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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 28

It's time for the April installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. In light of this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I wanted to write a bit about the importance of versatility in any strength and conditioning program. I firmly believe that The High Performance Handbook is the most versatile program on the market; in other words, it's been used with great success by folks from all walks of life. This is because of the self-assessment component, various programming options, and exercise modifications it includes. You can learn more HERE

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With that in mind, here are some thoughts on versatility in programming.

1. Psychosocial stress impacts joint loading.

Back in February, I went to a great seminar with Dr. Stuart McGill, and he alluded to some excellent research from Dr. Bill Marrus at The Ohio State University. It's almost 20 years old, but still fascinating. You can read about it HERE, but he's an interesting excerpt:

"An experiment was performed that imposed psychosocial stress on people performing standard lifting tasks and compared this with situations where no psychosocial stress was present. Under the stress conditions, significant increases in spine compression and lateral shear were observed, but not for all subjects. Gender played a role in that females moved di􏰘fferently in response to stress, thereby causing an alteration in muscle coactivation patterns. More surprisingly, when the personalities of the subjects was considered, it was found that certain personality traits, such as introversion and intuition, dramatically increased spine loading compared with those with the opposite personality trait (e.g. extroversion and sensing). These di􏰘fferences in personality were closely associated with differing trunk muscle coactivation patterns and explained well the di􏰘erence in spine loading (and expected risk of LBD) between subjects. These increases in trunk muscle coactivation are believed to in ̄uence spine loading more at low levels of work intensity than at high levels where the biomechanical demands of the job probably overpower any additional loading that may be due to responses of the musculoskeletal system to psychosocial stress."

In other words, the more Type A your personality type, the higher your spine stress, and the different your muscular recruitment patterns. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has looked at injury rates in athletes during stressful academic periods, but it is interesting to see that there doesn't seem to be a "desensitization" occurring with those who are always more stressed. With that in mind, chance are that the training stress needs to be managed more conservatively in those who have very stressful personality types, not just lifestyles.

2. There are many different ways to fluctuate training stress.

Speaking of reducing training stress, there are many different ways to do so. We all know that you can reduce intensity (load), training frequency, and/or volume (sets x reps x load) to give people appropriate deloading periods. 

Sometimes, though, simply changing exercise type can reduce the training stress. As an example, changing to more concentric-dominant exercises (as I wrote HERE) is one way to reduce training stress. Most people won't feel really banged up from a session of deadlifts, step-ups, and sled pushes even if there is a fair amount of volume and intensity.  

3. Versatility implies the ability to quickly and easily progress and regress.

When I think of versatile programs, I immediately think of the ability to quickly change something on the fly - and that usually refers to exercise selection, usually because something is too advanced or basic for someone.

If you lack the hip extension needed to do a Bulgarian split squat, you're better off regressing to a regular split squat or a step-up.

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It's also important to understand how to move laterally. An example would be if a program called for a piece of equipment an individual doesn't have. For example, if you don't have a cable column, maybe you could use dumbbells, bands, or a TRX suspension training for your rowing variation.

4. There is a point of diminishing returns on variability.

Check out this image I created for a presentation I gave on long-term athletic development.

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If young athletes have low variability in their lives, they make very little progress. Obviously, the risk of overuse injuries is higher, but just as importantly, without adequate movement variability, athletes don't have opportunities to build "predictive models" to which they can resort amidst the unpredictable challenges sporting environments throw at them. In other words, some exposure to controlled chaos prepares you for a lot of unpredictable chaos down the road.

To the far right of the column, though, we realize that too much variability can be problematic as well. There simply aren't enough high quality reps to build an firmly ingrained pattern. If an athlete throws a football in week 1, baseball in week 2, tennis ball in week 3, and shotput in week 4, he won't really have built one pattern any more than another. This is why athletes ultimately do benefit from an element of specialization; it brings them back to the center for more "focused progress."

These same ideas can be applied to the everyday gym-going lifter. Early on in a training career, we need to expose these individuals to just enough variability to prevent overuse injuries. In many cases, we can get this just by having comprehensive mobility warm-ups and assistance exercises - single-leg work, horizontal pulling, push-up challenges, carrying variations, etc. - that complement the big bang exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. If we just do a few big multi-joint exercises, though, injuries can often creep up, and we may encounter plateaus. However, there are also scenarios where specialization programs (less variability) may be needed to bring up specific lifts by pulling us back from the far right of the curve.

The take-home point is that the relationship between training progress and exercise variability is always in flux, and it's a good place to look if you're struggling to make progress, chronically injured, or just want to better understand why you're getting the results you're experiencing.

Looking to see how I create both versatility and variability in the programs I write? Check out The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

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Spring Sale!

The weather is warming up, baseball season is underway, and I've got my spring cleaning all wrapped up. The logical next step to keep the momentum rolling is to announce a big spring sale!

With that said, I'm putting my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook, on sale. From now through Sunday at midnight, you can get this popular training resource for $30 off HERE.

The discount has already been applied, so no coupon code is needed.

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Enjoy!

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How Bench Press Technique Impacts Shoulder Health

We often hear that an elbows-tucked bench press technique is more shoulder friendly than an elbows-flared approach. Nobody really ever seems to discuss why this is the case, though - so I thought I'd devote today's video blog to it:

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The Phenomenon: A Must-Read for Baseball Players, Coaches, Parents, and Fans

Back on a busy day in the fall of 2015 at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, I looked over and saw a "huddle" of our professional baseball players standing by the entrance to the gym in the middle of their training sessions. The music was pumping and there was a great training energy, so it had to be something good that had caught their attention. I was coaching on the other side of the gym, so I let my business partner, Brian, check it out. 

A bit later, Brian walked back over, and I asked him what was up. "Rick Ankiel stopped by."

"Oh yeah?" Immediately, my brain went in a few different directions. I remembered that he was traded for long-time CSP client Tim Collins in 2010. I thought of some of the ridiculous throws Rick had made from the outfield during his "second" MLB career. I thought of how insane it was that he made it back to the big leagues as a hitter after his pitching career was cut short.

And, of course, I thought of how he'd been arguably the most storied case of "the yips" in my lifetime.

Before I could answer Brian in any more detail, though, I was cut off by one of our minor league guys.

"Rick's the man. He's helped me so much."

As it turned out, he had another role of which I wasn't aware. A year after his retirement, the Washington Nationals had hired him as a Life Skills Coordinator. There were a few Nationals players at the facility that day, and all of them raved about him.

As luck would have it, Rick lives in Jupiter, and he became a familiar face around the facility. It didn't take long for me to realize why all the guys were singing his praises. Rick's an awesome dude who is always smiling and has loads of great stories to tell. I joked that he's like the governor in a room full of baseball players, doling out fist bumps to minor leaguers and a bear hug to Max Scherzer. Just as importantly, though, Rick has a tremendous amount of wisdom to share - and the perfect demeanor for delivering impactful messages. 

Rick and his wife Lory have become friends - and even neighbors - of ours. Our kids were at an Easter egg hunt with their kids on Saturday, and Lory has passed along school recommendations for my wife. Last month, Rick was kind enough to meet up with one of our high school pitchers who was struggling with command issues. The only guy in Major League Baseball history besides Babe Ruth to have 10 wins on the mound and 50 home runs at the plate is the most down-to-Earth person you'll ever meet. And, he's remained unconditionally positive in spite of a very tough childhood.

Where am I going with all of this? The yips don't discriminate. It doesn't matter if you're the nicest guy on the planet, the toughest guy in the locker room, the hardest working guy in the organization, or a remarkable athlete destined for success.

Now, many years later, Rick is opening up about what he went through in his awesome new book, The Phenomenon. It was released today, but I was fortunate to get to read through it ahead of time. It's absolutely fantastic.

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Baseball players, coaches, parents, and fans will all appreciate this book.

It's a powerful story with a great reminder that baseball is a challenging game of millimeters that can humble even the best players very quickly. It's also proof that fans rarely have any idea what the athletes they see on TV are going through.

The term "must-read" gets thrown around all too often nowadays, but in this case, I really think it holds water. If you appreciate baseball in any way, you'll enjoy this book. You can pick it up HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/17/17

I normally like to publish my recommended readings on Monday, but I got off schedule over the past few weeks. Posting this today will get me back on track:

CSP Business Building Mentorship - By popular demand, my business partner, Pete Dupuis, and I are hosting a business building mentorship.  We only have 20 spots in this one-day event, and nine are already taken from an "in-house" announcement to close industry colleagues.

Athletic Groin Pain - This was an excellent, comprehensive article from Chris Hart on everything from differential diagnosis to rehabilitation timelines and protocols.

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29 Years, 29 Lessons - Tony Bonvechio shares a collection of things he's learned in training, nutrition, and business.

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When people hear "in-season lifting," they seem to immediately think that the sole justifications for incorporating it is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. Surely, that's a huge part of the equation. However, I'm quick to point out to our athletes that in-season training includes a lot more. Each time an athlete trains at @cresseysportsperformance during the season, he's also going through his foam rolling work. And, he's working his way through a more individualized warm-up than he'd typically get at the field during practice or at games. Likewise, it's an exposure to an environment that "nurtures" good lifestyle behaviors. There are invariably discussions about optimizing sleep quality, and improving nutrition. These exchanges just don't happen as often at the field. #cspfamily #ArmCare #inseasontraining #pushup

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/13/17

I hope you're all having a great week. I'm a few days late with posting this because we were a bit more content heavy earlier in the week, but the good news is that it gave me a few more days to round up some excellent content for you.

Kabuki Strength Chat with Eric Cressey - I joined Chris Duffin and the rest of the Kabuki Strength crew for a podcast last week. We talked baseball strength and conditioning, business development, and fitness industry trends. Check it out!

STEM-Talk with Dr. Stuart McGill - Any podcast with Stu is a must-listen podcast! This one doesn't disappoint - and I particularly enjoyed his commentary on the flawed medical model as it relates to treating lower back pain. 

It Took Me 10 Years to Become an Overnight Success - This was an excellent post from my business partner, Pete Dupuis. He shares some awesome insights on little things that can lead to long-term success - if you're patient.

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#Repost @cresseysportsperformance with @repostapp ・・・ More wise words from @ericcressey. #cspfamily #ArmCare

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5 Tips for Improved Client Relationships

Today's guest post comes from Brett Velon, who interned at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida this past fall. Brett connected with clients better than any intern I've ever seen; he is one of those people who can talk to anyone, anywhere. With that in mind, I asked him to write up his thoughts on the topic. Enjoy! - EC

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Coaching as a career wasn’t even a thought until after I finished college. Although to many it would seem to be an impediment for me not having a traditional strength and conditioning background, it has actually been a blessing in disguise. Without being able to rely on a degree, my development as a coach has been heavily reliant upon the development of client relationships. Teddy Roosevelt said it best when he said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What I realized was many coaches in the industry were very technically smart, but lacked the most basic people skills. Instead of addressing this issue, most accumulate more degrees and certifications, thinking a new certification will have clients lining up to train with them. The problem is most clients don’t know what the certifications mean. Once I truly understood that client’s retention was heavily dependent on their relationship with their coach, I became more cognizant of the experience I was providing clients. Despite not really knowing what I was doing, I decided it was best to start with simply enjoying myself. My thought was if I was in a good mood and wanted to be at the gym then maybe the clients might feel the same way. It seems stupid simple, but look around and notice how many coaches suck all the enjoyment out of training.

Understand and believe that cultivating relationships is a skill that can be improved and doesn’t require being the most charismatic person. Effort and the willingness to try are the only requirements. Here are five simple tips I have personally used to improve my ability to create rewarding client relationships.

Tip #1: Be self aware.

If the urge to talk about yourself arises, take a deep breathe and then don’t do it. It’s the simplest but rarely followed piece of advice I can give. Nobody cares about your past athletic career or your 500 pound squat; focus the conversation around the client. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity and most importantly listen. When asked about something, answer, but don’t confuse this as an open invite for a trip down memory lane, a la Al Bundy style. Despite how awesome you think you are, there will be clients who don’t want to talk. Embrace the awkward silence, it’s usually appreciated, and more times than not they will eventually open up to you.

One of the best methods I like to use is to try and mirror mannerisms and demeanour. If they like to talk, ask more questions. Do they swear like a sailor? If so, don’t feel like you need to talk to them like a boy scout. Personal rule: don’t be the first one to swear as some clients will not appreciate it.

Tip #2: Know your role.

“Know your role and shut your mouth”- The Rock.

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Determining your role for each client is vital to developing a positive connection. You’re not only a strength coach, but possibly also a motivator, guide, mentor, therapist, and babysitter. Understanding the reason why someone is training will guide you as to what role to take on. While not mutually exclusive, most reasons fall into one of the three categories: money/scholarships, parent/coach, and social/health.

The money and scholarship clients are generally very intrinsically motivated and often just need a guide to program and show them what to do.

The client that is training because of a parent or coach most likely feels forced to train, the last thing they need is another “hardo” coach screaming at them. The mentor/friend role works well with this demographic as the gym becomes an escape for them, and in turn they train harder and start to enjoy their time at the gym.

The social/health group is comprised mostly of general population clients and can be all over the map in terms of needs in the gym. Some might be bored and just want someone to chat with, others have never stepped foot in a gym and need a guide and teacher. Whatever the client’s reason is for training, the quicker you can figure out your role, the better experience both you and the client will have.

Tip #3: Broaden your interests.

If a client is training with you, odds are they think you know what you’re doing. Stop trying to prove how smart you are. Clients want results and really don’t care about the Krebs Cycle or optimal hypertrophy training protocols. If they cared, they would be in the field. Think of it this way, you go to an accountant for your taxes because:

1. You don’t know how to do your taxes
2. You don’t care about how to do your taxes
3. You don’t want to think about how to do your taxes, you just want them done.

Most of all, you don’t want to talk with your accountant three times a week about new tax codes.

Now that we can’t talk about training, we are going to need more material. This is where broadening your interests helps.

[bctt tweet="The more interests you have outside of fitness, the more you'll be able to connect with clients."]

In my experience, it has helped to avoid asking about someone’s work life. Everybody is more than their profession and usually has something that they are passionate about. People tend to perk up when talking about things they are truly passionate about. Hint: Finding a person’s weirdness and vice is an express ticket to good conversation. 

Note from EC: here's Brett finding his weirdness on the day he showed up dressed as Hulk Hogan.

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Tip #4: Be observant.

Think of yourself as a detective that is trying to piece together somebody’s story. Everything is a clue and clues are used to start conversations. Don’t think of it as negative pre-judgment but rather an opportunity to connect at an accelerated rate. If a client comes in wearing a camo hat and a Salt Life t-shirt, an easy conversation starter would be about outdoor type activities. Sure, you might be wrong, but being wrong also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the client, and the more you know the better.

Tip #5: Don’t give up on the introvert.

While extroverts are naturally easier to connect with, introverted clients have the biggest potential for the deepest relationships. There are numerous reasons why a client might be reserved: shyness, fear, anxiety, etc. can all contribute. Remember, be okay with silence. Not pressuring introverts to talk is a great way to help them relax and become comfortable. In most cases, once an introvert becomes comfortable they open up. Seeing an introvert become comfortable and open up is one of the most rewarding coaching experiences you can have.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to start changing lives, it is best to start getting to know the lives that you are trying to change. Relationships with your clients need attention and are something that can be practiced and improved upon. All it takes is some effort, positive mood and an enjoyment for what you do. Next time a client has a gathering or a game, do your best to go, as your support should extend to both in and out of the gym.

About the Author

Brett Velon (@brettvelon) is a former CSP-Florida intern and currently a Chicago area strength and conditioning coach. To contact him, please email brettvelon@gmail.com.
 

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Quick Takeaways from a Day with Brian St. Pierre

Yesterday, Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition delivered an excellent seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida. I live Tweeted the event, so I thought I'd share some of the big takeaways with some reposts here:

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You can learn more about Brian and the great work the folks at Precision Nutrition are doing HERE.

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8 Takeaways From Complete Sports Conditioning

I've spent the early part of the week working my way through Mike Boyle's new resource, Complete Sports Conditioning. To say that I've been impressed has been an understatement, as it's a fantastic resource that offers a nice blend of research, anecdotal observations, actual programming recommendations for those who need to manage energy systems development in athletes. It's on sale for $100 off through the end of the day Friday.

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That said, Mike's presentations got me thinking about a variety of conditioning-related topics, so I figure I'd do a bit of a brain dump here to highlight some of my favorite take-home points from this resource. 

1. This quote kicked off Mike's initial presentation on the right foot! 

Using extra conditioning to try to enhance "mental toughness" might yield some benefits in young athletes who have larger windows of adaptation in work capacity - and because just about anything works for untrained athletes. In more experienced athletes, however, throwing in a bunch of extra conditioning usually just leads to increased injury rates - and the realization that it's super challenging to try to take the spots off a leopard.

2. You don't have to be an aerobic rock star; you just have to be good enough.

I deal with a lot of baseball players, and it's important that they have a solid aerobic base. This allows them to bounce back faster between bouts of intense exercise (i.e., throwing 95mph or running to first base) and training sessions. They don't have to have elite aerobic capacity, though.

We've always used a resting heart rate below 60 as our standard for a "sufficient" aerobic base with the baseball guys, and it was good to hear Mike reaffirm this (referencing Dave Tenney of the Seattle Sounders).

Honestly, most guys show up at the start of the offseason with a sufficient aerobic base (via this measure) because it's something that is relatively easy to maintain once established. As Mike noted, “You can get ten minutes of aerobic work with a good warm-up.”

And, as I noted in Building Aerobic Capacity with Mobility Circuits, we will do exactly that (albeit with extended warm-ups) with our guys in the first month of the offseason.

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There has definitely been an industry-wide trend of heavily emphasizing aerobic base work - and that's a good thing - but we have to be careful about taking it too far with athletes who have other important qualities they need to train. That said, remember that very low intensity work (below 70% of max heart rate) affords "easy gains" that can promote recovery and help with long-term adaptations to training, so if folks have the time for it, adding a little bit in won't hurt (assuming the modality is appropriate).

3. Appreciate the interaction between biomechanics and physiology.

It's our natural tendency to get "boxed in" based on our specialty. As an example, I'm a shoulder and elbow guy, so I'm naturally going to be drawn to learning more about those joints as opposed to seeking out continuing education on the foot and ankle, even though that's my biggest weakness. It's just like training athletes; they like to do what they're already good at, and as coaches, we need to be cognizant of giving them what they need.

This has parallels in the conditioning discussion. Many coaches will be incredibly physiology driven, meaning they understand the cardiovascular and (possibly) endocrine responses to a given training protocol. However, in my experience, these folks are often the most likely to overlook the biomechanical side of things, and that has an even larger contribution to injury risk in athletes. Mike demonstrated that he's a guy who understands both sides of the equation well. A few key points that stood out:

a. With treadmills, the athlete isn’t creating hip extension. Rather, the belt moving is creating hip extension.

b. Most "traditional" conditioning - all cardio equipment and straight-ahead sprinting - occurs almost exclusively in the sagittal plane, but most sports injuries involve frontal and transverse plane challenges that go uncontrolled. Incorporating slideboards and change-of-direction work like shuttle runs to conditioning programs is imperative to check both the biomechanics and physiology boxes.

c. Rowing might be blast heart rate up, but from a biomechanical standpoint, it can irritate a lot of lower backs and hips. I've even seen folks deal with forearm/elbow overuse issues from adding in extra gripping with rowing on top of their normal lifting programs. It's probably not an awesome conditioning option for team sports athletes.

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d. Shuttle runs are far more intensive than tempo runs because of the deceleration/acceleration components involved with changing direction - but they also allow you to train to prevent injuries better than straight-ahead running (even if heart rates are matched to the tempo approach).

This leads to...

4. Year-round competitive play may have eliminated the need for "conditioning."

When athletes is playing hockey, soccer, basketball, or some other conditioning-heavy sport, they are stressing both the same movement patterns/muscles and the same energy systems. And, if you think extra conditioning is going to help a basketball player who is already playing five games per week, you're sorely mistaken. If you add more in, you're likely going to increase injury risk and lose valuable training time that would be better focused on enhancing other athletic qualities like strength and power. 

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5. Heart rate based training is superior to time-based interval training.

Time-based interval training prescription is very arbitrary, and Mike demonstrated it in real-time with a collection of athletes from different backgrounds performing conditioning on heart rate monitors. When time during the "hard" portion of the interval is matched, athletes will have a lot of variability in how quickly their heart rates recover. A 15s: 45s work: rest ratio might be a piece of cake for one athlete, but absolutely crush another one. 

Cardiac drift - a phenomenon where heart rate will gradually trend upward as a training session progresses - will likely exaggerate this even further. The further up it goes during the "work" period, the further down it'll have to come during the "rest" portion.

The take-home point is that monitoring heart rate allows you to individual conditioning in a way that promotes faster adaptation - and gives you peace of mind that you're actually training what you want to train.

6. Maximum heart rate is highly variable.

At Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, we have a 57-year-old client who is a competitive skisurf (ocean paddling) racer. His max heart rate is 180 beats per minute, which effectively blows the "220 minus age" model for predicting max heart rate out of the water. Mike Boyle is about the same age, and he mentioned that he, too, can get up to the 180bpm mark. 

Conversely, I'm sure there are other folks who can't come close to their age-predicted max heart rate. I'm 35 years old, and I'm not sure that I could touch 185bpm, as I always seem to be an "under responder" when it comes to monitoring heart rate.

The point is that you never know unless you measure it and plan accordingly. Having an idea of both resting and max heart rate is really helpful for planning things out.

7. "If I have young kids, the last thing I am going to be worried about is fitness, and the first thing I’m going to be worried about is fastness."

I loved this quote and absolutely plan to steal it (thanks, Mike). If we are talking about SPORTS conditioning, the faster athlete should theoretically always win, and that's why it's so important to start with speed development. This comes through getting stronger and training power.

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Starting with speed is also particularly important because fatigue is the enemy of motor learning. If we want young athletes to pick up new skills, we can't introduce these challenges with a huge conditioning element that may impede that development. Sure, aerobic exercise offers benefits for motor learning, but as we noted earlier, most young athletes are already getting an "accidental" aerobic stimulus with some of their other training. As the saying goes:

[bctt tweet="Move well before you move a lot."]

If I had to ballpark an age, I'd say that it would be a bad idea to do targeted aerobic work with anyone under 15 years old. Free play and multiple sports is the name of the game up through age 12, and then the 13-15 year-old athlete has remarkable windows of adaptation for strength and power, making this a perfect time to initiate more targeted strength and conditioning work. Specific low-intensity steady state work just gets pushed out because athletes have to be athletic and work on the most pressing growth areas.

Apologies to all the middle school cross country coaches who are reading this!

8. Good conditioning programming is heavily based on common sense.

If you're ever struggling to really appreciate what athletes need, sit back and watch the sport. Appreciate how much ground an athlete covers, how much time is spent at maximum speed, how many changes of direction take place, and how much time he/she spends with the ball/puck. These observations will tell you just as much as researching the energy systems demands.

These are really just a very small tip of the iceberg with respect to what this excellent resource contains, so I'd definitely recommend you check it out for yourself, especially since it's on sale for $100 off through tomorrow (Friday) at midnight. You can check it out HERE

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/5/17

Happy Hump Day! This time of year, I get Wednesdays off, so after we take our daughters to gym class, I'm getting in a lower body lift and then headed out with my wife and one of our clients for some sea kayaking in beautiful Jupiter, FL.

Complete Sports Conditioning - I'm currently going through this new resource from Mike Boyle, and it's excellent. What I like the most it that it's a blend of research and anecdotal evidence from Mike's decades in the strength and conditioning field. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who works with individuals for whom energy systems development is a significant priority. It's on sale for an introductory $100 off through Friday at midnight, too.

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The Single Dumbest Thing Trainers Do - With tax day rapidly approaching, it seems like a good time to reincarnate this. If you're a trainer, why are you doing your own taxes?

Physical Preparation Podcast with Mike Potenza - This was released in late February, but I just got around to listening to it. It's an excellent chat with a really bright NHL strength coach.

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