5 Reasons You Aren't Getting Stronger - I wrote this around the time that Show and Go was released, too. It's one of the more popular articles ever published on this site. There is a small amount of overlap with the aforementioned webinar, but important points do deserve repetition!
With Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better on sale for this week, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak at the final chapter of this resource. While most people want the programs (the what), I think it’s also important to understand the “how,” too. In other words, if you give two trainees the exact same program, why do they often get remarkably different results? Sure, genes play into this, but there are additional factors that influence one’s long-term success. You can learn about a few of them below. - EC
All this in mind, as I sit here to write up this last chapter, it’s important for me to actually make it into something useful for you. To that end, I thought back to the most accomplished athletes and lifters with whom I’ve interacted over the years to brainstorm up some traits that typify almost all of them. What words do I think of when considering these individuals?
Consistency – Their outstanding results are never about just a 16-week program, finding a magic pill, or taking shortcuts. They don’t skip out on 2-3 months here and there because work gets busy. They never let minor aches and pains sidetrack them because they find ways to train around these issues and rehabilitate them in the process. They can’t fathom taking 19 weeks to complete a 16-week program. Training is an integral part of their lives, so they do it with more consistency than their less-accomplished peers. In the grand scheme of things, the programming, technique, and training environment are important – but just showing up is the single-most important thing.
Focus – When it’s time to train, the cell phone goes off. There’s no talking about the boozing that went on at the bars the weekend before, or complaining about problems with the new girlfriend. When these successful trainees are in the gym, they are there for one reason: to lift heavy stuff and get better.
Training Partners/Environment – Successful individuals realize that they’ll never be as well off alone as they will be with the help of the individuals around them, so they surround themselves with the right people. The end result is constant, detailed feedback; handoffs and spots whenever they’re needed; accountability to ensure the aforementioned consistency; and camaraderie that improves results exponentially.
Realistic Expectations – My best deadlift is 660 pounds, but to be honest, on about 363 days of the year, I don’t think I could come within 20 pounds of it. It just isn’t possible to be at your best for every training session – and it gets even harder to be close to that “peak” feeling as you get more experienced and accomplished. Push too hard when you aren’t feeling it, and you’ll set yourself back. The most accomplished powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strength sport athletes out there know when to push and when to hold back to take deloading periods; they have realistic expectations of themselves and listen to their bodies.
Insatiable Desire to Improve – Some of the best athletes I’ve ever met and worked with have also been the most inquisitive and open-minded to suggestions. They are constantly looking for new ways to improve, and appreciate that the field of strength and conditioning is a very dynamic one in which new research emerges almost daily. They recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so they borrow bits and pieces from many different philosophies to find what works best for them.
Joking aside, though, through this Saturday (5/18) at midnight, you can get this resource for just $77 (48% off the normal price).
With me working on a new project that'll be due out later this year, now is the perfect time to give the Show and Go program a test-drive, as it'd be a great option for setting you up to give the next generation of "Cressey Madness" a go in the fall. Don't take that to mean that the Show and Go program is outdated, though, as I still get great feedback on the program every single day of the week.
On Wednesday, my business partners and I surprised our staff and interns by blocking off a few hours of training sessions at Cressey Sports Performance - so that we could take them out to see the new movie, Pain and Gain. While the movie has a strength training theme to it, it doesn't even come close to qualifying as "continuing education" for our crew.
Rather, we had two reasons for taking the crew to the movies for a few hours. First, we wanted to reward them for all their hard work during a long and busy baseball off-season. Second, we wanted to mix things up a bit for them, as things slow down a bit at the CSP during the month of April, and we still want to make coming to work fun even when the days might feel a bit longer.
It's easy to draw a parallel from this experience to what many people encounter with their strength training programs. Good programs change before people adapt to them physiologically, but rarely do you consider that some people may have adapted to those programs psychologically much earlier. In other words, some people get bored quickly and need to shake things up to keep training fun. To that end, here are five strategies you can employ to make sure that you don't find going to the gym monotonous.
1. Get a new strength and conditioning program.
At Cressey Sports Performance, we generally change programs with our athletes and clients every four weeks. With all of them on their own individualized programs, this obviously makes for a lot of program design responsibilities for our staff. However, an individual gets excited when he or she receive a programs that isn't only new, but uniquely his or hers.
I often see people do the same programs for months and months upon end. There might be a small percentage of the strength training population who can tolerate it, but based on my interaction with thousands of the clients over the years, long-term results are far better when people are having fun. So, if you've been doing the same program since 1994, you might want to consider shuffling things up a bit.
2. Tinker with an existing strength and conditioning program.
It's not mandatory that you overhaul the program; you might just need to tinker with things. Maybe you increase volume significantly in one training session or week to really challenge someone before deloading in the subsequent week. Perhaps you modify exercise selection or the sets/reps scheme from week to week. The variations you can add are limited only by your creativity, but the important thing is that there is some variation in there, particularly if the individual doing the program is someone who gets bored easily.
3. Meet up with a new training partner.
I speak a lot about the importance of having good training partners and camaraderie in the gym. With this in mind, I'm convinced that the fact that people meet and train alongside new people every time they come to Cressey Sports Performance has a lot to do with our success. While consistency is certainly a valuable qualify to have in a training partner, the truth is that people seem to work harder when they're surrounded by new people. It may kick-start a little competitive fire or even just be a matter of people not wanting to be perceived as "non-hard-working." Whatever it is, sometimes the people surrounded you during a training session can have a big impact on the effort you put in - and the excitement you take away from the session.
4. Try some new training equipment.
A lot of fitness enthusiasts complain when they go on vacation and check out the hotel gym for the first time - only to discover less than stellar equipment selections. I'm not sure how people got the idea that a vacation resort would make a power rack, glute ham raise, and 2,000 pounds of free weights a priority when designing a resort for the masses, but some people do have this expectation nonetheless.
I'm much more of a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so I view vacation training as an opportunity to shuffle my training up with some equipment access. It's not going to kill you to use some machines for a week, and you won't waste away if you do more body weight exercises for a few days. Chances are that you'll make yourself really sore and - when you're hitting the dessert bar for the fifth time - you'll feel a little better about yourself knowing that you still worked hard and have the physical reminder of it.
Even if you're not on vacation, you can change things up very easily. It could be as simple as throwing a pair of Fat Gripz on the bar or dumbbell, or using a specialty bar for some squats or lunges.
5. Compete with yourself.
One of the biggest mistakes I see among gym-goers is that they rarely track their progress. It only takes a few seconds to write down what you did in a given session, but for some reason, most people don't log their training sessions. If you can't remember what you've done, how can you determine if you're making progress in the direction of your goals? This is one reason why I love Fitocracy; it's a quantifiable means of tracking exercise progress, and it also offers ways for you to compete with not only yourself, but others, too.
There's something wildly motivating about seeing improvements from week to week - even if they're only represented by a few numbers on a sheet of paper. If you find yourself getting bored in the gym easily, then I'd suggest that you start tracking things a bit more closely so that you can head off that boredom before it sets in. Plus, you might actually find that there's a reason to celebrate progress instead of just loathing the trips to the gym!
These are just five strategies to help you keep your strength and conditioning programs and sessions from getting boring, and there are surely many more. What have you done to keep the monotony at bay and keep things interesting?
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In the past, I’ve written about how fond I am of the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who’ve written best sellers like Made to Stick and Switch. These books have provided insights about why certain ideas are accepted while others are rejected, and outlined strategies to implement paradigm shifts effectively. Effectively, they analyze how people behave and process information in order to help readers make effect positive changes in business and in life. On my recent vacation, I read their newest release, Decisive, which discusses all the factors that affect whether we make good or bad decisions. I stumbled upon a gem in this great read that I think applies heavily to folks’ fitness programs.
In reference to a meta-analysis of the psychology literature, the Heaths write: “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the brothers note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”
Think about how this applies to the fitness community. There are a lot of folks who go to the gym and do what they’ve always done because it’s comfortable. It’s much easier to just go and do an exercise that you already know than it is to have to learn something new. And, beyond just the comfort factor, being willing to adopt new ways also means that you may have to accept that your old ways weren’t up to snuff – and that can be a bitter pill to swallow when it means thousands of hours at the gym may have been used inefficiently.
People want to confirm their awesomeness, not refute it.
One of my most important roles as a strength and conditioning coach is to help people embrace change when it comes to exercise. This generally means that I make a living “dis-confirming” what others are doing in their own exercise programs; otherwise, I wouldn’t be needed.
While there are certainly exceptions to the rule (in powerlifting, for instance, you want to be as efficient and consistent as possible with the three main lifts), change means creating a disturbance that least leads to greater fitness adaptation. It may be a richer proprioceptive environment to better prepare someone for life's demands, a different metabolic conditioning stress to drop body fat, an exercise variation to help someone avoid an overuse injury, or a new warm-up to improve movement quality on the way to achieving a goal.
Change must, however, be implemented differently for each individual. Some folks are ready to jump right into the deep end, and others are more reluctant and need to be eased into adjustments. Some folks may really need a complete program overhaul, while others might just need some tinkering.
How, then, do you know where you stand without someone like me there to help you? I’d ask yourself these five questions to determine if you’re getting too comfortable:
1. In the past four months, have you been moving toward your goals or further away from them?
2. What have you sacrificed to make this progress? This may be time, energy, money, or allowing a different fitness quality to detrain (e.g., losing metabolic conditioning as you put on muscle mass and strength). Are you comfortable with this sacrifice?
3. Are you motivated to get to the gym when the time comes to train?
4. Have you remained healthy during the program, or does it hurt to do certain exercises?
5. Can you do the things you want to do in life? Can you walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? Are you capable of putting your own luggage in the overhead compartment on a plane? Does it bother you that you can’t fit into some of your clothes? Will you make up an excuse to not play catch with your son because your shoulder is killing you?
If any of these questions left a bad taste in your mouth, then you need to evaluate how you can better structure your workout routines. And, in order to do so, you need an unbiased perspective, because we’re all wired to simply agree with ourselves.
1. Get a training partner. – Training partners aren’t just about offering spots, carpools, or accountability to show up for all your training sessions; they’re also there to give you brutal honesty when you need it. Find someone who can tell you when you’re spinning your wheels or being an idiot.
2. Outsource your training. – It might mean you buy a book or DVD and follow the recommended program or hire someone to work with you in person. At CP, our staff members write programs for each other and we all train together so that we can all work toward our individual goals with impartial feedback along the way. Interestingly, we have many fitness professionals who have looked to us for their own training. We have several clients who are personal trainers and strength coaches who appreciate outsourcing things to us in the same way that their clients do to them. Additionally, Show and Go has been very popular with fitness professionals not only because they can look at how the programs are structured, but also follow the program to shake up their own workout routines.
3. Think up alternatives. – The Heath brothers talk extensively about how the best way to come to a good decision is to realize that there is an “And” and not just an “Or.” In other words, not all questions are “yes/no” or “A/B” in nature – even if we try to make them that way. It’s important to brainstorm and investigate alternative solutions that could work best.
As an example, think of a lifter whose shoulder hurts and thinks he needs to stop training until it’s healthy. He might wonder, “Should I train through pain or stop?” The alternative answer is to train around pain, finding exercises that help one maintain a training effect without exacerbating the injury. I know: it sounds logical to assume one would pursue this third option, but you’d be amazed at how many people shut it down altogether. They avoid comprehensive decision-making processes, and you can imagine how this may apply to decisions they encounter in other aspects of their lives.
There are surely many other ways to determine whether you’re getting too comfortable and, if so, what to do about it. However, these were a few ideas to get the ball rolling and make you consider if you’re really heading in the right direction with your training.
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Here are this week's strength and conditioning tips, courtesy of Greg Robins.
1. Stress the “Hip Shift” with rotational med ball drills.
In this video I would like to detail the most important factor when using medicine ball exercisess to improve rotational power. Additionally, I have included a couple drills to help athletes with shifting from one hip to the other.
2. Consider adding work before you take away rest.
Often, you will set up your training sessions based on work to rest ratios. For example:
5 sets of 5 with one minute of rest.
30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.
Whether we are working to improve an athlete’s work capacity, or programming for a fat loss client, the idea is that we are calling for consistent high output efforts with incomplete rest intervals.
My suggestion is that you add repetitions or small increases in time BEFORE you take away rest. Why? The answer is simple: if you want high outputs, you are more likely to get them when you have more rest, albeit incomplete rest. Over the course of a program, use a progression where you add work first, then go back to where you started and take away rest the second go around. This way you are more likely to get better outputs.
Using our first example:
The first month would include adding 1 rep per workout or adding a few seconds while keeping the 1 minute, or 30 seconds of rest, respectively. In the following month, you can keep the work at 5 reps or 30 seconds and take away small amounts of rest each workout. In the months to follow you can start to combine elements of each.
3. Know when to buy organic produce when you’re on a budget.
I have never been in a situation where I didn’t need to count my pennies when it came to buying food for the week. That being said, I have filled my head with too much information not be informed when it comes to the safety of the food I buy. Therefore, I have to be consider how I can stay smart with my food choices and my finances. One of the best pieces of advice I received a while back had to do with when to buy organic produce. As a rule of thumb, I buy organic fruits and veggies when I plan on eating the skin, and I don’t when I plan on removing the skin.
For example, when it comes to berries, apples, and leafy greens, I always go organic. When I buy bananas, pineapple, or spaghetti squash, I just buy the cheapest I can find. Keeping this in mind, I also tend to buy fruits and veggies that fit my budget at the time in respect to my rule of thumb. Give it a try and save some dough!
4. Try this variation of the reverse crunch.
5. Consider this study when developing your strength and conditioning programs.
Earlier this year, I presented at our first annual Cressey Performance Fall Seminar. I spoke on the various qualities of “strength” an athlete may acquire and display. A large part of what I stressed was the relationship between strength qualities and how some exercises (and improvement of said exercises) share a more direct relationship with increased performance in an athlete’s sport of choice.
Recently, I came across this study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers examined how various field related strength and performance tests correlate to a golfer’s club head speed (CHS). Not surprisingly, it was found that better rotational medicine ball throw outputs and squat jump outputs correlated with better CHS.
The study describes the finding as “movements that are more concentrically dominant in nature may display stronger relationships with CHS.”
The take away is that we must make sure that our athletes have great absolute strength (which can be measured eccentrically), but also the ability to call upon that strength quickly and use it concentrically. If there is a major deficit between their ability to use their strength against a very sub maximal load (such as a golf club, baseball, or their body), then we are missing the mark in making them more productive on the field. Be sure to test and improve not only maximal strength numbers, but also power outputs in time dependent situations. These can include testing and programming various jumps, sprints, and throws.
Q: Unfortunately, my gym doesn't have a power rack. I don't want my strength training program to completely fall to pieces without it. Any ideas?
A: First off, in most cases, you have the option of finding a new gym - even if it just means driving a bit further and buying a day pass for the day of the week that you'd need a power rack for one or more of your strength exercises. Of course, all this additional planning can throw you for a loop if you've already got a busy schedule.
This is a common limitation that is surprisingly easy to work around in your training. To be honest, the only components you’ll miss are squatting, barbell overhead pressing (and push presses), and barbell incline pressing (this, of course, assumes that you have a flat bench press set-up).
You might also be surprised to know that we actually have quite a few athletes who we don’t allow to squat because of functional (e.g., poor thoracic spine mobility, short hip flexors) or structural (e.g., rigid ankle anatomy, femoroacetabular impingement) mobility limitations. These athletes rely predominantly on extra deadlifting variations and plenty of extra single-leg work. My personal favorites for replacing squatting variations are barbell lunge and split-squat variations because they provide the benefits of axial loading. If you're strong enough to clean the weight up and get it into position, you can do these for higher reps and get a good training effect.
Unfortunately, without a power rack in place, it's tough to set up for these single-leg variations. Fortunately, you can also use variations where dumbbells are held at the sides and still get appreciable loading. Heavy sled pushes can also provide variety, if you have access to the appropriate equipment; the only downside is that you don't get much of an eccentric stress challenge.
So, a "typical" lower body training session for someone with no power rack might include sumo deadlifts, walking dumbbell lunges, and barbell supine bridges. Even if you aren't squatting, you're still getting a hefty lower body challenge.
With respect to barbell overhead pressing, simply replace it with dumbbell overhead pressing, or have two training partners hand the bar up to you so that you can receive it in the “rack” position. Incline pressing can be replaced with either dumbbell pressing from this position or a flat bench press variation.
It goes without saying that I'm a big fan of deadlift variations, as they're among the most "big-bang" exercises you can do to get a ton of return on your training "investment." That said, not everyone can conventional deadlift safely from the floor because of mobility restrictions or the way they're built. With that in mind, I thought I'd outline some solutions to this common deadlift technique problem in today's blog. This post is actually modified from the Show and Go main guide, which features a comprehensive exercise modifications chapter for those with limitations along these lines.
The solution to this dilemma is actually a multi-faceted one. First, if you aren’t deadlifting barefoot or in flat-soled sneakers, start; it’ll make a big difference in your ability to get down to the bar.
For those looking for a specific recommendation, I'm a big fan of the New Balance Minimus for those who can't go barefoot in the gym.
Second, if you’re basing your frustrations on your conventional deadlift mobility, try sumo deadlifts to see if things improve. I’ve found that many individuals with longer femurs can sumo deadlift without a problem, but conventional deadlifts give them fits. Effectively, with a sumo deadlift, you pull between your legs instead of over the top/outside of them.
In reality, for these folks, we use rack pull, trap bar, and sumo deadlift variations – but rarely (if ever) conventional deadlifting from the floor. They need to work on deadlift technique a lot before they get to this final progression.
Third, if moving to a different deadlift variation doesn’t help, simply elevate the bar on risers or plates to the point where you can position yourself in the bottom position without a rounded back.
Work on building up your strength from this position and attack your mobility warm-ups with consistency, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to work your way down to the floor eventually.
Also, one more important note I should make is that just being able to get down to the floor with good posture does not mean that you actually have good deadlift technique. It takes time to integrate this mobility as part of a proper deadlift - and this is done with submaximal loading, not just jumping to 500 pounds. So, start with lighter weights and gradually work your way up. I really like speed work in the 40-60% of 1RM zone as a teaching tool for "aspiring" conventional deadlifters. Do 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps.
I received this awesome email feedback from a happy Show and Go customer, and thought I might share. He also references Brian St. Pierre' Show and Go Nutrition Guide, which is available only to those who purchase the main guide first.
EC and BSP,
I hope you guys are doing well! I just wanted to send you two a quick note of thanks. The Show and Go System has made considerable changes to my body, both outside and inside.
I’ve completed Show and Go three times with maintenance periods in between. Initially, I completed the 4x/week program. Really effective, but required too much time given I’m working full time, teaching two courses, and finishing up my PhD. Next, I completed the 3x/week program. Finally, I went back to the 4x/week program but only lifted 3x/week. I love the upper/lower split and the recovery time between sessions it offered me. It was during this last program that I absolutely destroyed my PRs! That is no joke! Here is a listing of gains I’ve made from January 2011 until June 2012:
I’m not brutally strong, but strong for someone who wasn’t blessed with the strong gene. I could go on and on about the gains, but the primary reason I’m emailing is to thank BSP for the Show and Go Nutrition Guide and to thank EC for including it. My family has a notorious history of heart disease. My dad’s grandpa died from his first heart attack at 50, my dad’s dad died at 56 (he had four heart attacks and three strokes), my dad’s uncle died from his first heart attack at 62, and my dad had his first heart attack at 48 (thankfully still alive). Odds not trending in my favor.
My wife and I switched to eating as BSP recommended as of July 2011. I had labs done in June 2011 and just had them done again yesterday at my yearly physical. Everything keeps improving as seen in the comparison from June 2011 to August 2012:
In collaboration with Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to get your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs on track.
1. Avoid quad dominance on trap bar deadlift technique.
2. Eat more pumpkin!
Fall is here! For those of you who don't know, I love fall. The air smells better, the leaves put on their party pants, football arrives, sweats and hoodies become fashionably acceptable (by my standards), and, of course, pumpkin flavored everything becomes available! While pumpkin tastes great, it's actually quite good for you, too! For starters, pumpkin seeds are a great source of essential fatty acids. That's probably not breaking news to you, but you know what is? Pumpkin oil actually exists! It is delicious as a dressing, and an easy addition to shakes and smoothies. Just make sure not to cook with it, as the heat will destroy the important fatty acids.
You may have noticed that pumpkins are orange - very orange, actually. That means they, too, provide the health benefits found in other vividly orange fruits and vegetables. These include high amounts of carotenoids and vitamin C. Carotenoids help fight free radicals in the body, cardiovascular diseases and infection. Just like carrots, the high lutein & zeaxanthin content protects the eyes, and prevents formation of cataracts. You will also be happy to know that pumpkin is low calorie and serves up a tremendous amount of quality fiber. Do you like pumpkin too? If so, please do me a favor and let's get some recipes posted up in the comments section!
3. Be careful about looking to professional athletes for nutrition advice.
In a recent study conducted at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, researchers investigated the use of sports references in the marketing of food and beverage products at supermarkets. Every product fettered in two major supermarkets with a sports reference was purchased and evaluated for its nutritional merit, via the Nutrient Profile Model. Researchers found that"72.5% featured a character exercising, 42.2% were endorsed by a professional sports entity, and 34.0 % were child-targeted." The median nutrition score, out of a possible 100 (being the healthiest), was 36! Additionally, more than two thirds of the beverages purchased were 100% sugar sweetened. Needless to say, the message being delivered to kids is not great. Therefore, it's important for the rest of us to serve as better examples for these kids. After all, many young athletes will not play sports professionally, but the lessons they learn in the gym and on the field can serve them for life.
As an example, just last week I was in the office with Chris Howard not even an hour after I had told one of our college prospects about my usual shake ingredients, when he received a text message: "Where can I buy chia seeds and coconut oil?" Furthermore, not a week goes by that I'm not greeted with the oh-so-pleasant sound of: "I made that shake, it was great!" or "I tried kale last night, it was actually pretty good!" Little tips and cues can go a long way when they come from the right person.
4. Shut everything off to really relax.
I (Eric) am a complete workaholic; that probably isn't a surprise to anyone who has followed me for an extended period of time. One thing I've learned over the years is that I can't just shut my brain off for a few hours by going out to dinner or catching a movie; it's really always going. That's a blessing and a burden. On the positive side, it helps me to come up with a neverending content stream for this blog, but on the not-so-positive side, I can get easily distracted when I should be spending quality time with family and friends.
With that in mind, I've discovered that I need to really get away if I'm going to relax. The only time my brain really turns off is when I don't have my laptop with me, and my cell phone is either turned off or in a dead zone. I've discovered this on two trips up north to Maine this summer. The end of the day rolled around, and I realized I'd managed to turn my brain off with respect to work for the entire day - and that's a big deal for me. With a view like this, my morning reading wasn't too stressful!
So, if you're a workaholic like I am, make sure that when you plan time off, it means technology off, too.
5. Taste the fish before you try to learn how to fish.
I'm sure many of you have heard the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
In the context of strength and conditioning programs, this means that many folks would benefit from learning to write their own programs. However, it's easy to get overwhelmed with this task if you haven't already done a lot of strength and conditioning programs to get a feel for how a session should flow, what exercises should be included, how you respond to fluctuating training stress, and a host of other factors. So, it's not a bad idea to taste the fish (try some programs) before you run out to buy a fishing pole and bait, then spend all day knee-deep in water (attempting to write your own program).
When you are ready to try to write something up for yourself, check out this webinar.