Monday, August 8, 2011

Interview with Eric Cressey

Over the years, there have been a number of people that I have learned from and look up to in this profession. Whenever I am asked who, in recent memory have I learned the most from, I can’t get the image of Eric Cressey out of my head. Here is a guy that has influenced how so many strength coaches and trainers design exercise programming and handle their athletes/clients. Eric has developed a number of quality products in the field of exercise, but in my opinion, it was his Magnificent Mobility DVD (co-produced with Mike Robertson), that really propelled Eric into the big league ranks. I own it and I recommend. I also read Eric’s book, “Maximum Strength". If you don’t own this book already, I highly recommend you add it to your bookshelf—AFTER IT’S BEEN READ…of course. There also only a handful of blogs I check on a daily basis. Yes, Eric’s blog is one of them. For two reasons: His posts are highly informative as they always seem to reinforce or shed light on something, and they are contagiously entertaining! A great read and put together in a way that will not bore you; and ensure that it will stick. 

I contacted Eric and requested an interview. I know the guy is super-busy…not only training athletes, but training himself. And now with his recent engagement, he is going to really get “super-busy”…as wedding planning can be as tough as a 600 lb. deadlift, after Thanksgiving dinner. In this interview, I try to touch upon different avenues of Eric Cressey’s training methodologies, business model, and his development as a premier strength coach. As expected, Eric doesn’t fail to engage the reader and uncover a lot of details about his business (Cressey Performance); his time-management skills, and what he deals with on a daily basis. 

JOHN: Eric, what is a typically day like for you at Cressey Performance? When do you find the time to conduct your business and author the many awesome blog posts and newsletters?

ERIC: "Because we work predominantly with athletes, generally, our hours at the facility during the week are 11AM-7:30PM Monday-Thursday and 11AM-5:30PM on Friday. On Saturdays, they’re 9AM-2PM, and on Sundays, 12PM-3PM. During the baseball season, we try to be there every day in order to make it easier for guys to find a way to get their lifts in in-season. That said, year-round, I am probably at the gym about 45-50 hours a week, but I also take a lot of programming, emails, phone-calls-to-return, and random assignments home with me.

For me, the mornings are sacred. I am usually up at 6:45AM, and while I’ve given up training clients at this time of day, it affords me a good 3-4 hours each morning that I can devote to programming, writing, emailing, and any of a number of other tasks. I will typically also work on this sort of stuff for another 2-3 hours at night on weeknights – often while I’m listening to or watching some of our pro baseball guys all over the country. 
Honestly, I never really do the math on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I work 80 hours a week, every week. I love what I do, so time flies. Every time I hear someone talk about the 4-Hour Work-Week, I chuckle to myself and think “This dude’s in the wrong field.”

JOHN: Were you always this time efficient or did it develop over time?

ERIC: "Well, it seems kind of off-the-wall to call a guy who works as much as I do “time efficient,” but I appreciate the compliment!

As far as learning to manage my time, I think it’s a combination of the two. On one hand, I’m a perfectionist by nature and never want to just “get by” with anything. Even in high school, I was balancing sports, student government, regular coursework, and a host of other extra-curricular activities, so I guess I just came to recognize balancing competing demands as a way of life at an early age.

That said, the part that has developed over time has been learning how to prioritize and appreciate which activities allow me to best leverage my strengths. In the past, I either a) didn’t have anyone with whom I could share responsibilities or b) didn’t feel confident in others’ abilities to complete tasks up to my standards, as I really hate mediocrity. Having two good business partners, an excellent staff, and a personal assistant has really allowed me to spend as much time in my realm of expertise as possible. In other words, I don’t need to be vacuuming the office when I can be evaluating a messed-up shoulder!"
JOHN: You brought to light an interesting point when you mentioned your business partners. What are the advantages and disadvantages of running a business with friends? I am sure there are pros and cons of each. Care to share?

ERIC: "If there are cons, we haven’t encountered them yet. I feel strongly that I can speak for everyone involved when I say that it’s been a great fit from the get-go – probably because we started with a clear picture of everyone’s responsibilities. 

While getting people leaner, stronger, faster, and healthier are obviously big goals of ours, I feel strongly that our most important goals as a business are to:
- serve as role models, particularly with young athletes

- build camaraderie in our facility in order to create an atmosphere where people can not only have fun, but also feel like they have “ownership” and are responsible for shaping their experiences there
With respect to my first point, when you work with friends, you know what you are getting. I have known Pete since 1999, and Tony since 2002. I was Pete’s roommate for 1999-2001, and Tony’s for 2005-2007. I know they are guys on whom I can count, and also people who will serve as unconditionally positive influences in the lives of young, impressionable athletes. And, I know that they share my vision, as we’ve been talking about it for years.
As far as “b” is concerned, I think that our friendships lend themselves to a more easygoing environment in the gym and the office – and it’s definitely something to which clients catch on. I think the best example would be Brian St. Pierre, our first employee. He really wasn’t a friend when we met him for the first time, but nowadays, if you were a client, you’d never be able to tell that we’ve only known him since 2007. He’s adapted to the atmosphere and become a great friend in the process.

With all that said, I’ve got loads of friends with whom I would NEVER go into business. I didn’t just pick Pete and Tony out of a hat; they had unique abilities and admirable qualities that made them a good fit for Cressey Performance."

JOHN: Eric, you have really earned your right to present to the masses in this field. Talk to me about what it was like when you presented for the first time in front of your peers and colleagues. Has your presentation prep or style changed since then? Have you done anything to refine it?

ERIC: "I actually remember my first “big” presentation well. It was at the Holy Cross Performance Symposium back in December of 2005, and I was talking about the results of my master’s thesis. Some highlights:
a. Got sandwiched between Mike Boyle – possibly the most accomplished speaker in our industry – and lunch. Halfway through my talk, the caterers walked in with a pulled pork barbecue lunch prepared, and everyone’s attention started to wander as the aroma drifted out among the crowd. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place!

b. I believe I used the word “okay” about 847 times.

c. I had over 100 slides for a 55-minute presentation. And these were BUSY slides.
So, yes, I’ve refined things quite a bit since then. First, I don’t pack my on-the-wall slides as full with information, as I tend to be at my best when I’m just taking a general topic and roll with it (even if it digresses a bit). I am more detailed in the handouts I give to the audience so that they can go back and review what I was discussing.

Second, I use a lot more videos in my powerpoints to break up the “lecturing” side of things. I have a tendency to speak too quickly (it’s the New Englander in me), and these videos slow me down a bit.

Third, whenever possible, I try to include real-world examples of what I’m covering. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a coach first, so when I can just shoot from the hip as if I’m on the training floor, I’m golden."

JOHN: Speaking of presentations....I deal with alot of general population (as clients), but I also educate novice trainers or people looking to become trainers in the Hartford area. I am knee-deep in simplifying things and trying to explain things watered down. I think I do a pretty good job, but things like the "sliding filament theory", still gets me ‘confused looks’ from listeners. What concept or topic in your presentations seems challenging for you to break down--without losing the fundamentals of the explanation?
ERIC: "Let me preface my response by saying that I am a firm advocate of licensure in the realm of personal training and strength and conditioning in the private sector in order to create higher standards within our industry. I feel strongly that the reason things often have to be dumbed down for many novice trainers are because they are woefully unprepared. Put it this way…

When was the last time you heard of a higher-up doctor “watering down” things for a resident? The resident is a “novice doctor,” but it’s still assumed that he/she knows all the relevant anatomy and physiology and just needs more experience. Would you like to have brain surgery with a surgeon who’s required watering-down through his entire career? Is an ill-prepared trainer putting a client on a leg press under 500 pounds any different? Both have a life in their hands – both with respect to acts of commission and acts of omission – so they should both be held to high standards.

Many trainers acquire extensive experience in the trenches before ever learning the “what,” “why,” or “how” of what they’re doing. It might sound like a digression, but in reality, it leads right to the answer to your question.

My biggest struggle in presentations is having to explain complex functional anatomy topics when many trainers simply don’t have their anatomy down sufficiently. If you don’t understand the location/attachment points and actions of the hamstrings and gluteus maximus, you won’t pick up on Shirley Sahrmann’s femoral anterior glide syndrome as someone who does. I probably see this issue walk through my facility doors two dozen times a year, and it relates directly to modifying resistance training technique and exercise selection. Just send this client out to physical therapy, and they’ll eventually become asymptomatic – but come right back to the gym and have the problem again."

JOHN: The internet has brought a whole new meaning to information dissemination. Back in the day, it was reading article and looking at "still shots" in muscle mags. Today, we shoot videos. Your videos have had a big influence on the training community. Where do you think trainers go "wrong" when publishing a video on the internet for all to see?

ERIC: "That is a good question, and it’s a difficult line to draw in the sand. Obviously, I think the biggest mistake trainers make is publishing videos of atrocious form. Then again, I’m glad that they do, as it makes them very easy to spot as people who have no integrity and/or don’t know what the hell they’re doing."
JOHN: Let's talk training....I know you are a big shoulder guy because your training focuses alot on baseball players (more notably, pitchers). I know you work with a diverse athletic population, so can you tell me what makes training athletes different from working with regular joe-schmoes?

ERIC: "When I read this question, the first thing that came to mind is “asymmetries.” You see side-to-side discrepancies in the general population, but some athletes are insane. It could be that my perspective is a bit skewed because I work with a one-sided-dominant sport like baseball, but it’s something to which I devote a huge amount of my time as a strength and conditioning coach. Obviously, general population clients have loads of imbalances, too, but they tend to be more “symmetrically crappy!”

There are obviously loads of other issues, from specific metabolic conditioning, to contraindicated exercises, to schedule/frequency of training. Athletes tend to have more competing demands, too; in the example of the baseball pitcher, we have resistance-training, medicine ball work, movement training, flexibility work, throwing programs, pitcher-fielding-practice (PFP), and (depending on the athlete) energy systems development. You can take the throwing and PFPs out and you’ve pretty much got a general population client. So, there is more of a “should I do this or this?” when dealing with athletes.

And, obviously, training the general population requires a considerably different – and usually “less hardcore” – mindset than working with athletes. However, I’ve found that over time, folks will gradually “convert” and fall in love with the idea of training with a more athletic mindset."

JOHN: For this last question, I am going to simply give you a phrase or term, and you give me a sentence or two on what comes to your mind first when you read it. First one...


ERIC: "Everyone needs soft tissue work on it, and it hurts like a son of a gun. People don’t appreciate how important it is at posteriorly pulling the humeral head to counteract the anterior glide caused by the infraspinatus and teres minor during dynamic stabilization of the glenohumeral joint."
JOHN: “glute medius”

ERIC: "Important with respect to anterior and lateral knee pain, but overrated in the debate on the knock-knees during squatting. The hamstrings (and particularly biceps femoris) are far more important."

JOHN: “training absent of deadlifts...”

ERIC: "Definitely 100% doable, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that it’s generally people’s technique that’s more contraindicated than the exercise itself. We don’t conventional deadlift many of our clients, but use the trap bar extensively."

JOHN: “training cessation due to injury”

ERIC: "I’m proud to say that I’ve never had to STOP training due to injury. I’ve been injured, sure, but I am a firm believer that there is always something you can do to get better. Heck I’ve trained guys with poison ivy and taken on athletes in back braces and on crutches". [END]


  1. hey john, i just received your book in the mail, and I have to say that I am very impressed with the comprehensive content and easy reading that it lends itself to. So many of these instructional books blur the line between needing a PhD to understand, and talking down to you, but yours finds the middle road.
    Thanks for sending, and for the info on the website. Guys like me starting up find these tools invaluable.
    -Simon, Portland, OR


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