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Strength and Conditioning Programs: How to Make Change Easier

Written on August 11, 2011 at 6:54 am, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday was a busy (but fun) day at Cressey Performance, and when I got home around 7pm, I was beat. Luckily, it doesn’t take much energy to check emails, so that’s what I did.  This one made my night:

Hey Eric,

Just wanted to thank you for helping me out this summer. I’ve weighed in at 197 the last few days, a 19 pound increase in about 3 months. My fastball has gone up 7-8 mph and I still feel like I haven’t thrown the ball near my best yet. Because of the work I put in this summer I now have a legitimate shot to pitch a lot this year after not seeing an inning and getting redshirted last season.

Thanks again,


Pretty cool, huh?  These are the kind of emails that make the long days all worthwhile and remind me why I have the coolest job in the world.  It gets better, though – as there is a lot to be learned from this specific story.

John – a college pitcher coming off two surgeries in two years on his throwing shoulder, plus a few hamstrings pulls – drove seven hours for his one-time consultation/evaluation at Cressey Performance back in May and then took a program home with him.  Then, he drove back to CP at the start of his June and July programs to learn the exercises and check in with us to make sure everything was progressing nicely.  That’s some serious dedication (and gas money!).

Just as significant, though, was his ability to embrace change, as our programs were a huge deviation from his previous experiences.  His original email to us included this line: “I run 6 days a week, one of my goals between the end of this season and the beginning of next one is to run 1,000 miles.”  He didn’t do a single “run” over 50 yards in the entire three month program with us.  He also did far more (and longer) long toss in his throwing program than he had previously.  So, you could say that he not only embraced a change, but thrived with it.

Change is tough, though.  Lots of people read my blogs, hear me speak at seminars, and interact with me on short-term observational visits to Cressey Performance – but only a small percentage of them actually put things into action.  Loads of people acquire knowledge, but never act on it.

However, interestingly, when a new client starts up at CP, they stand a much better chance of succeeding with change.  Starting (and staying consistent with) a strength and conditioning program is a big undertaking; in fact, for many, it’s as significant as taking on a new job, opening a new business, or learning to play a new sport or instrument.  And, when that program is a complete deviation from what you’re expecting, it’s even tougher.

Why, then, do some people succeed with change more than others?  I think it has to do with a lot of factors, but these five stand out the most to me:

1. They get those around them involved – John’s dad came along for the ride for his first day at CP – and this is often the case for the parents of our high school athletes.  While you don’t want overbearing parents, you do want a support system that’s aware of new goals and can be there to help keep one accountable in the quest for change.

2. They find good training partners and a quality training environment – I had a quick video blog about this yesterday, but I’m convinced that training partners and environment are just as important as an effective program.  There are always people to pick you up when you’re dragging, and the energy is contagious.  It makes change fun while making it seem like it is actually a “norm,” as training partners are constantly reaffirming what you’re doing and providing encouragement and feedback.

3. They don’t get overwhelmed by changing everything – Sometimes, the easiest way to create massive change is to take baby steps and break the overhaul into smaller components.  As I wrote recently, small hinges swing big doors.  This has never been my “cup of tea,” but there have been times when we’ve had to slowly change around a program for a client that was accustomed to a completely different school of thought.  “One of mine and one of yours” can work for the initial period and help you to gain an individual’s trust before a more thorough transition.

4. They incorporate this change into an existing schema – This is one I originally read in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.

To illustrate things, I’ll call upon my own personal experience.  Back in 2006 or so, I didn’t think that there was any possible way that semi-private training could work. How could you have clients of all different ages, experience levels, and goals training at the same time without having chaos?  My buddy, Alwyn Cosgrove (who, at the time, had just beaten stage 4 cancer for the second time), had some great advice:

Physical therapy is done in group settings. Cardiac and pulmonary rehab are done in group settings.  I did pulmonary rehab post-chemo.  Seventeen of us in the group and one nurse. That’s called semi-private!

Chemotherapy is done in a semi-private setting for most cancers, too. My first time through there were ten of us in a room with two nurses. Actually, when I was in the hospital getting chemo it was still semi-private. I had one nurse who covered six rooms.

Now I’m even more convinced. If life saving (and potentially deadly chemotherapy) is done in a small group setting, you’re really stretching to tell me that an exercise program has to be one-on-one.

We now do almost exclusively semi-private training, and it’s amazing.  Middle school athletes get to watch how the high school guys train.  The pro guys get to mentor the high school guys.  The adult clients get to know athletes they see on TV on a personal level.  Experienced clients introduce themselves to new clients when they start training.  Just the other day, one of our local families had two of out-of-town athletes (Colorado and Virginia) over for dinner on Saturday night, and then brought them to church with them on Sunday morning.  There is insane camaraderie among folks from all different walks of life.

None of it would have been possible if I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around the idea of semi-private training – and it would have been tough to get to that point if Alwyn hadn’t put the concept into my existing schemas (physical therapy, cardiac/pulmonary rehab/chemotherapy) for me.

5. They spend money – Taking a leap of faith and increasing the stakes can sometimes motivate people to make change happen.  Whether it’s a payment for training, or just a bet with friends about exercise consistency or some training goal, separating people from their money always seems to magically increase adherence.  People don’t like getting ripped off – and it’s even worse when you rip yourself off because there is nobody else to blame except yourself!

In a recent example, Pat Rigsby, Mike Robertson, and I outline many assessment, training, and business strategies that one can effectively employ in a fitness business in The Fitness Business Blueprint.  One of our primary goals in making it the way that we did was to make sure that we made it easier for buyers to apply the changes we recommended; we discussed how to incorporate our ideas seamlessly in their current business strategy.  Still, none of these tactics will work is someone isn’t willing to change – and that means putting in some leg work to both set the stage for change and then follow through on it.

This resource is on sale for $100 off through Friday at midnight.  If you’re looking to make positive changes in your fitness business – or get one off the ground in the first place – it’s an outstanding way to get the ball rolling.  You can learn more about The Fitness Business Blueprint HERE.

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8 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: How to Make Change Easier”

  1. R Smith Says:


    I can totally relate to John’s experiences. Your words, too, have resonance.

    Each of my days starts the same way: Claritin, water, pre-workout meal, coffee, gym. Even if I want to sleep in, my body and my mind craves for the clanking of iron. Was I always this way? NO!

    One visit to CP and numerous, encouraging emails from you and Tony did that. I bought in totally; and now I reap the rewards through better strength, added mobility, more knowledge than I could have gained otherwise and, maybe most important, feeling better than I ever have.

    As I say to friends who ask if eating right and training are a chore, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

  2. Ed Stedman Says:

    Eric ~ I started watching the FBB yesterday. I am working my way through your assessment videos. They are great. I have always thought initial and continuing assessments were a valuable and necessary part of being the best coach I could be and offering the best service I could to my clients. Your information will definitely make the assessments I can conduct much more valuable to me and to my clients. Thanks for a great product.

  3. Cassandra Forsythe Says:

    The same for semi-private personal training could be said about group training – at my gym we have so much camaraderie and support amongst all our members. The energy is contagious and we all get a great workout with more people in the room. I love it 🙂 Love this post, Eric. Thanks for being awesome!

  4. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Ed! I appreciate the kind words. Glad you’re enjoying it!

  5. BenK Says:

    On point 3, Berardi had a post the other day about the different types of clients (I read this email because it WASN’T about fat loss!). He says the best way to improve low-compliance clients is to focus on one thing the client can change (making sure it’s HIS decision). Once that has become a new habit, work on another one. Sure it’s slow but sometimes that’s the only thing that will work.

    As a personal example, taking 2 summer courses in computer programming pretty much throws sleep and nutrition out the window, and hence any possibility of training progress. Once these classes are over, I will only care about resuming normal sleep patterns because I know that everything else will follow from that. I’m not going to try to change everything all at once to what it was before the summer class insanity.

  6. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Cass! Hope to see you soon.

  7. T Ritchie Says:

    Eric I appreciate and empathize with your inspirational post. Nothing has a greater longer lasting impression upon another human than when some one has transcended their suffering and lifts life. Although I would disagree on who holds the greatest job in the world, that would have to go to the athlete.

    I am interested in this new fitness business product with a few questions. As you mentioned this new concept is for different experiences and age levels and goals, but is it sport specific? Is this small semi-private group training concept specialized to individual sport?

    Would you recommend placing an elite soccer, w/ a Jr tennis, high school lacrosse, college basketball athlete and a 45 year old stay at home mom in the same group? Or are you saying you mix your specific baseball athletes with weekend warriors? I look forward to your answer.

    God Bless

  8. Elna Showalter Says:

    I love those phrase that “Help them Learn”; this is indeed very helpful, It is not easy to have toddler or babies at home, at any time, we parents must be totally aware of the hourly task of the toddler or what are there plan which is sometimes could be harm for them. A total awareness is badly needed.

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