Archive for March, 2011

What I Learned at Cressey Performance

After years of schooling, reading many training studies and articles, instructional videos, attending workshops and certification seminars, there has been one person in the industry whose training philosophy seemed to resonate most with me.  Eric Cressey and his team were probably the only few people in the world who could get this fair-weathered California kid out to Massachusetts in February.  Aside from the frozen fingers, I am glad I did; the experience was priceless and I learned a lot about training athletes and myself.

I would like to share five things that I learned during my observational time at Cressey Performance in hopes that it may shed some light on your own training programming.


Establish and Implement your Training Philosophy

Let’s assume that you were dragged to one of those dreaded co-ed baby showers that happens to be on a Sunday during football season.  You are in the kitchen digging deep into the depths of the fridge searching for that last allusive beverage necessary to dull the pain of the event.  No sooner than the moment you overhear your significant other say, “My honey bear is a trainer” that you shut the fridge door and there is a line of people waiting to ask a million different questions.

Immediately you go into auto pilot mode and deflect the usual “How do I lose this” (insert the tricep jiggle) or “Should I eat this?”  What if someone came up to you and asked, “What is your training philosophy?”  Would you be able to spit it out without the ums and ahhs?

Before I went to Cressey Performance I knew my overall training philosophy but had no concise way of explaining it.  Although I never asked Eric his exact training philosophies, he did tell me two things that I am sure are direct reflections of what his core values are. One of which he stated in a recent article he wrote Strength Training Programs: How Many Sets and Reps? – (Part 1):

“We lift weights to improve quality of life, not just so that we can talk about how heavy the weights we lifted were.”

If you have ever watched any of Cressey Performance training videos you have never seen any athlete lifting huge weight and compromising form to gain internet stardom.   They do not lift to get on ESPN or Tosh.O; they do it to improve their quality of life and reach the goals set by them.

For business Eric stated;

I would never allow our business model to dictate our training model.”

For the Cressey crew their training philosophies and clients come first; they will not, all of a sudden, add strobe lights, bump the techno music and run a disco boot camp on Saturday evenings just to get more money.  Like with the “Field of Dreams” way of thinking, if you build your business around your philosophy, they will come.

Photo courtesy of Cressey Performance


Incorporate Mobility/Corrective Exercises within the Strength Training Session

This one was so simple I was not smart enough to figure it out until I saw it at Cressey Performance.  I had been adhering to the formula of: foam rolling, mobility/corrective exercises, strength training and then recovery/stretching.  Every time I would ask my athletes if they completed this formula, I felt like a parent asking a six year old whether they brushed their teeth.  My athletes would say they did their corrective drills but sometimes it was done half-heartily and as quickly as possible.

At Cressey Performance they frequently couple a strength movement with the mobility/corrective exercise.  For example:


A1) Safety Bar Squat – 4sx6r
A2) Quadruped Thoracic Extension and Rotation – 3sx6r


This simple shift will reap big rewards and your athletes will be more inclined to do them.  For example, I know for a fact that after squats any other exercise is a welcomed interruption.


Move in Many Directions with Many Exercise Varieties

During one of the trainer team workouts I tagged along with one of the interns and did his workout.  After asking, “What was on tap” I chuckled nervously because two of the big strength movements were ones I have not trained for in a very long time; I was not sure how my body was going to respond.

I got through the overhead squats without too much trouble and then the fun began: barbell forward lunges.  I normally incorporate reverse lunges because, to me, the leg positioning is easier to establish and you can truly work the posterior chain muscles in a hip drive manner much like an athlete would when starting to sprint in a game.  The front lunge has you driving the body back to standing from the hip flexed position; not usually a position for a sprint start but used in deceleration and change of direction movements.  Let’s just say, I am a little bit better at starting a sprint than a change-of-direction- kind of guy.

As I got under the bar for my second set I should have recognized my body laughing at me;

You really are going to attempt a second set?  I’ll show you.

Three reps into a set of eight with my right leg forward my hip flexor seized and would not let me return to standing and I had to dump the modest amount of weight as well as my pride.  Along with my dented ego came an epiphany; you need to train in this direction, if you neglect it, it will come back to haunt you.

From now on my clients and I will train in every direction imaginable to not only avoid embarrassing blunders in the weight room but to minimize injury risk during the activities we do.


Minimize Shoulder External Rotation Especially with Overhand Athletes

This lesson is why I think Eric is so successful and the reason I wanted to learn more about his training style first hand.  When training an athlete for a specific sport, Eric truly understands the physical demands needed to perform successfully at a high level.  For example: many baseball pitchers have hypermobile external rotation and hypomobile internal rotation of their throwing shoulders due to the nature of their activity.  It would not be wise to further increase this deficit by performing movements that place the shoulder in more external rotation.  Back squats, Military press and even certain grips in bench pressing can set the shoulder in external rotation.  Choose movement variations where you can keep the shoulders down and the elbow close to the body to keep the shoulder from excessive external rotation.

Likewise, it is also important to mobilize shoulder internal rotation on the throwing side to minimize shoulder impingement issues.  The Sleeper Stretch is great for that.


You Need a Mentor

This one I knew before I got there but after my stay it was even more apparent.  It is very easy to read one of Eric’s articles or watch a video and say something like; “That exercise looks easy, I don’t need that” or “That is a cool movement I am going to throw that into my program tomorrow.”  Through my observational days at Cressey Performance I got to actually see all the articles and videos placed into a system.  Only when the system is experienced first hand over several days do you realize that the isolated movements are just pieces to a bigger puzzle that don’t make sense alone, but when connected they form a masterpiece.

Every movement you’ve seen Eric do is carefully thought out and placed into an athlete’s program at a particular phase of their training cycle.  Every program is systematically balanced with prehabilitation, various strength exercises moving through multiple planes, appropriate corrective exercises sprinkled in to bring up imbalances and weaknesses, and some restoration/static stretching at the end.  Every athlete learns to perform the movements correctly, understands why they are doing them and consequently, they all get better.

This opportunity reinforced many of the positive aspects of my own system and brought to the surface the neglected components and how I could currently make my training system more effective.

Photo courtesy of Cressey Performance

In a world of having big media all around us with the ability to get our hand instantly on as much information as we want, my advice would be to read as much as you can but then boil things down into what is necessary for your own personal philosophies and growth.

The philosophies, training protocols, and atmosphere at Cressey Performance are exactly what I look for in my own training scheme and they will be the ones I continually turn to for my own development.

Thanks to Eric and everyone at Cressey Performance for making this a very valuable training experience.   I came back to California a more knowledgeable and confident trainer with the ability to provide my athletes much more value for their own personal development.  I hope to come back and do it again, but maybe a few months later when it is a little warmer.

I high suggest that you check out Eric’s blog and sign up for his newsletter.

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4 Tips to Save Your Hands During Kettlebell Training

It is almost amusing for me to look back at my training regimen for the level one RKC certification.  Not only was I performing with less than optimal technique with some of the movement’s causing me to work more; I ended up ripping my hands during my snatch test training which forced me to take a few days off from my scheduled training, putting my snatch test success in jeopardy.

Well I am a little bit older (unfortunately) and have more experience (that’s good) so I will share my four tips to help you not rip your hands so you can keep kettlebell lifting day in and day out.

Don’t Overdo the Chalk

I’m going to throw a few of my gym goers under the bus.  Maybe they have watched LeBron James play too much but sometimes the gym looks like it had gotten a foot of snow in the last hour.  Too much chalk dries out the hands and causes more friction between the kettlebell and the palm.   Only use chalk for the exercises that warrant it.  Ten reps of swings or even long cycle will probably not need chalk at all.  Long snatch sets will most likely require some but only use as much chalk as needed, and usually it’s not much.

Do Some Grooming

Doing some high rep kettlebell work will require some extra hand maintenance on occasion.  You actually want to keep the palm calluses from becoming too tough and raised or else they are great candidate for being ejected during your training.

After a warm shower shave them down and then file with a pumice stone or get the special filing tool like I have.

I occasionally used a tip from Master RKC, Brett Jones, who touts using cornhuskers lotion to “toughen and condition the skin.” I bought both my filing tool and corn huskers lotion at my local Rite Aid.

When All Else Fails; Use Protection

So what happens if your hands start getting raw while training and you can’t afford to take multiple days off of training from tearing your hands.

In an article by Master RKC, Mark Reifkind, he explains how his wife Tracy cut the necks of some athletic socks (2-3 inches) and placed them around the base of the fingers to protect the hands and calluses.

I actually had to use them used them on the last day of the level one RKC weekend (not during the snatch test) and I found that a cut thin sock worked well.

If you take care of your hands you should not need to use the sock sleeve, but just in case, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Focus on the Small Technical Details

There is never an excuse to tweak and refine your technique.  Two tips that I picked up from John Wild Buckley of the Orange Kettlebell Club saved my hands during long kettlebell sets.  First of all you want to grab the kettlebell and have the handle in the fingers above the base of the fingers, this will minimize pinching of the calluses during the swings and other movements.

Another tip during the long cycle and snatches is to learn to cast the kettlebell forward during the appropriate moment of the backswing, approximately when the kettlebell is parallel to the ground.  This casting motion moves the handle from the palm to the fingers bypassing the base of the fingers where the calluses are.  This takes a lot of practice and refinement and it’s suggested to start with a light kettlebell and progress appropriately.  The video below describes these two tips in detail:



There you have four tips to help save your hands and keep you off the sidelines so you can keep training.


The ANDI Rating System

When I recently went shopping at Whole Foods (some of my friends tease and call it Whole Pay Check) the other week I noticed a small chart embedded within the produce isles ranking certain food items (mostly produce) in terms of their nutrient density.  The system was called the ANDI Nutrition rating System and I had not heard of it until I saw it at the store.  I went home and did some research to figure out what it is and if we should consider this system when purchasing our food for the week.

ADNI; What, who, why, where

It turns out that the ANDI rating system (short for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) is a relatively new ranking system which analyzes many foods for their nutrient density and ranks them accordingly.  The ranking of the food quality is based mainly on looking at the vitamin content such as:

Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc,

They factor in the ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) which is a method of measuring the antioxidant quality of foods.

If the foods contain high levels of the above vitamins and have a low oxidation they are ranked with a higher score (closer to 1000) and if they do not possess the above qualities a score closer to zero is given.

This system was created by Dr. Joel Fuhrman who has a whole campaign called Eat Right America which provides nutritional education, current diet analysis and personalized programs that help people get on track to regain lost physical functions (weight loss, increased energy etc.) with a proper dietary plan.  According to Dr. Fuhrman’s site;

Our modern, low-nutrient eating style leads to an overweight population with common diseases of nutritional ignorance and medical costs spiraling out of control. We need to flip our traditional thinking upside down, and begin eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains.

Whole Foods Market has adopted Dr. Fuhrman’s program and looks to have an affiliate relationship with the program.  The Whole Foods web site does not have much information about the program, nor can you join or utilize it through the site but you can link back to the Eat Right America site.

Eat Right America; Is it for me?

With all the different diets and food pyramids out there this one tries to distinguish itself with a quantifiable rating system comparing food choices.  This rating system does have some draw for the consumer because using this system we can say that Item X is ranked higher (or is better) than Item B.  For a person who frequently consumes vegetables this rating system might be a good way to find some variety within and incorporate them into the rotation.  I now for myself I tend to have my weekly staples when it comes to vegetables.  I did look the chart over and decided to mix it up a bit and buy some organic kale.  It is interesting and not a bad way to supplement an already balanced and healthy diet.

Just with almost any system it does not have its potential pitfalls.  One glaring hole that I saw is that the ranking system included some potentially healthy food sources that ranked low on the scale which may cause people to believe that they are not healthy.  Food like avocados, walnuts, chicken breast, ground beef and olive oil all scored really low on the scale.  These foods, in their naturally raised environments provide a variety of nutrients for the body and compose a healthy and balanced diet.

This ranking of the potentially healthy proteins and fats on the scale may lead one to think that a diet of plant based foods is all that is required for optimal health.  Eat Right America also has its own version of a food pyramid with the plant food comprising the base and fats and protein sources at the tip lumped in with sugar and processed foods.  You really have to ask yourself, are they equal?

This step might be taking it too far and even the highly debated USDA food pyramid has a separate section for the protein sources and the sugars.  Without a little research by just looking at this pyramid, it may suggest that the only way to lose weight and be healthy is to have a diet almost completely based on plant food sources.

The strange notion is that when I was searching the Eat Right America web site to see if they flat-out say something like “we are a plant-based/vegetarian system….” I Couldn’t find it.  However I did find this statement:

Keep in mind that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, if we only ate foods with a high nutrient density score our diet would be too low in fat. So we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores (but preferably the ones with the healthier fats) to include in our high nutrient diet. Additionally, if a thin person or highly physically active individual ate only the highest nutrient foods they would become so full from all of the fiber and nutrients that would keep them from meeting their caloric needs and they would eventually become too thin. This of course gives you a hint at the secret to permanent weight control.

After this I was waiting for some suggestions like adding; extra virgin oil, free range eggs and grass-fed beef; But there was nothing more on the subject.  So the Eat Right America system seems a bit perplexing and non-committal.

Final Thoughts

As a scoring chart the ANDI system provides some different produce options and comparison entertainment, however using the Eat Right System as your source of health and weight loss might be ill-advised without some more research.

In the meantime keep life simple, just eat a variety of healthy foods, keep the nutrients balanced from different sources, take your vitamins and say your prayers and all should be right.




Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 Nutrition 1 Comment


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