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5 Reasons to Use “Fillers” in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

One of the first things some individuals notice when they come to observe at Cressey Sports Performance is that we often pair “big bang” strength and power movements with lower intensity drills. This is also a common programming theme many of those who have completed my High Performance Handbook program have noticed.

As an example, we might pair a prone trap raise with a deadlift…

…or a hip mobility drill with a bench press.

We call these low-intensity inclusions “fillers.” Truthfully, though, I’m not sure that this name does them justice, as “filler” seems to imply a lack of importance. In reality, I think these drills have a profound impact on improving each client/athlete’s session. Here are five reasons why.

1. Fillers slow advanced athletes down on power and strength work.

Optimal training for strength and power mandates that athletes take ample time between sets to recharge. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes have a tendency to rush through this type of work because it doesn't create the same kind of acute fatigue that you'd get from a set of higher-rep work. Muscular fatigue is a lot easier to perceive than neural fatigue. In other words, you'll want to rest more after a set of six squats than you would after a set of six heidens, even if you were attempting to put maximal force into the ground on each rep with both.

By pairing the strength or power exercise with something a little more mellow, we “force” athletes to take adequate rest and get quality work in on subsequent sets of the “meat and potatoes.”

2. Fillers provide extra opportunities to work on basic movement competencies and corrective exercises.

If something is important, do it every day. For some people, this might be hip mobility work. For others, it might be some rotator cuff work. You might as well do it when you’d otherwise be standing around resting.

3. Fillers improve training economy – and may even allow you to shorten the warm-ups a bit.

This point is best illustrated with an example. Let’s say that I would normally do an 8-10 exercise dynamic flexibility warm-up before my lifting-specific work. Then, I’m warming up to a 600-pound deadlift like this:

135x8
225x5
315x3
405x3
455x1
495x1
545x1
585x1
600x1

On that warm-up progression, I have eight “between-set” breaks to get in a little extra work. Sure, I’m loading on plates, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bang out a few quick reps of ankle mobility or scapular control work. This can be pretty clutch – especially once I’m at the heavier warm-up sets that require a bit more rest – as it can actually allow me to shorten my earlier general warm-up period a bit.

When it comes to training economy, everyone wants to talk about exercise selection (picking multi-joint exercises) and finding ways to increase training density (more volume in a given amount of time). However, don’t forget that movement quality work is still “work.”

4. Fillers help to prevent “backups” in the training facility.

This is a double-edged sword. If you’re doing some hip mobility work between sets in a busy commercial gym, if you aren’t careful, it probably will increase your likelihood of someone stealing your squat rack.

However, in the collegiate, professional, and private sectors, incorporating fillers can be invaluable in preventing log jams where many athletes are trying to use the same piece of equipment at the same time. If you’ve got three athletes sharing the same trap bar, fillers can help things flow a bit smoother – particularly because it keeps less-than-attentive athletes from screwing around between sets.

5. Fillers may give deconditioned clients active recovery between sets to make the most of their time with you.

For some clients, the warm-up is the workout. In other words, they may be so deconditioned that even a set of the Spiderman with hip lift and overhead reach will get their heart rate up. If you paired this mobility drill with an inverted row, it might be a perfect fit for their fitness level. Conversely, if you paired that inverted row with a Bulgarian split squat, it might crush them. In this case, the filler is hardly a filler!

Fillers might have a connotation of “unimportant,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Try incorporating them in your programs to get higher quality work, improve training economy, and bring up weak links.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/21/17

I finished up my NYC seminar yesterday and am sticking around to spend a day in the city with my wife today, but I prepared a recommended reading list for you to enjoy in the meantime. Check it out:

Attentional Focus and Cuing - Nick Winkelman wrote this great article for Club Connect's online magazine. If you're looking for a good introduction to internal vs. external focus cues, this is a good place to start.


Source: ClubConnect.com

20 Tips for Young Coaches - Mike Robertson crushed it with this new podcast with tips for aspiring coaches.

The Ideal Business Show with Eric Cressey - Speaking of podcasts, this interview I did for Pat Rigsby a year ago, and I still think it's one of the best ones with which I've been involved.

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Arm Injuries, Sports Science, and Player Development

Earlier this week, I hopped on The Motus Global show with Will Carroll, and we covered a ton of ground in the 40 minutes we chatted. From arm injuries, to sports science, to player development, there's a lot of good stuff in this podcast. You can check it out at the links below:

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/+JRLCkbN08

or

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-motus-show/id1245348721?mt=2

Enjoy!

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: When Precision Tops Effort

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, John O'Neil.

Openly communicating expectations on an exercise-by-exercise level as a coach can go a long way in ensuring the outcome of the chosen program is as intended. A typical new client we see will give near maximal effort on every exercise, not understanding that heavier does not equal better and there’s a problem if something that’s meant to be lower intensity becomes a straining exercise. Too often I see random exercises done with an inappropriate amount of weight because the client doesn’t understand that harder isn’t better; smarter is better. While you want to pile plates on for some lifts, with others, the load is less important than the execution. The important thing is that the athlete/client understands your intentions as the person who wrote the program – and that communication is a two-way street.

In our model at Cressey Sports Performance, we will typically pair something that is meant to be heavier with something that is meant to be lighter. Only a few exercise will meant to be loaded heavily, and in the rest, precision of technique is the focus. A sample lower body day for a pitcher might be:

A1) Trap Bar Deadlift: 4x5
A2) Alternating Prone Trap Raise on Stability Ball: 3x8/side
B1) Double KB Reverse Lunges: 3x8/side
B2) Supine 90/90 External Rotation Holds: 3x(2x6)
C1) KB Goblet Lateral Lunges: 3x8/side
C2) Side Bridges: 3x5 breaths/side
D1) Split-Stance Rhythmic Stabilization, 3 positions: 3x5-5-5sec
D2) Core-Engaged Dead Bugs: 3x5/side

When we look at a day like this, we need to have knowledge of the difference between central and peripheral stress. The above day has 1 central stressor, 1-2 loadable peripheral stressors, and 5-6 exercises that are never meant to crush someone (lateral lunges are the in-between, depending on the person). Most effective training days will only have 1-3 central stressors, and the rest will be peripheral.

Think of these like main lifts vs. accessory lifts. This is not to demean the accessory lifts, as they are necessary to our programming and we will use them to assure local muscular hypertrophy, sports-specific positional stability, and general health. Exercises that affect the central nervous system will include your big bang-for-your-buck lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses. These are the ones in the weight room that we can load up and effectively train in rep schemes of five and below.

To monitor the success of this sample day, the trap bar deadlift should be done at a high RPE (ratings of perceived exertion). This might be through a 1-10 number scale. Ask the client how many more reps they could have done and if they say 1, it was a 9. If they say 2, it was 8, and so on.

To keep this easier in a semi-private training model with many young clients drastically misinterpreting a number scale, I simply tell the person something like “this should be very hard, but never feel impossible.” If you have experience coaching, you can typically tell when someone’s technique is about to break down if they attempted another rep.

[bctt tweet="If you safely strain to just below technical failure, you chose a good weight for a main lift."]

Peripheral stressors are the exercises that you should really never come close to missing. Even if someone is extremely strong at an 8-rep reverse lunge, rep 8 shouldn’t be a grinder and rep 9 should always be possible. With clients, I like to communicate that exact idea: precision of the movement and owning the technique at a moderately challenging level will go a lot further than being sloppy and adding more weight.

This is not to say these are easy exercises, though. In fact, the peripheral stressors are often the exercises that will make you sore as they attack more localized areas and are done in rep schemes (8-12) that are more congruent with hypertrophy. The problem with not communicating the appropriate weights on these exercises is they will potentially take away from the benefits the main exercises (central stressors) will provide. Train your main exercises to a point of safely straining, and train your accessory lifts with mental intent and precision.

About the Author

John O'Neil (@ONeilStrength) is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at joh.oneil@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/14/17

Happy Monday! I've got some recommended strength and conditioning resources for you, but before I get to them, I want to quickly remind you that the early-bird registration deadline for my September 17 seminar near Washington, DC is this Thursday, August 17. This event will sell out, as I only have a few spots left, so if you're interested in attending, don't delay on registration. Here's the information page.

Baseball America Podcast Interview with Dr. James Andrews - This was an an excellent 18-minute conversation between Will Carroll from Motus and Dr. Andrews. They covered Dr. Andrews' latest observations on arm injuries in youth baseball players.

Do You Need a Navy Seal? - This article from Dr. Brandon Marcello is a few years old, but warrants reincarnation in light of recent developments with alternative, military-inspired training approaches in the general and athletic populations.

Sabotaging Your Sales Pitch: 4 Mistakes to Avoid - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, presents a little fitness business advice. In this post, he covers the lead conversion conversation - and how to not screw it up!

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If you want to throw hard, you have to firm up on the lead leg...and at the right time and in the right direction. Cleats can definitely help athletes "get away" with a bit more in this regard, as they guarantee a larger base of support (foot stays on the ground) and generally have a lot more medial/lateral support than normal sneakers. It's one reason why many pitchers throw considerably harder outside than they do off indoor (turf) mounds. That said, if you're going to pitch off a turf mound, do yourself a favor and make sure that you've got a sneaker that isn't too flimsy - especially side to side. You shouldn't roll out of the shoe (which we see in the right video). Take note of the same pitcher on the left in the @newbalance #mx20v6, a minimalist sneaker that is lightweight but still provides adequate medial/lateral support. Exact same delivery, but markedly different outcomes. Full disclosure: I helped design this shoe - but the lessons are the same regardless of what you're wearing. Thanks for the demos, @joeryan34! #cspfamily #pitching #pitchingdrills #minimalistshoes

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How Environment Shapes Success

Yesterday, Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo delivered an outstanding in-service that led to a great discussion of characteristics of our clients who've had the best long-term success. Without a doubt, the one that stands out above all else is consistency. If someone continues to show up consistently - all other things held equal - they stand the best chance of making great progress toward their goals, whether they're performance, aesthetic, or a combination of the two.

The discussion immediately made me think back to a slide from my presentation on long-term athletic development on this year's Perform Better tour. In this slide, I talked about how the path to success is actually a circle.

Everything begins with having an environment that individuals find motivating and inviting - which drives interest. This might come from them relating to the like-minded training partners, music, unique programming or coaching styles, or any of a number of factors. Very simply, it has to be an environment that drives enthusiasm, the next component of the circle.

Enthusiastic athletes are more open to learning, whether it's about their unique movement issues or how they approach nutrition. This enthusiasm opens up a window for education.

When you get a motivated, enthusiastic, educated athlete, you've set the stage for a greater level of autonomy. When someone has the education and desire to change - but also the independence to do it on their own - you've created an optimal scenario for results to take place.

And, the more results you get, the more buy-in you receive in the form of increased interest - and the circle starts anew.

None of this should seem revolutionary, but you'd be surprised at how many individuals try to jump in at the education portion. They assume that everyone who walks in their door is interested and enthusiastic, and that isn't always the case. This is one reason why I'm always particularly cautious not to overwhelm folks during their initial evaluations; I'm actually far more interested in building rapport and making them comfortable in our environment than I am in telling them all about how they have brutal hip internal rotation or a serious lack of rotator cuff strength.

[bctt tweet="Initial assessments should start a relationship while tactfully delivering (not forcing) education."] 

I try to view each client in the context of this circle to see how we can best optimize their experience with us and improve consistency. Do we need to do a better job of making them excited about the environment? Or, do we need to build on the enthusiasm they already have with a stronger educational component? Or, do we need to help them come up with strategies to best incorporate the knowledge they have to develop more autonomy to facilitate further progress? At the end of the day, it's a unique mix for every individual, but this framework can help you to get to the bottom of it.

I'll leave with a closing thought: when you get a 15-16 year-old athlete who has gotten to the autonomy stage that early in his athletic career, it is an absolute game-changer. These athletes not only follow everything you put on paper to a "T," but also become even better active participants in the training process. They're better communicators who ask good questions and help you to develop the best programming and coaching approaches to get them results quicker. And, when you combine this high motivation and early independence with someone who is a gifted natural athlete, you can see absolutely incredible progress. 

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/7/17

It was an eventful weekend in the Cressey household, as we had our first trip to the emergency room with one of our daughters. Everything is fine, but it was another not-so-subtle reminder of how two-year-olds can change your plans on a moment's notice! Since I didn't do any writing myself this weekend, here's some good stuff from around the 'net:

Forget Career Hacks - Dr. John Berardi penned one of the more insightful articles on professional success that I've read in recent years. I love this equation because it demonstrates to folks that passion is necessary, but ineffective by itself:

Brandon Marcello on Life as a Performance Strategist and Consultant - This is some outstanding stuff from Brandon Marcello, one of the brightest guys in the field of performance enhancement. Mike Robertson interviews him for his podcast.

10 Important Notes on Assessments - I reincarnated this post from the archives yesterday, and though it warranted sharing here as well.

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Coaching Strategy: Shut Up More Often

I really love strength and conditioning. I see athletes as similar to choose-your-own adventure books where you have to find the right assessment, programming, and coaching strategies to get them to where they need to be. Each case is unique, so I get genuinely excited in trying to solve new puzzles every day.

Early in my career, though, that excitement often got the best of me. My brain would race faster than my mouth could keep up, and I used my mouth more than my ears and my eyes. Looking back, I threw way too many questions, observations, and cues at athletes. In talking so much, I probably not only confused them, but also missed out on invaluable chances to listen more and learn about their stories - which would help me solve these puzzles. Now, I talk much less and do a lot more listening. My goal in every assessment is to listen 80% of the time and only talk the remaining 20%. And, in my coaching interactions, I try to be as to-the-point as possible, using fewer words and more body language and gestures to convey my points.

Not surprisingly, I feel strongly that shutting up more often has made me a far better coach. Improving in any of life's challenges - athletics included - is about learning to tune out the noise - and too many coaching cues are just distractions as you're trying to learn how to move correctly. Interesting, as author Adam Grant recently pointed out on Twitter, there are academic parallels to this. A 2014 study (described here) reported that "when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted and scored lower on tests than when they were taught in a room with bare walls." When we're trying to learn - whether it's our ABCs or how to trap bar deadlift - loads of distractions are our biggest enemy.

With that in mind, you have to ask yourself: "As a coach, am I a facilitator or just another distraction?"

If you're giving an athlete 58 visual, verbal, and kinesthetic cues all at the same time, you're overcoaching and overwhelming them. Moreover, if you're asking them asking them about their weekend while they're in the middle of sets, you're likely taking them further away from their goals. As I've written time and time again:

[bctt tweet="Good coaching cues are clear, firm, concise - and TIMELY."]

As much as it may hurt to admit it, sometimes, the best way to get athletes to where they want to be is to shut up. The next time you're struggling to get an athlete to make the adjustments you're trying to accomplish, take a step back and simplify your coaching approach with fewer words.

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Why I Don’t Like Scap Push-ups

I used to regularly program scap push-ups in training programs in an attempt to improve shoulder health. Nowadays, though, I realize there are much better ways to get the job done. Check out today's video to learn the problems with scap push-ups as well as some better alternatives:

If you're looking for some good serratus anterior activation drills in place of scap push-ups, check out these videos:

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/31/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. My wife and I had a fun time in Chicago over the weekend at the Perform Better Summit and got a chance to catch the White Sox/Indians game. Here are a few good reads for the weekend:

2017 Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar - We just announced that this popular annual event will take place October 22 at our Massachusetts facility. We hope you can make it!

Mike Irr on Winning an NBA Championship - I've been friends with both Mike Robertson and Mike Irr for close to 15 years now, so how can I not love this podcast? There are some excellent insights from Irr, who just won a world championship with the Golden State Warriors.

Skills Capture a Niche: Relationships Help You Retain It - This was a great post from my business partner, Pete Dupuis. He discusses the concept of niche development in the fitness industry.

Teammate - I just finished David Ross' autobiography and really enjoyed it. I'd highly recommend it to any baseball player, coach, or parent without hesitation.

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Catcher @jake_clinard knocks out a set of plate-loaded slideboard lateral lunges. -- This is one of my favorite exercises for enhancing hip mobility and stability in multiple planes of motion at the same time. The counterbalance in front helps the athlete to get a clean hip hinge without moving through the spine. And, the slideboard increases the eccentric challenge and makes the athlete more cognizant of not racing through reps. -- Resist the urge to hold more than 10 pounds in the hands, though, as it usually makes technique worse. You're better off going to a DB or KB in the goblet position if you want to progress the loading on this one. -- Nothing better than building strength through full range-of-motion if you want to preserve that ROM over a long season (or lifetime!). This kind of work is huge for catchers for preserving mobility as the season progresses. #cspfamily #catching #mobility #centralcatholic #hudsonma #teamnb #sportsperformance #performbetter

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