Interviews / August 16, 2012

Eric Cressey

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Eric Cressey is the owner of Cressey Performance, a facility with locations in Hudson and Framingham, Massachusetts. A highly sought-after coach for healthy and injured athletes alike, Eric has helped athletes at all levels — from youth sports to the professional and Olympic ranks — achieve their highest levels of performance in a variety of sports.

Cressey received his Master’s Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science through the University of Connecticut Department of Kinesiology, the #1 ranked kinesiology graduate program in the nation. At UCONN, Eric was involved in varsity strength and conditioning and research in the human performance laboratory. Previously, Eric graduated from the University of New England with a double major in Exercise Science and Sports and Fitness Management. He has also written the book Maximum Strength: Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program. Find him at www.EricCressey.com and www.CresseyPerformance.com.

Diet Detective: Eric, tell us a bit about how you became a strength coach — was it your calling?

Eric: Believe it or not, I started out in college thinking that I was going to be an accountant! I actually made the switch based on my own health in two different regards. First, around ages 19-20, I had some health issues where I lost a lot of weight. As a result, I needed to regain this weight the right way — and that’s when I really become a bookworm with respect to reading everything I could get my hands on regarding strength and conditioning and nutrition. Additionally, about that same time, my right shoulder was in really rough shape — so bad, in fact, that I had given up a very promising collegiate tennis career.

Both these experiences led me to experiment in strength and conditioning with myself as the guinea pig — and soon enough, I transferred out of business school and instead double-majored in exercise science and sports and fitness management. I then went on to complete my graduate degree at the University of Connecticut, and it was during my time there that I fell in loving with coaching from my time in the varsity weight room and human performance laboratory.

Diet Detective: What makes a good trainer, and what makes a great trainer? Give us the inside scoop?

Eric: I don’t know that it’s one thing that differentiates an individual — especially since much of our industry is becoming more “niched.” I, for instance, train a ton of baseball players and know a lot about them. I can tell a guy why his rotator cuff or elbow hurts from looking at his hips or the calluses on his feet; it’s what has made me successful in my niche.

That said, while knowledge is certainly the foot in the door, I think that the two biggest skills that make someone successful in training — or any profession, for that matter — are passion for what one does and the ability to cultivate positive relationships. If you can’t deal with people, you won’t be successful in this field.

Diet Detective: How do you get a body designed by Eric Cressey? What do you need to do each day?

Eric: To be to the point, you need to accumulate six hours of exercise per week. For most people, this will consist of 3-4 weight training sessions, each of which are preceded by five minutes of foam rolling, 5-10 minutes of dynamic flexibility warm-ups, and then some movement training and/or medicine ball throws. Factor in some energy systems work (interval training) or additional movement training (sprinting, agility) in separate sessions, and you’ve covered yourself.

And, obviously, you need to put the right stuff in your mouth. Most people eat too little protein and not enough healthy fats or veggies. If they upped their vegetable intake, added some mixed nuts and fish oil, and bumped up the protein — and reduced their intake of other carbs — they’d lean out pretty quickly.

Lastly, an overlooked component of all successful programs is sleep (quality and quantity). Simply getting to bed before midnight as much as possible is a guaranteed way to make any program more effective.

Diet Detective: Tell us the biggest secret that trainers typically don’t tell their clients, but should?

Eric: This one might surprise you: the secret is that if you train one-on-one with a trainer, you’re a sucker who is a) paying too much and b) getting coddled. My entire business model is based on the belief that people do better when they are surrounded by like-minded individuals with similar goals. Look at most physical therapy: small group training! Cardiac rehabilitation: small group training! Collegiate and professional sports: small group training! Somehow, though, ordinary Americans have arrived at the conclusion that they are somehow special and demand one-on-one attention!

I wish your readers could come by Cressey Performance for an afternoon. It’s amazing what happens when you get people out of their “Do a set of ten, then chat about my weekend with a trainer, then do another set” routine. Our clients/athletes all go through one-on-one programs, and receive individualized programs. We coach technique very specifically up-front, and the individuals are incorporated into a semi-private scenario with no more than six athletes or clients per coach. So, at our facility, you might see 12 people kicking butt and taking names under the supervision of three coaches – and with some motivating music and loads of energy floating around.

Diet Detective: How do you train your body for “function?” What do you mean by “function?”

Eric: To boil it down very simply to the “what,” my feeling is that you use your warm-ups to a) break down scar tissue; b) enhance mobility of the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine; c) improve stability through the range-of-motion you’ve got; and d) increase body temperature for the demands ahead. The resistance training that follows builds strength and power (in various planes, both directly and indirectly) via the neural patterns grooved in the warm-up. So, you might foam roll your quads and hip flexors, then go through a dynamic lunge series, and then move to a loaded lunge. Effectively, you’ve made a movement possible – and then worked to “ingrain” it.

Different people have different functions to accomplish in their daily lives. So, for instance, an endurance athlete has different functional demands than a father looking to take care of his kids, or a powerlifter looking to build monster strength. In its truest sense, functional training refers to preparing individuals for the demands that lie ahead in everyday activities, work, recreational activities, and competitive athletics. Because these demands are different for everyone, it’s important to realize that true functional training programs must be specific to the individual. With Maximum Strength, we try to cover a lot of ground for as large a portion of the population as possible.

Diet Detective: Would you mind briefly explaining the four phases you outline in your book “Maximum Strength” — Foundation, Build, Growth, and Peak?

Eric:The Foundation phase is about transitioning from conventional “3 sets of ten” resistance training and learning how to train for strength with lower rep schemes. In the Build phase, this new-found training intensity is applied to a more advanced loading protocol to really kick strength gains into high gear. In Phase 3, Growth, these new strength gains are applied with a training strategy that pushes volume higher to capitalize on the bigger loads that are being lifted; it’s where most lifters will pack on the most meat (because they’ve paved the foundation with the previous phases). The Peak Phase is a chance to deload the body a bit before a post-testing to not only evaluate the strength gains that took place during the program, but also show the lifter what it’s like to really take a “backoff phase” – and reap the benefits of that downtime.

Diet Detective: What are the biggest mistakes strength training mistakes that women make?

Eric:A few that come to mind, right off the top of my head:

  1. Not using enough resistance.
  2. Using machines.
  3. Substituting yoga and/or Pilates for strength training; they afford different training effects altogether and should be treated accordingly.
  4. Poor footwear (particularly, wearing shoes with too much heel-lift – both in and out of the gym).
  5. Planning their strength training around their cardiovascular exercise and not vice-versa.
  6. Not using multi-joint movements.

Diet Detective: To achieve all around fitness – do you really need to use weights?

Eric:In a word, ABSOLUTELY!.

Diet Detective: In all your years of training what do you consider the three (3) best non-weight related exercise (e.g. lunge).

Eric:Lunges, push-ups, and chin-ups. Of course, you can load each of these – but that goes hand-in-hand with my “function” response from above!

Diet Detective: Best strength training exercise?

Eric: To pick one would be unfair, so here are five:

  1. Deadlift variations
  2. Squat variations
  3. Rows
  4. Bench Press
  5. Overhead Press

Diet Detective: Worst strength training exercise?

Eric: I have a few that I really dislike, so while I’ve got a soapbox on which to stand, I might as well list a bunch!

  1. leg press
  2. leg extension
  3. upright row
  4. sit-up
  5. any upper-body exercise that has an individual standing on an unstable surface.
  6. That God-awful rotary torso machine
  7. The empty can (thumbs-down lateral raises)

Diet Detective: In a nutshell – how should a woman maximize strength? Is it different than a man?

Eric: They are very similar – but with a few subtle differences:

  1. Woman need slightly more volume per session.
  2. Woman don’t need to take deload periods quite as often as men.
  3. Women need to pay even more attention to strengthening the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) because of their tendency toward quad-dominance.

Diet Detective: What food do you always have on hand (e.g., gym bag, fridge)?

Eric: I eat a ton of vegetables of all colors, eggs, egg whites, chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, red meat, mixed nuts, natural peanut/almond butter, pumpkin, and apples. I don’t eat a ton of carbs, believe it or not. Protein powders are a huge help when I’m on the go. I grew up on the coast in Maine, so I’m somewhat of a seafood snob – but I love it whenever I can get my hands on good seafood.

Diet Detective: What’s in your refrigerator right now?

Eric: All of the above – plus a Brita water filter, salsa, balsamic vinegar, and various sauces/marinades.

Diet Detective: Okay now a few very quick one word or one sentence answer – pick only one of the choices please. (fyi: also, “depends” is NOT an answer – I’m looking for a real commitment here. )  Yoga vs. Pilates vs. Stretching?

Eric:  Dynamic Stretching

Diet Detective: Free weights vs. Machine?

Eric:  Free weights.

Diet Detective: Cardio vs. Strength Training vs. Flexibility/Core Work?

Eric: Flexibility and Core Work are components of strength-training, in my eyes. So, I’d pick strength training.

Diet Detective: Swiss ball/ Physio Ball vs. Exercise Bands?

Eric: Bands.

Diet Detective:  Treadmill vs. Walking Outdoors?

Eric: Walking outdoors.

Diet Detective: Your favorite “junk food?”

Eric: My girlfriend makes fun of me for never giving in to cravings (I’m pretty strict). I’ve been known to be able to put away a lot of fajitas, though.

Diet Detective: What’s the worst thing about your job?

Eric: Honestly, I love everything about my in-person job at the gym; it’s a blast. I love most of what goes along with being an “internet personality,” but one thing that can be hard to deal with is the volume of emails I receive on a daily basis. I’m a very approachable guy who is genuinely humbled by the fact that people seek out and enjoy my information, but it’s hard to be on-call 24/7 – so I can’t get to everything. The travel for seminars can be a pain, too.

Diet Detective: Which historical figure can you relate to most?

Eric: Wow, I’ve never gotten this question before. I guess I’d go with the comedian George Carlin because he was known for not having to use transitional material in his monologues. There’s a rhyme and reason to everything I do, but I’m not one to have transitional material, either. I’m probably a better writer than I am a talker for this reason, but the good thing is that since my mind is always racing, I tend to see the relationships among various issues that others might miss. It’s helped with understanding musculoskeletal dysfunction and the relationships between diet and exercise, for instance.

Diet Detective: What do you do to reduce stress, relax and center your mind?

Eric: Going home to Maine to visit family has always been helpful for me in this regard, as I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t relax too well when I’m near a computer or my facility. When I’m back home to see my parents and grandparents, I’ve been known to sleep ten hours at night, wake up for breakfast – and then go right back to sleep on the couch for another few hours. It’s almost like I don’t realize how tired I am until I completely shut things down for a few days.

Diet Detective: Who’s your hero?

Eric: I really look up to my parents and grandparents – each for different, but equally admirable reasons. All of them went out of their way to make me the person I am today, and to choose anyone other than them would be a big injustice to all that they’ve done for me. It’s the reason why they were the dedications on my first two books.

Diet Detective: Your worst summer job?

Eric: My father is a school bus distributor, so I spent a lot of hot summer days when I was little washing school buses – inside and out – before they could be delivered to customers who had purchased them. Washing the outsides is easy; it’s the inside that is tough, as you can’t wash windows unless they’re closed – and that can get a little stuffy when it’s 90 degrees outside. Sweeping the metal shavings off the floor is never fun, either.

I also did inventory for Dad every New Year’s – and that was interesting. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many different types of screws, windshield wipers, heater motors, and seatbelts you’ll find on a school bus – but I used to know all their part numbers by heart.

Diet Detective: What’s your motto?

Eric: Probably not a motto, but I’ll often be heard saying, “It’s a great day to get strong.”

Diet Detective: As a child you wanted to be:

Eric: A DietDetective.com interview candidate…

Okay, really, I guess it depends on what age we’re talking. When I was little, I would have told you a professional soccer or baseball player. In high school, I’d have said an accountant.

Thank you!!!!






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