Get strong with Cressey | Precision Nutrition

Get strong with Cressey

By John Berardi, Ph.D.


It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Eric Cressey’s work. I’ve written extensively about how useful his Magnificent Mobility DVD has been for myself and my clients.

In addition, I wrote the forward for his new book, Maximum Strength. In fact, as this update is all about Maximum Strength, check out the forward below.

Foreword to Maximum Strength
by Dr John Berardi

A few years back, when my personal web site was publishing the work of up and coming coaches, trainers, and nutritionists, I received an email from a young Eric Cressey. Eric, a recent university graduate and weight lifting enthusiast, decided to try his hand at writing and was wondering if I’d be interested in publishing an article he’d recently put together. The article was all about teaching weight lifters how to budget for things like gym memberships, gym equipment, healthy food, and nutritional supplements – and it was pretty good. So I decided to run it. Interestingly, over 30,000 readers checked out the article. And they loved it.

Me, I had no idea that this type of article would have such an impact. But Eric Cressey, he did. You see, Eric’s a true problem solver. By nature he looks for areas that can be improved upon and sets out to make those improvements. Back when he sent me that first article, he recognized a specific problem people were having. And he set out to find a solution. Of course, by nature, he hasn’t let up since.

Impressively, since that first article, Eric’s star has been on the rise. And over the last few years, Eric has established himself as one of the top exercise and performance specialists in the world, a guy who people come to in order to build muscle strength, to boost muscle size, and to improve their fitness. It doesn’t hurt that he’s earned a masters degree in Exercise Science from the prestigious University of Connecticut, studying under top strength researchers Dr William Kraemer and Dr Jeff Volek. It probably doesn’t hurt either that he’s published over 250 articles on strength training, he’s brought to market several books and DVD products in the area of strength training and athletic preparation, and he’s personally helped hundreds of athletes and recreational exercisers reach their goals. Nor does it hurt that he’s a guy who both talks the talk and walks the walk.

You see, Eric Cressey is one strong SOB. Seriously, how many 176lb guys do you know that can bench press over 400lbs, deadlift over 600lbs, and squat over 500lbs? Heck, I’m in the high performance field and I don’t know that many. And Cressey wasn’t born strong. Nor did his parents feed baby Cressey massive quantities of spinach while having him pull a plate loaded red wagon for exercise. In fact, he grew up fairly chubby and un-athletic. But with the right plan (and a good amount of heart) he built his strength from the ground up. And you can too.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Just because a guy can figure out how to get himself strong, that doesn’t mean that he knows how to get you strong. And you’re right. However, that’s where you have to look past Cressey’s barrel chest and look to the results he consistently produces – results that you’ll be able to read about as you progress through the Maximum Strength Program. For example, check out Chris Paul on page XX. He gained 80lbs on his box squat, 30lbs on his bench press, and 50lbs on his deadlift in just 16 weeks following Maximum Strength. Also make sure to read about Dan Hibbert on page XX. He also gained 80lbs on his box squat, 30lbs on his bench press, and 70lbs on his deadlift in 16 weeks of following Maximum Strength.

These results are no fluke. The Maximum Strength formula is well researched in the science lab and well proven in the real-world “lab” known as the gym. Would you expect anything less from a guy who’s learned it in school, who’s done it in the real world, and who continues to successfully teach it?

By now it should be obvious that I highly respect Eric Cressey’s professional expertise and that I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the Maximal Strength Program. Indeed, I know that if you consistently apply the principles you’re about to learn, you’ll be turning heads both in and out of the gym. While training, your gym mates will wonder how the heck you’re making progress with every single workout – especially when they’ve been dedicated but stagnant for years! And your non-workout friends will wonder whether you’ve been washing your cotton shirts on high heat or you’re simply packing too much muscle for your wardrobe. Either way, I’m sure you’ll be fine with both sets of observations.

However, one of the best parts about this particular book is the fact that you’ll not only learn how to lift for increased muscle strength and size, you’ll also learn a host of other valuable lessons – like how to lift pain and injury free. That’s right, get out your foam rollers folks and get doing those mobility drills. The injury prevention section of the book is worth its weight in gold as it’ll help resolve previous muscle and joint pain as well as help prevent these aches and pains from rearing their ugly heads in the future. Myself and my clients swear by the book’s warm-up methods.

Another huge “value-added” is the nutrition section. Being a nutrition coach and all, I may be a bit biased – especially as many of the strategies in Chapter 10 are strategies Cressey and his co-author, Matt Fitzgerald stole from me. But, in all seriousness, if you commit to applying the nutrition suggestions provided in Chapter 10, your weight room progress will be light years ahead of your peers. And, on top of it all, you’ll have better health and a leaner physique to show for it.

As you can imagine, I could go on and on about how great Eric is and how much I like this book. But you probably want to get right down to it. So I’ll wrap up here. If you’ve been looking for the right recipe to get strong – seriously strong – step into the Cressey kitchen. Backed by both science and results, the Maximum Strength template he and Matt have provided in the coming pages will change the way you view strength training – while changing both the way you look and the way your body performs.

In strength,
John Berardi, PhD, CSCS

The interview

Recently, I caught up with Eric and interviewed him about his new book and about strength in general. Here’s what he had to say.

JB: What led you to write Maximum Strength?

EC: Well, Matt asked me!

Interestingly, he got me thinking about how I’d evolved over the course of my lifting career. When I started out, I read all the garbage bodybuilding magazines. Like all newbies, I responded pretty well to the crazy high volume and muscle isolation mentality – but, of course, those newbie gains trailed off pretty quickly.

After some trial and error, I found that getting stronger with work in the 4-8 rep range was valuable for taking me from the late-beginner to intermediate stage. However, again, I stalled – and that lasted for quite some time.

It wasn’t until I got to grad school and got into competitive powerlifting that I discovered the value of work in the 1-3 rep range for both strength development and hypertrophy. The more I focused on just improving my strength, the more the physique aspect of things tended to fall into place. Effectively, I discovered how to go from intermediate, to advanced, to a world-record holder in a matter of two years. For instance, when I got to grad school, my deadlift was 429 pounds. At AWPC Worlds in 2005, where I won best lifter in my age and weight class, I pulled 567.5 pounds at a body weight of 163. It’s now at 650 pounds, so there isn’t any sign of it falling off.

Needless to say, it was a valuable discovery – and given that I’m a thinker, I got to work on determining how I could have expedited the process. This thought process helped me to design more effective programs for my athletes and clients.

JB: And what did you find?

EC: I got better at strategically accumulating volume, and then deloading effectively to realize fitness gains. I got away from the notion that you can only train one rep-range in a given training session, and appreciated the idea of rotating main exercises. I saw how single-leg work and mobility/activation warm-ups kept me healthy and indirectly facilitated my gains. I recognized that my heavy movements were more about weekly “tests” to challenge my nervous system, but the true progress really came with getting after it on my assistance exercises. I could go on and on!

JB: Most of our readers aren’t powerlifters; would this book still be appropriate for them?

EC: Absolutely! Maximum Strength was a chance to put all those thoughts into one place with a progressive program that isn’t just about strength. Rather, it’s about building athletic function that’ll carry over to the real world – and help people look good in the process. So, you’ll see mobility/activation warm-ups, single-leg movements, chin-ups, true “core” exercises, and some jump testing that wouldn’t be present in a true powerlifting program. Effectively, this book “unifies” a ton of the stuff about which I’ve written, but does so in a way that shows the interrelationships among all the factors.

JB: Where do you think most lifters are going wrong in their quest for strength?

While the 5-6 rep range works quite well to get you from beginner to intermediate, I feel strongly that not working below five reps on the main strength movements in your program is a huge mistake for lifters who are intermediates (or more advanced). Put it this way….

-In an untrained individual, you get strength gains on as little as 40% of 1-rep max. As someone gets more trained, that number goes up to 70%. However, it’s well-documented that you need at least 85-90% of 1RM in intermediate and advanced lifters to elicit strength gains.

-Now, for the average intermediate, 85% of 1RM corresponds to about a 5-rep max. In other words, only your heaviest set of five would be sufficient to stimulate a strength improvement. Now, what happens if you do five sets of five? You’ve done 25 reps – and maybe 20% of them were actually performed at a high-enough intensity to elicit strength gains.

-If you want to get stronger faster, you need to spend time below five reps – and above 85% of 1RM (and preferably 90%). This isn’t just physiological; it’s also psychological. You’ll get more comfortable handling heavier weights.

JB: How does that relate to gaining muscle size?

EC: Many intermediate lifters have already put on some pretty good size. It’s why you often see some pretty big guys at your gym, but rarely anybody who is really strong. Honestly, you probably saw 3-4 guys with 19-inch arms in your last trip to the gym, but when was the last time you saw a guy squat 500 or bench 350 (and do so without weighing 300 himself!)?

However, look at the most advanced bodybuilders, and you’ll see that they’re pretty darn strong. In fact, many started out as powerlifters or other athletes who lifted heavy to improve performance – and this set a great foundation for subsequent hypertrophy.

Often, intermediate lifters need to take a step back from the volume and higher rep-ranges that typify their programs, and instead focus on building some more muscle strength. When they return to their old programs with some added strength, they’ll be using more weight in the classic hypertrophy rep-ranges.

There you have it. Some words of wisdom from the master.

The book

If you’re interested in learning more about the book and what you can expect from it, here’s a quick synopsis.

-The book 256 page book is co-authored by veteran fitness journalist, Matt Fitzgerald, who is renowned for his humorous writing style and ability to relate complex training strategies in simple terms

-The book contains 4 progressive four-week phases designed to make you feel stronger and more athletic than ever before

-Each phase of the book is complete with mobility warm-ups to keep you healthy and prepare you to train safely and effectively

-The book includes recommendations for supplemental cardiovascular training based on YOUR body type

-The book includes nutritional guidelines to follow to optimize performance

-There’s a chapter on important considerations on how to plan your own future training

-There are tips on mental preparation for training

-There are over 200 illustrations to accompany in-depth exercise descriptions

-And there’s a foreword by yours truly…

The results

And here are some testimonials from folks who’ve read and applied the info contained in Maximum Strength.

“One of my problems in designing workouts for myself was choosing the protocols. Strength, muscle growth, endurance, frequency, reps, sets, exercises, etc…there are just too many factors to balance, especially on top of a busy schedule. Too much of one thing usually resulted in an aching injury, or joint pain for a few days. Overtraining was common for me.

“I have to say that the best part about Cressey’s training system, in my opinion, is the balanced approach. I do not leave a workout feeling like I have pushed a muscle group beyond its ability to recover. And I like hitting upper and lower body twice a week. Training the ancillary muscles has kept me from having any aches or pains since starting the program. My shoulder has not hurt for months. My knees feel great. I feel like the exercises selected, the volume of work, and the mobility warm-ups are doing their job: keeping me healthy, in great shape, and in the gym.

“On the Maximum Strength program, I have actually improved all of my test numbers, my posture and joint health, and I feel stronger and healthier – all in spite of the fact that I’ve been busier at my job than ever before. I also feel that I look better than I have for many years. I was very happy with my results!”

Chris Paul – Danbury, Connecticut

Note: Chris added five pounds of body weight, increased broad jump by six inches, box squat by 80 pounds, bench press by 30 pounds, deadlift by 50 pounds, and 3-rep max chin-up by 10 pounds.

“The Maximum Strength program took me to the next level of performance with my lifting. After using a variety of programs focusing on fat-loss and hypertrophy and having limited results from them it was great to see such solid increases in strength and physique changes from the program. In addition, the program focus on dynamic flexibility and foam rolling has resulted in an injury free training cycle and major flexibility and posture improvements. I would highly recommend this program and book to anyone wanting to make real progress with strength, performance and body composition.”

Dan Hibbert – Calgary, Alberta

Note: Dan increased body weight by 14 pounds, broad jump by seven inches, box squat by 80 pounds, bench press by 30 pounds, deadlift by 70 pounds, and 3-rep max chin-up by 27.5 pounds.

My program

Ok, I’ll fess up. I’m actually following Cressey’s program right now.

After getting my copy of Maximum Strength and reading through the phases, I got excited about the workouts. I’ve been working on increasing my own strength and these looked like a welcome addition to my program. So I got started right away.

Although I’m only in the middle of week 3 right now, I’m really enjoying the simplicity and heavy lifting associated with the book. It’s simple, no-nonsense, and I’m sure that by the end, I’ll have added 20 or 30 lbs to each of my major lifts. In addition, as I’m eating a high calorie diet and minimizing my energy systems work right now, I’m expecting to build a couple of pounds of hard-earned muscle mass.

If you’re interested in doing the same – either building strength or size – click here.

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