Home Posts tagged "deload"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/26/18

I hope you're having a great week. Here is some recommended reading and listening from the strength and conditioning world over the past week:

EC on the Athlete CEO Podcast - I joined the Athlete CEO podcast to talk about everything from entrepreneurship, to the origins of Cressey Sports Performance, to off-field habits that athletes can employ for success in their sport. This is a great new podcast that I'll be following closely myself.

Some Squat Stumbling Stones and Solutions for Successful Squat Supremacy - Dean Somerset outlines some common squat faults as well as some potential solutions for them.

Tone and Message in Coaching - The Resilient Performance crew never disappoints with their writing, and while this is a quick read, it's an excellent one.

Top Tweet of the Week

Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

A little deload can go a long way - especially if you’ve never taken one. #cspfamily

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance – Installment 28

It's time for the April installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. In light of this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I wanted to write a bit about the importance of versatility in any strength and conditioning program. I firmly believe that The High Performance Handbook is the most versatile program on the market; in other words, it's been used with great success by folks from all walks of life. This is because of the self-assessment component, various programming options, and exercise modifications it includes. You can learn more HERE

HPH-main

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on versatility in programming.

1. Psychosocial stress impacts joint loading.

Back in February, I went to a great seminar with Dr. Stuart McGill, and he alluded to some excellent research from Dr. Bill Marrus at The Ohio State University. It's almost 20 years old, but still fascinating. You can read about it HERE, but here's an interesting excerpt:

"An experiment was performed that imposed psychosocial stress on people performing standard lifting tasks and compared this with situations where no psychosocial stress was present. Under the stress conditions, significant increases in spine compression and lateral shear were observed, but not for all subjects. Gender played a role in that females moved di􏰘fferently in response to stress, thereby causing an alteration in muscle coactivation patterns. More surprisingly, when the personalities of the subjects was considered, it was found that certain personality traits, such as introversion and intuition, dramatically increased spine loading compared with those with the opposite personality trait (e.g. extroversion and sensing). These di􏰘fferences in personality were closely associated with differing trunk muscle coactivation patterns and explained well the di􏰘erence in spine loading (and expected risk of LBD) between subjects. These increases in trunk muscle coactivation are believed to in ̄uence spine loading more at low levels of work intensity than at high levels where the biomechanical demands of the job probably overpower any additional loading that may be due to responses of the musculoskeletal system to psychosocial stress."

In other words, the more Type A your personality type, the higher your spine stress, and the different your muscular recruitment patterns. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has looked at injury rates in athletes during stressful academic periods, but it is interesting to see that there doesn't seem to be a "desensitization" occurring with those who are always more stressed. With that in mind, chance are that the training stress needs to be managed more conservatively in those who have very stressful personality types, not just lifestyles.

2. There are many different ways to fluctuate training stress.

Speaking of reducing training stress, there are many different ways to do so. We all know that you can reduce intensity (load), training frequency, and/or volume (sets x reps x load) to give people appropriate deloading periods. 

Sometimes, though, simply changing exercise type can reduce the training stress. As an example, changing to more concentric-dominant exercises (as I wrote HERE) is one way to reduce training stress. Most people won't feel really banged up from a session of deadlifts, step-ups, and sled pushes even if there is a fair amount of volume and intensity.  

3. Versatility implies the ability to quickly and easily progress and regress.

When I think of versatile programs, I immediately think of the ability to quickly change something on the fly - and that usually refers to exercise selection, usually because something is too advanced or basic for someone.

If you lack the hip extension needed to do a Bulgarian split squat, you're better off regressing to a regular split squat or a step-up.

bss-3

It's also important to understand how to move laterally. An example would be if a program called for a piece of equipment an individual doesn't have. For example, if you don't have a cable column, maybe you could use dumbbells, bands, or a TRX suspension training for your rowing variation.

4. There is a point of diminishing returns on variability.

Check out this image I created for a presentation I gave on long-term athletic development.

bellcurve

If young athletes have low variability in their lives, they make very little progress. Obviously, the risk of overuse injuries is higher, but just as importantly, without adequate movement variability, athletes don't have opportunities to build "predictive models" to which they can resort amidst the unpredictable challenges sporting environments throw at them. In other words, some exposure to controlled chaos prepares you for a lot of unpredictable chaos down the road.

To the far right of the column, though, we realize that too much variability can be problematic as well. There simply aren't enough high quality reps to build an firmly ingrained pattern. If an athlete throws a football in week 1, baseball in week 2, tennis ball in week 3, and shotput in week 4, he won't really have built one pattern any more than another. This is why athletes ultimately do benefit from an element of specialization; it brings them back to the center for more "focused progress."

These same ideas can be applied to the everyday gym-going lifter. Early on in a training career, we need to expose these individuals to just enough variability to prevent overuse injuries. In many cases, we can get this just by having comprehensive mobility warm-ups and assistance exercises - single-leg work, horizontal pulling, push-up challenges, carrying variations, etc. - that complement the big bang exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. If we just do a few big multi-joint exercises, though, injuries can often creep up, and we may encounter plateaus. However, there are also scenarios where specialization programs (less variability) may be needed to bring up specific lifts by pulling us back from the far right of the curve.

The take-home point is that the relationship between training progress and exercise variability is always in flux, and it's a good place to look if you're struggling to make progress, chronically injured, or just want to better understand why you're getting the results you're experiencing.

Looking to see how I create both versatility and variability in the programs I write? Check out The High Performance Handbook, which is on sale for $30 off this week.

highperformance-handbook-banner

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3 Considerations for the Aging Athlete

At Cressey Performance, we’re largely known for our work with baseball players, but that’s not to say that we don’t have our fair share of “weekend warriors” – those who like to get after it in the gym well into their 40s, 50s, and 60s – in the mix.  With that in mind, we haven’t done a great job of reflecting this in our online content, so we’re going to start to remedy that today!  In today’s post, CP coach Greg Robins introduces his top three recommendations for the aging athlete. -EC

1. Seek out a professional evaluation.

Without fail, we are approached daily at Cressey Performance by individuals looking for our “pitchers” program, our “strength” program, or any other number of set approaches to dealing with one type of scenario. The truth is, we don’t have those lying around anywhere. Instead of writing “outcome-specific” programs, we write “athlete-specific” programs. Where am I going with this?

There is no “older athlete” specific program. There are only trends in training older athletic populations that must be considered when evaluating them, and then writing their programs. To be honest, the older athlete needs this attention to detail moreso than many of the younger athletes we see at CP. Why?

It’s simple, really: older athletic populations have accumulated decades of the same repetitive movements, on top of a growing list of nagging injuries, serious injuries, aches, pains, and so on.  

If injury is derived from this equation…

 

 Number of repetitons x Force of each repetition

_______________________________________________________

 

Amplitude of each repetiton x Relaxation between repetitons

 

…then you can imagine just how much higher the figure for “N” has grown in comparison to their considerable younger counterparts.  And, keep in mind that degenerative changes kick in easier and linger longer as we age.

In short, the first and most important consideration for the older athlete is to have their movement evaluated by a qualified professional so as to formulate a safe and productive plan of action for training. Without this information exercise selection becomes a shot in the dark, rather than a well formulated choice of movements to meet the person where they are at.  For those looking to self-evaluation, Assess and Correct would be a good a great DVD set to review.

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2. Improve your recovery.

Aging populations will find that their ability to recover from bouts of intense exercise has steadily diminished as they age. Therefore, recovery measures must take a front seat in their approach to getting better while staying healthy. These populations should place a premium on the standard sources of improved recovery, namely sleep and nutrition. However, I would like to touch upon another factor, often neglected, that can help tremendously in the older athlete’s approach.

Aerobic capacity, or improved aerobic fitness, will be paramount to their success. Your body runs on three main energy systems:

  • Aerobic
  • Anaerobic
  • ATP – PCr

When it comes down to producing energy, the body’s currency is ATP. All of these energy systems are channels for producing the currency of your body’s energy. Each has their way of doing so, and each does so in a different context.

Many of us associate aerobic exercise with long duration activities, and therefore a long duration of ATP generation. We see anaerobic exercise as short duration, and therefore, a short duration of ATP generation. In short, that’s mostly correct. You can view ATP-PCr as an even shorter duration generation that the anaerobic energy system. While ATP-PCr, and the anaerobic energy systems are capable of producing a lot of ATP quickly, they also run out of currency quite fast as well.

The facilitation of the aerobic energy system is important because it’s always in play. In other words, the better trained it is, the more ATP it is generating for you over the course of the entire bout of exercise. This leads to better ATP production in general – in the short term, the ability to repeat the short term, and the long haul in total. That’s important to the older athlete, and any athlete for that matter.

Need proof that it matters? Here’s a 2001 study showing a positive correlation between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity bouts of exercises published in 2001.

chaindl

To take it a step further, a well-conditioned aerobic system doesn’t just help you recover during the workout; it also helps you to recover between workouts, faster! It plays a large role in giving you the energy required to repair, and helps you to “switch” into your autonomic nervous system, which is optimal for increased recovery.

I highly recommend you read further on how this relationship plays out, how to train it, and how to evaluate it by reading Mike Robertson’s article here. Also, you’ll benefit from checking through the lengthy list of information and tools from Joel Jamieson.

3. Manage Volume Better.

If we take into account our first two bullet points, then it’s important that we address training volume in general. Mismanaged training volume can accelerate the equation in our first point, as well as hinder our recovery efforts laid out in point number two.

In general, aging athletes will need to be more cognizant of the total work they are doing and its effect on their outputs. A positive in training this population is that they have spent considerably more time listening to their body. This is important, and should not be disregarded. Instead of blindly following any program, I would urge the older athlete to learn from past experiences and back down when their body is telling them to do so. Many times, the more experienced the athlete; the better they are at doing this.

Additionally, I would challenge the older athlete to deload, or “back off” more often. This is an easy way to manage the volume of training in their favor. Many programs will load for 3-4 weeks and then unload for one. However, older athletes can benefit from cycling in periods of backed down volume and intensity more often. Here are two such scenarios.

  1. High / Low Organization

High – Low organization is among my favorite ways to train an older athlete. It was developed originally to train very high-level athletes to ensure top outputs every time they train. By getting a high output one week, and then letting them recover the next week, there was much less chance of accumulating fatigue, and having the athlete continually training at something less of what they were actually capable of achieving. This gave them a chance to repeat high outputs more often, as well as top those efforts.

It makes sense in the training of older athletes as well. In a similar fashion to these high-level trainees, high outputs will take a lot out of the tank for the older populations. Since our goal is still to improve the performance of older athletes, while minimizing injury, this is a great approach.

  1. High / Medium / Low Organization

This is another solid option. In this example we are loading an athlete for two weeks, and then unloading them for one. The first week would be high intensity; the second medium (with slightly more volume), and the third week low in both intensity and volume. It’s basically a play on the first example, and can be used for an older athlete who may be able to handle more volume. It’s also a better choice for the older strength athlete who will need the second week of increased volume to continue making progress on the lifts, as well as the technical practice of performing the lifts under decent load more often.

If you’re looking for more deloading strategies, I’d encourage you to check out Eric’s e-book on the subject: The Art of the Deload.

art-of-the-deload2

In conclusion, the older athlete needs to place a premium on correct movement, recovery measures, and management of volume or training stress. With those three considerations in mind, there is lots of room for improvement at any age!

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Strength Training Programs: 4 Reasons You Might Not Need to Deload

I'm a firm believer that deloads - or planned periods of reduced training volume or intensity - are an important concept to understand if you're looking to get optimal results with your strength and conditioning programs.  In fact, I thought it was so important that I wrote an entire 20-page e-book on the subject.

That's not to say, however, that I think absolutely everyone needs to worry about incorporating deloading periods, though.  In fact, I think there are several scenarios in which they aren't necessary. Read on.

1. You train less than three times per week.

If you want to deload, you actually need to load first.  That's hard to do when you're only getting to the gym 1-2 times per week. 

A while back, Dr. John Berardi talked about the importance of getting in six hours of activity each week even just for general health and maintaining or enhancing one's fitness; I've definitely seen this duration to be an appropriate target for folks. If you're a 4x/week strength training guy, you usually hit this number, if you figure 75 minutes per training session, plus a bit of additional activity throughout the week.  And, even if you only lift 3x/week, you're still going to get very close, as the full-body sessions tend to run a bit longer.  If you're only 2x/week, you're going to be at least three hours short on the week.  Adding in more deload time to an already deloaded schedule would be silly.

The obvious exception to this rule would be in-season athletes doing their strength training at a reduced frequency. These individuals are, of course, accumulating a lot of other physical activity from their sports.  They'd still want to reduce volume or intensity a bit in the weight room every 4-6 weeks, because you can't count on your "sporting volume" ever dropping predictably during the season.

art-of-the-deload2

2. You're a complete beginner.

The great thing about being a beginner is that just about everything works.  You could show up to the gym, do one set of preacher curls, then bang your head against the wall for 45 minutes and you'd still probably get bigger and stronger as long as you eat enough.  My feeling is that if you can do "anything" to improve, you might as well do a lot of "anything" while you still can.  Just dropping volume for the sake of dropping volume every few weeks isn't a good move, as you're likely missing out on a big window of adaptation. 

Beginning lifters really aren't neurally efficient enough to impose a lot of fatigue. And, just as importantly, they actually need a lot of volume early on so that they can practice new movement patterns. Finally, on the psychology side of things, you never want to hold someone back too much when they're first starting with an exercise program. The immediate results are incredibly motivating, and if you cut volume back substantially, you run the risk fo them not coming back after a period away from the gym.  Don't give them a chance to get disinterested.

In my e-book, The Art of the Deload, I outline a strategy for beginners to "deload without deloading." I call it the "Introduction Week Deload:"

This is best suited to beginners who need a chance to learn the movements with light weights.

It’s very simple: the set/rep parameters stay the same for the entire month, and the only thing that changes is the load utilized (lifter gets stronger).  At the end of the month, you change exercises and stick with the same approach.  You’ll find that in Week 1 of the new program, the beginner will be using markedly less intensity, as he or she will be cautious in feeling out the new movements.

You can “ease” into this transition by using “variation without change.”  In other words, change the exercises, but don’t completely overhaul the nature of the movements.  An example might be to switch from a neutral grip pull-up to a chin-up (supinated grip), or moving from dumbbell reverse lunges to walking dumbbell lunges.

3. Your program is predominantly corrective or rehabilitative in nature.

I know this might come as a shocker, and I really hate to burst your bubble, but side-lying clams don't impose enough fatigue to require a deload.  Stop overthinking things!

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm a firm believer that lifting heavy stuff can be tremendously "corrective" in nature as long as it's done with correct technique.  However, there are going to be times when it just isn't feasible to maintain a training effect in full.  Imagine, for instance, what happens shortly after a shoulder surgery.  If you're in a sling, you obviously can't do anything to load the affected side.  You also can't deadlift or squat, and just getting into positions for exercises like barbell hip thrusts isn't going to happen.  You have to be careful about exercises with arm swing, so dragging the sled (if you even have the equipment or space to do so) is potentially out. In other words, you're basically left training the other arm and then doing glute ham raises, leg curls, and leg extensions.  We can do more at Cressey Performance because of our equipment selection, but most folks don't have that luxury at their commercial or home gyms.

That said, it would be incredibly hard to overtrain - or even overreach - with those implements and restrictions.  So, there's no reason to cut back every fourth week just because you're supposed to do so.  Besides, if you have surgery, you're going to be on the shelf for 10-14 days anyway, as you'll be hopped up on pain killers, short on sleep, and likely restricted from going to the gym in the short-term to minimize the risk of infection.  There's no need to take more time off!

4. You have deloads within the week, rather than within the month.

This point actually piggybacks somewhat on point #1.  Some lifters will have two more challenging training days during the week, and then supplement them with 2-3 lower intensity and volume sessions during that same week.  In other words, rather than deload for an entire week every three weeks (7 out of 28 days), they'll deload a few days within each week (2/3 out of 7).  With this approach, the "supercompensation" curve is less "up and down;" the highs aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low.  However, this often yields a consistent upward and more linear trend in fitness gains.

In my opinion, it is an approach that is much more sensitive to outside factors.  Getting poor sleep, or adding in travel demands can quickly throw you for a loop, whereas you can plan around these things a bit more when you deload for an extended period of time.  You can either move the week-long deload up a bit, push it back slightly, or shorten it because you don't feel like you've loaded enough going into it.  It's harder to have that same "loading flexiblity" within the week, as opposed to within the month.

Wrap-up

To reiterate, I think implementing strategic deloads is incredibly important for the intermediate and advanced lifter, and there are certainly many different ways to implement these periods.  However, as you can tell, there are also definitely some scenarios when it's best to skip the deload period and keep on getting after it in the gym.  Take a good look at your training program and experience - and then ask yourself how you're feeling - and you'll have your answer.

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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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Deadlift Domination: What a 1,000-Pound Pull Can Teach You

I know a thing or two about how to deadlift.  In the 165- and 181-pound weight classes, I've consistently pulled well over 600 pounds.

One thing I noticed early on in my training career was that while there were a ton of guys out there with huge squats and bench presses who could really coach technique, very few people could apply the same level of wisdom to the deadlift.  I suspect that it has to do with the fact that it's the one lift out of the big three that hasn't been as dramatically impacted by the addition of powerlifting suits/shirts to the sport.  Plus, there are more differing opinions, given that some folks pull sumo and others pull conventional.

Because of the fact that great pullers are pretty few and far between - even at powerlifting meets - I had to study a lot of videos of my technique and coach myself, especially as I added body weight and moved to a new weight class.  Candidly, nothing I ever read early-on in my powerlifting career ever helped me much, and I can't put a finger on a single person who gave me feedback that really made a difference.  It seemed like everyone just said to squat heavy and do plenty of good mornings, and then your deadlift would come along for the ride.  Really logical, right?

Then, in 2006, Andy Bolton changed the game when he pulled 1,003 pounds, becoming the first one to eclipse the half-ton mark.

That, folks, is a crapload of weight. You don't just get there by being genetically gifted or lucky.  Sure, those factors help, but to get to that point, you have to train smart in order to avoid injury and plateau - especially when you're also competing in the squat (1,214 pounds) and bench press (755 pounds), as Bolton does.

At the time, my best competition deadlift was 617.  I remember hearing that Bolton had pulled 1,000 pounds and instantly checking online to try to locate the video.  Then, I started asking everyone I knew (at the time, I was training at South Side Gym in Connecticut, one of the premier powerlifting gyms in the country) if they knew anything about how Bolton structured his training.  As I learned a bit more through the grapevine (this was before Bolton really had much of an internet presence), there were three things that really stood out for me, from what I had heard:

1. He didn't do a lot of sets at his heaviest weights for the day.  He worked up to the target weight for the day, but didn't really do multiple sets.  I'd been doing a lot of sets of 3x5 in the low 500-pound range, and it was really beating me up to the point that I couldn't pull as frequently as I would

2. His total sets/reps on assistance work and overall training frequency weren't all that high. Learning more about Bolton's training made me realize that as I got stronger, I needed to be cognizant of not letting volume and frequency remain as high as it had been when I was younger and weaker.

3. He didn't miss lifts. I, on the other hand, would often compete with guys 50-200 pounds heavier than me on a regular basis, and it meant that I'd miss a lift at least once every two weeks. I learned to be more conservative with selecting weights on my heaviest sets; the difference between 95% and 101% was a lot of wear and tear and recovery.  I think I went several months without missing a lift on multiple occasions.

Over the next year, I made a conscious effort to get more full days off from training, as opposed to always wanting to add assistance work on off-days.  And, I stopped pushing crazy volume on my deadlifts; in fact, I went to one heavy, low-volume day (e.g., work up to a heavy set of three), and another day where I pulled for speed (45-70% of 1RM) after squatting heavier.  In 2007, in my last official meet, I pulled 650.

An improvement of 33 pounds in a year might not seem like much to most people, but since I already had a deadlift in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 in my weight class, it was a huge deal to me.  There were quite a few things that changed in that year for me, but I can say without wavering that those two modifications to my training were a huge part of my improvement.

Would I have figured those out without asking around about Andy Bolton's training?  I don't know.  I doubt it, though, as I sure as heck hadn't figured them out on my own in the previous three years of competing!

Early on, I taught myself a lot about deadlifting through trial and error simply because I didn't feel like there was a good resource out there for it.  In fact, if you take a look at my technique now (recent "mock" meet video below), you'll see that I've simplified my pulling technique by eliminating the heel stomp. 

If even advanced pullers are trying to find ways to get better, surely there are lots of deadlifting secrets out there that could really benefit novice and intermediate lifters. And, that's why I was pumped when I heard that Bolton was creating a new resource, Deadlift Domination. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy, and it's absolutely fantastic.

deadlift_domination_3d_cover

I emphasize the term "resource" because it isn't a one-size-fits-all plan.  Rather, it's a great educational tool that teaches lifters of all ages about proper technique and programming strategies.  Some valuable topics they cover that stood out for me were how to:

1. Determine whether you're better built for the conventional or sumo deadlift technique.

2. Deload prior to meets/testing days.

3. Integrate kettlebell exercises with more traditional powerlifting training.

4. Manage your breathing during heavy deadlifting (I wish someone had taught me this eight years ago).

5. Build a solid hip hinge so that you can deadlift safely.

6. Make sure you appreciate the difference between how Olympic lifters deadlift (first pull) and how powerlifters do so.

7. Pull yourself down to the bar (this is a HUGE game-changer for lifters when they finally "get it," especially on deadlift bars with a lot of whip)

8. Utilize compensatory acceleration training: performing the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement as fast as possible, regardless of the weight.

These are just a few of the first things that come to mind as I went through the product.  Bolton also goes into great detail with respect to training the squat and deadlift.

Like I said, I wish I'd had access to it as a beginning lifter, and I give it my highest endorsement for those of you in the same situation.  It's on sale with a special collection of bonuses, so I'd strongly encourage you to check it out: Deadlift Domination.

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Thinking Concentric With Your Strength Training Programs

When it comes to strength training programs, the basics work.  They always have, and they almost always will.  However, sometimes, they don't.  The more advanced you get, the more often you'll need to shake things up to ensure continued progress.

Sometimes this is as simple as taking a deload week, changing your exercise selection, undertaking a specialization program, or bringing in a hype guy to pad your ego.

With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's post to introduce a way you can integrate some variety in your strength training programs to avoid plateaus and keep things interesting.  That strategy is to go concentric-only. Let me explain.

The eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep is what causes the most muscular damage and post-exercise soreness.  A common deloading strategy that many lifters have employed is to reduce the amount of eccentric work in a strength training program, instead utilizing concentric-only (or predominantly concentric) lifts.  These strength exercises include deadlifts (uncontrolled eccentric or dropping the weight), high pulls, step-ups, sled pushing/dragging, and Anderson squats.  Have a look at this video and let me know how much eccentric work I actually did:

Then, consider that a step-up variation under load allows a lifter to attain some of the benefits of single-leg training without all of the debilitating soreness one feels when sitting down to the toilet for the 3-4 days following walking lunges.

And, consider sled pushing.  It might make you hate life and lose your lunch, but it won't make you sore.

What folks might not consider is that this doesn't just have to be a deloading strategy; it can also be a loading strategy.  It goes without saying that if you are employing more concentric-only exercises, you can train more frequently.  So, for those of you who are considering squatting or deadliting 3x/week in a specialization block, you might consider getting more concentric-only work in so that you can still groove movement patterns and load considerably, but without the same degree of tissue-specific damage. 

Utilizing more concentric-only variations can also be very helpful with in-season athletes when you want to avoid soreness at all costs, as I wrote here.  However, it's important to note that this is not a long-term training strategy.  Rather, it should be a short-term change of pace, as eccentric control is tremendously important for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.  Experiencing eccentric stress is crucial to prevent injuries, performing at a high level, and building muscle mass. Nonetheless, start thinking about how some concentric-only work might help to take your strength training programs to the next level.

To take the guesswork out of your strength training programs, check out The High Performance Handbook

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Strength Training Programs: 8 Strategies for Easily Maintaining Strength

In a post a while back, I made a comment that intrigued quite a few people:

I'm always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.

If you train yourself to run a six-minute mile, then take two months off from running, you can usually come back and get pretty darn close to that same time in spite of the detraining.  However, chance are that you had to bust your butt to get to that six-minute time in the first place.

The same can be said of a 600-pound deadlift, appreciate level of mobility, or world-ranking in water chugging.

In short, once you've hit these milestones, they stick around pretty well, provided you don't completely screw up and allow yourself to detrain.  As a frame of reference, my best deadlift is 660, yet even though I don't pull over 600 all that frequently (my competitive powerlifting days are likely over), I know I can do so just about any day of the week.

I'm always amazed at where my strength levels stand at the end of a long baseball off-season.  I work some absurdly long hours from September through February when all our professional baseball players are around - and this definitely impacts how frequently I do much work in the 1-3 rep range with my lower body training.  And, frankly, I don't squat at all during this time of year because my knees are usually cranky from being on the hard floors all day.  Interestingly enough, when I get some down-time when the pro guys go in-season, my squatting numbers haven't fallen off much at all.

I don't just think this is a valuable lesson for lifters who anticipate life interfering with optimal training dedication; I also think it's a tremendously important message to older lifters who may not be able to load as frequently as they could in their younger years.  To that end, here are some strategies for sustaining the strength one has built up over the years.

1. Avoid significant weight fluctuations (particularly down).

Nothing every sapped my strength more than losing five pounds.  Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to it because I competed at a lower weight class and always had to monitory my weight to the point of being neurotic, or maybe it was just because it slightly changed my range-of-motion and leverages on the squat and bench press.  Regardless of what it was, a five pound drop in body weight equated to a 30-pound drop off my squat and 15-pound drop off my bench.

To that end, if you're trying to keep your strength up during some down time in your strength training program, make sure to keep your weight up, too.  It's not the time to be skimping on calories (unless, of course, you have a lot of fat to lose as part of your fitness goals).

2. Eat right.

"Eating enough" and "eating right" are two completely different things.  It would be very easy for me to just live on fast food during our busiest season.  Instead, I still set aside time to prepare food for the long work day.  I'm also fortunate to have a cafeteria 100 feet down the hallway, and they'll cook me up whatever healthy food I need on the fly.  I've got Athletic Greens, fish oil, and probiotics in my office, plus beef jerky and almonds in case I need solid food on the fly.  "Busy" doesn't have to mean "unhealthy" as long as you plan ahead.

3. Lift heavy at least once a month.

If you want to get strong, you need to put in at least 2-3 heavy lifting sessions per month for the lift in question. And, if you're trying to trying to bring up a bench press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up simultaneously, you've got a lot of competing demands and overall training stress.

If, however, you want to stay strong, getting in just a few heavy sets of a particular movement each month can get the job done.

4. Get sufficient sleep.

No matter how busy life gets, I am pretty good about getting at least seven hours of sleep each night - and usually a little bit more. I'm typically in bed by 10PM and asleep by 10:30, then wake up between 6 and 7AM each day.  I (like many others) have noticed that sleep before midnight makes me feel a lot better than trying to catch up by sleeping in the following morning.

5. Forget the deloads.

I'm a huge advocate of deloading periods in one's training; in fact, I wrote an entire e-book about the topic!

 However, if you're going through a time when your normal training volume is compromised, you really aren't "loading" enough to require a deload.  You're better off getting in your work whenever possible.

The obviously exception to this rule would be older lifters with appreciable levels of strength; they need to set aside specific deloading periods even if they are training with heavier sets less frequently.

6. Still crush your assistance work.

Just because you're not feeling up to crushing a personal best squat doesn't mean that you can't still get after it with your single-leg work, sled pushing, glute-ham raises, or any of a number of other assistance exercises. Do your best to keep the resistance up on your assistance work instead of just getting your reps in. Sets in the 5-8 rep range are outstanding in this regard, as they're heavy enough to have strength benefits, and the volume can help keep muscle on you, too.

7. Stick with multi-joint exercises.

If you maintain your strength on compound movements (e.g., chin-ups), you'll maintain your strength on "sub-category" isolation movements (e.g., biceps curls) just fine.  It doesn't work the other way around, though.

If life is busy and you're dragging when you get to the gym, you're much better off hitting a set of deadlifts than you are doing some leg curls.

8. Consider rearranging your schedule or changing your strength training program split.

One of the biggest appeals of The High Performance Handbook I introduced was the versatility it provided via its 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training program options.  Being able to shift from one approach to another as your schedule gets busier or lighter is valuable flexibility.

Additionally, it may be advantageous to plan your training for your less stressful days.  If you work crazy hours Monday through Friday, try lifting Saturday and Sunday, then picking 1-2 days in the middle of the week for short sessions consisting of just assistance work.

These are eight strategies you can easily apply even when life isn't easy and you want to maintain strength, but there are surely many more.  I'd love to hear your experiences with maintaining strength during busy times in your life in the comments section below!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/11/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading: Get Stronger by Doing Less - This was a guest blog I wrote over at MensHealth.com on the topic of managing training stress. Foot Positions in the Squat - Here's an excellent post from Charlie Weingroff.  Actually, I'd call it epic; he clearly put appreciable time and thought into it. Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl - I usually bring this one back to the forefront every opening day, but completely forgot to do so this year.  Since there is a chance that he won't be president next opening day, I figure I might as well milk this content for all it's worth now. I didn't hear about him throwing out a first pitch anywhere, so I wonder if this old post made him insecure.  I hope not, as we're losing too many good baseball players to basketball nowadays, anyway! Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation: Part 1

A few years ago, as my wife and I were discussing where we wanted to go for our honeymoon, we both agreed that we wanted to go somewhere that we could be active.  The “sit by the pool and crush margaritas” vacation just isn’t us – and that’s why we wound up in Costa Rica for nine days in March.  From everything we read, Costa Rica was a place where you could hike, surf, ride horses, snorkel, zipline – and get your heart rate up just by driving on narrow, cliffside roads with drivers so aggressive that they make Boston cabbies look like they’re just getting their learners’ permits.

Anyway, our “active” vacation got me to thinking about just how many people completely blow it with their workout routines and diets when they are on vacation.  I know what you’re thinking: “vacations are supposed to be time off from everything, so quit being such a nitpicker!”

I’ll agree: a vacation should be completely relaxing (and ours was), but I’d argue that doing absolutely nothing on vacation is a problem for most people for four reasons.

First, vacations are almost always a time when folks are confronted with obscene amounts of food and alcohol.  You’re not just eating a larger quantity of food; you’re eating “out” more with others preparing that food.  You’re also tempted by foods that are “new” to you – which can quickly shift the macronutrient breakdown that feels best in your normal diet.  I, for instance, ate a ton of fresh fruit in Costa Rica at pretty much every meal in spite of the fact that I’m a guy who normally doesn’t eat a ton of carbs.

When so much is out of your control on the dietary front – and you’re tempted by foods you wouldn’t otherwise eat (like that third slice of cake at 1AM on the all-inclusive cruise), exercise could be your best friend.  Well, that and cracking your own coconuts when you don't have a sharp knife on hand.

(for the record, I made an awesome pina colada protein shake out of Metabolic Cooking with fresh pineapple and coconut)

Second, a lot of people see dramatic changes to their normal sleep schedule while on vacation.  My wife and I actually wound up going to bed earlier and waking up earlier while there because we were usually wiped out by the end of the day and the sun was so bright in the morning.  Plus, on a few occasions, we had monkeys throwing mangos at our roof (not kidding).

However, most people go in the opposite direction: in bed at 2AM and up at 12PM.  We know that sleep quality, duration, and timing has a huge impact on how our body functions, so canning exercise at a time when sleep is at its poorest might not be the best idea.

Third, most vacations are longer than your typical deload week, especially when you factor in travel days.  Taking 5-7 days off is one thing, but nixing your training effect for up to two weeks is a recipe for getting soft – or, even worse, falling off the exercise bandwagon altogether.

Fourth, I’ll probably take some heat for this, as I wrote in The Art of the Deload, I think that the idea of a complete deload week is a silly idea for the overwhelming majority of the population.

The last statistic I saw had 64% of Americans as overweight or obese.  Of the other 36%, there are probably quite a few people who are naturally slender and don’t even exercise – which means that maybe a quarter of all Americans actually exercise and are in a shape other than “round.”  Go to any gym, and think about how many of those 25% of the population actually work hard enough in their strength training programs to justify taking a full week off.

Fifth, traveling sometimes means that you spend entire days sitting on planes and in airports.  A long plane ride can make an 8-hour day at your cubicle feel like a walk in the park.  I know my body is always the most stubborn when it comes to warming up the day after a long plane ride.  Some moving around on vacation can really do the body good when it comes to maintaining mobility.

Now that I’ve made my case for vacation exercise, check back soon for Part 2, where I’ll talk about what we did for training in Costa Rica.

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