Home Posts tagged "Move Better"

Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better – Installment 61

This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Miguel Aragoncillo.

1. Use “discovery learning” as a way to improve retention for movement patterns.

Going to continuing education courses consistently allows me to adjust my perspective based on the “latest” information available in the industry. However, one of the biggest things that allows me to shift my perspective further is to listen in and converse with other professionals during lunch breaks to further understand the topic at hand in a more productive way.

This first point divulges how to implement a sense of discovery about movement patterns and gives some very straight forward tips for coaching anything that is new to your clients or athletes.

Keep these points in mind when using this new technique of teaching.

Use your athlete/client's words and language to help them learn a movement better.

Not every person will know where their glutes are, for example. Have the athlete just point to the part of their body where they feel it; you don’t need a PhD in Exercise Science to teach a basic movement pattern.

Remove body parts.

If a hip hinge is too difficult, reduce the neuromuscular challenge by having them start on two knees instead of two feet. Now the movement is largely a singular hinging pattern when they start on their knees, instead of stabilizing on their feet.

2. Consider reducing the number of “corrective exercises” you perform.

I’m a big fan of Dan John and his easily quotable phrase, “Keep the goal the goal.” Maintain your perspective of the goal at hand. If your goal is to improve strength, lose fat, or improve at your sport, how many corrective exercises are you performing? How much time are you utilizing doing foam rolling? Minimize your time spent analyzing your own problems by seeking out the best coaches, therapists, or nutrition coaches, and get to work on that goal. Sometimes, you'll find that exercises can even be combined to improve efficiency without sacrificing the benefit.

Corrective exercises are supposed to correct something. By omitting these movements, will the athlete miss any crucial movement patterns? Play “Devil’s Advocate” and make sure to incorporate all that is necessary, but no more. If you aren't careful, your "correctives" can wind up becoming a cumbersome majority of your training sessions.

3. Learn the difference between blocked and random practice - and apply each appropriately.

On the topic of training youth athletes, I recently attended a seminar in which blocked vs. random practice was presented. For the purposes of this article, blocked practice is specific training of a singular skill with no changes in environmental surroundings (like swinging a bat against a pitching machine over and over). Conversely, random practice involves having an individual adapt to the surroundings and incorporate different (but similar) skills (like swinging a bat for different scenarios - with a live pitcher).

The biggest question of the day was, "Which athlete excelled when it came time for performance?"

When tested in the short-term, blocked practice performed better than random practice. This makes sense, because if you practice a singular skill over and over, you will get better at that skill.

However, when enough time passed for participants to “forget,” retention of skills was the name of the game. So when retaining skills for a longer term, blocked practice did not do as well, and practicing “randomly” prevailed.

From a logical point of view, this is similar to memorizing sentences when you’re cramming for a final exam. Sure, you’ll do great if the teacher just has the same exact sentences or questions as the book - but what happens if the teacher forces you to critically think, and asks questions that are different than the material presented during class?

This leads quite appropriately into the context of a long term athletic development model. By increasing skills and techniques in a broad sense, athletes will more easily acquire specific sport skills. Conversely, with early sports specialization, athletes are practicing (almost always) one skill over and over, and struggle when diverse, more unpredictable movement is required for success.

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What are the actionable items you can take away from this?

If you coach youth athletes, or you yourself have a young son or daughter:

• Encourage them to try multiple sports.
• Allow them to “figure it out” when it comes to decision making skills, especially as it applies to sports.
• Provide feedback - but much, much later after the competition, game, or practice session.
• This will allow for them to come up with their own unique thoughts, and allow them to be uninhibited when it comes to creating a solution to whatever problems occur during a game.

While this is a “Quick and Easy Way to Move and Feel Better” series, I imagine that we can help everyone of all ages move and even feel better by taking this information and acting on it.

4. Try this quick oatmeal snack.

I’ve been preparing for a powerlifting meet for the past few months, and an easy go to snack in the morning and/or at night is a quick oatmeal snack.

It’s fast, needs little ingredients, is a flexible snack, or even as a snack if your goal is to gain mass.

PB2 Oatmeal

• 1/2 cup Oatmeal
• 2 tbsp Chocolate Peanut Butter or Powdered Peanut Butter
• 1 Scoop of Protein Powder
• Handful of [Frozen] Blueberries
• Honey for taste
• 1 cup of almond or whole milk

Macros
Fat: ~9g
Carbs: ~54g
Protein: ~42g

Prep time: Pour the oats in first, followed by milk, then heat to 90-120 seconds. Then, add everything in and mix it up. The easy clean-up makes this a go-to for the past few weeks/months with all the snow in Massachusetts!

5. Remember that band can increase resistance - or assist in cleaning up a movement pattern.

Whether your goal is maximal strength, increased hypertrophy, or even learning an exercise for the first time, bands are a useful tool.

Band placement is critical for learning how an exercise can increase resistance, or assist during a movement.

For example, you can improve strength by performing a band resisted push-up, or help the push-up by utilizing a band under the waist to elicit a “pop” out of the bottom of the push-up (where the exercise is most difficult).

Band Assisted Push-Up - Miguel

At the same time, bands can help to improve reactive core engagement, or in other words, your body will have to reflexively react in a favorable way.

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 on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 58

It's time for the latest installment of Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better. Here are five tips for you to put into action right away:

1. Try homemade arm sleeves for cranky elbows.

I actually have a subluxating ulnar nerve, which basically means that it sometimes snaps back and forth over the medial epicondyle (funny bone) as my arm goes through flexion and extension. At time, when I'm lifting and playing catch a lot, it'll get a bit cranky. One of the strategies I've employed in the past is simply cutting the end off of a tube sock, then sliding it on from mid-forearm to mid-biceps.

photo-61

Just like a knee sleeve can help with keeping the knees warm and compressed, a simple sock can make a pretty big difference at the elbow. We're learning more and more about how useful compression can be with facilitating recovery, too, so I actually have a lot of pitchers who'll do this between pitching outings to help them bounce back faster. You certainly can't beat the price, either! If your elbows are cranky with heavy lifting, you should first and foremost seek out treatment for it - but this might help expedite the healing process and help you to maintain a training effect while you're on the mend.

2. Make core stability exercises harder by exhaling at the fully lengthened position.

Athletes will often complain that they can't make core stability exercises harder without adding external loading. That's not true at all!  One way we can increase the challenge - and improve the training effect - is to add an exhale at the fully "lengthened" position on anterior core exercises. 

kneelingfallout

So, when you're stretched all the way out on a rollout, fallout, inchworm, or other drill, blow your air out; the ribs will come down a bit as you activate your external obliques and rectus abdominus. Then, give it a 2-3 second pause before inhaling again as you return to the starting position. As I discuss in my Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation, manipulating breathing alone will increase your time under tension dramatically.

3. When struggling to teach a new technique, coach the toughest position first.

In a past installment of this series, Greg Robins talked about the value of teaching the finish position first on certain exercises, with the TRX inverted row being an example:

Sometimes, though, I find that the quickest way to get a client to learn a tough movement is to put them in the most challenging position to acquire first.  This works extremely well with good athletes who are kinesthetic learners; they do best when they feel the positions they need to get. I've started employing this strategy with the Turkish get-up, as a lot of athletes struggle to find the hip hinge pattern it takes to go from the hip bridge position to this part:

Get-up hip hinge

Seriously, with those who struggle to pick up this transition during the movement, try just putting an athletes into this position so that they can feel it prior to teaching the entire movement. It works like a charm - and it makes sense to them, as you're putting them in a good position to support the load overhead.

4. Rock some grilled zucchini this summer.

Everyone knows that summer is grilling season.  One thing I actually hate about this time of year is that I have to be in two places when I'm cooking dinner. The grill is outside, and the oven/stove is indoors, so I invariably find myself bouncing back and forth between the two spots while I'm cooking. A quick and easy solution to this problem is to just grill your vegetables right alongside the meat - and there is no easier option on this front than zucchini, which just so happens to be "in season."  Simply cut the zucchini length-wise into 3-4 strips, then grill it like you would a hot dog.  You can throw some basil, rosemary, or other spices on it, too.

Grilled_zucchini

5. Value professional collaborations just like you value training partners.

Everyone knows that having a good training partner can make a huge difference with strength and conditioning success. However, not many strength and conditioning professionals realize that the same strategy can be applied to your continuing education work.  You'll get better if you have others constantly pushing you to do so as they share ideas and ask questions.  I benefit tremendously from our weekly staff inservices, where our coaches discuss various topics. I also find that seminars are more beneficial when I'm attending with a colleague with whom I can discuss different topics that are covered by the speaker.  I actually know of several training facilities where the staff watches Elite Training Mentorship presentations together so that they can best digest the information and put it into practice.

etmLogo

Just like "going it alone" makes it tougher to progress in the gym, flying solo in your quest to improve as a coach minimizes your professional "upside." So, as lame as it sounds, find a study buddy!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 55

Thanks to Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins, here are some strength and conditioning tips to kick off the weekend:

1. Try this convenient way to massage your upper traps.

In my never-ending quest to make my neck disappear, my upper traps take quite a beating. I’m not alone; many lifters place a high demand on this area via heavy deadlifts, back squats, and high amounts of upper back volume. It comes with the territory, but I couldn’t help but think there must be a better way to attack soft tissue work below what’s left of my neck. Luckily, CP coach and massage therapist, Chris Howard, had a great tip for me.  Here it is:

2. Consider giving more positive feedback.

As part of our internship process at CP, we hold mid-term and final evaluations to let our interns know how they’re doing. It just so happens that this past week was the halfway point for our spring class. I’m fortunate that I get to watch our new interns operate under two very different environments, both the day-to-day semi-private strength training, and the faster-paced morning bootcamp classes.

As the mid-term evaluations came to a close, I realized that even our smartest, most prepared interns, received similar feedback from me:

“If someone is doing something right,
you can still reinforce the positive.”

During the day, when things move at the pace of the athlete, a coach can have the tendency to switch into “observation” mode. Especially as the baseball off-season draws to a close, many of our athletes are very self-sufficient. From a technique perspective, they are relatively flawless.

In the morning, we have many clients who have executed some of the day’s exercises hundreds of times. In the fast paced bootcamp environment, a coach may have the tendency to look feverishly for faults, and find none.

bootcamps72950_211664285638467_1370417084_n

That’s not a negative, but as a coach our job is not merely to offer up negative or constructive feedback. In fact, offering positive feedback can make the training even more effective. Here a few quick reasons why:

  • Often times, people do things correctly and are not even aware of it. Positive feedback can help them hone in on something they are doing well, how they’re making it happen, and how it feels. You will notice that these actions/feelings will translate well to the actions and feelings they need to create on an exercise where they aren’t as comfortable or proficient.
  • Receiving positive reinforcement will help them push harder, and bring more energy to the session.
  • It’s a great opportunity to break the ice, and build a rapport with a client who may be more introverted.
  • As a coach, it keeps you alert and in a more “active” mode.

3. Make a more nutritious sandwich.

Speaking of our interns, I recently got a fantastic idea from Brooks Braga, one of the current ones. Brooks turns to a sandwich for a quick meal on a daily basis, and I couldn’t help but notice his bread slices looked a lot like a pancake. As it turns out, they were – and some pretty nutritious and delicious ones at that! In fact, they are made primarily from almond and coconut flour. I asked if I could share the "Brooks Bread" recipe and he obliged; thanks, Brooks!

Ingredients:

½ cup almond flour
½ cup coconut flour
1-2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1 tsp baking powder
2-3 eggs
~½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

Directions:

a. Mix the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl
b. Mix the eggs and coconut milk in a separate bowl
c. Combine the wet and dry ingredients
d. Scoop a heaping tablespoon-sized amount of batter and spread into your shape of choice on a griddle/frying pan.  If it’s as runny as normal pancake batter the pancakes will not stick together, so it should be thick!
e.  Cook on low-medium heat for a minute or so per side

Modifications:

a. 1 tbsp arrowroot powder can be added for thickening/binding
b. 1 tsp vanilla and/or cinnamon makes them a little more delectable
c. 1 tbsp coconut oil/grass-fed butter makes them richer
d. Several spoonfuls of coconut cream will help to increase the caloric density
e. 1-2 tbsp cacao powder can be used to make chocolate pancakes...why not?
f. Stevia can be used for sweetening

IMG_9479

Notes from Brooks:

a. The batter should be thick enough to the point where you have to spread it out on the griddle/frying pan.  If it is too runny the pancakes will not hold together very well.
b. You might have to play around with the coconut milk amount depending on your other ingredients.  I would suggest starting with ¼ cup coconut milk and adding more until you get a consistency that is thicker than normal pancake batter but still spreadable.

There you have it: a tasty substitute for your lackluster whole grain bread slices. Give it a try!

4. Try this simple programming tip to add more volume to your assistance exercises.

The following is a great way to ensure that you do more work in an exercise over a four-week period. I use it all the time for a sets and reps scheme on the smaller exercises in a program. Let’s use a DB Reverse Lunge as the example:

Wk 1: 3x8
Wk 2: 4x8
Wk 3: 3x10
Wk 4: 4x10

The key is to set your best set of 8 in week 1 and then use that same weight all the way into week 4. By increasing volume through the addition of sets first, and then through the addition of reps and sets, we are able to do more total work both overall and in a single set. That’s a good recipe for increased muscle growth, and strength gains as well.

The bigger the movement, and the stronger you are on it, the more difficult it will be to make this a reality. With that in mind, stick to this scheme for your assistance work.

5. Ditch the handle to increase grip demands on a farmer carry.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 51 (Set-Up Edition)

Today's guest post comes from CP Coach, Greg Robins.

Since this website first launched, Eric has gone to great lengths to focus on coaching cues you can use to fine-tune your technique on a number of strength exercises.  If you check out his YouTube page, you’ll be greeted with hundreds of videos, many with thorough instructions on now only the “how,” but also the why.

With that said, when I’m working with lifters in person, I always find myself stressing the “little” things to them. In reality, these “little” tips are a really BIG deal. They’re not something taught in the typical exercise science curriculum, nor are they something that crosses the mind of someone who hasn’t taught hundreds of people how to do an exercise. In fact, even people who have spent decades in the gym tend to pass over these sorts of things because they have just become second nature to them.

Taking the time to teach someone these things will set them up for continued success, as well as keep them from having to learn many small lessons the “hard way.”

The number one thing I stress to lifters is to not overlook the set-up. It’s imperative that lifters know how to get in place for an exercise before actually demonstrating the movement. I will usually reference the following phrase:

“Hard start, easy finish”

I’m not sure where I heard this phrase originally, but it has stuck with me for many years. It is obviously applicable to more than lifting weights, and a solid reminder that the harder we work at the start, the smoother the sailing thereafter.

In terms of exercise technique, the more stock you put into your set-up, the better your form and performance will be thereafter.

If you are a coach, MAKE IT A POINT to teach people where to set the pins on the squat rack, how to position the body, their feet, the bar, the weights, etc.  These small tips will make an enormous difference in shortening the learning curve and making exercises more effective as well as safer.

Below, I’ll discuss and demonstrate five set-up points for different lifts. These tips should help out with your own efforts in the gym, as well as with those you may be instructing.

1. Watch your foot position on Bulgarian split squats.

2. Make sure the pins are set correctly to allow you to “get tight” on back squats.

3. Teach the hip thrust from the finish position.

4. Don’t butcher the feet-elevated inverted row set-up.

5. Avoid these common rotary stability set-up mistakes.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 39

Here are this week's nutrition and strength and conditioning tips from Greg Robins.  Hopefully, they make your week a little more awesome!

1. Try these tips for a better late night smoothie.

If you’re after increased strength, performance, and muscle mass, you need to conquer two variables. One is eating nutrient dense foods (and plenty of them), and the other is getting quality sleep. Many people turn to a smoothie later in the evening as an easy way to add additional calories to their day. If you’re in this boat, consider using some ingredients that will help you tackle both of the previously mentioned variables. Check out this smoothie, and give it a try!

12-16oz Almond Milk (almonds are high in magnesium, which can help you relax!)
½ -1 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt (yogurt is rich in calcium – which can reduce stress – and contains tryptophan – which can aid in sleeping!)
½-1 Banana (These guys are also high in magnesium, as well as potassium, which will aid in relaxation and stress reduction!)
1 Cup Dark Cherries (cherries are rich in melatonin!)
¼- ½ Cup Raw Oats (oats are also rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium!)

For additional protein needs, you can throw in a scoop of whey as well!

2. Consider this video for your sumo deadlift technique.

3. Prioritize adherence for nutritional success.

Nutrition is an area that frustrates me. It goes beyond the fact that deep down, I wish ice cream, cereal, and anything engulfed by bread was the pinnacle of healthy eating. My frustration has to do with how we approach nutrition. What I am about to tell you is not revolutionary, nor does it apply solely to nutrition.

If you want to be successful, prioritize adherence.

If I asked a handful of people what the priorities would be in helping someone improve nutrition, they would likely spit out a few things. Eat real food, drop the carbs, and so on. All these ideas are worth considering, but all leaps and bounds away from the top of the priority list.

Nutrition is often limited by the person, not by the information. The information is there; it’s everywhere, although some information is better than others. The reason changes aren’t being made has more to do with the person (or with YOU).

If I were to choose one thing to prioritize in a nutrition plan, it would be adherence. Adherence is your ability to stay the course, or stick to the plan. When you ask yourself “What do I need to know about this person?,” and “What can I do to make sure this person can be successful adhering?,” you will see what needs to be prioritized. The same goes for you. Make changes slowly, and choose things to which you know you can adhere.

4. Try this front squat technique cue.

5. If it’s important, just do it.

Recently, I had a conversation about whether implementing a certain training strategy had value in my programs. Interestingly, the debate wasn’t about whether or not using a certain exercise was worth it; instead, it was about “how” worth it. The exercises in question were ones that have a lot of reward. The problem was whether or not people would take them seriously enough not only to do them correctly, but also to learn from them and keep their lessons in mind throughout the rest of the training day – not to mention the rest of the day in general.

As an example, let’s use breathing drills. We know that breathing drills are important. Challenging someone to change their breathing, and to be aware of it more often, can have incredible transfer in improving a number of different qualities. However, the average person tends to miss the value of their application. While we can debate the quality of coaching, and explanation they are receiving, in relation to its continued practice; the truth is no amount of information is enough to make someone do something they are not willing to practice. If the majority of people aren’t going to do it, is it worthwhile to include it at all?

YES, I think so. With our example, let’s say that adding breathing drills takes two minutes of additional time. Now let’s imagine only 20% of the people who do them actually take the concept to heart. 120 people will come through our facility on a given day. That means 24 people will have picked up a concept that has incredible value. In fact, those 24 people have completely revamped their thought process, and are benefiting from it ten-fold. That may seem like a futile effort, but in the end, the others didn’t receive anything negatively from their inclusion, and the 24 who bought in have received a mighty return.

The take home message is that if something is worth doing, then you need to include it. If people choose not to do it enough, or not do it properly, it’s their loss. If you don’t include something based purely on whether or nor not you think it’s going to hit home with your athletes, it’s like counting them out from the start. Give them a chance to succeed using the best of what you know. Furthermore, as the ones who benefit begin to show improvement, the likelihood that others will follow suit is very high.

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

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

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

2. Improve your grip with some easy changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Pause more, lift more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best of 2012: Strength and Conditioning Features

I love writing features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic of interest. It's like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2012 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This weekly series was largely put forth by Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, and it includes five tips for taking your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs to the next level. I contribute here and there, but the majority of the praise goes fully to Greg. Here are the five most popular posts from this series in 2012:

Installment 3
Installment 14
Installment 12
Installment 10
Installment 1

Here's a little sample of the kind of content Greg kicks out each week:

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective - I started this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was a huge hit.  Apparently, people love the idea of having some cues they can use in place of having a qualified coach right there with them.  Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3 (Deadlift Edition)
Installment 4 (Shoulder Edition)

3. Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It - This three-part series was very popular with my baseball audience, as preparing the body for an appropriate stride is key to pitching success.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hopefully you enjoyed these features during 2012!  I'll be back later this week to wrap up the Best of 2012. In the meantime, happy new year!

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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 CSP. I could certainly do a lot worse.

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

7. Great training partners.

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

8. Planned deloads.

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

9. Accountability.

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

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

10. Cool implements to keep things fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Train Harder and Smarter Without a Power Rack

Q: Unfortunately, my gym doesn't have a power rack.  I don't want my strength training program to completely fall to pieces without it.  Any ideas?

A: First off, in most cases, you have the option of finding a new gym - even if it just means driving a bit further and buying a day pass for the day of the week that you'd need a power rack for one or more of your strength exercises.  Of course, all this additional planning can throw you for a loop if you've already got a busy schedule.

Luckily, this is something we addressed in the "Exercise Modifications" chapter of Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, so there's no need for me to reinvent the wheel!

This is a common limitation that is surprisingly easy to work around in your training. To be honest, the only components you’ll miss are squatting, barbell overhead pressing (and push presses), and barbell incline pressing (this, of course, assumes that you have a flat bench press set-up).

You might also be surprised to know that we actually have quite a few athletes who we don’t allow to squat because of functional (e.g., poor thoracic spine mobility, short hip flexors) or structural (e.g., rigid ankle anatomy, femoroacetabular impingement) mobility limitations.  These athletes rely predominantly on extra deadlifting variations and plenty of extra single-leg work. My personal favorites for replacing squatting variations are barbell lunge and split-squat variations because they provide the benefits of axial loading.  If you're strong enough to clean the weight up and get it into position, you can do these for higher reps and get a good training effect.

Unfortunately, without a power rack in place, it's tough to set up for these single-leg variations.  Fortunately,  you can also use variations where dumbbells are held at the sides and still get appreciable loading.  Heavy sled pushes can also provide variety, if you have access to the appropriate equipment; the only downside is that you don't get much of an eccentric stress challenge.

So, a "typical" lower body training session for someone with no power rack might include sumo deadlifts, walking dumbbell lunges, and barbell supine bridges.  Even if you aren't squatting, you're still getting a hefty lower body challenge.

With respect to barbell overhead pressing, simply replace it with dumbbell overhead pressing, or have two training partners hand the bar up to you so that you can receive it in the “rack” position. Incline pressing can be replaced with either dumbbell pressing from this position or a flat bench press variation.

To take the guesswork out of your programming as you take your training to a new level, check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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How to Deadlift When You Can’t Pull from the Floor with Good Form

It goes without saying that I'm a big fan of deadlift variations, as they're among the most "big-bang" exercises you can do to get a ton of return on your training "investment."  That said, not everyone can conventional deadlift safely from the floor because of mobility restrictions or the way they're built.  With that in mind, I thought I'd outline some solutions to this common deadlift technique problem in today's blog.  This post is actually modified from the Show and Go main guide, which features a comprehensive exercise modifications chapter for those with limitations along these lines.

The solution to this dilemma is actually a multi-faceted one. First, if you aren’t deadlifting barefoot or in flat-soled sneakers, start; it’ll make a big difference in your ability to get down to the bar. 

For those looking for a specific recommendation, I'm a big fan of the New Balance Minimus for those who can't go barefoot in the gym.

Second, if you’re basing your frustrations on your conventional deadlift mobility, try sumo deadlifts to see if things improve. I’ve found that many individuals with longer femurs can sumo deadlift without a problem, but conventional deadlifts give them fits. Effectively, with a sumo deadlift, you pull between your legs instead of over the top/outside of them.

In reality, for these folks, we use rack pull, trap bar, and sumo deadlift variations – but rarely (if ever) conventional deadlifting from the floor.  They need to work on deadlift technique a lot before they get to this final progression.

Third, if moving to a different deadlift variation doesn’t help, simply elevate the bar on risers or plates to the point where you can position yourself in the bottom position without a rounded back.

Work on building up your strength from this position and attack your mobility warm-ups with consistency, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to work your way down to the floor eventually.

Also, one more important note I should make is that just being able to get down to the floor with good posture does not mean that you actually have good deadlift technique.  It takes time to integrate this mobility as part of a proper deadlift - and this is done with submaximal loading, not just jumping to 500 pounds.  So, start with lighter weights and gradually work your way up.  I really like speed work in the 40-60% of 1RM zone as a teaching tool for "aspiring" conventional deadlifters.  Do 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps.

Give these tips a try and you'll be deadlifting in one form or another safely for the long haul!  And, don't forget to check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, a great resource for those looking to clean up their deadlift technique and start moving some bigger weights.

 

 

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