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The Best of 2016: Guest Posts

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2016, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes…  

1. Cryotherapy and Exercise Recovery: Part 1 and Part 2 - Tavis Bruce absolutely crushed it with this heavily researched two-parter on one of the most controversial topics in health and human performance today.

2. Big Toe, Big Problems - Dr. James Spencer took a close look at Functional Hallux Limitus, a common problem that is frequently overlooked in the rehabilitation world.

3. 4 Strategies to Improve Athletes’ Innate Acceleration - Lee Taft introduced some excellent ways to improve your speed and agility coaching.

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4. 4 Ways Hypermobile Individuals Can Improve Their Training - Laura Canteri offered some excellent insights for a very underserved population: loose-jointed clients.

5. Building Better Core Control with “The Bear” - Mike Robertson shared one of his favorite core stability exercises and it was a big hit with the EricCressey.com audience.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2016.

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The Best of 2016: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2016 winding down, I'm using this last week of the year to direct you to some of the most popular content of the past 12 months at EricCressey.com, as this "series" has been quite popular over the past few years. Today, we start with the most popular articles of the year; these are the pieces that received the most traffic, according to my hosting statistics.

1. 5 "Combo" Core Stability Exercises - Great strength and conditioning programs are all about delivering results as efficiently as possible. Here are some exercises that'll help you do so by making your core stability training more efficient.

2. 10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age - The popularity of this article makes me realize that I need to devote more of my writing to the more mature athlete who still likes to get after it in the gym! 

3. How Lower Body Exercises Can Impact Upper Body Function - This article debuted around the time we released Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement. Squats, deadlifts, and other lower body drills can have a dramatic impact on the upper body in ways you might not realize.

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4. 5 Strength and Conditioning Exercises That Overdeliver - Similar to #1 from above, these are some of my favorite "big bang for your buck" exercises.

5. 6 Saturday Shoulder Strategies - You would think people would be sick of reading articles on the shoulder from me by now. Apparently not.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2016" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year! 

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Prioritization and Concession for Strength and Conditioning Success

As you’ve probably already noticed, it’s been a bit quieter on the blog of late. Normally, I try to get up at least two – and usually three – new posts per week. Over the past few months, it’s been more like 1-2 posts.

With two facilities in two states – and a pair of two-year-olds at home – life has a very brisk pace to it right now. The baseball off-season keeps me very busy, so when October through February rolls around, some things just have to take a back seat. For me, that’s usually writing and traveling for speaking engagements. In-person coaching is what I love, and this is the absolute best time of year for it.

Fortunately, though, it doesn’t have to be “either/or” for me; rather, it can be “and” if I select a convenient medium. To that end, I’ve done more video content on the social media front with my 30 Days of Arm Care series and some random videos of our pro guys training.

Right now, I’m prioritizing the most time-sensitive demands (in-person training), particularly because they’re the part of my professional responsibilities that I love the most. And, obviously, it’s a goal to prioritize family time above all else, and I need to get my own training in.

Simultaneously, while I’d much rather write detailed content and film longer videos, it’s not always feasible – so I’ve conceded that some quick social media posts and even the occasional guest contribution from another writer are solid ways to keep the ball rolling in the right direction with my online brand while I manage the pro baseball off-season.

As I thought more and more about this time crunch conundrum, it goes me to thinking about how it parallels what folks deal with on the training front. Two key principles – prioritization and concession – really stand out in my mind.

The best training programs are the ones that clearly identify and address the highest priorities for the lifter. If a 14-year-old kid can’t even execute a solid body push-up, putting him on a 3x/week bench press specialization program probably isn’t the best idea. Likewise, if a 65-year-old women can’t even walk from the car to the gym without back pain, she probably shouldn’t be learning how to power clean on her first day. These prioritization principle examples might seem obvious, but not all scenarios are as clearly defined. There are loads of factors that have to be considered on the prioritization front once someone has more training experience: duration of the window to train (off-season length), injury history, personal preferences, equipment availability, etc. It’s not always so black and white.

If you’re going to prioritize, it invariably means that you have to concede; very simply, you can’t give 100% to absolutely everything. If you go on a squat specialization program, you need to concede that you’re going to train your deadlift and bench press with less volume/intensity and later in your training sessions. Not everything can be prioritized all the time because of our limited recovery capacities.

Looking back, while I didn’t realize it at the time, these two principles help explain some of the popularity of my High Performance Handbook. By giving individuals various options in terms of both lifting frequency (2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week) and supplemental conditioning protocols, it afforded them the opportunity to prioritize and concede as they saw fit while still sticking to the primary principles that drive an effective program.

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Additionally, because they were the ones selecting which route to pursue, it gave them an ownership role in the training process. My good friend (and Purdue Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach) Josh Bonhotal went to great lengths to highlight how important this is to the training process in this article. I love this quote in particular:

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As I wrap my head around this even more, it makes me realize that when we educate an athlete about prioritization and concession - usually in the form of a thorough evaluation where we demonstrate that we want to individualize our programs to their needs - we're empowering them as part of the decision-making process. And that's where "buy-in" and, in turn, results follow.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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