Home Posts tagged "strength and conditioning program"

5 Strategies to Avoid Overthinking Strength and Conditioning Programs

I frequently run Q&A sessions on my Instagram stories, and sometimes, I'll get an inquiry that warrants a detailed response that goes beyond a 15-second time limit of the small amount of text I can squeeze into a respond. This question is one such example:

The more I learn, the more stressful I find programming for athletes. Any tips for this?

First off, I should acknowledge that this is an incredibly common problems for not only new trainers, but experienced coaches as well. The curse of knowledge is a very real thing that can lead to a lot of frustrated tapping on the keyboard as you write up programs for clients that really don't require things all that advanced. Here are a five strategies I've found to help:

1. Identify the biggest rocks and circle them.

After I write up all my notes on an evaluation, I go back and circle 2-3 things that I view as the highest priority items. Maybe it's very limited cervical range of motion, or brutal single-leg strength. If it's a resting heart rate in the 80bpm range, maybe we need to hammer aerobic capacity. Regardless, I find that when you definitively identify and highlight the highest priority items, it makes it easy to get the ball rolling on the program and build some momentum in the "don't sit in silence and overthink things" direction.

2. Think quality movement first.

When joints move efficiently (work from "neutral"), it impacts a host of other systems. You take longer to shift from aerobic to anaerobic energy systems strategies. The length-tension relationship is optimized to enhance strength and power. The lymphatic system works more efficiently to optimize recovery. Effectively, moving efficiently has a "trickle down effect."

These downstream benefits are why we take so much pride in our warm-ups. They shouldn't just get your body temperature up, but rather, they should also work to reduce bad stiffness and improve good stiffness. For instance, with a back to wall shoulder flexion drill, we're reducing bad stiffness in the lats, scapular downward rotators, and lumbar extensors. Meanwhile, we're establishing good stiffness in the anterior core, deep neck flexors, and scapular upward rotators.

3. Acknowledge that you very well may never use some of the tools in your toolbox.

If you're working with post-pregnancy women who are just looking to lose their baby weight, don't expect to use French Contrast Training. And, if senior citizens are your niche, your extensive knowledge of plyometric progressions probably isn't going to have much of an impact (sorry, bad pun).

If you hire a contractor to fix something at your house, he rolls in with his toolbox, but isn't emotionally attached to the idea of using a chainsaw, hammer, screwdriver, or any other specific tool. Rather, he matches the right tool to the job in question, even if it means all the other tools are unused that day. You have to be willing to recognize that a ton of the things you've learned over the years may, in fact, be completely useless for you.

4. "Batch" your programs.

Believe it or not, I have an easier time writing a program for a professional baseball player with years of training experience with us than I do writing a program for an untrained female. The reason is very simple: I write a lot more programs for baseball players, so it's familiar and I have a lot of related cases from which I can draw perspective ("X athlete is similar to Y athlete, so I can build on the success I had with that athlete instead of reinventing the wheel"). For this reason, try to write multiple programs for similar demographics in the same sitting instead of breaking them out to different programming sessions. As a general rule of thumb, I never sit down to write a program unless I'm doing at least 3-4 programs in that sitting.

5. Build on the previous program.

Most of the time, when I write a program, I'm writing it right over the top of the previous month's programs, as doing so allows me to contemplate progressions and regressions quickly and easily. Never, ever start by staring at a blank programming template!

Wrap-up

In closing, remember that program design is only as complex as you make it. When in doubt, simplify!

This post delved into programming strategies, but the truth is that our programming is just one aspect of the systems that make our two Cressey Sports Performance facilities what they are. In our upcoming Cressey Sports Performance Business Building Mentorship, CSP co-founder Pete Dupuis and I will pull back the curtain on these systems to help other gym owners improve their systems. Our next offering will be April 7 at our Jupiter, FL location. For more information, click here.

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The Best of 2018: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2018 at EricCressey.com:

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

This is definitely my longest standing active series, and while I don't update it every month, it'll always include some gems.

Installment 30
Installment 31 

2. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success

This series touches more on the business aspect of fitness.

Installment 9
Installment 10

Installment 11

3. Performance Programming Principles

I made it a goal to write more about program design this year, as I think it's a big hole in the market.  These were a few steps in that direction:

Installment 2
Installment 3

The Best of 2018 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Performance Programming Principles: Installment 2

As I promised back in November, I've decided to dedicate a regular series to the principles that govern a lot of our program design at Cressey Sports Performance. Here's the second installment:

1. A few positional breathing drills can be a game changer, but don't let them take over the training session.

Positional breathing drills have really surged in popularity in recent years, largely thanks to the great work of the folks at the Postural Restoration Institute. Forceful exhalation in certain positions can both activate certain muscles and inhibit others. Take, for instance, TRX Deep Squat Breathing with Lat Stretch.

We're firing up several muscles of exhalation: rectus abdominus, external obliques, serratus anterior - and toning down our lats, rhomboids, lumbar extensors, and calves (to name a few). It's not uncommon for folks to get up from this exercise after 30 seconds and feel dramatically different.

That said, as is often the case in the fitness industry, if a little is good, then a lot must be better, right? It didn't take long for us to find the zealots who are spending 30 minutes doing positional breathing at the start of every training session. It's somewhat analogous to the folks who foam roll for an hour every day.

You're better off doing 1-2 breathing drills at the start of a warm-up (and possibly as a cool-down) and then following it up with good resistance training technique to make those transient changes "stick." Patience and persistence always win out over short-term "overindulgence."

2. Follow these two great Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) strategies.

SFMA was one of the better courses I've taken in the past few years, and two programming principles they discuss really stand out:

a. Chase dysfunctional, non-painful patterns first.

Let's say someone walks in with a cranky shoulder that's limited into internal rotation: a dysfunctional, painful pattern. If you just throw caution to the wind and stretch that shoulder into internal rotation, more often than not, you're going to flare things up even further.

Let's say that individual also has a pronounced scapular anterior tilt and very limited thoracic extension and rotation. If you do some soft tissue work on pec minor and work in some thoracic spine mobilizations, there is a  very good chance that when you go back to retest shoulder internal rotation, it'll be improved and pain-free. Sometimes, the best way to get from A to B is through C or D.

b. Find and address areas were passive range-of-motion far exceeds active ROM.

There's a reason a lot of gymnasts and dancers retire with stress fractures in their lower backs; they have a lot of passive range-of-motion, but not always much motor control to stabilize those ranges of motion. This is why it's important to have assessments that test both passive and active ROMs (straight leg raises and supine vs. standing shoulder flexion are great examples). And, you need to have training initiatives that build control in those passive ranges.

3. Check out the Acumobility Ball.

I posted this on my Instagram and thought it might be of interest. The Acumobility Ball has been a game changer for us. You can save 10% on it at www.Acumobility.com with the coupon code cressey.

Here's a little example of how we'd use it on the pec minor/coracobrachialis/short head of biceps attachments on the coracoid process.

4. There's nothing that says you have to progress or regress programming - and there are many different ways to make lateral moves.

As few years ago, Charlie Weingroff coined the term "lateralizations" for times when you don't progress or regress an exercise, but rather, move laterally.

An example would be something along the lines of going from a standing 1-arm cable row to a split-stance 1-arm cable row. There really isn't any change to exercise complexity, but it does give the trainee some variety in their programming.

I'd say that lateralizations are the most useful with adult clients who don't have crazy lofty fitness goals - and therefore aren't interested in taking on a ton of risk in their training programs. They might not crave being sore all the time from all the innovative new exercises you can throw at them. Lateralizations can keep training fun via novelty without adding a steep learning curve.

Additionally, remember that exercise selection isn't the only way to progress or regress the challenge to the athlete or client in front of you. You can increase or decrease volume, alter the tempo, modify the load, or adjust the rest intervals.

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Performance Programming Principles

Without a doubt, program design is one of the most challenging things for up-and-coming coaches to learn. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on the topic - and I may even turn this into a regular series.

1. Volume matters.

I just counted them up, and it turns out, I wrote 105 programs in the month of October. I've basically been doing this since 2001, and in these kind of volumes since we opened Cressey Sports Performance in 2007.

When you do anything 3-4 times per day, eventually, it becomes a lot easier. This is why I encourage young coaches to seek out opportunities to program early on in their careers as often as possible. Have a family member who wants to drop 20 pounds? Offer to write something up. Have a buddy who wants a bigger bench press? Write up a specialization program. The best learning experiences will come when they report back on their experiences and you tinker with the program on the fly, but truthfully, even if they don't actually follow through on the program, you'll get better from going through the process. 

Moreover, make sure you have a wide variety of clients early on in your training career. You want to program for everyone from athletes, to general fitness folks, to post-rehab cases.

[bctt tweet="Be a good generalist to build a foundation for becoming a specialist later."]

2. Get some momentum.

Never, ever sit down to write a single program. Rather, always block off some time where you can write several in a row.

Programming is just like any other skill you practice; you need to find your groove. While I write programs every day, the truth is that I feel like the process comes more easily when it's 6-7 in a row on a Sunday night than 1-2 on a Tuesday morning. Like everything in life, "deep work" creates superior results - so try to find blocks of time devoted exclusively to programming.

If you're early in your career and don't have a lot of them to write, use it as an opportunity to write programs for hypothetical clients, or use it as a chance to review old programs you've written - and update them with new things you've learned.

3. Remember that programming is both a science and an art.

If you take two really skilled, experienced strength and conditioning coaches and have them write a program for the exact same athlete, you might get two markedly different programs. Coaches usually agree on the 90% of principles, but may disagree on the means to accomplish objectives. Just because one coach prefers to use block pulls and another likes trap bar deadlifts in month 1 doesn't make either of them incorrect. It's just an opportunity to highlight that there is an artistic component that goes hand-in-hand with the true science behind creating adaptation with training.

That said, there are scenarios where you don't get "poetic license" with your program. As an over the top example, you won't ever be able to convince me that a behind-the-neck barbell press is a good initiative in a 65-year-old man who is six weeks post-op on a rotator cuff repair. Science is so strong in some cases you can't even get to the art discussion; you have to earn the right (with your education) to get to that point.

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Versatility and Consistency for Strength and Conditioning Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best of 2016: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2016 at EricCressey.com: 

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from off-season baseball preparations, to the Olympics, to new books and DVDs I'd covered. There's an article for every month:    

Installment 15
Installment 16
Installment 17
Installment 18
Installment 19
Installment 20
Installment 21
Installment 22
Installment 23
Installment 24
Installment 25

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

This coaching series has appeal for fitness professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and exercise enthusiasts alike.

Installment 14
Bench Press Technique Edition

bencht-spine

3. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success 

While most of my writing folks on the training side of things, I do like to delve into the business side of fitness, too. These posts include various pieces of wisdom for those who make their living in the fitness industry.

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3
Installment 4

The Best of 2016 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 22

It's time for the September installment of this series. With the baseball season wrapping up for many minor league and high school players - plus the start of post-season play nearly upon us - I've got a lot of new thoughts rattling around my brain.

1. There's no such thing as "catching the injury bug." 

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in professional sports. Certainly, there is a significant amount of happenstance in professional sports. Quarterbacks get sacked from the blind side and injure acromioclavicular joints (get well soon, Jimmy G!!!). Hitters get hit by pitches, and outfielders run into walls. Not all injuries are preventable, but not everything we assume to be "happenstance" is unpreventable, either. Additionally, there's something to be said about finding ways to shorten the down time on the disabled list when players are hurt. This recent article in Hardball Times does a good job of highlighting this observation: Doing What it Takes to Keep Players Healthy.

With respect to preventing injuries, most of the focus goes on training and rehabilitation initiatives. Is there a good strength and conditioning program? Are there good manual therapists on hand? Does the organization prioritize high quality nutrition? Are recovery options plentiful? The list goes on and on.

manual_therapy_page-300x206-2

There are, however, many overlooked factors that are outside the control of the sports medicine staffs in these organizations. For instance, if a front office creates a roster of players who a) are older and b) have more extensive injury histories, it's going to be a lot harder to keep that team on the field. Additionally, how bullpens are managed factors into injury risk heavily. Some relief pitchers get absolutely abused between game appearances and scenarios where they warm up and don't go into the game. I once had a MLB lefty specialist say that he threw more in two months in the big leagues than he did in 100+ innings as a college starer. 

The point is that while some injuries are, in fact, happenstance, the majority are highly preventable - particularly if as many different factors as possible are taken into consideration. The injury bug excuse just doesn't hold water.

2. There are varying levels of "strong enough."

In the strength training world, you'll often hear debates on the question, "how strong is strong enough for athletes?" Truth be told, it's not a simple question to answer.

First and foremost, you get what you train. So, I might just squat and deadlift all the time, but never build an appreciable level of single-leg strength. So, if my sport requires a ton of single-leg strength, I'm really not strong at all in a specific sense. That said, no competitive powerlifter is going to be able to hand his hat on a good Bulgarian split squat number; he's got to squat and deadlift heavy to be successful.

Taking this a step further, though, we have to consider what we're trying to strong enough to do? Is it strong enough to safely perform sprint work and plyos in training, as would be the case after a few months in post-op ACL rehabilitation scenario? Or, is it strong enough to be able to safely participate in athletics, as an athlete would be later in the rehabilitation timeline?

Does an athlete just need to be strong enough to need to even consider this continuum? Or, does he need to be strong enough to make good use of strength-speed and speed-strength training initiatives?

Is the athlete strong enough to not have to worry about training limit strength (the far left of this continuum) as much? Not many athletes ever get to this point because it takes a ton of hard work, consistency, and even a genetic predisposition to being strong to get there. However, I've seen several in my career, and we needed to spend a lot more time training absolute speed and speed-strength.

Above all else, I'd say that in the athletic world, the "strong enough" classification refers to a coach's refusal to push an athlete further due to the potential for injury. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that one of our pro outfielders could unquestionably train to attain a 600-pound raw squat in a matter of 3-4 months. The risk of pushing toward this goal just isn't worth the risk; he has other athletic qualities to which we can devote his training time and recovery capacity - and without the risk. If he could only squat 185 pounds, though, it would be an entirely different story.

3. If applied incorrectly, cross-training can beat athletes up as much as it can help them.

I'm all for young athletes playing as many sports as possible. A rich proprioceptive environment creates an awesome foundation for future athletic development in more specific endeavors. Likewise, later on, once an athlete has specialized, there is definitely a time of year for cross training - but it definitely has to be applied correctly. What am I getting at?

[bctt tweet="The lower the movement variability in one's sport, the less bold the cross-training can be."]

To put this in context, imagine a soccer midfielder or football defensive back. Both these athletes have a ton of movement variability in their sport participation; there is a lot of change-of-direction, full-tilt sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, and a host of additional sport-specific skills. Asking one of these athletes to go out and play ultimate frisbee or beach volleyball for a change of pace isn't going to dramatically increase their injury risk.

Conversely, take the typical pro golfer or baseball pitcher into this same challenge, and it's going to be a pretty stressful event with a much higher likelihood of injury. It's not to say these athletes are soft or "delicate;" it's just that the majority of their athletic calendars take place with more specificity, and there is less movement variability to their sports challenges. With both the golf swing and pitching delivery, you want to consistently repeat your mechanics.

gre

Invariably, during interleague play in Major League Baseball, we see an American League pitcher who gets injured running the bases or swinging at the plate. Specificity of training matters, and it takes a considerable volume of specificity to build a tolerance to competing at a high level.

This isn't just specific to amplitude of movement (range of motion). Rather, the direction and magnitude of forces need to be considered. As an example, elite swimmers have a high pain tolerance from the insane volumes they do in the pool, but get them into an ultimate frisbee game, and you're going to see some awkward movements because they aren't accustomed to ground reaction forces and moving in the frontal and transverse planes.

Just keep it in mind as you plan your cross-training activities. Just because you see NFL players dominating a game of "Tag" doesn't mean that your 51-year-old master's division swimming star is going to do as well with it.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Methods vs. Applications

Each week, invariably, I get a few email inquiries that go something like this:

What do you think of <insert training device or method here>?

The "training device or method" seems to come in waves. In training, for a while, it was kettlebells. Then it was Crossfit. In the rehab world, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a hotter topic these days, and I'd expect stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal issues to be the next wave.

In the baseball world, people then asked about J-Bands. Then it was long toss. Now, it always seems to be weighted balls. 

Most of the time, people are asking the wrong question. 

[bctt tweet="You can't truly evaluate a method or device without considering its application."]

Using the weighted balls example, I love them and have used them in various capacities since 2007. I've used them with teenage athletes and I've used them with a Cy Young Award winner. I've used them with 1st round draft picks and 50th round draft picks.

You know what else? There were a lot of pitching coaches using them before I even started. And, they were well established in the track and field throwing community long before the baseball world adopted them. And, we now have plenty of studies in scholarly journals supporting their use. However, that doesn't mean they're right for every single application.

If you throw weighted balls a week after you have shoulder surgery - and then blow out the shoulder again - is the problem the weighted balls? Or, is the problem that you were an idiot in your application of this device/method?

If your 8-year-old does an aggressive weighted ball program and winds up with a growth plate fracture, is it the fault of the weighted balls or the program? Or, are you just a misdirected father who put the carriage way in front of the horse?

The weighted balls are the device/method. The programming volume, implement load, throwing technique, time of year, and athlete preparedness are some of the variables that constitute the broader "application" category.

My High Performance Handbook has been really popular across a number of training populations, but it's a horrible fit for you if you had spine surgery last week.  

HPH-main

A lot of people have great fitness success with Crossfit programs, but many wind up banged up because their application of these principles is wrong. They may not adhere to solid technique, or they may have pre-existing structural pathologies and movement impairments that should lead to contraindicating certain exercises.

Front squats can be an awesome exercise. They aren't going to feel so good if you have a degenerative hip or acromioclavicular joint injury, though.

J-Bands are a huge training asset to your arm care routine when used correctly. If you're going to use them incorrectly, though, you're better off leaving them in your equipment bag.

Stop contraindicating methods and devices, and instead start improving your ability to critically think and evaluate applications. The best coaches that I know aren't just the guys with the most tools in their toolbox; they're the carpenters that know which tool is the best fit for the job at hand.

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Simplicity, Confirmation Bias, and Specific vs. General Programs

 Confucius once said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." You could say that I modernized and expanded on this quote in the context of the fitness industry a few weeks ago with my post, 6 Ways to Simplify Your Coaching for Better Results.

While I'd encourage you to read this piece in full (if you haven't already), the premise was very simple (for lack of a better term): our programming and coaching almost never needs to be complex. Both research and anecdotal observations have shown time and time again that people thrive on simplicity in various aspects of their life - including exercise and nutrition.

Why, then, do we as coaches constantly find ourselves needing to avoid the complexity trap? The answer is very simple: confirmation bias.

Confirmation Bias

This term simply means that we're wired to automatically prefer information/solutions that confirm what we believe and prefer/enjoy doing.

Confirmation bias is why almost every Olympic lifter I've met who has shoulder problems thinks they can just tinker with their jerk or snatch technique to make things feel better.

Confirmation bias is why some Crossfit coaches will try to convince baseball players that their training can prepare these athletes for the unique demands of their sport.

layback

Confirmation bias is why some strength and conditioning coaches who work only with athletes have actually forgotten how to help a general fitness client lose 20 pounds of body fat.

Confirmation bias is why we still have some nutritionists advocating for the Food Guide Pyramid.

Our goals - whether it's for our own programs or those we coach - is to avoid confirmation bias as much as possible. Being open-minded to new ideas and approaches enables us to constantly improve our programming.

Specific vs. General

To me, avoiding confirmation bias is a (surprise) simple process. Assume that your absolute best proficiency constitutes a general approach. For me, this is training baseball players. For a powerlifter, it's powerlifting. For a Crossfit coach, it's coaching Crossfitters. It's considered general (even though the training may be highly specific) because it's the overwhelming majority of folks with whom you work, and because you're most familiar with it.

With each new client you see, ask yourself whether this person fits into your general paradigm, or whether it's actually a very specific case. For instance, at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida, we train Atlanta Falcon Matt Bosher, who is currently leading the NFL in average yardage on kickoffs and punts. His program is dramatically different from what we might prescribe for our baseball players; we can't fit the athlete (specific) to the program (general).

CSP-florida-021

If Major League Baseball players are training at facilities other than CSP, though, they are the specific case. They have specific injury mechanisms that might be unfamiliar to those coaches. Just any general program won't adequately address things.

"General" fitness training - improving body composition, functional capacity, and quality of life - is (as the name implies) something that general programs can usually accommodate quite easily, particularly in beginner clients. This is why general programs can work great for untrained young athletes, too; young players may derive great injury prevention and performance enhancements with general training early on.

However, when clients become advanced, they may need something more specific. Perhaps a casual fitness enthusiasts builds appreciable strength and shows and interest in competing in powerlifting or Olympic lifting. Or, maybe an athlete shows great potential in one sport and decides to hone in on that path. Our training has to get more specific to accommodate the evolution of these athletes' abilities and goals. This is even why we set up a female powerlifting team at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts; we had some strong women who wanted to take things to the next level.

What's the take-home message? Don't take specific solutions to general problems - or vice versa.

Have a great Sunday! 

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15 Random Thoughts on Strength and Conditioning Programs

With this week's big sale on The High Performance Handbook, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some programming lessons I've learned over the years - as well as the strategies that have emerged from these learning experiences. As a coach, I always want to be evolving - and the HPH program is a pretty up-to-date reflection on some of my strength and conditioning philosophies.

That said, let's get to the random thoughts...

1. Coaches often highlight the importance of including single-leg work to help strength and conditioning programs "carry over" better to the real world of athletics, but rarely do you hear fitness professionals talking about the importance of unilateral upper body exercises, which offer some awesome functional carryover to performance, as well as a host of health benefits.

There's an increased challenge to rotary stability, and the athlete encounters weight shifts and extra thoracic rotation. These movements also teach protraction and retraction on rib cage, not just humeral movement. As perhaps the greatest benefit, less external loading is needed to create a training effect. So, don't just think that bent-over rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups cover everything you need!

2. If you want one more mobility option to help make your warm-ups more efficient, try this one. Adductor length and thoracic mobility: what's not to love?

3. A lot of people like to debate whether you should attack mobility or stability first. While I think the answer is generally "mobility," the truth is that it isn't such a black vs. white issue; there are a lot of gray areas. Think about breathing - and more specifically, a full exhalation. When you exhale fully, you get a deep muscular activation (stability) in your rectus abdominus, external obliques, and even your serratus anterior. Meanwhile, you'll likely actually see an increase of shoulder flexion, hip internal rotation, and ROM at other joints (mobility). With this in mind, the name of the game is attacking good movement, not just wasting time classifying things as "mobility" or "stability." 

4. Axially-loaded single-leg exercises can be a great substitute for squats in those who lack the hip mobility to squat deep, and those who have lower extremity or core issues that may not handle heavy bilateral loading well. Here's one of my favorites:

5. In spite of the point I made in #5, going really heavy on single-leg work for an extended period of time can definitely make your knees cranky, even in perfect technique. Just like anything else, they need to be cycled in and out. To that end, if you need a little break from them, but still want to preserve a training effect, try rotating in sled pushing and step-up variations. Both involve single-leg force production - but without a considerable eccentric component.

6. Speaking of single-leg work, bad things happen when people do a lot of lunging and sled pushing without shoes on. Usually, this means a really cranky big toe. I'm all for including barefoot work, but keep it to unloaded work in your warm-ups, or posterior chain oriented drills (deadlifts, good mornings, pull-throughs, hip thrusts, glute bridges, 1-leg RDLs, etc.).

7. There's a reason they put squats before deadlifts in powerlifting meets. I'd encourage you to just trust me on this one. If you're not willing to do so, go ahead and deadlift before you squat in your next lower body training session. You'll probably feel like garbage and have the mediocre training session to prove it.

8. I feel like folks pick on bodybuilders too much nowadays, but they actually have a ton to teach us. To me, the foremost of these lessons is, very simply, that you need plenty of volume and time under tension to get big. I learned this in a bit of a roundabout way: by trying to avoid gaining weight.

You see, early on in my powerlifting career, I was trying like crazy to stay in the 165-pound weight class. At my first meet in June of 2003, I was about 163 pounds. By the summer of 2006, I was about 185 pounds - and without any significant changes to my diet - and I was leaner. What gave?

My upper back. That's literally where 90% of the muscle mass went. I went from being a medium/large t-shirt, to being a guy who had to wear XL t-shirts just because my upper back wouldn't fit into a large.

What's unique about the upper back? Very simply, it gets the most volume and time under tension in any powerlifting program. You get it with all your normal horizontal and vertical pulling, obviously. However, you also train it when you bench correctly (especially powerlifting style), and it's crucial for bar positioning with heavy squatting. And, deadlifts can certainly do a little something for the "yoke." And this doesn't even include things like farmer's walks, walking lunges, and other comparable exercises where you're holding heavy weights at your sides.

The point is not that "Cressey thinks he has a big upper back," but rather that the bodybuilders have known that consistent volume and time under tension matter across an entire body. Want bigger quads? You're going to need to do extra work for them. It's not rocket science, but a lot of people are so focused on being "down on" traditional bodybuilding that they fail to recognize the great lessons to be learned from this population.

9. The 1-arm kettlebell front squat is, without a doubt, the single-most "functional" exercise in the history of parenting. I can't count how many times I've had to pick something up off the floor or table while holding one of our twins in one arm.

10. I'm often asked where we plug Turkish Get-ups into our programming. There are actually a few places we'll do it.

When done lighter and for technique, you can work them in at the end of a warm-up for practice on a daily basis.

When loaded up a bit more, I prefer to use them as a first exercise in place of pressing on an upper body day. And, we'll often pair it up with some kind of horizontal or vertical pulling exercise before moving on to more traditional pressing stuff.

So, I guess you could say that the answer to where we typically include it is "always early in the session."

11. Handstand push-ups are getting a lot of love these days as gymnastics movements are undergoing a revival in the strength training world. I'm all for athleticism, but we have to ask who is really prepared for going overhead - much less going overhead with the risk of falling! Here's a video I filmed for Wil Fleming a while back on the subject. While the topic is preparing for snatches, you can easily apply the point to handstand push-ups.

If you pass the back-to-wall shoulder flexion test with flying colors and have a decent foundation of strength, by all means, have at it with handstand push-ups. If you're just trying them out because you saw someone doing them on YouTube and they looked cool, they're probably not a good idea - at least not right away.

12. One equipment limitation many folks run into when training at commercial gyms is the lack of a medicine ball wall against which they can do rotational shotputs and scoop tosses. It's a huge bummer, as these exercises can be of tremendous value for not only training rotational power, but also part of conditioning medleys.

That said, it's not a perfect replacement, but I have found that a decent substitute is band-resisted heidens (or heiden variations without the bands). You at least get some of the same hip sequencing, even if the lower-to-upper body force transfer isn't quite the same.

13. Training athletes for performance is all about managing competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.

With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.

14. If you want to improve your vertical jump, there are really only three ways to do so:

a) put more force into the ground
b) put that force into the ground quicker
c) be less fat

Most people focus entirely on "a" and "b" - and they're often the athletes with brutal diets. Drop a few percentage points in body fat while maintaining your peak power, and you'll jump through the roof.

15. This post is all about programming, but it'd be shortsighted to wrap up without reminding you that I'd rather see a mediocre program executed with outstanding intensity and adherence than an outstanding program executed with mediocre effort. You can't outprogram "soft," so be sure you're working hard in spite of the focus on continued education!

If you're interested in taking a glimpse into more of my programming philosophies - or get a comprehensive strength and conditioning plan all prepared for you - be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook while it's on sale this week!

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