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Newsletter #34

Written on January 8, 2008 at 6:16 pm, by Eric Cressey

Things are crazy busy up here in Boston, and I’m headed out Thursday night for a powerlifting meet up in Maine, so we’ll get right to it!

New Article

For those who missed it, I had an article published last week at T-Nation.  Check it out:

Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns

Exclusive Interview with….me!

Two weeks ago, Lyle MacDonald interviewed me for his newsletter at BodyRecomposition.com.  Enjoy!

LM: Hi Eric, thank for joining us. I know you probably get this question a lot, but I think my readers will be interested: in brief, what’s your background in the field?

EC: I’ve been lucky to gather some perspective in a few different realms early-on.  In terms of “book smarts,” I’ve got a B.S. in Exercise Science and Sports and Fitness Management (double major) from the University of New England, and I went on to the University of Connecticut for my Master’s degree in Exercise Science.  I was lucky to work with and study under some of the world’s premier health and human performance researchers.  Additionally, I read a ton to this day, so in a way, I’ll never really leave academia.

In terms of practical applications, I’ve worked with athletes and ordinary weekend warriors at every level – youth sports, high school, collegiate, Olympic, and professional.  Heck, I even did a six-month internship in cardiac and pulmonary rehab.  I appreciate the variety, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like the high-motivation athletes the best (and that’s independent of ability level).

Lastly, and perhaps most applicably, I’m always looking for ways to get better under the bar myself.  I compete as a powerlifter, and have trained in one of the best Division I weight rooms in the country for two years, South Side Gym (premier powerlifting gym) for one, and am now working and training out of Excel Sport and Fitness just outside of Boston, MA – where I get to interact with a great staff that feature people from a wide variety of athletic backgrounds.  There’s no better way to improve as a coach than to experiment yourself and see what works for you.

Right now, I’m really happy where life has taken me.  I’m close to family, living in a great city (I’m a big New England sports fan), and working out of a great facility with like-minded individuals who are among the best in the business.  I set my own schedule, and only train the people I want to train.  I can travel when I want – whether it’s to see another coach, consult for a college or pro team, or go to a seminar.

If readers are more interested in the “classic” bio stuff like articles I’ve written, seminars at which I’ve spoken, products I’ve released, and a discussion of my webbed feet, glass eye, and third nipple, they can check out my website’s ”About Eric” page.

LM: What are your personal athletic accomplishments? What about current goals?

EC: Believe it or not, I was all-state as a tennis and soccer player in high school.  I always joke with people that I took up powerlifting to convince everyone that I was actually tough.  Up until now, I’ve competed in the 165-pound weight-class and collected some state, national, and world records.  My competition bests are 540 squat, 402 bench, 628 deadlift, and 1532 total.  I won’t be able to make weight at 165 anymore, so 181 is the next step for me.  The next meet is December 2, and I’ve already deadlifted 635 and benched 420 in training.  We’ll see what happens…

I’m not sure that I’ll stay in powerlifting for the long-haul, as I still consider myself more of an athlete than a powerlifter.  I like being able to play recreation basketball and softball, and I’d like to vertical jump 40 inches down the road.  I’ll probably compete in some strongman, maybe even move to Canada and take up curling.  You never know.  I would like to pull 700 at 181 before I move on, though.

LM: In your own training past, what would you say was your worst mistake? Put differently, if you could go back and time and train more effectively, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

EC: I’d say that there would be two.

First would be the fact that for a long time, I was just “working out.”  As I mentioned, I’m an athlete at heart, so unless I’m preparing for something a bit more quantifiable, I’ll never feel like I’m training.  Powerlifting gave me that missing piece; there is nothing like training when you know you’ve got 12 weeks to go before you’re standing in front of hundreds of people with hundreds of pounds in your hands and veins popping out of your forehead!

As an added bonus to returning to the competitive landscape, it gave me a great frame of reference from which I could deal with athletes.  Athletes are brighter than you think, and if you don’t practice what you preach and can’t relate to them, they can and will call bulls**t on you (especially as you deal with some of the more advanced athletes who really don’t care what anyone thinks of them).

Second, and on a semi-related note, I worried too much about foo-foo bodybuilding crap early-on.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; if 90% of the self-proclaimed internet gurus (read: guys who weigh 150 pounds and bench even less) wanted to make progress, they’d quit worrying so much about classic bodybuilding stuff and spend more time focusing on doing what it takes to add more pounds to the bar.  You can’t build a statue without a foundation, and the overwhelming majority of people on the internet haven’t built that foundation.  If I hear one more forum guy call a 315 deadlift “inspirational,” I’m going to burst out laughing (actually, I’ve already done that).  315 is only impressive if you’re a woman or an old man; otherwise, it ought to be speed weight.

Anyway, in a nutshell, the stronger I’ve gotten, the more happy I’ve become with my physique – and the easier it’s become to build muscle mass.  I swear: I’m not this cynical.  It’s just frame of reference and a little frustration over answering the same email inquiry 8,573 times!

LM: You and Mike Robertson recently produced a video called Magnificent Mobility that goes through a variety of dynamic warm-up exercises.  Since doing that DVD, what would you say has changed in terms of how you approach warmups for athletes? Any changes in movements, changes in approach, movements you no longer use for one reason or another?

EC: Well, Mike and I are always thinking up new stuff, so we’ve chatted about coming out with a sequel at some point.  We’ve got some new tricks up our sleeves.  I’d like to do more to address the spiral line fascial connection between the upper and lower body, spend a little more time talking about segmental mobility vs. stability on a joint-by-joint basis, and discuss how we incorporate soft tissue work into a good warm-up.

If I had to do it over again, I’d probably coach the hip abduction and rotation work a lot harder to ensure that people were getting it there without much (if any) motion at the lumbar spine.  That’s one area in which people tend to butcher this stuff.  So, in essence, I’d put some asterisks alongside the scorpions, yoga twists, and windmills.  Beyond that, though, I’m happy with what we have out there – and the feedback has been awesome.  It’s nice to see people who have almost “accidentally” eliminated pain from chronic injuries.

LM: There’s zero doubt that the types of dynamic warm-ups described in that DVD are ideal for athletes, it’s certainly an improvement from the old “Jog for 20 minutes and then static stretch” approach.  However, what do you think about such warm-ups for folks whose main goal is hypertrophy or body composition changes?  I guess what I’m asking is this: for the general trainee who may be doing an hour workout, is a 20-40 dynamic warm-up really necessary? Is there some way for them to shorten their warm-up and get the most bang for their buck out of a few movements?

EC: Well, for starters, our dynamic warm-ups almost never exceed ten minutes.  I have to admit that it kind of cracks me up that people have tried to pigeonhole me into the “Mobility Guy” role.  The truth of the matter is that mobility/activation work accounts for 5-10% of my programming at most (sometimes a bit more in people who really need it).  About eight movements – each lasting 30 seconds or so – is all you need.  Do some foam rolling beforehand, and you’ve got a complete warm-up 8-10 minutes.

Believe it or not, the average guy needs it even more than the serious athlete, as he’s not using his mobility work on a daily basis.  There’s a big difference between going to a desk at the beginning of your workday and going to the track to do tempo runs or the court to run lane agilities.

It might not directly lead to hypertrophy, but in the long run, it’ll keep you healthy.  Many elite athletes have credited much of their success to staying healthy for the duration of their careers, so why should an advanced bodybuilder be any different?  Lose your hip mobility, and you’ll see pulled hip flexors, hamstrings, and adductors; anterior/lateral knee pain; anterior hip pain; lower back pain – you name it.  It’s really just a matter of where people break down.

LM: Because the majority of articles on t-mag that you’ve written are rehab related, people have sort of shoehorned you as the ‘rehab guy’ with Mike Robertson but this is clearly far from all that you do. You recently wrote a book called “The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual” that deals with athletic training, please tell my readers

about it.

EC: You’re right; there’s another Cressey stereotype.  I really can’t win, can I?

Truthfully, I don’t see myself as a “rehab” guy; I’m not a physical therapist, manual therapist, or doctor of any sort.  “Rehab” is a reactive discipline, and I’m a proactive guy.  I’m looking for inefficiencies that may lead to problems down the road.  I might not be able to fix a torn labrum (well, if you sign a waiver form, I might be willing to get out the Swiss army knife, whiskey, and glue gun and give it a shot), but I can definitely spot the scapular dyskinesis that might have caused it.  Save the pathologies for the doctors and CDC; I’d rather prevent them from happening in the first place.  There’s obviously a gray area with all of this; just because 80% of Americans have lower back pain at some point doesn’t mean that we can send them all to physical therapy, so those of us who know corrective exercise well can pick up the slack.  I’ve had success with everyone from weekend warriors to Olympians on this front; some doctors just see the problem, not the cause.  But I digress…

The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual was something that took quite some time to pull together (right about a year) because I was constantly modifying little things based on what I was seeing work or not work.  It draws on experience working with athletes who have had incredible off-seasons, and on observing others that have wasted this crucial time of year.  I’m fortunate to have been involved in the basketball world extensively, and that’s the population in which off-season idiocy rears its ugly head the most.  So, in that regard, writing this book was a way to let off some steam – but get the word out on how to do things right.

I go into a lot of detail on the status quo, self-tests to determine training needs, individualization in programming and yearly periodization, and a whole lot more.  The manual concludes with 30 weeks of sample programming.  Those who have read my stuff know that I don’t write programs for the masses unless there is a ton of pre-assessment work done – and that’s the case with this manual.  Athletes and non-athletes alike have really enjoyed it thus far, as it makes you consider the practicality of the things going on around you in the world of training.

LM: I’d say that your article “Feel Better for 10 Bucks” may have been the one to really bring foam roller (self-myofascial release) work to the general public and you can find people using foam rollers (or at least discussing it) all the time now.  Coaches are throwing stacks of rollers out to their athletes for warm-ups and athletes are continually looking for harder implements to get even deeper into their tissues.  What do you think people are doing correctly with foam roller work?  Where are they going wrong?

EC: The two biggest mistakes I see are a) just going through the motions (doing it quickly instead of correctly) and b) rolling the lumbar spine.  You don’t want to roll at the lower back unless you’re someone with a lot of meat down there to protect the spine itself. Even then, it’s not really a good idea to encourage hyperextension, so I’d avoid it altogether.

As far as pushing too hard, I don’t think it’s too valid a concern.  There is only so much you can do with your body weight – regardless of whether you’re using a roller, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or whatever else.  Anyone who has ever had Graston or rolfing has had it a lot worse.  The secret is to remember that this is all progressive; you have to build up just like you would with anything else.

LM: As a follow-up to question 7, what about the application of foam rolling and self-myofascial release for the general trainee?  Does a bodybuilder or someone simply seeking general fitness need to worry about any of this stuff?

EC: Does a bear s**t in the woods?  It goes right alongside the mobility work; it might not make you bigger in the short-term, but it’ll extend your training career significantly, keep you healthy, and improve your quality of life.  If that won’t lead to better gains in muscle mass and general fitness, I don’t know what will.

LM: Shoulder injuries are arguably one of the most common to come out of weight rooms, especially in the bench press obsessed United States.  You’re known as a shoulder guy (for good reason); is there any single thing that trainees should be doing to prevent shoulder problems from occurring in the weight room?

EC: A single thing?  Probably not.  In a nutshell, though, people can make tremendous progress by addressing the following things:

1. Proper structural balance in training

2. Considering what happens in the other 23 hours per day (e.g., poor posture)

3. Activation work for the lower traps and serratus anterior

4. Soft tissue and flexibility work for the pecs, lats, upper traps, and levator scapulae

5. Thoracic mobility in extension and rotation

6. Strengthen the rotator cuff

7. Mobility of the contralateral hip and ankle

8. Learning to lift properly (sadly, few people actually know how to bench correctly)

9. Realize that overhead pressing isn’t for everyone (and in fact, it’s probably wrong for about 2/3 of the population – especially as they get older)

10. Stop doing upright rows.

LM: You’re quite prolific as an author (I highly recommend all of Eric’s articles over on T-Nation, especially the “Neanderthal No More” series he did with Mike Robertson).  Where can readers find more of your stuff?

EC: The best bet is probably to go to the “Articles” page at my website; I keep it pretty up-to-date (although print magazine articles aren’t available online):


I also publish a free weekly newsletter on my site; readers can subscribe at http://ecressey.wpengine.com/freenewsletter.html.

Thanks for having me, Lyle!

That’ll do it for this week.  Until next Tuesday, train hard and have fun!


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