Home 2017 April

Is a Calorie Really Just a Calorie?

About six months ago, I posted the following Tweet, and the response got a bit "interesting."

While most folks shared my sentiment, there were also a small number of followers who decided to hop on a soapbox and remind me that very few food are, in fact, evil, and that total calories are really what matters in the energy balance equation. Months later, Brian St. Pierre (Director of Performance Nutrition for Precision Nutrition) made the following observation during his seminar at Cressey Sports Performance:

It got me to thinking about how it'd be a good idea to bring Brian in for a guest blog on the topic, so here it is. It's especially timely, as Brian wrote the nutrition guide for The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

I'll let Brian take it from here; enjoy! -EC

Energy balance determines body weight, not necessarily body composition.

There has been a lot of debate about the energy balance equation in the fitness industry. Perhaps, after all, calories-in vs. calories-out is not the ultimate determinant of long-term body weight. Lets put some of it to rest right now.

It is a fundamental law that you need a positive or negative energy (i.e. calorie) balance over time to gain or lose bodily tissues (e.g. muscle, fat).

It is possible to manipulate bodyweight through changes in the amount of extracellular fluid (i.e. water) one is carrying. But this does not reflect changes in mass that matters to most people – muscle or fat.

And to be clear, the energy balance equation is actually more complicated and intertwined than it appears. Energy-in and energy-out are not mutually exclusive – a change to one affects the other. Neither side is static.

Your energy in and energy out are both generally regulated by your brain, so when you purposefully and significantly alter one of those, the brain and body often tries to compensate.

Like so:

This is why calorie math can seem so flawed. You expect your daily 500kcal deficit to lead to a weekly 3500kcal deficit, which should theoretically lead to one pound of fat loss per week.

But this isn’t how the body works. Once you start lowering intake, output gets lowered to account for that. And as you start losing weight, output gets lowered more (because you are moving a smaller body, and due to adaptive thermogenesis).

Plus, if linear math worked for weight loss, you would lose one pound per week indefinitely with that 500kcal deficit, which clearly doesn’t work.

Ok, so we’ve established that energy balance ultimately dictates long-term bodyweight.

But, that doesn’t mean that all calories-in, or even all calories-out, are equal.

So, what determines body composition?

Actually, many things. Body composition is ultimately determined by:

• energy balance
• macronutrient intake (especially protein)
• age and sex hormone levels
• exercise style/frequency/intensity/duration (e.g. resistance training vs marathon training vs walking)
• medication use (e.g. birth control)
• genetic predisposition (as well as epigenetics, or even just gene expression)
• sleep quality and quantity
• stress
• and more

Ultimately, this brings me back to the question of: is a calorie a calorie?

On one hand, the answer is yes. A calorie is a unit of measure, so of course a calorie is a calorie.

On the other hand, not all calories consumed have equal absorption or digestion kinetics, cause the same hormonal response, or have the same effects on bodily tissues.

If one ate 3000kcal per day of highly processed foods vs 3000kcal per day of lean protein, fibrous veggies, and minimally processed carbs and fats, the two intakes wouldn’t necessarily have the same long-term outcome on body weight.

Because the composition of the calories-in would have differing impacts on calories-out (e.g. thermic effect of feeding would be higher with the minimally processed foods intake and higher protein), as well there would be fewer calories absorbed from the minimally processed foods. Thus, the minimally processed intake would result in more calories-out, and less calories-in overall.

And it especially wouldn’t have the same long-term outcome on one’s body composition. Particularly due to the very low protein intake from the highly processed diet, which would likely lead to lean mass loss over time. Not too mention the differences in micronutrient intake, likely impacting hormone status, energy levels, etc.

(And of course, these differing intakes certainly would not have the same outcome on long-term health. Nor does this take into account the drastically different effects on satiation and satiety these diets would create. Nor many other factors that influence eating. Which are nicely outlined here.)

Too often, I see fitness pros arguing that food quality doesn’t matter. That the only thing that matters is meeting your calorie and macro goals.

This is likely mostly true for body weight and body composition management, at least for the short term.

However, there are other elements at play here for long-term health, body composition, performance, and quality of life.

Fiber intake, phytonutrients, effects of food on gene expression, effects on satiety and satiation, enjoyment of intake for sustainability. And so much more.

The fact is most people aren’t going to count macros. Some might, and that’s awesome. Use that approach with those folks. However, most won’t.

So, by getting folks to focus on eating mostly minimally processed foods, as well as adequate protein, it can make it easier for them to control their energy balance and get in an appropriate intake of macronutrients.

Minimally processed foods help to accomplish this in many ways:
• generally less calorie-dense
• higher in water content
• higher in fiber content
• generally not hyper-rewarding
• generally not hyper-palatable
• cause faster satiation (satisfaction to end a meal)
• increase satiety levels (levels of satisfaction between meals)

Ultimately, pretty much all foods can fit into a healthy and sustainable intake. The amount to which they fit in will depend on the person and their goals.

As usual, most things fall onto a spectrum. Instead of preaching that people shouldn’t eat any white carbs, or gluten, or sugar, or whatever the demon of the day is, or that all that matters is IIFYM, the best bet for most people is to end up somewhere in the middle.

Both food quality and quantity matter. For most people, who aren’t going to weigh or measure every bit of food they eat, food quality will actually impact food quantity for the reasons outlined above.

This doesn’t mean folks need to eat “clean” - whatever that might mean. It simply means most folks would do best eating mostly minimally processed foods. Processed foods are okay, too, in reasonable amounts. They should just be eaten less often, or in smaller quantities. It’s the context of someone’s entire intake that determines their body weight and body composition, not any one food.

In the end, remember that while energy balance does determine your body weight, there are other important factors in addition to energy balance that determines your body composition.

Note: all the references to this article will be posted as the first comment below.

Looking for more great nutrition lessons, practical recommendations, and sample meal plans? Check out Brian's Nutrition Guide as part of The High Performance Handbook Gold Package.

About the Author

A Certified Sports Nutritionist as well as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Brian St. Pierre also holds a Master’s degree in human nutrition and dietetics. As a student, Brian’'s passion led him to Cressey Sports Performance, where he worked as the facility's first intern, and subsequently as a strength coach and the center’'s head nutritionist. Now he serves as Precision Nutrition's Director of Performance Nutrition. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/27/17

It's been a rainy few days in Massachusetts, but that won't put a damper on a productive week. I've been staying plenty busy with this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook.

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Here are a few good reads/listens for the week:

The Power of Sleep (Infographic) - Brian St. Pierre (author of The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide) created this quick and easy-to-understand reference for Precision Nutrition. It's a great one to share with clients.  

The Truth About Your Future - This book was written by a financial advisor and can seem "pitchy" at times, but it did include a lot of fascinating research on technological advancements and how they'll impact everything from life expectancy, to college planning, to occupational outlook.

EC on Raful Matuszewski's Podcast - I was a guest on Rafal's show a few weeks ago, and we talked about everything from parenting to athlete motivation.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 28

It's time for the April installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. In light of this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I wanted to write a bit about the importance of versatility in any strength and conditioning program. I firmly believe that The High Performance Handbook is the most versatile program on the market; in other words, it's been used with great success by folks from all walks of life. This is because of the self-assessment component, various programming options, and exercise modifications it includes. You can learn more HERE

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With that in mind, here are some thoughts on versatility in programming.

1. Psychosocial stress impacts joint loading.

Back in February, I went to a great seminar with Dr. Stuart McGill, and he alluded to some excellent research from Dr. Bill Marrus at The Ohio State University. It's almost 20 years old, but still fascinating. You can read about it HERE, but he's an interesting excerpt:

"An experiment was performed that imposed psychosocial stress on people performing standard lifting tasks and compared this with situations where no psychosocial stress was present. Under the stress conditions, significant increases in spine compression and lateral shear were observed, but not for all subjects. Gender played a role in that females moved di􏰘fferently in response to stress, thereby causing an alteration in muscle coactivation patterns. More surprisingly, when the personalities of the subjects was considered, it was found that certain personality traits, such as introversion and intuition, dramatically increased spine loading compared with those with the opposite personality trait (e.g. extroversion and sensing). These di􏰘fferences in personality were closely associated with differing trunk muscle coactivation patterns and explained well the di􏰘erence in spine loading (and expected risk of LBD) between subjects. These increases in trunk muscle coactivation are believed to in ̄uence spine loading more at low levels of work intensity than at high levels where the biomechanical demands of the job probably overpower any additional loading that may be due to responses of the musculoskeletal system to psychosocial stress."

In other words, the more Type A your personality type, the higher your spine stress, and the different your muscular recruitment patterns. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has looked at injury rates in athletes during stressful academic periods, but it is interesting to see that there doesn't seem to be a "desensitization" occurring with those who are always more stressed. With that in mind, chance are that the training stress needs to be managed more conservatively in those who have very stressful personality types, not just lifestyles.

2. There are many different ways to fluctuate training stress.

Speaking of reducing training stress, there are many different ways to do so. We all know that you can reduce intensity (load), training frequency, and/or volume (sets x reps x load) to give people appropriate deloading periods. 

Sometimes, though, simply changing exercise type can reduce the training stress. As an example, changing to more concentric-dominant exercises (as I wrote HERE) is one way to reduce training stress. Most people won't feel really banged up from a session of deadlifts, step-ups, and sled pushes even if there is a fair amount of volume and intensity.  

3. Versatility implies the ability to quickly and easily progress and regress.

When I think of versatile programs, I immediately think of the ability to quickly change something on the fly - and that usually refers to exercise selection, usually because something is too advanced or basic for someone.

If you lack the hip extension needed to do a Bulgarian split squat, you're better off regressing to a regular split squat or a step-up.

bss-3

It's also important to understand how to move laterally. An example would be if a program called for a piece of equipment an individual doesn't have. For example, if you don't have a cable column, maybe you could use dumbbells, bands, or a TRX suspension training for your rowing variation.

4. There is a point of diminishing returns on variability.

Check out this image I created for a presentation I gave on long-term athletic development.

bellcurve

If young athletes have low variability in their lives, they make very little progress. Obviously, the risk of overuse injuries is higher, but just as importantly, without adequate movement variability, athletes don't have opportunities to build "predictive models" to which they can resort amidst the unpredictable challenges sporting environments throw at them. In other words, some exposure to controlled chaos prepares you for a lot of unpredictable chaos down the road.

To the far right of the column, though, we realize that too much variability can be problematic as well. There simply aren't enough high quality reps to build an firmly ingrained pattern. If an athlete throws a football in week 1, baseball in week 2, tennis ball in week 3, and shotput in week 4, he won't really have built one pattern any more than another. This is why athletes ultimately do benefit from an element of specialization; it brings them back to the center for more "focused progress."

These same ideas can be applied to the everyday gym-going lifter. Early on in a training career, we need to expose these individuals to just enough variability to prevent overuse injuries. In many cases, we can get this just by having comprehensive mobility warm-ups and assistance exercises - single-leg work, horizontal pulling, push-up challenges, carrying variations, etc. - that complement the big bang exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. If we just do a few big multi-joint exercises, though, injuries can often creep up, and we may encounter plateaus. However, there are also scenarios where specialization programs (less variability) may be needed to bring up specific lifts by pulling us back from the far right of the curve.

The take-home point is that the relationship between training progress and exercise variability is always in flux, and it's a good place to look if you're struggling to make progress, chronically injured, or just want to better understand why you're getting the results you're experiencing.

Looking to see how I create both versatility and variability in the programs I write? Check out The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

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Spring Sale!

The weather is warming up, baseball season is underway, and I've got my spring cleaning all wrapped up. The logical next step to keep the momentum rolling is to announce a big spring sale!

With that said, I'm putting my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook, on sale. From now through Sunday at midnight, you can get this popular training resource for $30 off HERE.

The discount has already been applied, so no coupon code is needed.

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Enjoy!

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How Bench Press Technique Impacts Shoulder Health

We often hear that an elbows-tucked bench press technique is more shoulder friendly than an elbows-flared approach. Nobody really ever seems to discuss why this is the case, though - so I thought I'd devote today's video blog to it:

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The Phenomenon: A Must-Read for Baseball Players, Coaches, Parents, and Fans

Back on a busy day in the fall of 2015 at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, I looked over and saw a "huddle" of our professional baseball players standing by the entrance to the gym in the middle of their training sessions. The music was pumping and there was a great training energy, so it had to be something good that had caught their attention. I was coaching on the other side of the gym, so I let my business partner, Brian, check it out. 

A bit later, Brian walked back over, and I asked him what was up. "Rick Ankiel stopped by."

"Oh yeah?" Immediately, my brain went in a few different directions. I remembered that he was traded for long-time CSP client Tim Collins in 2010. I thought of some of the ridiculous throws Rick had made from the outfield during his "second" MLB career. I thought of how insane it was that he made it back to the big leagues as a hitter after his pitching career was cut short.

And, of course, I thought of how he'd been arguably the most storied case of "the yips" in my lifetime.

Before I could answer Brian in any more detail, though, I was cut off by one of our minor league guys.

"Rick's the man. He's helped me so much."

As it turned out, he had another role of which I wasn't aware. A year after his retirement, the Washington Nationals had hired him as a Life Skills Coordinator. There were a few Nationals players at the facility that day, and all of them raved about him.

As luck would have it, Rick lives in Jupiter, and he became a familiar face around the facility. It didn't take long for me to realize why all the guys were singing his praises. Rick's an awesome dude who is always smiling and has loads of great stories to tell. I joked that he's like the governor in a room full of baseball players, doling out fist bumps to minor leaguers and a bear hug to Max Scherzer. Just as importantly, though, Rick has a tremendous amount of wisdom to share - and the perfect demeanor for delivering impactful messages. 

Rick and his wife Lory have become friends - and even neighbors - of ours. Our kids were at an Easter egg hunt with their kids on Saturday, and Lory has passed along school recommendations for my wife. Last month, Rick was kind enough to meet up with one of our high school pitchers who was struggling with command issues. The only guy in Major League Baseball history besides Babe Ruth to have 10 wins on the mound and 50 home runs at the plate is the most down-to-Earth person you'll ever meet. And, he's remained unconditionally positive in spite of a very tough childhood.

Where am I going with all of this? The yips don't discriminate. It doesn't matter if you're the nicest guy on the planet, the toughest guy in the locker room, the hardest working guy in the organization, or a remarkable athlete destined for success.

Now, many years later, Rick is opening up about what he went through in his awesome new book, The Phenomenon. It was released today, but I was fortunate to get to read through it ahead of time. It's absolutely fantastic.

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Baseball players, coaches, parents, and fans will all appreciate this book.

It's a powerful story with a great reminder that baseball is a challenging game of millimeters that can humble even the best players very quickly. It's also proof that fans rarely have any idea what the athletes they see on TV are going through.

The term "must-read" gets thrown around all too often nowadays, but in this case, I really think it holds water. If you appreciate baseball in any way, you'll enjoy this book. You can pick it up HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/17/17

I normally like to publish my recommended readings on Monday, but I got off schedule over the past few weeks. Posting this today will get me back on track:

CSP Business Building Mentorship - By popular demand, my business partner, Pete Dupuis, and I are hosting a business building mentorship.  We only have 20 spots in this one-day event, and nine are already taken from an "in-house" announcement to close industry colleagues.

Athletic Groin Pain - This was an excellent, comprehensive article from Chris Hart on everything from differential diagnosis to rehabilitation timelines and protocols.

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29 Years, 29 Lessons - Tony Bonvechio shares a collection of things he's learned in training, nutrition, and business.

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When people hear "in-season lifting," they seem to immediately think that the sole justifications for incorporating it is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. Surely, that's a huge part of the equation. However, I'm quick to point out to our athletes that in-season training includes a lot more. Each time an athlete trains at @cresseysportsperformance during the season, he's also going through his foam rolling work. And, he's working his way through a more individualized warm-up than he'd typically get at the field during practice or at games. Likewise, it's an exposure to an environment that "nurtures" good lifestyle behaviors. There are invariably discussions about optimizing sleep quality, and improving nutrition. These exchanges just don't happen as often at the field. #cspfamily #ArmCare #inseasontraining #pushup

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/13/17

I hope you're all having a great week. I'm a few days late with posting this because we were a bit more content heavy earlier in the week, but the good news is that it gave me a few more days to round up some excellent content for you.

Kabuki Strength Chat with Eric Cressey - I joined Chris Duffin and the rest of the Kabuki Strength crew for a podcast last week. We talked baseball strength and conditioning, business development, and fitness industry trends. Check it out!

STEM-Talk with Dr. Stuart McGill - Any podcast with Stu is a must-listen podcast! This one doesn't disappoint - and I particularly enjoyed his commentary on the flawed medical model as it relates to treating lower back pain. 

It Took Me 10 Years to Become an Overnight Success - This was an excellent post from my business partner, Pete Dupuis. He shares some awesome insights on little things that can lead to long-term success - if you're patient.

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#Repost @cresseysportsperformance with @repostapp ・・・ More wise words from @ericcressey. #cspfamily #ArmCare

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5 Tips for Improved Client Relationships

Today's guest post comes from Brett Velon, who interned at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida this past fall. Brett connected with clients better than any intern I've ever seen; he is one of those people who can talk to anyone, anywhere. With that in mind, I asked him to write up his thoughts on the topic. Enjoy! - EC

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Coaching as a career wasn’t even a thought until after I finished college. Although to many it would seem to be an impediment for me not having a traditional strength and conditioning background, it has actually been a blessing in disguise. Without being able to rely on a degree, my development as a coach has been heavily reliant upon the development of client relationships. Teddy Roosevelt said it best when he said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What I realized was many coaches in the industry were very technically smart, but lacked the most basic people skills. Instead of addressing this issue, most accumulate more degrees and certifications, thinking a new certification will have clients lining up to train with them. The problem is most clients don’t know what the certifications mean. Once I truly understood that client’s retention was heavily dependent on their relationship with their coach, I became more cognizant of the experience I was providing clients. Despite not really knowing what I was doing, I decided it was best to start with simply enjoying myself. My thought was if I was in a good mood and wanted to be at the gym then maybe the clients might feel the same way. It seems stupid simple, but look around and notice how many coaches suck all the enjoyment out of training.

Understand and believe that cultivating relationships is a skill that can be improved and doesn’t require being the most charismatic person. Effort and the willingness to try are the only requirements. Here are five simple tips I have personally used to improve my ability to create rewarding client relationships.

Tip #1: Be self aware.

If the urge to talk about yourself arises, take a deep breathe and then don’t do it. It’s the simplest but rarely followed piece of advice I can give. Nobody cares about your past athletic career or your 500 pound squat; focus the conversation around the client. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity and most importantly listen. When asked about something, answer, but don’t confuse this as an open invite for a trip down memory lane, a la Al Bundy style. Despite how awesome you think you are, there will be clients who don’t want to talk. Embrace the awkward silence, it’s usually appreciated, and more times than not they will eventually open up to you.

One of the best methods I like to use is to try and mirror mannerisms and demeanour. If they like to talk, ask more questions. Do they swear like a sailor? If so, don’t feel like you need to talk to them like a boy scout. Personal rule: don’t be the first one to swear as some clients will not appreciate it.

Tip #2: Know your role.

“Know your role and shut your mouth”- The Rock.

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Determining your role for each client is vital to developing a positive connection. You’re not only a strength coach, but possibly also a motivator, guide, mentor, therapist, and babysitter. Understanding the reason why someone is training will guide you as to what role to take on. While not mutually exclusive, most reasons fall into one of the three categories: money/scholarships, parent/coach, and social/health.

The money and scholarship clients are generally very intrinsically motivated and often just need a guide to program and show them what to do.

The client that is training because of a parent or coach most likely feels forced to train, the last thing they need is another “hardo” coach screaming at them. The mentor/friend role works well with this demographic as the gym becomes an escape for them, and in turn they train harder and start to enjoy their time at the gym.

The social/health group is comprised mostly of general population clients and can be all over the map in terms of needs in the gym. Some might be bored and just want someone to chat with, others have never stepped foot in a gym and need a guide and teacher. Whatever the client’s reason is for training, the quicker you can figure out your role, the better experience both you and the client will have.

Tip #3: Broaden your interests.

If a client is training with you, odds are they think you know what you’re doing. Stop trying to prove how smart you are. Clients want results and really don’t care about the Krebs Cycle or optimal hypertrophy training protocols. If they cared, they would be in the field. Think of it this way, you go to an accountant for your taxes because:

1. You don’t know how to do your taxes
2. You don’t care about how to do your taxes
3. You don’t want to think about how to do your taxes, you just want them done.

Most of all, you don’t want to talk with your accountant three times a week about new tax codes.

Now that we can’t talk about training, we are going to need more material. This is where broadening your interests helps.

[bctt tweet="The more interests you have outside of fitness, the more you'll be able to connect with clients."]

In my experience, it has helped to avoid asking about someone’s work life. Everybody is more than their profession and usually has something that they are passionate about. People tend to perk up when talking about things they are truly passionate about. Hint: Finding a person’s weirdness and vice is an express ticket to good conversation. 

Note from EC: here's Brett finding his weirdness on the day he showed up dressed as Hulk Hogan.

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Tip #4: Be observant.

Think of yourself as a detective that is trying to piece together somebody’s story. Everything is a clue and clues are used to start conversations. Don’t think of it as negative pre-judgment but rather an opportunity to connect at an accelerated rate. If a client comes in wearing a camo hat and a Salt Life t-shirt, an easy conversation starter would be about outdoor type activities. Sure, you might be wrong, but being wrong also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the client, and the more you know the better.

Tip #5: Don’t give up on the introvert.

While extroverts are naturally easier to connect with, introverted clients have the biggest potential for the deepest relationships. There are numerous reasons why a client might be reserved: shyness, fear, anxiety, etc. can all contribute. Remember, be okay with silence. Not pressuring introverts to talk is a great way to help them relax and become comfortable. In most cases, once an introvert becomes comfortable they open up. Seeing an introvert become comfortable and open up is one of the most rewarding coaching experiences you can have.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to start changing lives, it is best to start getting to know the lives that you are trying to change. Relationships with your clients need attention and are something that can be practiced and improved upon. All it takes is some effort, positive mood and an enjoyment for what you do. Next time a client has a gathering or a game, do your best to go, as your support should extend to both in and out of the gym.

About the Author

Brett Velon (@brettvelon) is a former CSP-Florida intern and currently a Chicago area strength and conditioning coach. To contact him, please email brettvelon@gmail.com.
 

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Quick Takeaways from a Day with Brian St. Pierre

Yesterday, Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition delivered an excellent seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. I live Tweeted the event, so I thought I'd share some of the big takeaways with some reposts here:

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You can learn more about Brian and the great work the folks at Precision Nutrition are doing HERE.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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