Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – Maintaining an Environment

This is a guest post that originally published on Tony Bonvechio’s site For the original article, go here.


I have the fortune of sharing barbells, weights, chalk, and sometimes strange smells with the likes of Tony Gentilcore, Greg Robins, Tony Bonvechio, and Eric Cressey, (and now Nancy Newell) along with the various interns that lift heavy stuff. Having these individuals as training partners really sparks a fire under your ass, as the large philosophy here involves getting better everyday.

When you step into Cressey Sports Performance, people have various expectations:

  1. An intelligent approach to the human body, found in our approach to movement assessments.
  2. An environment similar to a collegiate weight room.
  3. Respect for the requirements for your requisite task (or sport/life/goals).

The environment at CSP pervades beyond just business hours – it can be traced from the intensity, efficiency, and accountability that all of the staff at Cressey Sports Performance creates on an almost daily basis.

The environment is one that I haven’t found in many other places: it begins with ritualistic-like warm-ups, efficiency akin to a production line, followed up with some heavy lifting, ranging anywhere for a top set for max repetitions, or the occasional one rep max. After all of this, any accessory work is completed.


All of this is done well within 60 to 90 minutes. This is largely because that we all have to work shortly thereafter, or even perhaps go home to a life outside of the gym (if lifting after business hours).

I wanted to outline the background of who I share a weight room with and our approach to lifting for three reasons:

  1. Our perceived intensity when we are lifting.
  2. Our shared accountability for each other.
  3. Efficiency for getting things done.

There is a thought process called “kaizen”, taken from Japanese and Chinese philosophies, referring to continuous improvement. When you have training partners, instead of practicing a martial arts, you are constantly training with barbells, dumbbells, bands, and chains.

Deadlift - Miguel 455

You see, co-worker and friend Greg Robins has a phrase he has used that both Tony and I both subscribe to and it is, “Lead from the front.”

If I am going to ask you to clean something up, know that I have held that same broom and mop, and I have done that task before countless times.

Drawing a parallel to the weight room, if I am going to ask you, as a youth, collegiate, or higher athlete, to pick up the pace and effort, just know that I too have gone through those same valleys and peaks of efforts, sweat, and work.

Continuously improving is an idea that should be familiar to those with hopes of achieving a seat on the roster of a professional sports team, let alone bringing the intensity and accountability to a singular day of lifting.

If you decide to throw yourself amongst the lifting “chambers” of those at CSP, will you be detracting from, or adding to this environment?

Perceived Intensity

There is a phrase that I keep on my desk at work, and it comes from Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is The Way.

“How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” ~Ryan Holiday

If you mosey along about your lifts, eventually working up to whatever percentages or rep maxes you are aimed at utilizing, perhaps there can be parallels drawn from how you approach your training program, how you live your life, or maybe even how you talk with family and friends.

Now, I’m of the belief that none of us as co-workers have to ask each other to pick up the intensity about our lifting session prior to being hired. We’ve all individually brought our own energies into the mix, and if anything we have added to the fire, instead of detracting from said environment.

Takeaways on Intensity

Whether you’re an athlete or a strength coach hoping to lead from the front, understand that all of our training here at Cressey Sports Performance is done with a purpose.

Many people come from near and far to train at CSP – some for a few days, some for years. What they take away most is almost always the environment (along with the exercise program and approach obviously). So hopefully you begin to understand that it often isn’t an individual’s intensity that sparks this fire. Rather, it is the shared intensity and bond that we all have for the affinity for training, sports, and achievement of goals that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Questions to ask yourself, whether you are training alone or with others:

  • Am I bringing the intensity to my lifting endeavors?
  • Am I bringing others down?
  • Am I adding positive energy to the group?

If the answers to these questions don’t sit well with you, perhaps it is time to change and improve the intensity with which you approach your lifting endeavors.

If the answers to these questions appease you, see what you can do about improving those around you. The maxim of “A rising tide lifts all boats,” holds true in this case, so if your colleagues are slacking, see what you can change (from a non-aggressive manner).

Shared Accountability

I’ve had the fortune of coaching teams of men and women in various sports, and it is always encouraging to see one or two leaders poke their heads through when obstacles present themselves in the form of training factors. No one likes it when an aerobic output day calls for Prowler Pushes for 2 sets of 10 minutes of steady state pushing, or when walking lunges are accounted for for about 10 minutes with a specific tempo.

However, if a co-worker, colleague, or a teammate, is approaching a specific number that they have never hit before, there are a few items that come to mind that I would do:

  1. Provide one to two coaching cues that will keep them honest.
  2. I WON’T provide too many things to think about, because that may take them out of the flow state of mind that they need.

Perhaps the easiest idea of accountability to digest comes in the form of providing feedback during the big lifts. Even the strength coaches at Cressey Sports Performance need feedback from time to time – if the numbers call for 90% or higher, or a challenging set calls for high reps, we will all help each other understand what we did during that one set, so we can get better the next time through.

Essentially, accountability is making sure the aforementioned intensity of the day remains throughout the session.

Takeaways on Accountability

How can you improve your accountability for yourself and others?

  • On an individual level, if you don’t have anyone to hold yourself accountable, do you choose exercises that keep integrity of the movement (like squatting to a low box during box squats)?
  • Do you film yourself and critique yourself honestly?

If a lift does not go as planned…

…how will you approach the accessory work?

…Will you pout because you didn’t hit the planned numbers for the day?

…Or will you move on to the next one and plan to hit that another day?

Your reactions that occur reflect your reflexive thought processes that occur on a moment to moment basis.


When I’m lifting a specific movement pattern such as a squat or deadlift, chances are my colleagues are likewise doing the same movements as well. If we are all doing the same movements (even if they are at different percentages), chances are that everyone will contribute to the mechanical aspects involved with lifting – changing out plates, loading up bars, and generally moving things around.

This provides for a very efficient and well-oiled machine with respects to lifting. This also just proves to generally being useful around the gym.


  1. If you’re efficient when you’re lifting by yourself, chances are you’ll be efficient when you’re with others as well.
  2. If you aren’t, perhaps you need to move with a sense of urgency that does not present itself unless you hire someone such as a personal trainer or coach.
  3. Chances are that you can get done a lift in a much faster time if you don’t talk to anyone, have only as much rest as humanly necessary, and seek to move weights (heavy or not) fast.
  4. Oh, and stop checking your phone during lifts.

Maintaining an Environment

This post may seem like I have an agenda with respects to the lack of intensity.

If you’re offended by this, I apologize. It was not meant to offend, but rather bring to light the lack of intensity that I see more and more on a daily basis from the youth athletes that I coach.

There are always exceptions to the rule, and with many who come into CSP, they are great workers who come in with smiles despite the sweaty and hot conditions that we find ourselves in (it is currently summertime).

However, if you find yourself lacking a certain drive about your day in any aspect – life, family, eating, lifting, work – perhaps you can ask yourself rhetorically, “Is there anything else I can do to change the situation I am currently in?”

At the very least, my main purpose is to practice “kaizen” every day, which will inherently require at the very least a 1% change in the correct direction. If I can inject this purpose into others through my actions, or through my words here, I have done my job.

As always,

Keep it funky.


Foundational Coaching: Installment 4 – Breathing for Performance

One item that I find myself coaching over and over involves the concept of breathing, along with how to approach it for various exercises. Whether or not this biases me as “the breathing guy” at my facility doesn’t matter to me – if I can use and manipulate my breathing to do the task at hand, I’ll do it. Essentially the way you approach how you breathe for a 1RM deadlift will be very different than the way you approach breathing for a 2 mile run.

Deadlift - Missed 5225
Fun Question – Do you think I got this lift, or missed it?

This necessity for owning your breathing patterns becomes even more readily apparent as you begin to understand the differences that the two different tasks will ask of the body. As far as I know, the mentality of controlling breathing to improve the outcomes of exercises or a physiological output is not new.

The common denominator is the air we breathe, and the differences begin with how we manipulate this air within our body for whatever the task may be.

While for some individuals it is understood that the way you breathe during a really long set versus improving the tonic/phasic relationship of your muscles will be different, the way you approach the breathing component on each example is very subtle. Done properly, and you can get a lot out of it.

Essentially, it comes down to three different approaches:

  1. Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)
  2. Breathing During Static Exercises
  3. Breathing During Dynamic Exercises


Breathing for Awareness (and Altering Tone)

Sensory awareness of what occurs in your body has several research articles speaking about any individual’s ability to focus internally. With this in mind, the focus for breathing with an inward attentional focus is meant to improve sensory awareness of one’s body in space, along with understanding what muscles may be being “kicked on” in order to maintain a certain postural stance or sway.

Abdominal Obliquables
Pay attention to these guys sometimes.

Aaron Swanson had a great internal cueing article on what the benefits are for understanding what occurs from an internal point of view, and this is a point that I made during my most recent presentation at the Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar – it will be difficult to teach a complex movement (bracing for a depth jump to a broad jump and landing on one leg) if you don’t understand some of the simpler moving parts in your body.

Breathing During Static Exercises

Static exercises have the grouping of planks, side planks, any exercise in which you are static (staying still) and require a constant stream of inhalations and exhalations without any extraneous pressure from the musculature that is statically being challenged.

Example of Static Exercises

  • Front Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Isometric Holds – Bottom of Squat, Push-Up, Lunge, etc.
  • Isolated Exercises to Improve Motor Control – Rotator Cuff exercises, hip exercises, etc.

So while the joint and thusly the muscular position may be necessary to understand and feel, this position will need to be reinforced further when looking to load or hold for a certain amount of time.

More specifically, for a lot of our athletes, clients, and even my online clients, I may utilize breaths, as in cycles of inhalation and exhalation, to regulate the duration of a specific exercise (instead of an arbitrary time such as 15, 20, or 30 seconds).

Breathing During Dynamic Exercises

In the video, I describe how to troubleshoot your breathing patterns in both supine and during an active movement such as the squat.

With this in mind, the categorizations can be subdivided further:

  • Breathing via Valsalva Manuevering
  • Breathing for Locomotive Purposes

Breathing via Valsalva Maneuver

If you have 400 or 500lbs (or more…) on your back for a back squat, there is certainly a need to maintain great amounts of intra-abdominal pressure through tensioning techniques through the musculature, along with reinforcing this tension with a gaseous form of stability – air through the diaphragm and/or pelvic floor (and closing of the epiglottis aka your throat, because that is how we prevent air from escaping).

When describing how to “hold your breathe,” I am not merely describing how to pass out as fast as possible. Hopefully, and with a little more background into the individual who is performing said technique, I am teaching lessons towards improving stability for spinal segments up and down the chain.

Note/Disclaimer: I’ve also had an older population of clientele that will be unable to perform the Valsalva maneuver due to greater increases in blood pressure that does not need to be risked due to heart conditions. Please note that I am not telling you to do the Valsalva maneuver as a way to complete heavier lifts – it is merely a method that *can* be used, it does not *have* to be used.

Breathing For Locomotive Purposes

Locomotion can refer to moving in whatever fashion you want – dancing, sprinting, and/or jumping. This is a combination of the previous approach for breathing, because the way you move for a Forward Walking Lunge may differ than a one mile run.


With this in mind, imagine how holding your breath during the first meters in a sprint will affect the outcome of the whole movement. This is opposed to slightly intra-abdominal pressure as you take a forward step during a DB Walking Lunge.

Different exercises, different goals, and different approaches.

Generally speaking, if it is an exercise in which you have a consistent and regular movement pattern – swimming, running, rowing, or anything generally that lasts longer than 60 seconds, you will need to approach your breathing a little differently.

If you will be performing an exercise that lasts under 60 seconds (or more), but still has load in your hands or on your back, bracing for intra-abdominal pressure while still gaining new air during your movement for spinal stability will be especially useful.

While this topic of breathing is certainly nuanced, I am merely describing one more method of how to improve performance within the context of breathing.

For more of my articles on breathing, check out:

As always,

Keep it funky.


3 Benefits for Lifting if You’re a Dancer

There are tons of benefits to exercising and beginning a strength training regimen if you’re pursuing a dance as an art, career, or hobby.

Plenty of dancers believe that in order to improve their craft, they should only dance more and more. While there is certainly plenty of merit to this notion, and specific technique does play a role within the context of being noticed early on during high school for dance academies and universities, there are some physiological benefits to training for improved performance.

Improved Muscular and Ligamentous Strength

It is often necessary to get into positions that your body is not normally readily available to bend, twist, and rotate into as a dancer. By performing various stretches over and over, the passive restraints that are involved with complex joints like the hip joint and shoulder joint may be overstretched.

Total Hip ROM

The elastic quality of your muscles allows some give and take – there is pliability when you move into and out of certain positions. This can be distinguished between the passive restraints such as your ligaments, because there is not as much restoration of these elastic properties if these structures are overstretched.

Many different physical therapists such as Gray Cook have notably said to not bring a mobility solution to a stability problem. What can be interpreted from this statement is that if you have excessive hip mobility, there is an obvious lack of hip stability. Stretching further into these imbalances for the mere fact that there is a sensation of tightness may not be the correct solution to bring to the table. The stability I am referring to involves specific strength training exercises. In this example, performing a reverse lunge with sufficient weight can will require both stability AND mobility.

Improve Force Production

Sometimes getting bigger is not always the end goal for dancers. However, this should not deter dancers from improving their ability to produce force in a productive manner.

Force production helps with jumping.

Ballerinas Jumping

Jumping is an example of an output that requires a large amount of force production.

When more force is produced (through physiological adaptations from an exercise program) there likewise needs to be more absorption of force after you land from such a tall height.

The higher you are, the more ability you will have to rotate (if you stay in the air longer). When you land, hopefully land with gracefulness that displays appropriate force absorption!

While there are plenty of factors involved with improving what is known as ground reaction force when jumping and landing (either on two legs or one leg), if there is an apparent weakness or previous injury, the act of jumping will stress the body, and the path of least resistance will be discovered overtime, if not acutely.

Improve Time to Recovery from an Injury

As a dancer myself, I know the heart sinking feeling of rolling an ankle (multiple times), or tweaking an adductor, or having a weird knot in my back prevent me from doing what I love the most – dancing.

Bronner et al displays that with an appropriate timeline and exercise regiment, time to return for dancing improves greatly. Further, over 60% of the injuries reported during this time happened to be lower extremity related – that means 6/10 injuries in a troupe were hip or knee oriented. Add in about a 20% injury rate on ankle and foot injuries, and you have over 80% of injuries merely being reflective of just the lower half of the body.

Now, the real question is, why do you have to be a professional dancer to reap the benefits of a comprehensive exercise program? Certainly having a physical therapist on hand at every beck and call when something begins to hurt let alone itch is one benefit of being in a professional dance company, such as the one described in the study.

However, you don’t always have to lose sight of the big picture, which if you’re like me, is performing for an artform that you love.

With all this in mind, I have a program that might be the right fit for you.

Modern Strength Movement

With the Modern Strength Movement, found on the Fitocracy platform, you get the benefit of working out with a community of people, improving your strength and muscle mass goals, along with improving the habit of exercising to maintain performance for dancing.

If this sounds like something that you can benefit from, please read on ahead to the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the page!

As always,

Keep it funky.