unless you are doing very high calorie ―refeed days, while somewhat effective, not as effective as combining both or using all-out cheat days.

I’ll explain the reason and necessity for the weekly carb cycling in a bit.

Tom: Your method seems complicated with high glycemic index/glycemic load days, low carb days and cheat days and all kinds of phases. If your goal is to increase adherence by allowing cheat meals, then wouldn’t creating a complex system of high, low, cheat, and various GI level days just create the opposite effect and lower adherence?

Joel: People have reported, a thousand times over, that it’s actually the easiest diet they’ve ever done, and not only because of the cheat days, but because of the wide variety of foods that you’re allowed to eat even on ―diet days.

We go low-carb after a cheat day and then pretty much every day we add foods to the ―allowed list. This isn’t hard to do, there is no calorie counting, and with every day you just get to eat more than you did yesterday. That’s a pretty easy diet to stick to. And oh yeah, once a week you get to eat whatever you want. I don’t think it gets easier.

In the manual, I list it out in the easiest way to understand possible, and after a week or two on the diet the entire system become second nature in which people don’t have to even think about it whatsoever.

On low carb days you eat steak, fish, eggs, and plenty of veggies, on low GI days you fill up on things fruit and legumes, and for higher GI days you’re allowed to have pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, etc. Of course there are a lot more options than just those foods, but that’s the gist of it…you just climb the GI scale throughout the week.

It’s not complicated at all once people read through the program, and even less complicated when they actually start doing it.

Tom: I’ve been following the research on glycemic index/glycemic load and weight loss with great interest. It seems, at least if you go by what the peer-reviewed research says, that GI is a useful tool for blood sugar management, which is what it was originally intended for, but when calories are matched evenly, there’s little or no impact of GI on weight loss. Are you familiar with these studies, and if so then why do you emphasize GI and GL so much in your program?

Joel: Yes, I’m familiar, but here are a couple things to consider. One, these weight loss studies are performed with people adhering to the same typical calorie restrictive, 7-days a week of dieting approach that I adamantly preach against, because it’s ineffective. There is no calorie cycling, carb cycling, or strategic cheating involved. Needless to say, simply manipulating GI in this instance isn’t going to make a big difference.

Beyond that, let’s say that GI really didn’t matter even when adding a weekly cheat day. That would be valid data if you were consuming the same basic diet the other 6 days of the week, but that’s not what we do with Cheat Your Way Thin.

Allow me to make an analogy. Let’s say my employer pays me one of two ways – my pay for a full week once a week on Friday, or my pay for one day, every day. At the end of the week I make the same amount of money with either approach. But is there a difference in the impact of each payment method? Absolutely.

With the once a week approach, my pay day is a much bigger event, I have enough money to make a larger purchase, or go out for a higher-end dinner. With the every day approach, not so much. I make the same amount of money each week, but it never quite ―feels like a have a lot of money in my hands.

Well, we treat our use of the GI system the same way. If I just prescribed the same diet every day, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, but that’s not how I use GI and GL. Instead, we line up carb intake strategically to create little "paydays": spikes and jumps and high points in insulin throughout the week, and that strategic use makes an impact. Now, you’re probably thinking, "why would we want to spike insulin throughout the week?" That’s a good question.

The reason is, I’ve read through quite a few VERY intriguing papers that show the number one influencer of leptin is insulin, and this supercedes the actual calorie content being consumed. There was actually one study – and your eyes are really going to be opened with this one – that monitored leptin levels of fasting individuals. Naturally, leptin crashed pretty hard, but then they did something else. They gave each subject an IV drip of insulin to maintain normal blood insulin levels, and even though they were consuming ZERO calories, leptin levels were maintained.

That’s the power of insulin in this scenario, and exactly why we cycle carbohydrates in the fashion we do. We start off the week low-carb when leptin is high after the cheat day along with strategically time exercise to accelerate progress. Then, mid-week, when leptin starts to fall off from the low cals and carbs, we reintroduce low GI carbs for an insulin boost. Then, later in the week, as leptin begins to fall again, we add starchier, higher GI carbs for an even greater boost.

Every single day is set up in a strategic way to manipulate leptin and maximize the benefits of the Cheat Day.

Tom: Is there any reason that the cheat day has to be “junk” food? Call me crazy, but I don’t like eating a lot of junk. Give me two cheat meals a month and I’m completely satisfied, I swear, I just want the option to eat what I want occasionally. In fact, I usually feel like crap after I have a huge junk meal, let alone an entire junk food day. Would a guy like me get the same effect, from a physiological point of view by carbing up / refeeding on potatoes, yams, rice, oats and maybe some pasta? Is there any reason eating more clean food won’t have the same effect as junk food?

Joel: A clean ―carb reefed does not have the same benefits and is not as effective; we actually tried it many, many times with clients, comparing results with the ―all-out approach, and strictly from fat loss standpoint the all-out approach produces better results every time.

Now, that is not to say that you need to eat ―junk food, but rather that you just need to understand why ―junk food works so well for our purposes, and then replicate those reasons with cleaner items.

French fries, pizza, ice cream, pastries, etc, all combine two things very well—very high glycemic carbohydrates and fats. That is the winning combo.

Carbohydate + fat produce a synergistic insulin response beyond what is possible when just using carbs.

And you need to go HIGH GI—yams and oats are OK as part of the day’s menu, but you really need to go higher GI than this. Throw in some bread, the rice and pasta are good, maybe some crackers, Gatorade, etc. Bottom line, high GI carbs + fat wins out.

Tom: To what degree is your varied carb approach simply a way to manipulate calories? With so much focus on carbs and glycemic index, do you see a danger that people are going to start to fear carbs or consider carbs fattening, when its really just a caloric deficit we’re trying to achieve, isn’t it?

Joel: The calorie stuff is actually just a side-effect, after-effect, or added ―”bonus” of what we do with carbs, not the main or intended effect we are trying to achieve, which again are the insulin spikes throughout the week.

Yes, the calorie cycling does help a bit indirectly, but I even mention in the manual that this is not the main reason for the staggered carb set up.

Tom: I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but I have to ask. Do you see any potential downside of allowing an entire “eat whatever you want” cheat day, as opposed to doling out individual cheat meals? In particular aren’t you concerned about people overeating, losing track of calories and setting themselves backwards? If you give permission to your clients to go wild and eat whatever they want on cheat day, I know some dudes that would make an all-you-can-eat buffet go out of business.

Joel: Yes, and I’m one of those dudes. The fact is that it works the way it is. I haven’t met anyone who can really overeat the cheat day to the point that it sets back progress if they strategically follow the way I set up the rest of the program. It just doesn’t happen. And this is coming from a guy who orders a 48 oz steak when I go out to a steak house, along with appetizers, salad, soup, family-size sides, and dessert.

The only ―stipulation I put on the cheat day is that you do not eat to the point of discomfort. Eat until you are full, but that’s it. Then wait until you are hungry again until you eat. If you are leaving the table saying ―I ate too much‖ or if you’re feeling sick, or if you have to lay down because you over-did it, that’s where you know you’ve gone overboard, and that’s really the only way people are going to overdo the calories.

As for the recommendation of doling things out to individual cheat meals, that does NOT work to bring about the physiological changes (increasing leptin, etc), which is the number one reason we use cheat days. The psychological stuff is a nice added benefit, but it’s a side-effect of the physiological benefits we are aiming to gain from each cheat day.

Cheat meals are great as a psychological vent, but that’s about it. Research has very clearly shown that prolonged overfeeding over the course of a day (and not a single meal) is necessary to restore leptin levels to baseline.

Tom: Thanks, Joel. This has been on extremely informative interview

Today marks the release of Joel's Cheat Your Way Thin Holiday Edition.  Check it out at a huge discount through this Friday, November 19, at midnight HERE.

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ACL Grafts: Which is Best? A Strength Coach’s Perspective

A few weeks ago, I came across this recent study of different ACL grafts.  It found that there was no difference in follow-up success rates at two-year mark between hamstrings and patellar tendon grafts.  The patellar tendon group did, however, exhibit more anterior knee pain – which isn’t a surprise because it’s not uncommon to see longer term tendinosis in athletes with patellar tendon grafts even after their “rehabilitation period” is over.  That said, I would be interested to see what would happen if they: a) evaluated those patellar tendon graft subjects who received soft tissue treatments as part of their rehabilitation versus those who didn’t (my experience says that the anterior knee pain goes away sooner when manual therapy is present) . b) evaluated those who went to effective strength and conditioning programs immediately post-rehabilitation versus those who didn’t (my hunch would be that those who continued to activation/strengthen the posterior chain would have experienced less anterior knee pain). c) looked at performance-based outcomes at ~12-18 months in the hamstrings group, as these folks have more “intereference” with a return to normal training because of the graft site (you want to strengthen the posterior chain, but can’t do that as soon if you are missing a chunk of the hamstrings).  My experience has been that patellar tendon patients can do a lot more with their strength and conditioning program sooner than those who have hamstrings grafts. It’s not to necessarily say that one is better than the other, as they both have their pros and cons – but I think this study potentially casts patellar tendon grafts in a less favorable light when the truth is that hamstrings grafts can have just as many complications down the road.  Above all else, the best ACL grafts are the ones that the surgeon is the most comfortable using – so pick your surgeon and defer to his expertise. As an interesting aside to this, I remember Kevin Wilk at an October 2008 seminar saying that 85% of ACL reconstructions in the U.S. are performed by doctors that do fewer than 10 ACL reconstructions per year.  So, don’t just find a surgeon; find a surgeon that does these all the time and has built up a sample size large enough to know which ACL graft site is right for you, should you (unfortunately) ever “kneed” one (terrible pun, I know). Related Posts Who "Kneeds" Normal Knees? An Intelligent Answer to a Dumb Question: A Review of "The Single-leg Solution" Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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Muscle Imbalances Revealed, Rotator Cuff Exercises, and Kids (and Puppies) Making it Big

1. First, I wanted to give you a quick heads-up that Rick Kaselj just released Muscle Imbalances Revealed 2.0 - and it's on sale through tonight (Friday, 11/12) at midnight. Many of you probably already know that I raved about this product in a review when it was initially launched, as it provided an awesome resource that compiled expertise from some really bright folks in our industry.

Well, based on customer feedback, Rick tinkered with the product, added some sweet new content, including over 50 new corrective exercises for the lower body, a second presentation on fascial anatomy and its impact on spine function/back pain, and a detailed write-up on barefoot running - all in addition to the great content that was available in the first place.  I'd highly encourage you to check it out and take advantage of this great introductory offer by the end of the day today. For more information, check out Muscle Imbalances Revealed 2.0. *Also, as an added bonus, this product is available for CEU/CEC for the fitness professionals out there - and I didn't even realize it until just now.  So, I guess you could just call these credits "gravy" on a product that would have been well worth it anyway! 2. While on the topic of muscle imbalances,  here's a quick study to check out, as it highlights the overwhelming importance of scapular positioning (secondary to adequate strength of the scapular stabilizers) with respect to rotator cuff function.  This study saw reduced pain and increased rotator cuff strength following a program to restore strength of the peri-scapular muscles.  While the study in question was a chronic intervention (3- and 6-month follow-ups), the truth is that these benefits can be seen transiently as well - just by positioning the scapula correctly during rotator cuff exercises.  You'll notice that in both the following videos, regardless of the amount of abduction present, the scapula remains retracted and depressed to allow for optimal performance of rotator cuff exercises:

For this reason, whenever anyone ever says that an external rotation drill causes shoulder pain (particularly the front), the first thing I do is reposition their scapula into posterior tilt and retraction.  In almost all cases, this will eliminate their shoulder pain instantly and they'll start to feel rotator cuff exercises in the posterior shoulder musculature (where they should).  This is also one reason why many people will instantly go from painful shoulder movement to pain-free movement just by having soft tissue treatments on the pec minor; by getting some length in this muscle, the scapula can posteriorly tilt, which not only gives the rotator cuff tendons room to "breath" (less shoulder impingement), but also puts them in a more mechanically advantageous position to stabilize the humeral head (via the length-tension relationship).

3. If you're like me, you could have used a good laugh to brighten your day yesterday - and that's why we have puppies.  Here's Tank's weekly cameo (make sure you turn up the volume):

Speaking of Tank, thanks to several minor league baseball players at Cressey Performance who have too much time on their hands, you can now follow him on Twitter - and I must say that these tweets have been very entertaining thus far.  Check him out at http://www.Twitter.com/TankNasty.

4. Speaking of Twitter, you might notice the new addition to my blogs where you can tweet if you like what you read (and the same thing goes for clicking the "like" button for Facebook).  These little icons are located at the top of each blog.  If you enjoy a particular post and think others would benefit from reading, I'd appreciate it if you could help spread the word with just a quick click.  Thanks in advance! 5. Last, but certainly not least, a few people forwarded me this link of our old friend - who apparently actually has a name (Keenan Cahill):

It just goes to show how awesome he is that he can make 50 Cent look like a JV player just by showing up....no bling or flat-billed cap needed to be a real high roller.

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How to Select a Weight to Use in a Resistance Training Program

The question of what weight to use in a resistance training program comes up very commonly not only among beginners, but also intermediate and experienced lifters.  So, when I got this question from a reader recently, it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to cover this in a detailed write-up.

Q: I have a question about how to select weights to use within programs like yours that may fluctuate the sets and reps from week to week.  For example, if it’s 4x3 in week 1, 4x2 in week 2, 4x4 in week 3, and 3x3 in week 4, are there are certain percentages that I can use based off my one-rep max?  This would make it easier to know exactly what weight to use each week.

A: Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to paraphrase a bit from chapter 2 of the Show and Go main guide. Let me preface this explanation by saying that the goal of all my programs – and indeed any good strength and conditioning program – is to get stronger. And, I fully expect you to do so.

sag-main

Now, if that’s the case, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to select what weight to use based on percentages of one-rep maxes that were taken before the program even began. By the time you get to phases 2, 3, and 4, you aren’t going to have sufficient overload to make optimal progress.

So, to that end, I rarely assign training percentages. All sets should be to one rep shy of failure; basically, go hard but never attempt a rep that you won't complete on your own. Each session should be somewhat of a test of your new strength as you work up to heavier loads and listen to your body along the way.

As a frame of reference, on your first (main) exercise(s), just work up to your heaviest set of the day (in perfect form, of course), and then find 90% of it. Anything you did above that 90% number "counts" as a set. Anything done before it is a warm-up. So, imagine you had 4 set of 3 reps planned on the bench press, and you worked up to 300 on you heaviest set using the following progression:

Set 1: 45x8
Set 2: 135x5
Set 3: 185x3
Set 4: 225x3
Set 5: 275x3
Set 6: 295x3
Set 7: 300x3

That puts you at three sets (275, 295, and 300) above 90% of your heaviest load for the day (300). So, to get a fourth set in, you just need to get one more set somewhere between 270 (90%) and 300 (100%). By the next week, this 90-100% range may have shifted up by 5-10 pounds, so you have to accommodate it – and prescribing percentages on an old one-rep-max just doesn’t do the job justice.

It really doesn’t matter what rep range is in question – whether you’re doing heavy singles or a 5x5 workout.  You can really apply it to just about every set in every training session when you're wondering what weight to use.

For more information, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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A Great Day for Cressey Performance Athletes

November 10 might seem like just any day to most people - and it certainly wouldn't have any significance to the baseball training world to the casual observer.  However, it's actually a pretty big day to celebrate here at Cressey Performance. Today, a bunch of guys in our class of 2011 sign their national letters of intent to play Division 1 baseball - and I wanted to give them a shoutout in this blog to recognize their accomplishments.  Looking at this list, we have guys from three separate states - which means that a few of them travel up to two hours just to get to CP (and two hours home).  Some have been with us less than a year, and others since they were in eighth grade - but I wanted to recognize them all together nonetheless. Here they are (and the universities/college to which they're headed): 1. Jordan Cote - Coastal Carolina 2. Tyler Beede - Vanderbilt 3. Adam Ravenelle - Vanderbilt 4. Barrett O'Neill - Virginia 5. Matt Luppi - Connecticut 6. Colin Egan - Wake Forest 7. Joe Napolitano - Wake Forest 8. Aaron Fossas - Wake Forest 9. Andrew Chin - Boston College 10. Devin Perry - Boston College 11. John Gorman - Boston College 12. Carl Anderson - Bryant 13. Cam Hatch - Maryland 14. Lorenzo Papa - Rhode Island 15. David St. Lawrence - Brown 16. Matt Mottola - UMASS-Lowell There are certainly quite a few more to come as a few other guys wrap up the decision making process, but I thought I'd mention all these guys at once on the day that they sign.  Congratulations, fellas; it's a party at CP!

Click here for or more information on the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program.

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Throwing Programs: Not One-Size-Fits-All

I received a few separate emails this week from folks wondering how I plan our guys' off-season throwing programs to include everything from long toss, to weighted baseballs, to mound work.

Most people expect to be handed a simple throwing program - as one might receive with an interval throwing program following rehabilitation.  The truth is that there isn't a single throwing program that I give to all our guys; rather, each is designed with the athlete's unique needs and circumstances taken into consideration.

With that in mind, I thought I'd outline some of the factors we consider when creating a throwing program for our professional baseball pitchers (many of these principles can also be applied to younger throwers):

1. Where they struggle on the mound (poor control, poor velocity, lack of athleticism, etc.)

2. Whether I want them using weighted balls in addition to long toss and bullpens or not

3. How many innings they threw the previous year (the more they throw, the later they start)

4. Whether they are going to big league or minor league spring training (we have minor league guys an additional 2-3 weeks)

5. How much "risk" we're willing to take with their throwing program (we'd be more aggressive with a 40th rounder than a big leaguer or first rounder; here is a detailed write-up on that front)

6. Whether they are a starter or reliever (relievers can start earlier because they've had fewer innings in the previous year)

7. What organization they are in (certain teams expect a LOT when guys show up, whereas others assume guys did very little throwing in the off-season and then hold them back when they arrive in spring training)

8. Whether guys play winter ball, Arizona Fall League, Team USA/Pan-American games, or go to instructionals

9. Whether they are big leaguers (season ends the last week in September, at the earliest) or minor leaguers (ends the first week in September)

10. What each guy tells you about his throwing history and how his arm feels.  Any pitcher can always tell you more than you can ever accurately assume - so you just have to be willing to listen to him.

Here are a few general rules of thumb:

1. Most throwing programs from professional organizations don't have their pitchers playing catch until January 1 - and I think this is WAY too late to give pitchers adequate time to develop arm speed and durability in the off-season.

2. Relievers start earlier than starters (we are starting our relief pitchers three weeks ahead of our starters this year, on average).

3. Medicine ball volume comes down and throwing volume goes up.

4. Most of our guys who don't go to instructionals, winter ball, the fall league, or Team USA start in November.  Starters are generally right around Thanksgiving among minor leaguers, with some relievers a bit earlier.  Big league guys don't start throwing until mid- to late-December or even January 1.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it gives you some insight into some of what goes through my mind as we work to increase throwing velocity and arm health.

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Lower Back Pain, Diesel Little Leaguers, and Resistance Training Solutions

Here are a few blasts from the past that you definitely ought to check out: Lower Back Pain and the Fitness Professional - It's amazing how many fitness professionals know NOTHING about lower back pain even though it will occur at one point or another in every single one of their clients. Can Little Leaguers Strength Train? - It's a question I get all the time - and this was my first response to the inquiry a few years ago.  I updated this and got a bit more detailed and geeky in a follow-up, The Truth about Strength Training for Kids. Solutions to Lifting Problems - This T-Muscle article is a must-read for anyone who wants to be able to stay the course even when setbacks occur along the resistance training journey. Lastly, for those who are looking to shed some pounds over the holidays while everyone else is packing 'em on, check out these two free Holiday Fat Loss special reports from Joel Marion.  Joel's got some quick and easy to apply tips you can put to use right away. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter:
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How to Find Your Fitness Niche

As a lot of you probably know, I'm pretty much known as a "baseball training guy" - and rightfully so, as about 80-85% of our athletes at Cressey Performance are baseball players.

Most people are surprised to find that I really never played baseball at a high level.  While I was super active in it growing up (my mother jokes that I actually taught myself to read with baseball cards), I actually had to give baseball up at the end of eighth grade so that I could focus on tennis, my "stronger" spring sport.  And, to take it a step further, when high school ended, I went off to college in 1999 fully expecting to become an accountant.  Seriously.

Around that same time, though, I had some health problems - and my shoulder was already a wreck from tennis.  Those factors "beckoned" me to a healthy lifestyle - and that's when I made the decision to transfer to an exercise science program and focus on my new passion as a career.  I did a double major in exercise science and sports/fitness management, and took part in internships in everything from personal training to cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. When I headed off to graduate school in 2003, I anticipated going in to the research world.  About a month after I arrived on campus at UCONN, though, I caught the strength and conditioning bug and was hooked - for life.  Interestingly, though, in those first few years, I really didn't work with baseball much at all. It wasn't until I got out in to the "real world" that I just happened to start working with a few high school baseball players when I first moved to Boston.  They were great kids, and I had a lot of fun training them - and they got great results that drew a lot of attention to the work I did with them.  I was already a big baseball fan, and given my history of shoulder problems, I really enjoyed learning everything I possibly could about arm care - so it was a great fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.  We now have 44 professional baseball players from all over the country here to train with us at Cressey Performance because they believe our expertise, environment, systems, and passion give them the best opportunity on the planet to be successful in their baseball careers. I have guys who swear by my resistance training, medicine ball, mobility, soft tissue, movement training, and throwing programs even though I never even played a single game of high school - let alone collegiate or professional - baseball.  I've found my niche - but as you can tell, I never forced it. What do you think I would have said if you had asked me in 1999 what my ten-year plan was?  I would have told you that I'd be filing tax returns in early April, not following all our athletes on opening day around the country. And, if you had asked me in 2004 what my five-year plan was, I'd have told you that it was to become a great muscle physiology research.  I probably would have commented on how cool it was that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years - but wouldn't have had the foresight to note that I'd someday go on to train two guys from that roster who have 2004 world championship rings. My point is that you can't force a fitness niche; you have to discover and then develop it.  A lot of stars had to line up the right way for me to get to where I am with working with a baseball population, but as Thomas Jefferson once said, "I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."

Getting sick forced me to learn how to better take care of my body - and that led me to the fitness industry and strength and conditioning. Having shoulder pain motivated me to learn more about shoulder health. Being a "non-baseball guy" growing up forced me to do a lot more listening than talking with our athletes early-on, as I had to learn their culture.  It also put me in a position to never accept stupid training principles (like distance running for pitchers) simply because they were "tradition" - because crappy training was never a "tradition" that I'd learned. If I'd purposely gotten sick, whacked myself in the shoulder with a sledgehammer, and then read every book on baseball tradition that I could, do you think I'd be where I am today?  If you answered "yes," put down the glue you're sniffing and start reading this again from the top.

Every business consultant in the fitness industry raves about how important it is nowadays to get a niche.  Train middle-aged female fat loss clients only.  Or, maybe it's 9-12 year-old kids.  My buddy Eric Chessen even works exclusively with fitness for kids in the autism spectrum. I agree completely with these consultants' advice - but your appropriate niche won't magically appear unless you experience a lot of different settings and find the right fit for you, then follow up on it by educating yourself as much as possible by reading/watching everything you can, expanding your network of colleagues, and finding solutions to problems others haven't been able to solve. If you are going to do something exclusively, you better be: a) passionate about it b) good at it c) sure that it alone can financially support you d) excited about the possibility of becoming an expert and contributing to the existing body of knowledge in that realm e) willing to potentially pass up on opportunities in other realms To be very candid, I just don't think that having specific 5- and 10-year plans is necessarily a good idea.  Sure, it's okay if we are talking about financial planning, marriage, etc. - but when it comes to professional goals, there are just too many factors that can change things on a dime and turn you in a new direction.  I love what I do now, but couldn't tell you for the life of me where I'll be in 5-10 years - and I happen to think that I have a pretty good grasp on where I'm going, as compared to the rest of the fitness industry.  If I was just leaving college today, I'd definitely be taking it one day at a time! How about you?  What's your niche - and how did you discover and develop it? Related Posts Want to be a Personal Trainer or Strength Coach?  Start Here. 7 Steps for Attacking Continuing Education in the Fitness Industry How Do You Find Time for Everything?
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FREE Podcast Interview with EC

Last week, Perry Nickelston interviewed me for his podcast.  We covered everything from the origins of my latest product, Show and Go, to baseball workouts, to running a facility.  You can listen to the interview for free HERE.

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The Truth About “Quick Feet” and Agility Ladder Drills

Michael Boyle published this Q&A newsletter about quick feet and agility ladder drills last week, and I enjoyed it so much that I asked him if I could repost it here.  Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of "agility ladder" drills, and while Mike does use them in moderation, he makes a great case for why we don't want to go overboard - or expect too much of them. Q: A couple of threads on the Strength Coach forum got me thinking about the question of foot speed and athletes. I can't tell you how often I hear a parent or a coach ask, "How can I improve my son's/daughter's/athlete's foot speed or agility?" A: It seems everyone always wants the shortcut and the quick fix. The better question might be "Do you think you can improve foot speed?" or maybe even the larger question, "Does foot speed even matter?" That begs the larger question, "Does foot speed have anything to do with agility?" I know coaches or parents reading this are asking, "Is this guy crazy?" How many times have we heard that "speed kills?" I think the problem is that coaches and parents equate fast feet with fast and quick feet with agile. However, fast feet don't equal fast any more than quick feet equal agile. In some cases, fast feet might actually make an athlete slow--often I see fast feet as a detriment to speed. In fact, some of our quick turnover guys, those who would be described as having fast feet, are very slow off the start.

The problem is fast feet don't use the ground well to produce force. Fast feet might be good on hot coals, but not on hard ground. Think of the ground as the well from which we draw speed. It is not how fast the feet move, but rather how much force goes into the ground. This is basic action-reaction physics. Force into the ground equals forward motion. This is why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest. It comes down to force production. Often coaches will argue the vertical vs. horizontal argument and say the vertical jump doesn't correspond to horizontal speed, but years of data from the NFL Combine begs to differ. Force into the ground is force into the ground. In spite of what Brett Contreras may say, vectors don't seem to matter here. The truth is parents should be asking about vertical jump improvement, not about fast feet. My standard line is "Michael Flatley has fast feet, but he doesn't really go anywhere. If you move your feet fast and don't go anywhere, does it matter? It's the old "tree falling in the woods" thing.

The best solution to slow feet is to get stronger legs. Feet don't matter. Legs matter. Think about it this way: If you stand at the starting line and take a quick first step but fail to push with the back leg, you don't go anywhere. The reality is that a quick first step is actually the result of a powerful first push. We should change the buzzwords and start to say "that kid has a great first push." Lower body strength is the real cure for slow feet and the real key to speed and to agility. The essence of developing quick feet lies in single-leg strength and single-leg stability work… landing skills. If you cannot decelerate, you cannot accelerate - at least not more than once.

One of the things I love is the magic drill idea. This is the theory that developing foot speed and agility is not a process of gaining strength and power, but rather the lack of a specific drill. I tell everyone I know that if I believed there was a magic drill we would do it every day. The reality is it comes down to horsepower and the nervous system, two areas that change slowly over time. How do we develop speed, quickness and agility? Unfortunately, we need to do it the slow, old-fashioned way. You can play with ladders and bungee cords all you want, but that is like putting mag wheels on an Escort. The key is to increase the horsepower, the brakes, and the accelerator. I think the answer for me is always the same. I wrote an article last year called "Is ACL Prevention Just Good Training?" In much the same way, development of speed, agility and quickness simply comes down to good training. We need to work on lower body strength and lower body power - and we need to do it on one leg. I also love "agility" ladder drills. They provide excellent multi-planar dynamic warm-up. They develop brain-to-muscle connection and are excellent for eccentric strength and stability. We do less than five minutes of ladder drills, one or two times a week. I don't believe for a minute that the ladder is a magic tool that will make anyone faster or more agile, however I do believe it is a piece of the puzzle from the neural perspective. People waste more than five minutes on biceps curls, but we have long debates about ladder drills. These are also a great tool to show to coaches who want "foot speed." Sometime it's easier to "yes" them than to argue with them. Give a guy with "bad feet" a jump rope and you get a guy with bad feet and patella tendonitis. For more information on Michael Boyle, check out StrengthCoach.com or the Functional Strength Coach 3.0 DVD set.

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