Home Posts tagged "High Performance Training"

Versatility and Consistency for Strength and Conditioning Success

If you had to ask me what the single most important factor that makes or breaks someone's strength and conditioning success, I'd immediately answer, "Consistency." The ones who show up and put in the work are the most adherent to the programs, and they develop a host of habits conducive to long-term success. Nobody can really argue with that.

If consistency, then, is a huge goal in any training plan, then what are the objectives that underlay it?

A motivating training environment is obviously important. If you've got good people and energy in your culture, people will want to be consistent.

Novelty is something that inspires other people. People get excited when they experience something new, so subtle or not-so-subtle adjustments to the training program or environment can make a big difference for folks who need an extra boost for consistent attendance.

Progress is big as well. We like to do what we're good at doing - so when you're quantitatively aware of the progress you're making, it feeds back into the motivation that drives consistency.

These are all no-brainers, and I'm sure we could go on and list more key factors influencing consistency. However, one factor that is definitely overlooked is versatile programming.

In other words, you have to be able to modify things on the fly when life gets in the way. Maybe it's tinkering with training frequency/scheduling before a family vacation, shortening a training session when a young athlete is exhausted during final exams, or modifying exercise selection to work around a broken toe. The best programs are the versatile ones - and the best coaches are the ones who understand how to tinker on the fly as needed. If your program and coaching philosophy are too rigid to accommodate these necessary adjustments, consistency will definitely suffer.

What happens, however, when you don't have a coach overseeing your training? How do you make these adjustments?

First - and most obviously - you have to be honest with yourself on how you feel. This is certainly easier said than done, but in my experience, making correct choices on the most obvious decisions is the difference maker for most individuals. For instance, if your nose is running, head is throbbing, and every joint in your body aches, it's probably a much better idea to go home and sleep off the flu than it is to try to plow through a heavy deadlift training session. Most situations aren't this black and white, though. Usually, the tougher decisions are when to push for PRs, add/subtract sets, or make exercise modifications on the fly. "Feel" in this regard comes with experience, and it's usually constantly evolving as you get older and more highly trained.

Second, seek out mentors and training partners to help you along and push you to get better each day. I think this Tweet pretty much sums up this point.

Third, you can outsource. Don't know when you should deload? Adopt a program where deloading periods are already incorporated. Don't know how to design a warm-up that covers all your needs? Have someone else structure it for you so that you don't miss anything. Want something flexible enough to accommodate a busy travel schedule? Get a program where training frequency can be rotated from week to week.

These are all problems I worked hard to solve for my audience when I created The High Performance Handbook. This resource has different programming options based on assessment outcomes, and supplemental conditioning approaches that can be individualized to one's goals (fat loss, athletic performance, etc.). Each phase has 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week lifting options to provide options for various time throughout the training calendar, whether it's an in-season/off-season athlete or an accountant that needs something with less frequency during tax season. I include modifications for folks who may have equipment limitations, and also suggestions on how to tinker with the program if you're an overhead athlete, older lifter, or someone looking to add more muscle mass. In short, I worked hard to create what I believe to be the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available on the market today. For more information, check out www.HighPerformanceHandbook.com.

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Spring Sale!

The weather is warming up, baseball season is underway, and I've got my spring cleaning all wrapped up. The logical next step to keep the momentum rolling is to announce a big spring sale!

With that said, I'm putting my flagship product, The High Performance Handbook, on sale. From now through Sunday at midnight, you can get this popular training resource for $30 off HERE.

The discount has already been applied, so no coupon code is needed.

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Enjoy!

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10 Ways to Remain Athletic as You Age

Back in my early-to-mid-20s, my focus shifted into powerlifting and away from a "traditional" athletic career. While I got a ton stronger, I can't say that I felt any more athletic. In hindsight, I realize that it was because I trained strength at the exclusion of many other important athletic qualities. Since then, I've gone out of my way to include things that I know keep me athletic, and as a result, at age 36, I feel really good about taking on anything life throws my way. With that in mind, I thought I'd pull together some recommendations for those looking to remain athletic as they age.

1. Stay on top of your soft tissue work and mobility drills.

Without a doubt, the most common reason folks feel unathletic is that they aren't able to get into the positions/postures they want. As I've written in the past, it's much easier to do a little work to preserve mobility than it is to lose it and have to work to get it back. Some foam rolling and five minutes of mobility work per day goes a long way in keeping you athletic.

2. Do a small amount of pre-training plyos.

I think it's important to preserve the ability to effectively use the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). That's not to say that every gym goer needs to be doing crazy depth jumps and sprinting full-tilt, though. A better bet for many folks who worry about tweaking an Achilles, patellar tendon, or hamstrings is to implement some low-level plyometric work: side shuffles, skipping, carioca, and backpedaling. Here's a slightly more advanced progression we use in The High Performance Handbook program:

The best bet is to include these drills right after the warm-up and before starting up with lifting.

3. Emphasize full-body exercises that teach transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.

I love cable lift variations to accomplish this task in core exercises, but push presses, landmine presses, and rotational rows are also great options.

4. Emphasize ground-to-standing transitions.

Turkish Get-ups are the most well-known example of this challenge, but don't forget this gem:

5. Get strong in single-leg.

Squats and deadlifts will get you strong, no doubt, but don't forget that a big chunk of athletics at all levels takes place in single-leg stance. Lunges, 1-leg RDLs, step-ups, and split squats all deserve a place in just about everyone's training programs.

6. Use core exercises that force you to resist both extension and rotation.

Efficient movement is all about moving in the right places. The lower back isn't really the place to move, though; you should prioritize movement at the hips and upper back. With that in mind, your core work should be focused on resisting both extension (too much lower back arching) and rotation. Here are a few favorites:

7. Train outside the sagittal plane.

It's important to master the sagittal (straight ahead) plane first with your training programs, but once you get proficient there, it's useful to progress to a bit of strength work in the frontal place. I love lateral lunge variations for this reason.

8. Chuck medicine balls!

I'm a huge fan of medicine ball drills with our athletes, but a lot of people might not know that I absolutely love them for our "general population" clients as well. I speak to why in this article: Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes. Twice a week, try adding in four sets at the end of your warm-up and prior to lifting. Do two sets of overhead stomps and two sets of a rotational drill, starting with these two variations in month 1:

In month 2, try these two:

Trust me; you'll be hooked by the "8-week Magic Mark."

9. Be fast on your concentric.

If you want to stay fast, you need to keep a fast element in your strength training program. This can obviously entail including things like Olympic lifts, jump squats, and kettlebell swings. Taking it a step further, though, you can always just make a dedicated effort to always accelerate the bar with good speed on the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement. 

10. Play.

In a given week, on top of my normal lifting, I might catch bullpens, sprint or condition with my athletes, play beach volleyball, or run a few football receiving routes at the facility. The old adage, "Variety is the spice of life" applies to fitness and athleticism, too. Don't be afraid to have some fun.

The longer you've been training, the more you realize that your strength and conditioning programs have to be versatile enough to preserve your athleticism and functional capacity while still keeping training fun. If you're looking for a flexible program that's proven effective across several populations, I'd encourage you to check out my flagship resource, The High Performance Handbook.

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Are You Willing to Ask for Help?

For a huge chunk of my life, I was a complete control freak. Looking back, I was convinced that I could "handle" everything that came my way - both in terms of expertise and actual time commitment. It was always easier to do it myself than it was to find someone else to do it, as I knew I'd have to be looking over their shoulder and second-guessing their work, anyway.

Then I hit a critical threshold.

Around 2006, my clientele grew exponentially right after I moved to Boston. All of a sudden, I was training clients seven days per week and - in many cases - over 13 hours per day. On top of that, my online presence was growing, product sales were rolling, and I had more writing and speaking opportunities than ever before. I was still powerlifting competitively, so training had to be a priority. With multiple revenue streams, my financials were getting more and more complex. And, last (but certainly not least), I'd just started dating Anna (who is now my wife), so that relationship was a big priority as well. I wanted to do it all.

Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, and I was using almost all of them - which meant sleep was getting pushed out. The success that I'd dreamed of for years was actually kicking my butt. For the first time in my life, I recognized that I needed help.

As it turns out, "help" was a bit complex. It entailed opening Cressey Sports Performance and bringing on my business partner, Pete Dupuis, to handle the managerial side of things. Tony Gentilcore also joined in to help out with managing a rapidly-growing clientele.

This help was game-changing for me. In spite of the exhaustion that went with starting a new business, I felt invigorated and the long hours didn't phase me. Having others' expertise and efforts working alongside my own afforded me more time and opportunities to focus on what I did really well: evaluating, programming, and coaching.

Months later, we brought on Brian St. Pierre as our first employee. We asked him to "help" step up our nutritional offerings for our clients, and he crushed it. It's been an important part of our business ever since. Chris Howard later "helped" to bring in massage therapy. Greg Robins and George Kalantzis "helped" build up our strength camps. We hired a fantastic accountant who has "helped" simply our finances and save us a lot of money. Later, it was a payroll company to "help" with that side of things, and an office manager to "help" manage the daily chaos at our facility so that Pete can focus on business development. I've got a lawyer, financial adviser, landscaper, cleaning lady, part-time nanny, and host of other people who "help" me on a regular basis. I refer clients out to physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, and many other ancillary professionals who can "help" our clients. Now, I have the "help" of two new business partners - Brian Kaplan and Shane Rye - with the opening of our Jupiter, FL facility this past fall.

I say this not to brag, but to show you how asking for help and being willing to outsource tasks that don't best leverage my skillset has completely changed my life for the better time and time again. It's freed up time to focus on things I do REALLY well. This has allowed me to grow my businesses, be a better husband and father, and have great satisfaction with my job (if I can even really call it a "job"). Time and time again, asking for help and outsourcing has proven to be a good decision - and I started out as the biggest micromanaging skeptic you could possibly imagine.

What does this have to do with YOU, though?

If you want a contract drafted up, you go to a lawyer.

If you want your taxes done, you go to an accountant.

For some reason, though, most folks try to take on their most precious commodity - the body - by themselves. And, this is probably why we see so many crazy fad diets, and so many brutal displays of "what in the world is that exercise, and is he really going to hurt himself?" on display at most commercial gyms. And, it's one reason why many people really aren't happy with their physiques, functional capacity, or physical quality of life.

The truth is that many of these people are just a few months away from looking, feeling, and moving dramatically better. They just need to seek out help - just like I have (albeit in different contexts).

This blog is obviously about fitness, and if you're reading it, I'm guessing that means that you've looked to me for help. Thank you for your vote of confidence.

To that end, I'm confident that one outstanding way in which I can help you is by directing you to The High Performance Handbook. I'm confident that it's a versatile program that can really help the overwhelming majority of my readers to get closer to their goals and educate them in the process.

But even beyond The High Performance Handbook program, I hope this blog has made you think a bit about how you can find help to simplify your life and create opportunities to focus on what you do REALLY well. It's made a world of difference for me.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/15/14

To help kick your week off on the right foot, here are three recommended strength and conditioning readings for you:

Carbohydrate Tolerance: Is it Determined by your Genes? - Helen Kollias pulled together this excellent article for Precision Nutrition. It's not just a research review, though; she also provides some important action items to help you improve your ability to tolerate carbohydrates.

The Radar Gun Revolution - Those of you who are baseball fans will appreciate this candid look at how the radar gun has changed the way that players are scouted. Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best scouts I've met always seem to know when to put the radar gun away (or leave it at home).

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No Dumbbells? No Problem - A few of my online clients don't have access to dumbbells in their home gyms, and it led me to write the "High Performance Training Without the Equipment" series a while back.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 5/16/13

With Show and Go on sale this week, I thought I'd use today's recommended reading post to point you in the direction of some related content:

My Top 10 Strength and Conditioning Mistakes - This is a free 23-minute webinar I made back when Show and Go first launched.  Regardless of your training experience, I'm sure you'll find some pearls of wisdom in there.

5 Reasons You Aren't Getting Stronger - I wrote this around the time that Show and Go was released, too.  It's one of the more popular articles ever published on this site. There is a small amount of overlap with the aforementioned webinar, but important points do deserve repetition!

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Is Show and Go Okay for Females? You Tell Me. - A lot of ladies ask if Show and Go can be a good fit for them, so I pulled together this compilation of ladies crushing heavy weights. 

To take advantage of this week's sale on Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, click here.

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5 Traits of Successful Athletes

With Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better on sale for this week, I thought I’d give you a sneak peak at the final chapter of this resource.  While most people want the programs (the what), I think it’s also important to understand the “how,” too.  In other words, if you give two trainees the exact same program, why do they often get remarkably different results?  Sure, genes play into this, but there are additional factors that influence one’s long-term success.  You can learn about a few of them below. - EC

All this in mind, as I sit here to write up this last chapter, it’s important for me to actually make it into something useful for you.  To that end, I thought back to the most accomplished athletes and lifters with whom I’ve interacted over the years to brainstorm up some traits that typify almost all of them.  What words do I think of when considering these individuals?

Consistency – Their outstanding results are never about just a 16-week program, finding a magic pill, or taking shortcuts.  They don’t skip out on 2-3 months here and there because work gets busy.  They never let minor aches and pains sidetrack them because they find ways to train around these issues and rehabilitate them in the process.  They can’t fathom taking 19 weeks to complete a 16-week program.  Training is an integral part of their lives, so they do it with more consistency than their less-accomplished peers.  In the grand scheme of things, the programming, technique, and training environment are important – but just showing up is the single-most important thing.

Focus – When it’s time to train, the cell phone goes off.  There’s no talking about the boozing that went on at the bars the weekend before, or complaining about problems with the new girlfriend.  When these successful trainees are in the gym, they are there for one reason: to lift heavy stuff and get better.

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Training Partners/Environment – Successful individuals realize that they’ll never be as well off alone as they will be with the help of the individuals around them, so they surround themselves with the right people.  The end result is constant, detailed feedback; handoffs and spots whenever they’re needed; accountability to ensure the aforementioned consistency; and camaraderie that improves results exponentially. 

Realistic Expectations – My best deadlift is 660 pounds, but to be honest, on about 363 days of the year, I don’t think I could come within 20 pounds of it.  It just isn’t possible to be at your best for every training session – and it gets even harder to be close to that “peak” feeling as you get more experienced and accomplished.  Push too hard when you aren’t feeling it, and you’ll set yourself back.  The most accomplished powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strength sport athletes out there know when to push and when to hold back to take deloading periods; they have realistic expectations of themselves and listen to their bodies.

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Insatiable Desire to Improve – Some of the best athletes I’ve ever met and worked with have also been the most inquisitive and open-minded to suggestions.  They are constantly looking for new ways to improve, and appreciate that the field of strength and conditioning is a very dynamic one in which new research emerges almost daily.  They recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so they borrow bits and pieces from many different philosophies to find what works best for them.

For more information, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.  It's on sale this week at a big discount.

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This Week Only: Save Big on Show and Go

For only the second time since its release (and first time since 2011), I'm putting Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better on sale. It's my birthday a week from today, so I figure I can use the proceeds to buy myself some hair plugs or a few rounds of Bingo, now that I'm getting old.

Joking aside, though, through this Saturday (5/18) at midnight, you can get this resource for just $77 (48% off the normal price).

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With me working on a new project that'll be due out later this year, now is the perfect time to give the Show and Go program a test-drive, as it'd be a great option for setting you up to give the next generation of "Cressey Madness" a go in the fall.  Don't take that to mean that the Show and Go program is outdated, though, as I still get great feedback on the program every single day of the week.

For more information, head here.

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3 Strategies to Avoid Getting Too Comfortable with Your Strength and Conditioning Programs

In the past, I’ve written about how fond I am of the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, brothers who’ve written best sellers like Made to Stick and Switch. These books have provided insights about why certain ideas are accepted while others are rejected, and outlined strategies to implement paradigm shifts effectively. Effectively, they analyze how people behave and process information in order to help readers make effect positive changes in business and in life. On my recent vacation, I read their newest release, Decisive, which discusses all the factors that affect whether we make good or bad decisions. I stumbled upon a gem in this great read that I think applies heavily to folks’ fitness programs.

In reference to a meta-analysis of the psychology literature, the Heaths write: “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the brothers note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

Think about how this applies to the fitness community. There are a lot of folks who go to the gym and do what they’ve always done because it’s comfortable. It’s much easier to just go and do an exercise that you already know than it is to have to learn something new. And, beyond just the comfort factor, being willing to adopt new ways also means that you may have to accept that your old ways weren’t up to snuff – and that can be a bitter pill to swallow when it means thousands of hours at the gym may have been used inefficiently.

People want to confirm their awesomeness, not refute it.

One of my most important roles as a strength and conditioning coach is to help people embrace change when it comes to exercise. This generally means that I make a living “dis-confirming” what others are doing in their own exercise programs; otherwise, I wouldn’t be needed.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule (in powerlifting, for instance, you want to be as efficient and consistent as possible with the three main lifts), change means creating a disturbance that least leads to greater fitness adaptation. It may be a richer proprioceptive environment to better prepare someone for life's demands, a different metabolic conditioning stress to drop body fat, an exercise variation to help someone avoid an overuse injury, or a new warm-up to improve movement quality on the way to achieving a goal.

Change must, however, be implemented differently for each individual. Some folks are ready to jump right into the deep end, and others are more reluctant and need to be eased into adjustments. Some folks may really need a complete program overhaul, while others might just need some tinkering.

How, then, do you know where you stand without someone like me there to help you? I’d ask yourself these five questions to determine if you’re getting too comfortable:

1. In the past four months, have you been moving toward your goals or further away from them?

2. What have you sacrificed to make this progress? This may be time, energy, money, or allowing a different fitness quality to detrain (e.g., losing metabolic conditioning as you put on muscle mass and strength). Are you comfortable with this sacrifice?

3. Are you motivated to get to the gym when the time comes to train?

4. Have you remained healthy during the program, or does it hurt to do certain exercises?

5. Can you do the things you want to do in life? Can you walk up the stairs without getting out of breath? Are you capable of putting your own luggage in the overhead compartment on a plane? Does it bother you that you can’t fit into some of your clothes? Will you make up an excuse to not play catch with your son because your shoulder is killing you?

If any of these questions left a bad taste in your mouth, then you need to evaluate how you can better structure your workout routines. And, in order to do so, you need an unbiased perspective, because we’re all wired to simply agree with ourselves.

1. Get a training partner. – Training partners aren’t just about offering spots, carpools, or accountability to show up for all your training sessions; they’re also there to give you brutal honesty when you need it. Find someone who can tell you when you’re spinning your wheels or being an idiot.

2. Outsource your training. – It might mean you buy a book or DVD and follow the recommended program or hire someone to work with you in person. At CP, our staff members write programs for each other and we all train together so that we can all work toward our individual goals with impartial feedback along the way. Interestingly, we have many fitness professionals who have looked to us for their own training. We have several clients who are personal trainers and strength coaches who appreciate outsourcing things to us in the same way that their clients do to them. Additionally, Show and Go has been very popular with fitness professionals not only because they can look at how the programs are structured, but also follow the program to shake up their own workout routines.

3. Think up alternatives. – The Heath brothers talk extensively about how the best way to come to a good decision is to realize that there is an “And” and not just an “Or.” In other words, not all questions are “yes/no” or “A/B” in nature – even if we try to make them that way. It’s important to brainstorm and investigate alternative solutions that could work best.

As an example, think of a lifter whose shoulder hurts and thinks he needs to stop training until it’s healthy. He might wonder, “Should I train through pain or stop?” The alternative answer is to train around pain, finding exercises that help one maintain a training effect without exacerbating the injury. I know: it sounds logical to assume one would pursue this third option, but you’d be amazed at how many people shut it down altogether. They avoid comprehensive decision-making processes, and you can imagine how this may apply to decisions they encounter in other aspects of their lives.

There are surely many other ways to determine whether you’re getting too comfortable and, if so, what to do about it. However, these were a few ideas to get the ball rolling and make you consider if you’re really heading in the right direction with your training.

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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, three 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 two outstanding manual therapists in my office on a weekly basis.  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.  Nate Tiplady utilizes Graston Technique, Active Release, fascial manipulation, and chiropractic adjustments.  Along with regular foam rolling, these guys have 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 CP. 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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