An Interview With the Best of the Best: Eric Cressey
Okay, below is a transcript of the interview I did with Eric Cressey, beast of all beasts. That’s not an exaggerations–Cressey is seriously the man.
I’ve told you in another blog post how Eric and I met, and after 8 years and never less than 300 miles of distance between us, we’re still close and still learn a lot from each other.
Eric Cressey is seriously regarded as one of the Top 5 coaches in the world by just about any authority that has any authority (if you’ll pardon the redundancy). In my personal opinion, while a few others may be on par with EC in terms of knowledge, Eric stands alone in one regard: he’s simply the best in the world when it comes to bringing things to a practical level.
Now, I’ll warn you that Eric works with professional athletes most of the time, so we talk about that A LOT in the interview; however, as he notes, he started in fitness-based training. The program brings it all together, and the interview very clearly explains why you should pick it up.
Check it out!
1. Okay, right of of the gate, I want this interive to focus on your new program. So, let’s get to it: how is Show and Go different from the other training products out there now?
Cressey: Most products are written with a specific market – trainers, females, fat loss, or something else – in mind. In the marketing world, they tell you to not try to be everything to everyone. Well, I’m not a good marketer – so I decided to make this resource extremely versatile and a good fit for a LOT of people.
The reason is that there are a lot of things in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program that everybody needs to utilize. From the minutia to the big picture, I could go on all day: foam rolling, mobility warm-ups, single-leg training, more horizontal pulling, fluctuation of training stress, sufficient deloading periods, extra posterior chain work, a balance of open- and closed-chain upper body pressing, glute activation, rotator cuff strength – the list goes on and on.
So, I guess you can say that the #1 thing that is different about this product is that there are easy-to-apply modifications in it that make it a versatile resource that offers something for everyone. From the 2x/3x/4x per week training options to the supplement conditioning options, there are ways to make it the right fit for YOU.
And, the guy who created it is also extremely good looking, charming, witty, and charismatic!
2. And modest. Or not. But I hate modesty anyway. Now, like me, you’re still “in the trenches” right? I mean, you still work clients hands on, every day in your gym?
Cressey: Yes, that’s for sure – and, in fact, you could say that it’s one more thing that separates this program for a lot of the other ones that are out there in the fitness landscape right now. In this digital retail era, there are a lot of people publishing fitness information products on the net that are largely based on theory, not trends that have proven significant over and over again in the real world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as a lot of the most sound training practices we know today were originally just theories. However, speculative training isn’t for me.
I think it’s one reason why I thought so highly of the Final Phase Fat Loss program you created; I know you as a guy who has put in years of efforts “in the trenches” with clients and with your own training. If you recommend something, it’s because you know it’s legitimate and you’d stake your reputation on it.
I’m in the same boat. We generally do over 300 client sessions per week at Cressey Performance. Taking it a step further, I’ll have over 40 professional baseball players who come from all over the country to live in snowy Hudson, MA all winter to give themselves the best possible chance to make it to the big leagues – and have a long and healthy career along the way.
Every single person that walks through the door is on an individualized program that was written by one of our staff members in accordance with the results of a one-on-one evaluation that took place. When you write that many programs and supervise so many training sessions, you get a feel for the stuff that should be constant in just about everyone’s programs – and it makes you appreciate that there are many important principles that can be applied to make a program like Show and Go safe and effective for “the masses.”
You’ll see that in the detail that has gone into the Show and Go program. It features the exact printable training templates we use with our clients so that people can record their progress. The exercises and set/rep protocols have all been test-driven with our clients, too. And, the 175+ videos in the online database that accompanies this guide were all filmed in my facility – not my mom’s basement or the park, as you often see from folks who write books, but don’t actually train anyone.
In short, I’ve got a unique frame of reference to share with people. And, I’ve got a lot more to lose professionally if I was to put out an inferior product – so I put my heart and soul into this one.
3. Wow, that’s pretty intense. Lets just touch on that for a sec. You have over 40 pro baseball players from a number of different teams move into Red Sox territory to train with you. That’s pretty telling. Can you talk a bit more about your experiences with pro athletes? I know this program is for “everyone” but how has working with some of the most elite athletes in the world shaped you as a coach.
Cressey: Sure thing. One of my biggest questions as we got Cressey Performance off the ground was whether or not professional baseball players would be willing to travel to the cold, snowy Northeast during all or parts of their off-season (roughly September-March) when they could be going to warmer weather climates. To be honest, I never really waited to find the answer; we just focused on the few guys we had when we started out, and really hammered on getting great results and making people believers in our system. The rest, I guess, is history – and I realize now that if you have a good product, it doesn’t matter where you are: people will find you.
Business stuff aside, with respect to training needs, most people are surprised when they discover just how similar the Average Joe or Jane is to a professional athlete – both socially and physically.
The lay population often sits in front of a computer for 8-10 hours a day, but many pro athletes have 4-8 hour flights or 10+ hour bus rides where they’re sitting – and because they’re taller, sitting is even more uncomfortable and problematic. Like everyone else, they’re on the computer or in front of video games a lot. It’s actually quite interesting to note that technology advances haven’t just brought the “Pros and the Joes” closer together via fantasy football, but also in terms of the training they need to stay healthy.
Pro athletes are also very similar to the lay population in that they want very efficient training. There are always competing demands for their attention – whether it’s their families, charity work, marketing stuff, playing golf, or a number of other things. These guys live at the ballpark for 12+ hours per day for over half the year, so when the off-season rolls around, they aren’t particularly interested in long, drawn-out training sessions unless it’s absolutely necessary for their success. Most of our pro guys train six days a week for about 90 minutes in each session; four of these days are lifting, and there is movement training, medicine ball work, foam rolling, and mobility work included as well. Once the time comes to start throwing and hitting, this 1.5 hours might become three hours a day.
4. That’s pretty great stuff. And as much as you love training athletes, they love training with you, too. Every time I pick up a publication from your area, everyone from high school athletes up to Kevin Youkilis are singing your praises, and that includes other trainers. But let’s go back to the “regular” people.
Let’s talk about my readers for a bit: they’ve done a lot of programs, but most written by trainers who don’t train pros or (like me) only a few.
So can we assume that this is a good “next step” coming from the average fitness program? How can we take what you do with pros, what you do with absolute beginners, and apply the “middle ground” in Show and Go? I guess the question is: why is it that Show and Go is going be THE program for performance?
Cressey: It’s absolutely a great next step.
First and foremost, I should mention that while we’re probably best known for training baseball players, we’ve actually got a very diverse clientele. Sure, there are athletes from everything from boxing to bobsled, but we also have an awesome group of adult clients who just want to just want to be leaner, more muscular, healthier, and more functional for the challenges that life throws their way. In fact, this was actually the fitness clientele I was dealing with the most before the “baseball thing” blew up for me – so I’m certainly not shooting from the hip on this.
To that end, there are a lot of things in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program that everybody – from the pro athlete to the soccer mom – needs to utilize. I could go on all day: foam rolling, mobility warm-ups, single-leg training, more horizontal pulling, fluctuation of training stress, sufficient deloading periods, extra posterior chain work, glute activation, rotator cuff strength – the list goes on and on. All that just speaks to staying healthy and moving more efficiently – but let’s be honest: most people want to get lean, muscular, and strong.
But let me ask you this: how many of the “regulars” in the typical commercial gym are actually lean, muscular, or strong? I haven’t lifted in a commercial gym in years, but my memory definitely serves me correct when it tells me that it couldn’t be more than 10-15% of those in attendance. The other 85-90% are rubbing their arses raw on the recumbent bike and scratching their heads about why they aren’t getting leaner when the elliptical machine told them that they were burning 28,000 calories per hour. After all, they made great progress in the first 8-12 weeks of their exercise program doing this – and it took them from the untrained stage to the beginner stage. What they don’t realize is progress halts unless they change things up and kick their programs up a notch by adding strength training and interval work.
Meanwhile, you have a lot of intermediate trainees who have “been there, done that” who poke fun at beginners because they haven’t discovered the same Holy Grail of strength training and interval training that enabled them to advance from beginner to intermediate. What’s actually quite ironic (and it is irony, because it’s tragic how badly this sabotages people’s program) is that, all the while, most of these intermediate trainees are missing out on valuable training secrets that could take them to the “advanced” stage.
You talked about a lot of those secrets with respect to fat loss when you wrote Final Phase Fat Loss. I’ve had many of the same “epiphanies” when it comes to improving strength and performance. You had trouble losing those last few pounds of body fat to get photo-shoot-ready, and I literally spent 14 months trying to figure out how to get from a 225 bench press to a 230 bench press. Sad, but true.
Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve now got a 365 raw bench press at ~190 pounds, and by this point, I’ve actually kissed a girl (even convinced her to marry me!). I learned a lot of lessons along the way – almost too many to share, in fact – which is one reason why I created Show and Go. Here’s an example…
Beginners can make strength gains on as little as 40% of their one-rep max. Past that initial period, the number moves to 70% – which is roughly a 12-rep max for most folks. Later, I’d say that the number creeps up to about 85% – which would be about a 5-rep max for an intermediate lifter. This last range is where you’ll find most people who head to the internet for strength training information.
What they don’t realize is that 85% isn’t going to get the job done for very long, either. My experience is that in advanced lifters, the fastest way to build strength is to perform singles (sets of one rep) at or above 90% of one-rep max with regularity. As long as exercises are rotated and deloading periods are included, this is a strategy that can be employed for an extended period of time. In fact, it was probably the single (no pun intended) most valuable discovery I made in my quest to get stronger.
I’m not saying that you should be attempting one-rep maxes each time you enter the gym, but I do think they’ll “just happen” if you employ this technique.
Like I said, there are a lot more – but the program takes all the guesswork out and includes them.
5. Most people know you for the more “mundane ” aspects of performance…the boring stuff that we should be doing by most people don’t: soft tissue work, mobility work, all that.
On the other hand, you and I have known each other for about 10 years now, and I have a “different” perspective on you than the industry at large. I’ve seen you in your aesthetic-focused period where you wanted to get bigger, I’ve seen you get into powerlifting and pull HUGE weights.
I know that having done these gives you insight into aspects of fitness many people don’t realize you have. That said, for the time being you’re not known as one of the go-to guys if your main goal is to look better (which I personally know is bullshit).
Do you think Show and Go will help show the world that you can get people lean and muscular? I think—actually, let me put it this way. I’ve looked closely at the program, and WOW have you just knocked it the hell out of the park. I guess I’m asking, have you put your heart and soul into this because you want to show the world a new side of yourself? What are your thoughts on that?
Cressey: The thing people really need to realize is that enhancing one’s performance – particularly with respect to strength gains – really sets the stage for long-term muscle mass gains. You’re a big dude – but what people might not know is that you’re also a very metrosexual strong dude. That strength and size are not mutually exclusive – and some of the best bodybuilders on the planet would tell you the same thing. What I can tell you is that I have gained more muscle mass “accidentally” in years as a powerlifter than I gained “intentionally” in years as a wannabe bodybuilder. For me, the biggest window of adaptation was in getting stronger – and that’s what I did. My upper back, hamstrings, and glutes just weren’t going to stay small if I did what it took to get to a 660-pound deadlift.
How does this work? Well, the stronger you are, the most “work” you’re going to be doing in classic “hypertrophy” zones. If Lifter A can bench press 300 pounds, and he’s doing sets of 6 (call it 83% of 1RM), he’s moving about 250 pounds in that set. If Lifter B bench presses 260 pounds, he’s working at about 215 pounds. If both do four sets of six reps, you’ll see that Lifter A is doing a lot more total work (force times distance). Lifter B needs to get his maximal strength up – and then return to these classic hypertrophy training zones to reap the benefits anew.
As an aside, staying healthy is a nice aside to training for performance, as you’re teaching your body to move efficiently. I always tell people that the best program is one that is sustainable – meaning that it doesn’t leave you injured or exhausted (too badly, at least) to the point that you’re missing valuable training time. Teach your body to move efficiently, and you’ll see that the threshold at which you get “banged up” is markedly more difficult to reach. The high volume lifting and metabolic resistance training fat loss protocols just won’t be you up as easily if you come in prepared and take care of the “boring” ancillary stuff like foam rolling and mobility work that I advocate.
6. Random – I’ll ask you this because I know people are interested in pro athletes: what is the one thing that makes athletes different from regular people? Like, how do they really just differ in the way they respond to training? What can we learn from that?
Cressey: I’d say that, for the most part, the most immediate difference is in how quickly the pros pick things up. Most of them compete at high levels in their sport because they acquire new skills so well and can immediately integrate them in their “motor program.” In that regard, learning how to deadlift or throw the medicine ball isn’t much different than mastering a change-up.
This is also very significant when it comes to relearning movements and getting one’s body back once the off-season rolls around. They just seem to rebound faster after periods of moderate detraining. As perhaps the most extreme example I’ve seen, I work with Chad Rodgers, a left-handed pitcher in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. From November 2008 to March 2009, Chad went from 200 to 217 pounds while training at our facility. Then, he went into in-season mode – and was 206 when he arrived back at our facility the following October after a long season. Get this, though: he was 222 within two weeks – and he finished up the off-season at 235 – and hit 95mph on the radar gun for the first time in his life. Pro athletes de-adapt like everyone else – but they seem to readapt faster than the lay population – and that sets the stage for long-term gains in spite of periods of sometimes crazy detraining during the season.
That said, there are some high level athletes who are one-trick ponies. I’ve met some pitchers who showed up with 17-inch vertical jumps, but just so happened to have a good curve ball. And, I’ve seen some swimmers who seem really athletic – until you get them out of their realm and learn the true meaning of “a fish out of water.”
7. When you first opened your facility, you and I spoke and you were dead-set on making Cressey Performance stand out by having the most innovative people on staff and always trying new stuff. At the same time, you didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. In looking at Show and Go, I feel you did the same: New science-based techniques housed comfortably alongside some of the most “common” exercises that people are familiar with; whereas a lot of programs include 80 varietals of exercises people have never heard of. Give me your thoughts that?
Cressey: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Let’s be honest: there isn’t much in this industry that’s new. Most of the “innovations” are really just “reincarnations” of something from the past (e.g., kettlebells, strongman training) or “modifications” (e.g., accommodating resistance, modified tempo schemes, different loading parameters) of something that we already knew worked. I wish I could say that getting people jacked was an area where earth-shattering discoveries are being made every day, but that’s just not the case; we’re repacking things and looking for the right synergy among them.
In the real world, people still squat, deadlift, lunge, push, pull, rotate, roll over, get up, get down, jump, run, frolic, prance, whatever. My feeling is that if you stick to the basics – but at the same time expose people to a wind variety of movement patterns – you get the best of both worlds: neuromuscular efficiency for important fundamental tasks as well as a rich proprioceptive environment that keeps people healthy and “adaptable” to their surroundings. And, when you expose them to these new exercise variations, you prevent them from getting efficient – which is exactly what we don’t want if our goal is to get bigger or leaner.
8. Your videos on the squat were posted and re-posted all over the internet. EVERYONE got something out of them. Show and Go could well do the same thing for programming in general—whether you’re a trainee or a coach, you’ll learn…and in a small but real way, this could perhaps chance the way people write programs. With that in mind, if you could get people to STOP doing one thing (trainees OR coaches) and START doing one other, what would it be?
Cressey: I’d tell both trainees and coaches to simply be more open-minded to learning from everyone and applying new techniques. There are Crossfit guys, HIT guys, powerlifters, bodybuilders, kettlebell guys, speed guys, machine guys, you name it. Lots of people have been doing lots of different stuff to get lots of different results. If you adhere steadfastly to just one discipline, you miss out on what the others have to offer – even if it is just a few seemingly trivial things that you borrow here and there to incorporate into your philosophy.
Admittedly, I really struggled with this earlier in my career. I hated not knowing everything – and while it was something that definitely drove me to do a ton of research, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and energy if I’d just been open-minded enough to ask someone else about their approach – or just observe them in action. Nowadays, I see these as opportunities to either learn something new, test my knowledge by refuting something that doesn’t fits with my philosophy, or confirm what I’m already doing.
Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
Eric, thank you so much for taking the time for do this, and thank you so much for putting together an incredible program.
Cressey: It’s my pleasure, thank you for making this available to your readers, and thanks for your support with the program.
Anytime, bru! That’s what I’m here for.
Hope you enjoyed the interview!
If you have a question or a comment for either Eric or myself, please post it below. And keep in mind, his new program, Show and Go, isn’t just a training program: like FPFL was for me, Show and Go is pretty much the coalescence of the entirety of Cressey’s training theories. And so, like Cressey himself, Show and Go is a top-notch resource.