Home Posts tagged "deadlift technique"

Optimizing the Big 3 – August 14, 2016

We're excited to announce that on August 14, 2016 Greg Robins will be delivering his one-day seminar, “Optimizing the Big 3″ alongside fellow Cressey Sport Performance Coach Tony Bonvechio. This event, which will take place at our Hudson, MA location, is a a great chance for strength and conditioning professionals to learn from the best. And, it's also been very popular with athletes who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

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“Optimizing the Big 3” is a one-day seminar for towards those looking to improve the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Split into both a lecture and hands-on format, the event will provide attendees with practical coaching on the technique of the classic power lifts. Additionally, Greg and Tony will cover how to individualize movement preparation, utilize supplementary movements, and organize their training around a central focus: improved strength in these “big three” movements. Furthermore, they'll touch upon the lessons learned in preparation for your first few meets to help you navigate everything from equipment selection to meet-day logistics.

The value in learning from Greg is a matter of perspective. He has a wealth of knowledge, and has experience stemming from various experiences as a coach and lifter. Greg will effectively shed light on how he has applied movement principles, athletic performance modalities, and anecdotal evidence from working with a wide variety of different populations to optimize the technique, health, and improvements in strength of amateur lifters.

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Agenda

8:30-9:00AM: Check-in/Registration

9:00-11:00AM: Maximal Strength Training Theory – The main lecture of the day will be focused on the principles of how to assess where you (or your athletes) are in terms of training history and how that determines what kind of training loads should be used. Furthermore, this lecture will focus on principles of managing stressors and how to assign proper loading parameters for different level lifters. Last will be a discussion of the cornerstones of training vs. planning, as well as a look at the commonalities and differences of different training approaches.

11:00AM-12:00PM: Managing the Strength Athlete: Assessing and Meeting the Demands of the Lifter – Learn what demands a high amount of volume in the classic lifts puts on the body; how to assess for it in others and yourself; and what you can do to manage the stress associated with these demands.

12:00-12:30PM: Group Warm-up

12:30AM-1:15PM: Squat Hands-on Session

1:15-1:30PM: Squat Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

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1:30-2:15PM: Lunch (on your own)

2:15-3:00PM: Bench Press Hands-on Session

3:00-3:15PM: Bench Press Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

3:15-4:00PM: Deadlift Hands-on Session

4:00-4:15PM: Deadlift Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

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4:15-5:00PM: Final Q&A

Date/Location:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749 

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Registration Fee:

$199.99

Click here to register using our 100% secure server!

Note: we’ll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction – particularly during the hands-on workshop portion – so be sure to register early, as the previous offerings have both sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.

On the fence? Here is what previous attendees have to say...

"Greg Robins has constructed one of the most comprehensive seminars that I have ever attended. I’ve had the opportunity to not only attend The Big 3, but host it at my gym as well. I truly believe that every coach and/or individual who's interested in mastering the squat, bench, and deadlift absolutely must attend this workshop. Greg is loaded with knowledge and learning directly from him has greatly impacted my ability to coach my clients and athletes."
-Chris Semick 
Co-Owner, War Horse Barbell - Philadelphia, PA

"Attending the Big 3 Workshop with Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio was the best thing to happen to my barbell training. After taking close to 20+ years off from working with a barbell I decided to attend the Big 3 workshop to receive excellent coaching and guidance in training. In my experience as a healthcare provider (ATC) a strength coach and a kettlebell instructor this course has helped myself and my clients significantly. I was able to relate all the movements to rehabilitation, strength training and kettlebell training I perform with clients and this helps me to give them a better transition back to sport and training. I would happily attend this workshop again to continue to learn and dial in the Big 3 movements. Just one day with these two professionals is not enough time to soak in all the knowledge!"

-Eric Gahan
Co-Owner, Iron Body Studios

"Greg Robins is the epitome of high integrity, an unparalleled work ethic, and a true passion and dedication toward making those around him better. His Optimizing The Big 3 Workshop is no different. After attending this workshop while also being a personal client of Greg's, I've increased numbers in all 3 lifts, and improved my overall strength by leaps and bounds in the process. Greg is the real deal. Don't hesitate - just go."

-Matt Ibrahim
Owner, Movement Resilience

And some video proof...

Click here to register!

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Building a Bigger Deadlift with the Right Grip Width

When it comes to deadlift technique, one thing I find myself coaching individuals on all the time is their hand position - and this is especially true with the conventional deadlift. Learn more in this deadlift technique tutorial with a specific focus on the grip set-up:

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Counterintuitive Coaching: More Loading, Better Learning

It goes without saying that in the overwhelming majority of cases of resistance training technique coaching, adding weight makes it harder to teach an exercise. In other words, we want to deload the movement as a regression, as many trainees get into "panic mode" when you put external load on them. A deadlift that is ugly at 135 pounds is definitely going to look even uglier at 315 pounds. 

Lowering the weight is just one regression we can use to optimize technique. Other strategies include changing the exercise (e.g., trap bar deadlift over conventional deadlift), shortening the range of motion (e.g., rack pull vs. deadlift), eliminating fatigue (e.g., dropping a few reps off each set), tinkering with the base of support (e.g., split squat instead of lunging) and deceleration components (e.g., reverse lunges instead of forward lunges). I went into detail on these options and several more in an older article, 11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder.

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Sometimes, however, there are exceptions to these rules. In particular, I'm speaking to the idea that in some cases - as counterintuitive as it may seem - adding weight can actually improve your ability to clean up a movement pattern. Here are a few examples:

Anterior Counterbalance - The best examples to which one can look on this front are the goblet squat and plate-loaded front squat. You can see individuals who have brutal squat patterns that are quickly cleaned up just be giving them some external loading in one of these positions to facilitate an easier posterior weight shift and better core engagement.

Truth be told, this same set-up can be used to improve lateral lunges, too. And, it can also help to explain why some lifters have much better front squat technique than with the back squat.

Olympic lifts - There is definitely a sweet spot for teaching the Olympic lifts, which require a higher speed of execution and "feel" of tension against external load. If you're teaching them to a more trained athlete with a decent foundation of strength and power, just putting a 5kg training plate on each side of the bar almost never works. The weight is so light that it's very easy for them to slip into bad patterns like curling the weight or cutting the lower body triple-extension short. Bumping those 5kgs up to 10 or even 20kg bumper plates can make a big difference in syncing everything up.

Deadlifts - While lowering the weight is usually essential for improving deadlift technique, one issue you may encounter is that at very light weights, if you don't have bumper plates, the plates have a smaller diameter. In other words, lowering the weight below 135 pounds may actually increase the range of motion of the movement. This is easily corrected by elevating those smaller plates on a riser (two aerobic steps works well) or going to a rack pull. However, if strength is adequate, just going to 135 is often the easiest correction, even if it means you need to knock a few reps off the set.

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Medicine Ball Work - If a medicine ball is too light, an athlete will do one of two things. First, if it's a rotational drill, he'll use too much upper body work and not engage the hips correctly to create powerful rotation to transfer up the chain to the upper body. If it's an overhead stomp variation, he'll usually hold back because if the medicine ball is too light, it'll rebound excessively off the floor and hit him in the face before he can react to it. For this reason, we'll never do overhead stomps with anything less than 8lb medicine balls - and that would be with absolute beginners. Most folks do best with 10-12-pounders.

Turkish Get-up - I've evolved in the way that I teach the Turkish Get-up in recent years. In the past, I would teach it unloaded - and would always notice that lifters - especially hypermobile ones - would manage to slip into their faulty patterns really easily without external loading. Adding a kettlebell - even if it's only 4-8kg - can make a huge difference in keeping trainees more "compact" and under the kettlebell. Effectively, they guard against vulnerable positions that wouldn't be noticeable if they didn't have to support a load overhead.

Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) - Popularized by physical therapist Gray Cook, RNT involved using resistance to pull individuals into their dysfunctional pattern in order to increase proprioceptive awareness and build-up antagonist co-contraction. The athlete (or patient in the clinical realm) acquires the kinesthetic awareness to avoid the dysfunctional pattern, and the strength and motor control to resist falling into it. Perhaps the most well known example of adding resistance to teach a good pattern is in using a band to drive valgus (caving in) at the knee during single-leg patterns.

Weighted Baseballs - We've used weighted baseballs as part of our throwing programs since 2008 with great results. The reason isn't just to get contrast between heavy and light to increase arm speed via post-activation potentiation, but also because using weighted implements can actually help to improve arm action and clean up mechanical faults in certain individuals. If a pitcher has a very long or deep arm action, weighted ball throws can help to shorten it up. If a pitcher has a short deceleration pattern (including a big whip-back), doing some weighted ball holds can teach and train a longer, more joint-friendly pattern.

Wrap-up

There are just seven examples of how increasing external loading can actually facilitate teaching, but there are undoubtedly many more that you may already be using on a daily basis without even realizing it. There are many different ways to clean up movement, so don't ever rule anything out! Feel free to share additional strategies on this front in the comments section below. 

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 17

It's time for the April installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. Here are a few ideas that are currently rattling around my brain.

1. The absolute speed-strength continuum doesn't matter if you're weak.

I posted this on my Facebook page last week, but thought it merited a mention here. With respect to this old video of mine...

One thing I didn't mention that is an important consideration, though, is that an athlete has to have a foundation of strength and work capacity to even "get on" this continuum. This is one reason why it's absolutely absurd for a 10-year-old to be embarking on a crazy aggressive throwing program. Before he introduces overload/underload throwing or high volume, he needs to establish a base of general stability and work capacity to be able to handle more specific stress.

2. In-season training isn't just about lifting.

When people hear "in-season lifting," they seem to immediately think that the sole justifications for incorporating it is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. Surely, that's a huge part of the equation. However, I'm quick to point out to our athletes that in-season training includes a lot more. 

Each time an athlete trains at Cressey Sports Performance during the season, he's also going through his foam rolling work. And, he's working his way through a more individualized warm-up than he'd typically get at the field during practice or at games.

Likewise, it's an exposure to an environment that "nurtures" good lifestyle behaviors. There are invariably discussions about optimizing sleep quality, and improving nutrition. These exchanges just don't happen as often at the field.

All that in mind, in-season training isn't just about lifting weights.

3. There aren't absolutes when it comes to discussing packing the neck.

I can't definitely tell you that packing the neck during lifting will guarantee that you'll lift more weight.

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However, I think it's very safe to say that if - 20 years down the road - we take MRIs of the necks of lifters who lifted with a more neutral cervical spine posture and compared them to MRIs of those who looked up at the ceiling when they squatted and deadlifted, the packed neck group's diagnostic imaging would be a LOT cleaner.

4. Culture matters more than expertise, programming, finances, and just about anything else.

I've been fortunate to visit a lot of different strength and conditioning facilities in the private, collegiate, and professional sector. Without fail, the most successful facilities are the ones with an awesome culture. In other words, the athletes and staff are excited to be there. They're thrilled about the prospects of innovations, and there is great communication without consideration of organizational rank, service time, or any other sort of hierarchy. I think this awesome post from Matt Duffy of the Giants is a great example of this in action in professional sports. 

Culture matters because it's a limiting factor. Expertise and good programming are super important, but they don't matter if you don't have an environment that accommodates the implementation of these things. And, if you look at professional sports, you can't outspend a crappy culture. This is why you can see small market teams competing with the highest payroll teams in just about every professional sport. And, it's one reason why you see fancy facilities with seemingly limitless financial resources fail miserably in the private sector all the time.

This is one reason why I always emphasize to our staff and interns that we hire based on both competency and fit.

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Competency can be taught, but fit is something that is directly drawn from one's character. Character is something that needs to be established at a young age and reinforced over the course of decades in a professional career. It's a challenge to hire someone with the right fit for your culture, and this is one reason why we like to hire from our internship program; it's a test drive to determine "fit" and work to fine-tune it if the alignment isn't quite perfect.

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3 Reasons Powerlifting Beginners Should Train More Frequently

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins.

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Many popular approaches to strength training have lifters training roughly 3-4 times per week. While this is a solid approach for most gym goers, the lifter looking to excel at squatting, bench pressing, and deadliftng may be better served increasing training frequency to 5-6 sessions per week. Here are a few reasons why:

1. More Practice

The most important variable to manage with newer lifters is technique. Technique on the big three lifts is a variable that is completely controllable by the lifter. In other words, while some people will certainly be limited by leverages or genetics, technique is one item that should not be a factor in stagnating progress. If your technique isn't improving, it's a matter of negligence; you aren't practicing enough. Training more frequently increases your exposure to the lifts. If a trainee makes a point to consciously evaluate technique each session, this should equate to more dedicated practice and therefore a steadier road to mastery of the lifts.

Action item 1: Use video to evaluate your lifts more often. Everyone has a camera on his or her phone these days, so video assessment is easier than ever before. While you may feel a bit awkward filming your lifts, there is truly no better way to revisit your training and evaluate where you can improve your technique.

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2. More Volume

While intensity (for the sake of this example, we’ll refer to this as the weight on the bar) is the obvious training variable that must be improved to have success in powerlifting, monitoring and making incremental improvements in the volume (total work done in a training session, or training block) is how you will make that happen. In short, here’s why...

All training is about balancing the relationship among fitness, fatigue, and performance. Acutely, a single training session will cause an amount of fatigue that lessens your performance. You walk out of the gym capable of doing less (in that moment) than you could do when you walked in. However, that acute stress causes a response - which leads to an adaptation where you become more fit than when you walked in (assuming you take the proper steps to recover adequately).

Training is a constant management process between the training effect applied and one’s ability to recover from that loading.

While a single training session may acutely have a negative effect on you, if you manage this relationship well over a given training period, the training will yield a positive effect in improved fitness specific to your goal (in this case, maximal strength). Given that information, more intense training causes a larger amount of fatigue, while doing less intense work will help to build work capacity specific to your sport (powerlifting). Popularly, this is described as the difference between "building strength" and "testing it."

Focusing on adding more volume with less intensity causes a fatigue that is more manageable and more productive. Training more frequently is an obvious way to spread out more work, allowing for better recovery. While one could conceivably also add more work in less frequent training sessions, doing so makes the session more dense and therefore adds an element of increased intensity. In this case, we're viewing intensity less so from a "weight on bar" standpoint, and moreso from the "magnitude" of the training session.

Action item 1: Instead of training 3x/week, try doubling that frequency to 6x/week. Have each session focus on a different lift, and follow a high/low approach. As an example:

Monday: Squat High
Tuesday: DL Low
Wednesday: Bench High
Thursday: Squat Low
Friday: Deadlift High
Saturday: Bench Low (or High again; most beginners can repeat a heavy bench day twice per week)

Action item 2: Don’t warm up in an effort to make the top sets of the day "easier." Many lifters practice the minimal amount of volume necessary to feel prepared for the top sets in a training session. Instead, program out your warm up sets as well. If you do this, and increase your exposure to each lift to 2x/week, that means you will have to warm up twice as often. If you are making a point to do a certain amount work leading up to the top sets, this will increase submaximal training volume by quite a lot over the course of time. As an example, if you are working up to top sets in the 75-90% range try this for a warm up protocol:

35% x 8 to 10 reps
45% x 8 to 10 reps
55% x 6 to 8 reps
65% x 5 to 6 reps
70% x 4 to 6 reps

3. Improved Compliance

We are creatures of habit. How many people do a better job of optimizing sleep, nutrition, hydration, and body management (self massage, mobility, activation work) when their training sessions are taken into consideration? I know I do. If you train 3x/week, that may mean the nights before those sessions you make sure to get enough sleep. It may mean that on the days you train, you make sure to fuel yourself better. It may also mean you take better measures to prepare the body physically for loading. If you train 5-6 times/week, you essentially double those efforts. You drink more water, get more sleep, eat better food, and do more to keep moving and functioning optimally. That alone will improve your results.

For more information on maximal strength training, I'd encourage you to check out The Specialization Success Guide, a collaborative resource between Greg Robins and Eric Cressey. If you want to build a bigger squat, bench press, and deadlift, this is a great collection of programs for doing so!

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12 Ways to Know if You Should Include an Exercise in a Strength Training Program

At Cressey Sports Performance, whenever we're training a new staff member to write strength and conditioning programs, I always heavily emphasize the following point:

If you're going to put an exercise in a program, you need to be able to quickly and easily justify its inclusion.

Without a doubt, exercise selection is one of the most important programming variables one must take into account. To that end, there are many ways that one can determine whether an exercise belongs in a strength training program (or not) - and each justification begins with a question. Here are ten questions to get the ball rolling:

1. Can it be sufficiently loaded, or does it allow you to achieve a training effect with less loading?

If one is looking to purely gain muscle mass, then a side bridge row probably isn't a great choice, as it doesn't give rise to athletes using significant loading:

Conversely, if someone has a cranky forearm and needs to find a way to maintain an upper body training effect with less gripping demands, the side bridge row can be a great option.

2. Does it offer functional carryover to an individual's life or athletic endeavor?

A deadlift is easy to sell on this front. It trains individuals to have a strong hip hinge that they'll use regardless of whether they're picking a child up off the ground, or jumping to grab a rebound. Conversely, juggling dumbbells while standing on one leg on an unstable surface isn't going to provide you with much (if any) real-world carryover. Don't waste valuable training time on unproductive exercises.

3. Does the individual have the capacity to perform the movement?

This question applies to both the osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces). As examples:

a. An individual with femoroacetabular impingement (a bony block) at the hip may not be able to get into a deep squat position. This would be a limitation on the osteokinematic front (limited hip flexion and, likely, internal rotation).

b. An individual with poor rotator cuff control might not be able to limit the anterior gliding of the humeral head during an external rotation toss to wall. This would be a limitation on the arthrokinematic front (even if the drill might look good to the naked eye).

4. Will an individual have sufficient equipment to perform it?

I always get a kick out of looking at canned, mass marketed programs that include things like the safety squat bar, chains, and sleds. Most commercial gyms don't have these things; heck, a lot of gyms don't even have kettlebells or medicine balls. Learning about equipment access up-front if you're writing a program for someone who isn't in "your gym" is an important step to save time and hassle.

As an interesting aside, I've had a lot of positive feedback on the "exercise modifications" section of The High Performance Handbook. Basically, this helps individuals modify the program to work with their equipment limitations. Versatility is very important to gym-goers!

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5. Does it allow for sufficient time under tension to yield hypertrophy (muscle building) benefits?

If you want to put muscle mass on someone, you need to have some time under tension. For that reason, an exercise like a rotational row would be an inferior hypertrophy training option, even if it is great for training power in an athletic population.

6. Does it take a lot of set-up?

If the individual performing the program is crunched for time, exercises that take considerable set-up time are generally better left out of the program.

7. Does it fit in with where an individual stands in a regression-progression continuum?

If someone can't even squat to parallel with body weight without major compensations, then programming a back squat probably isn't a good idea.

Conversely, if someone is an elite Olympic lifter with an excellent squat - both in terms of patterning and loading - then telling them to do three sets of eight goblet squats probably won't offer much benefit.

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8. Will it provide a training effect without creating significant soreness?

Sometimes, we want to avoid creating soreness. A perfect example is in-season programming for athletes, where we might avoid drills with a significant eccentric component, instead programming things like step-ups, deadlifts from the floor, and sled pushing/dragging. At other points in the year, it might be fine to have post-exercise soreness, so our exercise pool expands significantly.

9. Does it build "good stiffness" or reduce "bad stiffness?"

As we know, quality movement is a balance of mobility and stability. You need range of motion, but stability within that range of motion. Likewise, you need some rigidity, but not so much as to not allow for fluid movements. Every exercise should help you to find that "balance" in some way. For instance, look at the reverse crunch, which builds "good" stiffness in the anterior core (particularly external obliques) while reducing stiffness in the lats and lumbar erectors.

10. Will it allow an individual to train around an injury?

I'll admit: there are some exercises that I almost never use unless when we have an athlete who is on crutches, in a sling, or dealing with some other type of injury. When someone is hurt and wants to maintain a training effect without exacerbating an injury, you have to get creative.

11. Can it be used to train power?

Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses are all exercises that can be utilized to train power. Conversely, good luck trying to turn a chin-up into a power training exercise without blowing out a shoulder or elbow. An overhead medicine ball stomp would be a much better option for challenging high velocity shoulder extension.

12. Does an individual love or hate it?

Some people love certain exercises because they're good at performing them. In most cases, to make long-term progress, they need to emotionally separate themselves from those exercises a bit so that they can devote extra effort and training volume to bring up their weaknesses.

Conversely, in beginners who aren't completely "sold" on lifting weights, it's okay to use a favorite exercise to help deliver a message. I can't tell you how many women we've had over the years who love to trap bar or sumo deadlift in their initial months of training - and they actually request it in their new programs. If seeing a particular exercise in a program gets a new client fired up to put in extra effort and stay adherent, I'm all for meeting them halfway by including it.

Wrap-up

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of considerations one must take into account on the exercise selection front, but it's a good place to start. In the comments section below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other things you take into account.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 11

In today's post, I want to cover three more coaching cues you can use to clean up your training technique. These are ones I use all the time with athletes at Cressey Sports Performance:

1. "Create a gap."

I use this one all the time with both rowing and pressing variations. Athletes love to keep the elbow too close to the side, and it creates an environment of faulty scapular positioning during movement of the upper arm. You can check out examples on my Instagram page, if you're interested (FAULTY vs. CORRECTED).

The answer is very simple: create a gap between the upper arm and torso. I'll usually just put my hand between the two landmarks and wiggle my fingers side to side to create a gap, as depicted by the blue line here:

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2. "Don't let this plate fall."

I've written in the past (here) about how much I love bear crawls as everything from a low-level core stability exercise to a great scapular control drill. That said, one thing you'll see as a common mistake from athletes is that they'll allow their lower back and hips drift side to side on each "step." While this is indicative of the need for rotary stability at the core, usually, the problem is still something that can be fixed up pretty quickly with some basic coaching cues, starting with "slow down."

To build on "slow down" with an external focus cue, I'll set a 2.5-pound plate on the athlete's lower back. The more the lumbopelvic shifts, the more likely it is to fall.

3. "Don't break the glass."

One of the biggest mistakes we see with quad dominant athlete who have poor hip hinge patterns is that they'll break the knee forward in lieu of shifting the hips back. You'll see this on everything from lateral lunges to the eccentric (lowering) portion of deadlifts.

Obviously, we can start to address this by coaching at the hip ("push your butt back to try to touch the wall behind you"), but you can also have a positive impact on the movement by coaching the knee with an external focus cue of an imaginary pane of glass running directly up to the ceiling from the toes. Check out this still frame I took from the lowering portion of a sumo deadlift. The knee shouldn't hit the blue line that signifies the imaginary pane of glass:

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The image would be more powerful from the side angle, but the plates obscure the lower leg and foot from that perspective, unfortunately. Fortunately, the lateral lunge with overhead reach is a good second shot:

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That wraps it up for this edition. Hopefully, you've found these cues useful and easy to apply in your strength and conditioning programs. If you're looking for direction with respect to both programming and coaching cues, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, which features more than 200 exercise coaching videos, comprising three hours of footage of the exact cues we use with our athletes.

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Strength Exercise of the Week: Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Band

It's been a while since I posted an "Exercise of the Week," but hopefully today's offering will atone for that, as this is one of my favorite exercises to program in the late off-season period for our athletes. Check out the video below to learn how to deadlift using a trap bar and bands.

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!

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2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?

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5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Installment 9

It's been nine months since I last posted an update to this coaching cues series, so this post is long overdue! Here are three technique coaching cues you can put into action:

1. "Follow the arm with the eyes."

We'll often see individuals who try to do thoracic mobility drills like the side-lying windmill, but wind up turning them into potentially harmful stretches for the anterior shoulder. Basically, you'll see too much arm movement and not enough upper back movement. One way to increase movement of the upper back is to "drive" it with the eyes, which effectively keeps us in a more neutral neck position. Check out the demonstration video from The High Performance Handbook video library for more details:

2. "Build up tension through the hamstrings over the next five seconds."

I normally don't like internal focus cues, but this would be an exception. I generally use this cue specifically when we have a beginning lifter who is learning to deadlift, but it can also be incorporated with an intermediate lifter who struggles with early knee extension and the hips shooting up too early. Basically, it slows the lifter down, but still encourages him to apply force into the floor.

I'll have the individual set up the starting position, but not initiate the deadlift unless everything is perfect - from the feet up to the head. Then, I'll tell him to gradually build up tension in the hamstrings over the course of five seconds, with the bar slowly breaking the floor at the end of that period of time. It won't lead to great bar speed (something we ultimately want), but that's not of great concern when we're simply trying to optimize technique.

As an important add-on, make sure the athlete has already taken the slack out of the bar before you initiate the hamstrings cues:

3. "Where the arm goes, the shoulder blade goes" - and vice versa.

This is a coaching cue I recently heard physical therapist Eric Schoenberg use at one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, and I loved it. It simplified something I'd been trying to create with kinesthetic coaching (actually putting an athlete's shoulder blade in the position I wanted).

There are a lot of folks out there still teaching clients and athletes to "lock down" the scapula during rowing exercises, or make the rowing motion segmented into "retract and THEN pull." The truth is that the upper extremity doesn't work like this in the real world; otherwise, we'd all move like robots. Healthy upper extremity action is about smooth, coordinated movements of the scapula on the rib cage (scapulothoracic joint) while the ball and socket (glenohumeral joint) maintain a good congruency, just like a sea lion balancing a ball on his nose.

Zalophus_californianus_-Blackpool_Zoo,_Lancashire,_England_-female-8a

If you move the ball (humerus) without moving the socket (sea lion) with it, the ball falls off (comes unstable). The same thing can happen if you move the socket without moving the ball. The question then becomes: what active or passive restraints have to pick up the slack for the excessive motion that takes place? It can be the biceps tendon, rotator cuff, labrum, or shoulder capsule.

If we teach people to move the shoulder blade and humerus independently of one another - and load that pattern - we're really just establishing a faulty movement strategy that can't be safely reproduced under higher velocities. You can learn a bit more in this video:

Hopefully you enjoyed these tips and will benefit from applying them in your strength training programs. If you have other exercises you'd like covered, please just let me know in the comments section below.

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