Home Posts tagged "The High Performance Handbook" (Page 6)

The Superset Survival Guide

I’ve come to realize that over the course of my career in strength and conditioning, I’ve gotten a little spoiled. Many of my readers are some of the more educated weight-training consumers on the ‘Net. I’ve been around Division 1 athletes who have four years of strength and conditioning continuity in their lives. I’ve lifted alongside world-class powerlifters. And, now, I have a host of athletes at Cressey Sports Performance who are completely “indoctrinated” with my training philosophies, as it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.

So, I guess you could say that I’ve become a bit of a lifting snob in the sense that I assume I’m always surrounded by people who know how to interpret my programs, leaving me to just program, coach technique, help select weights, and turn up the volume on the stereo.

I came to the realization that I was just in a fantasyland, though, when my second book, Maximum Strength, was published in June of 2008.

This book, which had a bit more “mass market” flavor than the overwhelming majority of my work, was being sold online and in bookstores from Idaho to Thailand – and many of the people buying it were Average Joes who didn’t know how to interpret the programs I’d written. One question that I received in about 50 different emails sticks out in my mind:

“I've recently purchased your book and have a quick question related to the training schedules. I see the "A1 and A2" / "B1 and B2" designations, but am not sure I fully understand if I'm supposed to alternate the exercises that day (for example, do a set of one-arm DB push press and then do a set of close-grip chin-up and cycle through to complete 3 sets each) or am I supposed to pick one exercise for week 1 and then choose the other exercise in week 2?”

The answer, as the overwhelming majority of my readers knows, is that A1 and A2 indicates a superset. You go back and forth between the two (in all weeks), and once you’ve completed A1 and A2, you move on to B1 and B2, then C1 and C2, and so on. So, you do all the exercises in all the weeks. The idea is pretty simple:

Supersetting makes your training far more efficient.

So, rather than doing a set of bench presses and then standing around for two minutes before the next set, you superset the bench presses with a variation of rows or a flexibility exercise, for instance. You increase training density, and can use the pairings to bring up weak areas.

All that said, we know superset training works; it might be one of the few things that the overwhelming majority of strength coaches and personal trainers agree on, in fact! However, I often see poor choices in terms of exercise pairings in the lay population. For instance, you’ll often see people supersetting walking dumbbell lunges and chin-ups, both of which are pretty grip-intensive. As such, I thought it’d be a good time to throw out some of my favorite supersets.

1. The "Regular Ol’ Push-Pull" Superset

This is probably where we’ve come to recognize the value of supersets more than anywhere else. Do a set of presses, and instead of just waiting 2-3 minutes to go back to another set of presses, we go to a pull in the middle. Let’s look at what this works out to over the course of five sets, assuming a two-minute rest between sets and a duration of thirty seconds between sets:

Option A – Just “Press ‘n Wait”
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
120s rest
30s set
Total Time: 10 minutes, 30 seconds

Option B – Pairing a press and a pull with a “moderate” rest between push and pull
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
60s rest
30s set (press)
60s rest
30s set (pull)
Total Time: 14 minutes

Effectively, you’ve doubled your training density while only investing 33% more time. And, if you cut the rest intervals down to 45s between the end of a press set and start of the pull set, you actually keep the rest between sets of presses the same as you did in Option 1 and be down to 11 minutes, 45 seconds. You don’t have to be an economist – or even a graduate of the 6th grade – to know that this is a wise training investment. “More work in less time” holds merit in lifting heavy stuff just like it does in the business world.

The logical next question is, of course, what kind of “pushes” and “pulls?” It’s a pretty easy division to make, via four categories:

1. Vertical Push (overhead pressing)
2. Vertical Pull (chin-up/pull-up variations, lat pulldowns)
3. Horizontal Push (bench press and push-up variations)
4. Horizontal (rowing variations)

Pair the vertical pushes with the vertical pulls, and horizontal pushes with the horizontal pulls. And, if you’re feeling frisky, you can pair horizontal pushes with vertical pulls, or horizontal pulls with vertical pushes. Your imagination is the only limit.

A word of advice: you’ll never get completely perfect antagonist relationships. For example, the long head of the triceps is going to be at least somewhat active in every one of these variations because it is both a shoulder extensor (pull-ups and rows) and an elbow extensor (all presses). The long head of the biceps flexes both the shoulder (all presses) and elbow (pull-ups and rows) on top of contributing to shoulder joint stability in all tasks. Your rotator cuff is going crazy in all these movements.

In short, consider gross movement schemes and try to avoid blatantly obvious overlap in muscle recruitment, but don’t get bogged down in minutia when selecting your pairings.
 

 2. The “True Mark of Your Common Sense” Superset

Without further ado, here it is:

A1) Deadlift variation
A2) Heavy panting!

I throw this in here simply because I want people to realize that not everything in your training needs to be supersetted with another exercise. Sometimes standing around – or at the very most, doing an unrelated stretch or easy mobilization – is exactly what you want. I once heard about a trainer who supersetted back squats with stiff-leg deadlifts. This less-than-enlightened individual overlooked the fact that:

a) both exercises heavily tax the posterior chain
b) both movements absolutely destroy you – which just might compromise technique
c) intervertebral discs – and not just muscles and the nervous system – are relaxing between sets, too.

There are, however, a few ways to make the downtime between deadlift sets more productive…

3. The "Stiff Ankle" Superset

We do all our deadlifting variations without shoes on at Cressey Performance, as this allows athletes to keep the weight on the heels to better activate the posterior chain. It also brings the lifter closer to the ground, so hip mobility deficits can’t interfere with getting down to the bar without a rounded back.

Being shoeless also lends itself well to working on some ankle mobility, as being in sneakers typically gives us a false sense of good range of motion at this joint, so a low-key filler between deadlifts is ankle mobility work:

A1) Deadlift variation
A2) Ankle mobilization of your choice

Knee-break ankle mobilizations are one option. Here, the goal is to keep the heel down while going into dorsiflexion (knee over toe); don’t allow the knees to deviate inward or the toes to turn out, though.

4. The "Front Squat/Vertical Pull" Superset

It’s a bit easier to superset squats with other movements than deadlifts – but only in specific cases, such as…

A1) Front Squat Variation
A2) Vertical Pull Variation

As I mentioned in my article Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns, the lats are anatomically less effective as spinal stabilizers during the front squat, which accounts for some of the discrepancy between one’s front squat and back squat. If we’re not using them as much in stabilization for the front squat, we might as well use them for actually generating movement.

For variation, you can squat to various depths, from pins or a box, or against bands/chains. With the vertical pull, you have several grip choices (neutral/supinated/pronated/alternate, and plus different grip widths).

As you get stronger and stronger, though, pairing anything with a squat can get to be a pain in the butt. With that in mind, one substitute we’ve used is pairing reverse lunges with a front squat grip with any of the vertical pulling variations – and just extended the rest time a bit.

You can also use any of a number of other lunge variations that use a bar (dumbbells won’t work because of the grip challenge). We use the giant cambered bar a lot, for instance:

5. The Unilateral Superset

I get quite a few questions about how to plug single-leg exercises into supersets.

A1) Single-leg Exercise – side #1
A2) Single-leg Exercise – side #2

I structure programs this way because I want people to rest between sides on these movements. Grips falter, scapular stabilizers get fatigued, and there is always a bit of overlap from side to side on these movements. As such, I like to shoot for 30-45 seconds between sides – during which time people can regroup and focus on the quality of the next set instead of rushing right into it.

That said, we generally pair our lower body work with some kind of core stability or mobility drill. So, I guess it would technically be treated like a triset (or quad-set, if one of these drills is performed on each side). Examples might be:

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #1
A2) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #2
A3) Stability Ball Rollouts

or...

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #1
A2) Dumbbell Forward Lunges – side #2
A3) Half-Kneeling Cable Chop – side #1
A4) Half-Kneeling Cable Chop – side #2

Of course, to keep things less cumbersome, I’d simply write these up as:

A1) Dumbbell Forward Lunges
A2) Split-Stance Cable Lift

Anyway, moving on…

6. The “Miserable Lower Body Experience” Superset

As I noted above, one of the problems I see with a ton of lower body superset is that they combine complex exercises like squats and deadlifts with other fatiguing exercises – and as a result, the squat and/or deadlift form because absolutely atrocious and potentially injurious. From my perspective, effective lower body pairings are safe, but sufficiently compound and functional enough to activate enough muscle mass and have some functional carryover to the real world.

I know most of you won’t have a sled or a glute-ham raise at your disposal, but I’m throwing this out there anyway, as it makes for a great finisher at the end of a lower body day:

A1) Reverse Sled Drags
A2) Glute-Ham Raises

The reverse sled drags are about as quad dominant as you can go, and the glute-ham raises crush the posterior chain.  Don’t have a sled or glute-ham raise set-up, though? All you’ll need are a bench, a lat pulldown or seated calf raise, some balls, and a good stomach. You can instead pair dumbbell Bulgarian split squats with natural glute-ham raises. For the latter, just set up in reverse and lock your ankles under the pads, controlling yourself down slowly and (most likely) giving yourself a push off with your arms to get back to the top.

7. The “Miserable Upper Body Experience” Superset

Our entire staff trains together at Cressey Sports Performance, and this pairing is widely recognized as the most brutal upper body superset we’ve ever done.

A1) Bench Press Clusters: 4 x (4x2) – 10s
A2) Farmer’s Walk: 4x80yds – but go as far as you can on the last set

For those of you who aren’t familiar with clusters, for 4 x (4x2) – 10s, this would be four total clusters. Each cluster consists of 4 sets of 2 reps with 10 seconds rest between sets. The idea is that by putting these “mini-rests” between sets of 2, you can use a heavier weight for your sets than if you’d just done eight straight reps. So, training is more dense (anyone notice a theme here?). All told, you might wind up doing 32 reps with as much as 85% of your 1-rep max.

After the cluster, of course, we went to A2, nearly vomited, and then came back to do another cluster. The first time four of us did this, there was a 25% attrition rate after the second round, and the remaining three of us made it through all four – but couldn’t lift our arms for about three days without yelping like chihuahuas giving birth.

To the naked eye (and stomach), this would just seem like torture, but whether we recognized it or not, we were onto something. Bench presses are a push and require some lower trap activation for a good “tucked” upper body positioning. Farmer’s walk are more of a pull and rely heavily on the upper traps. Lower traps depress the scapula, and upper traps elevate it.

8. The “Productive Rest during Plyos” Superset

We do a lot of medicine ball drills, jumping, and change-of-direction work with our athletes to develop power. With this type of training, it’s important to allow for adequate rest between sets, even if athletes don’t actually feel tired. To that end, we’ll often pair these drills up with some kind of mobility or activation drill, as it allows us to:

a) slow an athlete down
b) work on an inefficiency
c) shorten the learning loop (meaning that if we work on the inefficiency from “b,” we’ll best integrate those changes with compound exercises like medicine ball throws or jump training)

Here’s an example we might use for medicine ball training for an athlete with limited shoulder flexion and an excessive anterior pelvic tilt/lorsdosis:

A1) Step-Behind Rotational Medicine Ball Shotput: 3x3/side, 6lb

A2) Bench T-Spine Mobilizations: 3x8

 

B1) Recoiled Rollover Stomps to Floor: 3x4/side, 12lb

 

B2) Wall Slides with Upward Rotation and Lift-off: 3x8

Of course, you can plug in just about anything for the A2 and B2 “fillers,” depending on what inefficiencies the athlete needs to address.

9. The “Where the Heck do I put Turkish Get-ups” Superset

The Turkish get-up is one of the most big-bang exercises you can do; it offers great core and shoulder stability challenges while testing hip mobility in a fundamental movement pattern: transitioning from the supine to upright position. It does, however, often lead to confusion in program design, as folks sometimes struggle with determining where to put this exercise in strength training programs. On one hand, it’s a technically intensive exercise that you want to put first in a training day. On the other hand, it’s probably more of a “core” exercise than a true upper extremity loading drill, so one might be tempted to put it later in a training session. What to do?

Personally, I agree with the former approach. In fact, one of my favorite places to put them is as part of a A1/A2 pairing that also includes vertical pulling. The get-up is more of an approximation exercise at the shoulder, meaning that it pushes the humeral head (ball) back into the glenoid fossa (socket). Conversely, pull-up variations are traction exercises, meaning the ball is pulled away from the socket. So, a sample pairing might be:

A1) Weighted Chin-ups: 4x5
A2) 1-arm Kettlebell Turkish Get-ups: 4x3/side

10. The “Get Out of the Sagittal Plane” Superset

Let’s face it: traditional strength training is very sagittal plane dominant. However, when it comes to participating in sports or just encountering random things in everyday life, we have to be comfortable working in other planes of motion. And, specific to our baseball players, we need to make sure that our athletes are prepared for a sport that largely takes place in the frontal and transverse planes. And, that’s why I like this superset.

A1) Kettlebell Goblet Slideboard Lateral Lunges

A2) Wide-Stance Anti-Rotation Chop with Rope

With A1, you’re building some strength in the frontal plane while improving adductor length. If you don’t have a slideboard, you can throw a towel, furniture slider, or paper plate on a tile or wood floor. Or you can just do dumbbell goblet lateral lunges.

With the second drill, obviously, you’re working on rotary stability and getting some hip mobility at the same time. When you pair two drills like this up, you’ll find that the core stability work helps to make the transient improvements in hip mobility “stick” a little better.

Supersetting My Closing Thoughts

A1) Your imagination really is your primary limit with respect to coming up with supersets you can use. Just stick to the basics and don’t get cute.

A2) Remember that good pairings are both safe and appropriate in light of your goals (e.g., not pairing two grip intensive exercises).

B1) Don’t forget that there is absolutely a time and place for rest, and it is usually better to “casually alternate” between sets, as opposed to raising back and forth.

B2) Just because I am showing you a way to make your training more dense and efficient does not mean that you should go ahead and start doing 50 sets per training session just so that you can continue to spend three hours in the gym. Keep it short and sweet.

C1) Good luck.

C2) Thanks for reading.

Looking for a comprehensive resource to take the guesswork out of your programming? Check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available today.

HPH-main

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5 Ways to Do Less and Get More from Your Strength Training Programs

Whenever someone talks about a plateau they've hit with their strength training programs, the first question they usually ask is "What should I do?" In reality, the answer isn't just what one should do, but what one shouldn't do, as well.  Here are five examples of how you can get more out of your strength training programs by doing less.

1. Leave the gym sooner.

Tony Gentilcore is one of my best friends.  We co-founded Cressey Sports Performance, were roommates for two years, and he were groomsmen in one another's weddings. 

We also have been training partners since 2005. And, in just about every training session we've ever shared, I've finished before Tony.  Tony absolutely loves to train, so he's always adding stuff at the end: things like conditioning, accessory work, curls and lateral raises.  This stuff is all well and good in the battle to improve his physique, but it's always attenuated his strength gains.

As a frame of reference, back in 2005, my best raw bench press and deadlift were 250 and 510, respectively.  They're now up to 365 and 640.  In that same time period, Tony has gone from roughly 250 to 300 on the bench press, and 500 to 580 on the deadlift.

That said, make no mistake about it: Tony is still a pretty strong dude - and he walks around at sub-10% body fat year round and could be a Men's Health cover model body with a week of dieting.  He trades off some of his strength gains for the volume it takes to build the physique he wants.  I, on the other hand, trade off some of the physique stuff to enhance my strength. 

We take these considerations into mind whenever we write programs for clients. It's all about individual preference, and your goals may shift over time. If you're looking to get stronger faster, though, look to eliminate some fluff and focus on putting your eggs in the "quality, not quantity" basket.

2. Quit pairing so many things up.

We use a lot of "fillers" in the strength and programs we write for athletes.  For instance, they may do a set of yoga plex to work on hip and thoracic spine mobility between sets of trap bar deadlifts.  Athletes have so many competing demands that you can't just ignore everything else while you work to build strength, or else you'll run out of training time. 

In some of our general fitness clients who have a lot of mobility restrictions to work through, but also need to drop body fat and build work capacity, we may use trisets, pairing up 1-2 strength/stability exercises with a mobility drill.  They get a little bit of everything, and they keep moving.

You know what, though?  None of the elite caliber powerlifters and Olympic lifters I've met do this.  They lift, and then stand (or sit) around between sets.  They might not move as well in a variety of contexts as some other athletes I encounter, but they're damn strong.

Look at your program and weight the benefits of adding filler work between sets.  For most folks, the benefits definitely outweigh any subtle reduction in strength you'd see on the main strength exercise.  If, however, your goal is to squat 800 pounds, you don't need to be doing a set of chops or lifts between sets; you're better off resting and contemplating the challenge ahead, then hitting your assistance work thereafter.

3. Shorten up your movement training and conditioning.

A lot of people want to get stronger, but don't want it to interfere with their ability to train for sprinting, agility, or conditioning.  The quick and easy response to these folks is to simply pare back on how much you do with these somewhat competing demands.

If you're accustomed to running 200-400m sprints for conditioning, shorten it to 50-100m and take a bit longer for recovery between sets.

If you normally sprint three times a week, cut back to 1-2 sessions just to maintain what you've built as you add strength to the equation.

If you're used to doing 10-12 sets of agility work in a training session, cut it in half and put it during your warm-up before a strength training session.

Personally, a big chunk of my conditioning actually takes place on the rowing machine in my basement.  I'll just hit 3-5 rounds of 200-500m (anywhere from 30s to 120s) at a once or twice a week frequency.

4. Go to a lower rep range with your main strength exercise of the day.

This sounds like a no brainer, but you'd be amazed at how many intermediate to advanced lifters plug away with 4x6 and 5x5 rep schemes, but can't possibly understand why their strength levels aren't improving.  So, here's a good general guideline:

Lifting really heavy weights (>90% of 1RM) for few reps can get you stronger.  Lifting lighter weights (40-70% of 1RM) for few reps with great bar speed can also get you stronger.  Being in the middle (70-90%) and doing more reps at a slower bar speed often winds up being like riding two horses with one saddle.

There are two take-home points here.  First, regardless of the weight on the bar, your intent should always be to be as fast concentrically (lifting) as possible.  Second, doing sets of five or more reps isn't going to have a great neural benefit for strength improvements, although the volume may help you to gain body weight as a means to build strength. Save the higher rep stuff for your assistance work.

5. Deload.

A line I heard from Kelly Baggett back in the early 2000s has always stuck out in my mind:

Fatigue masks fitness.

If it didn't, we'd all be able to match (or exceed) our personal records in every single training session.  That may be the case when you're a complete beginner, but it's certainly not once you get some experience under your belt.  If you find you aren't getting stronger, try taking some time off and increasing the amount of recovery-oriented strategies - naps, massage, compression - you employ.  You might just find that you bounce back with a PR in a matter of days.

These are just five examples of how subtle modifications to your strength training program can yield big results.  They do, however, underscore the importance of having a versatile strength and conditioning program that can be modified to suit almost any goal.  To that end, I'd encourage you to check out The High Performance Handbook

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Weight Training Programs: 7 Ways to Get Strong(er) Now

When it comes to intermediate to advanced lifters and their weight training programs, they don't just want to get strong; they want to get strong fast.

With that in mind, I'm devoting today's post to some of my favorite strategies to increase strength quickly.  I talk a lot about longer-term strength and conditioning strategies, but figured it'd be a good idea to highlight some "quick fixes" today.

1. Warm-up - This seems like a no-brainer, but you'd be amazed at how many people jump right into their weight training program of the day without even getting their body temperature up. It's well documented that performance improves as core body temperature rises.  However, as this study demonstrated, even a lowered skin temperature can decrease force output - independent of core body temperature.  So, it may be advantageous to start your day's strength training program in long sleeves and remove layers as you go.  I prefer to see folks sweating by the time the warm-up ends; set aside at least ten minutes for it so that you can get some foam rolling and mobility drills in.

This is why every training session in Show and Go begins with foam rolling and a dynamic warm-up.

2. Hydrate - You'd be amazed at how many people - both athletes and non-athletes - are chronically dehydrated.  Research at my alma mater, The University of Connecticut, demonstrated that dehydration negatively impacted performance - especially on subsequent sets.  In other words, dehydrated lifters don't bounce back as quickly between sets.  As an interesting aside, everyone on this study was either a classmate or professor of mine; cool (no pun intended) stuff!

Regardless, drink as much as you think you need to drink - and then drink some more.

3. Have Some Caffeine - I don't love the idea of guys crushing energy drinks like the world is about to end and they don't need their adrenal glands anymore, but a little boost here and there can do the trick for a lot of lifters.  On the whole, research supports the idea that caffeine improves performance in most scenarios with minimal risk, provided the dose isn't excessive and the individual isn't prone to certain issues (migraines being the one that comes to mind the quickest).

Think of it as a "here and there" boost, but don't assume that you need to crush it to be successful.  Many people get enough of it in from drinking coffee in the morning that they're desensitized, anyway.  I'd prefer folks drink coffee, anyway, as it's loaded with antioxidants and actually confers more health benefits than folks realize.

4. Firm up your Grip - It drives me bonkers when I see a lifter get all fired up to take a big lift, and then grab the bar with a limp hand. There are times to be gentle - handling puppies, performing surgery, and knitting scarves, for instance - but lifting heavy stuff is not one of those times. A firm grip do so much more than connect you to the bar; it turns on more proximal muscles and gets the nervous system going, as we have loads of mechanoceptors in our hands (disproportionately more than other areas on the body). As an example, physical therapist Gray Cook often cites a phenomenon called "irradiation," where the brain signals the rotator cuff to fire as protection to the shoulder when it's faced with a significant load in the hand, as with a deadlift. Just grabbing onto something get more muscles involved in the process.

5. Tinker with Technique -  It goes without saying that just a few subtle strength exercise technique adjustments can make a big difference quickly.  Using the deadlift as an example, the few I know that can make a dramatic difference quickly are:

a) bringing the hands in closer (shortens the distance the bar must travel)
b) taking off the shoes, or getting into a pair of minimalist training shoes (also shortens the distance the bar must travel, and puts the weight on the heels, where you want it)
c) spending less time in the bottom position before one pulls (notice in the video below that I get my thoughts together, then dip, grip, and rip; it allows me to get a bit more out of the stretch-shortening cycle at the bottom):

These are just a few coaching cues for a single strength exercise, but there are countless more unique to each individual to help people increase strength quickly.

6. Change the Music - I don't need to cite a study to prove to you that lifting with good music will help your cause, but I will anyway: Music (or the expectation of music) makes cyclist work harder.  Cycling isn't lifting heavy stuff, but it goes without saying that my experience has been that folks get strong faster when they've got music playing and lots of energy in the gym.

7. Utilize Post-Activation Potentiation - This is a fancy way of saying that if you lift (or even just hold) a heavier weight, when you subsequently (shortly thereafter) perform a comparable exercise with a lighter weight, it will feel easier.  In the research, it works in some scenarios, but not in others (seems to be more effective in the lower body than the upper body).  Chad Waterbury covered this concept in some detail HERE, if you're interested in reading more.

These are just seven strategies you can employ in your weight training programs to increase strength transiently, and there are surely many more.  By all means, share your top short-term "get strong fast" strategies in the comments section.

Looking for a weight training program where you can best put these strategies in action?  Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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Get Strong by Learning from My Strength and Conditioning Mistakes

We bought our dog, Tank, in October of 2010 – and he’s since gone on to be not only man’s best friend around the house, but also an integral (and entertaining) part of the Cressey Sports Performance experience, as he comes to the gym with me just about every day.

In spite of Tank’s affinity for flashing people, he managed to win adoration of the family of one of our CP athletes to the point that they decided they wanted to get a cream puggle just like him.  Having just spent months housetraining him and trying to get him to sleep through the night, my wife and I had plenty of suggestions for these folks to avoid making the mistakes we made.  I mean, we never told him to eat paint chips, but puppies will be puppies, you know?

Anyway, that family is now all settled with their puppy, and it got me to thinking about the importance of learning from others’ mistakes is in the world of strength and conditioning programs.  If I can help out one puppy owner, I might as well help out the 180,000 unique visitors on this website each month!  With that in mind, here are five strength and conditioning mistakes I corrected that have made a big difference for me:

1. Eating like a pansy in the post-training window – If you’re an up-and-coming lifter or athlete who can benefit from increasing muscle mass (and I definitely was), the post-workout period is not a time when you can skimp on calories.  I really did not start making great progress until I was getting in over a thousand calories between my post-training shake and the meal that took place an hour later – and that was on the light side compared to what I’ve seen with some other guys. I can’t think of many things that drive me crazier than seeing one of our athletes finish a training session – and then sit around in the office for 2-3 hours without eating anything.  I love having them hang out at the gym, but I just want them to do it with calories!

2. Not training for strength soon enough – I'm going to dumb getting bigger down as much as I can, yet still keep it mathematical. You've got to do "muscular damage" and then rebuild.  If you don't do work, you don't get damage. Work = Force x Distance

Unless you plan on growing for the rest of your life (or find magical ways to keep adding range of motion to exercises), the easiest way to positively impact the amount of work you do is to apply more force - or be stronger. To that end, I'll make a bold statement here: for the first two years of lifting, your primary goal should simply be to add weight to the bar (provided you can do so in good technique and without pain).  As long as we're talking about compound strength exercises, you'll be very pleased with the results. We have novice lifters at Cressey Performance who grow like weeds in their first two years of training with us - and I can't say that I've ever had someone ask me about "the pump."  I wish I'd had someone to tell me to shut up when I asked about it when I was 18!

3. Spending too much time doing non-essentials – This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous observation.  I really had no place doing curls, triceps extensions, and other isolation exercises when I hadn’t even come close to putting up good numbers on the important strength exercises. It kept me in the gym too long and interfered with my recovery on the really important stuff. The funny thing is that now that I have gotten a lot stronger, I really don’t have interest in doing much of the isolation stuff anymore – because I realize that the core strength exercises are the ones that really helped me progress.

4. Not being more athletic with my energy systems work – Growing up, I was an avid soccer and tennis player, and as a result of all my time on the field/court, I was reasonably quick and good with changes of direction.  When my early 20s rolled around, I took a step back from those sports to pursue strength training "full time."  A few years later, I was invited to play in a charity basketball game against a bunch of at-the-time Patriots players like Ellis Hobbs, Reche Caldwell, Pierre Woods, and Logan Mankins (among others).  Don't let anyone tell you that NFL guys can't play hoops, because these guys mopped the floor with us. The outcome wasn't altogether surprising, but one thing that did open my eyes was how I just didn't feel as athletic as I used to be in spite of the fact that I'd gotten a lot stronger as compared to my high school years.  I was putting force into the ground, but I wasn't applying it quickly - and I wasn't doing it in planes of motion in which I was comfortable.  Not surprisingly, most of my energy systems work at the time (which really wasn't much) was being done on machines: ellipticals, versa-climbers, rowers, and bikes.  I committed to cutting back on mindless repetitive motion cardio right away - and since then, just about all my energy systems work has been sprinting, strongman-type medleys, change of direction work, slideboard work, and medicine ball circuits (plus just a small amount of Airdyne work). The end result?  A 37.2-inch vertical jump - more than 12 inches better than I was back at the time, and I'm at a higher body weight and just as lean as when I was doing all that "gerbil cardio."  More importantly, I feel a ton more athletic - and I'm more likely to do stupid things for others' amusement around the gym.

5. Not finding a good training crew earlier – I’ve been fortunate to lift with some excellent training partners, from my days on-campus at the University of Connecticut, to South Side Gym, to the guys I lift with at Cressey Performance nowadays.  Before that, though, I was flying solo for quite some time.  Let me tell you: good training partners make a HUGE difference.  They pick you up when you’re dragging, help you select weights, provide spots/handoffs, and create an awesome social atmosphere that actually helps training progress. “Going it alone” doesn’t just refer to having training partners with whom you can lift, though.  It also refers to having professional resources to whom you can turn – whether it’s a massage therapist when your elbows get cranky from all the gripping you do, or someone to help you out with your strength and conditioning programs.  I’m not going to lie: I did some terrible programs back in the day when I didn’t know any better.  If I’d had an unbiased party helping me out, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. That’s one reason why I created The High Performance Handbook.

On one hand, it takes the guesswork out of training by providing the actual strength and conditioning programs as well as an extensive video database to help with technique on all the mobility and strength exercises.  On the other hand, though, I designed it so that it would give folks a lot of wiggle room when it comes to adapting it to their unique goals and needs.  It starts with an easy-to-apply assessment you can use to determine your unique needs.  From there, you've got 4x/week, 3x/week, and 2x/week strength training programs; different supplemental conditioning options; and a unique mobility warm-up for every month of the program.  Problems solved. Click here to learn more about The High Performance Handbook. What were some of your biggest strength and conditioning mistakes?  Share them in the comments section below and you might just help someone from repeating them!

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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