Home Posts tagged "Kettlebell Exercise"

Should We Really Contraindicate ALL Overhead Lifting?

At a seminar a few weeks ago, a college pitching coach said to me, "Well, I know that you don't like overhead lifting for pitchers, so what do you do instead?"

It's something that's falsely been attributed to me in the past, so let me go on the record by saying that I don't think all overhead lifting is created equal. Rather, I think there is a continuum we have to appreciate as we select exercises for our clients and athletes.

At the most aggressive end of the spectrum, we have overhead pressing with a barbell or dumbbells. They allow a lifter to take on the most load, and in the case of the barbell, they have the least freedom of movement (especially if we're talking about a Smith machine press). Moreover, they generally lead to the most significant compensatory movement, particularly at the lower back. I don't love these for baseball players, but don't have any problems with using them in healthy lifters from other walks of life.

However, in these more at-risk populations, we have some options as more shoulder friendly exercises that can deliver a great training effect. The bottoms-up kettlebell military press delivers a slightly different training effect more safely because more of the work is devoted to joint stability. And, I've found that the bottoms-up set-up helps the lifter to engage serratus anterior more to get the scapula "around" the rib cage.

Landmine presses are another good alternative, as I see them as a hybrid of horizontal and vertical pressing. The torso angle and "lean" into the bar help to optimize scapular upward rotation with less competing directly against gravity.

Bottoms-up carries and waiter's walks are also good options for driving overhead patterning without beating up on the joint. We use them all the time.

Regressing even further, something like a yoga push-up is technically an overhead lift because of the finish position.

So, the take-home message is that I'm not against overhead lifting; in fact, we do it all the time on a number of fronts. Moreover, these examples don't even take into account things like TRX Ys, pull-ups, and overhead medicine ball throw/stomp variations - all of which we incorporate on a daily basis with our athletes and general population clients. Not all overhead work is created equal!

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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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5 Strength and Conditioning Exercises that Overdeliver

With this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite exercises that are included in the program. I like these, in particular, because they're "anti-isolation" exercises. In other words, they deliver multiple training effects to give gym-goers more efficient training outcomes. Keep in mind that just because I don't include classic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts in this discussion doesn't mean that they aren't absolutely fantastic; I just want to give you a little exposure to some different drills in this post.

1. Kettlebell Crosswalk

Because of the asymmetrical loading, you get some great rotary stability work at the core - on top of the anterior core stability work you get from holding a weight overhead while resisting too much arching of your lower back. You get some outstanding shoulder mobility and stability benefits, as getting the top arm up requires a lot of scapular upward rotation and rotator cuff activation. Finally, an overlooked benefit is the opportunity to reaffirm good neck positioning. A lot of athletes will want to shoot into forward head posture, but if you pack the neck correctly, you'll be able to avoid this.

2. Positional Breathing

I use a wide variety of positional breathing drills as part of The High Performance Handbook program, so this is really more of a "category" than a specific exercise. When you put athletes (especially those with more "extended postures) into a more flexion biased position and encourage them to full exhale, you are effectively training both mobility and stability simultaneously. When you exhale, many of the muscles of inhalation - scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, lats, pec minor (not surprisingly all muscles that have chronic tissue density in many individuals) - all are forced to relax. Concurrently, the rectus abdominus and external obliques fire to get air out - and in the process, establish better anterior core stability.

Here are a few examples:

3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL

Whenever I put this in an athlete's program, I go out of my way to warn them that they'll be pretty sore in the days that follow. Lunging and 1-leg RDLs constitute different kinds of single-leg work with different training effects, but when you combine them, you can get the best of both worlds.

This can also be done with one dumbbell at a time. As athletes get more proficient with the drill, I look for more "fluid" transitions, as opposed to a lot of stop-and-go movements.

4. 1-arm KB Turkish Get-up

This one is just too obvious. To do a good get-up, you need everything from a hip hinge, to anterior core control, to shoulder mobility, to single-leg stability.  

 

Not bad for a crafty lefty. #CSPfamily #100lb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

If you're looking for a great coaching resource on Turkish Get-up Technique, check out Greg Robins' article, 6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes.

5. Combination Mobility Exercises

Let's face it: nobody really enjoys mobility warm-ups. Fortunately, for those of you who dread these drills and prefer to get to the lifting as quickly as possible, there are some combination drills that speed up the process a bit. Check out these two examples from the program:

Wrap-up

If you're looking to learn more about how all these different pieces fit with an overall strength and conditioning program "puzzle," then I'd encourage you to check out my most popular resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off this week, and offers programs versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of training goals.  

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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm TRX Row with Offset Kettlebell Hold

We're long overdue for a new installment of my "Exercise of the Week" series, so here's one of my all-time favorite drills. The 1-arm TRX Row with Offset Kettlebell Hold affords all the shoulder health and postural benefits of horizontal pulling, but also trains thoracic (upper back) rotation, and both anterior and rotary core stability. In other words, it delivers some fantastic bang for your training buck. Check it out!

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Coaching Up the Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry

I love bottoms-up kettlebell carrying variations for teaching scapular control and getting reflexive rotator cuff recruitment. Sometimes, though, folks won't feel these drills in the right positions. With that said, check out today's video to learn how you can usually quickly and easily shift the stress to the right spots in the shoulder girdle:

If you're looking to learn more about our approaches to assessing and training the shoulder girdle, I'd encourage you to check out out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships. Our next upper extremity course takes place January 17-19, 2016 at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, with December 17 serving as the early-bird registration deadline. For more information, check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com 

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 64

Today's five tips come from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Approach your sets and reps intelligently.

Whenever I start a new program, I’m always excited to attack the given sets and reps and put some weight on the bar. However, I won’t come into the gym every day of every training program as fresh and ready to go as I did on Week 1, Day 1.

When writing programs for our athletes, I want them to do the following things during their training sessions:

a. Move with quality and integrity.
b. Move with intensity, focusing on force production.

If you can’t bring either to a lift, one of two things is happening: you are fatigued, or the weight is too heavy. There are many causes of fatigue, whether it be from the previous day of training, previous weekend of traveling, or recent competition.

To account for this, I can do two things: regulate sets and reps (volume), or weights used (intensity).

Fellow CSP coach Greg Robins uses the phrase:

“Programs are static, and training is a dynamic process.”

A program is a piece of paper that does not factor in your life: lack of sleep, outside stress, or fatigue from a previous competition. Training is a process that should respect how you recover from day to day. 

So, if you fail or miss a rep for example, you can do one of two things:

If your program calls for 3 sets of 5 reps, that is 15 overall reps at a specific intensity. If you can’t complete the given numbers, you can:

a. Flip the numbers: 15 reps can be done using 5 sets of 3 instead. Mentally, 3 reps is easier to digest than 5, you can recover better in between sets, and you can evaluate how your body is reacting to the exercise on a more micro level. Essentially, you can do any amount of sets to accommodate for the same amount of total volume.

b. Maintain the same amount of volume and decrease the weight used: If the weights are feeling heavy for 8 sets of 3 reps, down the weight until you feel like you are moving without a significant grind.

2. Set goals by reverse engineering them.

If you want to achieve the goal of playing baseball (or any other sport, for that matter) beyond high school, keep these numbers from the NCAA in mind:

Out of 482,629 athletes in high school, less than 7% get the chance to play in college. Out of those student athletes, only 8.6% of draft-eligible players actually get drafted by a professional baseball organization. Even when combined with players who are drafted directly out of high school, you're still dealing with an incredibly low of moving on to professional baseball. And, this doesn't even take into consideration the number of players who make it to Minor League Baseball, but never advanced to the Major League level.

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What's the point? Being in the top 0.5% of anything in life is very challenging, and baseball is certainly no exception.

So the question remains: if you want to achieve something great, how can you best achieve it?

There are a lot of ways to dissect and reverse engineer how to efficiently get to your goals. Locke and Latham (1) note that “specific goals direct activity more effectively and reliably than vague or general goals.”

While the path you may take will vary greatly because of the opportunities that are presented, there is always one thing you can control in the face of uncontrollable external factors, and it is your reaction to the given situation.

• If you got cut from a team, what is your plan of action to display your strengths, or improve your weaknesses?

• What is your reaction when something does not go as planned?

Using the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) is a great place to start, and whether or not you desire to play professional sports, it can also help improve your likelihood to achieve aesthetically minded goals as well.

Also, the SMART method of goal setting can be used as a metric towards modifying behaviors to more positively align yourself with those goals. Are your behaviors allowing you to achieve your goals? If not, what can you do to alter these behaviors or habits?

3. If you stray from a diet, focus on your next meal, not the next day!

When it comes to healthy nutrition, you'll often hear of people "falling off the bandwagon" for a meal - and it leading to several days of poor food choices. For this reason, I always encourage folks to "right the ship" as quickly as possible.

If you go out with friends and indulge, binge eat, or just mess up your macros, don’t give up hope for the day and plan to start over tomorrow. Tomorrow may turn into the next day, and into the next day. So what do you do?

Gather your losses and do better on your next immediate meal, instead of restarting the next day. Don’t let a bad meal turn into a bad day of eating.

This is also one reason why I don't generally advocate full-on "free" days, where folks eat anything they want as a means of "de-stressing" from six days per week of quality nutrition adherence. It's a lot easier to get things back on track after a single bad meal (whether planned or unplanned) than from a full day.

4. Reduce time “lost” training by continuing with low-level exercises.

If you consider training at an established gym with a great training environment as “going all out” as a “100%” of your efforts, what happens when you train elsewhere?

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For example, I’ll refer to four days of lifting with extra days of working on sprints/shuffles/conditioning as 100% of the whole product. If you miss one day, that is 17% of your whole workout week missing. If you miss two days, that is 34% of your workout week that you have “lost” because of travel, long days, or other extenuating circumstances.

Take this day for example:

A1. Barbell RDL - 3x4
A2. Prone Horizontal Abduction - 3x8/side
B1. DB Bulgarian Split Squat - 3x6/side
B2. Half-Kneeling Cable Chop - 3x8/side
B3. Half Kneeling 90/90 External Rotation Hold - 3x(2x6)/side

You have two arm care exercises, one lower body bilateral strength exercise, one lower unilateral exercise, and a rotary core stability exercise.

If you can’t get to the gym to do these, give this a shot:

A1. Supine Bridge March, or 1-Leg Hip Thrust with 3 Sec Pause - 3x10/side
A2. Prone Horizontal Abduction (Off Bed) - 3x8/side
B1. Bodyweight Split Squat with 3 second Pause - 3x10/side
B2. Feet Elevated Side Bridge - 3x30sec/side
B3. Standing External Rotation to Wall - 3x(2x6)/side

Certainly this is not the same, but when comparing these exercises, you can begin to identify that there is still something you can do despite not having access to coaching or equipment.

It won’t be 100% of the full effect, but any percentage of that 100 percent will be worth something when you look back over a longer period of time to evaluate your results.

5. Use density training to get more work done in less time.

Along with decreasing or regulating caloric consumption, increasing caloric expenditure can help you towards your fitness goals. Basically, doing as much work as possible in the form of density training can burn a lot of calories in a little amount of time. Utilizing non-competing muscle groups in a superset or giant set fashion will prevent fatigue and allow you to get more work done.

For example, performing a tri-set with a TRX Inverted Row, KB Goblet Reverse Lunge, and then a Stability Ball Stir the Pot will provide several biomechanical and force production benefits.

Rather than doing 3 sets of 10 for each exercise, waiting around in between sets, and then performing each set with no pre-determined intensity, do this:

A1. TRX Inverted Row - 10 reps
A2. KB Goblet Reverse Lunge - 5/side (10 reps)
A3. SB Stir the Pot - 5/side (10 reps)

Perform as many rounds of this circuit as possible in 5 minutes.

Reference

1. Locke, Edwin A., and Gary P. Latham. "The application of goal setting to sports." Journal of sport psychology 7.3 (1985): 205-222.

About the Author

Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found at www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.
 

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Repetition vs. Randomness: Which Will Get You Fit Faster?

In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal goes to great lengths to discuss the various factors that make consumers fall in love with certain offerings. One factor he highlights in great depth is novelty - or randomness..

As an example, Eyal talks about how we never get tired of our email because we know that each time we check it, there are going to be 100% unique messages waiting for us. Each new email experience may bring noteworthy news, new challenges, different emotions, or just a quick break from the "real" world in which we live. Checking our emails - even if we do so hundreds of times per day - always brings novelty. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media websites and apps are all endlessly novel, too.

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Conversely, think about the game Farmville (yes, that annoying Facebook game for which you always get invites). In spite of small variations to the user experience, the game is always the same - and that's why people play it for hours on end - but ultimately give it up after a few weeks. The novelty wears off.

We can find similar parallels all across our daily lives. There's a reason so many people tune in to watch a reality TV show about the Kardashians; they say dumb things, fight a lot, and spend money on extravagant crap...to create novelty. Sorry, but a reality TV show about an accountant who pretty much does the same thing every day really doesn't drive ratings through the roof; it's just not at all novel.

Maybe you have a favorite restaurant because they have different weekly specials, whereas other spots don't rotate the menu. You probably have that one friend you adore because he/she always overreacts to things, gets easily flustered, or says the most random things - all of which provide endless entertainment value. Maybe you read this website because I make it seem random by talking about everything from training, to corrective exercise, to nutrition, to sports performance, to business, to my kids and dog.

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This randomness also has a place in fitness. Novelty is one factor that makes Crossfit popular; each workout is different, and that randomness can improve exercise adherence. Randomness also accounts for some of the success folks have working out with friends and training partners; your social experience for each training session is different when you have familiar faces with whom you interact (as opposed to working out by yourself in silence).

It goes without saying, however, that your entire program can't be random. Research has demonstrated time and time again that any periodization is better than no periodization at all with respect to improving a variety of fitness qualities. You need repetition to initially learn movement patterns, build strength and power on top of them, and - just as importantly - quantify these improvements. And, you need to plan to ensure that a training effect is achieved at an appropriate rate while reducing the risk of injury. It's an old adage, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

How, then, do we reconcile this need for repetition with our conscious and subconscious tendencies toward randomness, which likely actually improve exercise adherence? This reconciliation begins by recognizing the following:

All successful strength and conditioning outcomes are derived from a blend of repetition and randomness.

This is the classic discussion of strength and conditioning program design combining art (randomness/novelty) and science (repetition). It's important to note that there is an inverse relationship between randomness and motivation (but not necessarily training experience).

The lower the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for randomness to keep exercise engaging. This is working out.

The higher the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for repetition to deliver a specific physiological effect. This is training.

To somewhat arbitrarily assign percentages, lower motivation folks (who are generally - but not always - beginning exercisers) might need 80% randomness and 20% repetition. The best coaches can usually push that 20% up substantially by disguising repetition as "fun" that might seem random. This is particularly important in working with very young athletes; you want repetition, but with variety. Different drills might teach the same movement skills. As an example, are these two drills actually delivering dramatically different training outcomes (besides the fact that I don't have a cool beard in my video)? Probably not.

Conversely, higher motivation folks - and athletes seeking out a specific training effect - can afford less deviation from the plan for randomness. Sorry, but if your goal is to throw a baseball 100mph, an off-season of cycling 100 miles per day isn't going to get you closer to that goal, even if you do enjoy it. Specificity matters.

However, we can't ignore the need for novelty in high-motivation trainees and athletes' program. There has to be some randomness included to avoid boredom in training programs. To me, there are five great ways to do this:

1. Incorporate another sport - Get your athletes out for some ultimate frisbee, or even just play tag instead of movement/sprint training. We worked this in with our pro baseball guys this off-season and it was a big hit. Just make sure the options you choose aren't high-risk for the athletes in question.

2. Add finishers - You never want to overuse finishers, but they can be awesome motivators and team builders, when done in groups. Perhaps most importantly, they take place after the primary training effect has already been accomplished. Just make sure not to overdo it and impose too much fatigue in a single session.

3. Implement new training equipment - You don't have to go out and buy an entire new gym of equipment; rather, simple changes can make a big difference. Draping chains over someone's back instead of using bands for loading push-ups is enough variety for some athletes. Throwing a Fat Gripz on a dumbbell provides a different training stimulus without overhauling your programs. These are just a few examples.

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4. Get in a different training environment - This goes hand-in-hand with option #1 from above, but just getting outside of your "typical" gym setting can be a great change of pace. Some of my best training sessions ever have taken place when I've been on the road and lifted at either friends' gyms or even random commercial gyms. These new locations might offer different training equipment, or you might even find extra focus lifting in a place where you don't know anyone (this is especially true for me, as it's very easy to get distracted training in a gym that may be filled with your clients!). Heck, this 616-pound deadlift was in Slovenia after I'd delivered a full two-day seminar!

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5. Different conditioning workouts - It's generally much easier to quickly quantify improvements in strength than it is to do so with conditioning. For that reason, the strength portion of your programs may be best suited for the "repetition" aspect of your training, whereas the conditioning (unless you're a competitive endurance athlete) is a good place to implement some randomness. As an example, I lift four days a week and do some form of "conditioning" on two other days. This conditioning might be rowing, sprinting, the Airdyne, the slideboard, barbell complexes, body weight circuits, kettlebell medleys, or any of a number of other options. It's where I find some randomness and can still use exercise to clear my head - and I actually find that I feel better when I get more variety in movements during my conditioning work.

One resource to which I commonly refer on this front is Jen Sinkler. Last year, she introduced her extremely thorough (and entertaining) resource, Lift Weights Faster. Effectively, it gives you hundreds of innovative conditioning workouts to try out when you need some randomness (and good challenges) in your life. I probably refer to the original resource 3-4 times per month, and it actually provided some great ideas that we incorporated in programs for our clients (particularly in our morning group strength camps).

As such, you can imagine how excited I was when I heard she was introducing Lift Weights Faster 2, which debuted this week at a great introductory price. I've reviewed the product, and it's fantastic - including this conditioning session I did yesterday:

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This great discount ends tomorrow (Friday) at midnight, so don't delay on checking out this great collection of workouts and extensive exercise library. You can learn more HERE.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 59

It's time to rock and roll with a new installment of quick tips you can put into action with your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs:

1. Enjoy some cherries!

Cherries are in-season right now in the Northeast, and my wife and I have been enjoying them regularly. In addition to being really tasty and loaded with nutrients and some fiber, there is actually a bit of research to suggest that eating them may help us overcome muscular soreness. Granted, working around the cherry pits is a bit of a pain in the butt - especially if you want to use them in a shake - but it's still worth the effort. Enjoy!

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2. Watch baggy shorts with kettlebell swings.

Rugby players and female athletes excluded, most athletes prefer longer shorts that are a bit baggier these days. I don't anticipate a return to the era of Rocky and Apollo anytime soon, so it's important to appreciate this fashion sense and coach accordingly.

The biggest issue with baggy shorts is that they can get in the way on exercises like kettlebell swings and pull-throughs where you want to keep the weighted implement (kettlebell or rope/cable) close to the family jewels. When the shorts are too baggy, they can actually get in the way.  With that in mind, when an athlete is wearing baggy shorts and performing these exercises, it's best to have him folder over the waistband a bit so that the material won't block the movement path.

3. Find your biggest windows of adaptation.

Dr. John Berardi gave a great presentation at the Perform Better Summit in Chicago last weekend, and while there were a lot of outstanding points, one stood out the most for me. While "JB" is an incredibly bright guy with seemingly infinite knowledge, he never overcomplicates things when counseling folks on the nutrition side of things.  In fact, he stressed fixing the most glaring problems for individuals before even considering anything more "sexy." On the nutrition side of things, it might be as simple as correcting vitamin/mineral deficiencies, getting omega-3 fatty acids in, improving hydration status, or eating protein at every meal.  When things like these are out of whack, it doesn't matter what your macronutrient ratios or, or whether you eat two or six times per day.

It got me to thinking about how we can best apply this to training. One thing that popped to mind: a lot of people jump to advanced training strategies when they simply haven't gotten strong in the first place. If you are a male and only bench press 135 pounds, you don't need wave loading, drop sets, German Volume training, or accommodating resistances; you just need to show up and keep adding weight to the bar each week with straight sets, as boring as they may seem. And, if you aren't training very hard or frequently enough, you need to increase your effort, not find a fancier program.

Likewise, there are a lot of people who look to add, add, and add to their training volume, but never pay attention to recovery. If you're sleeping three hours a night or eating a horrible diet, a lack of training volume probably isn't what is keeping you from reaching your goals.

The takeaway message is that everyone has different windows of adaptation where they can improve. And, what a novice lifter needs is usually much different than what an experienced trainee should incorporate.

4. If you're going to sprint, start on the grass.

It's an awesome time of year to get out and do your conditioning in the beautiful weather. For me, this means I get to get outside and do longer sprints than I can do the rest of the year when the weather is less than stellar and I'm limited to a 45-yard straightaway at the facility. A common mistake I see among folks at this time of year, though, is heading right out to the track or an even more unforgiving surface: pavement. If you want to start sprinting, grass is your best friend - and it's even better if you can find a slight hill up which you can sprint. For more tips on this front, check out my old article, So You Want to Start Sprinting?

5. Try some band-resisted broad jumps before deadlifting.

Whenever I'm not feeling so hot when I first go to deadlift, it's usually because I just haven't warmed up thoroughly enough. I've found that the bar speed almost always seems to "come around" when I add in a few sets of plyos before returning to try deadlifts again. Without a doubt, my favorite option on this front is band-resisted broad jumps:

These are a great option because they offer a little bit of resistance to push you more toward the strength-speed end of the continuum, but perhaps more importantly, the band reduces the stress you encounter on landing, as it effectively deloads you. Next time you're dragging and it's time to deadlift, try two sets of five jumps.

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7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum

Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Italy, and fitness nuts that we are, we frequented several hotel gyms - none of which were particularly well equipped. Here's the one from hotel in Florence; yes, it was just dumbbells up to 10kg.

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Immediately upon leaving, I sent an email to Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg (@AndrewZomberg), who I knew was the guy to write up a post on having a great training effect without much equipment. This is what he pulled together; enjoy! -EC

Greater equipment availability generally yields greater efficiency because in order to induce structural or functional adaptations, you have to “force” the body to do so. Unfortunately, getting to a gym is not always feasible. The good news? Resistance training does not always have to depend on cable machines, power racks, and barbells.

Inaccessibility to gym equipment can be discouraging. The good news is that by creating structured programs and discovering new ways to challenge yourself with progressions, you can easily elicit a comparable training effect, just as if you were in a gym. Here are some options:

1. Body Weight Exercises

Undoubtedly, your body weight is the easiest, most accessible piece of equipment to utilize anywhere, anytime. Allowing for a more natural range of motion, body weight exercises enhance spatial awareness and improve the proficiency of movements since no other load is being used.

Progression: Alter the range of motion by increasing the total distance of the movement. For example, when doing a push-up, rather than keeping your feet in contact with the floor, try elevating them to increase stability demands of the core as well as the shoulder girdle. You can also add isometrics to any bodyweight exercise at halfway points and end ranges to impose added stress. You can use tri-sets to keep rest periods short and work in some bonus mobility work.

Sample Bodyweight Workout

Perform each tri-set three times:

A1) Body-Weighted Squats
A2) Push-up
A3) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations

B1) Reverse Lunge
B2) Prone Bridge Arm March
B3) Rocking Ankle Mobilizations

C1) 1-Leg Hip Thrusts off Bench
C2) Side Bridge
C3) Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

2. TRX Suspension Training

Easily portable, this piece of equipment can be anchored almost anywhere and targets virtually every muscle group. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for full-body awareness, as most of the exercises call for optimal body alignment from head to toe. It also places a significant emphasis on the core by challenging your ability to resist unwanted movement in every plane of motion at the lumbar spine.

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Progression: Lengthen the lever arm to reposition your center of mass further from the anchor to increase the total range of motion. Or, slow down the lift to create a greater time under tension effect thus imposing muscular damage for hypertrophy gains.

Sample TRX Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

TRX Anti-Rotation Press: x 8/side
TRX Inverted Row: x 10
TRX Bulgarian Split-Squat: x 8/leg
TRX Push-up: x 8
TRX Fallouts: x 10
TRX Overhead Squat: x 8

On a related note, if you haven't checked out EC's article, 10 Ways to Progress an Inverted Row, it's definitely worth a read!

3. Dumbbell and Kettlebell Exercises

Often found in hotel gyms, these are very affordable for the home or office and provide a wide range of exercise selection. Their biggest advantage is they provide enough options to gain a solid training effect. If the weight selection is too low, you can use higher volume schemes and minimize rest periods. When completing these complexes, execute the exercises without dropping the implement to increase the overall intensity.

DB Progression: Use stability balls, or half and tall kneeling positions to create a greater instability factor. Or, focus on the eccentric portion by taking a few more seconds to lower the weight in order to stress the muscle.

KB Progression: Turn the kettlebell upside down to a “bottoms-up” position to change the dynamic of the exercise. By moving the object’s center of mass further from the rotation (your wrist), you create more instability, forcing co-contractions of all the muscles of the upper extremity.

Sample Dumbbell Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

DB Goblet Squat: x 8
DB Renegade Row: x 8/arm
Offset DB Split-Squat: x 8/side
1-Arm DB Floor Press: x 10/arm
DB Prone Arm Marches: x 6/arm
DB Burpees: 3 x 15

Sample Kettlebell Complex:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

KB Front Squat: x 6/side
KB 1-Arm Row: x 8/arm
KB 1-Arm, 1-Leg RDL: x 8/leg
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm KB OH Press: x 10/arm
KB Swings: x 20
1-Arm KB Bottoms-up Waiter’s Carry: x 25 yards/arm

4. Resistance Bands

Very portable, bands are inexpensive and create an accommodating resistance effect. In other words, where you are biomechanically the weakest, the band will reduce its level of tension at that given position. The same effect will occur as you become biomechanically stronger; the level of tension will increase at that specific range. Bands also allow for direct arm and hip care for deeper muscles that provide the adequate stability for these multi-planar joints.

Progression: Play around with your base of support. Utilizing a narrow stance or tall kneeling position will alter the stability demands, making it more challenging to maintain joint neutrality. Or, add isometrics at the end range by holding the contraction for 5 seconds.

Sample Band Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Band Squats: x 10
Band-Resisted Push-up: x 10
Side-Bridge w/Row: x 8/arm
X-Band Walks: x 12/side
Standing Split-Stance Vertical Anti-Extension Press: x 12
1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift: x10/arm

5. Medicine Balls

Affordable and found in many hotel gyms, these are great for linear and rotational power, given how quickly you must produce force for maximal output, and how the stretch-shortening cycle plays into each exercise. Medicine balls are also good for core activation due to their emphasis on optimal alignment with overhead and rotational patterns.

Progression: Speed up the movement to increase your heart rate and enhance your power skills. Or, simply add more volume to the complex.

Sample Medicine Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Med Ball Slams: x 12
Rotational Scoop Toss: x 8/side
Side-to-Side Overhead Slams: x 8/side
Tall Kneeling Chest Passes: x 12
Hip-Scoops to Wall: x 12

6. Gliders

Very portable, gliders (our favorite is the ValSlide) can conveniently be replaced by household items - like furniture sliders or even towels - if you're in a pinch. Given their size and usage, these disks provide a tremendous amount of direct and indirect core work, since most of the exercises force you to fight against gravity in an anti-extension and anti-rotational manner. Gliders also improve stability due to the unnatural surface environment on which each exercise is performed.

Progression: Change your base of support by elevating an arm or leg off the floor. Decreased points of stability will call for greater concentration of the core in order to maintain optimal spinal alignment during each movement. If accessible, add an external load such as a weighted vest for a real challenge.

Sample Glider Routine:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Reverse Lunges: x 8/leg
1-arm Push-up: x 8/arm
Leg Curls: x 12
Bodysaws: x 10
Mounting Climbers: x 30 seconds

7. Stability Ball Exercises

A staple in most hotel gyms and very affordable for home or office use, stability balls provide a level of volatility that challenges your strength. Basically, in order to combat the dynamic perturbations of stability balls, additional muscles must co-contract to prevent joint deviations.

Progression: Elevate your feet or attempt pause reps at the end range to make the unstable environment even more challenging. Or, create additional perturbations by having a training partner hit the ball in different directions in an effort to knock you off your stability during the lift.

Sample Stability Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Elevated Push-ups: x 8
Leg Curls: x 10
Stability Ball Rollouts: x 10
Dead Bugs – arms and legs: x 6/side

A Few Notes

  • Be sure to invest a few minutes with soft-tissue work and ground-base and dynamic movements to prepare your body for the workout and prevent injury.
  • Be mindful of areas that need more emphasis than others. For example, structural balance is a common issue due to postural adaptations. Placing more emphasis on the posterior chain and upper back will reduce the overused areas and still provide a solid training effect.
  • Select "casual" rest intervals for most programs. But if you decide to create a greater disturbance, reduce the rest time. Just make sure the load is relatively low so form is not compromised. For complexes, the goal is not to put the object down until you have completed the entire round of exercises prescribed!
  • Make an effort to log your workouts. Noting your exercise selection, volume, load, and tempo will spare time in programming your next workout so you do not backtrack but rather progress.

Give some of these ideas a try next time you're in an "equipment pinch" and I think you'll find them to be a lot harder than they look!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 57

 It's been a while since I chimed in with some random tips to help out your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs, so here are five suggestions to kick off your healthy weekend on the right foot.

1. Use a simple chain for added weight to chin-ups or dips.

A lot of people think that you can't load these exercises without a specialized chin-up/dip belt, but believe it or not, we don't actually have one of these at Cressey Performance - nor have we in the seven years we've been in business.

Why not?  Well, it's just as easy to just take a regular chain and use your butt to hold it in place. Check it out:

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2. Don't use "but it's paleo" as an excuse to overeat.

My wife and I cook out of paleo cookbooks all the time, and the food tastes great - and obviously includes unprocessed ingredients.  However, one thing that I often see with folks who go this route is overeating. They assume that since they're replacing regular flour with almond flour, that they can eat a lot more.  This is just one example, but I think it's important for people to realize is that just because it's minimally processed doesn't mean that it's automatically lower in calories. If you look at some of the paleo pizza recipes, as examples, they can be incredibly calorically dense.  "Clean"ingredients are great, but don't overdo it.

3. Try this exercise to train around shoulder pain.

One of the biggest complaints of folks with shoulder pain is that they struggle to find drills to train the pecs that don't make the shoulder discomfort worse.  Here's a basic drill that allows for a solid training effect with minimal equipment - and rarely any discomfort: the Pec Horizontal Adductor Iso Hold.

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With this exercise, you aren't raising the arms, so impingement isn't exacerbated. You also aren't slipping into a bad posture that would exacerbate that impingement, either.  In short, you're applying force in joint positions that are pretty close to "neutral."  Isometric exercises don't get much love, but this is a good one; you're basically trying to crush whatever is between your hands (a power rack or doorway are the best bets, in my experience). I'll usually prescribe one 15-20-second iso hold per set.

It won't take your bench press to 500 pounds, but it should help you avoid wasting away while you're on the mend.

4. Avoid bad upper extremity positioning with sled drags.

I'm a big fan of sled work, but when it comes to forward dragging, the upper extremity can be put in a compromising position.  You want to avoid a posture where the shoulder blades are anteriorly tilted, and the head of the humerus is allowed to glide forward; this positioning is really rough on the AC joint, biceps tendon, anterior capsule, and even many of the nerves and vascular structures of the upper extremity:

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Instead, make sure to get the shoulder blades posteriorly tilted (tipped back) slightly, and don't allow the arms to drag behind the body.

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5. Remember that the barbell isn’t always best.

The barbell is an unbelievable training tool - but it's far from the only effective training implement at your fingertips. I was reminded of this when reading through Bret Contreras' new resource, 2x4: Maximum_Strength.  In the text, Bret observes that you actually get better glute activation on kettlebell deadlifts and goblet squats than you do on barbell variations - in spite of the fact that the load utilized is substantially lighter.  Bret remarked that it likely has to do with the fact that the external loading can be kept closer to the center of mass (and, in these cases, the hips).

 

As a friendly reminder, this awesome new program is available at the introductory price through the end of the day today (Friday). I highly recommend that you check it out: 2x4: Maximum_Strength.

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