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.
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.
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.