An Interview With Eric Cressey

Today I’ve got a great interview from Eric Cressey on powerlifting, deadlifting, the dynamic effort method, baseball-specific power, foam rolling, staying current with research, and his new High Performance Handbook. I hope you enjoy the interview!

eric-cressey

1. Hi Eric! I’m glad to have you on here for an interview. I’ve always held you in very high esteem as you represent to me what all good strength coaches should embody – you walk the walk as a lifter, you walk the walk as a trainer, and you walk the walk as a reader. What are your current best lifts? 

Thanks for having me, Bret.

You could call me the Brett Favre of powerlifting – not because I’m particularly special, but rather because I’ve been semi-retired for what seems like forever.  My last official meet was in December of 2007, but I’m still training hard and lifting heavy, so I guess I could step back on the platform if the urge arose.

With that said, I did get the itch to test things out about a year ago, so I set up a mock meet at Cressey Performance one day. I managed to total elite raw (455-350-630 for a 1435 total) in the 181-pound weight class in about 90 minutes.  Here’s a video:

2. So you’re a bit of a deadlift specialist – have you found that the squat transfers favorably to your deadlift, or that other exercises better transfer to your deadlifting prowess? 

I should be up-front and say that I do have a good deadlifting build: long arms and legs and a short torso.  So, in a lot of ways, I’ve always had to work hard on my squat, and my deadlift has (fortunately) come along for the ride.

That said, I think the biggest difference I see between me and powerlifters who struggle to build the deadlift is that I have always trained it frequently – usually twice a week. I’ve always seen a lot of guys who squatted and did good mornings and then expected for the deadlift to just magically improve even though they only trained it once a month!  I don’t think specificity works this way, and I believe it’s reflected in my results.

With that said, if I had to pick a few lifts that benefited my deadlift the most, I’d say deadlifts vs. chains and speed deadlifts.  When I got my bar speed up and focused on not getting lazy as I approached lockout, good things happened.  I also saw a nice strength surge in the first 3-4 months that I did glute-ham raises about a decade ago. They continue to be a staple exercise for me.

3. You tinkered around with high frequency deadlifting a while back and discarded it just like pretty much every other experienced powerlifter has. Please shed some light on that and tell us how often do you pull over 600 lbs per year? 

Yes, it was a pretty brutal training program.  Honestly, I feel like I just underestimated how long it would take to “supercompensate” at the end of that training cycle, and if I’d deloaded a bit longer, I would have pulled a bigger number.  Another interesting thing about that experiment was that my hands were actually far more torn up than my body was beaten up!

I probably deadlift 600+ pounds a total of 5-6 times per year between conventional and sumo stances. I have found, however, that I can pull heavier more frequently with the trap bar.

You’ll be happy to know that I actually use a barbell glute bridge or hip thrust variation at least once a week year-round, too. I find that it’s a great way to get solid volume in without really beating you up on the same level as squats, deadlifts, and single-leg work.

4. I know you’re a fan of the cambered bar squat. How do you modify your lifts to make them more “joint-friendly” and to better suit your body and goals? 

The giant cambered bar and safety squat bar have been incredibly helpful for me, as I’ve got a bum shoulder from my high school tennis days.  I can do just about anything I want to do, but it’s a classic internal impingement, which means that it’s most irritated in the externally rotated, abducted position.  In other words, back squats hurt like hell.  Fortunately, these bars allow me to get good axial loading without irritating the shoulder.

5. Are you a fan of the dynamic effort method in your own training and in the training of your clients? 

I still use it.  I may be different because I was never what I’d consider a “fast-twitch dominant” athlete.  I remember that back in 2006, when I was still in the 165-pound weight class, I had a 600+ pound deadlift and had squatted over 500lbs (equipped), but only had a 22-inch vertical jump.  You absolutely, positively, can be strong without being explosive/fast – but it’s certainly not optimal.

Now, seven years later, I’ve jumped over 37 inches and my strength is still higher than it was – and I think dynamic work absolutely has something to do with it.  Of course, I know there are loads of factors that impact this, but I’m not ready to give up on the dynamic effort method.

cressey

6. You specialize in training baseball players. They typically don’t need to display as much power in the vertical direction so much as the horizontal direction and in lateral/rotational actions. How have you modified the typical approach to S&C to better suit your clientele? 

Absolutely.  It’s actually a pretty funny story.  Back in January of 2011, I published an article called What I Learned in 2010.  In it, I talked about how my experiences told me that power development is very skill specific.  In other words, just because you can jump high, run fast, or power snatch huge weights doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to apply that power proficiency in the frontal/transverse plane.  These observations shaped our training programs, and we went along on our merry way.

tennis-serve-technique-pitch

Almost 2.5 years later, some great research from Lehman et al. verified exactly what I was observing. Sagittal plane measures didn’t correlate to throwing velocity at all, but lateral-to-medial jumps and rotational medicine ball throws did.  I summarized my overall thoughts on this subject here, if you’d like to learn more.

In terms of practical applications, the name of the game is to build strength in the sagittal plane first, and then work to build some strength in the frontal plane, too – with variations like loaded lateral lunges. Once this strength is in place, athletes can really make the most of rotational medicine ball training and single-leg plyos in the frontal and transverse plane.  You’ll get some carryover from Olympic lifts and traditional jump training, but it won’t be optimal.

7.  There are intelligent S&C practitioners who remain skeptical of foam rolling and SMR, along with purposeful training with the intent of improving posture. As coaches, we’ve both seen instances where these activities seemed to change people’s lives within a couple of months. How do you balance the art of training with remaining science-based, and what sayeth you to the opponents of such methods? 

Two years ago, I attended one of Thomas Myers’ presentations at the Perform Better Summit.  During his talk, he noted that in his estimation, we only know about 25% of what we need to know about how the fascial system works, and how to manage it.  This is the opinion of arguably one of the top five experts/researchers in the world on this topic; he’s devoted his life to it.

When we know so little – but have such a huge body of anecdotal evidence to support the use of a wide variety of soft tissue treatment approaches (foam rolling included) – it’s irresponsible to unequivocally say that something doesn’t work.  There are literally millions of athletes around the world who have utilized foam rolling and gone out of their way to say how much better it feels.  We’ve been doing it with our athletes so long that I almost forget what a game-changer it was for us a decade ago – but then I’m reminded by an email from a reader or trainer who says it’s improved results dramatically. And, after I’ve been standing on my feet for 10 hours on a gym floor, it makes my legs feel better, but I have to stop because a guy who has a blog (which is only read by his mother, most likely), says it’s doing irreparable damage?  Please.

We can’t just throw it out based on theory when that theory is based on an understanding of only 25% of the ideal body of knowledge?  That’s like plagiarizing a paper from someone who is illiterate.

Foam Rolling

In other words, I’ll remain open-minded to foam rolling just like I am with various soft tissue approaches, from Active Release, to cupping, to Graston, to gua sha, to dry needling, to a host of other modalities that are out there and delivering results to happy patients and athletes worldwide.

8. You try to stay current with the literature and cite journal articles in your conference presentations. How do you find the time to pull up articles, and where do you get them? 

I’d say that it comes in spurts.  I’m a geek and will just search for “sports medicine” on Pubmed every few weeks and find stuff that interests me.  Additionally, I always make notes on studies that presenters cite in their presentations at various conferences or in webinars; I’ll follow up by going back to read the full text.  I have a folder on my computer called “Journal Articles to Read” that I’m always working my way through and updating.

I also have some guy named Contreras who is always (kindly) filling my inbox with new studies he finds that are up my alley! It’s sweet to have friends in high places!

9. You’ve continued to build your brand and business over the years and have a great team of people at Cressey Performance. Would the CP staff describe you as an empowering delegator, a micromanaging prick, or somewhere in between? 

I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  I like to empower the guys as much as possible and give them autonomy, but at the same time, it took me a long time to become a good delegator – and I’m still a work in progress.  Plus, with my name on the business, everything ultimately reflects back on me, so I need to avoid exposing our brand to mistakes from others.  Plus, I think it’s important to always set a tone by leading by example, and I’m never going to be someone who is comfortable with mediocrity, so I won’t allow our staff to be that way, either.

CP

Fortunately, our staff is awesome and makes me look good all the time!

10.  Thank you for your time, Eric. One last question: you recently wrote another training program. Please tell my readers about it and mention why they should check it out? 

It’s called The High Performance Handbook, and is a collection of 16-week programs for a variety of different goals: fat loss, muscle gain, strength improvements, and improved athleticism.

HPH-main

One thing (among several) that differentiates this program from others on the market is that it begins with a quick and easy-to-apply – but very effective – self-assessment component. From there, folks can go in a number of different ways with the programs, making it conducive to not only how they move, but also what their goals are and what their schedules allow. There’s even an entire chapter on modifying the program for special scenarios (over-40 lifters, overhead athletes, etc). Effectively, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure-book, but you get jacked instead of just entertained!

Additionally, there is an insanely detailed video database that accompanies the program.  It features over 200 exercises, each with a 30-120s coaching tutorial.  So, when all is said and done, there is more footage than one would get in a half-day seminar with me!

Brian St. Pierre did an unbelievable job with the associated nutrition manual, which actually touches on far more than just nutrition. For instance, the section “Environmental Toxins, Endocrine Disruptors, and Air and Water Pollution” absolutely blew my mind.

It’s available at a great introductory price this week, too; folks can check it out here.

Thanks for having me!

6 thoughts on “An Interview With Eric Cressey

  1. Kenny Croxdale

    Before getting into this let me state that Cressey always provide great training information. I often quote Cressey.

    Now that butt…which you could see coming.

    Deadlift Frequency

    One of the problem that I see as a powerlifter who’s works with other lifters is the problem of training the deadlift too heavy, too often.

    In the July 1981 Powerlifting USA article, “The Biomechanics of Powerlifting”, Dr. Tom McLaughlin cautioned, “…whatever you do, DON’T OVER TRAIN THE LOWER BACK. These muscles fatigue faster than almost any other muscle group in the body and also take more time to recover.”

    “Pole Vaulting” For Reps

    McLaughlin’s Bench Press More Now (basically, a research book) provide and interesting perspective on training the Bench Press. This also applies to the Squat and Deadlift.

    As McLaughlin noted, you don’t Pole Vault for reps. Instead, you perform it for singles as a means in developing technique.

    You utilize other movements it increase strength, power and speed.

    That same method is applicable for the powerlifts.

    McLaughlin goes on to state that the use of singles in the 85% plus area of each lift are more effective than lower load of let’s say 60%.

    The recruitment pattern with higher load is more specifically to a max effort than lower loads.

    Thus, heavy singles for technique are a better vehicle that training the deadlift to develop strength and technique.

    Mike Tronski

    Tronski’s deadlift was going no where. He was pulling 530 at 220 lbs.

    His biggest problem was overtraining his lower back.

    Tronski cut back on his heavy training sessions and ended up pulling 640 lbs at 220 lbs.

    At 242 lbs, he’s pulled 740 lbs just above his knees.

    Phil Rivera

    Phil was another lifter who overtained his deadlift. Phil revised his training program, deadlifting heavy once a month.

    The remainer of his deadlift program revolved around Good Mornings and Olympic pulls.

    Phil’s deadlift went up 40 lbs.

    The “No Deadlift” Deadlift Program
    http://www.liftinglarge.com/The-No-Deadlift-Deadlift-Program_ep_51-1.html

    I increased my deadlift from 540 lbs to 595 lbs (198 lbs body weight) by not deadlifting.

    The foundation of the article above is based on Bill Starr’s “no deadlift program”. All I did was update it.

    I eventually (210 lbs bodyweight) pulled 617 lbs.

    I own the New Mexico State Deadlift Record in the old folk division.

    Contreras “8 Thoracic Extension Exercises”

    A lot of my “deadlift” training revolved around really heavy partial Good Mornings and a hybrid plyometric hang Power Clean or Hi Pull.

    In reading and re-reading Bret’s ” 8 Thoracic Extension Exercises” I suspect that the top part of my pull was built on the increased upper thoracic strength.

    Cressey’s Frequency

    While this works for you, I question how many other individuals would have the same results.

    Again, one of the biggest problems is how quickly and easily the lower back is overtrained. The lower back is involved in so many other exercises, as well.

    With that said, I realize that my approach to not deadlifting isn’t for everyone, either.

    Kenny Croxdale

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Good stuff Kenny! I’m working on an article for powerlifting and I address some of this…it’s called “Hard Rules in Powerlifting Fall Hard.” That’s why this is all so fun – we have to find what works best for us. Your approach doesn’t work well for me, but mine wouldn’t work well for you. And the deadlift is the without a doubt the most intriguing lift of them all.

      Reply
      1. Kenny Croxdale

        Bret,

        “Your approach doesn’t work well for me…”

        How do you know? Have you every really applied it?

        Cynic

        No one Is a bigger cynic about a new program or method than me.

        I was initially critical about Starr’s deadlift training approach, as well.

        You video of with Mikey and his cynicism about hip thrust is a classic, funny example. Mikey laughingly stating that he was a “Bret Contreras” hater.

        Complex Training

        I was also critical of Post Activation Potentiation.

        Since I began using PAP for powerlifting in 1999. I made great gains with it.

        Fear

        One of the biggest problems with athletes is the fear of trying something new and going backwards.

        One Step Backward…

        When dealing with athletes on this issue, I pretty much assure them there is a learning curve. That means you end initially taking one step backward to move two steps forward.

        NASA

        The space agency planning is based on having some failure along with way. They have stated without failure there is not success. It is just part of the way thing work.

        Three Stage of Truth/ Arthur Schopenhauer

        All truth passes through three stages.

        First, it is ridiculed.

        Second, it is violently opposed.

        Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

        Will My Program Work?

        In writing about Complex Training for Powerlifting USA in 2001, I ended my article with that.

        “I GUARANTEE it will never work if you don’t try it.”

        Kenny Croxdale

        Reply
      2. Kenny Croxdale

        Louie Simmons–No Deadlift
        Flex Magazine
        December 2013 Issue

        Simmons talk about Bill Starr “A Different Approach to The Deadlift”…no deadlifts, only heavy Good Mornings and Olympic Pulls in the Flex issue.

        Kenny Croxdale

        Reply
  2. Jade

    was planning in getting the high performance handbook….but after not one but two upsells that popped up and kept me from buying…I backed out and didn’t purchase anything….came across as a marketing stunt….sorry

    Reply
  3. Lewis Holman

    Jade, it’s just a way of sharing a good, valuable product. As you’re already on this website, you should know guys like BC/Cressey don’t need stunts! No harm in helping people in the same boat as yourself if you have the means

    Reply

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