Home Posts tagged "Bench Press" (Page 3)

Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6

It's been a while since I published a new installment in my "Coaching Cues" series, so here are three new ones you can put into action.

1. "Imagine I have a rope around your waist and pull it back."

It goes without saying that teaching a proper hip hinge is essential to get the correct posterior weight shift we need for good deadlifting and squatting patterns.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be much easier said than done, as lifters with poor kinesthetic awareness and body control might not even know what it feels like.  Take, for instance, this example from my 15 Static Stretching Mistakes article; he has so much congenital laxity (loose joints) that he can perform an "extreme" toe touch without any posterior weight shift.

Just because he can do it doesn't mean that he should do it, though. Just saying "sit back" or "hips back" doesn't always correct this, though. I've spoken about the "touch your butt to an imaginary wall behind you" external focus cue here, but I also like the idea of telling folks to pretend like I'm tugging them backward with a rope, as this fits the correction into a scenario with which they're familiar.

2. "Ribs down, scaps up."

We work with a lot of athletes who have a heavily extended posture, and their overhead movements often look like this:

Essentially, they will substitute lumbar extension (arched lower back) in place of keeping a stable core so that the scapula (and, in turn, humerus) can move appropriately with respect to the rib cage.  Most of these athletes lack scapular upward rotation, so we need to help them to get the scapula moving a bit while keeping the ribs down.  Here's a great exercise for which this cue would be appropriate:

In other words, you can use this cue with your core stability exercises and shoulder mobility drills in this population. Keep in mind, though, that this cue probably won't be appropriate for folks who sit at desks all day and are really kyphotic.

3. "Push yourself away from the bar."

One of the biggest bench press technique problems you'll see is that folks lose their "tightness" at the top of the rep by protracting the shoulder blades too much.  This sets you up for problems - both in terms of shoulder health and strength - on sets with more than one rep. 

With that in mind, one of the easiest ways to coach folks out of this bench press technique problem is to think about pushing themselves away from the bar, as opposed to pushing the bar away from them. It gets them into the "ground yourself" frame of mind and ensures that the upper back is a stable platform from which to press. It's not uncommon at all to see larger than normal dropoffs from 1-rep max loads to what you see on multiple-rep sets, and I firmly believe it's because a lot of lifters lose their tightness on the subsequent reps.  So, if you find that you can bench 315 for one rep, but only 265 for three reps, this cue could very well be a solution for you.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 37

Courtesy of Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Try these two cues to keep your butt down with your bench press technique.

2. Remember to have fun!

If you are reading this post, then you probably fall into this category: You take the time to educate yourself on training and nutrition – so much so that you might tend to find yourself over analyzing and reasoning everything you do. That’s all well and good, but think back to the days when you just started training. Maybe some of you had to fight against your will to workout, but most of you probably did it because you – I don’t know – actually liked it?!

If I scrutinized everything I did in my training, I’d come to the conclusion that about 20% of the stuff I do isn’t that “intelligent” at all. Then why would I do it? After all, aren’t I supposed to know better than most? The truth is that too many people know too much for their own good. They overanalyze and dissect every little thing they do in the gym.

I used to be one of those guys who scoffed at others in the gym who did curls and triceps extensions. “Ha!” I would think. “What a waste of time, they should be doing more compound exercises.” Now I know enough to think otherwise.

Make sure your training includes some things you just want to do. Want to do curls, and shrugs, and band extensions until your arms explode? Do it. Be safe, but have some fun, for crying out loud.

3. Try spaghetti squash, a versatile vegetable that requires very little preparation.

Spaghetti squash is awesome as a vegetable side, and you can even use it to replace pasta in various recipes.  The best part is that it's ridiculously easy to prepare.  How easy?  Try this.

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Pour a little olive oil on both halves, and then sprinkle cinnamon, salt, and pepper on there.  Bake it at 350 degrees until it softens up. 

Yep, it's that simple.

4. Ladies, consider doing more volume.

I have trained my fair share of women. I have coached numerous figure competitors, female athletes, a few female strength athletes, and enough middle aged women that I feel like I have 5 or 6 people in my life who would willingly claim me as their son. Heck, I even train my own mom twice a week.

There are quite a few things I have realized about training women, but one stands out: they THRIVE lifting weights at about 50 – 75% of what they’re actually capable of lifting. Maybe it’s a neuromuscular coordination thing, a mental thing, or likely a hormonal thing. The point is I am very certain it is true.

50-75% is an optimal intensity for training at higher volumes. Volume is a measure of “total work done,” and knowing that, I tend to keep the volume in a woman’s program (person dependent) quite high. Smart waving through varying amounts of volume should still take place for the best result. However, the “low volume” mark for women can be set higher than that mark for men.

For the women out there, consider training at a higher volume more frequently. This is easily done by adding additional sets to your main exercises and/or by adding 1-3 drop-down sets after your main work sets. The following is an example of a drop-down set:

A1. Squat – 3 sets of 6 at 185lbs, followed by 2 sets of 10-12 at 145lbs

5. Match hand position to stance width.

Recently, Eric did a short video on hand spacing difference between the sumo and conventional deadlift. In short, with the wider sumo deadlift one should utilize a wider spacing, and with a narrower conventional stance the opposite is true. This tip is also applicable to the squat.

Many people advocate getting the hands in as close to the shoulders as possible. I find this works very well with narrower stance squat set-ups, such as the Olympic high bar squat. However, as taller individuals move their feet wider and wider they may find more success using a hand spacing that is also wider. Many folks can go super wide and manage to move the hands in quite narrow. While this does create a lot of “good stiffness,” it may not make for the best control of the bar, or ability to find the optimal spinal position.

A very narrow hand position will force the torso to extend quite a bit, keeping the torso more upright. That fits well in a stance width that depends on a more vertical back position to keep the bar over the center of the foot. However, as the feet move out wider, the lift changes, and a more pronounced forward lean is optimal for keeping the load over the center of the foot. It’s not the answer for everyone, and many people are successful doing the opposite of that. If you are having issues getting comfortable under the bar, give this a try!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 36

Here are this week's tips to guide your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, courtesy of CP coach Greg Robins:

1. Appreciate the benefits of the powerlifting-style bench press technique - even if you don't take it to an extreme.

2. Use the barbell twice.

There is something I have always made a point of doing in my training, and in many of my programs. I hadn’t realized that it had become a pseudo “rule” to my approach until I recently watched a video from Mark Bell of SuperTraining gym in California. He commented on the idea of “always using the barbell twice.” It’s a concept that more people should embody, particularly those of you who are looking to make gains in the gym, and add muscle to your frames. So what does that mean?

Basically, follow up your first main barbell exercise with another one!

Most of us will knock out our 3–5 sets of squats, presses, or deadlifts and move right into more “assistance” based work. Instead, follow up your usual upfront exercise choice by doing 3–5 more sets with that same barbell. If you want to get better at the big bang exercises, you need to do them more often. They alone are the best things you can do to make them better.

If you don’t feel like just doing more of the exact same thing, you can try a different variation, go for higher reps, modify the tempo, or add accommodating resistance.

3. Account for outside stressors.

I always try to highlight one thing with people who come to me for training advice. Shockingly, it has very little to do with the nuances of their actual training. Instead, we talk about how their training matches their ability to recover from the stresses they place on themselves. The truth is that extraordinary results are the product of an extraordinary amount of hard work. You will always get out what you put in, but only if you can handle what you put in. That concept seems to be lost on the majority of people.

Work = Recovery = Progress

The equation must stay balanced in order to make progress. Furthermore, when one side of the equation is elevated the other side must be elevated as well. To take it further, if you want to elevate progress, you will at a certain point need to elevate both ends of that equation. This is why for some individuals, smart coaches suggest they do less. It is also why, in other cases, smart coaches suggest you do more.

It’s important that we digest a few things to understand how to manipulate this equation. First, doing more work will teach your body how to recover from more work. Second, work is stress and stress is not limited to stress placed on the individual at the gym. Third, in order to make progress, one must continually be able to place more stress on the body and recover from said stress.

A well-designed progression and management of training variables will help a person to keep making progress. That being said, managing gym related stress is not the only thing one should take into account. For example, many seasoned gym goers adopt training programs designed for individuals who basically have the luxury of training as their full time job. Professional athletes, elite military personnel, and pro fitness competitors, for instance, have careers that revolve around enhancing their physical performance. Utility workers, business executives, and even strength coaches DO NOT.

You will probably not reach the level of performance these individuals have. They have the ability to optimize all their variables in order to progress. They also have built a base of work capacity and therefore a base of recovery ability over many years. You have not. Therefore, when you approach your training, you must account for things like the six hours of manual labor you do every day, the high stress of meeting your project deadline, and the seven hours on your feet coaching athletes during the day.

The solution is simple, but it takes a concerted effort to being flexible. Make sure that all components of the equation elevate and decline together. From here forward, start doing two things. One, ensure that you are raising the bar and doing a little more work. Without doing so, you will hit a standstill. Second, match the level of your training to the level of recovery you are capable of producing. If it’s deadline month, make sure that month is a lower volume approach with a deload worked in. If it’s a dead month with business and family responsibilities, make that a month where you reach a new high for work completed in the gym.

4. Get familiar with common ingredients.

How often do you read an ingredient label and see the same few words used over and over? Chances are it’s quite a bit. You aren’t exactly sure what they are, but are okay with just staying ignorant to what they are and why they’re there. As one of our current interns commented recently, “Did you know that ‘Artificial Flavor’ is a little more complex than its two-word title?” For example, let’s say you are having a “grape” beverage. The artificial flavor for grape is: methyl anthranilate. Not sure what that chemical is, but it sure sounds a lot less appealing that “artificial flavoring,” right? Now imagine what you’re eating has artificial flavoring for over ten different flavors. That’s a lot of weird chemical names that can’t pronounce, let alone understand in the context of their effects on your body. As an action point, consider looking up some of the common ingredient names you find on the back labels of your favorite foods. You might be a little surprised at what you come across.

5. Set a monthly “comfort zone” goal.

We tend to do what we’re good at. There is nothing wrong with that; why not accentuate our strengths? However, there is validity in working on our weaknesses, and experiencing new things. After all, you might just find a whole new strong point if you step outside of what you’re accustomed to doing. Furthermore, by experiencing new things, you will often draw connections between them and the things you already know and enjoy. Heck, it could even make you better at them. Consider doing one thing a month that is out of the ordinary for you. Attend a fitness class you have always avoided, or even commit to doing one thing a week in your workouts that isn’t the norm. An example might be: including single leg work on a lower body day, or doing a few sets of reps over 5 on a big exercise. Evaluate the new experience and see if it has a place in your day-to-day routine. If not, now you know first hand. If so, great!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 35

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to get your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs headed in the right direction.

1. Add finely ground nuts to your favorite meals.

A while back, I started using a chili recipe from Precision Nutrition that called for a few cups of finely ground up cashews. The cashews did a fantastic job of thickening up the chili and adding taste and texture. Since then, I have experimented doing the same thing to a few different stews, and other dishes as well. It seemingly works every time. Making a stir fry? Add a cup of finely ground nuts. Steaming up a big bag of kale? Try adding them in, it tastes amazing!

You will find that it is a great addition for those looking to add calories. Additionally, it works great to add flavor and texture to those on more low carb style meal plans.


 

2. Recognize that assessing exercise form is not the same as assessing movement patterns.

I’ll admit to a mistake right away. I was always impressed when coaches I had met would tell me how they could accurately assess people just by watching them squat, deadlift, or perform a host of other loaded exercises. I was fortunate that I stumbled upon people like Eric’s work early on in my career as a fitness professional. At the same time, I was frustrated because I didn’t have the knowledge yet to apply a lot of the information he was presenting. I wanted to use better methods of assessment, but I couldn’t draw the connections. Admittedly, I’m still not 100% there, if anyone is ever truly 100%. Luckily, I have him as a resource, and consider every week at work a mini course in my ongoing education. Being in this position early on I was impressionable, and the idea of looking at exercises I was very familiar with as a form of assessment was appealing. In turn, I began to do the same thing. Little did I know there was a major flaw in my thinking. The flaw is really quite simple when we take a second to think about it.

Loaded exercises, and movement patterns are two different things. While we must work to establish solid movement patterns, exercises under load do not need to, nor should they necessarily, look the same. Granted, one should prove proficient in establishing correct patterns before loading similar movements, but one should not use proficiency in a loaded movement to assess a person’s adequacy in a movement pattern.

The “why” is a long-winded explanation – and one that could branch off into many sub-topics. So, for the sake of today’s pointer, just respect the difference between performing a squat with 400lbs on your back, and assessing someone’s squat pattern. How can we look for compensatory movement in a 400lbs squat? Every muscle in the body is firing on full cylinders, so differentiating between what’s doing too much, and what’s not pulling its weight is impossible. If someone pitches forward in a 400lb squat how can we look past the 400lbs on their back and say it’s a movement flaw? You would probably be better served just watching the person walk around, tie their shoes, or walk up a flight stairs. Once we have switched into the totally active form of “exercise,” assessing movement integrity is a futile effort.

3. Get a grip on your bench press technique.

4. Pay attention to hip positioning during jumps and landings.

5. Utilize open and closed loop drills in your strength and conditioning programs.

Strength and conditioning programs are not meant to imitate the demands or movements of actual game play. However, decision-making is an important component to an athlete’s success. It is also a skill that can be, and should be trained.

Many drills that are used by strength coaches and sport teams would be considered “closed loop” drills. They are predetermined, and predictable.

“Open loop” drills, on the other hand, require an athlete to make changes in direction and speed on the fly in response to a scenario or outside cue. For more on the difference between them, give this a read.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (14 high standard and 14 low standard) Australian footballers were assessed on their decision-making skills, and the cost of poor decisions in relation to their reactive agility capabilities.

It’s not surprising that the study found errors in decision making to worsen reactive agility performance. What’s also useful to know is that the footballers of a “high standard” were much less likely to make incorrect decisions.

When training athletes, especially young athletes, make sure to incorporate open loop drills that challenge both the physical and mental side to sport performance. It can be as simple as making them react to the direction to which you point, or chase a tennis ball you throw.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 33

Thanks to CP coach Greg Robins, here's this week's list of tips to make your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs more awesome.

1. Go narrower to improve wider.

People tend to spend a lot of time searching for that elusive exercise that will aid them in bringing up one of their big main lifts. Many are successful in their quest, and over time learn that one movement has great transfer to another. As an example, many people find improvements in the traditional good-morning has direct transfer to improvement in both their squat and deadlift.

Sometimes, however, what you’re searching for isn’t that far removed from what you’re already doing. Slight tweaks to the main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), will cause you to make huge improvements to the lift in question. Some examples include: creating more range of motion, altering the tempo, or utilizing a different bar. One tweak in particular doesn’t get enough attention, which is unfortunate because it yields consistently great results. So what’s the change? Go narrower to improve wider.

If you want to improve your back squat, consider doing a few training cycles of narrow stance high bar back squats. When you return to a lower bar, wider stance position, you will have great return.If you want to improve the bench press, consider doing more bench sessions, or more sets within a bench session, with a narrower grip.

Lastly, if you're a sumo style puller, work to bring up your conventional pull. If you already pull conventional, utilize snatch grip deadlifts. The set up for a snatch grip pull is generally a bit narrower, and forces you to drop the hips more so than the conventional deadlift.

2. Don’t limit your grip training to exercises that close the hand.

Admittedly, I have a pretty weak grip. Granted, there are different qualities to grip strength, just as there are different strength qualities. My ability to resist the opening of my hand is pretty good; due mainly to many years of holding heavy stuff. In my recent efforts to improve my ability “crush” and “pinch” I have done a few things. A few in particular I brought up in this Installment 29. Another approach that's yielded a noticeable difference is training my hand “opening” strength.

The benefit to training finger extension is two-fold. First, doing so helps to keep the joints of the lower arm healthy. If you are doing a lot of heavy lifting or playing sports that are grip intensive, you're spend a considerable amount time flexing the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Simply doing some work in the opposite direction will create some much-needed balance. Second, improving your opening strength will improve your closing strength. Stronger and healthier is never a bad combination, so what are some exercises to train finger extension. Here are a few I picked up in John Brookfield’s Mastery of Hand Strength.

3. Monitor outputs for more productive “conditioning.”

As I have harped on a few times, conditioning is somewhat of a “garbage term” mainly because it is too generally applied. What you do for conditioning should be in line with your training goals. If your goal is increased performance, in power development for sport or weightlifting, you want to make sure you’re training in a way that aids your end goal. Many conditioning protocols are designed to more or less run people into the ground. If not that, then they are not really designed with any rhyme or reason at all, except to include a day of moving around that makes you sweat and generally hate life for 15–30min. While something of this nature may be productive for fat loss, or to fill an exercise quota in general fitness populations, it is actually taking away from your efforts the other 3–4 days per week. Here are two easy ways to improve your conditioning days. Each is based on the concept of repeating quality outputs.

In scenario 1, you will adjust rest to produce consistent outputs. This is pretty simple. Start to monitor what you get done, and then adjust rest to continually do the same or better. For example, say you are doing 15yd shuttle sprints. You want to get 10 quality sprints in, and you have set a rest interval of 45 seconds between each one. You run the first two in 4.4s and 4.42s, respectively. Your third time is 4.56. At this point you would add 10s to the rest. You run three more with this rest all under 4.5sec. Your seventh sprint is 4.6, what do you do? Add 10s to the rest. Continue like this until all ten sprints are complete.

The same concept can be used for exercises done for repetitions under a given interval. For example, rounds one through three you were able to knock out 15 kettlebell swings in 20s. The fourth round you only got 14. Add 10s of rest, and continue.

In scenario 2, you will monitor outputs and end conditioning sessions (or the exercise) when outputs become unrepeatable. I’d use this after you have done a fair amount of work in scenario 1. This way you have a solid idea of what a good rest interval would be to accomplish ten sets of a given exercise and be able to repeat the same output every time. Once you have an idea of how you are going to set it up, you simply stop the exercise, or session, once you can no longer achieve the same output. Each week, or each session, your goal would be to get more sets in, with the same rest interval before you can no longer achieve the same output.

4. Clean up your step-up execution with this variation.

5. Teach your bench press spotter to give a proper hand-off.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 32

Thanks to Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to make your nutrition strength and conditioning programs a bit more awesome.

1. Position your free hand in the correct place during unilateral upper body movements.

2. Improve exercise form by cueing spinal flexion, when appropriate.

In the following video I demonstrate a few exercises where spinal flexion is actually a good cue to keep people in better positions during the movement. It seems counter-intuitive, so what’s the deal?

First off, individuals may start of in a more extended posture. This is often the case with athletes, or really any active individuals. Therefore, cueing flexion brings you closer to neutral. This is something to which Eric devoted a lot of attention in Functional Stability Training.

As someone who is pretty extended, I often find that the appropriate positioning of my spine actually feels rounded over, or flexed. In reality, I am just less extended than usual. Try it out for yourself, and possibly try to grab a quick video so you can relate what you’re feeling to what it actually looks like. I think you will be surprised.

Second, certain exercises fit this description: They are inherently harder to execute without driving through back extension. Additionally, they are not loaded in such a way that erring on the side of being a little flexed is dangerous. With these movements, starting a bit flexed is helping, not hurting.

Third, many people who struggle with “anti-extension” exercises are simply unable to understand what should be kicking in to keep them in the right position. Taking these folks into a position of slight flexion helps them learn to use the abdominals. Before you knock it, try it out. You will find this cue gets most people to neutral, and in the cases where they remain slightly flexed you can gradually teach them to even out.

3. Pull through the floor when performing board and floor press variations.

Great benchers all have one thing in common: they use their lats well in their bench press technique. Using the lats to bench is tough to conceptualize, and even tougher to actualize when training. It was always a major issue for me, and held me back quite a bit. One great way to learn how to engage the lats is with the board press and floor press. When done the way I explain in this video you will be able to get some feed back on the “pulling” sensation you are looking for when lowering the bar. Give it a try!

4. Convert some of your favorite oils into sprays for cooking.

Most of us use oils to coat pans and dishes when cooking. One easy thing you can do to save a few calories, and dollars, is make spray bottles with your oils. It’s fairly easy to find BPA free spray bottles, or you can invest in a Misto, which is a cool little gadget too. I generally use a 3-to-1 ratio of the oil and water in my sprays and that seems to work well. You will notice right away that as little as 6oz of olive oil when converted to a spray bottle will last a LONG time! This means you save money and eliminate unnoticed calories from your diet. Too easy!

5. Consider this blueprint for being a good training partner.

I am lucky that over the past few years, I have had some really solid training partners. When you have a good team, you are always better than you could be alone. Unfortunately, my own schedule and location, has made it tough to keep a training partner around who is on the same page as me with their training. That aside, it got me thinking about what makes a great training partner. Give this a look and see where you can step your game.

  • Be consistent. Nothing is more important to your success in the gym, and nothing is more important to your training partner. SHOW UP, all the time.
  • Shut up and train. We all have better days than others, and your training partner doesn’t need to be dragged into some pity party you are hosting.
  • Coach more. Yelling things like “up!” is a giant waste of your training partner’s time. Unless he or she tends to forget which direction the bar is supposed to move, then take stock in learning what helps them. Talk technique with them, and yell out things that will make or break their lift

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 29

CP Coach Greg Robins and I just pulled together the following tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs. Enjoy!

1. Improve the learning curve on core stability exercises with this tip:

2. Improve your grip with some easy changes.

Grip strength is an important quality to train in your program. It is beneficial if you plan on moving some heavy loads, or excelling at sports that rely heavily on the lower arm. I am by no means an expert in advanced grip work; however, I can offer some quick ways to start including it in your strength training program by making a few easy changes.

a. Start using a double overhand grip as long as possible with your deadlift technique. Too often, I see people instantly utilize a mixed grip when pulling. Even some more advanced lifters I have trained with do not try to improve their double overhand grip. Generally, they just have a number in mind where they switch from overhand to mixed, and it’s been the same even as their lift has improved hundreds of pounds over the past few years.

b. Make at least 1/3 of the exercise variations that rely heavily on elbow flexion (i.e. curls, rows, chin-ups) more grip intensive. Do so by using towels around the handle or something like Fat Gripz. Additionally, use different implements - such as softball grip and ropes - for rows and chin-ups.

c. Lastly, pick up a new “grip specific” exercise to work on, and change it every four weeks. These can include, grip crushers, plate pinches. Guys like John Brookfield and Jedd Johnson put out tons of innovative exercises to make your handshake something people fear.

3. Soup up your bench seat with just a few bands.

This is a nice little trick for those of you who might find the bench at your gym a little “slick.” My good friend and former CP intern Angel Jimenez, showed this to me originally. I believe the credit goes back to bench guru Dave Tate, though. While I can’t take the credit, I will share the info!

4. Pause more, lift more.

How often do you miss reps near the top? I am willing to bet that it’s not often. Furthermore, I bet 90% of the people reading this who say they do, really just have no pop out of the bottom of a lift and it catches up to them at lockout. You don’t need to work on strength at lockout as much as you do as strength at the bottom. That being said, when I look at most people’s strength training programs, the assistance work involves board presses, rack pulls, and high box squats. I was guilty of it too. The fact is, you like those variations because they are easier and allow you to lift more weight. The truth is you need to take the load down and start working the bottom portion of the range of motion more.

Enter the pause. Start working in paused squats in the hole, start pausing bench presses on the chest, and finally start making sure rep work on the deadlift is done to a complete stop (and, in my opinion, a complete reset, too).

5. Add some Olympic lifts to your training without missing out on your meat and potatoes.

The Olympic lifts can be a great addition to a comprehensive strength training program for those who can perform them safely.  However, it goes without saying that there can be a very steep learning curve for picking up the exercises.  For that very reason, earlier this week, I published a guest blog from Wil Fleming on clean and jerk technique fixes - a great compliment to his new DVD, Complete Olympic Lifting (on sale at a ridiculously low price until Friday at midnight, by the way).

One of the biggest concerns many folks have is that the learning curve will be so steep that they may miss out on a lot of actual training as they work their way through the fundamentals of Olympic lifting with light weights.  This is a very real concern, too, as even working at a lighter weight for a lot of practice reps can take a lot out of you.  In fact, I've had a lot of inquiries from folks who wanted to include Olympic lifting in Show and Go, but weren't sure how to do so.  My suggestions to them are very simple:

a. Pick one lift or the other (clean or snatch) to practice in each of your lower body sessions each week. If you want to work on jerks, you can plug it in at the start of an upper body day.

b. Do it at the start of your training session (right after your warm-up), and promise yourself that you won't go for more than thirty minutes.

c. Drop one set from each of the rest of the lower body exercises in the session to make up for the volume you've added.

You won't become wildly proficient in a matter of a few days with this approach, but slow and steady can win the race - even when it comes to lifts with high power output.  An hour of practice per week will effectively allow you to ride a few horses (learning while maintaining a training effect) with one saddle (your limited time, energy, and recovery capacity).

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10 Ways to Sustain a Training Effect in Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

I'm going to let you in on a little shocker: I really don't train as hard as I used to train.

Blasphemy, I know.  Every strength and conditioning coach is supposed to constantly be pursuing a mythical level of fitness at all times.  Because it's my job to make people healthier and more athletic, I, in turn, am expected to be able to bench press 800, vertical jump 40 inches, complete a marathon in under three hours, and be able to fart lightning at a moment's notice.  While I can make a decent run at the last challenge after a batch of my mom's famous calico beans recipe, I guess I'm just content with not making optimal progress.

Now, don't get me wrong; I haven't let myself turn into a blob, and I'm still training 5-6 days a week.  The goals, however, have shifted since my last powerlifting meet in December of 2007. Nowadays, I get a lot more excited about watching one of our minor league guys get a big league call-up than I do about a ten-pound squat personal record after a 16-week training cycle. I worry more about being a better husband, business partner, boss, and coach than I do about whether I'm 10 or 11% body fat, and whether it'll make my weight class. And, I certainly expect these priorities to change even more when my wife and I decide to have kids.

In short, I think I'm a lot like a solid chunk of the exercising population.  Training hard excites me, but it doesn't define me anymore.

Interestingly, though, I really haven't wasted away like one might expect. In fact, I've gotten stronger while keeping my weight about the same - or slightly lower, right where I want to be.  Just for the heck of it, not too long ago, I staged my own little mock raw powerlifting meet and totaled 1435 at a body weight of 180.6 (1396 is considered an "Elite" total, as a frame of reference).  I used the giant cambered bar for squatting, simply because my shoulder gets cranky when I back squat. Sue me.

A few notes on the mock/impromptu meet:

1. Thanks to the CSP staff and interns for helping with spots, handoffs, and videos - and putting up with my musical selection (which I think, for the record, was an outstanding representative sample of modern training music).

2. I weighed in at 180.6 first thing that morning (about three hours before I lifted).  I didn't have to cut weight.

3. I had a scoop of Athletic Greens, two cups of coffee with vanilla protein powder, and five eggs with spinach, peppers, and onions for breakfast, then drank a bottle of water at the facility before I started.  So, I really didn't carb up for this "meet" (or really prepare for it in any capacity, for that matter). I did have an accidental open mouth kiss with my dog, Tank, while I was foam rolling when he licked my face while I wasn't looking.  I'm not sure if making out with a puggle constitutes ergogenic assistance? 

4. Speaking of Tank, he makes a great cameo during my opening squat.  He's eating air, in case you're wondering.

5. The great thing about squats in powerlifting meets is that they can look like good mornings to parallel and still pass.  Score!

6. I haven't free squatted with a wider, powerlifting style stance in about three years. So, you can say that I was a bit rusty, as evidenced that my stance width was a bit erratic from attempt to attempt (and especially narrow on the third squat).

7. The first squat and last deadlift were exactly 90 minutes apart.  Talk about efficiency!

All that said, I really don't think I could have even come close to this total back in 2007, and according to some research that says strength peaks at age 29, I should be on the downslope, especially if I'm not training as hard. So, what gives?

I suspect it has a little something to do with the fact that I have a pretty good idea of how to sustain a strength training effect. Much of it has to do with my experiences with in-season athletes; some of them waste away if they don't pay attention to detail and stay consistent with their training.  Meanwhile, others come back so strong that you'd think they never left.  Here are some of the factors that have surely helped me (and them) over the years.

1. Very little alcohol consumption.

My first date with my wife was April 22, 2007. She's seen me drink twice in the entire time we've known one another. I'm absolutely not going to stand on a soapbox and say that I don't think other people should drink; they can do what they want, but it just really isn't for me.

That said, if you're concerned with helping your strength training gains along (or simply sustaining them), simply have a look at the research on alcohol's negative effect on effect on endocrine status, sleep quality, neural drive, tissue quality, and recovery from exercise.  People who drink a lot feel and move like crap.  Sorry, I don't make the rules.

2. Early to bed, early to rise.

I find the 6AM world far more entertaining, refreshing, and productive than the 1AM world.  I feel better, train better, recovery better, and am an all-around happier person when I get to bed early and awake early without an alarm.  For me, 10:30PM to 6AM is pretty much the norm.

Now, for those who insist that sleeping 1:30AM to 9AM counts exactly the same, check out some of the research on night shift workers and their health; it's not good.  As a rule of thumb, one hour before midnight is worth two after midnight - and it certainly helps to try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. 

3. A foundation of strength and mobility.

In talking with our athletes about the relationship between off- and in-season training, I use the analogy of a bank account.  During the off-season, you make deposits (work hard and acquire a training effect).  When you go in-season, you make withdrawals (play your sport). If the withdrawals exceed the deposits, you're in trouble - and that's why in-season training is so important.

Now, for the general fitness folks, this simply means that if you put a lot of "money in the bank," you'll be prepared for the day when life gets crazy and you miss a few days in the gym.  You have more wiggle room to go on a spending spree.

Mobility works the same way.  Once you've built it, it's hard to lose unless you really go out of your way to avoid moving for an extended period of time.

4. Regular manual therapy.

I'm very fortunate to have an outstanding manual therapist next door to my office.  Chris Howard is a massage therapist and does a tremendous job with more diffuse approaches, recovery modalities, and some focal work with the Fibroblaster tool, plus fascial manipulation. Along with regular self-myofascial release, he has made a big difference in me staying healthy, which leads me to...

5. No missed training sessions.

I'm fortunate to have been very healthy over the years.  Like everyone, I've had minor niggles here and there, but haven't pushed through them and let them get out of hand.  It's better to skip benching one day and do higher rep floor presses than it is to push through some pain and wind up with a torn pec.  If long-term consistency is your goal, you have to be willing to assess risk: reward in your training on a regular basis.

Moreover, training is a part of my life, just like brushing my teeth, feeding the dog, or checking my email.  It's not an option to "squeeze it out" because my calendar gets too full.  I make time instead of finding time.  Of course, it's a lot easier when your office is part of a 15,000+ square-foot gym!

6. Lots of vegetables and quality protein.

Call me crazy, but I'd take grass-fed meatloaf and spinach and onions cooked in coconut oil over a chocolate cake any day of the week.  I'm not making that up; I just don't have much of a sweet tooth.

In Precision Nutrition, Dr. John Berardi talks about the 90% rule: as long as you're good with your nutrition 90% of the time, you can get away with slip-ups or intentional cheat meals for the other 10%.  If you eat five meals a day, that's 31-32 "clean" meals and 3-4 "whoops" meals each week.  When I think about it in that context, I'm probably more like 95-98% adherent, and the other 2-5% is me grabbing a protein bar on the fly while I'm coaching at CSP. I could certainly do a lot worse.

I'm sure Dr. Berardi would agree that if you get closer to 100%, you likely have a little wiggle room with your training program. For example, you might be able to cut back slightly on the amount of conditioning needed to meet your goals.

7. Great training partners.

I've been extremely fortunate to lift in a number of great environments, from my time in the University of Connecticut varsity weight room, to my days at Southside Gym, to Cressey Performance 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0.  You've always got spotters nearby, and there are always guys to give you feedback on weight selection and technique.  We crack jokes, play loud music, and challenge and encourage each other.  I'm convinced that this factor more than any other can absolutely revolutionize the way many folks train; they need human interaction to get out of their comfort zone and realize what they're capable of accomplishing in the right environment.

8. Planned deloads.

I rarely take a week of training off altogether, but at least once a month, I'll reduce training stress substantially for 5-7 days to recharge.  The secret to avoiding burnout is to understand the difference between overload, overreaching, and overtraining.  The former two are important parts of the training equation, but if you are always seeking them 24/7/365, you can wind up with the latter. I talk about this in great detail in my e-book, The Art of the Deload.

9. Accountability.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons many people struggle to achieve their fitness goals is that they are only accountable to themselves - and that's a slippery slope if you aren't blessed with great willpower and perseverance.  It's one reason why we encourage our clients to tell their friends and family about their fitness goals; they'll constantly be reminded of them in conversation throughout the day.

Being in the fitness industry is a blessing because your peers and your clients/athletes are your accountability.  Fat personal trainers don't have full schedules.  Weak people don't become strength coaches of NFL teams.  And, in my shoes, it's magnified even more because I'm in front of thousands of people every single day through the videos on this website, DVDs that we've produced, and seminars at which I present.  Even if "tapping out" on my training was something that interested me, I have too much at stake.  Think about where you can find that level of accountability in your life to help you reach your goals.

10. Cool implements to keep things fun.

I live really close to our facility, so I often joke that I have the best 15,000 square-foot home gym you'll ever see.  We've got a bunch of specialty bars, bumper plates, slideboards, sleds, tires, sledgehammers, turf, kettlebells, dumbbells, bands, chains, farmer's walk handles, TRX units, medicine balls, a glute-ham, chest-supported row, functional trainers, benches, and a host of other implements that I'm surely forgetting.  There is absolutely no excuse for me to ever get bored with training, as I have an endless source of variety at my fingertips.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, "But Eric, I don't have anything cool at my commercial gym!"  My response to that has five parts:

a. If they didn't have what you needed, why did you give them your money instead of taking your business elsewhere?
b. Have you considered outfitting home gym?
c. They probably have a lot more than you might think, but you just need to be more creative and prepare a bit more.
d. Remember that there are many different ways to add variety to programming beyond just changing exercise selection.  You can tinker with sets, reps, rest intervals, training frequency, tempo, range-of-motion, and a host of other factors.
e. Have you used a strength and conditioning program written by a qualified coach? He or she may see the same equipment through a different lens than you do. 

These are surely just ten of countless factors that one can cite when it comes to sustaining performance over the long haul, and I'm sure that they'll change as I get older.  With that said, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section: what factors have contributed to you making (or sustaining) progress with your strength and conditioning programs?

Looking for a program to take the guesswork out of your programming?  Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 20

In this momentous installment of this series, Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins introduces you to some valuable lessons he's learned from the past 14 months of competitive powerlifting training.

With this being the 20th Installment of the series (whoa!), I decided I want to do something different. This post will be longer than the others, but I urge you to read it in its entirety, as the lessons from this past 14 months of training will be worth your time. These tips are based on my own experiences and are applicable to any fitness goal.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

The quote above has followed me for a long time. I keep it in my wallet (it was on a business card I once received). I kept it in my locker when I played baseball, and I taped it inside my wall locker when I went through basic training. My powerlifting journey began at Total Performance Sports in June of 2011. I noticed a corkboard on the wall, and in bold letters, this quote was pinned to the top corner. Surrounding it were updates from different powerlifting and strongman events.

At first, it didn't convince me to train for a powerlifting meet. However, it did kind of bug me. I’m like that; if you can do it, I can do it. For better or for worse, that’s largely how I operate. Give it a month or so, and training with a group of guys who are all trying to get brutally strong rubs off on you. It’s sort of a survival of the fittest environment. It wasn't just a pride thing; it was a challenge. If you know me well, you know I am always working on a physical challenge.


Fast forward to July 2011, and the quote got taped inside my training journal; I decided I wanted to do this.
The process was a major change in how I was used to doing things. I had just finished OCS that summer, and for the past two years, my training had been focused on building a lot of relative strength and aerobic capacity. I decided if this was my goal, then I’m going to go after it hard. This included eating a ton, training hard, and taking time to recover. When it was all said and done, I could reassess and see what I thought. This was my first lesson:

1. Embrace a three phase training mindset.

The three phase training mindset is something I live by now. I first learned to embrace it after reading this post from strength coach Dan John. I encourage you to read it, but the important part is in the last paragraph. It reads "Plan the hunt, hunt the hunt, discuss the hunt." This boils down to approaching training in three phases. 

First, you plan your training. With the help of my training partner, and co-worker at the time, Jamie Smith, a 12-16 week training cycle was born. Additionally, I had always been someone who, in retrospect, was held back in possible strength gains by constantly avoiding gaining too much weight. I decided on day one that I would forgo the constant nutritional dilemma in my head, as well as the urge to finish every workout, and fill every off day, with "conditioning". I had a plan: do the program to a tee, execute the assistance work I decided ahead of time would target my weaknesses, stop conditioning excessively, and eat like a horse. When it was over, and not before, I would discuss the results.

If you are going to go after a goal, sit down and figure out the best way to get there. Furthermore, assess what you are doing now that may interfere with your success. Prioritize what will have the best transfer and execute with unyielding intensity. As I tell all the athletes at CP, train with a purpose. Once you have carried out your plan with a 100% effort, then you can sit down again and re-evaluate.

This is precisely what I did, and I got exactly what I wanted. I improved all my lifts dramatically, gained 25lbs, and had a whole host of ideas to bring to the table for my next planning session. This leads me into lesson #2.

2. Learn to tweak a program, not "change" it.

Coming off my first meet, I was very happy that our program had produced results, I stuck to my guns with regards to my nutritional approach, and avoided any extra conditioning. That being said, I had managed to gain a fair amount of not-so-lean body mass in addition to a lot of new muscle. Likewise, I was slowly developing into a one trick pony – or a three trick pony (Squat, Bench, Deadlift), as the case may be. While I was surely able to lift a heck of a lot more than ever before, I was getting winded walking up multiple flights of stairs, and feeling a little disgusted in my physique.

While the power lifting purists may scoff at that comment, I knew enough to know that progress could ensue without continuing to become a sloth. I had lived the first two phases of my training mindset, and now it was time to re-evaluate. The important lesson here is that I kept the nuts and bolts of my training program the same. I planned to work off the same percentages, hit the same supplemental lifts in the same sequence, and choose accessory movements that targeted my weakness.

The difference this time around was in how I approached my nutrition, and additional "moving." Common sense would tell us that you can't remove two sources of energy (calories, and the addition of more physical activity) and continue to gain. So. I chose to remove one source of energy, and tweak another. I made sure that my calories were still very high, but that they came from better sources.

On top of that, I decided to utilize a nutrient timing protocol to make my calories work towards my goals more productively. I did that by slowly adopting the principles of Carb Back Loading, which you can read about here.

Knowing that my caloric intake was more than enough to gain muscle and strength, I simply placed in "movement" days in a fashion that would promote more calorie burning, but also enhance recovery. This was done by intelligently approaching these days with less intensity, as well as by optimizing the means. An example of this would be running sprints at low intensities 50 - 70% on an elevated (hill) soft surface (grass).

Fast forward 16 weeks, and the new plan had worked as well. I was stronger, leaner, and much more confident in my physique. I even got girls to like me again...phew!

Too often people jump from program to program. Most people jump before the first one is even done; this is silly. There are also a fair amount of people who finish one program and think the most logical choice is to scrap it and start something completely different. This isn't always stupid, depending on certain factors. However, I would strongly encourage you to think about tweaking programs, rather than abandoning them all together. Conveniently, this leads me to lesson #3.

3. Know thyself.

Being able to put lesson #2 into practice is largely a function of learning to know oneself as a lifter. At this point, I am 3 weeks out from my second powerlifting meet. It is also the 30th or so week I have followed the same program.

It's pretty funny to think back on the three separate training cycles and how I felt at any given point during the training. I remember saying to myself in week 10 of my second go: "Wow, I feel horrible." Then, I thought about how I felt during week 10 the first time around: the same. Come week 10 this time, it was same thing. It's important because I was able to locate an exact point where the volume was getting to me. This means I was able to do two things.

First, I didn’t abandon ship, because this was normal, and I was beginning to taper the volume anyhow. Second, I was able to slightly tweak training sessions in order to optimize my training. As a young fitness enthusiast, I would read about the difference between advanced and novice lifters. A common theme was that the advanced lifter was able to auto-regulate his training. He or she could make calls on how they felt while staying within the parameters of their training approach as a whole. I even thought a few years ago I was one of these people. I would smash it when I felt good, cut back when I felt crappy. In some ways this was beneficial. However, now I am able to do this on an entirely different level, and I'm still new to understanding it. This is a little over a year of understanding how to train for optimal outputs; the best have decades of experience!

If you want to be great, and have great success in the gym, you need to understand how you react to all the stresses put upon you. It may be possible for some of you already, but I guarantee you it is possible for all of you if you stick with a certain approach over an extended period of time and remain cognizant of how you feel under different circumstances.

Bottom line: do something consistently enough to be able to determine what works, what doesn't, and what can be improved. Furthermore, listen to your body. As a side note to coaches: listen to your clients and athletes.

Moving on, my next two lessons don't flow from the previous ones quite as smoothly as the others. I’ll never be described as a literary genius, but nonetheless, they are good ones!

4. Hammer home technique, technique, technique!

Powerlifting has filled a void in my life. One thing I loved about playing baseball was working on my swing, and receiving skills as a catcher. The neat thing about sport performance is that the most elite athletes are able to blend both tremendous physical outputs with mastery of their sport skill. When a high level of each is achieved, the result is simply amazing to watch.



When I would lift weights in the past, I knew form was important, mainly so that I didn't get hurt. After all, my weight room antics were mainly done in order to improve performance in activities outside the weight room. Now lifting weights is my sport, and technical mastery of the three lifts is hugely important. While I have obviously gotten a lot stronger over the past year, I attribute a large amount of my success to dissecting my form. I have well over 250 videos of different lifts saved on my computer, and I’ve watched each multiple times and scrutinized for flaws in technique. If you have seen some of my videos on Facebook, you are probably wondering what the heck I am looking for, as it isn't always pretty. In all seriousness, it has been the single biggest factor in improving my squat and bench press, and a good way to locate little mishaps in timing with my deadlift. If you are a competitive lifter, break down your technique and learn the nuances of each lift from people who have lifted weights you hope to someday lift. If you are a coach or fitness buff, I would advocate the use of video on the big lifts. I also think becoming meticulous with your technique will add a rewarding piece to your training as a whole!

The last lesson is the most important, and in light of what it is, and the fact this article is already a short novel, I will keep it short.

5. Do Less, get more.

If powerlifting has done one thing for me, it has proven this mantra. My training has become focused. I have three lifts I am looking to improve. I have learned that doing too much physically outside of these lifts will negatively impact them. I have learned that doing more mentally (looking at video, crunching numbers, assessing training stress) with these three lifts will improve them.

This is the lesson that can be most easily applied to everyone's training and life. Don't do so much that you become mediocre at a lot, and great at nothing. Don't create so many variables that you cannot locate and manage the ones that matter.

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How to Balance Pressing in Your Strength Training Program

Here's a quick video I filmed this afternoon that discusses how different pressing exercises have different impacts on how your shoulders function.  This definitely has implications not only in terms of your exercise selection, but also how you perform those exercises.

To learn more about how I assess, program, and coach with respect to the shoulder girdle, be sure to check out my detailed resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series