The stage system is one of the most versatile programming strategies around.
Training for scary strength? It excels at that. Training to build size so you can upgrade those extra-medium T-shirts? It can be adjusted for hypertrophy. Want to get faster for sports? The stage system has you covered.
I'm making the drive from Florida to Massachusetts over the next two days, so there won't be time for new content. However, I've got some awesome reads and a "listen" to hold you over until I have a chance to blog again:
You Don't Have to Do This - I loved this post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Greg Robins. It's imperative to separate ourselves from what our clients want for themselves and what we subconsciously (or consciously) want for our clients.
For a huge chunk of my life, I was a complete control freak. Looking back, I was convinced that I could "handle" everything that came my way - both in terms of expertise and actual time commitment. It was always easier to do it myself than it was to find someone else to do it, as I knew I'd have to be looking over their shoulder and second-guessing their work, anyway.
Then I hit a critical threshold.
Around 2006, my clientele grew exponentially right after I moved to Boston. All of a sudden, I was training clients seven days per week and - in many cases - over 13 hours per day. On top of that, my online presence was growing, product sales were rolling, and I had more writing and speaking opportunities than ever before. I was still powerlifting competitively, so training had to be a priority. With multiple revenue streams, my financials were getting more and more complex. And, last (but certainly not least), I'd just started dating Anna (who is now my wife), so that relationship was a big priority as well. I wanted to do it all.
Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and I was using almost all of them - which meant sleep was getting pushed out. The success that I'd dreamed of for years was actually kicking my butt. For the first time in my life, I recognized that I needed help.
As it turns out, "help" was a bit complex. It entailed opening Cressey Sports Performance and bringing on my business partner, Pete Dupuis, to handle the managerial side of things. Tony Gentilcore also joined in to help out with managing a rapidly-growing clientele.
This help was game-changing for me. In spite of the exhaustion that went with starting a new business, I felt invigorated and the long hours didn't phase me. Having others' expertise and efforts working alongside my own afforded me more time and opportunities to focus on what I did really well: evaluating, programming, and coaching.
Months later, we brought on Brian St. Pierre as our first employee. We asked him to "help" step up our nutritional offerings for our clients, and he crushed it. It's been an important part of our business ever since. Chris Howard later "helped" to bring in massage therapy. Greg Robins and George Kalantzis "helped" build up our strength camps. We hired a fantastic accountant who has "helped" simply our finances and save us a lot of money. Later, it was a payroll company to "help" with that side of things, and an office manager to "help" manage the daily chaos at our facility so that Pete can focus on business development. I've got a lawyer, financial adviser, landscaper, cleaning lady, part-time nanny, and host of other people who "help" me on a regular basis. I refer clients out to physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, and many other ancillary professionals who can "help" our clients. Now, I have the "help" of two new business partners - Brian Kaplan and Shane Rye - with the opening of our Jupiter, FL facility this past fall.
I say this not to brag, but to show you how asking for help and being willing to outsource tasks that don't best leverage my skillset has completely changed my life for the better time and time again. It's freed up time to focus on things I do REALLY well. This has allowed me to grow my businesses, be a better husband and father, and have great satisfaction with my job (if I can even really call it a "job"). Time and time again, asking for help and outsourcing has proven to be a good decision - and I started out as the biggest micromanaging skeptic you could possibly imagine.
What does this have to do with YOU, though?
If you want a contract drafted up, you go to a lawyer.
If you want your taxes done, you go to an accountant.
For some reason, though, most folks try to take on their most precious commodity - the body - by themselves. And, this is probably why we see so many crazy fad diets, and so many brutal displays of "what in the world is that exercise, and is he really going to hurt himself?" on display at most commercial gyms. And, it's one reason why many people really aren't happy with their physiques, functional capacity, or physical quality of life.
The truth is that many of these people are just a few months away from looking, feeling, and moving dramatically better. They just need to seek out help - just like I have (albeit in different contexts).
This blog is obviously about fitness, and if you're reading it, I'm guessing that means that you've looked to me for help. Thank you for your vote of confidence.
To that end, I'm confident that one outstanding way in which I can help you is by directing you to The High Performance Handbook. I'm confident that it's a versatile program that can really help the overwhelming majority of my readers to get closer to their goals and educate them in the process. It also happens to be on sale for $50 off through tonight (Saturday) at midnight HERE.
But even beyond The High Performance Handbook program, I hope this blog has made you think a bit about how you can find help to simplify your life and create opportunities to focus on what you do REALLY well. It's made a world of difference for me.
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With The High Performance Handbook on sale for the first time ever this week ($50 off), I've been doing a lot of guest blogging and interviews for other sites to spread the word. If you're looking for a few hours worth of reading and listening, look no further!
With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies. You can check it out HERE for $50 off this week.
That said, let's get to the random thoughts...
1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.
There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!
2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?
3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability."
4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:
5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.
6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).
7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.
8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.
You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?
My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.
What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.
The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.
9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.
10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.
When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.
When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.
So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."
11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.
If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.
12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.
That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.
13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing these competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.
With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.
14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:
a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat
Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.
15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!
If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!
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