Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maximum Strength: Part I

...aaaaand we're back, after an extended hiatus, so lets kick things off with part one of my first product review.  

Eric Cressey is a strength and conditioning coach for clients ranging from youth through pro and Olympic level athletes.  He has a master's in kinesiology, is an author with articles published in peer reviewed journals, and a competitive power lifter who's held state, national and world records.

For a while I've been reading his articles freely available at http://ericcressey.com/articles (I believe there are over 100 of them) and his blog at http://ericcressey.com/blog.  Even the stuff he gives away free of cost is packed full of useful information on strength and conditioning topics.  These articles and blog posts have had a profound impact on the way I approach the weight room.  I move better, feel better, am stronger, and have fewer strength imbalances across my body.  He's one of my favorite fitness authors, and I highly recommend anything written by him.

Now for the product I'm reviewing.  Since Mr Cressey does the coaching thing for a living, he obviously has some materials for purchase.  One such product is his 2008 book, "Maximum Strength: Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program."  When I saw the Kindle version of the book was only $10, even all the free info I've already gotten from the man is worth well over the purchase price, and I expected the book to have even more great Cressey knowledge in addition to a concise, pre-planned training program.

Upon reading the book I was pleased to find that, thanks to the articles I'd read on his website, I have already incorporated many of it's concepts into my strength training program.  That's not to say, however, that this book will be a waste of my time and money, but rather it will take what I'm currently doing several steps farther.  It's gives a more complete, varied, and balanced program than what I came up with on my own.  It's more refined, elegant, and focused as well.

Eric Cressey's main point is that fitness should be measured in health and athletic performance not appearance.  Measured in health by seeking to reduce the number of injuries, move with less stiffness and pain, and reduce your chances of chronic lifestyle related illnesses (heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, etc).  Measured in athletic performance by increasing how much you can lift, how fast you can move, how hard you can throw, how high you can jump, etc.  For most people, pursuing health and performance will yield the appearance improvement they were looking for anyhow.  You'll lose body fat and add muscle; the difference is instead of just LOOKING fit, you'll actually BE fit. The goal of this particular program is to increase, as the name says, your "maximum strength."  That is, the most force you can possibly generate in any given movement.  It does this by taking you through 4 phases, each 4 weeks in length for a 16 week total program.  Each 4 week phase uses 20 or so different movements broken up between 4 days a week (5-6 per day).  Each new phase mixes of which movements you do and there is only a little overlap between the lifts in each phase, so you get between 70 and 80 distinct exercises throughout the program.  That seems like a lot of lifts to learn, but many of them are based on the same basic exercise but performed with a different grip, at a different angle, or from a different height.  The area this program surpasses my previous one by the widest margin is in it's periodisation (fluctuation in the intensity and volume of each training session) and exercise variation.  I have high hopes for the next 16 weeks.

In addition to the basic training plan to get you stronger, the program includes a number of facets designed to keep you healthy and injury free.  He has some fantastic warm up/mobility exercises, some simple nutrition concepts to maximize what you get from your training, ideas for fat loss and cardiovascular health, and embedded right in the lifting are exercises to strengthen oft' overlooked muscle groups to promote joint balance and health.  In the last chapter, he gives some ideas on what to do after you've completed the program.  Do you just flip back to page 1 and do it all over again, should you do something else entirely?  He does a great job of answering that question. 

Now for the accountability part.  Since we are looking for a measurable improvement in performance, Mr Cressey has you perform a 5 movement maximum strength test at the beginning and the end of the program.  You assess your 1 rep max (the most weight you can lift once) for the Box Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press.  You measure you 3 rep max (the most you can lift 3 times) for Weighted Pull-Ups.  And you measure your standing broad jump (how far you can jump with both feet together from a standstill.  My numbers on 3 October 2010 were as follows. 

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 171lbs

Box Squat (1rm): 235lbs
Bench Press (1rm): 195lbs
Weighted Pull-Up (3rm) bodyweight + 35lbs
Deadlift (1rm): 285lbs
Broad Jump: 7'9"

I recognize none of that is especially impressive, but you have to start somewhere.  I'll post at least once more on this program in 16 weeks with my final thoughts and any strength gains I managed.  I may post another time in the interim to let y'all know how I'm liking it.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Buy Paperback
Buy For Kindle


  1. I'm surprised you didn't forget your password. You must have it written down somewhere.

  2. No, my browser remembered it :)