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Talking Shop: Mike Robertson’s Five

Eric Cressey:

If you had to pick five things our readers could do right now to become better lifters/athletes/coaches/trainers, what would they be?

Mike Robertson:

1. Start getting some soft tissue work done!

As Mike Boyle says, “If you aren’t doing something to improve tissue quality, you might as well stop stretching, too.” I firmly agree with him on this point, and while it may cost a few bucks, it’s going to help keep you healthy and hitting PR’s. This could be as simple as foam rolling, or as extreme as getting some intense deep tissue massage or myofascial release done. I’ve tried it all and all of it has its place.

2. Don’t neglect mobility work!

Ever since we released our Magnificent Mobility DVD, people are finally starting to see all the benefits of a proper warm-up that includes dynamic flexibility/mobility work. However, just because you understand the benefits doesn’t mean squat if you aren’t doing it! Take the time to get it done before every training session, and even more frequently if need be.

3. Understand functional anatomy

Again, you and I (along with many others), have preached this for quite some time, but I’m not sure enough people really understand how the human body works. Hell, I think I do, and then I get into some of these intense anatomy and PT related books and find out tons of new info!

Along these same lines, if you don’t understand functional anatomy, you really have no business writing training programs, whether they’re for yourself or for others. That may sound harsh, but for whatever reason people read a couple copies of Muscle and Fiction and think they can write programs. I’ve fixed enough broken people to know that very few people can integrate the functional anatomy into what amounts to functional programming (and no, that doesn’t include wobble boards, Airex pads, etc.).

Train your athletes at the next level.

4. Train to get stronger

While I’m all for all the other stuff that goes into training (proper recovery, mobility work, soft tissue work, conditioning, etc.), I think too many people want all the bells and whistles but forget about the basics. GET YOUR ATHLETES STRONG! Here’s the analogy that I use: performance coaches are asked to balance their training so that the athlete: a) improves performance and b) stays healthy. What I see right now is a ton of coaches that focus on all this posture and prehab stuff, but their athletes aren’t really that much better anyway. You have to work on both end of the spectrum.

Think about it like this: Let’s say you have this huge meathead that’s super strong but has no flexibility, mobility or conditioning, then throw him on the field. He may last for a while, but eventually he’s going to get hurt, right? You haven’t covered the spectrum.

But what’s the opposite situation? We have the coach who focuses on posture, prehab, etc., and the athlete has “optimal” muscle function but is weak as a kitten. Are you telling me this kid isn’t at a disadvantage when he steps on the field or on the court? Again, you haven’t covered the spectrum.

In other words, feel free to do all the right things, but don’t forget about simply getting stronger; as you’ve said, it’s our single most precious training commodity.

5. Keep learning!

I’m not going to harp too much on this one; simply put, you need to always be expanding your horizons and looking to new places for answers. There’s a plethora of training knowledge out there, and what you don’t know can come back to haunt you. I believe it was Ghandi who said, “Live like today was your last, but learn like you will live forever.” That’s pretty solid advice in my book (and hopefully the last quote I’ll throw in!)

Eric Cressey

For more information on Mike Robertson check out his blog and his website.
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Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes

It seems only fitting that one of my first product reviews be devoted to what I believe to be one of the greatest resources available for coaches, trainers, physical therapists, physicians, and everyday weekend warriors with a desire to understand human function and dysfunction. In Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Shirley Sahrmann provides a breath of fresh air to those who are tired of following the medical model of care by simply treating symptoms. Instead, Sahrmann proposes countless functional tests and corrective exercise interventions aimed at treating the causes of the problems rather than the compensations that emerge after dysfunction has emerged. This book has profoundly impacted the way that some of the industry’s greatest minds train their clients and athletes and themselves. To be blunt, Shirley Sahrmann has likely forgotten more than most physical therapists will ever know. If you’re serious about your own education, and have the best interests of your clients and athletes in mind, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this classic. Eric Cressey
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Cressey’s National Library

I receive email requests on a daily basis for my recommended resources in terms of training, nutrition, supplementation, coaching, motivation, and business. I figured that it was about time to consolidate all my thoughts into one place to which I could refer everyone. Please keep in mind that this is a "running" list; that is, I'm generally reading/viewing/hearing 2-3 books/DVD/CDs each week. When I find some new ones that I really like, I'll be sure to add them to the list - so check back frequently for updates! Remember, according to Brian Tracy: "One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do." Eric Cressey
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Speed and Deceleration Habits

My subscribers know that I believe as much in deceleration training as I do in any sort of speed enhancing-based work… How do you improve speed and deceleration habits?
We’re definitely on the same page on this one. In a nutshell, I just slow everything down for the short-term – starting with isometric holds. Every change of direction has a deceleration, isometric action, and acceleration; I’ve found that if you teach the athlete how his/her body should be aligned in that mid-point, they’ll be golden. My progressions are as follows (keep in mind that you can span several of these progressions in one session if the athlete is proficient): Slow-speed, Full Stop, Hold > Slow Speed, Full Stop, Acceleration > Slow Speed, Quick Transition, Acceleration > Normal Speed, Full Stop, Hold > Normal Speed, Full Stop, Acceleration > Normal Speed, Quick Transition, Acceleration Open-loop > Closed-loop (predictable > unpredictable) With respect to reactive training methods (incorrectly termed plyometrics), we start with bilateral and unilateral jumps to boxes, as they don’t impose as much eccentric force (the athlete goes up, but doesn’t come down). From there, we move to altitude landings, and ultimately to bounce drop jump (depth jumps), repeated broad jumps, bounding, and other higher-impact tasks. Finally, one lost component of deceleration training is basic maximal strength. All other factors held constant, the stronger kid will learn to decelerate more easily than his weaker counterparts. So, enhancing a generally, foundational quality like maximal strength on a variety of tasks will indirectly lead to substantial improvements in deceleration ability – especially in untrained individuals. Eric Cressey Build A Sturdy Foundation. Build an Efficient Foundation.
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Olympic Lifts and Adolescents

Olympic lifts and adolescents… do you use them? Why or why not?
Personally, I generally don’t for several reasons. It’s not because I’m inherently opposed to Olympic lifts from an injury risk standpoint. Sure, I’ve seen cleans ruin some wrists, and there are going to be a ton of people with AC joint and impingement problems who can’t do anything above shoulder level without pain. That’s not to say that the exercises are fundamentally contraindicated for everyone, though; as with most things in life, the answer rests somewhere in the middle. Know your clients, and select your exercises accordingly. My primary reasons for omitting them tend to be that I don’t always have as much time with athletes as I’d like, and simply because such technical lifts require constant practice – which we all know isn’t always possible with young athletes who don’t train for a living. Equipment limitations may be a factor (bumper plates are a nice luxury). And, to be very honest, I’ve seen athletes make phenomenal progress without using Olympic lifts, so I don’t concern myself too much with the arguing that goes on. If another coach wants to use them and is a good teacher, I’m find with him doing so; it just isn’t for me, with the exception of some high pulls here and there. Eric Cressey
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The Experienced and Inexperienced

You certainly are known for your ability to get athletes stronger. What type of training do you use for adolescent athletes… let me narrow that down (i) a 16 year old with no formal strength training experience (ii) a 16 year with a solid foundation and decent knowledge with exercise form
First and foremost, we have fun. It doesn’t matter how educated or passionate I am; I’m not doing my job if they aren’t having a blast coming in to train with me. With respect to the individual athletes, I’ll first roll through a health history and just run them through some basic dynamic flexibility movements to see where they stand. As we all know, there is a lot of variation in terms of physical maturity and training experience at these ages, and I can get a pretty good idea of what they need just by watching them move a bit. In your individual cases, much of my training would revolve around the following: In the unprepared athlete, I’d go right into several body weight drills – many of them isometric in nature – to teach efficiency. We often see an inability to differentiate between lumbar spine and pelvic motion, so I spend quite a bit of time emphasizing that the lumbar spine should be stable, and range of motion should come from the hips, thoracic spine, scapulae, and arms. Loading is the least of my concerns in the first few sessions; research has demonstrated that beginners can make progress on as little as 40% of 1RM, so why rush things with heavy loading that will compromise form? The lighter weights will allow them to groove technique and improve connective tissue health prior to the introduction of heavier loading. At the start, I’ll emphasize unilateral work; mobility; any corrective training that’s needed; classic stabilization movements (i.e. bridges); and learning the compound movements, deceleration/landing mechanics, and how to accelerate external loads (e.g. medicine balls, free weights). I’ll also make a point of mentioning that how you unrack and rerack weights is just as important as how you train; it drives me crazy to see a kid return a bar to the floor with a rounded back. In the athlete with a solid foundation, I’ll run through those same preliminary drills to verify that they are indeed “solid” and not just good compensators for dysfunction. Believe it or not, most “trained” athletes really aren’t that “trained” if you use efficiency as a marker of preparedness – even at the Division I, professional, and Olympic ranks; you can be a great athlete in spite of what you do and not necessarily because of what or how you do it. Assuming things are looking good, I’ll look to give them more external loading on all movements, as the fastest inroads to enhanced performance will always be through maximal strength in novice athletes. As they get more advanced, I’ll start to look more closely at whether they’re more static or spring dominant and incorporate more advanced reactive training movements. Single-leg movements are still of paramount importance, and we add in some controlled strongman-type training to keep things interesting and apply the efficiency in a less controlled environment. Likewise, as an athlete’s deceleration mechanics improve, we progress from strictly closed-loop movement training drills to a blend of open- and closed-loop (unpredictable) tasks. In both cases, variety is key; I feel that my job is to expose them to the richest proprioceptive environment possible in a safe context. With that said, however, I’m careful to avoid introducing too many different things; it’s important for young athletes to see quantifiable progress in some capacity. If you’re always changing what you do, you’ll never really show them where they stand relative to baseline. Eric Cressey A Great Athlete is an Efficient Athlete.
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A Renaissance Man

Matt McGorry doesn't just lift heavy stuff (512.5 deadlift):


He's also an aspiring comedian (please excuse the vulgarity, but this was too good to keep to myself):


Atta' boy, Matty!

Speaking of deadlifts and comedy, why not pick up one of these shirts for just $7.99 with free shipping?

Available HERE.

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Open Top Ten from Eric Cressey

Strength coaches have in recent years emerged as critical components to top level athletes looking for the competitive edge. What advice would you impart on those seeking a career in this field?

1. Learn functional anatomy.

2. Read at least one hour per day.

3. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do professionally and personally – good lifters and coaches. Intern, drive hours to train, etc. Build a big network.

4. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It has nothing to do with training, but everything to do with being successful in whatever it is you do. The same goes for “Under the Bar” by Dave Tate.

5. Recognize that you’re more than just a strength coach and be versatile: mobility, regeneration strategies, nutrition, speed training, etc. It’s not just about strength.

6. Work smarter instead of longer. If you train people 12 hours per day, cut back and consolidate your clients into group training sessions. Use the time you’ve freed up to read, call/visit other coaches, and do what it takes to make yourself better. Income is temporary; knowledge sticks around forever.

7. When you’re starting out, read three training books to every one business book. Once you’ve been rolling for a while, shift it to a 1:1 ratio. Learn to leverage the abilities and knowledge you’ve accumulated.

8. Compete in something. Chess. Curling. Anything. Just do whatever it takes to share the competitive mindset with your athletes.

9. Swear less and coach/cue more. Athletes get desensitized to your yelling, and you look like a tool. Almost all of the best coaches I’ve ever seen have been relatively quiet in the weight room; it’s because they coach well at the beginning, so they just needed to sit back and fine-tune tactfully as time goes on.

10. Your #1 responsibility in working with an athlete/client is to not f**k them up. Your #2 responsibility is to provide programming and coaching that will prevent injury. Training to enhance performance is #3, but in every case, attending to #1 and #2 will always get you started on #3.

Eric Cressey

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A Carrot, An Egg, and A Bag of Ground Coffee

I just started working with a highly-ranked baseball and football prospect who – at the age of 17 – has already accumulated two stress fractures in his lumbar spine. His baseball season actually ended prematurely due to aggravation of one of these fractures. Given his potential, these injuries have been a local story of interest over the past year.

This morning, when she learned that I’d be working with him, another one of my clients came out and asked me, “Can you ever feel comfortable working with someone with injuries like that? Aren’t you scared about everything that could go wrong?”

Honestly – and confidently – I came right back with “No.” And, I followed up with a paraphrased story originally introduced to me by John Maxwell in “The Difference Maker.”

In trying to teach his daughter a lesson about life, a father takes out a carrot, an egg, and a bag of ground coffee. He then proceeds to add hot water to all three.

The carrot goes from solid to weak and mushy.

The egg goes from fragile to firm.

The ground coffee changes to become something better: a hot cup of coffee.

The lesson, the father insists, is that you have to look at your problems in life as if they are the hot water. They can make you weak and mushy – and easily broken. Or, they can simply harden you – and make you more unphased by future problems. Finally, they can make you better immediately, too – whether intentionally or not (let’s not forget that penicillin was discovered as the result of a botched experiment).

So, how does this apply to our young athlete? The problems, in this instance, are injuries – both mine and those of the individuals with whom I’ve worked in the past.

I’ve dealt with numerous injuries – some from before I ever got into this industry – myself: everything from a torn rotator cuff to a lumbar disc injury. In each case, they’ve hardened me – and motivated me to learn everything I can about the specific injury, its cause, rehabilitation, and post-rehabilitation training approaches – all while striving to maintain a training effect myself.

In clients, I’ve seen problems at every single joint – and in doing so, have carved out a niche for myself in the industry as a corrective exercise guy. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not a physical therapist and what I do is a complementary approach to what they do; I work hand-in-hand with PTs and doctors.

Where I come in is with the “gray area” between healthy people and those in physical therapy – whether that means helping those with aches and pains that don’t truly qualify for physical therapy, helping reintegrate those who are just finishing up with physical therapy to more normal programming, or simply giving those in physical therapy a solid training effect in spite of their injury limitations.

Effectively, what other trainers and coaches might perceive as a problem is something I see as an opportunity to showcase my best stuff and win people over for life. So how did I get there?

First, I made my network as strong as it can be. I have dozens of people – from Dr. Stuart McGill, to Bill Hartman, to John Pallof, to Gray Cook, to Dr. Ryan Smith, to Michael Hope, to Mike Robertson, to Dr. David Tiberio (among others) – who I can call or email anytime if I need feedback on a specific condition.

Second, I read everything I can get my hands on and attend as many seminars as possible. Whether it’s Shirley Sahrmann, Florence Kendall, Dr. McGill, Robert Donatelli, or any of a number of other notables from the clinical realm, I actually enjoy reading about what others perceive as boring – mostly because I can see how it directly relates to what I’m going to do – or confirms or refutes what I’ve done in the past.

Third, I follow the mantra, “Be as aggressive as possible, but do no harm.” As Mike Boyle has said, “Does it hurt?” is a yes or no question. This common sense also comes into play in terms of knowing when to refer out when I first meet a client who is up-in-the-air on whether or not to go to physical therapy. When in doubt, refer out.

Fourth, I used experience to build my confidence. I’ve seen lumbar fractures in and Olympic bobsledder and NBA 7-footers (whose spines are, for the record, a LOT more difficult to stabilize). Comparatively speaking, why would a high school athlete’s injury be any more worrisome for me? He’s younger, and therefore more resilient – and given his training status, he’s more trainable – indicating a larger potential window of adaptation. Consider also that this athlete came to me in part because I helped one of his teammates – who went to the same doctor and wore the same back brace – with a similar problem, and also because his coach recommended me with unwavering support because of the results I’ve produced with several of his other athletes.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, over the past few years, I’ve established assessments and training progressions for all the commonplace injuries I encounter. With a system in place, it’s much easier to just tinker with minor adjustments on the fly rather than reinvent the wheel each time a new situation arises.

It’s taken me about six years to pull my network together, read a ton of books, attend dozens of seminars, and accumulate all my assessments and progressions – and I recognize that this collection is still a work in progress and will be throughout my career.

A few weeks ago, Alwyn Cosgrove wrote that Craig Ballantyne had said that he had spent more on continuing education in the first five months of 2007 than he MADE in his first year as a trainer. Immediately, I went and checked my financials for the year and realized that I’m in the same boat – and by a lot!

The take-home message is that the guys who have expedited their development are the ones who are looking at problems (for guys like Craig and Alwyn, it’s overweight clients) as ways to make hard-boiled eggs and coffee instead of mushy carrots. They’ve helped thousands of people reach their goals and made a great living from what could have been perceived as a daunting task.

And, they’re also the ones who view continuing education purchases as investments and not expenses. Ask any of these guys if they’d pay a few hundred bucks to fast-forward their development a few years, and they’d probably be willing to pay a few thousand dollars; time and effort are precious commodities!

Accelerated development for trainers is one of the reasons Mike Robertson and I put together the Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set:


The feedback on this front has been nothing short of fantastic:

Building the Efficient Athlete is an amazing product from which I learned a ton. I studied in kinesiology, read books on functional anatomy and evaluating clients and athletes, and I can still say that I learned a lot of valuable information. And this is really the kind of practical knowledge you can apply today in assessments and training of your clients as well as your own training.

Eric and Mike do a very good job of covering the whole process of assessing and evaluating the athlete and how to interpret the results and apply it in their training. There are also a great deal of cues and tips to properly teach all of the main exercises. Even though I've been lifting for seven years and coaching for about three years and I knew how to lift properly, I learned more easy ways to easily teach those lifts.

Great job guys! I recommend BTEA to everyone serious about impro ving their health and performance.

David Lasnier
Montreal, Quebec


With all this in mind, regardless of your personal or professional goals, what are you doing to transform your problems into your strengths?

Eric Cressey
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Mastering the Deadlift: Part II

You'd be hard-pressed to find a single weight-training movement that's more "complete" than the deadlift. It's not just an upper or lower back exercise, or a grip exercise, or a posterior chain exercise, or a core exercise; it's an everything exercise. To that end, it's a must-have in any lifter, athlete, or weekend warrior's training arsenal. Unfortunately, as with any compound lift, the deadlift can get pretty technical. If you're going to be using big weights in hopes of getting big results, you need to make sure that you're lifting with proper technique. With that in mind, I'm first going to show the entire (conventional-style) movement in still frames, and then I'll show it to you in video form at regular speed. Finally, I'll come back and list the common errors that people make when deadlifting. Continue Reading... Sign up for our FREE Newsletter today and and receive this deadlift technique video!
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  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series