by Bret Contreras July 03, 2010
Hey Tony! Thank you very much for taking the time to conduct this interview. Please introduce yourself to those who aren’t familiar with you and be sure to include all the basics; where you were born, where you went to college, when you started training, favorite exercise, hobbies, etc.
TG: Well, thanks for having me Bret – it’s the least I could do after you were gracious enough to do an interview for me over at my site. An EPIC interview at that (editor’s note: for those who didn’t see the interview, here’s part I and part II).
For those who aren’t familiar with me, I’m the guy behind the guy, behind the guy (mad props to anyone who gets that movie reference). (editor’s note: hint, hint – “Vegas baby, Vegas,” and, “You’re so money and you don’t even know it,” and, “This place is dead anyway.”) Okay, in all seriousness, I’m the guy who likes to put pictures of half naked hot chicks in his blog in order to increase traffic, and who also happens to be one of the co-founders of Cressey Performance (the other two being Eric Cressey, of course, and Pete Dupuis), located in Hudson, MA (about 25 miles outside of Boston).
I can’t say, however, that I’m a “Masshole” (endearing term used for those born and raised in Massachusettes) through and through. Instead, I’m originally from a small town in upstate New York (the Finger Lakes region to be exact) called Groton. And for those who have no idea where that is – and I’m guessing that’s roughly 99.99% of your readers – it’s located about 35 miles south of Syracuse.
Just to give you an idea of just how small my hometown is, there isn’t one single traffic light in the entire town, and I graduated in a class of 55 people. Yes, we have running water. And yes, there is such a thing as cow-tipping.
As far as college is concerned, I originally went to a community college in Syracuse where I played baseball for two years. While there, I was named to the all conference team twice, all- region once, and was also named team MVP pitcher both years. I also got an A- in Italian one semester.
Afterwards, I was offered a scholarship to play at Mercyhurst College, in Erie PA. I played there for two years, and that’s pretty much it. I had a few professional tryouts, but unfortunately no one was looking for a 6-1 right hander that threw in the mid- 80’s.
I ended up transferring back to NY to finish school, where I earned a degree in Health Education (concentration in Health/Wellness Promotion) from Cortland State.
Fitness has always been a part of my life, so it only made sense that I would get my degree in something health related. As it is, I remember the very first weight set I got from my parents when I was 13 years old – it was one of those starter sets with the plastic covered cement plates that came with a bench, leg curl/leg extension attachments, and a poster with some muscular dude demonstrating different exercises.
Of course, like any other teenage kid, all I did was bicep curls and bench press in the hopes that girls would eventually want to hang out with me. They didn’t. Thankfully, though, I’ve learned a thing or two since then, and now I spend my days showing young kids what not to do in the weightroom. Ironically, I now have a lovely girlfriend who lets me touch her boobs. It’s awesome.
Summing things up, I like spending my free time hanging out in bookstores reading or Starbucks (ironically, I don’t drink coffee), as well as watching movies. I’m a self described movie snob, and refuse to watch anything Kevin Larrabee recommends. As well, I enjoy making fun of dudes who wear their collars up (especially this Jonathan Fass character who takes it to the next level with four popped-collars). But who doesn’t, really?
2. I couldn’t agree more; that character is definitely creepy with his four popped-collars. You’d think one of his friends would tell him to knock it off. I was recently making a list of where all the popular trainers and coaches live and I realized there is an alarming number of them on the East Coast. What gives? Is it something in the water?
TG: I know, right? It’s almost like we have our own version of some mid-90s East Coast vs. West Coast rap rivalry going on. Speaking of which, we actually do have a Cressey West – check this out:
It’s funny, though, because whenever we have people come in to visit our facility, they’re usually making their rounds between us, Mike Boyle’s place (which is less than 30 minutes from us), as well as the guys over at Holy Cross (Jeff Oliver and Jeremy Frisch). Not to mention New York City is less than three hours away, so it definitely makes things easier from a networking standpoint to have so many people close together.
3. There certainly seems to be more East Coast talent in terms of strength coaches and trainers, but everyone knows that your typical West Coaster could whoop half a dozen East Coaster’s butts while only half-trying. You’ve said that every once in a while you frequent commercial gyms to sneak in a quick workout. What are the five biggest mistakes that guys make in their training?
TG: First and foremost let me just say that I’m lucky as hell to be able to not only train, but work in a place such as Cressey Performance. On several occasions we’ve had people tell us that it’s one of the best training environments they’ve ever been around. We have a lot of fun and understand that there’s a social aspect to training there, but we also recognize that people come to us because we don’t bullshit around. They’re there to train – simple as that.
That said, whenever I happen to train at a commercial gym, one of the biggest mistakes that I see guys making is the fact that they’re not training, they’re working out. Most (not all) tend to just flounder around, do a few sets of this, a couple of sets of that, watch a few highlights on Sports Center, flex in the mirror, do some crunches, down a protein shake, give each other a high five, and call it day.
There’s no direction as to WHY they’re there. Training, to me, is having some sense of purpose behind what you’re doing. Call me crazy, but the guy sitting there reading the newspaper while doing leg presses is kidding himself if he thinks he’s doing anything remotely useful. The same can be said about the asshat performing arm curls for 45 minutes straight. I’m willing to garner that both think they’re working hard, but just can’t quite understand why they haven’t gotten any results even thought they’ve been going to the gym for three years. You can’t just show up and expect good things to happen Weird how that works.
Some other mistakes I see guys making:
*** Following bodypart splits. I was training one day at a local commercial gym, and in the same amount of time it took me to do a training session that included front squats, natural glute ham raises, a single leg movement, and some core work (~ 50 minutes), some guy performed like 17 sets of shoulder exercises, presumably hitting every deltoid muscle. The kicker is that the guy was at least 40-50 lbs overweight. What a complete waste of time!
*** This isn’t so much a mistake that guys make, as it is something that really pissed me off. The day before my girlfriend and I were headed to Puerto Rico, we headed down to the local gym near her apartment to get a lift in. Since I knew we weren’t going to have access to a lot of gym equipment while down there, I figured I’d take advantage of the situation and kick my own ass. Sort of like a last hoorah before heading off to vacation.
Fast forward, I don’t know 30 minutes, and I’m literally bent over the bar getting ready to deadlift 550 lbs. I get my air, pull my lats tight, lower my hips and……………this douchehole personal trainer who was training next to me during his off time (doing kettlebell swings with piss-poor technique and incline bench presses in the Smith machine no less), bends down in front of my face and tells me that I’m not supposed to be training without any shoes on. Really, dude???? You couldn’t wait ten seconds to tell me this????
Boy was I livid. Not at the fact that he told me to put my shoes on – rules are rules. But the fact that he bent down and got all up in my grill just as I was getting ready to be awesome. I don’t think I ever wanted to suplex anyone so bad in my life. (editor’s note: This is one more reason why I have a garage gym…it keeps me out of prison as I would have been very tempted to launch this trainer into outer space)
*** Leg curls, leg extensions, leg press, pec decks, cable flies, lat pulldowns, so on and so forth. Speaking truthfully, I really feel if more guys made a concerted effort to start each session with a major compound movement that didn’t rhyme with bench press, they’d see marked improvements in their physiques and strength levels.
To me, all the aforementioned exercises listed above are a complete waste of time. And while I won’t go so far as to say that the bench press is completely useless, I feel one’s vertical pulling ability (pull-ups, chin-ups) are a much better indicator of upper body strength.
Do yourself a favor guys. Start each training session with either a squat variation, deadlift variation or a chin-up variation. 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of the work.
*** Piggybacking off of this, while I can appreciate the fact that more people are attempting to squat and deadlift – I oftentimes have to fight the urge to stab myself in the face with a chainsaw whenever I watch people perform what they think is a squat or deadlift.
It takes a lot of restraint on my part to not walk up to them and offer a few words of advice, but I don’t want to be that guy. Nonetheless, if more guys would stop trying to be a hero and take some weight off the bar to work on their technique, the world would be a better place. (editor’s note: Hallelujah!)
4. Great answer! What are the five biggest mistakes that most women make in their training?
TG: Wow, great question. Well, how about this: thinking that they can’t train. For some reason, it’s been engrained in their minds that just because they’re a woman, they shouldn’t (or worse, can’t) lift any appreciable weight. It’s hard to fault them when you have the likes of Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, and People Magazine telling them that all they should be doing is Pilates and lifting pink dumbbells. It’s absurd.
** Likewise, the whole notion that you’ll get “big-n-bulky” if you lift anything over three lbs is bullshit. Listen, the amount of effort (and muscle) it takes you to lift a weight that allows you to perform 20 reps is so insignificant compared to a weight that limits you to eight reps. What makes muscle, MAINTAINS muscle. Put another way, if you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s funny how many women are looking to get “toned,” yet all they’re really doing is making themselves look like a smaller, weaker, more emaciated version of their original self. Mmmmm, hot.
** And while I touched on it above, I hate how things like yoga, Pilates, or anything similar is marketed as this panacea of fitness for women. I’m not downplaying their efficacy – many of our mobility and dynamic warm-up moves have their foundation from the principles of yoga. All I’m saying is that when you start saying that yoga and/or Pilates helps improve ones power, strength, etc – it’s a joke. How can something where you stand in ONE place, not-moving, improve one’s power? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you need speed in order to increase power, right? Similarly, the only way to improve strength in yoga is to practice progressive overload. And, the only way to do that is to gain weight. Sure, for those who are woefully de-conditioned, yoga will increase strength. But after a certain point, all you’re working on is endurance, not strength. (editor’s note: I couldn’t agree more. Yoga is good for some purposes but not ideal for others. Check out this article on yoga by Mike Boyle)
** And please, for the love of god, get off the elliptical trainers!!!!!
5. Great stuff! Who do you think is more jealous, Eric Cressey of your height, or you of Eric’s deadlift?
TG: Whoa, whoa, whoa…………………whoa. Lets get one thing straight, Eric and I aren’t competitive in the least (yes, I’m being sarcastic). We’re currently in a race to see who can lose their hair the fastest. I’m totally winning – by a landslide. Thankfully my girlfriend digs bald dudes.
When you consider that 14.5% of the male population in the United States is over six feet tall, and I’d go so far as to say that less than 1% can deadlift over 600 lbs – I’d have to say that I’m more jealous of Eric. But I’m better looking. (editor’s note: I would estimate that only a couple thousand people in the U.S. can deadlift six hundred lbs or more. So considering that there are over 300 million people in the U.S., this comes to .0007%. Eric’s already there and Tony’s almost there. Suffice to say, a 600+ lb deadlift puts you into an elite status.)
6. Among many things, CP is known for top-notch assessment/screening and corrective exercise prescription. How long does your initial screening usually take and what kind of things to you assess?
TG: As with anything, it depends. Generally speaking, however, each client goes through a fairly extensive assessment during the initial evaluation, which takes roughly 60-75 minutes (give or take). Both Eric and myself are in the camp where we feel EVERYTHING is an assessment. Most clients don’t even realize that they’re being assessed the second they walk into the facility. How is their gait? Do they walk pigeon toed? Are they a pronator or supinator? What’s their standing posture look like? Are they sitting in flexion while they’re seated? Should I tell them they have something in their teeth? Okay, just kidding on that last one, but suffice it to say, these are all important observations that can help out in the long run.
Anecdotally, we do have a set screening process we like to use, which includes but not limited to:
Seated Hip IR/ER range of motion
Supine hip IR/ER range of motion
Prone hip IR/ER range of motion (**comparing supine and prone hip IR range of motion, for example, is important to distinguish between a deficit caused by a muscular issue or a capsular issue)
Hamstring length (is it short? How about symmetrical?)
Prone quad length (short or stiff? A stiff muscle will still move – albeit with a little effort from the tester. A short muscle = nada. It’s adaptively shortened, and you’re up shit creek).
Kneeling, hips flexed thoracic spine mobility
Shoulder total range of motion (is there a glenohumeral internal range of motion deficit (GIRD)? Do they lack external rotation – apprehension test?)
Shoulder flexion – does it suck? If so, what’s the cause? Hint: 99% of the time it’s due to a really tight pec minor, but you still have to rule out the bicep as well as the coracobrachialis
Scapular movement – how’s their upward rotation?
And, of course, we’ll also look at their overhead squat technique, as well as their frontal plane stability and ankle mobility, to name a few.
From there, we’ll take everyone through some basic foam rolling drills, as well as a thorough dynamic warm-up. Afterwards, with whatever time is remaining, we’ll take them out on the floor and see how they move.
In the end, it’s going to depend on the individual. How we assess a professional baseball player is going to be a little different than how we approach someone coming in with chronic lower back pain.
7. You are known for being damn good at program design. What do you feel comprises a comprehensive program?
TG: Piggybacking on what I mentioned above – you can’t write a program without an assessment. It amazes me that there are some trainers out there who just haphazardly glue together some Frankenstein like program (a little of this, a little of that) without first taking a client through an assessment. Quite simply, the assessment lays the foundation for the program. Point. Blank. Period. Simple answer here.
Nevertheless, if there’s one piece of advice I can give upcoming trainers, it’s to learn to write programs, and not workouts. Nothing makes me want to throw my face into a wall more than when trainers or coaches write cookie-cutter programs that they use for EVERYONE regardless of sport played, age, training history, experience, injury history, goals, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there are some circumstances where something like that is warranted – but all in all, I really feel that a comprehensive program is catered to the client, and allows him or her to reach their goals in the fastest and safest way possible. And, it doesn’t include leg extensions, leg curls, or leg presses – god, I hate those.
8. I know that you guys alternate the task of writing monthly staff workouts at Cressey Performance. Give me an example of a typical week of workouts.
TG: I know it seems hypocritical that we alternate writing programs that the entire staff follows given I just said individualization is the name of the game with regards to program design. But in all honesty, we just like kicking each other’s ass, and we’ve all been training together for so long, that we’re all pretty much on the same page anyways.
In any case, now that Brian St. Pierre has left Cressey Performance, it’s basically Eric and I who write the programs. Here’s what the last program I wrote looked like typical week may look something like this:
Monday: Upper Body
A1. Speed Bench vs. Chains 8×3
A2. Hip mobility shiznit
B1. Close Grip Barbell Bench Press 3×5
B2. Chest Supported Row – Neutral Grip 3×6
C1. 1-Arm Standing Cable Row 3×10/arm
C2. Band Resisted Push-Ups – Feet Elevated 3×10
D1. Cable Half Kneeling Anti-Rotation Press 3×8/side (see video below)
D2. Prone Row w/ External Rotation 2×10
Tuesday: Lower Body
A1. Box Jumps 4×5
A2. Rotational Med Ball Scoop Toss 3×8/side
B1. Trap Bar Deadlifts (4) 2z3 then 2×5
B2. Glute Activation thingamabobs
C1. DB Reverse Lunge – from deficit 3×8/leg
C2. Landmines w/ Handle 3×6/side
D1. Barbell Hip Thruster 3×10
D2. TRX Fall-Outs 3×10
Thursday: Full Body
**Of Note – this happens to be one of the days where we have several other clients/friends come in and train with the staff, so things tend to get a little crazy/competitive and we start doing stupid shit
A1. Bench Press Cluster 4 (4×2)
A2. Farmer Carries 4×2 trips (80 yds)
** on last set, go as far as you can go (see video below)
B1. 1-Legged, 1-Arm DB Romanian Deadlift 3×8/leg
B2. Seated Cable Row – Pronated Grip 3×10
C1. Strict DB Military Press 3×8
C2. Slideboard Bodysaw 3×10
D. Side Lying External Rotation 2×10/arm
Saturday: Full Body
A1. Deadlift Cluster – 4 (4×1)
A2. Med Ball Overhead Throw to Wall 3×6
B1. Chin-Ups 4×6
B2. Prowler Sled Push – low setting 3×1 trip (20 yds)
C1. Glute Ham Raise 3×8
C2. Push-Ups vs. Chains 3×8
D1. Goblet Squats – LIGHT 3×10
D2. Cable External Rotation – 90 degrees 3×10
9. I know that you wish to one day deadlift 600 lbs. How close are you, how often do you deadlift, and what five exercises do you feel transfer best to your deadlift?
TG: Soooooooooo close. Here’s a video of me hitting 570 about two and half months ago.
What’s cool about that video (outside of the guy throwing haymakers in my face right before I lift) is that I had no intention of testing my deadlift that day. We got done with clients that day, and I just felt good and decided “F*** it,” I’m going for it. And did. That was a 20 lb PR, and I’d like to think I had a little more in the tank. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll hit 600 lbs. (editor’s note: Tony’s form is impeccable! This is a max deadlift and his form doesn’t break down at all. I’m especially impressed with his lockout strength!)
As far as how often I deadlift, I guess I’m weird in that I tend to do better when I’m deadlifting at least once a week – sometimes twice.
As far as my top 5 exercises that transfer best to the deadlift:
1. Deadlifts – If you want to get better at deadlifting, you need to deadlift…..a lot. How’s that for a knowledge bomb?!
2. Goodmornings – this is solely based on personal experience, but when I’m hammering this exercise, I definitely notice my deadlift go up. I prefer to use the Giant Cambered Bar (GCB) when I do these since it tends to be a lot more user friendly on my shoulders.
3. Push-Ups – from an anterior-posterior perspective, nothing hits your “core” quite like push-ups. As I’ve noted in the past, push-ups force your entire lumbo-pelvic-hip area to “engage,” which will pay huge dividends in the long run for overall performance in pretty much everything. It doesn’t really surprise me when I see someone get more proficient with their push-ups, also see their squat and deadlift numbers go up as well. (editor’s note: one of my friend’s who used to be a trainer took a whole summer off of lifting and just did four sets of 50 push ups every day. When he came back to lifting, to his surprise his deadlift went up 50 lbs! I’m not saying that this strategy would work for everyone but it’s definitely an interesting story as it obviously help shore up a weak link!)
4. Single Leg Work – If I had to pick ONE thing to drill into trainees’ heads, it’s that neglecting to incorporate single leg work into his or her program is probably one of the biggest mistakes they can make. Yeah, yeah, yeah – you suck at them, and they’re no fun. Well, I guess getting strong isn’t meant for everyone, huh?
5. Hip Thrusters – thank you Bret Contreras! *internet high five*
10. Do you have anything exciting coming up in the near future?
TG: You know, I’m always being asked if or when I’m ever going to write a book or come out with a fitness product, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards for me. For now, I’m just going to stick with the blog and writing articles. And go to Alica Keys concerts. (editor’s note: Tony is being serious here; he loves Alicia Keys!)
11. You’re also known for being the funniest guy in the fitness industry. Eric is right up there too. How does humor help in creating a culture in your facility? It looks like you guys deliver some serious results while making the process enjoyable for everyone.
TG: Yeah, well, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. From a personal perspective, when I first started writing, one of the best pieces of advice that I received was from TC Luoma (editor of TMUSCLE) when he said “people want to learn, but they also want to be entertained.” That really hit home for me, and ever since, I’ve taken the whole “infotainment” thing and ran with it.
As far as Cressey Performance is concerned, we understand (and embrace) the fact that there’s a social aspect to coming there to train. We LOVE the sense of camaraderie we’ve established there. We love going to see our athletes play – whether it’s a local baseball game, or watching one of our minor league guys make their Major League debut. Similarly, it isn’t unheard of for members to get together outside the confines of CP to meet up for dinner or go to concerts together.
What’s more, we make some awesome videos. Here’s a classic of two of our minor league guys and a potential 1st round draft pick dancing in the office after a training session
Here’s one where we tested Matt Blake’s 1RM horizontal abduction – man, he’s a beast. (editor’s note: I almost choked to death on my protein shake when I saw the “air psyche-up” prior to the lift)
And here’s one of us just being us:
12. Those videos sure arouse nostagia in me. For those who have never owned their own facility, creating the culture is what it’s all about! Thanks again Tony! Please let my readers know where they can find you online.
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