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Talking Shop: Experience Yields Perspective

Eric Cressey

They say that experience is the only thing that can truly yield perspective; I’d say that you’re a perfect example of that. Speaking of experience, what were some of the mistakes you’ve made along the way, and what would you do differently?

Bob Young

I’m not even sure where to start on this one. The easiest way to explain this would be to quote Alwyn Cosgrove, “A complete training program has to include movement preparation, flexibility work, injury prevention work, core work, cardiovascular work, strength training, and recovery/regeneration. Most programs cover, at best, two of those.”

My program only included strength training and some core work for the longest time, and I am now paying for that with chronic injuries. Now, I have had to learn about the other parts that I was missing; the more I incorporate this stuff, the better I feel. However, 15 years of not doing what I should have been doing has really cost me. I have torn my pec major, triceps tendon, intercostal, and biceps tendon. I also currently have a bulging disk in my lower back.

Could all these have been avoided? Probably not all of them, but I think some of them could have. If I had to name the biggest mistakes, it would be not using a foam roller and not doing any mobility work. In the two months I have been using the foam roller my tissue quality has improved dramatically. I have been doing mobility work, under your guidance, for about a month and I have seen some incredible improvements.

Eric Cressey

Correct your Training and Improve your Performance.
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The Bulk-Cut Fiasco

From reading your stuff and that of John Berardi, I’ve really begun to reconsider the traditional bodybuilding-influenced “bulk-cut” approach to improving body composition. With respect to getting people to below 10% body fat, Dr. Berardi wrote that “people usually OVERESTIMATE the difficulty and UNDERESTIMATE the duration,” and that it is possible as long as:


1) They're willing to work out in excess of 5hrs per week (sometimes up to 8 hours/week).

2) They're willing to commit to eating better with each meal. Not follow a fat loss or bulking diet. Simply, every time they sit down to eat, they do better.

3) They're willing to learn a new normal. We all have habits that are ‘normal’ and if you're 15, 20, 30% fat, your ‘normal’ = good for fat gain. A diet is abnormal. You'll always get back to 15%, 20%, 30% if you're always doing something abnormal. However if you re-learn a new normal, you can have a new body.

Judging from your writings, you seem to favor a similar approach. I was just wondering if you would care to elaborate on any of these things. I’ve really been thinking about how traditional bulking and cutting might very well be outdated, and would appreciate your thoughts.


Those are definitely some statements with which I agree wholeheartedly, and I think that the more people that check out JB’s Precision Nutrition products, the less often I’ll have to encounter questions like this! Once people start to adopt these ideals, I really think that we’ll see a paradigm shift in the world of training-nutrition interaction for body composition improvement.

I, too, get really sick and tired of the “bulk and cut” mentality to which so many people adhere. And, as a competitive athlete myself who has to maintain reasonably strict control over my body weight – yet has still seen consistent improvements in body composition over time – I feel that I have a solid frame of reference from which to speak. In fact, as I look to drop a few pounds prior to APF Senior Nationals (June 2), my overall training and nutrition strategies aren’t changing much at all.

With that said, I've got several problems with what has seemingly become the “traditionalist” approach:

1. People adopt programs, but never habits. Consistency is more important than you can possibly imagine, but when you're constantly shuffling back and forth between programs, you're never really "getting it." If you had the good habits in the first place, chances are that you wouldn’t have ever had to come to consider the extreme cutting or bulking, right?

2. Progress can be very tough to monitor in experienced individuals. Experienced natural lifters might be lucky to add five pounds of lean body mass a year. How realistic is it to really micromanage such subtle changes over a three-month period (assuming two bulks and two cuts per year)? Spread five new pounds out over an entire body and you'll see that it isn't readily apparent. Work with some guys who are 7-feet tall like I have and you’ll see that it’s even more hard to notice – especially when you see them on a daily basis.

3. Bulk/Cut is no way to live. Let's assume that a year consists of two bulks and two cuts. So, basically, you're spending one half of the year gorging yourself until you become a fat-ass, and the other half in misery until you get lean enough to feel crappier and look better. Toss in a few root canals, a colonoscopy, and a few Ben Affleck movies*, and you’ve got yourself a year to be forgotten. Yeehaw.

4. Think of the long-term consequences of the bulk/cut scheme. If you read the research on weight regain and body fat distributions in recovered anorexics, you’ll see that central adiposity is extremely common. Are severe cutting diets really that much different than clinical cases of anorexia? Taking someone’s thyroid out and stomping on it would actually be a quicker means to the same end.

5. Do we really want to adhere to guidelines that are predominantly geared toward professional bodybuilders who are so juiced to the gills that you can smell GH on their breath? They’ve got extensive anabolic arsenals in place to maintain muscles mass and optimize nutrient partitioning as they diet down, and thyroid medications to keep their metabolic rates up in spite of the reductions in calories. Indirectly, all these substances improve strength and stave off lethargy, making training sessions more productive in spite of caloric reductions. In the bulking scenarios, the nutrient partitioning effects are still in place, as these individuals are less likely to add body fat when eating a caloric surplus.

Now, put a natural lifter in the same scenario, and you’ll see right away that he’s immediately at a disadvantage. Drop calories too fast, and your endogenous testosterone and thyroid levels fall. You get tired and weak, and your body has to find energy wherever it can – even if it means breaking down muscle tissue.

I’m not trying to get on a soapbox here; I’m just trying to make people realize that they’re comparing apples and oranges. You need to do what’s right for you.

And what does that entail? Adopt admirable dietary, training, and lifestyle habits, and you’ll build a strong body that moves efficiently and just so happens to look good. Leave the quick-fix approaches for those with “assistance” and anyone silly enough to watch a fitness infomercial from beginning to end.

Eric Cressey
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Finishers

I was wondering what your thoughts on “finishers” to workouts are. You know, tough stuff to test yourself at the end of a lift.


Truthfully, I rarely add "finishers" to the end of sessions. In my opinion, this brings to light an amazing "phenomenon" that exists in the performance enhancement field. Those who make frequent use of finishers are the very same individuals who don't know a thing about volume manipulation for optimal supercompensation. If the finisher was such a valuable inclusion, then why wasn't it written into the program initially?

Some people claim that these are an ideal means of enhancing mental toughness. I can’t disagree, but I do think that your mental training stimuli should already exist in your programming. If you need to search around for things to haphazardly incorporate at the end of a session, then you need to take a look at program design abilities. I’d rather see a “finisher” just be considered an appropriately-planned “last exercise.” Believe it or not, there should even be times when you leave the gym feeling fresh.

There may be instances where I'll push an athlete (or myself) with increased volume and/or intensity based on the pre-training mood. This is one basis for cybernetic periodization; effectively, you can roll with the punches as needed.

I will say, however, that finishers have their place with younger athletes where you’re just trying to keep the session fun. If you find something productive that they’re enthusiastic about doing, by all means, deviate from your plan a bit and build on that enthusiasm. When they start getting more experienced, though, you’re going to have to know when to hold back the reins on them a bit.

Eric Cressey
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The Science and Practice of Strength Training

I get a lot of emails from up-and-coming coaches and ordinary weekend warriors who are enthusiastic about learning more about how to design their own programs, but are absolutely awestruck and confused by Supertraining. It’s a phenomenal book, but it isn’t exactly one with which you want to get your feet wet if you’re new to the strength and conditioning education scene. As such, these individuals often ask me if I have a suggestion for a comparable book that is more user-friendly. I immediately recommend Vladimir Zatsiorsky’s Science and Practice of Strength Training. Admittedly, this book is technical at times, but that’s not to say that you will not be able to think it out. And, because the ability to think critically is crucial to successful program design, you’ll be better off in the long run when it comes time to write programs for your athletes, clients, and yourself. Zatsiorsky won’t spoon-feed you cookie-cutter routines, but he will outline which methods do and do not work – and, just as importantly, why they succeeded or failed. You’ll receive a comprehensible interpretation of decades of carefully logged training journals of elite Soviet athletes; no Western training system has such a substantial and carefully documented pool from which to draw training insights. The Science and Practice of Strength Training should be on the bookshelf of every coach, sports scientist, and trainer – as well as those of intermediate and advanced lifters looking to get to the next level. Eric Cressey Apply these Principles to your Athletes.
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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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