Home 2008 January (Page 7)

A Review of the 2008 Indianapolis Performance Enhancement Seminar DVD Set

Last week, I was fortunate enough to get a free copy of Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman’s 2008 Indianapolis Performance Enhancement Seminar DVD Set. To be honest, the word “fortunate” doesn’t even begin to do the product justice; it was the best industry product I’ve watched all year.

The DVD set is broken up into six separate presentations:

1. Introduction and 21st Century Core Training

2. Creating a More Effective Assessment

3. Optimizing Upper Extremity Biomechanics

4. Building Bulletproof Knees

5. Selecting the Optimal Method for Effective Flexibility Training

6. Program Design and Conclusion

To be honest, I’ve already seen Mike Robertson deliver the presentations on DVDs 1 and 4 a few times during seminars at which we’ve both presented, so more of my focus in this review will be on Bill’s presentations because they were more “new” to me. That said, I can tell you that each time I’ve seen Mike deliver there presentations, he’s really impressed the audience and put them in a position to view training from a new (and better) paradigm, debunking old myths along the way. A lot of the principles in his core training presentation mirror what we do with our clients – and particularly with those involved in rotational sports.

Bill’s presentation on assessments is excellent. I think I liked it the most because it really demonstrated Bill’s versatility in that he knows how to assess both on the clinical (physical therapy) and asymptomatic (ordinary client/athlete) sides of the things. A few quick notes from Bill’s presentation that I really liked:

a. Roughly 40% of athletes have a leg length discrepancy – but that’s not to say that 40% of athletes are injured or even symptomatic. As such, we need to understand that some asymmetry is normal in many cases – and determining what is an acceptable amount of asymmetry is an important task. As an example, in my daily work, a throwing shoulder internal rotation deficit (relative to the non-throwing shoulder) of 15 degrees or less is acceptable – but if a guy goes over 15°, he really needs to buckle down on his flexibility work and cut back on throwing temporarily. If he is 17-18° or more, he shouldn’t be throwing – period.

b. It’s important to consider not only a client/patient/athlete looks like on a “regular” test, but also under conditions of fatigue. There’s a reason athletes get hurt more later in games: fatigue changes movement efficiency and safety! This is why many tests should include several reps – and we should always be looking to evaluate players “on the fly” under conditions of fatigue.

c. Bill made a great point on “functional training” during this presentation as well – and outlined the importance difference between kinetics (incorporates forces) and kinematics (movement independent of forces). Most functional training zealots only look at kinematics, and in the process, ignore the amount of forces in a dynamic activity. For example, being able to execute a body weight lateral lunge with good technique doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be “equipped” to handle change-of-direction challenges at game speed. In reality, this force consideration is one reason why there are times that bilateral exercise is actually more function than unilateral movements!

d. Bill also outlined a multi-faceted scoring system he uses to evaluate athletes in the context of their sports. It’s definitely a useful system for those who want a quantifiable scheme through which to score athletes on overall strength, speed, and flexibility qualities to determine areas that warrant prioritization.

DVD #3 is an excellent look at preventing and correcting shoulder problems – and in terms of quality, this presentation with Mike is right on par with their excellent Inside-Out DVD. Mike goes into depth on what causes most shoulder problems and how we can work backward from pathology to see what movement deficiency – particularly scapular downward rotation syndrome – caused the problem. There is a great focus on lower trapezius and serratus anterior strengthening exercises and appropriate flexibility drills for the pec minor, levator scapulae, and thoracic spine – as well as a focus on the effects of hip immobility and rectus abdominus length on upper body function.

To be honest, I think that DVD #4 alone is worth far more than the price of the entire set. It actually came at an ideal time for me, as I’m preparing our off-season training templates for our pro baseball guys – and flexibility training is a huge component of this. Whenever I see something and it really gets me thinking about what I’m doing, I know it’s great. Bill’s short vs. stiff discussion really did that for me.

Bill does far more justice to the discussion than I can, but the basic gist of the topic is that the word “tight” doesn’t tell us much at all. A short muscle actually has lost sarcomeres because it’s been in a shortened state for an extended period of time; this would be consistent with someone who had been immobilized post-surgery or a guy who has just spent way too long at a computer. These situations mandate some longer duration static stretching to really get after the plastic portion of connective tissue – and this can be uncomfortable, but highly effective.

Conversely, a stiff muscle is one that can be relatively easily lengthened acutely as long as you stabilize the less stiff segment. An example would be to stabilize the scapula when stretching someone into humeral internal or external rotation. If the scapular stabilizers are weak (i.e., not stiff), manually fixing the scapula allows us to effectively stretch the muscles acting at the humeral head. If we don’t stabilize the less-stiff joint, folks will just substitute range of motion there instead of where we actually want to create it. In situations like this, in addition to good soft tissue work, Bill recommends 30s static stretches for up to four rounds (this is not to be performed pre-exercise, though; that’s the ideal time for dynamic flexibility drills.

DVD #5 is where Mike is at his best: talking knees. This is a great presentation not only because of the quality of his information, but also because of his frame of reference; Mike has overcome some pretty significant knee issues, including a surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Mike details the role of ankle and hip restrictions in knee issues, covers the VMO isolation mindset, and outlines some of the research surrounding resistance training and rehabilitation of knee injuries in light of some of the myths that are abundant in the weight-training world.

DVD #6 brings all these ideas together with respect to program design.

I should also mention that each DVD also includes the audience Q&A, which is a nice bonus to the presentations themselves. The production quality is excellent, with “back-and-forths” between the slideshow and presenters themselves. Bill and Mike include several video demonstrations in their presentations to break up the talking and help out the visual learners in the crowd, too.

All in all, this is a fantastic DVD set that encompasses much more than I could ever review here. In fact, if it’s any indicator of how great I think it is, I’m actually going to have all our staff members watch it. If you train athletes or clients, definitely get it. Or, if you’re just someone who wants to know how to keep knees, shoulders, and lower backs healthy while optimizing flexibility, it’s worth every penny. You can find out more at the Indianapolis Performance Enhancement Seminar website.

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Newsletter #119

Last week, a Milwaukee man was arrested for shooting his lawn mower.

Yes, you heard that correctly. He took out a rifle, and shot his lawn mower because it wouldn’t start. According to the report above, he told police “’I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want.'”

While many of you are probably wondering if it is, in fact, ethical or legal to senselessly and brutally murder one’s lawn mower on private property, this story actually got me to thinking about a lot of the people I encounter who aren’t making progress in their fitness endeavors.

Think about it this way. This guy likely has lice, and there very well might be cockroaches living in his beard. He hasn’t showered since the Reagan administration. He was drunk on a Wednesday morning, and when his lawn mower wouldn’t start, he decided that the best course of action was to go Elmer Fudd on its a**.

Minus the lice, cockroaches, and drunkenness, you’d be surprised at how similar this is to a lot of folks who don’t reach their fitness goals.

They can’t do a chin-up, but continue to seek out the single-best biceps curl variation known to man.

They don’t warm-up, but want to know if an inversion table, prolotherapy, or hydrocleansing of their colon with a firehose will fix the <insert injury of your choice here> that keeps recurring every time they do a particular exercise.

They don’t eat the right stuff, but ask millions of questions about every new supplement that comes out on the market.

Basically, they’re studying for the wrong test – trying to complicate things that need to be simplified. This past year, at a Perform Better Summit, Marc Verstegen spoke to the importance of “simple things done savagely well.” He hit the nail on the head. And, no, he didn’t try to hit it with a sledgehammer or jackhammer; stop trying to shoot the lawn mower, folks.

While I’m a big believer in client/athlete education, I think that, to a degree, we really need to simplify things a lot more than we do. A lot of my writing is aimed at personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other folks in this “biz,” but at the same time, I try to just give the meat and potatoes – not the entire recipe – to those readers of this newsletter who want the what/how/when, not the why. With that in mind, here are ten “off-the-top-of-my-head” tips for people who aren’t happy with their progress:

1. Stop shooting the lawn mower. Be honest with yourself if you aren’t making progress, and seek out someone “in the know” with whom you can discuss your problems and gain insight. I have an accountant, financial planner, lawyer, proofreader (for big projects), personal assistant, and web design guy. I refer out to a lot of hitting and pitching coaches as well as physical therapists and doctors. They have more time and expertise to devote to the people and issues I send their way.

2. If you don’t love what you are doing, change things up. Progress will always be best if you are having fun. Of course, if you are on an extreme fat loss diet, suck it up, you big pansy.

3. I’d estimate that 90% of the injuries I see can be related to poor technique either completely or for the most part. Move well before you try to move with external loading.

4. If you aren’t meticulously tracking progress, you’ll never know what works. Trust me: you really aren’t smart enough to go by feel! You’d be amazed at how many people really open their eyes when they actually do a diet log and realize what they consume (or don’t consume) on a daily basis.

5. A good training environment will top the best program in the world. Surround yourself with highly-motivated people – even if they have different goals – and get after it.

6. You can’t go hard all the time. I wrote an entire e-book on deloading, but if I had to give you the Cliff’s Notes version, it would be that you’d be wise to hold back for a week every 4-5 weeks. There are, of course, different strategies on how to hold back.

7. For some people, taking the guesswork out of things is a beautiful thing. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on Maximum Strength for this very reason. It covers everything these folks need to know to get to where they want to be: lifting, mobility, soft tissue work, energy systems training, and nutrition.

Precision Nutrition is great in this regard as well; John Berardi educates, but not to the point that he inundates you with information that would actually get in the way of you getting excited about making positive lifestyle changes. It’s kind of like the teacher who turns a history class into an adventure story; he gets your attention and educates you without you even knowing.

8. Consistency is the single-most important factor in long-term success. Those who “show up” the most always win out in the long haul; they get in more training, eat more quality foods and lose the least amount of sleep. The 90% rule applies not only to nutrition – but it also to your lifestyle.

9. Static stretching isn't bad, in most cases.  I wish more people would do it - in spite of some people trying to put words in my mouth to the contrary.

10. There is no single-best training program out there.  And, you can't believe everything you read.  So, you have to find a balance between trying everything and being devil's advocate to the point of avoiding everything.  When you find credible sources of information, keep them on your radar.

Fall Schedule Update

I just confirmed that I'll be attending Ryan Lee's Bootcamp this September.  Ryan has sold these out each year he's put them on and the reviews are always very positive.  I'll be speaking on a guest panel or two and shooting the breeze with those in attendance.  It's a good opportunity for the fitness professionals in the crowd to pick up on some business know-how, and - also a chance to network with some people who might be doing what you'd like to do.  You can get more information HERE.

EC on the Fitcast

I was a guest on the Fitcast a few weeks ago; you can download the interview for free HERE.

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6 Training Mistakes

New Article I recently had an article, 6 Mistakes: Fitting Round Pegs into Square Holes, featured at T-Nation. Baseball Content at EricCressey.com

As many of you probably know, I deal with a ton of baseball players - and it influences my writing in a lot of ways. That said, I finally got around to organizing all my baseball content in one place, in case you are interested. You can find it all by clicking on the “Baseball Content” tab at the top of your screen.

EricCressey.com Exclusive Q&A

Q: Do you every run into the problem of one arm pushing faster than the other arm in the bench press with your high school athletes? What did you do to fix this technical flaw or imbalance?

A: The traditional school of thought is simply that side is weaker than another and that simply doing more one-armed work on that side will iron out the imbalance. I don’t really agree with specificity in this regard, as there are several other factors that could contribute to the problem.

The first thing I look at is scapular positioning. It’s very common to see people benching without their shoulder blades tucked down and back; this “loose set-up” is a problem that I addressed in detail (with videos) in Shoulder Savers: Part 1, for those who haven’t read it. However, in those articles, I only spoke to it being a bilateral problem.

In reality, a lot of people have this problem unilaterally. For instance, baseball pitchers don’t posteriorly tilt the scapula on their throwing side very well – and office workers often have a greater scapular dyskinesis on the side that reaches for the mouse at their keyboard each day. And, chronic shoulder problems can lead to “shut-down” of key scapular stabilizers (most notably serratus anterior) over time, so you’ll see these issues more commonly with those who have an injury history. The analogy is overused nowadays, but you can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.

Typically, when there is a scapular instability, the weak side appears higher. If the scapula is anteriorly tilted, everything is going to be pushed up. So, the “down side” might actually be the strong side. Assess, though; don’t assume. In years past, a lot of people might have tried to pin scoliosis down as a cause for this. In other words, a high shoulder was because your back was out of whack – but in reality the spine is near or at neutral and the scapula is abducted and/or elevated.

Second, if you see this in someone who has a lot of training experience – particularly with the bench press, you’ll want to check for a humeral anterior glide issue (something Mike Robertson and I discussed in detail in Building the Efficient Athlete).

Previous research showed that subscapularis cross sectional area was the only tested factor that correlated with powerlifting success; so, in other words, this rotator cuff muscle does a lot of work. As a result, over time, it can go through repeated microtrauma and start to shut down. While some of the other rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and teres minor) can do extra work to depress the humeral head in spite of subscapularis weakness, they will tend to pull the humeral head anteriorly (forward) during these dynamic activities. Over time, this can lead to some serious anterior shoulder instability – and in my experience, it’s a common finding in those with chronic AC joint problems. The solution is simple: improve soft tissue quality of the posterior cuff and subscapularis, stretch out the posterior rotator cuff/capsule with sleeper stretches, and do prone internal rotations to activate/strengthen the subscapularis.

Third, keep in mind that many people – even world-class bench-pressers – often have elbows that lack full extension range-of-motion (ROM). Recent research has actually shown that baseball pitchers who don’t stretch post-throwing lose an average of 2.5° of elbow extension ROM – presumably due to all the eccentric muscle action needed in the elbow flexors to decelerate some crazy elbow extension velocities. Some people be able to stretch out and get more extension, and others might be stuck with that limitation in range of motion due to osseous (bony) changes.

Fourth, asymmetric foot positioning driving me nuts – almost as nuts, in fact, as when people kick their feet up off the floor. If you are pushing more with one leg, not pushing with your legs at all, or have your feet awkwardly set up on the floor, it’s no wonder that the bar isn’t traveling where you want it to go. Poor force transfer from the lower extremities is a common problem; I’ve heard elite benchers say that as much as 1/3 of bench press strength comes from the legs. So, fix the feet first and think about pushing your heels through the floor.

Fifth, we have the traditional rationale: true strength discrepancies. It’s one of the last things I look at in an otherwise healthy individual. This issue is more prominent in someone who is injured or coming back from an injury – and to be honest, barbell work isn’t the best idea for these folks, anyway.

As an important aside to all of this, one thing I should mention is that speed work fixes everything! A lot of people couldn’t understand why I included it in the Maximum Strength program. My reasoning wasn’t just that it would help teach lifters to accelerate the bar quickly, but moreso because I knew that speed work gives lifters a chance to groove perfect technique with submaximal loads and sufficient rest between sets. In other words, it’s much easier to teach perfect movement patterns with eight sets of three and not three sets of eight.

So, all in all, you have functional, structural, and basic technique issues that can contribute to an uneven bench press. Assess each and see where it takes you.

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Oblique Strains and Rotational Power

On Monday night, Josh Hamilton put on an amazing show with 28 homeruns in the first round of the MLB Homerun Derby. While he went on to lose to Justin Morneau in the finals of the contest, Hamilton did smash four 500+ ft. shots - and stole the hearts of a lot of New York fans. It's an incredible story; Hamilton has bounced back from eight trips to rehabilitation for drugs and alcohol to get to where he is today.

Geek that I am, though, I spent much of the time focusing on the incredible hip rotation and power these guys display on every swing. According to previous research, the rotational position of the lead leg changes a ton from foot off to ball contact. After hitting a maximal external rotation of 28° during the foot off “coiling” that takes place, those hips go through some violent internal rotation as the front leg gets stiff to serve as a “block” over which crazy rotational velocities are applied.

How crazy are we talking? How about 714°/s at the hips? This research on minor leaguers also showed that stride length averaged 85cm - or roughly 380% of hip width. So, you need some pretty crazy abduction and internal rotation range-of-motion (ROM) to stay healthy. And, of course, you need some awesome deceleration strength – and plenty of ROM in which to apply it – to finish like this.

Meanwhile, players are dealing with a maximum shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s, respectively. All of this happens within a matter of 0.57 seconds. Yes, about a half a second.

These numbers in themselves are pretty astounding – and probably rivaled only by the crazy stuff that pitchers encounter on each throw. All these athletes face comparable demands, though, in the sense that these motions take a tremendous timing to sequence optimally. In particular, in both the hitting and pitching motions, the hip segment begins counterclockwise (forward) movement before the shoulder segment (which is still in the cocking/coiling phase). Check out this photo of Tim Hudson (more on this later):

Many of you have probably heard about a “new” injury in major league baseball – oblique strains – which have left a lot of people looking for answers. In fact, the USA Today published a great article on this exact topic earlier this season. Guys like Hudson, Chris Young, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones and Carlos Beltran (among others) have dealt with this painful injury in recent years. You know the best line in this entire article? With respect to Hudson:

“After the 2005 season, he stopped doing core work and hasn't had a problem. Could that be the solution?”

I happen to agree with the mindset that some core work actually contributes to the dysfunction – and the answer (to me, at least) rests with where the injury is occurring: “always on the opposite side of their throwing arm and often with the muscle detaching from the 11th rib.” If I’m a right-handed pitcher (or hitter) and my left hip is already going into counter-clockwise movement as my upper body is still cocking/coiling in clockwise motion – both with some crazy rotational velocities – it makes sense that the area that is stretched the most is going to be affected if I’m lacking in ROM at the hips or thoracic spine.

I touched on the need for hip rotation ROM, but the thoracic spine component ties right into the “core work” issue. Think about it this way: if I do thousands of crunches and/or sit-ups over the course of my career – and the attachment points of the rectus abdominus (“abs”) are on the rib cage and pelvis – won’t I just be pulling that rib cage down with chronic shortening of the rectus, thus reducing my thoracic spine ROM in the process?

Go take another look at the picture of Tim Hudson above. If he lacks thoracic spine ROM, he’s either going to jack his lower back into lumbar hyperextension and rotation as he tries to “lay back” during the late cocking phase, or he’s just going to strain an oblique. It’s going to be even worse if he has poor hip mobility and poor rotary stability – or the ability to resist rotation where you don’t want it.

Now, I’m going to take another bold statement – but first some quick background information:

1. Approximately 50-55% of pitching velocity comes from the lower extremity.

2. Upper extremity EMG activity during the baseball swing is nothing compared to what goes on in the lower body. In fact, Shaffer et al. commented, “The relatively low level of activity in the four scapulohumeral muscles tested indicated that emphasis should be placed on the trunk and hip muscles for a batter's strengthening program.”

So, the legs are really important; that 714°/s at the hips has to come from somewhere. And, more importantly, it’s my firm belief that it has to stay within a reasonable range of the shoulder and arm segment rotational velocities of 937°/s and 1160°/s (respectively). So, what happens when we give a professional baseball player a foo-foo training program that does little to build or even maintain lower-body strength and power? And, what happens when we have that player run miles at a time to “build up leg strength?” How many marathoners do you know who throw 95mph and need those kind of rotational velocities or ranges of motion? Apparently, bigger contracts equate to weaker, tighter legs…

Meanwhile, guys receive elaborate throwing programs to condition their arms – and they obviously never miss an upper-body day (also known as a “beach workout"). However, the lower-body is never brought up to snuff – and it lags off even more in-season when lifting frequency is lower and guys do all sorts of running to “flush their muscles.” The end result is that the difference between 714°/s (hips) and 937°/s and 1160°/s (shoulders and arms) gets bigger and bigger. Guys also lose lead-leg hip internal rotation over the course of the season if they aren’t diligent with their hip mobility work.

So, in my opinion, here’s what we need to do avoid these issues:

1. Optimize hip mobility – particularly with respect to hip internal rotation and extension. It is also extremely important to realize the effect that poor ankle mobility has on hip mobility; you need to have both, so don’t just stretch your hip muscles and then walk around in giant high-tops with big heel-lifts all day.

2. Improve thoracic spine range of motion into extension and rotation.

3. Get rid of the conventional “ab training/core work” and any yoga or stretching positions that involve lumbar rotation or hyperextension and instead focus exclusively on optimizing rotary stability and the ability to isometrically resist lumbar hyperextension.

4. Get guys strong in the lower body, not just the upper body.

5. Don’t overlook the importance of reactive work both in the lower and upper-body. I’ve read estimates that approximately 25-30% of velocity comes from elastic energy. So, sprint, jump, and throw the medicine balls.

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Thoracic Spine Issues

Fantasy Day at Fenway Park

I’ll be making my Fenway Park debut on Saturday. I know it’s hard to believe, but it won’t be for my catching abilities, base-stealing prowess, or 95-mph two-seam fastball. Rather, I’ll be speaking on a panel at the annual Fenway Park Fantasy Day to benefit The Jimmy Fund. And, if people don’t give a hoot about listening to me, they’ve got a skills zone with batting cages, a fast-pitch challenge, and accuracy challenge on top of loads of contests and tours. I’ll be sure to snap some photos for you.

This is an absolutely great cause, and while I know most of you won’t be in attendance, I’d highly encourage you to support the cause with a donation to the Jimmy Fund. What they are doing is something very special, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Subscriber Only Q&A Q: One quick question. As a trainer, I'm sure you've come across certain clients who have a problem with their thoracic spine (mild hump) and need to work on mobilizing this region. Other than foam rollers, are there any other techniques or methods that can be used? Maybe there's a book or video out there I could purchase that gives me a better understanding of how to implement some new methods?

A: Thanks for the email.  It really depends on whether you're dealing with someone who just has an accentuated kyphotic curve or someone who actually has some sort of clinical pathology (e.g. osteoporosis, ankylosing spondylitis, Cushing’s Syndrome) that's causing the "hump."  In the latter case, you obviously need to be very careful with exercise modalities and leave the “correction” to those qualified to deal with the pathologies in question.

In the former case, however, there’s quite a bit that you can do. You mentioned using a foam roller as a “prop” around which you can do thoracic extensions:

Thoracic Extensions on Foam Roller

While some people think that tractioning the thoracic spine in this position is a bad idea, I don’t really agree. We’ve used the movement with great success and absolutely zero negative feedback or outcomes.

That said, I’m a firm believer that the overwhelming majority of thoracic spine mobilizations you do should integrate extension with rotation. We don’t move straight-ahead very much in the real-world, so the rotational t-spine mobility is equally important. Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman do an awesome job of outlining several exercises along these lines in their Inside-Out DVD; I absolutely love it.

With most of these exercises, you’re using motion of the humerus to drive scapular movement and, in turn, thoracic spine movement.

The importance of t-spine rotation again rang true earlier this week when I had lunch with Neil Rampe, director of corrective exercise and manual therapy for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Neil is a very skilled and intuitive manual therapist, and he had studied extensively (and observed) the effect of respiration. He made some great points about how we can’t get too caught up in symmetry. Neil noted that we’ve got a heart in the upper left quadrant, and a liver in the lower right. The left lung has two lobes, and the right lung has three – and there’s some evidence to suggest that folks can usually fill their left lung easier than their right. The right diaphragm is bigger than the left –and it can use the liver for “leverage.” The end result is that the right rib winds up with a subtle internally rotated position, which in turns affects t-spine and scapular positioning. Needless to say, Neil is a smart dude – and once I got over how stupid I felt – I started scribbling notes. I’m going to be looking a lot more at breathing patterns as a result of this lunch.

Additionally, it’s very important to look at the effects of hypomobility and hypermobility elsewhere on thoracic spine posture. If you’re stuck in anterior pelvic tilt with a lordotic spine, your t-spine will have to compensate by rounding in order to keep you erect. And, if you’ve shortened your pecs and pulled the scapulae into anterior tilt and protraction, you’ll have a t-spine that’s been pulled into flexion. Or, if you’ve done thousands and thousands of crunches, chances are that you’ve shortened your rectus abdominus so much that your rib cage is depressed to the point of pulling you into a kyphotic position.

On the hypermobility front, poor rotary stability at the lumbar spine can lead to excessive movement at a region of the spine that really isn’t designed to move. It’s one reason why I like Jim Smith’s Combat Core product so much; he really emphasize rotary stability with a lot of his exercises. Lock up the lumbar spine a bit, and you’ll get more bang for your buck on the t-spine mobilizations.

As valuable as all the t-spine extension and rotation drills can be, they are – when it really comes down to it – just mobility drills. And, to me, mobility drills yield transient effects that must be sustained and complemented by appropriate strength and endurance of surrounding musculature. Above all else, strength of the appropriate scapular retractors (lower and middle trapezius) is important. You can be very strong in horizontal pulling – but have terrible posture and shoulder pain – if you don’t row correctly.

Not being cognizant of head and neck position can lead to a faulty neck pattern:

Cervical hyperextension (Chin Protrusion) Pattern

Here, little to no scapular retraction takes place. And, whatever work is done by the scapular retractors comes from the upper traps and rhomboids – not what we want to hit.

Then, every gym has this guy. He just uses his hip and lumbar extensors to exaggerate his lordotic posture and avoid using his scapular retractors at all costs.

Another more common, but subtle technical flaw is the humeral extension with scapular elevation. Basically, by leaning back a bit more, an individual can substitute humeral extension for much of the scapular retraction that takes place – so basically, the lats and upper traps are doing all the work. This can be particularly stressful on the anterior shoulder capsule in someone with a scapula that sits in anterior tilt because of restrictions on pec minor, coracobrachialis, or short head of the biceps. Here is what that issue looks like when someone is upright like they should be. A good seated row would like like this last one – but with the shoulder blades pulled back AND down. We go over a lot of common flaws like these in our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD series.

Finally, don’t overlook the role that soft tissue quality plays with all of this. Any muscle – pec minor, coracobrachialis, short head of the biceps – that anteriorly tilts the scapulae can lead to these posture issues. Likewise, levator scapulae, scalenes, subclavius, and some of the big muscles like pec major, lats, and teres major can play into the problem as well. I’ve always looked at soft tissue work as the gateway to corrective exercise; it opens things up so that you can get more out of your mobility/activation/resistance exercise.

Hopefully, this gives you some direction.

All the Best, EC Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Coming To a CP Near You: The Nightingale Excrement Facial

The other day, while doing some online reading, I accidentally happened upon an article with the following introduction:

“Forget avocado, evening primrose oil or other exotic ingredients, the latest facial to hit New York is a mask made with bird excrement. The Geisha Facial, available at Shizuka New York for $180, about $100 more than the shop's other facials, contains nightingale excrement.”

The message is that you can sell people on any kind of crap (pun intended) that you want.

Research on the repeated exposures effect in marketing shows that the more people see something (to a point of limited returns), the more they accept it as not only as fact, but as convenience – or even gospel – as well. It’s the reason so many people “Xerox” rather than photocopy – or grab a Kleenex rather than a tissue. While making some photocopies, blowing your nose, or even rubbing bird crap on your face is a far cry from lifting heavy stuff, you’d be surprised at the messages you can glean from this introduction.

If I told you in a Monday T-Nation article that my nightingale excrement protocol would add 50 pounds to your squat in two weeks, would you buy it? Probably not. But, if Christian Thibaudeau chimed in on Tuesday and said that he’d added one inch to his biceps over the course of a month by simply massaging bird poo onto his upper arms, you’d probably raise an eyebrow and read on.

Then, Mike Robertson chimes in on Wednesday to tell you that, “as demonstrated by an independent laboratory study” (which, incidentally, was funded by the American Society for the Advancement of Bird S**t), nightingale dung reduces knee pain in arthritis patients. Thursday, Chad Waterbury tells you that ten sets of three minutes of bird s**t on your face works better than three sets of ten minutes. Friday, TC admits he sniffs nightingale doo-doo to gain inspiration for each Atomic Dog column.

You’re sold.

There are no peer-reviewed studies displaying quantifiable results, or even a good amount of anecdotal, subjective evidence to support the aforementioned notions.

The point is that no matter how informed a consumer you think you are, you’re also (likely) outside your realm of expertise when it comes to exercise physiology if you haven’t made a career out of it. It’s why I go to an accountant to get my taxes done or a lawyer to have a contract drawn-up – and it’s why there are a lot of people out there obliviously getting suckered into false information that often separates them from their money.

A few years ago, I wrote a series called “Debunking Exercise Myths.” In hindsight, I probably should have called it “Stupid Stuff You Shouldn’t Believe” – especially since I’m a few years older and a bit more cynical now. These were two of my more popular articles to-date, so I thought I’d throw it out there to get some reader input: would you like to see more?

And, if so, feel free to drop us an email with your suggestions on topics to cover. You can send an email to ec@ericcressey.com with the subject line “Debunking Exercise Myths Suggestion.” I’ll either cover it in future newsletters and/or blogs, or make a new article out of it altogether.

Speaking of T-Nation

I had a new article published there yesterday; check out First Person: Cressey .

New Blog Content

And, speaking of blogs, check out some of our latest content – including two recent audio interviews with me:

EC on Superhuman Radio

Random Friday Thoughts

Maximum Strength Feedback from the Medical Community

EC on The Fitness Buff Show

All the Best,


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Spondylolysis and Young Athletes

Subscriber-Only Q&A: Spondylolysis and Young Athletes

I received this email a few months ago and have been meaning to turn it into a Q&A for quite some time, as spondylolysis is a topic that I think everyone should understand.

Q: I read you spoke at a seminar this sinter on the topic of spondylolysis showing up in young athletes.  I have a 16 year-old son who was diagnosed with this type of stress fracture in his lumbar spine.  He had grown 7 inches over the previous 9 months and our doctor contributed the cause to supporting muscles growth not being able to keep up with the rapid bone growth along with hyperextension of the lower back.  He has recovered quite nicely with rehab being initially rest, isolation and support of the lower back followed by core strengthening when the pain subsided. Occasionally, he will get very temporary flare up pain.  Could you please give me your opinion on the "do" and "don't" exercises that could possibly help prevent Spondylolysis from recurring and your thoughts on the subject.  Thanks for your help.

A: First off, here is some background for our readers. Spondylolysis refers to a fracture of the pars interarticularis portion of a vertebra (95% of the time, it's L5). The pars essentially connects the vertebral body in front with the vertebral joints behind. It's also known as a "Scotty Dog" fracture because the shape of the pars mirrors that of a dog - and when a fracture is present, it looks like that dog has a collar on (or has its head chopped off, depending on whether you're a glass-is-half-empty kind of person or not):

Symptoms may come on traumatically (contact injury) or insidiously (overuse, genetic predisposition, or rapid bone growth during puberty). Pain is typically more lateral to the spine than it is centralized.

We have had quite a few athletes come to us with the condition because we work with a ton of athletes in rotational sports, predominantly baseball. In my humble opinion, "spondies" are the new ACL epidemic. Don't believe me? Check out these numbers from a 2000 study from Soler and Calderon (1):

-8% of elite Spanish athletes affected

-highest prevalence (27%) in those in track & field throws

-17% of rowers, 14% of gymnasts, and 13% of weightlifters had spondylolysis

-L5 most common (84%), followed by L4 (12%).

-Multiple levels of involvement in only 3% of cases

-Bilateral 78% of the time

-Only 50-60% of those diagnosed actually reported low back pain

-Males and females affected equally (although associated spondylolisthesis - or vertebral "slippage" was higher in females)

-Presence of spondylolysis is estimated at 15-63%, with the highest prevalence among weightlifters.

I suspect that these rates are even higher now (eight years later) - and in the U.S., where we have additional rotational and contact sports (as compared to Spain). These numbers - particularly the 40-50% asymptomatic figure - speak directly to the fact that inefficiency is on-par with (if not more important than) the spondylolysis pathology itself. Multiple inefficiencies are to blame for this specific pathology - and many people are just waiting to reach threshold. With that in mind, to be honest, I train all of our athletes under the assumption that they all have a disc herniation or vertebral fracture that we don't even know about - simply because, according to the research, that's probably the case! There are more opportunities than ever to participate in organized sports, yet athletes don't train any more than previously - and DO spend more time sitting.

In fact, about 14 million people - or 3-7% of the general population - have spondylolysis (2), and previous research as shown that asymptomatic disc bulges and herniations may be up in the 80% range (3).

These issues - combined with the fact that 4.4% of six-year-olds present with pars defects - has led to a standard rule in sports medicine where any adolescent athlete with lumbar spine pain for more than three days duration is referred for a bone scan to rule out a fracture. If a pars defect is detected, most doctors will prescribe 12-16 weeks in a back brace: a practice that, while controversial, has yielded favorable healing results.

Risk factors for pars defects have been subdivided into intrinsic and extrinsic. The "*" indicates that these factors are at least partially under our control as strength and conditioning coaches and trainers:


-Poor bone mineral density (*)

-Poor lower limb alignment and foot structure (*)

-Faulty muscular recruitment patterns (*)

-Height - Taller (non-modifiable)

-Rapid growth (non-modifiable)

-Body Type - muscle mass, longer spine (* to a degree, some non-modifiable)

-Poor conditioning/muscular fatigue (*)

-Bone pathologies (refer out)

-Menstrual/hormonal irregularities (refer out)

-Genetic predisposition: Inuit > Caucasian > African-American (non-modifiable)


-Inappropriate training regimen or surface (*)

-Sporting discipline: Sports demanding repetitive lumbar hyperextension, trunk rotation, and/or axial loading (*short-term, potentially modifiable long-term)

-Footwear (*)

-Cigarette smoking (*)

-Insufficient nutrition - calories, calcium, vitamin D (*)

We can help build bone density with appropriate resistance training and encouraging athletes to consume plenty of calcium and vitamin D. We can train the lower extremity out of alignment problems and faulty recruitment patterns. We can put some meat on athletes to protect them from contact injuries. We can condition athletes so that they don't fatigue prematurely and break down in their technique. We have some control over the training surface. We can get young athletes out of the 10-pound cinderblock basketball shoes they're wearing and do more barefoot work. Kids know they shouldn't be eating the right stuff and not smoking.

So, in spite of all these means of preventing spondylolysis, as is the case with ACL problems, we've pursued a reactive - not proactive - model of addressing the issue. Trust me: you can save a kid a lot of pain and frustration if you prevent a fracture instead of bracing it after the fact. So, let's talk about what are in my opinion the most important things to address in young athletes to protect them from spondylolysis:

1. Train the feet and enhance ankle mobility. Think about what happens to someone who - thanks to modern footwear, muscular weakness, and/or structural predisposition - pronates too much. My good friend John Pallof describes the subtalar joint as a torque converter - meaning that tri-planar motion at/below the joint is converted into tibial and femoral internal rotation. In other words, when you pronate (land/decelerate), adequate stretch of the anti-pronators (particularly gluteus maximus and biceps femoris) is necessary to decelerate that motion. Most people - particularly young athletes - have very little posterior chain strength, and they don't activate their glutes well. So, this internal rotation isn't decelerated effectively - and the stress shifts up a bit from the hip to the lumbar spine. Instantly, a foot and ankle issue has become a lumbar spine issue (I could go on and on about how it relates to shoulder and elbow issues in pitchers, too).

2. Improve rotary stability. The more an athlete moves at the lumbar spine, the more likely he is to get injured. Using the baseball example again, there is considerable research demonstrating that young pitchers have higher rotational velocities than professional pitchers - and the younger subjects control their rotation in a less efficient manner. Rotate more, and do so in an inefficient (weak) way - and you're bound to run into problems at the lumbar spine (and elbow and shoulder, as well).

3. Improve their ability to resist extension. Most of the overuse spondy cases we see are individuals who also have a tendency toward hyperextension. If you can't fire your glutes in hip extension, you'll substitute lumbar extension to attempt to get "upright." Combine that rapid, repeated lumbar extension with rapid, repeated lumbar rotation - and pars defects kick in. For this reason, I love basic movements like prone bridges (and their variations) as well as more advanced progressions such as rollouts on the stability ball and ab wheel (or bar rollouts).

(Note from EC: Jim Smith's Combat Coreis the best resource I've seen with respect to #2 and #3; for those interested in further reading, it provides dozens of exercises for both objectives.)

4. Improve hip mobility. I have covered this above, but hip (and thoracic spine) mobility work hand-in-hand with lumbar spine stability. It's easier to stabilize a spine that's above a mobile set of hips.

5. Improve overall strength and power. The more force you generate in your lower and upper body, the less motion you'll need to utilize at the lumbar spine. Effectively, by making the extremities, hips, and torso stronger, you allow the core to focus on force transfer.

6. Implement appropriate deloading periods. Bone, like muscles and your connective tissues, needs a break to recover here and there. Regardless of how perfect your technique is, you lumbar spine will get chewed up if you swing a baseball bat for five hours per day, seven days a week. Physiological adaptation is all about matching tissue tolerance to tissue loading - and providing adequate recovery time for adaptation to occur.

Now, to get to the question at-hand, return-to-play after a period of bracing is a different story. Believe it or not, we've trained guys through their entire 12-16 week bracing protocols. When they're in the brace, aside from axial loading, there isn't much that can "get them" - meaning that they're completely protected from rotation and extension problems.

In fact, the brace does so much of the work for them that you need to make sure they're seeing a physical therapist at least 1-2 times a week during that protocol to get them out of it to entire that they don't detrain the deep core stabilizers. The brace also restricts full hip extension and flexion - and thoracic spine ROM, to a degree - so mobility work is very important. If I had to briefly summarize our training programs during bracing protocols, it would be "upper body, single-leg movements, pull-throughs, rotary stability training, mobility work, low-level linear plyos and medicine ball throws."

And, you know what? That would summarize my recommendations for the short-term when they get out of the brace - because it's what all athletes need! However, post-spondy athletes are different in several regards:

1. They cannot handle compressive loading the same way, so it must be gradually reintroduced. I have not allowed post-spondy guys to come back to squatting until at least nine months post-bracing - and I only do so if they have no residual symptoms. In terms of axial loading, we always test the waters with a barbell reverse lunge with a front squat grip. If that goes well, we'll try some front squatting. Most do well with trap bar deadlifts - although I do not bring them back to any Olympic lifts or straight-bar deadlifting in the first-year post-bracing.

2. Sprint mechanics are definitely altered after bracing. I suspect that it has mostly to do with the fact that kids lose hip flexion and extension range of motion and are therefore forced to develop extra hip rotation strategies (usually external rotation) to get range of motion. Others will simply lose hip flexion during the sprinting motion. Typically, cueing knee-drive with these folks and doing some psoas activation work will help to clear things up quickly.

3. We continue with training purely to resist rotation and only start to integrate rotational exercises - including medicine ball throws and cable woodchops - after three months. In most cases, though, the athlete will have returned to play by this point, so if he is involved in a rotational sport, he'll be encountering plenty of rotation already.

With respect to the athlete in question, if he is still having residual flare-ups (which do happen relatively frequently), he simply isn't ready for more aggressive loading - presumably because he has some degree of instability in one or more directions. When this is the case, we work around the issue - but check to see if there is a specific deficit that needs to be addressed. It may be as simple as poor breathing patterns or a lack of hip rotation - or it could be something that takes longer to address.

The important thing to remember is that athletes lift weights to get better at sports - not just to get good at lifting weights. Who is to say that a great football player can't be built without squatting? We have athletes and clients who do not squat - and they still get great results.

All the Best,



1. Soler T, Calderon C. The prevalence of spondylolysis in the Spanish elite athlete. Am J Sports Med. 2000 Jan-Feb;28(1):57-62.

2. Wineberg, EP. Spondylolysis. http://www.emedicine.com/Radio/topic650.htm

3. Jensen MC, et al. Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine in people without back pain. N Engl J Med.1994 Jul 14;331(2):69-73.
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Youth Sports Injuries

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that – at age 27 – I’d ever use the phrase “when I was young.” However, I found myself doing exactly that earlier this week in response to a question posed by a parent of one of our athletes.

Somehow in conversation, we got on the topic of the alarming rates of youth sports injuries – everything from ACL ruptures, to stress fractures, to Tommy John surgeries – at hand today. He asked very simply, “Why has it gotten so bad – and seemingly so fast?”

My response was, “Well, there are a lot of reasons. First – and most significantly – when I was young…”

I nearly swallowed my tongue when I caught myself saying that, but continued on.

Over the next few minutes, I talked a bit about what my buddies and I did every day after school when I was growing up. I lived next door to a church that had a big grass parking lot that was only used on Sundays. The rest of the week, it was a football/baseball/wiffleball/soccer/dodgeball/any-other-ball-you-can-think-of extravaganza. We played until our mothers called us home to dinner. There were days when I was so dirty when I got home that my parents just threw my clothes away rather than try to wash them.

In terms of organized sports, we never played a sport for more than six months consecutively – and even that time period would be a stretch. I can remember being involved in organized soccer, basketball, flag football, tennis, and baseball around fourth grade.

You know what’s wild? From that little churchyard in little Kennebunk, Maine came six eventual NCAA athletes and seven NCAA coaches (four in lacrosse, two in strength and conditioning, and one in football). There was a D1 All-American/professional lacrosse player, 500-pound raw bench press, and world record in the deadlift. There were no ACL tears, stress fractures, ulnar collateral ligament ruptures, or cases of plantar fasciitis. I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was until I was a sophomore in high school.

The point – which may be hackneyed to many of my newsletter subscribers by now – is that we stayed healthy and came into some athletic success by playing a lot at a young age, but participating a little. And, personally, it wasn’t until I specialized more and started playing tennis nine months out of the year (November-August) that I started dealing with chronic shoulder problems. Had I known then what I know now, it would have been manageable – especially with my diverse athletic background.

So, this brings me to several points…

First, there are more opportunities than ever to participate year-round and without restrictions. Most sport coaches know only tactics and not physiology, so at a time when recognizing the warning signs of injury and burnout is most important, those supervising the system are the least prepared.

Second, to take it a step further, we are an increasingly sedentary society. Kids sit all day in school, then go home to sit at home and talk on instant messenger or surf the web. They don’t ride bikes or walk to their friends’ houses; they drive or get rides. Heck, they don’t even call their friends anymore; they just text them because human interaction is just too fatiguing! Taking a more sedentary population and combining it with an increased volume of participation in a more specialized athletic scenario is a recipe for injuries. It’s like entering this hunk of junk in the Daytona 500.

Third, in spite of the fact that kinesiology, exercise science, biomechanics, and related health and human performance fields are actually courses of study at academic institutions and beyond – and all the information on training young athletes is out there, if you know where to look – there really aren’t many people doing it correctly. Thanks to some wretched attempts at franchising youth sports training, we’ve been left with a lot of parents and kids that think “running cones” is where it’s at. Many others have just written the idea of youth performance training off altogether because they’ve had bad experiences in these situations. Kids can run cones on their own; they need to be taught how to run, jump, land, lift, and throw.

So, what to do to remedy the situation?

First off, I wish more people would read Brian Grasso’s stuff at DevelopingAthletics.com. Brian’s at the forefront of youth fitness training and really gets it.

Second, while I’d like to think that it’s possible to “undo” the specialization trend, it’s simply not going to happen, folks. The best we’re going to do is learn to recognize the symptoms of burnout/injury early on – and encourage kids to hold off until later in high school before choosing one specific sport. Kirk Fredericks, head coach of the Lincoln-Sudbury High School varsity baseball team (Massachusetts State Champs in 2005 and 2007), is the single-best coach with whom I have worked at any level. I was at his team’s award banquet two weeks ago to hear Kirk credit the success of his only three sophomores on the varsity squad to playing multiple sports and focusing on getting stronger. He didn’t rave about how they took batting practice 365 days of the year – or all the time they spent running cones. Versatility, athleticism, and strength were what differentiated them from their peers.

Third, kids need to move – and be taught how to move. Call me biased, but organized strength and conditioning settings are, in my opinion, the best way to provide young athletes with the favorable outcomes and fun through the inherent variety featured in any appropriate S&C program. You can train mobility, activation, strength, stability, reactive ability, sprint mechanics, you name it – all in a single session.

Fourth, I would like to see physicians become more proactive with encouraging young athletes to seek out effective training. Having communicated with some excellent physicians myself, I’ve come to realize that the best doctors know that their recommendations to young athletes go beyond simply protecting sutures. It is also about setting an athlete up for future health and success.

Fifth, those training young athletes have to not only get more in-tune with how to do it well, but also structure their business models to accommodate leveraging this knowledge. I can only speak to what I have practiced with Cressey Performance:

1. Grow slowly and hire extremely carefully.

2. Know every bit of each athlete’s health history.

3. Program individually.

4. Put young athletes in an environment in which they can thrive on each other’s energy.

5. Provide specific, quantifiable markers of progress to foster further motivation.

6. Communicate regularly with sport coaches, parents, and the athletes themselves.

7. Appreciate that young athletes are not simply smaller adults.

8. Recognize the imbalances inherent to particular sports.

9. Treat every athlete as if he/she is your own son/daughter (assuming you are not a psycho parent).

10. Keep it FUN.

Audio Interview with EC

About a month ago, I did a phone interview with Kaiser Serajuddin on the topic of the business of personal training. You can listen to it HERE.

Blog Updates

Maximum Strength: Working Around Equipment Limitations

Heavy Lifting to Wussy Music: Why Not?

Ignorance is Bliss

A special thanks goes out to Chris Poirier, the entire Perform Better staff, and all the attendees from this year’s PB Summits. Thanks for making them such great events!

I’ll be at the 2nd Annual Distinguished Lecture Series in Sports Medicine this Friday at Northeastern University – and hopefully have some newsletter tidbits for you from it next week. It’ll be nice to do the listening instead of the lecturing this time – although I may be available for guest shadow puppet and magic trick exhibitions in the lobby on request!

All the Best,


Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!
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Maximum Strength for Triathletes

Maximum Strength Q&A This question recently popped up on an internet forum, and I thought it would make for good Q&A content, as readers often have similar questions once a book is released. Q: I've had the book for a few days and although the program doesn't fit into my current goals (I'm into triathlon season), I've looked it over and been impressed. Cressey is great in part because of his emphasis on long-term health, joint function, flexibility, etc. along WITH optimal performance. Most fitness folks go one way or another: either "pound your body into submission daily" or "wrap yourself in tea leaves and do restorative yoga". Cressey manages to bridge the gap. Along those lines, I don't see any reference to post-workout stretching or cooling down anywhere in the book. Am I missing something? Not that I think it's wrong not to stretch post-workout--I think that the chapter on warm-ups alone is well worth the price of the book--but if Cressey is saying that stretching and foam rolling pre-workout is sufficient for optimal health, that's actually a fairly novel idea. A: It isn't that I'm against static stretching at all; in fact, I'm all for it when the timing is right. It's just that, well, I'm a realist. I know what people will do and what they won't do. The truth is that when you give people too much information, they choose to do nothing. So, you give them what you think is the right dosage and hope for adherence. Truthfully, people can get great results just with foam rolling and dynamic flexibility work - and the static stuff is icing on the cake (especially when you toss in the appropriate activation work and full ROM strength-training). I think that the “static stretching is imperative” mentality was born in part out of the physical therapy community, but the tricky thing is that it’s tough to apply training principals from injured folks to those who are healthy. You can’t always do more dynamic mobilizations with those who are post-surgery or dealing with chronic pain; it’s too aggressive. So, you begin with gentle static stretches and gradually build toward mobility initiatives that best simulate activities of daily living and sports. Additionally, the static stretching “mandate” may be related to the significant participation in endurance activities. Typically, endurance sports movements – most notably running and cycling – don’t involve a significant amount of amplitude (range of motion). So, range of motion drills take priority. Static stretching – like many endurance training principles – is relatively outdated. On the whole, many endurance athletes really haven’t appreciated that weight-training is important or that interval training often provides distinct advantages over added mileage – so it’s not surprising that some of their flexibility ideas may not be optimal even if they are effective. All that said, you'll notice a bit of static stretching incorporated into the warm-ups in the program. Blog Updates Got Shoulder Problems?  How's Your Breathing? Waiting to Reach Threshold? All the Best, EC
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An Interview with EC, by Mike Robertson

An Interview with EC, by Mike Robertson (continued)...

MR:  You have a new book out, entitled Maximum Strength.  Who is this book geared toward?

EC:  People who enjoy gardening.  Next question?

Kidding, of course.  I would say that this book targets the typical lifter who goes to the internet to find information to take his/her training to the next level.  There are a lot of people in the T-Nation, etc. crowd who have done a good job to get from untrained, to beginner, to intermediate – but don’t necessarily have the tools to take it to the advanced level.  Maximum Strength provides that opportunity – and addresses mobility/activation, nutrition, motivation, programming strategies – basically a lot of the things you need to know to be successful not just for the 16-week program I outline, but also the years of lifting that follow it.  Thus far, the feedback has been fantastic.

MR: I think every guy in the industry has the dream of getting a book published, but it’s a lot more complicated than one would think. Could you give the readers an idea of how much goes into this process?

EC: Matt first approached me with the idea in the fall of 2006, and we created a proposal (I think it was 14 pages, plus a sample chapter). Our literary agent took it to some publishing companies, and we eventually agreed on a contract with one (DaCapo) in January of 2007. Matt and I wrote the book over the next six months and submitted in mid-June. Over the summer, I dedicated seven Sundays to the photo shoot (harder than it sounds – especially when you wear the wrong color/type of clothing, as I did in the first two sessions).

We spent the fall going through proofs, cover designs, copy-editing, and sending out advanced copies. I’m pretty sure that it was complete in February – and production started in time for a late April/early May release. So, all told, it was about an 18-month process.

So, I’ve now self-published and dealt with a publisher. Both have perks and drawbacks, so I’ve got plenty to consider as I take on future projects.

MR:  You also recently released an e-book called The Art of the Deload.  What prompted you to write a manual all about taking time off training?

EC: I honestly don’t know that many people understand what it feels like to remove fatigue and display fitness.  Heck, I never did before I got into competitive powerlifting.  Going into my first powerlifting meet, I had never deadlifted more than 484 in training.  I had to hold myself back like crazy the last three weeks before the meet to avoid doing anything stupid – and it was hard because that amount of deloading was unfamiliar to me.

I went out and pulled 510 on a fourth attempt at a body weight of 161 for a Connecticut state record in that meet.  Strategic deloading has been a big part of my programming ever since. The thing is, not all trainees are the same.  Experienced lifters need to deload differently than beginners and intermediates.  Lifters with a previous history of injury need to deload differently than those who are completely healthy.  Competitive lifters need to deload differently than those who are just lifting to enhance quality of life and look good.  This e-book has something for all of them.

MR: Without giving away the farm, what are some of the different scenarios you outline? I know that I talk to people and they think of a deload week as one of two things:

1 – No strength training whatsoever; maybe some cross training.

2 – The typical 60% volume approach with a slight reduction in intensity.

EC: For the record, I don’t agree with #1 that you just outlined at all, and I think that in most cases, people who drop volume by 40% need to maintain or actually increase intensity. How’s that for barbecuing some sacred cows? Anyway, I also cover:
  • how to deload to make sure old injuries don’t resurface
  • how to know when to drop intensity instead of volume
  • how to effectively incorporate a testing day at the end of a deload week
  • why beginners don’t need to deload
  • what active rest means to me
  • how to deload on reactive training (particularly important for guys like me who have crazy supinated feet)

Plus, there is some nuts and bolts about how to individualize deload frequency.

MR:  Any new projects or things in the works we should know about?

EC: Next week, we’re moving everything – equipment, turf, flooring, computers, stereo – in Cressey Performance three miles east.  We also have to demolish the walls at our old place when we leave – and I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to that part!  All in all, though, with the new book out, and the new facility up and running (and summer training underway), I won’t have anything too exciting on tap until at least the fall.  My presentation at the Perform Better Summit in Providence at the end of May will be my last seminar for a while – unless we decide to do something at CP to celebrate the new location this summer.

MR:  Okay, time for the final question, and you know I ask everyone this! You’ve been doing this for a while now – what mistakes have you made in the past, and what have you since done to correct that mistake?

EC:  My biggest mistake was caring what stupid people thought of me.  Let me explain.

For whatever reason, the strength and conditioning and fitness industry is very polarized.  I suspect it has something to do with the fact that physique and performance enhancement tends to put people on pedestals; many people think that looking good and being stronger or more athletic will make life so much better.  When was the last time that a forward-thinking accountant or surveyor got the attention some strength coaches get?

Because of the puzzling nature of this industry, people get irritated more.  I think Mike Boyle said it best when he noted that many people don’t know the difference between “disagree” and “dislike.”  That said, there are some people that disagree with my methodology and hate my guts.  Because I put myself out there by writing articles/books, making DVDs, and speaking at seminars, it is hard to avoid it getting back to me.

Early on in my career, I let this stuff get to me.  The negativity weighed on me and I actually lost sleep at night for what some keyboard warrior said about me on an internet forum.  Fortunately, I quickly recognized the unfavorable impact taking criticism to heart was having on me.  I had five or six guys on the internet who didn’t like me even though they’d never met me and disagreed with an article I wrote.  It’s not something I needed to be losing sleep over.

So, I got that negativity out of my life and focused on what I’m doing right.  I’m a better coach, much more positive, and far more productive.  I’m helping people and not arguing with them.  Instead of defending myself or worrying, I’m continuing to contribute to the body of knowledge.  If I was as bad as these 5-6 people (or however many there are) seem to think, why are athletes practically kicking the door down to Cressey Performance to train?  And, why would a traditionally strength-training-unmotivated population (baseball athletes) not only be appreciating the benefits of what we do, but thoroughly enjoying the process as much as the destination?

So, my advice to those out there would be to get rid of the negativity in your lives.  We’ve all worked with people who just punch the clock, criticize those around them, and don’t really care.  Stay away from these people and focus on what’s right in the world around you.  It’ll make you a better lifter, coach, and person. As I type this newsletter up, I realized that I've trained athletes on each of the past 24 days - and the two days prior to that were spent attending a Perform Better Summit.  So, I guess you could say that I can't remember when my last true day off was.  But, you know what?  I'm not nearly as tired as I would have been if I had stayed up all night worrying about what somebody said about me on the internet. Blog Updates Maximum Strength: Band-Assisted Chin-ups Maximum Strength: Can You Adjust Your Schedule? My New Nemesis All the Best, EC
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  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
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