Diet and Nutrition

Hanging With Eric Cressey

Most guys by age 25 aren’t all that accomplished. They might be just finishing up their schooling, or have recently moved out of their parents’ house. The average guy wouldn’t come close to graduating from the number one-ranked Kinesiology program in the United States, let alone hold a Masters degree in Kinesiology, and be a published author with over 70 articles to his name. Nor would he, with a body-weight of 165 pounds, hold a world record and some national titles in power-lifting with totals of 1532 pounds. No, the average guy wouldn’t be training professionals and Olympic athletes and be expert in injury prevention and rehab treatment. But then, Eric Cressey, is not your average guy.

Did I mention that he’s only 25 years old?

Wannabebig: Eric, it’s a pleasure to be able to get you to spill the beans on a range of topics. Looking at what you’ve accomplished so far and where you’re headed, it looks like you’re going to achieve some great things in the future.

Eric C: Thank you.

Wannabebig: So, what do you currently do, now that you’re done with school?

Eric C: Humorously enough, you could probably call me the busiest unemployed guy in the world right now! I guess that warrants explanation, huh?

I actually just parted ways with a facility here in Southern Connecticut in April, and I’ll be moving up to Boston, August 1st, to help get Excel Sports and Fitness Training ( off the ground with Rebecca Manda, John Sullivan, and Brad Cardoza. Carl Valle and Matt Delaney will also be helping the cause. They’re a great group of coaches who are going to do phenomenal things with athletes and weekend warriors of all levels; I’m really excited to be a part of such a fantastic opportunity. Plus, I’m a Boston guy at heart and originally from Maine, so it’ll nice to be closer to my family and longtime friends.

In the meantime, in addition to my regular online consulting and writing gigs, I’m tying up some loose ends on a variety of writing projects and doing a lot of traveling to speak at and attend conferences.
Perhaps more noteworthy, though, is the fact that I’m getting back up to the University of Connecticut a few times per week to work with the athletes I helped coach while I was doing my master’s degree from 2003 to 2005.

It’s nice to be able to see a lot of these athletes through – especially when we’ve had three drafted into the WNBA and anticipate having six drafted to the NBA (something that’s never happened before).
It’s an exciting time; we’re getting the guys ready for their workouts with individual teams and, in some cases, the NBA combine in Chicago. Toss in working with those athletes who still have eligibility, and it makes for an exciting atmosphere.

In all honesty, all the writing and information products could make the online thing a full-time job for me. I just don’t have it in me to become one of those “internet gurus” who doesn’t actually train people. I got into this industry because I like to build freaky athletes and get people healthy; there’s only so much you can do through a computer screen. I will say, though, that I’m appreciating the little bit of time off. This is the first time since I was 15 that I haven’t been full-time employed or taking high school or college courses. I’m 25, and have been able to accomplish quite a bit for my age; (unfortunately?), it’s largely because I’m as bad a workaholic as you’ll ever meet. This downtime has really given me a recharge with respect to my writing and presenting, and it’s definitely helped my own training (actually getting some sleep is a nice change).

Wannabebig: Sounds to me like your plate is full. How did you get started in the industry?

Eric C: Growing up, I was your typical “athletic fat kid.” I loved sports and did well in them, but could have been so much better if I had eaten right. High school came along, and I was an all-state in tennis and soccer in spite of not being the most remarkable physical specimen around; I pretty much lived and died by my knowledge of the game, as I wasn’t going to outrun anyone.

I got a lot of interest from Division II and III college coaches for both sports, but I wanted to play soccer, as I had a bum shoulder from all the years of tennis (and not knowing how to train correctly to rehab it). However, the main thing that was holding me back – the “knock on me,” if you were a college coach – was my lack of speed and overall strength; I was oversized (roughly 185, which is pretty big for a soccer midfielder and marking back), but didn’t have the horsepower behind my weight. With that in mind, I pretty much went cold turkey to the “hardcore dieting” lifestyle after my senior year of soccer. I was training (lifting and running) more than four hours per day on top of my tennis season, and playing indoor soccer twice a week in addition to all my extracurricular activities at school (I finished second in my class, so I had a ton of stuff going on). I was probably eating 1000 calories per day – if that.

At first, things went well – just as they do for every newbie to exercise. I started shedding body fat, packing on some muscle, and getting stronger and faster. And, like most newbies, I immediately fell into the “if this much is good, even more must be better” mentality. I pushed the bar even higher, and in the end, I wound up looking like a cancer patient and destroyed all my chances of playing college soccer; I was actually hospitalized at one point. My immune system was so beaten down from over-training that a sinus infection nearly killed me.

Note: Sometimes, even seasoned professionals in the field make the most common mistakes. The good ones learn and move on.

After screwing around with doctors who didn’t understand my goals at all, during my first year of college (1999-2000), my neighbor introduced me to Daryl Conant, a competitive bodybuilder and strength and conditioning coach who had experience with several Olympic athletes. Daryl took me under his wing and sparked a passion in me for proper training and nutrition, and I took it from there. I read everything on which I could get my hands, and eventually starting working for him at his gym. I even transferred schools to change my major.

Things just blossomed for me because my personal and professional goals went hand-in-hand. I gained about 80 pounds in two years of training, and eventually settled on competitive power-lifting. Five years to the month after being released from the hospital, I set a Connecticut State dead-lift record in the Junior 165 class with a pull of 510 pounds in my first meet. Less than a year later, I set a world record. I’m now closing in on Elite status, with competition bests of 540 squat, 402 bench, 628 dead-lift, and a 1532 total in the 165-pound weight class. I’m generally 185-190 pounds throughout the year, and just come down in weight for my meets. I’ve just decided to “officially” make the jump up to 181; cutting to 165 is just too hard on my system.

Wannabebig: With all these accomplishments you must have some paper to back it up. What’s your educational background like?

Eric C: I started out at Babson College, as I thought that I wanted to be an accountant. Shortly thereafter, though, I realized that I was more passionate about training and nutrition than I was about staring at the stock ticker all day, so I transferred to the University of New England.

There, I double majored in Exercise Science and Sports and Fitness Management, graduating with 168 credits in an undergraduate experience that can only be described as masochism!

I went on to get my master’s degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science at the University of Connecticut, where I was involved in strength and conditioning of the varsity athletes and research in the human performance lab. Each day, I had the opportunity to work with some world-class athletes and top-notch researchers in the areas of health and human performance. The UCONN Department of Kinesiology was recently voted the #1 Kinesiology Graduate Program in the US; it is an incredible place to be, and I was really fortunate to be a part of the great things they’re doing.

Wannabebig: What made you decide to work in this industry?

Eric C: Well, the main reason is that it doesn’t feel like “work.” They say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m a perfect example.

I’m lucky to be in a position to be comfortable with virtually everyone who walks through the door to work with me; there aren’t many populations to whom I can’t relate. I’ve been the fat guy. I’ve been the scrawny guy. I’ve been the weak guy. I’ve been the strong guy looking to get stronger. I’ve been the injured guy. I’ve been the sick guy. I’ve been an up-and-coming athlete without direction. I’ve been the accomplished athlete with a frame of reference for what it takes to reach the next level.

Whether you’re a grandmother with a bad lower back, or a projected NBA lottery pick, I can walk a mile in your shoes and make you better. It might sound conceited, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; it’s just that nothing really phases me anymore. I’d put my experiences, passion, and knowledge against those of anyone in the industry.

Wannabebig: Are there any people that have influenced your way of thinking, have helped define who you are as a coach and put you on the path to success at such a young age?

Eric C: Well, obviously, I’m forever indebted to Daryl for introducing me to something that not only developed into my passion and my career, but for saving my life. It might seem embellished to the naked eye, but what he did for me really was that valuable.

I’m thankful to guys like Chris West, Brijesh Patel, and Pat Dixon for taking me under their wing in the world of strength and conditioning when I first arrived at UCONN. I’ve also been fortunate to have great guys like Alwyn Cosgrove, John Berardi, Jason Ferruggia, Dave Tate, and Mike Boyle to whom I can turn on the business and politics aspects of things in the industry; these guys have saved me thousands of dollars and lots of wasted time by relating their experiences. I owe TC Luoma and Tim Patterson a lot for taking a chance on a young guy like me in accepting my first article at T-Nation and sticking with me.

Mike Robertson, Tony Gentilcore, and Cassandra Forsythe have been the best friends and colleagues a guy could ever want; I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for all the brainstorming we’ve done together. The UCONN Department of Kinesiology faculty and graduate students taught me to think critically, and for that I am grateful – especially to great researchers like Drs. William Kraemer, Carl Maresh, and David Tiberio. The entire crew at South Side gym has been tremendously helpful, too – as is the entire power-lifting community, especially guys like Steve Coppola, Jay Floyd, Jesse Burdick, Bob Youngs, and Eric Talmant (just to name a few). I’m fortunate that I can just pick up the phone and talk shop with some of the best in the business; people like John Sullivan, Landon Evans, Joe DeFranco, Kelly Baggett, Mike Tufo, Michael Hope, Buddy Morris, Jeff Oliver, Ryan Lee, Jim Wendler, Zach Even-Esh, Brian Grasso, Brad Cardoza, Rebecca Manda, Carl Valle, and Tim Skwiat are just a call away. It sounds like name dropping, but the truth is that I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people, so I’m sure I’m forgetting some; thanks, guys!

I guess that the take-home message is to borrow a little bit from a lot of people en route to creating your own philosophy.

Wannabebig: On that note, what is your training philosophy?

Eric C: Train your body to work efficiently and take care of your diet and lifestyle, and you’ll be rewarded with a physique that performs at a high level and just so happens to look great. You can’t build a castle on quicksand, so sometimes you need to take a step back and make sure that the appropriate foundation is in place. Foundations aren’t built with gimmicks; they’re built with hard work and scientific practices.

Also, functional anatomy is the basis of everything you do; all lifters should make a point of learning about how their bodies are built. Structure dictates function, and function dictates performance and dysfunction.

What are your biggest pet peeves in the gym?

Eric C: To be honest, I’m at the point where I pick my battles – and they’re few and far between. When I go to train, I’m not concerned at all about what other people are doing; I’m there to get a job done, so what people on the other side of the room are doing doesn’t affect me one way or another. Plus, at South Side, we don’t really have the distractions you find at your local commercial gym.

As a coach, it’s a bit different. I don’t think very highly of all the ‘flavor of the week’ garbage that’s out there nowadays; everyone is out to make a buck on products and programs that aren’t impressive at all. Almost everything has its place, but adopted one thing like kettle-bells or unstable surface training and excluding other valuable interventions is shortsighted and just plain stupid. All things in moderation, you know?

And, to be more blunt, my biggest pet peeve about this industry is how many fitness professionals (and I use that term loosely) are giving simply bad advice. Brian Tracy has written that you need to read at least one hour per day to be in the top 10% of professionals in your chosen field – and it’ll make you an expert within two years. I doubt most trainers read an hour in a month. They get their weekend certifications and then do the bare minimum each year just to get their continuing education credits, and the industry as a whole never gets to the next level. If you really think about it, the lack of regulation in our industry is absolutely scary; a bad training program can do as much acute and chronic damage to someone as a car accident or repetitive stress occupation, respectively. It’s time that the entire industry started holding itself to a higher standard.

Wannabebig: What’s the number one thing you see that needs to be addressed in lifters?

Eric C: Hands down, it’s attitude. I get into this below.

A close second is structural balance. If 80% of Americans are having back pain in their lives, something is out of whack. You can bet that the other 20% will have knees, hips, and/or shoulders that give them problems somewhere along the line, too. If training is supposed to make us feel better, be stronger, and live longer, why are so many people leaving the gym in pain and having to take extended periods off from training just to get healthy?

I’d say that the answer is pretty simple: the programming is just plain bad. And, the problem isn’t restricted to those writing their own programs; I get emails all the time from people who have gotten hurt from doing cookie-cutter programs put forth by some of the industry’s most recognized coaches.

Wannabebig: What’s the best piece of training advice you can give someone starting out?

Eric C: Attitude is everything. You can have the best training program in the world, but if you don’t have attitude, you’ll never come even close to your potential.

And, this is consistent attitude. It’s not good enough to just get motivated for a week here and a week there; you’ve got to adopt things full-throttle and give them time to settle in as positive habits. I’ll take a consistently good lifter over a sporadically incredible lifter any day of the week. This is actually why I think that training partners (and entire crews, if possible) are so valuable. They ensure that the attitude is always there; you pick them up if they need it, and they do the same for you.

Wannabebig: Are there any words of wisdom with regards to training/nutrition/supplementation?

Eric C: Kind of an open-ended one, huh? I could go on all day about this, but let’s just bullet-point ten to stir up some discussion.

1. Most people need to just focus on getting stronger. It’s going to be a lot easier to measure progress by how much weight is on the bar than it is to tell if you’ve gained 0.02487 pounds of lean body mass in the past week. Get stronger, eat right, and the chips will fall where they may. This is something that has definitely held true in my experience.

2. Watch out for cookie-cutter programs. When in doubt, try to find someone knowledgeable who can help you modify it for your needs.

3. Worry less about supplements and more about lifting heavy stuff.

4. The bulk/cut mentality is, in my opinion, completely outdated. Who is to say that you can’t do both? I discussed this in great detail in a recent newsletter of mine; check it out.

5. You need back off phases. Sometimes, you need to know that it takes one step backward to take another step forward.

6. If more people did single-leg work, I would have a lot fewer injuries to fix.

7. On the subject of injuries, three primary ways to dramatically reduce your risk of injury are mobility training, soft tissue work (ART, foam rolling), and regular old static stretching. Make each a priority just as you do for lifting and cardiovascular activity.

8. Recovery from training is just as important as the training itself.

9. Most people need to eat a lot fewer carbs and a lot more protein and healthy fats.

10. Everyone has something to teach. Read books, attend seminars, chat with other lifters and coaches, and experiment in your own training. All these efforts will only make you better at what you do and bring you closer to your goals.

Wannabebig: Where can readers find out more about you, Eric?

Eric C: They can check out my website,, and subscribe to my free weekly newsletter while they’re there.

Thanks for having me.

Wannabebig: Hey, it’s our pleasure.

Written by Maki Riddington

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