Home 2009 May (Page 2)

Lower Back Savers: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we outlined several crucial prerequisites to understanding the nature of lower back pain. In this installment, I've got a few more thoughts in this regard, and then we'll get to work on strategies for preventing these problems in the first place, and working around them once they're in place. You don't need me to tell you that back pain - any chink in your armor, for that matter - will prevent you from making progress in the gym. Continue reading...
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In the Trenches with Eric Cressey

I was the guest on Mike Robertson's newsletter podcast last week.  We discuss shoulder dysfunction in regular lifters and overhead throwers and a whole lot more.  Check it out at the link below: In the Trenches with Eric Cressey
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Strength Training Programs: Front vs. Back Squats

A topic of interest that seems to get thrown around quite a bit nowadays is whether front squats are a "safer" exercise than back squats.  We don't do much back squatting at Cressey Performance, so a lot of people automatically assume that I'm against the idea of back squatting.  This couldn't be further from the truth, as my answer to the question "which is safer?" is a resounding "IT DEPENDS!" At last check, 74% of the Cressey Performance clientele is baseball players.  The majority of these athletes have acquired actual structural changes to their shoulders that make the back squat set-up more of an at-risk position than in non-overhead-throwing athletes.  To make a long story short, in this externally rotated, abducted position of the shoulder girdle, the biceps tendon pulls awkwardly on the superior labrum.  This peel-back mechanism is exacerbated in the presence of a glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) and scapular instability - two features extremely common in baseball players.  So, for these folks, the front squat is a much safer alternative.  We also use giant cambered bar and safety squat bar squat and lunge variations. Conversely, take an athlete with either traumatic or chronic acromioclavicular joint problems, and the front squat will really irritate his shoulder because of the bar's position atop the shoulder girdle.  Move this bar to the upper back, and the pain is avoided altogether.  So, for AC joint pain suffers, the back squat is a safer bet. Let's be honest, though; the entire front vs. back squat argument is about lumbar spine health.  So, we'll attack it from that perspective. To kick things off, I've got a little announcement that may surprise you: I haven't back squatted in almost two years, and my back squat form isn't very good. I know what you're thinking: "You're a strength coach, Cressey; you must really suck at what you do if you can't even back squat." Well, I guess that would depend who you ask.  I regularly squat well over 400 pounds with the giant cambered bar. Front squatting isn't a problem, and I can use the safety squat bar, too.

The issue for me with back squats is a bum shoulder from back in my high school tennis days - similar to what I outlined earlier.  Because my shoulder doesn't like the externally rotated, abducted position, the only way I can get under a bar pain-free is to use an ultra-wide grip - which means my scapulae are winged out and my upper back is rounded over.  My shoulder range-of-motion is just fine, but the structural flaws I have (partial thickness tear, bone spurring, and likely labral fraying) means that if I want to back squat pain-free, I have to do so like someone who lacks external rotation. Who lacks external rotation?  Well, just about everyone who sits at a computer all day, and every athlete who has spent too much time bench-pressing.    Combine this with poor scapular stability and a lack of thoracic spine extension, and you realize that a large chunk of the weight-training population simply can't effectively put a bar on the upper back, let alone actually stabilize it. Let's be honest: if you have poor hip and/or ankle mobility, both your front and back squats are going to look pretty ugly.  You'll go into lumbar flexion or come up on your toes to get your range of motion, in most cases.  You'd think that one potentially protective factor would be that in the back squat, the lifter can better utilize the latissimus dorsi  (in a more shortened position) to help stabilize the spine. The main problem with the back squat, in my eyes, is that not everyone has sufficient upper body mobility to position and stabilize the bar properly.  As a result, it can "roll forward" on people - and that's where more of the forward lean problems come about.  More forward lean equates to more shear stress, and an increased risk of going into lumbar flexion under compressive load.  The front squat - even under heavier loads - keeps a lifter more upright, or else he'll simply dump the bar.

So, with all that in mind, while it may be a bit of a bold statement, I'd say that for individuals with excellent whole-body mobility and no upper extremity pain, a back squat is no more dangerous than a front squat. While the extra stabilization contribution from lats may reduce some of this risk, the simple fact that one can move more weight with a back squat probably "cancels out" this advantage in this comparison. All that said, regardless of whether you front or back squat, I'd encourage you to regularly get video of yourself lifting - or find an experienced coach - to give you feedback on your technique.


Click here to purchase the most comprehensive shoulder resource available today: Optimal Shoulder Performance - From Rehabilitation to High Performance. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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The Rule of 112

Today's guest blog comes from Joseph Leff.  It's short and to the point, but I love the message. When I was in graduate school I had a notecard with "112" written on it taped above my desk. If people asked what it meant (and they usually did) I was happy to explain.  112 is simply 16 x 7, or the number of waking hours available for someone sleeping eight hours a night to get done what they need to do. Do you really "not have enough time" or is it you? I'm betting it's you. Or, of course, me as well more than I'd like to admit. Three quick things to think about regarding "112": 1. Get enough sleep. There are 112 hours for you to do what you need to do after sleeping eight hours a night.  If you feel you do best on nine hours of sleep, that still leaves 105 hours. That's a lot of time. There are a very few people who legitimately have a right to be sleep-deprived. Soldiers. New parents. (If you have a new baby and blissfully sleep through the night every night you should be a better husband.) But probably not you. 2. Don't multitask. It's a silly word and a silly idea. By this I don't mean texting, watching Sportscenter, and eating at the same time. That's multirelaxing, not multitasking. It's okay to do, as long as you never use the word multirelaxing. But don't try to set up the refinancing on your condo while you're making a business call. Do each separately and perfectly rather than at the same time and, at best, adequately. Oh, and speaking of multitasking, stop using your phone while you're driving. Keep it up and eventually you're going to hurt somebody. 3. Train. Hard and regularly. You can make decent gains training two hours a week.  If you say you can't do everything else you need to do in the remaining 110 hours I'm going to have my doubts. Training a more-optimal six hours a week leaves you 106 hours. You get the point. That's enough for now. I'm going to make a notecard, put it over my desk, and then start planning the remaining 111 hours and 59 minutes left in the week. Joseph Leff lives and writes in Santa Monica, CA.  He has competed in powerlifting and strongman and trains at the Weight Pit at Venice Beach.  If you've never lifted heavy things outside with a view of the ocean and a cool Pacific breeze blowing, give it a try as soon as you can...
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Deloading on Single-Leg Movements

Q: Due to the multitude of injuries that I have, I very rarely squat, deadlift, or bench (with a straight bar.) However, I still find myself plateauing and feeling burned out.  I was wondering whether the prescriptions in your Art of the Deload e-book would still apply to me. For example, on my heaviest weeks, I'll do 5RM Split Squats/Bulgarians, etc. That is to say, do you still cycle intensity similarly for your injured and rehabbing clients who use "deloading exercises" on a more long-term basis? A: Absolutely.  Training stress is training stress, no matter how you slice it.  In fact, a lot of single-leg exercises - particularly when loaded heavily, as you noted - can beat you up just as much as heavy bilateral movements. Normally, in this case, we'd just deload on volume. So, if you were doing five sets of five lunges on each leg in your highest volume week, we'd go 3x5 in the deload week.  Whether or not we'd drop intensity would depend on your training experience.  If you're using 115-pound dumbbells, yes, we'd drop it.  If you're using 35-pounders, then probably not.

Click here to purchase Art of the Deload.


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Random Friday Thoughts: 5/8/09

1. It's going to be a quick one this week, as I'm doing some last minute preparations for this weekend's Perform Better Summit in Providence, RI.  To all the poor abandoned souls who count on my blog for companionship each Friday, I apologize for not giving our relationship the tender romance it deserves this week. 2. Congratulations to Cressey Performance athlete and Auburn High pitcher Tyler Beede, who threw a no-hitter on Wednesday.  Tyler struck out 15 in his complete game performance. 3. I contributed on the fourth installment of Mythbusters at T-Nation this week.  It also includes contributions from Chad Waterbury, Tony Gentilcore, and Christian Thibaudeau.  Noticeably absent from this esteemed crew of contributors is Mr. Celery - so I thought I'd give him some love.

4. For the foam rolling aficionados in the crowd, here's a great variation to use for those hard-to-reach grundle adductor region.  Thanks to Tony Gentilcore for the video:

This is a really important one for those of you in the crowd with a history of groin strains and sports hernias.  Hockey players, soccer players, and powerlifters should commit this one to memory.

5. It's official: Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman, and I are filming a new DVD on June 7th.  Lots to prepare before then!

Have a great weekend!

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Feedback on the Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual

I received this email earlier this week from a very satisfied customer of The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual: "Hi Eric, I just thought I'd let you know of my progress after completing the first two months training from your offseason manual. At the same time I started, I also purchased Precision Nutrition and implemented a much improved eating plan to see me add strength and lose bodyfat whilst maintaining lean mass ready for the onset of the soccer pre-season at the start of July. So, after two months of Precision Nutrition eating and off-season training, in terms of measurements I have: - lost 14lbs in weight - lost 2 inches off my waist - lost 3 1/4 inches off my hips - lost 1 inch off my neck - gained 1/2 inch on my shoulders - maintained the same arm measurement with no direct arm training and in the gym I have: - added roughly 45lbs to my bench and squat - 3RM chin of BW+45lbs - 'straightened out' my previous anterior pelvic tilt - improved my hamstring and adductor flexibility In the eight weeks this took, I have eaten seven meals a day without fail that have with no exceptions adhered to the 10 habits of PN (allowing a slice of cake for desert once a week!). I have been in the gym everyday at 6am (bar Saturdays, my off-day), with Mondays and Wednesdays being my regeneration days, which I view as just as important as my four resistance days. I can't wait for soccer preseason to start in July and see hopefully my hard work payoff (literally ££!!). Thanks for providing the great resources to put me on the track to progression, Andy Powell United Kingdom"

Click Here to Check Out The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual for Yourself!


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Kevin Larrabee is the man!

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Real Activation: Modifying a Classic Movement

Today, we've got a great guest blog post from Jim Smith.  Jim is the author of Combat Core, a resource about which I've raved on numerous occasions.  This guest blog is yet another example of how innovative Jim is. I utilize scapular wall slides (SWS) with my athletes because the conventional movement has a lot of benefits.  The movement should be done not only by forcibly pulling the elbows downward, but by actively forcing the elbows and back of the hands back into the wall.


Benefits: 1. activation of lower traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus and teres minor 2. dynamic stretch of the pectorals 3. great warm-up for upper back 4. improved posture 5. improved shoulder health But let's be honest, it is definitely a remedial movement.  Once it has been mastered and repeated with proficiency we must progress.  Of course we can progress to prone "Y" on the floor or on an incline bench with dumbbells, but I believe we have the opportunity to improve the benefits of the SWS. In a previous article I discussed the fact that activation is the summation of muscle contraction and neurological excitement.  To truly activate a muscle group there has to be a powerful contraction or increase the rate and frequency of motor unit recruitment.  Now with conventional SWS, the movement is slow and the activation is primarily isometric in nature. We must implement agitation to the system to truly activate the muscle.  I liken this to vibrational training, albeit at much lower frequency. Here is the modification: Have the athlete perform the SWS while holding elastic bands.  The coach will hold the band and step backward creating tension on the movement according to the athlete's current strength levels.  The coach then, as the athlete performs the movement, imparts agitation to the movement by vibrating the band in a wave pattern. The muscular activation will be exponential to the conventional movement, thereby improving and magnifying the benefits.


Jim Smith, CSCS Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author, consultant and renowned strength coach. Jim is an expert for Men's Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff. Jim's new product on how to build muscle, lose fat - all with only three short workouts a week will be out soon.  Grab their RSS feed.  Check it out!
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Lower Back Savers: Part 1

Sooner or later, you're going to tweak your back, and there's nothing you'll ever experience, perhaps shy of limb dismemberment, that'll put a stop to your training as cruelly or effectively. Of course, if you've already had some back problems, you know what we're talking about. Either way, we recommend you bone up on the back. It's one complex little beastie. Continue Reading...
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