Home Posts tagged "Q&A"

Ask EC: Installment II

By: Eric Cressey

Q: I was looking around some internet forums in search of information about training programs for high school basketball players, and your name came up as the expert in that field. If you have any time, I was wondering if you could help me out. Basically, here's the breakdown. I have an athlete who's 18 years old, 6'6, and about 290lbs.  He's never touched a weight before in his life and I get to work with him for a little more than 6 months.  As you can tell, he's fat and slow. So, my main concern is getting his diet in order and shedding some pounds.  Then I want him in the gym 4 days a week working on basketball specific drills. I also want to design workout program for him that will increase his speed, quickness, and strength. That's where I need a little help.  I was wondering if you could help me outline a program for him, or give me any advice at all. If you could, that would greatly be appreciated. Thanks for your time...

A: There are quite a few things that you need to take into account.  First, he's overweight and deconditioned.  The single worst thing that you can do with him right now is getting him doing all sorts of basketball-specific conditioning work where he's running all over the place.  The kid will have a stress fracture, or patellar or Achilles tendinosis so quickly that you'll be amazed.  You need to lean him out to reduce the amount of weight he's going to decelerate with every step and landing, but this can't be done in an exclusively weight-bearing exercise sense.  I recommend you a) clean up his diet (easier said than done with an 18 year-old) and b) incorporate some energy systems work that is comparable metabolically to his sport (i.e. interval training) but is easier on the body (e.g. swimming, elliptical, rowing, and - although I don't really like the idea - biking).  No treadmills or distance running.  He's obviously going to need to be on the court some, but you need to really watch what you do with him right now; I'd stick with skill work specifically and only use a few drills in order to improve his footwork.  Save the more challenging on-court conditioning for when he's more fit.

In terms of resistance training, he's a beginner, so you need to treat him as such.  Start him off with higher reps and lighter weights in order to foster proper technique, build confidence, and promote connective tissue strength.  As he gets more and more neurologically proficient, you can increase the weights a bit.  By six months, he definitely ought to be ready for some significant loading; in fact, his performance will go up simply because the resistance training will teach him to recruit more muscle fibers.

Just because you have to start him from scratch does not mean that you should just plop him on machines with fixed lines of motion, though; get him training with free weights. Taller guys are always more susceptible to the classic postural perturbations, so make a point of including plenty of horizontal rows, glute-activation (supine bridges, X-band walks), and single-leg exercises (most tall guys have terrible frontal plane stability). Above all, you need to hammer on his core strength (specifically from a stabilization standpoint) and posterior chain (most tall guys are very quad-dominant).  Watch to make sure that he isn't hyperextending at the lumbar spine with any overhead lifting that you're doing.  If you have access, a trap bar will be your best friend in his programming.

All in all, just remember to fit the program to the athlete, and not the athlete to the program.  You seem to have a preconceived notion in your head that he needs to be in the gym four days per week; what if his body can't handle that?  You can't run your big men like you run your guards, and although 6-6 isn't giant, it still warrants consideration, especially since he's deconditioned.  Also, you seem to be very enthusiastic about this, but can you say the same for him?  If his heart isn't into it, it won't matter how perfect your programming is; that's one of the fundamental challenges of coaching.

Good luck!

Q: I read your article on Cluster Training in Men's Fitness. In the program you wrote, the clusters were only performed in two of the four sessions; why not include them in all four?

A: The logic behind the cluster training only being done on two of the four training days each week is that it's a very neurologically demanding protocol, so performing clusters at each workout is too much for the vast majority of trainees.  Therefore, we're working on hypertrophy (an increase in cell size) from two different perspectives:

1. Max Strength days - geared toward functional adaptations and maximal protein degradation through heavy training.  These methods lead to sarcomere hypertrophy (increases in the size of the actual muscle proteins - e.g. actin and myosin).

2. Repetition Days - geared toward structural adaptations and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (proliferation of non-contractile elements - such as collagen - in the muscle cell) and promotion of glycogen storage.

So, basically, twice a week you're going to be hitting it heavy (and then doing assistance work), and twice a week you're going to be focused on just getting your reps in.

Q: I know that stretching is somewhat controversial (if, when, how much, what stretches) and I've tried doing a minimal cardio warm-up (10 or so minutes) just to raise my body temperature a bit and then going directly into my training routine. I still felt stiff, though, and just not anywhere near as good as I did when I did a more adequate cardio and stretch warm-up. I just couldn't give it 100% in training. I also like to stretch between sets sometimes because I've read that it can promote muscle growth (supposedly by stretching the connective tissue surrounding the muscle belly - therefore creating more room for the muscle fibers to increase in size - kind of like how you could fit more sand into a bigger sock). Could you please shed some light on this and include some rationale on why stretching 4-6 hours after is preferable? Should one do some cardio preceding this or can you stretch cold?

A: First off, let me say that warm-ups must be completely unique to the individual; some people take 30 minutes, and some can just go right to it.  I'm an example of the latter; two minutes and a few warm-up sets and I'm good to go.  It has a lot to do with neural efficiency, and also (I'd assume) with resting body temperature.

Be careful how you define flexibility; passive and active flexibility are two completely different things.  Just because you can really get good ROM when you passively force a muscle into a stretch does not mean that the muscle will automatically be able to work through an optimal ROM on its own.  Moreover, hyperflexibility can actually be a problem.

The jury is still out on why static stretching impairs force production, but it's been demonstrated in dozens of studies.  Many (myself included) believe that it has to do with:

a) decreasing stiffness of the cytoskeleton (stiffness is important, as there is lateral pull on the cytoskeleton from the sarcomere - the contractile unit of skeletal muscle - when muscles shorten linearly; if there's no stiffness, there is no lateral "tethering" upon which to base forceful contraction)

b) reduced intramuscular tension, presumably among the contractile units (e.g. actin, myosin) themselves

c) nervous system factors related to motor control and reflex sensitivity; basically, the stretching makes it harder for the nervous system to tell the muscle to fire.

The solution to this problem is dynamic flexibility drills, which consist of controlled movement through joints’ active range of motion. This is something on which the resistance training and performance enhancement communities are light years behind, and they’re really missing out as a result. In light of this ignorance, Mike Robertson and I recently finished shooting our “Magnificent Mobility” DVD, which outlines 32 drills we use as components in more efficient and productive warm-ups. You can pick a copy up at the t-nation.com store (my apologies for the shameless plug). Just give the dynamic warm-up a try and let me know how you feel.  Most people love it and never go back to boring steady-state cardio; it blows this ineffective traditionalist approach out of the water, as you can warm-up and improve your functional range of motion and dynamic flexibility at the same time.

Stretching during training does have its proponents, although it's never been proven in the literature.  Anecdotal evidence is valuable, but personally, I think the value of being able to do extra work on an exercise because you haven't reduced force production capabilities is more valuable than the *possibility* of increased size from stretching.  The best way to implement this, in my opinion, is to simply do it after your last set on a particular movement.  Most of the time, loaded passive stretching is recommended, and keep in mind that this is a pretty damaging protocol; most people will be very sore for the next few days.  As such, it's best to use it for 2-3 weeks here and there rather than during the entire training year.

The 4-6 hours recommendation has to do with avoiding stretching when skeletal muscle blood flow (i.e. "the pump") can actually impair full range of motion.  Given that body temperature is still somewhat elevated at this point, there really isn’t any need to warm-up beforehand.

Q: Just to be sure: My left scapula is elevated and you recommend that I do more work for the left lat?  To me it seems wrong to do more work for the elevated side, so please confirm if this really is right.

A: The latissimus dorsi and upper trapezius are antagonists in their scapular depression and elevation roles, respectively.  By strengthening the lat along with the mid and lower traps and rhomboids, you'll be pulling the scapula downward.  Because you don't have issues with internally rotated humeri, we don't have to worry about the "side effect" of lat training (increased internal rotation of the humerus); your problem is purely at the scapula.

Q: I enjoyed your Cardio Confusion article and I had a question about the best way for a powerlifter to train cardio. I need to get my 2-mile run time down for the Army physical fitness test, but I would like to know the best way to train something like this without sacrificing my lifts. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

A: As for your particular question, it's a bit of a different situation from the topic addressed on the forum.  In essence, you have two goals: one maximal strength related and one endurance related.  These goals are completely contrary to one another, so you really have to accept that training for endurance will attenuate the improvements (or even maintenance of maximal strength).  The discussion at t-nation was more related to utilizing aerobic activity as an adjunct to the facilitate strength and speed improvements - not a separate training initiative in itself.

That said, you should work to keep your maximal strength up, obviously.  How you approach this training will be to some extent influenced by your body size.  If you're a really large guy, I'd recommend getting in some non-impact stuff (e.g. rowing, elliptical) for parts of the week to avoid orthopedic problems.  Moreover, I encourage you to watch your diet more closely, as dropping body fat will in itself improve VO2max.  If you're a lighter guy already, you shouldn't have too much of a problem getting into the running; just slowly build up your mileage and frequency.

In terms of specific training initiatives, I'd use longer interval bouts (200-400m) with varying rest periods (diminishing rest intervals over an extended period of time), two-mile runs in themselves (not always at max pace), and some long, slow duration jogs (less than 60% max heart rate) to promote recovery and improve capillarization.

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Ask EC: Installment 1

By Eric Cressey

Q: I know that you're a proponent of DB Isometric Split Squats for extended periods of time. I can only manage 15 seconds on both legs with no weights. I feel that this is pretty pathetic in light of my performance on other exercises, which tends to be quite good. So, to get that time up more and to start using weights, should I simply hold the position as long as I can and look to get up to 60 seconds? Or would I be better off doing ski-squats against the wall more often until the hold strength builds up?

Also, when I'm doing the exercise, I feel the exercise more in the elevated leg in the quads. It's not up that high ,but I am sinking pretty low to get the required angle. I'm 6' 2". A: Definitely stick with the Bulgarian EQIs; your endurance will pick up in no time. Remember, although muscular endurance is an added bonus of the exercises, this is more about working on active flexibility. I work with several guys each week that are 7-feet tall or very close to it, and they can all get it done; at 6-2, you shouldn't have a problem once you find the right position. You should feel it in your hip flexors on the elevated leg; if you're feeling it in the quad of that leg, it means that you're exerting too much force on the foot on the bench instead of allowing your hips to sink down while keep the back leg extended (or close to it). Drive your front heel into the ground and contract your glutes hard, pulling the chest up and shoulder blades back and down. Make sure that your knee is directly above your foot and your weight is on the heel. Q: Thanks to your advice on taking care of primary subacromial impingement, my pain is gone and I'm ready to get back to work on my pressing strength. I'm not sure how to reintegrate benching and overhead pressing. I definitely don't want to reaggravate the injury; any suggestions? A: You're correct that it isn't a good idea to jump right back into things with full range of motion and loading. I favor the following progession (although slight medications in rapidity of progression are always made based on symptoms): Body Weight Push-up > Weighted Push-up > Cable Crossover from Low Pulley > Cable Crossover from Hip Height > Neutral Grip DB Floor Press > Neutral Grip Decline DB Press > Pronated Grip Decline DB Press > Barbell Floor Press > Decline Barbell Press > Flat DB Press > Incline DB Press > Barbell Bench Press > Barbell Incline Press > DB Military Press > Barbell Military Press/Push Press > Behind the Neck Presses Note: Some trainees don't even need to go as far as the end, as the cost:benefit ratio for loaded behind-the-neck exercises is way out of whack for some people post-injury. The rationale for these progressions are: a) The scapular and humeral stabilizers are most effective in closed chain positions.(justifying the push up). b) Impingement symptoms are most likely to be aggravated with flexion and/or abduction of the humerus beyond 90-degrees. c) Traction (pulling the humeral head away from the glenoid fossa, as with a cable crossover) is less traumatic to the previously injured muscles than approximation (forcing the humeral head into the fossa). d) Internal rotation (as seen with pronated grips) mechanically decreases the subacromial space, increasing the risk of re-injury.

With this progression, I like to start recovering trainees off with long eccentrics in the 6-8 rep ranges. In many cases, high-speed movements like speed benches and push jerks can be the most problematic, so I avoid these early on. It's important to pay attention to not only how the shoulder feels during the exercise, but also what you feel in the 12 or so hours afterward. If you're hurting, you've likely jumped the gun on your rehabilitation. During this time, keep up working hard to strengthen your scapular retractors and depressors and the external rotators of your humerus. In fact, your volume on these exercises should still be greater than that of internal rotations and protractions. Ice post-exercise and don't do too much too soon, and you'll be back on track in no time. Q: I'm working my back from a shoulder injury, and wanted to know if you think it would be feasible to do a little external rotation and scapular retraction work each day? While I'm not feeling any pain, I can still tell that my stabilizers are pretty weak. I have been alternating between rowing movements and face pulls each day as of late along with doing some sort of RC work each day (external rotations, 90 degree prone rotations, prone trap raises, band work, etc). Is this too much in your opinion or is it fine? I'm talking like 3x15 of rowing/face pulls and maybe 3 exercises of 3-4x15 of RC work per day (light weight obviously). Or would it be better to just do everything 3-4 times per week. I just figured I would divide the volume up throughout the entire week. A: I think it would definitely be advantageous to do some every day, although your loading and set/rep parameters could use some revisions. Try loading the movements in the 6-10 rep range once a week, and then hitting them with lighter weights in the 12-15 rep range on another day. On the other five days, just do some work with the theraband and/or light dumbbells to get the blood flowing. These are really small muscles, so you have to go out of your way to promote bloodflow and, in turn, healing. It certainly won't hurt to get them "activated" so that they're firing on all cylinders when you get back to your compound movements down the road. Q: After reading your article in the October issue in Rugged, I have a question or two. In healthy individuals, are you saying you do NO "direct" local (deep) ab work. i.e. plank, "thin tummy?" It seems as if the trainee gets plenty of local ab work w/ exercises like the DL, squats etc, but I don't know if "direct" ab work is mandated. I am still confused about this, even know I've read countless articles relating to this topic. A: Be careful with your classification scheme; I wouldn't classify tummy sucking with plank exercises. The cues I give to my athletes on plank exercises are to brace as if someone is about to kick them in the stomach (much like you would push out when squatting and deadlifting). The training effect is markedly different with this approach than with sucking in the tummy. In short, bracing makes you strong, and tummy sucking makes you look and perform like a wanker. You are, however, correct in saying that I think attempting to isolate the TVA in healthy individuals is a bad idea from both a training economy and potential harm standpoint. This training time would be better spent on other things, most notably multi-joint exercises and mindlessly gawking at gorgeous women in sports bras and spandex shorts. Q: First of all, let me tell how much I enjoy your no-nonsense, information filled articles. It's great that people like you are writing about various posture related, biomechanics issues. I have a problem to which I have not been able to find a solution here in India. I have over-pronation in both feet, resulting in low reactive force output plus patello-femoral pain if I run long distances. Aside from getting orthotics, is there anything else I can do about this over pronation. A: It really depends on whether the cause is structural or functional. You state that you have over-pronation in both feet, but don't allude to whether the feet have been flat for your entire life or if it's something that's kicked in as a result of movement dysfunction. From a structural standpoint, orthotics are really your only bet; the structural abnormality will dictate how the orthotic is shaped. From a functional standpoint, you need to determine if you have weakness in a decelerator elsewhere that's forcing the extra pronation in order to compensation. The external rotators of the hip (especially the gluteus maximus) and quadriceps are notable possibilities. Don't forget the dorsiflexors, either.
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Ft. Lauderdale Seminar with Eric Cressey

Tired of dealing with aches and pains at the gym? If so, don’t miss this seminar! Who: Eric Cressey, performance enhancement specialist, and one of the fitness industry’s leading authorities on corrective exercise strategies and injury prevention What: Joint-Specific Mobility and Stability: A one-time opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s best how to prevent and correct the most common musculoskeletal problems once and for all! Topics to be covered include: -Functional Anatomy of Various Joints -Static and Dynamic Assessments -Corrective and Preventative Exercise Programming -The Art of Hardcore Corrective Exercise: How to Maintain a Training Effect While Correcting Imbalances -Troubleshooting Resistance Training Technique When: January 5, 2008: 9AM-4PM Where: Bahia Mar Beach Resort and Yachting Center 801 Seabreeze Boulevard, Ft Lauderdale FL, 33316 (888) 802-2442 Cost: *$99/person prior to December 20th, $129 thereafter; *$20 off for those with a valid student ID Contact: jonboyle at mac.com for more details
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Off-Season Training for Athletes

A few months ago when the PN team sat down to put together this library of training programs to integrate with the Precision Nutrition system, we really wanted to make sure that we had something spectacular for our athletes, many of whom compete at the elite level of their sport. So when it finally came time to put together the program to cover off-season training for athletes, we turned to the guy who does it best: Eric Cressey. Continue Reading... - Phil Caravaggio
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