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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/30/16

After a week in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, the Cressey family is back in Florida. While up there, we celebrated our twin daughters' second birthday. I'm not sure they're fans of the cold yet...

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With that said, let's get to the recommended reading!

30 Days of Arm Care Updates - You can see all these videos (currently on day 17) via the hashtag #30DaysOfArmCare on both Twitter and Instagram.

Settling the Great Grain Debate - Here's some great stuff on the nutrition front from Precision Nutrition's Brian St. Pierre.  

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Professional Communication: Delivery and Context Matter - Whether you're a fitness professional or rehabilitation specialist, you'll want to read this great article from physical therapist Doug Kechijian.

Jim Harbaugh's Circle of Friends Is Even Cooler Than You Think - I often say that successful people find value in unexpected places. I love the discussion about how Harbaugh pries to ask questions and elicit deeper responses in his conversations with friends from all walks of life. The best coaches I know are always looking outside their fields to find ways to improve.

Top Tweet of the Week

 Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

First offseason program for @ckluber28 is ready! #cspfamily #250IP #backtowork

A photo posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Here’s a Black Friday Sale Even Though It’s Not Friday Yet

Everyone on the planet is having a Black Friday sale this week, so we figured we wouldn't even attempt to keep you in suspense on this one. With that in mind, you can save 20% on the following products through Cyber Monday at midnightk by entering the coupon code BF2016 (case sensitive) at checkout. Just click on the links below to learn more and add them to your cart:

Functional Stability Training: Individual Programs or a Bundle Pack

Optimal Shoulder Performance

Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core

Everything Elbow

The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual

The Specialization Success Guide

The Art of the Deload

Again, that coupon code is BF2016.

Additionally, my products with Mike Robertson are on sale, too. You can pick up Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility for 20% off (no coupon code needed) HERE.

Enjoy - and thank you for your support!

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Shoulder Strategies and Hip Helpers: Part 2

This is the second half of my collection of take-home points from reviewing The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint from Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somerset. In case you missed the first half, you can check out Part 1 here. Additionally, I should offer a friendly reminder that the introductory $60 off discount on this great resource ends tonight at midnight; you can learn more here.

6. Shifting low threshold exercises to a high threshold strategy may yield faster results.

Dean goes to great lengths to discuss how proximal (core) stability affects distal (extremity) mobility. In doing so, he cites four examples:

a. Doing front planks may help one to gain hip external rotation.
b. Doing side planks may help one to gain hip internal rotation.
c. Doing dead bugs may help to improve your deep squat.
d. Training active hip flexion (one joint) may help one to to improve a straight leg raise (multiple joints).

hipflexion

With that said, there is a HUGE clarification that must be made: these exercises are all performed with HIGH TENSION. In other words, if you can do eight reps of dead bugs, you aren’t bracing hard enough.

To some degree, this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that there are high-threshold exercises and low-threshold exercises – and most folks would assume the aforementioned four drills would fall in the low-threshold category. That said, I think a better classification scheme would be high- and low-threshold STRATEGIES. In other words, there is a time to treat a plank or dead bug as a low threshold drill, but also scenarios under which bracing like crazy is appropriate. Trying to create distal mobility is one such example.

That said, don't go and turn everything you do into a high-threshold strategy! This leads me to...

7. Improving mobility is a combination of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.

I loved this quote from Dean so much that I replayed it a few times so that I could type up this quote:

"If you hold your breath, you're going to limit your mobility. If you breath through the stretch, you're going to access a greater range of motion than you had before. So, it's kind of a dance between parasympathetic and sympathetic and neural activation. You want to be able to use high-threshold sympathetic type stuff to fire up the nervous system and produce that stability, but you want to use parasympathetic stimulation - that long inhale, long exhale - to be able to use that range of motion after you've built the stability."

That's pure gold right there, folks.

8. The term “scapular stability” is a bit of a misnomer.

Nothing about the scapula is meant to be stable. If it were meant to be stable, it would have so many different muscular attachments (17, in fact) with a variety of movement possibilities. A better term would be something originally popularized by physical therapist Sue Falsone: controlled mobility.

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9. Don’t assume someone’s "aberrant" posture means an individual will be in pain.

Posture is a complex topic, and the relationship between resting posture and pain measures is surprisingly very poorly established in the research world. We can walk away from this recognition with two considerations:

a. It's important to assess movement quality, and not just resting posture.

b. Use posture as information that guides program design and coaching cues rather than something that tries to explain or predict injuries.

ScapularDownwardRotation

10. Teach movements from the position where relative stiffness principles are challenged the most - but cue high-threshold tension.

During one of his presentations, Dean was coaching a hip flexor stretch in the lunge position, and it immediately got me to thinking about the principle of relative stiffness. In this position, if there isn't adequate anterior core control, lumbar extension will occur instead of hip extension. And, if there isn't solid glute recruitment, there will be a tendency of the head of the femur to glide forward in the socket during the hip extension that does occur.In other words, being able to brace the core and have solid glute activation is key to making sure that the individual is in a good place at this position where movement is challenged the most.

lunge 

In this instance, Dean cued a high-threshold strategy that allowed him to effectively coach the movement from the most challenging position - which is somewhat counterintuitive to what we've always assumed as coaches ("win the easy battles" first by owning the simple ranges-of-motion). However, if you can get to the appropriate position (adequate passive ROM) and educate a trainee on how to establish a bracing strategy, chances are that you can speed up the learning process.

As I thought about it, this is something we do quite commonly with our end-range rotator cuff strengthening exercises, but I simply haven't applied it nearly as much at the hip as we do at the shoulder. It's definitely something I'll be playing around with more moving forward.

Last, but certainly not least, just a friendly reminder that today is the last day to get the introductory $60 off discount on The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint. As you can probably tell from these posts, I've really enjoyed going through it myself, and would highly recommend it to any fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists out there. Click here to learn more.

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Shoulder Strategies and Hip Helpers: Part 1

I've spent the past week going through Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somerset's awesome new resource, The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint. With that in mind, Cressey Sports Performance staff member Tim Geromini and I pulled together ten solid takeaway points from the resource that we thought you'd like. Here are the first five, in no particular order...

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1. Full scapular range of motion during push-ups often gets overlooked as a great "corrective."

Tony did an excellent job of making this point during the shoulder portion of the seminar. Push-ups (when done properly) take take the scapula from retraction during the eccentric phase of the push-up to protraction and "wrapping around" the rib cage during the concentric phase. It is usually scapula protraction that is omitted, as many people only focus on straightening their arms to finish the push-up. This creates excessive glenohumeral (ball-on-socket) motion and insufficient scapulothoracic (shoulder blade on rib cage) movement.

Learning to "fill up" the upper back and get the shoulder blades to the arm pits can be a game changer for optimizing scapular control.

2. Your hip structure impacts your likelihood of surgical success.

Citing 2015 research from Fabricant et al, Dean noted that patients with retroverted hips had saw less improvement following surgery for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) than those with anteverted hips.

This shouldn't be surprising if you understand the implications of these hip presentations. Anteverted hips gives rise to more hip flexion and less hip extension, whereas retroverted hips will yield hips that do well with extension, but struggle getting into flexion.

FAI is a flexion-based pathology; bony overgrowth occurs because the femoral head (ball) bangs repeatedly into the acetabular rim (socket). It makes sense that a hip structure more conducive to allowing flexion would be less likely to re-develop these negative structural changes after a surgical intervention.

fai
Source: Lavigne et al, 2004

That said, the big takeaway from this is that the more retroverted a hip is, the more conservative the rehabilitation ought to be - and the less aggressive that "patient" ought to be with squatting, etc. in the years that follow.

3. Don't let a lack of a partner prevent you from doing rhythmic stabilization work.

The main function of the rotator cuff is to center the humeral head (ball) on the glenoid fossa (socket). Partner assisted rhythmic stabilization drills are fantastic in training this quality. Here's an example:

However, if you don’t have a partner available to help, a nice substitute would be this simple exercise you can do with a band.

The pushing and pulling on the band with your free hand serves as form of distraction that will force the rotator cuff to resist. Of course, things like the Body Blade and Shoulder Tube can be options as well. Rhythmic stabilizations will always be the best option because they are less predictable, though.

4. Full exhalations can quickly enhance mobility - but only if you FORCEFULLY exhale.

A commonly overlooked limitation to mobility is alignment issues. As an example, if the pelvis is stuck in anterior tilt, the hip will be limited in internal rotation and flexion. As such, adding core stability (in this case, the ability to hold the pelvis in posterior tilt) can often quickly make changes to hip range of motion.

A great way to do this, as Dean notes, is to perform course stability exercises with full exhalations. When you exhale fully, the anterior core is engaged, as the rectus abdominis and external obliques, in particular, help to get air out. You can do this in various positions, but the most well-known are definitely prone and side plank positions with full exhale. It can't just be a light exhale, though. You have to work very hard and blow out every last bit of air to get that cord engagement in order to really assess that positioning will change the range of motion.

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We've used these strategies a lot in the past, but this video was a good reminder that we have to really push folks to get all that air out, especially if it's the first time we're cueing them to do so.

5. Make sure you're getting motion in the right places during your thoracic spine extension work.

Improving thoracic spine extension in some people is an important part of improving overhead mobility. It’s not uncommon for many to grab a foam roller and haphazardly start leaning back in an attempt to do so. Unfortunately, many individuals perform their reps with incorrect technique; check out this video to learn more.

Speaking of learning more, I strongly encourage you to check out Tony and Dean's excellent new resource, The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint. It's on sale for $60 off this week at an introductory discount; click here to learn more.

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5 Common Hip Training Mistakes

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the co-creator of the excellent new resource, Complete Hip and Shoulder Blueprint. It's on sale at a $60 off introductory discount. I really enjoyed going through the product and highly recommend it. In the meantime, without further ado, I'll turn this over to Dean. -EC 

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I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a broad array of people and hips, ranging from post-total hip replacement to pro hockey players and Olympic athletes in multiple sports. I’ve seen general fitness folks with normal aches and pains, and even people missing the odd hip here and there.

The good thing about training a broad range of clients is that you get to see what happens when a population isn’t homogenous. Imagine if I only trained total hip replacement clients. I would have zero idea of how a hip worked if it wasn’t made of titanium and ceramic. I would also never move through internal rotation and flexion without fear or popping that hip out of its socket. If I only ever trained hockey players, I’d never know life without groin pulls or femoroacetabular impingement (FAI).

This also helps me to see what kinds of things work really well across different populations without issue, as well as the concepts that seem to stick well through all phases of training, while also seeing what stuff falls completely apart across different outcomes and inputs.

While there are a lot of potential variables and details to consider with each of the specific and non-specific populations I outlined above, there are also some simple and consistent things that you can take away from them all that makes my life as a trainer much easier. These things also help to deliver better results all around, and I wanted to share some of my failures and realizations to help your training as a result.

#1: Don’t assume symmetry.

When I started training, every text or manual said to have feet pointing in the same direction to prevent “imbalances.” The belief was if you do anything different between left and right sides, you’re going to develop these nefarious things that will limit your progress and ruin your life, so to speak.

While preventing poor performance or development is entirely admirable and a massive goal of any training program, it’s somewhat inaccurate to say standing in a symmetric stance prevents asymmetry. This is especially true if there’s a degree of asymmetry in the structure of the hips, knees, or feet.

Zalawadia et al (2010) showed that the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femur could be significantly different from left to right, sometimes more than 20 degrees worth of difference!

anteversion

What this means is your left or right leg might point in a different direction simply due to the angle differences between the two structures. Moreover, it means putting them both into a symmetric stance would actually push one into a different alignment with the hip socket or femoral neck angle relative to the pelvis, which would actually CREATE imbalanced tension through both sides of the hip.

This means if someone is standing in a symmetric stance and doing something like a squat, but feel one hip doing something funky, it could be because they have some structural issues (or maybe they have some other soft tissue stuff), but it’s not working in symmetric stance. If turning one foot out into a new position makes them feel awesome and helps them get stronger and more stable, it might be worth chasing that rabbit down the hole.

#2: Stretching isn’t always the answer.

Piggybacking on the concept of structure, there’s a lot of range of motion limitation that could be attributed to bone-to-bone contact compared to a muscles ability to stretch through a specific length.

D’Lima et al (2000) found that hip flexion ROM could be as low as 75 degrees with 0 degrees of both acetabular anteversion (whether the hip socket points forward) or femoral anteversion (when the neck of the thigh bone points either forward or backwards), but as high as 155 degrees, with 30 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion. An increase in femoral neck diameter of as little as 2mm was able to reduce hip flexion range by 1.5 – 8.5 degrees, depending on the direction of motion.

These ROMs are pretty much the absolute limit of ability in these individuals, because accessing a range beyond this bone-to-bone contact is like me trying to find more space in my bedroom by pushing my face through a wall. Sure, I could technically do it, but something bad will likely happen by trying. Another way to achieve the range would be by moving from an adjoining segment once the first one is used up. If I go to tie my shoes, but run out of hip range of motion somewhere around my knees, I’ll round my back to get the job done.

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For many of the people I was working with in our Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint resource, as we were trying to improve their mobility to help them do stuff like squat deeper or tie their shoes, they would hit a physical wall and not be able to get through that regardless of what soft tissue modality or active smashing we could do to the area. It also didn’t matter how much time we spent working on static or active stretch modalities. I can swing my face around the room in the earlier example all day long, until I get to a wall. I can’t swing my face through that wall all that easily.

The big question then comes to how much of that free space between their bones ramming into each other can they access and use. If you can get your knee to your chest when on your back, but squat looking like a new-born deer with legs going everywhere and looking like you’re going to fall over at any moment, there’s a mismatch. And, we need to help you access that range a lot more effectively. This can also be position and direction specific.

Often active range of motion will be more beneficial in creating a usable ROM that’s within that individual’s aptitude of control versus static stretching, which will help people make muscles longer, but may not help them use them in a specific position or direction.

#3: Don't forget that vertical and horizontal force vectors are similar, but different – and both make you better.

Let’s say I’m training a 16 year-old basketball player and a 65 year-old grandmother who has some hip arthritis. Both of them would require some training in how to perform a hip hinge in one way or another, but they would occasionally do the movement in the same way. They would start the movement by rounding their low back and essentially think of getting their chest closer to the floor versus sitting their hips back without initiating through the low back. They have completely different morphologies and training histories, but they access the movement the same. In other words, they could benefit from a different type of training environment to see the development of that hinge, especially if I’m looking to load it up without smashing out their spines.

In many ways, the deadlift is the same as a hip thrust or glute bridge in that the movement is supposed to be initiated from the hips with stable feet and minimal movement from the lumbar spine. The big difference between the two is the direction of force application through the spine and hips, as well as the volume of torque development at the initiation and conclusion of the rep movement. A deadlift produces the greatest torque at the bottom of the movement when the hip is flexed and the least at the top when standing tall, whereas a hip bridge produces the max torque at the end of the extension. There’s also more shear force through the spine at the start of the movement versus throughout the movement on the hip thrust due to the placement of load and length of lever arm.

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What this means is that if you’re looking to train hip extension – but deadlifts are problematic for the rounding of the spine or shear force on the spine (especially for someone with any potential discogenic issues or spinal pathology) – a deadlift may not be an ideal option compared to a hip thrust. If someone can’t or shouldn’t do a deadlift with vertical force development or tolerance, but they can hip thrust without issue, we’re going to hip thrust until their face explodes and glutes shred their denim. The shorter lever length working on the spine means they can expose the hips to more load with less force on the spine, and, in turn, generate a training effect without potential limitations of vertical loading. For the two hypothetical clients above, the ability to pull the weight from the floor isn’t as important as developing a training effect while minimizing injury risk.

#4: Don't focus too much on posterior chain and forget hip flexion movements.

Some of the most common exercises – squats, deadlifts, lunges – tend to focus on forms of hip extension, but very few programs involve some form of hip flexion work. While it’s difficult to access the end ranges and create some high force like you can with some stupid heavy deadlifts, you can still work on training the ability to access that range with some degree of control.
 

A word of warning: these absolutely suck to do, but you should still do them.

Rapid and high force hip flexion is a massively beneficial movement for any athlete who requires running or change of direction movements, and also for anyone who has to preload before performing rapid hip extension, which means pretty much everything. It’s not something that should take the place of any extension-based exercise, but using it to help create some balance between front and back can give a lot of benefits. You don’t need to go 50/50 with posterior and anterior exercises, but throwing the odd one in every now and then can pay big dividends. Think one set for every five sets of posterior chain work in a week.

#5: Don't forget that only two people NEED to deadlift from the floor.

The pre-set bar height for a deadlift is the radius of the plates, which means you have to grab that 1-1/8” bar sitting 8.75 inches from the flat ground. This is fine for someone if they’re 5-feet-tall and have the mobility to do anything they want, and even for the limber 6-foot-tall individuals out there who can get their knees to their chest without problem. But what about the guy who is 6’8” with a long torso, or the girl who is 5’8” and has a retroverted acetabulum? Both can’t grab that bar without running out of hip flexion range of motion about a hands length above the bar, meaning to get there they now have to flex their spine. This typically shouldn’t be a problem, but any forced flexion with uncontrolled motion under load could be disastrous.

We can see people who use this lumbar flexion mode to make up for a hip limitation by looking at their low back when they’re flexed. If they’re using their low back to initiate the movement, you’ll see a distinct arching out of their low back at the segment that’s moving, as well as some significant hypertrophy of their erector spinae at that group compared to the rest of their spine.

If I’m worried about keeping someone’s low back happy, having them pull from the floor and seeing them initiate the movement with their lumbar spine versus from their hips could be a starting point of failure. This could be via in limiting performance by using tonic versus phasic muscles, or via increasing the relative strain on a sensitive spinal segment that eventually becomes irritated.

[bctt tweet="Only competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters are REQUIRED to deadlift from the floor."]

Everyone else isn’t required to do this, except on the internet where random rules are made up to test people’s manhood/womanhood all the time.

For most lifters, using a slightly higher surface to pull from (either a rack pull or elevating the weights with some mats or onto other plates) can make the difference between lifting with discomfort from the floor or feeling absolutely flawless and strong with no pain or problems. When training people who don’t make their livelihoods on a powerlifting or Olympic lifting platform, that’s a big win.

elevatedDL

These are all concepts covered in the new video resource from Dean and Tony Gentilcore, Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint. This video series contains 11 hours of HD video, offers NSCA continuing education credits, and can help trainers, therapists and exercise enthusiasts alike take their training knowledge to the next level. To sweeten the deal, the product is on sale for $60 off the regular price as an introductory special through this Saturday at midnight. Click here for more information; you'll really enjoy checking it out (because I sure did!).

chp

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/31/16

Happy Halloween! I hope everyone had a great weekend. Personally, while I'm really enjoying the World Series, I'm ready for these late-night playoff games to end so that I can get back to getting to bed early!

Anyway, here's a little recommended strength and conditioning reading to kick off your week:

Meal Plans Usually Suck; Here Are 6 Better Ways to Transform Your Diet - I absolutely LOVE this article from Brian St. Pierre. It's a game-changer when individuals understand nutrition principles rather than just becoming slave to pre-made meal plans. 

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10 Commandments of Injury Prevention - Dr. John Rusin did a good job with this article for T-Nation. There are a lot of things you probably already know - but they deserve reiteration!  

Why We Don't List Our Prices on the Internet - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, thoroughly outlines why you won't find our fees on CresseySportsPerformance.com.

Top Tweet of the Week:

Top Instagram Post of the Week:

 

He's pretty good.

A photo posted by Cressey Sports Performance (@cresseysportsperformance) on

 

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5 Spine-Sparing Strength and Conditioning Program Strategies

In his book, Back Mechanic, Dr. Stuart McGill frequently uses the term "spine hygiene" to describe how individuals position themselves during various everyday and athletic tasks to manage their back pain. Most of the strategies speak to the positional side of things, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at some strength and conditioning program strategies you can employ to keep the spine healthy over the long haul. 

1. Don’t pick up heavy dumbbells.

The stronger you get, the bigger a pain it is to pick up and position dumbbells, whether it's for rows, presses, or single-leg work. Things are even harder when the heaviest dumbbells are positioned on the lowest tiers of the dumbbell rack. We've been brainwashed for years that dumbbells are more spine-friendly than barbells, but this simply isn't always true. Being able to unrack a weight from chest height and not having to swing it into position can be invaluable once you're developed an appreciable level of strength. I'm not saying not to use heavy dumbbells, but rather to be very careful with this approach if you're someone who has dealt with low back pain.

2. Cycle in heavy bilateral loading.

Make no mistake about it: a barbell will allow you to move the most weight in your program on the overwhelming majority of exercises. Unfortunately, this also means that the compressive and shear forces on your spine will generally be highest with barbell exercises. That doesn't mean that you need to eliminate them, but rather that you need to cycle them out periodically to give you a little break. At the peak of my powerlifting career, I'd always stay away from squats, deadlifts, and good mornings for the first 10-14 days after a meet. It was all lower intensity work, anyway, so plenty of single-leg work and glute-ham raises was a perfect fit.

600x2DL

3. If you are going to do both in the same session, squat before you deadlift.

There are many theories as to why deadlifting is so much more exhausting both systemically and locally, but regardless of the one to which you subscribe, you'll surely recognize that heavy pulling before squatting is a recipe for a cranky back. After all, there is a reason you always squat first and deadlift last in every powerlifting. A few of my favorite approaches in terms of sequencing are:

a. Squat heavy, deadlift for reps
b. Squat heavy, deadlift for speed
c. Squat for speed, deadlift heavy
d. Squat for speed, deadlift for reps

Occasionally, you can dabble in some speed deadlifts before you squat, but once you've reached a solid level of strength, I think you'll find that it still just doesn't work out all that well.

4. Don't train in a fatigued state if you don't move well.

Experienced lifters with great core control can usually get away with training through fatigue as long as the training loads aren't outrageous. Interestingly, though, if you look at the typical recreational runner with back pain, it usually starts after they've already been running for a while. Fatigue changes the game, as they start to substitute lumbar extension (low back movement) for hip extension.

This doesn't just underscore the importance of gradual return to running progressions; rather, it reminds us that those with a history of low back pain need to spend a lot of time training with perfect technique in non-fatigued states. As McGill has discussed, they're better off doing multiple sets of shorter prone and side bridges than they are trying to hold one set for 60 seconds.

Back-Mechanic

Over time, these good positions because second nature and accepted as the norm "subconscious awareness." Every second the individual spends in a bad position, though - either because of poor positional awareness or an inability to overcome fatigue - is a step in the wrong direction.

5. Go to split-stance.

Just as single-leg lower body work can be much more spine friendly than bilateral work, simply going to a split-stance on other exercises can be helpful for minimizing unwanted spine movement, too. As an example, we always teach our wall slide variations with a split-stance, and you'll also see this approach integrated with rowing and landmine press technique, too.

Cressey wall slide

Wrap-up

These are obviously only a few of seemingly countless ways to keep your lower back healthy in a strength and conditioning program, so I'd love to hear some of your suggestions in the comments section below!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/17/16

I hope everyone had a great weekend. I made my second Massachusetts-to-Florida drive over the weekend. I was going crazy not being able to watch playoff baseball, but I did manage to crush some audiobooks and podcasts along the way.

EC on the Jim Laird Show - I really enjoyed being interviewed in Jim's podcast, and feel like we covered a lot of great stuff.

ADHD Nation - I listened to this audiobook on my ride from MA to FL over the weekend, and it was eye-opening, to say that least. One statistic that really blew my mind: there are over 10,000 2-3 year-olds in the U.S. who are on some kind of ADHD medication.

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The Absolute Worst Fitness Trend - This is a T-Nation compilation to which I contributed. There are some really good observations here.

Top Tweet of the Week -

Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

Not too shabby. #elitebaseball #cspfamily

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Strength Strategies – Installment 3

I figured it'd be a good time to add another installment to this series, as today is the last day of the sale on Greg Robins and my resource, The Specialization Success Guide. Through midnight tonight (Sunday), you can save 40% by entering the coupon code ROBINS at checkout HERE.

SSG (1)

Here are six strategies to help you in your strength pursuits:

1. Be a beltless badass.

My wife has a very good deadlift for someone who's never competed in powerlifting; she's pulled close to 300 pounds, which is about 2.5 times her body weight. What's most impressive to me, though, is that even when she gets up to 95-100% of her best deadlift, her form never breaks down. This has a lot to do with consistent coaching early on, and the right pace to progressions over the ten years I've known her.

That said, I also think that it has a ton to do with never wearing a lifting belt. Seriously, she has never put on one. Likewise, I have athletes who have been with us for close to a decade who have never worn one, either. I'm a big believer:

[bctt tweet="Optimal long-term technique and strength success is built on a beltless foundation."]

Interesting, on this point, I reached out to Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio, who coaches our women's powerlifting team. He said that most of his novice lifters will gain about 20% on their squat and deadlifts by wearing a belt.

Conversely, Tony himself gets about 9%, and I'm slightly less than that (6-7%). I reached out to some very accomplished lifters, and after crunching the numbers between raw and belted PRs, none of them were over 10% difference.

To this end, I think a big training goal should be to reduce the "Belt Deficit." Training beltless is a great way to make sure that "ugly strength" doesn't outpace technique in beginning lifters, and it can also be a hugely helpful training initiative for more advanced lifters who may have become too reliant on this implement.

2. Don't be afraid to gain some weight.

Make no mistake about it; you can improve strength without gaining weight. It can, however, be like trying to demolish a 30-story building with an ice pick instead of dynamite. 

I've had some success as lightweight (165-181-pound class) lifter, but this can be misleading because there have been multiple times in my lifting career when I've pushed calories to make strength gains come faster. In the fall of 2003, for instance, I went from 158 up to 191, and then cut back to a leaner 165. In the summer of 2006, I got up to 202, then back down to the mid 180s. These weight jumps made me much more comfortable supporting heavy weights in the squat and bench press, as a little body weight goes a long way on these lifts.

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3. Learn to evaluate progress in different ways.

Traditionally, powerlifters have only cared about evaluating progress with the "Big 3" lifts. Unfortunately, those aren't going to improve in every single training session. To some degree, the Westside system of powerlifting works around this by rotating "Max Effort" exercises - but even with rotating exercises, it's still an approach that relies on testing maximal strength on a very regular basis. Occasionally, it'll lead to disappointments even over the course of very successful training cycles.

For this reason, we always encourage individuals to find different ways to monitor progress. Tracking bar speed can be great, whether you have technology to actually do it, or you're just subjectively rating how fast you're lifting. A lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) at a given weight would also indicate progress.

Volume based measures are also useful. Hitting a few more reps with the same weight during your assistance work is invaluable; those reps add up over the course of a longer training cycle. Also, making a training session more dense (more work in the same or less amount of time) can yield great outcomes.

Looking for more strength strategies or - better yet - programs to take the guesswork out of things for you? Check out The Specialization Success Guide, a resource for those specifically focused on improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Through the end of the day today, you can enter the coupon code ROBINS to save 40% off the normal price.

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The “Power Couple” Sale

This weekend is going to be a fun one for the Cressey Sports Performance family, as long-time staff member Greg Robins marries his wonderful fiancée, Taryn. When you combine Greg's 685-pound deadlift with Taryn's 320-pound deadlift, you quickly realize that a 1,000-pound combined pull makes them the very definition of a "power couple."

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Greg was also my co-creator The Specialization Success Guide, so it seemed like a perfect week to have a Power Couple Sale (because weddings are all about cheesy hashtags and taglines). This 100% digital product is a great resource for those looking to specifically improve the squat, bench press, or deadlift. Just enter the coupon code ROBINS (all CAPS) to receive a 40% discount at checkout at the following link:


http://www.BuildingTheBig3.com

SSG (1)

This sale ends Sunday, October 16 at midnight. Again, that coupon code is ROBINS. Congratulations, Greg and Taryn!

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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