Category Archives: Off-Season Strength Program
by Eric Cressey
Pop quiz, hotshot. You need to add some plates to the bar and pack some meat on your bones. You’ve got precious few weeks to accomplish both, but only have four days per week to train. What do you do? What do you do?
I’ve asked this question to myself countless times and only recently have I come up with what I believe is the most effective method. Forget total-body training. Forget upper and lower splits. The trick is to, well…I’ll get to that in a minute.
I just have to say that before I was ready to unleash this program to TMUSCLE, I had to try it out on my guinea pigs, er…minor-league baseball players and other athletes here at Cressey Performance to see if it truly worked.
And I’ve got to say the results have been pretty damn impressive.
But why does their success bode well for your success? Well, you’ve probably got more in common with a typical minor-league baseball player than you might think. As a little frame of reference, here’s an excerpt from an email I got from a minor league guy I work with in the off-season:
Yesterday might have been the roughest day of my career. It started by getting back from our game Sunday night at 11:30PM. I couldn’t fall asleep until at least 12:30AM, and then we had a 3:30AM wake up call to catch a bus to the airport for our flight at 6:15AM. We had a layover for an hour and a half, then got to the next city at 11AM. We drove to our hotel and I got to my stinky room at the Sleep Inn and tried to catch some sleep – except we had to be at the field at 4PM.
Days like this are not uncommon at all during the professional baseball season: late nights, early wake-up calls, red-eye flights, long bus rides — all of which compromise good sleeping habits. And, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that their diets on the road and in the clubhouse are generally atrocious — both in terms of quality and amount. And, let’s just say that the typical pro ballplayer consumes far too much alcohol.
What does that have to do with you?
Exhaustive exercise, poor sleep, less-than-perfect nutrition, and more than the occasional brewskie. Starting to sound like anyone you know, skinny?
Anyway, it’s pretty clear that these guys need to try to make up for this season of crappy living by getting the absolute most out of their 16-23 week off-season, which is pretty much where I’ve built my name in the baseball world: quick results in a short amount of time.
While you may not necessarily have an off-season (taking a few weeks off from playing Wii tennis doesn’t count), it’s probably time for you to clean up your eating, don your war helmet, and hit the gym with authority.
So with little time to work but big results needed, we’ve come up with a system that has put 20 pounds of muscle or more on damn near every athlete whose followed the program in their off-season.
The Nuts and Bolts
Guys like Chad Waterbury and Alwyn Cosgrove have raved about the benefits of full-body training sessions, and I agree with them 100%.
However, as a powerlifter and a guy who has lifted alongside some of the best powerlifters and strength and conditioning coaches in the world, I’ve come to appreciate that the twice-upper, twice-lower weekly schedule is the best there is for building strength.
So, what to do if you want muscle and strength?
Here’s how it works:
• You must be willing to train on at least one weekend day, so if you’re one of those Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday guys, you can probably stop reading.
• You’re going to have two full-body training sessions, one upper body training session, and one lower body training session per week.
• The days on which you perform these sessions is key. It may be Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday; or Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday. Whichever days you pick your week must look like this:
Day 1: Full body
Day 2: No lifting
Day 3: Lower body
Day 4: Upper body
Day 5: No lifting
Day 6: Full body
Day 7: No lifting
Day 8: Repeat
• Our athletes mix in their medicine ball work, movement training, and (in the case of baseball guys) throwing and hitting throughout the week; this is what you’d want to do on the metabolic conditioning side of things. When all is said and done, they have one day of complete rest per week. You should too.
This set-up actually has some hidden benefits. First, I’ve often used it as a subtle lower body specialization program. Second, you can also use it in the exact opposite way simply by rearranging the volume to be more upper-body focused than it is lower-body focused. Simply stated, it’s a versatile template.
Another thing I love about four-day set-ups as compared to three-day set-ups is that the four-day option forces trainees to go through their foam rolling and warm-ups an extra day per week. Over the course of the years, that’s 52 extra flexibility/tissue quality exposures. And consistency like that adds up in terms of keeping people healthy.
Without Further Ado
Before I get to the program, I just humbly request that:
a. You bust your ass.
b. You be ready for big gains.
c. You not eat like a bird while doing this program.
e. You keep in mind that I’m only including the lifting stuff that we do on these days. In reality, our athletes are plugging in individualized low-level corrective exercises (“fillers,” as Tony Gentilcore described here) between exercises rather than just standing around.
And, as I mentioned, they’re throwing the medicine balls, sprinting, and doing all sorts of flexibility stuff on the side.
Day 1: Full Body
A) Front Squat for Speed: 6×2 at 60-70% of 1RM, 45s rest between sets
B1) 1-leg DB RDL: 3×10/side
B2) Alternating Low Incline DB Bench Press: 3×6/side
C1) Chest-Supported Row, Pronated Grip: 4×6
C2) Split-Stance Cable Lift: 3×8/side
*If you want, you can throw in some direct arm work here.
Day 2: Off from lifting
Day 3: Lower Body
A) Trap Bar Deadlift: 5×3
B) Barbell Reverse Lunge — Front Squat Grip: 3×8/side
C1) Pallof Press Isometric Hold: 3×3/side (10s hold at lockout)
C2) Glute-Ham Raise (natural, if necessary): 3×8
*If you want, you can toss in some direct calf work here.
Day 4: Upper Body
A1) Bench Press: 5×3
A2) Neutral Grip Pull-up: 5×3
B1) 1-arm DB Push Press: 3×8/side
B2) Seated Cable Row — Neutral Grip: 3×8
C1) Band-Resisted Ab Wheel Rollout: 3×8
C2) Side-Lying External Rotation: 3×10/side
Day 5: Off from lifting
Day 6: Full Body
A1) Box Squat: 4×6
A2) Feet-Elevated Push-up: 3×12
B1) Standing 1-arm Cable Row: 3×12/side
B2) Walking DB Lunge: 3×6/side
C1) Landmines: 3×5/side
C2) Supine No Money w/Band: 3×4 (10s hold on each rep)
D) Farmer’s Walk: 3x40yds
Day 7: Off from lifting
When it really comes down to it, there aren’t any fancy set/rep schemes, elaborate exercises, or other bells and whistles. Instead, it all comes down to good timing, adequate frequency, sufficient calories and, of course, hard work.
Give it a shot; you’ve got nothing to lose, and plenty to gain.
Pallof Press Isometric Holds
About Eric Cressey
Eric Cressey is a highly sought-after strength and conditioning coach and owner of Cressey Performance just west of Boston. Eric has worked with athletes of all levels, from youth sports to the professional and Olympic levels. He publishes a free weekly newsletter and daily blog at EricCressey.com.
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