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2 Key Strategies for Creating Effective Strength and Conditioning Programs

One of the questions I'm asked the most frequently is "How did you learn how to write strength and conditioning programs?" Unfortunately, while it's a tremendously common question posed to me, I haven't yet determined a quick and easy response that would work for everyone.  While this may make it seem like I haven't learned anything in this regard, the truth is that I get more and more effective and efficient with creating programs every single day.  What's my secret?  Well, I actually have two of them.

1. I NEVER reinvent the wheel. Our philosophies are constantly evolving, and I'm always working to integrate new concepts into our programming to improve outcomes for our clients.  These ideas may come from things I've read, seminars I've attended, other programs I've observed, or - most importantly - feedback our athletes have given us.  I absolutely, positively, NEVER overhaul a program, though.  Why? If you change everything, you learn nothing - because you can never appreciate what modification it was that worked (or didn't work). 2. I build on previous successes, rather than starting from scratch with every new client. I absolutely loved the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.  I read this book back in early 2007, and I still refer back to it all the time.

One of the key points that the Heaths make in this book is that an idea will always be more readily accepted if it is incorporated into an individual's existing schema.  As an example, if I give you the letters TICDGFASOH and then ask you to list all the letters I included to me 20 minutes later without writing them down, most of you won't be able to accomplish the task correctly.

However, if I reordered those letters as CATDOGFISH, you'd accomplish the task easily.  You know the words DOG, CAT, and FISH - so it would fit into your existing schema.  This applies to strength and conditioning programs, too.

When I attend a seminar, whenever a new technique is introduced, I try to immediately apply it in my notes and in my brain to an existing client of mine.  How can that subtle modification make this individual's program better?

And, when I evaluate a client for the first time, I ask myself how this client is similar to a previous client of mine.  I'll look back to that old client's program to see what we used to get results - and then I'll tinker accordingly based in the new client's more specific individual needs.  I absolutely NEVER open up a blank Microsoft Excel template and write something from scratch, as it's always easiest to tinker with what's worked in the past.

What does this mean for the up-and-coming strength and conditioning program author?

Get out to as many seminars as possible.  Visit other coaches and observe their programs.  Read books and watch DVDs to learn about how others incorporate different strategies and strength exercises in their weight training programs.  Your goal is to expand your existing schema as much as possible and - in the beginning - create the strength and conditioning programs that will end up becoming the foundation for all future programs.  After the first few months, you are simply "tinkering," not overhauling.  Never reinvent the wheel, and always build on previous successes.

Want to see how a comprehensive program is set up? Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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Stuff You Should Read: 6/13/11

Here's some recommended reading to kick off your week: How to Use Less Plastic - While he was working with us at Cressey Performance, Brian St. Pierre really did a good job of bringing to light the problems with using a lot of plastic in packing and storing one's healthy food options.  In this post, he talks about how to reduce the amount of plastic you use. The Difference Between the Location of Symptoms and the Source of Dysfunction - This Mike Reinold blog highlights how the site of the pain isn't always the origin of that pain. Value: The Key Ingredient to Fitness Business Success - Pat Rigsby really "gets it" when it comes to building fitness business up the right way, and posts like this show exactly why. I know a lot of fitness professionals read this blog, and this is must-read material for all of you. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes

Q: I know that you work a ton with baseball players and that medicine ball workouts are an integral part of their training at Cressey Sports Performance.  However, I'm not a baseball player - or a competitive athlete in any discipline, for that matter - and I'm wondering if I should still consider adding medicine ball workouts to my strength and conditioning program.  Are there benefits that I can't get from a traditional strength training program with comprehensive mobility drills?

A: This is a great question - and I'll start off by saying that we actually have quite a few athletes at Cressey Sports Performance who aren't baseball players.  Plus, we firmly believe that everyone has an athlete in them, so our training mandates a functional carryover to the real world for everyone.  Integrating some medicine ball workouts - even if the volume and frequency aren't as high as in our rotational sport athletes - can definitely add some benefits to a strength and conditioning program.  Here are seven of those benefits:

1. Real World Transfer - Regardless of how effectively a strength and conditioning program is designed, it'll usually be very sagittal plane dominant.  Integrating some rotational medicine ball training immediately increases the number of movements from which you can choose in the transverse and frontal planes.

2. Low-Impact Fat Loss Medleys - Look at all of the fat loss programs out there, and the overwhelming majority of them require a lot of impact - whether it's from sprinting/jogging, jumping rope, or taking step aerobics.  Performing medleys of various medicine ball throws not only allows you to increase volume in a program while minimizing stress on the lower extremity, but also affords some much appreciated variety in a program that might otherwise be dominated by a lot of boring cardio equipment.

3. Better Integration of the Core -With a correctly executed rotational med ball throw, the power should come predominantly from the lower half - which means that it should be transmitted through a stable core so that the energy will be appropriately utilized with thoracic rotation to get to the arms and, in turn, the ball.  This sequencing is no different than lifting a bag of groceries, swinging a golf club, or going up on one's tip-toes to grab something on the top shelf.  If you move in the wrong areas (lumbar spine), you'll eventually wind up with back pain - but if you've handled the rotational challenges of medicine ball workouts with perfect technique, you'll be protected in the real world.

4. Improved Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Spine Mobility - When performed correctly, medicine ball exercises serve as an outstanding way to "ingrain" the mobility you've established with a dynamic warm-up prior to training.  Additionally, we utilize mobility and activation "fillers" between sets of medicine ball drills to not only slow people down between sets, but also address issues they have that might warrant extra attention.

5. A Way to Train Power Outside of the Sagittal Plane - Research has demonstrated that the biggest problems with folks as they grow older are not just the loss of strength, muscle mass, and bone density, but the loss of power - or how quickly they can apply force.  It's this reduction in power that makes elderly individuals more susceptible to falls.  We can't always train power "optimally" in some older adults because of ground reaction forces being too stressful, but most can learn to apply a significant amount of force to a medicine ball - whether it's rotationally or with an overhead stomp/throw variation.  Everyone should obviously build a solid foundation of strength and mobility before undertaking these options, but when the time is right, they are great additions. On a related note, here's a video I filmed a while back that shows how medicine ball workouts fit into our overall approach to developing power in athletes.

6. Reduction of Asymmetry - Most of us are very one-side dominant, and while I have no aspirations of ever expecting folks to be completely symmetrical, I think that training with rotational medicine ball drills can go a long way in ironing out prominent hip and thoracic spine asymmetries. This has been one reason why they comprise such an integral part of our off-season baseball training programs; these players spend their entire lives in an asymmetrical sport.

7. A Way to Blow off Some Steam - Lifting weights is great for letting out some aggression after a bad day, but throwing a medicine ball is on a whole different level.  In most cases, I encourage folks to try to break the medicine balls on every single throw.  As you can see, we've broken quite a few...

When we integrate medicine ball workouts with our adult fitness clients, it's usually a matter of three sets two times per week between the mobility warm-ups and strength exercises.  If it's used for fat loss, though, we'll include medleys at the end of the strength training programs.

As for a specific brand of medicine balls that we use, we've now made the switch to the Perform Better Extreme Soft Toss Medicine Balls. I've found that the rebound is optimal on these, and they still provide great durability (which has been an issue with not only other "padded" options, but also other rubber models that are using more filler materials). This is what our preferred option looks like:

 

With all that in mind, how many you break will be heavily dependent on how much you incorporate medicine ball workouts and how powerful your clients are.  The medicine ball lifespan will be a lot longer in a facility catering to middle-aged women than it will be at Cressey Performance, where 85% of clients are baseball players executing 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during certain portions of the year.

If you're looking for a lot more detail on the specific medicine ball exercises and workouts we do with our clients, be sure to check out my Medicine Ball Master Class.

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A Very Busy MLB Draft for Cressey Performance!

You may have noticed that this week's blog updates have been a bit more infrequent and to the point - and you can thank the Major League Baseball Draft.  Fortunately, it was for all the right reasons, as we had a bunch of Cressey Performance guys drafted. In addition to Tyler Beede, who went 21st overall to the Toronto Blue Jays, the following CP athletes were drafted and deserve a huge congratulations: Jordan Cote: 3rd Round to the New York Yankees Jack Leathersich: 5th Round to the New York Mets Andrew Chin: 5th Round to the Toronto Blue Jays Max Perlman 35th Round to the Oakland A's Ryan Thompson: 36th Round to the New York Yankees Adam Ravenelle: 44th Round to the New York Yankees (a Cressey Performer since 8th Grade!) Scott Weismann: 46th Rounds to the Chicago Cubs John Gorman: 50th Round to the Boston Red Sox In addition to these guys, several players who have done one-time consultations at CP and taken programs home with them to execute had some great draft showings: Anthony Meo (2nd Round - Arizona Diamondbacks), Travis Shaw (9th Round - Boston Red Sox), and John Brebbia (30th Round - New York Yankees) all deserve a congratulations as well. We're really proud of all our guys!
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Congratulations to Tyler Beede (from our Living Room)!

Last night, roughly 120 people gathered at the Cressey household to cheer on Lawrence Academy pitcher and Cressey Performance Tyler Beede as he awaited the call of a lifetime. It came at the 21st overall pick by the Toronto Blue Jays. Check out the reaction at the big moment:

We are all tremendously proud of Tyler, and were thrilled to have him celebrate his big day at our house. Blue Jays fans should be psyched to not have not only a tremendous athlete and pitcher, but one of the most polite, hard-working, and humble kids I've ever had the privilege to coach. Congratulations to Tyler and his family! Be sure to check back soon, as we'll have some more names called in the final two days of the draft.

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MLB Draft Day Stuff You Should Read

The Major League Baseball Draft starts tonight and concludes on Wednesday.  We'll have a very busy three days, as there are a lot of Cressey Performance athletes who will be drafted.  To that end, I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off - so that means today is a day where I refer you to some reading in other places.  Keep an eye on the blog this week to hear about which of our guys were selected, and who took them. Putting Manual Therapy into Perspective - I absolutely loved this post by Charlie Weingroff.  If you're a rehabilitation specialist doing manual therapy, you definitely ought to read it. MLB Draft has No Guarantees - This is a great piece on ESPN Boston about a Cressey Performance athlete, Tyler Beede, who has a lot to look forward to this week. Proper Rowing Performance - This video blog from Mike Robertson covers a very important set of technique cues that it's important for all coaches and lifters to learn.  Rowing strength exercises are an integral part of a successful strength and conditioning program, but only if you perform them correctly. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs: Systems, Not Just Sets and Reps

Back in November of 2010, a good buddy of mine who is a very accomplished college strength coach came up to Boston for a seminar we were hosting at Cressey Sports Performance.  The seminar was on a Sunday, but he actually flew up Friday night so that he could observe on Saturday while we trained our clients – which was a nice blend of high school, college, and professional athletes, plus our adult clientele.  All told, at the time, I’d say that high school athletes were 70% of our clientele.

That Tuesday morning, I woke up to this email from him:

“I just wanted to say thanks for everything.  I had a great time.  Your staff was outstanding and I really enjoyed watching you guys work on Saturday.  I realize you are managers, but certainly technicians as well.  Perfect form, I told Tony I saw two bad reps all weekend and someone was on the athlete before he had a chance to do another rep!!!   Thanks so much and come visit anytime, we would love to have you.”

This isn’t an email to toot our own horn; it’s to make a very valuable point.  If this coach had walked into every single private training facility and high school weight room in the country, in what percentage of cases do you think he would have come out with a favorable impression of the technique he witnessed in these strength and conditioning programs?  If I had to venture an extremely conservative guess, I’d say less than 10%.

Simply stated, both in the public and private sectors, some coaches are letting kids get away with murder with respect to technique, not warming up, poor load selection in weight training programs, and a host of other factors.

What happens, then, when the s**t hits the fan and a kid gets hurt?  I’ll tell you: certain exercises get “condemned” and strength and conditioning programs become more and more foo-foo; external loading is eliminated and kids wind up doing agility ladders and “speed training” for 60-90 minutes at a time in what can only be described as glorified babysitting.  Or, worse yet, weight rooms get closed altogether.  The door of opportunity gets slammed in the faces of a lot of kids who desperately need to get strong to stay healthy, improve performance, and build confidence.

That’s the reactive model, but what about a proactive model to prevent these issues in the first place?  Again, I’ll tell you: assess kids up-front.  Find out what is in their health history and evaluate how well they move.  Actually learn their names and backgrounds.  Then, program individually for them.  Coach intensely in their initial sessions and get things right from the start.  And, if an exercise doesn’t work for them, give them an alternative.

As an example, take the squat.  Some kids may not have sufficient ankle or hip mobility to squat deep in an Olympic style squat, so they’ll benefit more (and stay healthier) with box squat variations or single-leg exercises while you improve their mobility.  Others may even be too immobile (or possess structural issues like femoroacetabular impingement) to even box squat safely, so you give them more single-leg work and deadlift variations.  Regardless, you “coach ‘em up” well from the get-go – and they learn along the way.

In other words, the exercises aren’t the problem because exercises can be quickly and easily changed on the fly to match the athlete's level of abilities.  It’s the system in which they are placed that can be the stubborn, tough-to-change problem.

If you're struggling to get results with your youth strength and conditioning programs - or your business itself is struggling - be sure to look at your business model and overall systems before you start tinkering with the individual exercises.  Chances are that you need to rededicate yourself to relationship building and individualization more than you need to worry about sets and reps.

If you're looking to learn more about training young athletes, I'd encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. In it, he touches on everything from the problems with early specialization to age-specific training stages. It's a good investment for parents and coaches alike. From now through January 4, you can get $50 off on the resource. No coupon code is needed; just head HERE.

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The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual: New Site, New E-Book Format

I'm psyched to announce that The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual is now available as a digital product.  Until this point, the book had retailed as a hard copy version for $99.99 plus shipping/handling - but from here on out, you can get it for just $57 since we don't have any production or shipping costs.  This manual includes 30 weeks of sample programming based on the results of your self-tests.  Whether you're looking for off-season training for basketball, football, or some other sport, it's an excellent read.

And, we've got a new site to kick things off with the e-book version; check out www.UltimateOffSeason.com. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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