Home Posts tagged "Weight Training Programs"

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/19/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

How to Get Published - I thought this new e-book from Sean Hyson, Lou Schuler, and John Romaniello was a great idea.  Writing in the fitness industry opened a ton of doors for me at a young age and also helped me to educate myself on a various of topics.  These three guys are super accomplished in the writing world, and it definitely shows with the quality of this product.  If you're looking to get published (especially in the fitness industry, but regardless of the industry), give this a read.

Weight Training Programs: Assess, Don't Assume - Last May, I wrote this post up, but it slipped to the archives. It's worth a read regardless of whether you're a fitness professional or just a fitness enthusiast.

27 More Nutrition Facts - I'm a sucker for "Random Thoughts" pieces, especially when they come from bright guys like Dr. Mike Roussell.  It's a great chance to process a ton of information in a short amount of time.

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Strength Training Programs: Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?

The pull-up is among the most sacred strength exercises in the history of weight training programs, ranking up there with squats, deadlifts, and bench and overhead presses.  This is one reason why I expect there to be burning Eric Cressey effigies in various strength and conditioning circles after they read the following sentence:

Some people would be wise to leave out pull-ups - at least temporarily.

Before you rip me a new one, please give me a few minutes to explain.

First off, I get it: pull-ups train the lats, and the lats are huge players in athletic function and the quest to get strong and gain muscle.  They're the biggest player in force transfer between the lower and upper body, and play key roles in core stability and breathing.  Specific to my baseball work, lat recruitment is higher during acceleration in professional pitchers than amateurs, showing that reliance on this big muscle helps generate increase pitching velocity, too.  I actually wrote an entire article back in 2006 about just how extensive the lat's role is, if you'd like to read more: Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns.

However, the "expansive" presence of the lats - running from the thoracolumbar fascia all the way up to the humerus - can make them a problem as much as they are a solution.  To that end, here are four reasons you may want take a break from pull-ups/chin-ups/pulldowns in your strength training program:

1. Heavy pull-ups can make the elbows very cranky - This is really the shortest and least complex of my arguments, so I'll get it out of the way early.  My personal best three-rep max chin-up is 321 pounds, at a body weight of about 188 pounds (so, the external load was 133 pounds).  My best raw three-rep max bench press is about 330 pounds, but what you might find surprising is that going heavy on the bench press is dramatically easier on my joints (particularly my elbows) than pull-ups/chin-ups are.  What gives?

First, when you bench press, you're doing a full-body movement.  There is leg drive and loads of core stability involved on top of the upper extremity activity that's taking place - so the stress is more easily distributed.  When you do a pull-up, your upper extremity is relatively isolated, so the stress is more concentrated.

Second, a pull-up is a traction exercise; it pulls the humeral head out of the socket, and essentially pulls the lower and upper arm apart at the top. When you lose bony congruence - one of the most important, yet overlooked components of joint stability - you have to pick up the slack with the active restraints (muscles/tendons) acting at the joint.  Low-level traction can be tremendously helpful in situations like external impingement at the shoulder, or intervertebral disc issues.  However, under extreme load, it can be pretty darn stressful to the soft tissue structures around the joint.  Conversely, a bench press is an approximation exercise, so you can actually draw some stability from the joint alignment itself to take some of the stress off the soft tissue structures.

I remember Jason Ferruggia writing recently about how heavy chin-ups/pull-ups can really beat up on older lifters - and it's safe to say that the reason isn't so much tissue degeneration, but simply that it took time for them to build appreciable enough strength to get to the point where the overall stress was too much.

2. The lats overpower the lower traps - The overwhelming majority of the baseball athletes I see (and most extension/rotation sport athletes, in general) live in lordotic postures.  The lat is a strong extensor of the spine - but it also attaches to the rib cage and scapula on the way to the upper extremity.  The end result is that many lordotic athletes wind up with a very "gross" extension pattern.

The rib cage flairs up, and the lower traps do little to pull the shoulder blades back and down on the rib cage - because the lats have already gotten an athlete to the position he/she wants to be in via lumbar extension.  You can see from the picture below that the line of pull of the two muscles is actually very comparable - but given cross sectional area and length, the lat will always have the upper hand, especially if it's constantly being prioritized in a strength training program due to exercise selection and faulty lifting technique.

Effectively, we need to learn to move our scapulae on our rib cage, as opposed to just moving our entire spine into extension.  Interestingly, you'll find a lot of flexion-bias in the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) schools of thought because they clearly appreciate that getting folks out of "gross extension" is a way to get/keep people healthy.  Having ultra short/stiff lats can cause issues ranging from extension-based back pain (e.g., spondylolysis) to shoulder pain (e.g., external or internal impingement).  As I've written previously, too, this global dysfunction may also be the reason we're seeing more femoroacetabular impingement in athletes.

As another interesting aside, I see a lot of throwers with low right shoulders and incredibly short/stiff lats on that side.

This is secondary to faulty rib positioning and the scapular anterior tilt that ensues (as per the PRI school of thought), but one additional thing we've found (thanks to great feedback from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg) is that overhead shrugging variations on the low shoulder have helped these throwers to not only feel better, but minimize these asymmetries.  Effectively, creating a bit more stiffness in the upper trapezius helps it to counterbalance the aggressive downward pull of the lat on the scapula.

These folks sit in scapular depression, and for that reason, we'll often leave out any exercises (e.g., deadlifts, dumbbell lunges) that involve holding heavy weights in the hand until scapular positioning is better controlled.

3. The humeral attachment portion of the lat is part of a significant zone of convergence at the posterior shoulder - The back of your shoulder is another one of those claustrophobic areas in your body.  You've got tendons for the lat, teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, long head of the triceps, and posterior deltoid all coming together in a very small area, creating friction over each other as their individual forces come together (regions like this are called "Zones of Convergence" by myofascial researcher Luigi Stecco.

The latissimus dorsi is, without a doubt, the largest and strongest of all the involved structures.  It also has the longest tendon, which makes it the biggest candidate for nasty tissue quality in the region.  The problem is that muscles/tendons don't deform evenly; rather, they move a lot where the tissue quality is good, and very little where it is dense.  So, when you're super dense in the posterior shoulder and try to go do pull-ups, as I noted earlier, the entire shoulder girdle wants to move (humeral extension and internal rotation, and scapular depression) together, as opposed to a nice synergy of the humerus with the scapula on the rib cage.  When some is stiff in the posterior shoulder and wants to use the lat for everything, a seated cable row looks like this.  Notice how the elbow winds up behind the body, and the scapula anterior tilts - and also how old the video is; I look like I am 12 years old and weigh 120 lbs.

Rowing like this over time will eventually irritate the anterior shoulder.  However, watch this standing one-arm cable row where the humeral head (ball) maintains a good alignment with the glenoid fossa (socket) as the shoulder blade moves on the rib cage.  The humerus doesn't extend unless the scapula moves with it.

4. Overactive lats can decrease the subacromial space - The lat extends, adducts, and internally rotates the humerus.  In order to get overhead the right way, we need flexion, abduction, and external rotation of the humerus.  So, you can see that it's a direct antagonist to healthy, overhead movement.  If you think about your biggest players for pain-free overhead movement, two of them have to be the posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius.  The lat overpowers both of them in a "gross" extension pattern.

Here's a test: position yourself supine, bend the knees, flatten the lower back, and then let your arms hang freely overhead.  Then, have someone take a picture looking down at the top of your head.  A "pass" would be full shoulder flexion with no arching of the back, and no shoulder pain along the way.  A fail would be pain, or something that looks like this:

If your photo looks like this, you better hope that you have outstanding posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius function (adequate stiffness) to overpower some very short lats if you intend to train overhead pain-free (especially with overhead pressing).  Otherwise, your shoulder flexion will really just be lumbar extension and forward head posture substitutions (this one has a nice left rib flair, too).

In other words, you need adequate anterior core stability and good recruitment of the deep neck flexors, too, but those are blogs for another day.

Closing Thoughts

This post has gone on far too long, and to be honest, I've probably just used the last 1300+ words to piss a lot of you off.  You'll be happy to know, however, that we still use a ton of pull-ups/chin-ups in our strength training programs at Cressey Performance.  In fact, they're a mainstay.  Here are some modifying factors, however:

1. The risk:reward ratio gets a little out of whack once you get very strong with pull-ups.  You'd be better off adding sets and reps, as opposed to adding load - and you may want to push the heavy stuff less frequently than you would with compound exercises.

2. Get regular manual therapy at the posterior shoulder and entire elbow to stay on top of tissue quality. At the very least, make sure you're foam rolling a ton and using The Stick:

3. Strengthen the anterior core and deep neck flexors so that you don't substitute lumbar hyperextension and forward head posture, respectively, for shoulder flexion.

4. Strengthen the lower traps so that the lats can't overpower them.  I like wall slides at 135 degrees abduction, as it allows one to work in the direct line of pull of the lower traps.  Make sure to cue "glutes tight, core braced" so that folks can't substitute lumbar extension ("gross extension") for movement of the scapulae on the rib cage.  Make sure there is no forward head posture, too.

Prone 1-arm trap raises off the table are also a popular one.  Just make sure you continue to cue "glutes tight, core braced, and no forward head posture."

4. Maintain adequate length in the lats. In warm-ups, I like the bench t-spine mobilizations and side-lying internal external rotation as a means of getting some shoulder flexion.

In terms of static stretching, a lat stretch in the power rack is great.

If this gives you an impingement feeling, regress it a bit, stabilize the scapulae with the opposite hand, and gently dip into a wall lat stretch with stabilization.

Many folks will also benefit from this classic overhead stretch in order to reduce stiffness in the long head of the triceps, a synergist to the lats in humeral extension.

5. Make sure you're including plenty of horizontal pulling (rowing) strength exercises as well - and executing them with the correct form.  This means moving humerus and scapula together on rib cage, not just yanking the humerus into extension on a fixed scapula.

6. If you have terrible shoulder flexion and can't get overhead without substituting forward head posture and lumbar hyperextension, spend some time addressing the underlying issues before you start cranking on pull-ups.  We actually don't do any pull-ups/chin-ups with some of our professional baseball players for 4-8 weeks following the season, as we need to spend time building rotator cuff, lower trap, and anterior core strength. I like to use the back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise as a "pass/fail test." If you can get the thumbs to the wall without losing the flat-back posture on the wall or bending your elbows, then you can probably start going to pull-ups.

7. Above all else, listen to your body, and hold back if pull-ups/chin-ups hurt.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post and your experiences with heavy and/or high-volume pull-ups/chin-ups in the comments section below.

For more information on the role of the lats in upper extremity health and function, I'd encourage you to check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD Set.

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The Best of 2011: Articles

With 2011 winding down, I'll be dedicating this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com.  I'll kick it off today with my most popular articles from the past year. 1. My New Favorite Training Shoe - This post received more than 3,000 views more than #2.  Apparently, footwear is a topic about which folks were anxious to read, and I gave a detailed review of all the minimalist footwear options I've tried - and folks shared it a ton.  Additionally, based on feedback on my Twitter account, a lot of people purchased the New Balance Minimus based on my recommendation and have absolutely loved it.

2. Your Arm Hurts?  Thank Your Little League, Fall Ball, and AAU Coaches. - This post received well over 1,000 Facebook "shares" and loads of Tweets, and I'm hopeful that this is indicative of parents, coaches, and players learning about how to approach arm care and throwing programs intelligently.  I think it was also popular because it was a good blend of scientific evidence and simple, everyday logic. 3. Tim Collins: Why Everyone Should Be a Kansas City Royals Fan (at least for a day) - This was my favorite post of the year, as it was a chance to celebrate a good friend and long-time Cressey Performance athlete who is everything that is right about Major League Baseball. As a cool little aside, traffic to this article played a large part in having "Tim Collins" trending on Twitter during his MLB debut on Opening Day in March.

4. Weight Training Programs: You Can't Just Keep Adding - It sounds like many of my readers were glad to hear that I was doing some writing on managing training stress.  There is a lot of common sense in this one, but sometimes, that's what people need! 5. Strength Training Programs and Squat Technique: To Arch or Not to Arch? - Here's a very misunderstood topic in the area of strength and conditioning technique.  You'll be happy to know that I'll be addressing it in great detail in the new Functional Stability Training resource that Mike Reinold and I are releasing soon. 6. Shoulder Hurts? Start Here. - In this piece, I outlined three sure-fire strategies that just about everyone can employ regardless of their shoulder issues.

7. Healthy Food Options: Why You Should Never Take Nutrition Advice from Your Government - One of the biggest surprises for me in 2011 was that my readers absolutely ate up (no pun intended) nutrition content, and summer Cressey Performance intern Tyler Simmons' guest blog perfect example.   He shared some great (and controversial) thoughts in this guest blog. 8. Correcting Bad Posture: Are Deadlifts Enough? - People want results, and they want them fast.  This post touched on whether or not the deadlift could be an optimal "shortcut" for getting to where you want to be. 9. Why the Gym's Out-of-Business and the Porn Store's Thriving - This was proof that I can write about just about anything.  Don't ever expect to see a content drought here at EricCressey.com.  The timing for this was really good, as I got the idea to write it right around the time that we released The Fitness Business Blueprint.

10. Lifting Heavy Weights vs. Corrective Exercise: Finding a Balance - I can definitely see how folks found this topic so interesting, as it's a very challenging balance to strike.  In fact, it was even a very challenging piece around which to wrap my brain! This wraps up our top 10 posts of 2011, but I'll be back soon with more "Best of" highlights from 2011.  Next up, I'll list my top product reviews of the year. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Weight Training Programs: Don’t Major in the Minutia

Last night, I was on my laptop searching for an old weight training program I’d written up a while back, and I accidentally stumbled upon some written goals of mine from back in 2003.  Based on the “Created on” date in Microsoft Excel, I had written them up in the spring of my senior year of college. On one hand, I was proud of myself for – at age 22 – knowing enough to write down the goals that I wanted to achieve.  On the other hand, I have to laugh about just how out-of-whack my priorities were. You see, I’d listed loads of strength, body weight, and body fat percentage goals first and foremost.  In fact, there were 41 rows worth of performance and physique goals; hard to believe that ladies weren’t lining up to date this Type A stallion, huh?  Can you say neurotic?  I was like this guy, but with better eyesight and a decent deadlift.

That’s just self-deprecating humor, though.  What was actually really sad was how distorted my perception of reality really was, as rows 42-46 consisted of the following: 42. Resolve shoulder pain. 43. Get rid of lower back tightness. 44. Get accepted to graduate school. 45. Get a graduate assistantship in research or coaching. 46. Have 3-4 articles published. At the time, I was coming off a lower back “tweak” while deadlifting, but more problematic was my right shoulder, which hurt so much that it kept me up at night and negatively affected not only my training, but my everyday life.  It was an old tennis injury from high school that just kept getting worse and worse. Likewise, I hadn’t gotten word on whether or not I’d been accepted to graduate school, so I was up in the air on whether I needed to start looking for jobs for after graduation, or whether I’d end up moving south to enroll at the University of Connecticut. Finally, I’d just had my first article published, and there was some momentum in place on which I could build a successful writing career. In other words, I was in pain, unsure about where I’d be living in two months, potentially without a job, and all but ignoring a potentially career-changing opportunity – yet I managed to list 41 performance and physique goals more important than any of these concerns.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was clearly buried under all the bullshit I had convinced myself was important.  They made signs like this for guys like me.

Maybe it was the acceptance phone call from my future advisor at the UCONN; the experience of moving to a new area and being out on my own; interaction with a lot of highly-motivated, career-oriented people and successful athletes; the natural maturation process; or a combination of all these factors, but I got my act together that fall and figured out my priorities.  That fall, I read everything I could get my hands on to get rid of the pain in my shoulder (canceled an impending surgery) and lower back.  I put in 70 hour weeks among classes, volunteering in the varsity weight rooms and human performance lab, and personal training and bartending on the side.  I published my first article at T-Nation and in Men’s Fitness.  In short, I grew the hell up and stopped losing sleep over whether I’d remembered to take my forearm circumference measurements on the third Tuesday of the month. Some folks might think that this shift in my priorities interfered with my training progress, but in reality, the opposite was true.  In that first year of graduate school, I put over 100 pounds on both my squat and deadlift and 40 pounds on my bench press – and did so pain-free, which made training even more enjoyable.  I learned a ton about the importance of training environment as I lifted around athletes and other coaches in the varsity weight rooms, and even caught the powerlifting bug, competing for the first time in June of 2004.  I even won a few trophies absurdly large trophies that wildly overstated my accomplishments.

In short, when I stopped majoring in the minutia and clearly defined the priorities that were important to me – being pain-free, enjoying training, and seeing it as a means of becoming better in a profession that I loved – a world of opportunities opened up for me.  And, surprisingly, some of the “old” priority goals were easier to attain because I didn’t force them or put as much pressure on myself. That was almost a decade years ago, and I’ve had to make similar reevaluations of my priorities since that time, from opening a business, to proposing to my wife, to buying a house, to getting a puppy, to hiring employees, to working with charities.  There are some priorities that will always remain for me, though; strength and conditioning has to be fun, and it has to improve my quality of life, not take away from it. These are values that are reflected in the weight training programs that I write, too. To that end, how have your priorities changed over your training career?  And, how have these changes impacted your progress in the gym? Related Posts Weight Training Programs: You Can't Just Keep Adding Lifting Weights vs. Corrective Exercise in Strength Training Programs Sign-up today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Youth Strength and Conditioning Programs: Systems, Not Just Sets and Reps

Back in November of 2010, a good buddy of mine who is a very accomplished college strength coach came up to Boston for a seminar we were hosting at Cressey Sports Performance.  The seminar was on a Sunday, but he actually flew up Friday night so that he could observe on Saturday while we trained our clients – which was a nice blend of high school, college, and professional athletes, plus our adult clientele.  All told, at the time, I’d say that high school athletes were 70% of our clientele.

That Tuesday morning, I woke up to this email from him:

“I just wanted to say thanks for everything.  I had a great time.  Your staff was outstanding and I really enjoyed watching you guys work on Saturday.  I realize you are managers, but certainly technicians as well.  Perfect form, I told Tony I saw two bad reps all weekend and someone was on the athlete before he had a chance to do another rep!!!   Thanks so much and come visit anytime, we would love to have you.”

This isn’t an email to toot our own horn; it’s to make a very valuable point.  If this coach had walked into every single private training facility and high school weight room in the country, in what percentage of cases do you think he would have come out with a favorable impression of the technique he witnessed in these strength and conditioning programs?  If I had to venture an extremely conservative guess, I’d say less than 10%.

Simply stated, both in the public and private sectors, some coaches are letting kids get away with murder with respect to technique, not warming up, poor load selection in weight training programs, and a host of other factors.

What happens, then, when the s**t hits the fan and a kid gets hurt?  I’ll tell you: certain exercises get “condemned” and strength and conditioning programs become more and more foo-foo; external loading is eliminated and kids wind up doing agility ladders and “speed training” for 60-90 minutes at a time in what can only be described as glorified babysitting.  Or, worse yet, weight rooms get closed altogether.  The door of opportunity gets slammed in the faces of a lot of kids who desperately need to get strong to stay healthy, improve performance, and build confidence.

That’s the reactive model, but what about a proactive model to prevent these issues in the first place?  Again, I’ll tell you: assess kids up-front.  Find out what is in their health history and evaluate how well they move.  Actually learn their names and backgrounds.  Then, program individually for them.  Coach intensely in their initial sessions and get things right from the start.  And, if an exercise doesn’t work for them, give them an alternative.

As an example, take the squat.  Some kids may not have sufficient ankle or hip mobility to squat deep in an Olympic style squat, so they’ll benefit more (and stay healthier) with box squat variations or single-leg exercises while you improve their mobility.  Others may even be too immobile (or possess structural issues like femoroacetabular impingement) to even box squat safely, so you give them more single-leg work and deadlift variations.  Regardless, you “coach ‘em up” well from the get-go – and they learn along the way.

In other words, the exercises aren’t the problem because exercises can be quickly and easily changed on the fly to match the athlete's level of abilities.  It’s the system in which they are placed that can be the stubborn, tough-to-change problem.

If you're struggling to get results with your youth strength and conditioning programs - or your business itself is struggling - be sure to look at your business model and overall systems before you start tinkering with the individual exercises.  Chances are that you need to rededicate yourself to relationship building and individualization more than you need to worry about sets and reps.

If you're looking to learn more about training young athletes, I'd encourage you to check out Mike Boyle's resource, Complete Youth Training. In it, he touches on everything from the problems with early specialization to age-specific training stages. It's a good investment for parents and coaches alike. From now through January 4, you can get $50 off on the resource. No coupon code is needed; just head HERE.

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Weight Training Programs: The Basics, but with Variety

Tank has been the CSP "gym dog" since 2010.

When we first got him, my wife and I didn't allow him to come upstairs, as we wanted him to gradually adjust to the downstairs of our house and slowly introduce him to more space.  Accordingly, to him, upstairs became the "great beyond," a place where unicorns played and milkbones rained down from the heavens.  He would try like crazy to get up there when we took our eyes off him.

Then, one weekend in January of 2011, my wife and I were out of town to visit friends in Florida, so one of my minor leaguers and his wife watched Tank and the house.  With us gone, he barked and cried at night - so they let him come upstairs to sleep with them in their bed.  When we returned home, there was no turning back; he now sleeps in our bed - a change that he's made very clear is for good.

What's more interesting, though, is the fact that he's still infatuated with the upstairs portion of the house.  He'll go up and take naps on the bed when my wife and I are downstairs, and if either of us goes upstairs to grab something, he'll race up after us to ensure that he doesn't miss a unicorn sighting or the opportunity to score a treat.  Meanwhile, all the cool stuff - food, treats, his toys, cool scents of other people, stuff to chew, things to pee on, space to run around (including the door to the back yard) - are all still downstairs.  If I was a dog, upstairs would be pretty boring - and the downstairs would be "where it's at."  Puzzling, huh?

In case you couldn't tell from the title of this piece, there is a strength and conditioning parallel to this story.  A lot of lifters start with the basics (the downstairs) and make great progress - only to abandon the "staple" strength exercises in favor of something new, unproven, and gimmicky (the upstairs).  Then, even when they realize that the flavor-of-the-week stuff isn't all that it's cracked up to be, they don't go back to what worked in the first place.  Why?  They've convinced themselves that novelty is more important than efficacy, and that it's easier to do the fun new stuff than it is to get good with the basics.  It's the kind of logic that makes me wonder if a lot of people eat paint chips.

The question, of course, becomes "How can we 'sell' the basics to a beginner who appreciates variety and novelty?"  My response would simply be that variety and novelty can be synonymous with progression.  I'll give you an example.

On the first day at Cressey Sports Performance, just about every new client learns the trap bar deadlift (assuming no injury that would contraindicate the exercise).  As I outlined previously, it's an entry-level teaching progression that best allows lifters to grasp the concepts of hip hinging, vertical shin, neutral spine, and optimal hip extension patterning in spite of their mobility restrictions.  It's the basic arithmetic before we get to calculus.

Once they've sufficiently learned the lift and progressed in the weight they've lifted, we can transition them to other deadlift variations, including sumo deadlifts, rack pulls, and trap bar with chains.  Then, eventually, they may graduate to conventional and snatch grip deadlift technique.  This set of progressions and regressions are combined with other strength training program variables - sets and reps, training frequency, exercise pairings, and the like - to give them the novelty they need - but without compromising the training effect.

I've seen football strength coaches who use the squat, bench press, and clean as their primary lifts for years on end.  Do kids get stronger?  Absolutely.  Do they get bored as hell and absolutely disinterested in their less-than-optimal training programs?  Absolutely.  And, do they miss out on the rich proprioceptive environment that all young athletes should have?  Absolutely.

So, there is a balance that must be discovered.  On one hand, you need to stick to the basics so as to not compromise the training effect.  On the other hand, you need to implement variety so as to not bore folks to death.  The solution is to use variations of the basics.

To that end, at CSP, we change the strength training program every four weeks to modify exercise selection, regardless of a trainee's age and experience level.  In our eyes, it provides the best balance of the basics and the novelty to keep folks motivated and progressing in their strength and conditioning programs.

Looking for an example of how this looks in a real-world weight training program? Check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better. It's on sale for 38% off through tomorrow (Sunday) at midnight. The discount is automatically applied at checkout.

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Weight Training Programs: You Can’t Just Keep Adding

Can I just add some sets and reps of direct arm work?

How about cardio?  Would a few 30 minutes interval training sessions work?

What if I did extra rotator cuff stuff every day?  Just a little tubing, you know?

I’m going to add two extra days of calves, abs, and forearms.  It shouldn’t be a problem, right?

These are just a few of the common questions I receive from people for whom I write strength training programs (plus all the other components of a comprehensive program).  And, it's these kind of questions that make me appreciate just how challenging it is to teach someone how to effectively write strength and conditioning programs - and why everyone gets all flustered when they first start writing training plans.

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Very simply, most people don't understand the concept of competing demands.  Everybody wants to add something to their weight training program - but not everyone is willing to take something away in order to do so.

How many elite powerlifters or Olympic lifters do you know who regularly do interval training as part of their quest to get strong?

How many elite triathletes do you know who just want to add a few sets of biceps curls along the road to improving endurance performance?

The answer is, of course, none.  And, it's because - whether they appreciated it or not - these high-level athletes were effectively managing competing demands.

In some cases, different fitness qualities compete with one another; an example would be extensive aerobic training while trying to increase strength.  You can't get strong quickly if you're doing hours of cardio each week.  Somewhat similarly, in an overhead throwing population, it's challenging to regain shoulder internal rotation and flexion range of motion (ROM) and pec minor length when an athlete is throwing - so you have to do your best to get the ROM during down-time in their training year.

In other cases, you may have multiple qualities that contribute to an overall training effect, but you can't prioritize all of them at once.  For example, my professional baseball clients need a host of different qualities to be successful, but the body has limited recovery capacity, so their training programs have to target their most readily apparent weaknesses - and do so at the right time of year.  We cut back on the medicine ball and upper body strength exercises and volume when their throwing volume increases.

And, we can't do as much lower body strength exercises when guys are doing more sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Stress is stress, so you have to apply it judiciously.

Taking this into consideration, I think that one of the best drills for someone looking to get better at writing programs is to take a full-on comprehensive weight training program with supplemental conditioning/movement training where someone is training 6x/week - and then cut it back to 3x/week.  Assume that there is a whole lot of of "other" stress in this athlete/client's life - whether it's work, illness, family issues, or just being an in-season athlete - and figure out how to scale a program back in order to make it productive and safe for that individual.

Lots of factors have to be taken into account: the volume and intensity that individual can handle, how long each session can last, and what specific factors one needs to address most.  A good example to check out would be the differences between the 4x/week, 3x/week, and 2x/week weight training programs (and accompanying optional supplemental sessions) in The High Performance Handbook.

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There are loads of factors you have to take into account when you write a comprehensive training plan - from the weight training program, to soft tissue work, to mobility work, to movement training, to energy systems training.  The most important consideration, though, is how they all fit together synergistically to make the program as a whole effective.

So, try the challenge I listed above and see how you do; I think you'll find that it's a lot harder to subtract than it is to add to your weight training programs.

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Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Get Strong: Eric Cressey’s Best Articles of 2010

Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better - This was obviously my biggest project of 2010.  I actually began writing the strength and conditioning programs and filming the exercise demonstration videos in 2009, and put all the "guinea pigs" through the four-month program beginning in February.  When they completed it as the start of the summer rolled around, I made some modifications based on their feedback and then got cracking on writing up all the tag along resources.  Finally, in September, Show and Go was ready to roll.  So, in effect, it took 10-11 months to take this product from start to finish - a lot of hard work, to say the least.  My reward has been well worth it, though, as the feedback has been awesome.  Thanks so much to everyone who has picked up a copy.

Optimal Shoulder Performance - This was a seminar that Mike Reinold and I filmed in November of 2009, and our goal was to create a resource that brought together concepts from both the shoulder rehabilitation and shoulder performance training fields to effectively bridge the gap for those looking to prevent and/or treat shoulder pain.  In the process, I learned a lot from Mike, and I think that together, we brought rehabilitation specialists and fitness professionals closer to being on the same page.

Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl - A lot of people took this as a political commentary, but to be honest, it was really just me talking about the concept of retroversion as it applies to a throwing shoulder - with a little humor thrown in, of course!

Overbearing Dads and Kids Who Throw Cheddar - This one was remarkably easy to write because I've received a lot of emails from overbearing Dads asking about increasing throwing velocity in their kids.

What I Learned in 2009 - I wrote this article for T-Nation back at the beginning of the year, and always enjoy these yearly pieces.  In fact, I'm working on my 2010 one for them now!

What a Stressed Out Bride Can Teach You About Training Success - I wrote this less than a month out from my wedding, so you could say that I had a good frame of reference.

Baseball Showcases: A Great Way to Waste Money and Get Injured - In case the title didn't tip you off, I'm not much of a fan of baseball showcases.

Cueing: Just One Piece of Semi-Private Training Success - Part 1 and Part 2 - These articles were featured at fitbusinessinsider.com.  I enjoy writing about not only the training side of things, but some of the things we've done well to build up our business.

Three Years of Cressey Performance: The Right Reasons and the Right Way - This might have been the top post of the year, in my eyes. My job is very cool.

How to Attack Continuing Education in the Fitness Industry - Here's another fitness business post.

Want to Be a Personal Trainer or Strength Coach?  Start Here. - And another!

The Skinny on Strasburg's Injury - I hate to make blog content out of someone else's misfortune, but it was a good opportunity to make some points that I think are very valid to the discussion of not only Stephen Strasburg's elbow injury, but a lot of the pitching injuries we see in youth baseball.

Surely, there are many more to list, but I don't want this to run too long!  Have a safe and happy new year, and keep an eye out for the first content of 2011, which is coming very soon!

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Weight Training Programs: Product Reviews

As you probably know, when I come across high-quality products that I really enjoy that I think will be a good fit for my audience, I am thrilled to be able to write up thorough reviews for you.  This way, it not only gives some love to these products’ deserving creators (and learn myself!), but also gives you more background to make sure that it’s a good fit for you if you opt to purchase it. To that end, I wanted to use today's post to highlight the top seven products I reviewed in 2010.  Considering that I receive literally dozens of products in the mail each year to review (I still have a stack left to cover), these represent not just the cream of the crop, but the ones where I actually had the time and inclination to write something up.  Check them out by category: For the Fitness Professionals: Muscle Imbalances Revealed - This set of six webinars can be viewed conveniently from the comforts of your own home.  No travel or shipping charges to ruin your day!  Check out my review Product Review: Muscle Imbalances Revealed.

The Single-Leg Solution - Mike Robertson is a great friend of mine - but that's not the only reason I liked this product.  It was very thorough, well-researched and written, and offered some excellent coaching cues that any fitness professional would be wise to study up on.  My review is The Single-leg Solution: Detailed Product Review.

Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab - This long-awaited debut product from Charlie Weingroff was just released in the last few weeks, and it certainly didn't disappoint.  Even if you don't pick up a copy, you'll learn quite a bit from my two-part review: Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab: Top 10 Takeaways - Part 1 and Rehab=Training, Training=Rehab, Top 10 Takeaways - Part 2.

Movement - I just realized that I never got around to writing up a review of this great book from Gray Cook, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't an excellent read.  I HIGHLY recommend it.

For the Fat Loss Enthusiasts (then again, can you really be enthusiastic about having to lose fat?): Body of Fire - This fat loss resource from Chad Waterbury was great for the masses - especially if you only have minimal equipment at your fingertips.  I loved the focus on movement rather than just crazy high volume training.  Check out my interview with him: Waterbury on Why Most Fat Loss Plans Fail Miserably - and a Better Approach.

Final Phase Fat Loss - John Romaniello's first product is a great fit for those trying to lose those stubborn last few pounds of body fat, especially if they are masochists who enjoy a very challenging program!  For more information, check out Final Phase Fat Loss: An Interview with John Romaniello.

For the Athletes: The Truth About Quickness - I'm a big fan of Kelly Baggett, and he collaborated with Alex Maroko to create an excellent resource for up-and-coming athletes.  I gave Kelly the spotlight with three pieces: How to Get Quick...Quickly: An Interview with Kelly Baggett, and The 5 Most Common Speed, Quickness, and Explosiveness Problems in Athletes Part 1 and Part 2.

That wraps it up for the best of 2010 product reviews; hopefully you can reward yourself with some late holiday shopping by picking up one or more of these items; you won't regret it.  I'll be back tomorrow with the best videos of 2010.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Efficiency May Be All Wrong…

In my strength and conditioning writing, I throw the term "efficient" around quite a bit; in fact, it's even in the title of our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set.  I'm sure that some people have taken this to mean that we're always looking for efficiency in our movement.  And, certainly, when it comes to getting from point A to point B in the context of sporting challenges, the most efficient way is generally the best. And, just think about strength training programs where lifters simply squat, bench press, and deadlift to improve powerlifting performance.  The goal is to get as efficient in those three movements as possible. And, you can look at NFL combine preparation programs as another example.  Guys will spend months practicing picture-perfect technique for the 40-yard dash.  They might not even get faster in the context of applicable game speed, but they get super efficient at the test.

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However, the most "efficient" way is not always the right way. In everyday life, efficiency for someone with poor posture means picking up a heavy box with a rounded back, as it's the pattern to which they're accustomed, and therefore less "energy expensive."  This would simply prove to be an efficient way to get injured!  I'd rather lift things safely and inefficiently.

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And, take those who run long distances in hopes of losing fat as another example.  The research has actually shown that runners burn fewer calories for the same given distance after years of running improves their efficiency.  While this improvement is relatively small, it absolutely stands to reason that folks would be smart to get as inefficient as possible in their training to achieve faster fat loss.  In other words, change modalities, intensities, durations, and other acute programming variables. Training exclusively for efficiency on a few lifts might make you better at those lifts, but it's also going to markedly increase your risk of overuse injuries.  I can say without wavering that we'd see a lot fewer knee and lower back injuries in powerlifters if more of them would just mix in some inefficient single-leg training into their strength training programs.  And, shoulders would get a lot healthier if these specialists would include more inefficient rowing variations and rotator cuff strength exercises. In the world of training for athletic performance, it's important to remember that many (but not all) athletes perform in unpredictable environments - so simply training them to be efficient on a few lifts fails to fully prepare them for what they're actually face in competition.  A strength and conditioning program complete with exercise variety and different ranges-of-motion,  speeds of motion, and magnitudes of loading provides athletes with a richer proprioceptive environment.

In other words, inefficiency in strength and conditioning programs can actually facilitate better performance and a reduced risk of injury.

Taken all together, it's safe to say that we want inefficiency in our training, but efficiency in our performance - provided that this efficiency doesn't involve potentially injurous movement patterns. Related Posts Why I Don't Like 5x5 Strength Training Programs Weight Training Programs: The Basics, but with Variety Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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