Home 2013 March (Page 2)

Have You Checked Out the Fitocracy Knowledge Center Yet?

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Fitocracy - so much so, in fact, that I invested in the company.

That said, I'm excited to announce that the brain power at Fitocracy has collaborated to create a Knowledge Center that combines the expertise of notable writers and coaches from around the industry.  To kick things off, check out my first article, When Variety Isn't a Good Thing.

I'd encourage you to make this regular reading by bookmarking the Knowledge Center Main Page; it'll be updated regularly with awesome content.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 36

Here are this week's tips to guide your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, courtesy of CP coach Greg Robins:

1. Appreciate the benefits of the powerlifting-style bench press technique - even if you don't take it to an extreme.

2. Use the barbell twice.

There is something I have always made a point of doing in my training, and in many of my programs. I hadn’t realized that it had become a pseudo “rule” to my approach until I recently watched a video from Mark Bell of SuperTraining gym in California. He commented on the idea of “always using the barbell twice.” It’s a concept that more people should embody, particularly those of you who are looking to make gains in the gym, and add muscle to your frames. So what does that mean?

Basically, follow up your first main barbell exercise with another one!

Most of us will knock out our 3–5 sets of squats, presses, or deadlifts and move right into more “assistance” based work. Instead, follow up your usual upfront exercise choice by doing 3–5 more sets with that same barbell. If you want to get better at the big bang exercises, you need to do them more often. They alone are the best things you can do to make them better.

If you don’t feel like just doing more of the exact same thing, you can try a different variation, go for higher reps, modify the tempo, or add accommodating resistance.

3. Account for outside stressors.

I always try to highlight one thing with people who come to me for training advice. Shockingly, it has very little to do with the nuances of their actual training. Instead, we talk about how their training matches their ability to recover from the stresses they place on themselves. The truth is that extraordinary results are the product of an extraordinary amount of hard work. You will always get out what you put in, but only if you can handle what you put in. That concept seems to be lost on the majority of people.

Work = Recovery = Progress

The equation must stay balanced in order to make progress. Furthermore, when one side of the equation is elevated the other side must be elevated as well. To take it further, if you want to elevate progress, you will at a certain point need to elevate both ends of that equation. This is why for some individuals, smart coaches suggest they do less. It is also why, in other cases, smart coaches suggest you do more.

It’s important that we digest a few things to understand how to manipulate this equation. First, doing more work will teach your body how to recover from more work. Second, work is stress and stress is not limited to stress placed on the individual at the gym. Third, in order to make progress, one must continually be able to place more stress on the body and recover from said stress.

A well-designed progression and management of training variables will help a person to keep making progress. That being said, managing gym related stress is not the only thing one should take into account. For example, many seasoned gym goers adopt training programs designed for individuals who basically have the luxury of training as their full time job. Professional athletes, elite military personnel, and pro fitness competitors, for instance, have careers that revolve around enhancing their physical performance. Utility workers, business executives, and even strength coaches DO NOT.

You will probably not reach the level of performance these individuals have. They have the ability to optimize all their variables in order to progress. They also have built a base of work capacity and therefore a base of recovery ability over many years. You have not. Therefore, when you approach your training, you must account for things like the six hours of manual labor you do every day, the high stress of meeting your project deadline, and the seven hours on your feet coaching athletes during the day.

The solution is simple, but it takes a concerted effort to being flexible. Make sure that all components of the equation elevate and decline together. From here forward, start doing two things. One, ensure that you are raising the bar and doing a little more work. Without doing so, you will hit a standstill. Second, match the level of your training to the level of recovery you are capable of producing. If it’s deadline month, make sure that month is a lower volume approach with a deload worked in. If it’s a dead month with business and family responsibilities, make that a month where you reach a new high for work completed in the gym.

4. Get familiar with common ingredients.

How often do you read an ingredient label and see the same few words used over and over? Chances are it’s quite a bit. You aren’t exactly sure what they are, but are okay with just staying ignorant to what they are and why they’re there. As one of our current interns commented recently, “Did you know that ‘Artificial Flavor’ is a little more complex than its two-word title?” For example, let’s say you are having a “grape” beverage. The artificial flavor for grape is: methyl anthranilate. Not sure what that chemical is, but it sure sounds a lot less appealing that “artificial flavoring,” right? Now imagine what you’re eating has artificial flavoring for over ten different flavors. That’s a lot of weird chemical names that can’t pronounce, let alone understand in the context of their effects on your body. As an action point, consider looking up some of the common ingredient names you find on the back labels of your favorite foods. You might be a little surprised at what you come across.

5. Set a monthly “comfort zone” goal.

We tend to do what we’re good at. There is nothing wrong with that; why not accentuate our strengths? However, there is validity in working on our weaknesses, and experiencing new things. After all, you might just find a whole new strong point if you step outside of what you’re accustomed to doing. Furthermore, by experiencing new things, you will often draw connections between them and the things you already know and enjoy. Heck, it could even make you better at them. Consider doing one thing a month that is out of the ordinary for you. Attend a fitness class you have always avoided, or even commit to doing one thing a week in your workouts that isn’t the norm. An example might be: including single leg work on a lower body day, or doing a few sets of reps over 5 on a big exercise. Evaluate the new experience and see if it has a place in your day-to-day routine. If not, now you know first hand. If so, great!

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Warm-ups for Sparing the Shoulders

I thought you all might like to check out an article I just had published at www.Schwarzenegger.com on the topic of pre-training upper body warm-ups: Warm-ups for Sparing the Shoulders.

Enjoy!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/12/13

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

Some Thoughts on Crossfit - I thought Patrick Ward did an excellent job writing up this post, which features a review of a recent study performed on the efficacy of Crossfit.

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I contributed an in-service on evaluating and managing "tight hamstrings" as well as a few articles and exercise demonstrations. Vaughn Bethell and Tyler English also contributed some excellent stuff, so check it out!

Unilateral Work: Don't Forget the Upper Body - I wrote this blog post over at Men's Health almost two years ago, but was reminded of it during a conversation I had with an athlete this week.  It seems like as good a time as any to bring it back to life!

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6 Ways to Get More Protein in Your Diet

Today's guest post comes from Chris Howard. In addition to being a strength and conditioning coach, Chris handles nutrition consultations for all the clients at Cressey Performance.

In my work with clients at Cressey Performance I have noticed that people need to get more protein in their diets. Most of us are so carbohydrate focused, making sure that we get the Food Guide Pyramid’s recommended 6-11 servings of grains a day, that we neglect to get enough protein. This is unfortunate, not only because people are still using the Food Guide Pyramid for advice, but also because protein is such an important and essential nutrient. I find this is particularly true in our female clients, with whom I am always discussing ways to get more protein in their diets, as many tend not to be huge consumers of meat and animal products. In addition, I find that many of our high school kids who are looking to gain weight can benefit from eating more protein. Here are some of the tips that have really helped our clients.

1. Eat more eggs!

Eggs are a simple way to include more protein in your diet, particularly at breakfast. A large egg has 6 grams of protein in it. Adding a few of these in throughout the day can go a long way toward helping you achieve a protein consumption in grams equal to your body weight in pounds. As a bonus, there are numerous ways to cook eggs, so there is likely a method you will like even if you are not an egg person – scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, baked, fried, and many others. Add some veggies and spices for a more complete meal.

2. Switch to Greek yogurt.

Most of our clients eat yogurt frequently, but unfortunately most of it is the processed, sugar-added garbage that the commercials are telling them will help them lose weight. My suggestion for higher protein intake and a healthier body is to switch to Greek-style yogurt. Greek yogurt has over twice the protein of even plain traditional yogurt at 23 grams versus 10 grams per cup. Add some berries and flax or chia seed to your Greek yogurt for a healthy breakfast or snack idea.

3. Make a smoothie!

I think smoothies are a great option no matter what your nutritional goals are. You can easily incorporate additional vegetables as I mentioned previously. In this case, smoothies are a great way to up your protein intake by adding protein powder, greek yogurt, almond milk, or even egg whites. A lot of people don’t necessarily like the taste of protein powders or greek yogurt, so smoothies make for a more palatable way to incorporate these foods into your nutrition plan. Here is a great article by the folks at Precision Nutrition to get you started on your smoothie-making journey.

4. Increase your portion size.

I know this one sounds strange, especially to the fat-loss community. Think about it, though. If you are having chicken for dinner and want to increase your protein intake, just eat more chicken. Hey, no one said this was rocket-science. For most of our clients, I recommend aiming for 1-2 palm sized portions of protein at each meal, which will usually get them into the range of 1g/lb body weight. When I look at the portion sizes of many of our skinny high school kids and our adult fat-loss clients, they simply are not eating a large enough portion size of protein. Speaking of chicken, here is a dynamite recipe for chicken fingers from Metabolic Cooking. Add some vegetables for a complete meal.

5. Don’t forget cheese.

While I tend not to eat a ton of dairy food and a lot of people are switching to more paleo-style diets, let’s not forget about cheese. It can be used as an excellent source of not only protein, but also calories for those of you looking to gain weight. Now, I am certainly not suggesting that you sit around eating a block of your favorite cheddar every day, but I’m not opposed to throwing a little on an omelet in the morning or having some fresh mozzarella with your chicken and asparagus at dinner.

6. Look to your fat source for some extra protein.

Nuts and seeds are a great addition to any diet, mainly for the healthy fats they contain. However, nuts and seeds have the added benefit of providing some much needed protein. An ounce of almonds has 6 grams of protein, which when added to a snack of greek yogurt with blueberries can make for a significant protein punch. Both cacao nibs and chia seeds will provide an additional 4 grams per ounce. Two tablespoons of peanut butter with provide an additional 8 grams. While nuts and seeds won’t compare to chicken or beef in terms of the protein they contain, nuts and seeds provide the benefit of being portable raw food options that work well for snacks between main meals.

Wrap-up

In closing, give some or all of these ideas a try when you are planning out your next meal. I’ve heard countless clients talk about how much more energy they have and how much better they feel after increasing their protein intake. Please remember, you don’t ever need to completely overhaul your diet, but rather make small changes each day or week that will lead to large changes over time.

About the Author

Christopher Howard received his his Bachelor’s of Science in Exercise Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In addition, Chris is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Licensed Massage Therapist in the state of Massachusetts, and a Level 1 Certified Precision Nutrition Coach. Chris has been a strength coach at Cressey Performance since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 5

Today marks the fifth installment of a series that looks at the coaching cues we use at Cressey Performance. Here are three more cues we find ourselves using with our athletes all the time.

1. Move the hands in or out to improve your deadlift technique.

When you're learning how to deadlift, understanding hand positioning is really important - but each deadlift variation is unique in terms of what you have to do with your grip.  Check out this video to understand why:

2. Squat between your legs instead of over them.

In the past, I've spoken at length about how stance width impacts where the knees go.  Move the feet out too wide, and the knees have no place to go but in.  Bring them in closer, and it's much easier to get the knees out.  Check out this video for more details:

So, for many folks, bringing the feet in can really help - particularly with the deadlift.  However, squats can be a bit trickier, as the stance coming in can lead to a lot more forward lean and individuals not positioning the torso correctly. Individuals will squat as if they are trying to touch the belly to the quads.  There are, in fact, some accomplished lifters who do this, but their bellies are very big, and the Average Joe isn't fat enough to pull this mechanical advantage off! Most folks wind up turning this approach into a really ugly good morning.

This is why I like the cue of telling folks to squat between the legs instead of over the top of them.  Some people grasp it a lot better than "spread the floor" or "knees out."  They can also understand positionally if you show them a bad set-up followed by a good set-up, like this classic photo (notice how the knees around outside the torso from the rear view):

3. Pretend your biceps is a rotisserie chicken.

This is, without a doubt, the strangest cue I've given.  However, it works.

When we're doing our (shoulder) external rotation variations, we want to make sure the humeral head (ball) is centered in the glenoid fossa (socket), as that is the primary functional of the rotator cuff.  This cue gets the job done:

Looking for more detailed coaching tutorials like this?  Check out Elite Training Mentorship, an extensive online education program that features my staff in-services, exercise demonstrations, and articles - as well as the contributions of several other accomplished fitness professionals.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/5/13

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

Engineering the Alpha - My good friends John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein co-authored this book, and it is now available for pre-order.  Full disclosure: I have not read it yet.  However, I know how much time, dedication, and knowledge these two put into it - and it's sure to be fantastic, with a great combination of fitness/strength and conditioning stuff and recommendations on making your life cooler overall (if you like reading Tim Ferriss' stuff, you'll also enjoy this).  They also have a ton of cool bonuses for those who pre-order this week.

Noted Surgeon Dr. James Andrews Wants Your Athlete to Stay Healthy By Playing Less - Here's a great interview at Cleveland.com with Dr. Andrews.  While I wish they'd used the word "competing" instead of "playing" in the title, it is a valuable read - and an excellent follow-up to my post from last week, 20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success in Sports and in Life.

Set a PR Every Week - Dave Dellanave wrote an excellent article on autoregulatory training for T-Nation.

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

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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More Combine and Showcase Entertainment

I've been very outspoken in the past about my distaste for the baseball showcases.  In fact, my article, Baseball Showcases: A Great Way to Waste Money and Get Injured, is one of the more popular baseball pieces I've written for EricCressey.com.

Apparently, however, the flaws of showcases aren't limited to baseball, though; football combines are equally silly.  Fortunately, breaking down the numbers on high school combines can also be wildly entertaining, as the folks at SB Nation demonstrated with an outstanding article yesterday.  I'd normally include something like this as a "Stuff You Should Read" feature, but this article was so well done that it deserved its own blog post today.  Check it out - and keep in mind that this was intended to be very sarcastic, even though the 40-yard dash times reported are completely accurate.  Be sure to read all the way to the end for the punch line.

--> Comparing NFL and High School 40-Yard Dash Times: A Horrifying Revelation <--

Kudos to Patrick Vint on an excellent piece. Hopefully the word gets out.

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The New Balance MX20V3: My Pick for 2013 Training Sneaker of the Year

Back in 2011, I wrote up a detailed post highlighting my favorite all-around training sneaker - and it turned out to be my most popular post of the year.  That very sneaker - the New Balance Minimus - has since been improved considerably, so I thought I'd use today's post to highlight those improvements and introduce my favorite training sneaker for 2013, the New Balance MX20V3.  I liked it so much that I wound up in a commercial for it with a few of our professional baseball players at Cressey Performance:

The sneaker is available in several different colors, so be sure to check out both the men's and women's options available. Enjoy!

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series