You may have read my review of Eric Cressey’s new product the High Performance Handbook recently. I mentioned in the review that I was going to ask Eric a few questions, and he responded right away. Like I said, he’s a great guy who loves to teach, so taking the time to answer a few questions for us was no sweat for him.
Here are my questions and Eric’s answers in Q & A format:
JK: I know you get a TON of questions about training, and it seems like a lot of people get caught up on things that don’t really matter that much. What are some of the most common things you see people get “hung up on” in regards to performance training?
EC: Without a doubt, it’s supplements. It drives me bonkers that 70% of athletes I deal with ask me about what supplements I recommend before they ask about what food they should eat, what lifestyle factors they can modify to improve recovery, and what ancillary training initiatives they can undertake to improve their outcomes. Kids talk all about being in “beast mode” on Twitter, but the truth is that their actions usually suggest that they’re looking for a magic blue pill.
I guess supplements aren’t really “Performance Training,” but I figured we’d at least kick things off with a mini-rant to keep your readers engaged!
JK: While there are plenty of similarities, training for athletic performance is different than training for powerlifting, strongman events, bodybuilding or general fitness. What are some aspects of training that you believe are particularly important, yet often overlooked, when training for athletic performance?
EC: Without a doubt, it’s managing competing demands. In most of the disciplines you mentioned, there is a single focus: strength (powerlifting), muscle mass (bodybuilding), fat loss, etc. Strongman has some strength endurance components, but it’s a stretch to call that a competing demand.
Throwing 110 pitches every fifth day? That’s a competing demand that seriously interferes with your training program!
Getting crushed by a bunch of freaky athletic defensive lineman, linebackers, and defensive backs on every single one of 30 carries in a football game? That might interfere with your Monday morning lift.
The coach decides to keep the players on the court for an additional two hours of basketball scrimmaging? That’ll interfere with the sprint work you had planned.
Training athletes for performance is all about managing these competing demands. It’s about knowing when to push, and when to hold back. It’s about taking a step back and determining where an athlete’s biggest window of adaptation is so that you can direct more focus to that area.
With all this in mind, coaches often overlook just how difficult it can be to manage this balancing act when you want them all to be priorities, but know that’s simply not possible.
JK: I really like your take on Olympic lifts in your new product, The High Performance Handbook. You basically say that they work if done correctly and coached really well, but there is also a lot of risk involved. Do you use Olympic lifts with many of your athletes? Have you seen a lot of poor technique come through your doors by guys who didn’t even know it was bad?
EC: We use Olympic lifting with some of our athletes. However, the overwhelming majority of our clients (>80%) are baseball players for whom I don’t think the Olympic lifts are a good fit for a number of reasons. We’re looking to develop more power in the frontal and transverse planes, and I don’t find the carryover to be as good. Additionally, there are issues with joint laxity, insufficient scapular upward rotation that have led me in other directions to develop power with our guys. You can read more about this here, but suffice it to say that we use a lot of rotational medicine ball throws and single-leg plyos.
JK: A lot of our readers work with large groups or teams, so individual modifications aren’t always possible. What exercises would you stick with, and stay away from, if you were coaching a group of 30-40 athletes?
EC: I think it’s a difficult question to answer because you have to consider the experience level of the athletes. I could have 30-40 of my pro guys who have plenty of resistance training experience, and they’d be able to handle a more advanced and aggressive programming approach than if we had a bunch of beginners.
With that said, though, if you’re working with large groups at once, you have to prioritize certain lifts. You’d coach the most technically advanced stuff (compound lifts with potentially higher injury risk) the most, and coach more self-limiting exercises (e.g., sled pushes, push-ups, inverted rows) less intensely because the injury risk is lower.
I would add that I’m a firm believer that each hour you train athletes also requires an hour of preparation. In other words, if you take the time to plan out exactly how things need to work, you’ll undoubtedly be able to do more with these large groups. I also always encourage coaches in these larger environments to go out of their way to find up-and-coming interns to help. There are a lot of young coaches out there who are dying to get good experience – even if it’s just helping with spots and coaching foam rolling and warm-ups. If you look hard enough, you’ll always find someone who wants to help you cut your coach-to-athlete ratio in half.
JK: Your new product, The High Performance Handbook, is very thorough and allows for nearly endless modifications. You include plenty of mobility/flexibility/corrective work in the program. Give us some tips on how to incorporate these in the most time-efficient manner possible.
I’m a big believer in doing the majority of the corrective work early on in the session. Our goal is to use our pre-workout foam rolling and warm-up drills to get the body moving more efficiently, then follow it up with good strength training exercises to make these patterns “stick.” I love Charlie Weingroff’s line, “Get long, get strong, train hard.” The warm-up period is all about getting length (if needed), and then we strength train in that new range-of-motion before accumulating more and more volume to build fitness gains.
You can check out Eric’s High Performance Handbook right HERE to learn more about it.