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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/23/16

Written on March 23, 2016 at 12:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

This will be a light content week at EricCressey.com, as I'm on a "pseudo" vacation. After a few days visiting family in Florida, I'm now out in Arizona checking on some of our guys at Spring Training. The good news is that I've got some friends around the 'Net who have provided some excellent content recently:

Lessons Learned - This is an outstanding post from former US Women's Soccer athlete and gold medalist Lori Lindsey. I was fortunate to work with Lori a bit during her career, and it's awesome to see her doing great things in the fitness industry now that she's retired from soccer.

What Were You Doing a Year Ago Today - Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio authored this excellent post to remind us that progress may not always be linear or rapid, but when you look back, it's progress nonetheless! It's okay to take some time to smell the roses.

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4 Things We Did Before Worrying About Brand Development - My business partner, Pete, just published the other day, and he included some interesting numbers on our early business days. To be honest, I had no idea that our facility was actually in business for 293 days before we had a functioning website. This will be a good read for the fitness business folks out there.

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Building Core Control with “The Bear”

Written on March 18, 2016 at 6:38 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Mike Robertson, who just introduced his new resource, Complete Core Training. It's on sale through the end of the day today, and Mike gives you a little sampling of one of his favorite core stability exercise progressions today. -EC

When I teach seminars with other fitness professionals, I'm often asked questions about the concept of rounding out the lower back. Unfortunately, many of us are so scared of lumbar flexion that we never do it - ever - even if there's potential benefit involved. When it comes to lumbar flexion, here are my rules:

1. I don't do it repeatedly (i.e. sit-ups),
2. I don't do it under load (i.e. round back deadlifts).


However, putting someone in a small degree of lumbar flexion and/or posterior tilt isn't going to cause a spontaneous disc herniation. In fact, I would argue that getting someone better control over the lumbar spine and pelvis is going to get them out of extension, and actually allow their lower back to feel better. It's going to relieve pressure on both the discs and facets, which are getting crushed when you're locked in extension.

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The bottom line is a little bit of work in this position could provide massive benefits going forward. This is one reason why I love to teach "The Bear" as a core stability exercise.

The Bear

With this drill, you get the benefits of reaching (serratus anterior recruitment, better rib positioning), plus a ton of lower ab involvement. Now you may be wondering, why the obsession with lower abs? Well for all my clients and athletes, I'm trying to develop stability and control over the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips. The lower abs (internal obliques and transverse abdominus) are critical for this, as they have a ton of "real estate" on the pelvis. Quite simply, if you want to control the pelvis (and, in turn, the lumbar spine and hips), you need a strong set of lower abs.  With that being said, doing draw-ins all day isn't going to fix the problem. The best way to engage an IO or TVA is to set position via an exhale first.

To do The Bear, set-up in a quadruped position and think about reaching long through the upper back. Round out the spine slightly, and tuck the pelvis underneath you. From this position, pick the knees up 1" off the ground, and then hold for a certain period of time (like you would in a plank).

Knees Extended Bear

Once you've mastered The Bear, you'll want to find something more challenging. Enter the Knees Extended Bear! The set-up here is identical to the first, but once those knees are up, you simply straighten them out. As you can see you'll end up in a pike position, with the hips as the highest point. This exercise is a lot tougher than you might expect, so be sure to start with the standard bear first.

Core training exercises might be a dime-a-dozen, but that doesn't mean all of them are worth their salt. These two variations of The Bears are some of my favorites, and I think you'll love them as well.  Enjoy!

As I mentioned, Mike Robertson's new resource, Complete Core Training, is now on sale with an introductory $50 off discount this week.  I'm reviewing it myself, and it's excellent. If you're looking for some help with your core stability exercise progressions - and the rationale for these approaches - look no further! For more information, click here.

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5 “Combo” Core Stability Exercises

Written on March 16, 2016 at 9:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Core stability exercises are kind of like visits to the dentist. You know you need to do them - and they keep you healthy - but they aren't really all that sexy and enjoyable. With this in mind, I think the concept of "minimum effective dose" is an especially important consideration when it comes to programming core stability exercises. We want to pick the drills that give the biggest bang for one's buck: a great training effect in only a few sets.

Fortunately, if we understand how to classify core stability exercises, we can quick recognize that there are ways to deliver more efficient training prescriptions. Speaking broadly, you have four core stability exercise categories: anterior core stability, posterior core stability, lateral core stability, and rotary core stability.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension (arching), and encompass a variety of drills, starting with the likes of curl-ups, prone bridges/planks, and reverse crunches. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Rollouts

Posterior core stability exercises train the body to resist excessive lumbar spine flexion (rounding).  These drills include everything from the birddog all the way up through more conventional strength training exercises like deadlift variations.

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Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations.

Rotary core stability exercises teach you to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Once you appreciate what each of these core stability exercise categories entail in terms of functional demands, you realize that you can combine these drills into options that train 2-3 at a time. Here are a few examples:

1. Reverse Crunch to Dead Bug - A reverse crunch would be considered anterior core drills, but in adding the dead bug component, you get an increased challenge to rotary stability because of the alternating leg/arm component. Of course, the dead bug is already a solid "combination" core stability exercise by itself.

2. 1-leg TRX Fallouts - As I noted early, fallouts are a great anterior core training progression. Going to a single-leg stance makes this an awesome rotary stability and lateral core challenge, too.

3. Tall Kneeling Cable Press to Overhead Lift - Asymmetrical presses are usually only a big challenge to rotary and lateral core stability, but adding the overhead reach component kicks up the anterior core challenge.

4. Lateral Lunge with Band Overhead Reach - This one gets some extra bonus points because it's an excellent hip mobility challenge, too. It takes a lateral and rotary core stability drill and incorporates more anterior core because of the overhead reach. It's a game-changer when an athlete can own the frontal plane with sagittal plane control, too.

5. Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift - You won't find a better posterior core stability exercise than a properly performed deadlift. You won't be able to load it as much in the suitcase set-up, but you'll definitely increase the challenge to lateral core stability.

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These are just five of countless variations you can create to cover a few core stability exercise categories with one drill. I've found them to be particularly useful with in-season programs, when athletes have limited time to train. 

If you're looking for more exercise progression strategies - and a comprehensive overall system you can apply with your clients/athletes - I'd highly recommend Mike Robertson's new resource, Complete Core Training. It's on sale with an introductory $50 off discount this week.  Mike's a sharp guy and trusted resource, so I'm enjoying going through his progressions to see how we can tinker to improve our approaches at Cressey Sports Performance.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/15/16

Written on March 15, 2016 at 11:54 am, by Eric Cressey

Apologies for being a day late in publishing this, but we had a busy weekend as we hosted the First Annual Spring Seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. Here are some good resources to check out this week:

Complete Core Training - Mike Robertson just released this resource, and I'm reviewing it myself now. Speaking candidly, I think the world needs another core training product like I need a hole in my head, but this is actually very good. Mike always puts out great content and this is no exception, so I'd definitely recommend it to any of my fitness professional readers.   

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The 3 Worst Health and Fitness Goals You Must Avoid - Dr. John Berardi wrote this up for Precision Nutrition, and I especially like the attention he paid to emphasizing behaviors over outcomes.

Sidestepping the Paradox of Success - My business partner, Pete, wrote up a great blog that effectively answers the question, "Why have you opened 150 Cressey Sports Performance facilities around the country?" 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/29/16

Written on February 29, 2016 at 8:05 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Leap Day! Here's some recommended strength and conditioning reading to help you make the most of your "extra" day:

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World - Adam Grant (author of "Give and Take) released this earlier in the month, and I just wrapped up the audiobook and enjoyed it. If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Chip and Dan Heath, Daniel Pink, etc., you'll like it, too.

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Carb Controversy: Why Low Carb Diets Have It All Wrong - Brian St. Pierre makes an appearance in our recommending reading two weeks in a row. He's been on fire with great content for Precision Nutrition. Speaking of Brian, don't forget that he'll be delivering a one-day seminar at Cressey Sports Performance in Massachusetts on April 10. Click here for more information.

You Need a Reality Check - Todd Hamer is a great strength and conditioning coach and writer. He offers some great perspective in this piece. In short, it's very easy to criticize when you aren't willing to think critically about someone's rationale for programming as they do.

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4 Ways Hypermobile Clients Can Improve Their Training

Written on February 24, 2016 at 11:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Laura Canteri.

From super tight to super loose, people can fall at any point on the laxity continuum. Most women fall under the more hypermobile side of things, but there are a surprising amount of women who are nonetheless unaware of their extreme laxity. As a hypermobile female who learned the hard way, I want to share my knowledge and experiences with you to help improve your training and long-term health in four simple steps. While I'll focus my attention on females in particular, the overwhelming majority of these lessons hold true for hypermobile males as well.

1. Create Self Awareness.

What is Hypermobility?

Each joint has a certain amount of laxity and can be either congenital (you were born with it; thanks, Mom and Dad) or as a consequence of repetitive activities (e.g., swimming).  It shouldn't be confused with instability, which would result from an injury that leads to excessive, uncontrolled range-of-motion. With that said, hypermobility is excessive laxity at a joint. If you often feel “tight” and don’t think that this article pertains to you, I encourage you to keep reading.

How Do I Know If I’m Hypermobile?

At Cressey Sports Performance, we like to use the Beighton scale to assess joint laxity and hypermobility. The screen is scored out of nine points in which there are five tests (see below). Unilateral tests should be scored on both sides with each positive test counting as one point. The higher the score, the higher the laxity.

1. Extend the pinky to >90° angle with the rest of the hand (left and right sides)
2. Flex the thumb to contact with the forearm (left and right sides)
3. Elbow hyperextension > 10° (left and right sides)
4. Knee hyperextension > 10° (left and right sides)
5. Toe touch with knees straight, touch the palms flat on the floor

beighton

2. Remove Static Stretching From Your Routine.

From youth to college basketball, I had my fair share of injuries - from sprained ankles to dislocated shoulders -but despite having such loose joints, I would always feel “tight.” I couldn’t touch my toes, clasp my hands behind my back, or do any “cool” tricks. So, I incorporated static stretching before and after every game/practice to decrease my risk for injuries. Good news: I was eventually able to touch my toes and clasp my hands behind my back. Bad news: I continued to have even more shoulder instability issues, which resulted in surgery.

So, what gives? I wouldn’t feel “tight” if I was hypermobile, right? Wrong. Let me explain. When other structures aren’t working properly (i.e. your ligaments and tendons) to support a joint, the surrounding muscles work overtime to stabilize and protect it. This mechanism is known as "protective tension" and is the reason why someone who is hypermobile may feel “tight.”  Our body creates trigger points as a strategy to create stability where we don't have it. It may feel good to stretch in the moment, but stretching muscles around an already lax joint capsule will only lead to more instability and greater risk for injury.  It's like picking a scab; you feel better in the short-term, but wind up with longer term problems.

Long story short, if you're looking for a quick reduction in tightness, get rid of the static stretching and grab yourself a foam roller instead - and then follow that work up with some good stability exercises.

3. Stay Away From End Ranges.

Women who have a lot of joint laxity tend to stand, sit, and train in extreme end ranges (see pictures below). When joints are constantly loaded beyond normal range, the ligaments will continue to become more lax and the joint will experience more wear and tear overtime. Here are a few examples:

Hyperextended Elbows During a Push-up

elbowhyperextension 

Hyperflexed Lumbar Spine and Hyperextended Cervical Spine During Sitting

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Hyperextended Knees During Standing

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Hyperextended Knees and Right Hip Shift During Standing

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Whether you are sitting behind a desk at work, attending a yoga class, or lifting weight, it is important to be aware of your body position and stop just short of end range.

4. Improve Motor Control.

Generally speaking, women have greater Q-angles (measured from hip to patella along femur) and a higher predisposition to joint laxity compared to men. Looser joints require more stability and motor control; therefore, learning better movement patterns is critical for improving long-term health and joint integrity.

For example, if you are experiencing discomfort in the front of your shoulder, one exercise you could incorporate is the standing external rotation. This is a great exercise for hypermobile individuals to increase posterior rotator cuff strength, increase shoulder stability, and improve motor control by learning how to keep the ball centered in the socket.

Regardless of what exercise you perform, in order to improve motor control you must:

a. Be present:  Eliminate distractions (e.g. texting, Facebook, etc.). If you are not focused, you will naturally fall back to your compensatory movement patterns

b. Maintain a neutral spine: It is common for hypermobile women to overextend their lower back and rely on bony stability; therefore, learning how to execute and maintain a neutral spine is important in every exercise in order to set a foundation for better alignment

c. Slow down: Perform each rep in a controlled manner, and emphasize quality over quantity.

d. Train in non-fatigued state: Be aware of how you feel, as fatigue will negatively affect your ability to learn new movement patterns

Conclusion

My personal experiences have led me to believe that hypermobility, especially for women, is more common than one might think. Creating awareness for yourself or your clients is the first step in the right direction. As Eric always says, “Assess, don’t guess.”

Happy training to all my hypermobile readers out there!

About the Author

Laura Canteri (@LC_Canteri) heads up strength camps (group training) at Cressey Sports Performance – Florida. She completed her master’s degree in exercise physiology at Florida Atlantic University, and also is Precision Nutrition certified. In addition to her work at CSP, Laura works with folks from all walks of life through her distance-based consulting. You can reach her at l.c.canteri@gmail.com. 

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Cressey Sports Performance – MA Spring Nutrition Seminar: April 10, 2016

Written on February 21, 2016 at 6:57 am, by Eric Cressey

We're very excited to announce that on Sunday, April 10, we’ll be hosting the CSP Spring Nutrition Seminar featuring a day of learning with Brian St. Pierre. This event will take place at our Hudson, MA location. Brian was CSP’s first employee and has since moved on to be the Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition.

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Here’s a look at our agenda for the day:

8:30am: Registration

Morning Session – Laying the Foundation

9:00am: Human metabolism and the calorie conundrum
10:00am: Protein: the magical macro
10:30am: Carbs: the misunderstood macro
11:00am: Fats: the mystery macro
11:30am: Supplements: what works, what doesn’t, and what might
12:00pm: Q&A
12:30pm: Lunch

Afternoon Session – Practical Application

1:30pm: How to assess and where to begin
2:30pm: Controlling portions and making adjustments
3:00pm: Dietary adjustments for advanced muscle gain and fat loss
3:30pm: Problem solving and case studies
4:00pm: Why consistency is king
4:30pm: Q&A

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main Street, STE 310
Hudson, MA 01749

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Cost:

Regular Rate – $149.99
Student Rate – $129.00

*The early bird registration deadline is 3/10/16.

Date/Time

Sunday, April 10
Registration 8:30AM
Seminar: 9AM-5PM

Continuing Education

0.7 National Strength and Conditioning Association CEUs Pending (seven contact hours)

Click Here to Sign Up (Regular)

or

Click Here to Sign Up (Student)

We’re really excited about this event, as Brian is a polished presenter and always on top of the latest and greatest research on optimal nutrition practices. Space is limited and we expect this event to fill up quickly, so don’t delay on signing up!

If you have additional questions, please direct them to cspmass@gmail.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!

PS - If you're looking for hotel information, Extended Stay America in Marlborough, MA offers our clients a discounted nightly rate. Just mention "Cressey" during the booking process in order to secure the discount. Their booking phone number is 508-490-9911.
 


Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/20/16

Written on February 20, 2016 at 7:08 am, by Eric Cressey

We're wrapping up the week with some good recommended strength and conditioning material. Check these reads out:

Can Eating Too Little Actually Damage Your Metabolism? - This was an absolutely outstanding article on energy balance from Brian St. Pierre for Precision Nutrition. Suffice it to say that it's much more complex than "calories in vs. calories out."

6 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Strength and Conditioning Program - Greg Robins wrote this article up for my website almost two years ago, but the useful messages strongly endure!

Why Our Gym Has No Mirrors - Tony Bonvechio explains CSP's rationale better than I ever could! 

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Exercise of the Week: Resisted Scapular Wall Slides

Written on February 17, 2016 at 6:31 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's "Exercise of the Week" guest post comes from Lee Boyce. Enjoy! -EC

One of the basic exercises that people are taught to practice for improved shoulder rotation, upper back activation, scapular mobility and anterior muscle release as a by-product is the standard scapular wall slide. To do them, a lifter would simply stand with the heels, butt, upper back, shoulders and full arms and hands against the wall, reduce the lower back arch, and slide the hands up and down, mimicking a full shoulder press movement pattern.

Regressing this movement is as simple as taking the feet a few inches away from the wall and assuming position otherwise. Progressing this movement, however, is another story.

The problem is that people adapt quickly to an unloaded mobility drill, and because of this, the wall slide can become another non-transferrable “skill” that doesn’t carry over to generally improved posture or performance. Moreover, depending on whether the humerus is properly nested in the glenoid fossa to begin with, the wall slides themselves may always pose a problem from a biomechanical perspective. To help this cause, adding some mild resistance can “remind” the muscles of the rotator cuff to center the humeral head in the socket and create a much more effective external rotation position. Plus, using a neutral grip via ropes (as compared to a palms-forward grip) creates a much more ideal (and shoulder friendly) environment for external rotation that can act to counter anterior shoulder glide.

For resisted scapular slides, I like using a cable pulley, and performing the lift from a seated position. It’s a bit easier for a lifter to focus on avoiding back hyperextension, which is a common compensation pattern when lifters have insufficient shoulder mobility.

This movement creates a force angle that works against the standard slide pattern, so keeping the hands and arms moving along the same plane becomes a much more challenging task for the scapular muscles. It’s easy to “let up” and allow the hands and arms to drift forward. To view the movement in action, watch the video below.

Coaching Cues

1. Have the athlete sit squarely on a box or bench. The closer parallel the box puts him in, the better.

2. Set up the cable pulley and ropes in a position just above head level. This way, at the top position, the force angle won’t be strictly downward, and there will be ample tension throughout.

3. If the lifter is still novice or intermediate level as far as shoulder mobility and control goes, a neutral grip is recommended for reasons mentioned above. If the lifter is more advanced, he can feel free to pinch-grip between the thumb and first finger, and face the palms forward.

4. During the movement, avoid slipping into lower back hyperextension; maintain thoracic region extension; and be sure to maintain neutral head posture. Also, avoid letting the elbows fall out of line with the hands in the vertical plane.

5. Your target areas are the rotator cuff muscles, rear deltoids, and lower traps (as you raise the weight further overhead). When you start feeling this in other areas like the biceps and upper traps, readjust positioning and continue.

6. The exercise is very specific, so it shouldn’t take much weight for it to be effective. 15-20lbs of resistance on most machines is usually plenty.

7. The movement won’t work if it’s done in a rush. Think of a 2121 tempo as a solid guideline.

8. Use higher reps to build up the muscular endurance of these muscle groups.

9. Your range of motion should replicate your typical dumbbell shoulder press – meaning the rep begins very close to the shoulder level, and ends at a full arm extension overhead.

10. Through the movement, remember to keep the hand separated (pull the rope handles apart) as much as possible. Doing so keeps the upper back engaged, avoids internal rotation, and keeps the hands stacked over the shoulder, where they belong.

About the Author

Lee Boyce (@CoachLeeBoyce) is a strength coach, writer, and former collegiate level sprinter and long jumper, based in Toronto, Canada. In 2013, he was named to the training and treatment staff for team Jamaica at the Penn Relays . He’s regularly featured in the largest fitness publications as a writer. Visit his website at www.LeeBoyceTraining.com or check him out on Facebook.

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5 Strength and Conditioning Exercises that Overdeliver

Written on February 9, 2016 at 7:31 am, by Eric Cressey

With this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite exercises that are included in the program. I like these, in particular, because they're "anti-isolation" exercises. In other words, they deliver multiple training effects to give gym-goers more efficient training outcomes. Keep in mind that just because I don't include classic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts in this discussion doesn't mean that they aren't absolutely fantastic; I just want to give you a little exposure to some different drills in this post.

1. Kettlebell Crosswalk

Because of the asymmetrical loading, you get some great rotary stability work at the core - on top of the anterior core stability work you get from holding a weight overhead while resisting too much arching of your lower back. You get some outstanding shoulder mobility and stability benefits, as getting the top arm up requires a lot of scapular upward rotation and rotator cuff activation. Finally, an overlooked benefit is the opportunity to reaffirm good neck positioning. A lot of athletes will want to shoot into forward head posture, but if you pack the neck correctly, you'll be able to avoid this.

2. Positional Breathing

I use a wide variety of positional breathing drills as part of The High Performance Handbook program, so this is really more of a "category" than a specific exercise. When you put athletes (especially those with more "extended postures) into a more flexion biased position and encourage them to full exhale, you are effectively training both mobility and stability simultaneously. When you exhale, many of the muscles of inhalation - scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, lats, pec minor (not surprisingly all muscles that have chronic tissue density in many individuals) - all are forced to relax. Concurrently, the rectus abdominus and external obliques fire to get air out - and in the process, establish better anterior core stability.

Here are a few examples:

3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL

Whenever I put this in an athlete's program, I go out of my way to warn them that they'll be pretty sore in the days that follow. Lunging and 1-leg RDLs constitute different kinds of single-leg work with different training effects, but when you combine them, you can get the best of both worlds.

This can also be done with one dumbbell at a time. As athletes get more proficient with the drill, I look for more "fluid" transitions, as opposed to a lot of stop-and-go movements.

4. 1-arm KB Turkish Get-up

This one is just too obvious. To do a good get-up, you need everything from a hip hinge, to anterior core control, to shoulder mobility, to single-leg stability.  

 

Not bad for a crafty lefty. #CSPfamily #100lb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

If you're looking for a great coaching resource on Turkish Get-up Technique, check out Greg Robins' article, 6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes.

5. Combination Mobility Exercises

Let's face it: nobody really enjoys mobility warm-ups. Fortunately, for those of you who dread these drills and prefer to get to the lifting as quickly as possible, there are some combination drills that speed up the process a bit. Check out these two examples from the program:

Wrap-up

If you're looking to learn more about how all these different pieces fit with an overall strength and conditioning program "puzzle," then I'd encourage you to check out my most popular resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off this week, and offers programs versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of training goals.  

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