Why Cookie Cutter Training Programs Fail with Eric Cressey – Part 1

Why Cookie Cutter Training Programs Fail – Part 1

Today, I have a new video interview for you with Eric Cressey, as we talked about “Why Cookie Cutter Training Programs Fail“.

Watch the video below to know more about cookie-cutter training programs.


Rick Kaselj, MS

Why Cookie Cutter Training Programs fail with Eric Cressey? – Part 1

CLICK HERE to watch the YouTube video.

Few of the Highlights from the Interview:

  • What is a Cookie Cutter Training Program?
  • Common problems in doing a cookie-cutter training program?
  • How to do self-assessment when it comes to fitness level
  • Benefits of customizing a program and how to do it
  • Different ways of doing exercise progressions

I hope you enjoyed the interview.

If you would like more information on Eric Cressey, you can visit him at EricCressey.com.

Take care and have a great day.

Rick Kaselj, MS

If you are unable to watch the video interview, check out the transcript below.

Hey! This is Rick Kaselj from exercisesforinjuries.com. Today I have another interview with Eric Cressey and what we’re going to talk about is Cookie Cutter Training Programs. So, Eric, I’ll get you to introduce yourself, and then we’ll get into the questions.

All right. Thanks for having me on. I’m Eric Cressey as Rick said. Rick and I have known each other for probably six years now. I came back to Vancouver in 2010. I actually have two training facilities, one about 40 minutes west of Boston Massachusetts. Then our second one which actually just opened up this past fall in Jupiter Florida. So we see a wide variety of folks from all walks of life. Our real kind of our core clientele is baseball players. We receive professional baseball players from all 30 major-league organizations and that’s kind of our niche. Besides being a shoulder and elbow man by necessity, I write blogs, give lectures, and so on. I am also the father of twins, new.

So you’re getting lots of sleep. (laughing)

Exactly. It’s been four months, so I’ve gotten a bit more sleep, but I don’t think I’ll get much more until they’re 18. (laughing)

You downplay yourself. I mean you write an amazing blog and you’re kind of a leader in the industry when it comes to training and everyone kind of looks up to you when it comes to what you’re doing and your training techniques.

personal training

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. I have a good time writing it. My mom taught high school English so I was really lucky to be exposed to a lot of reading and writing at a young age. It’s been a good way to not only spread a message about what we do but I get educated because it allows me to interact with a lot of really bright people in the industry, talk shop, and learn in the process. So it works out well.

So, one thing that kind of irks you or bothers you is cookie-cutter training programs. What are a cookie cutter training program and kind of the problems with people following a cookie cutter training program?

I think at the end of the day it all comes down to everyone being unique. We know that you can take anybody in the population, you could do an MRI of their back, you’re going to find disc herniations and bulge, you do an MRI on their shoulder and you’re going to find rotator cuff tears, things along those lines.

Being asymptomatic

There are a lot of issues that we don’t necessarily have to treat people just because of what their MRI says, but I do think it’s good information for us to realize that, hey people might not move as perfectly as we think they do. Just because they’re asymptomatic, you know, maybe they’re reasonably fit and you know they don’t have any chronic diseases, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ready for a program that was written for everybody.

Need to Work with a Personal Trainer

So that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody needs to work with a personal trainer and gets super individualized programs but I do think there are safeguards that we can put in our program to say, “Hey listen, now if you’re over the age of 60, doing a lot of high rep snatches, if you can’t even get your arms overhead the right way, probably aren’t a great idea”. If you’re someone who has had chronic back pain and you’re trying to squat 800, it might not be in your best interest, well at least not until you optimize your movements. We should be realistic and meet people where they are, assessing and individualizing accordingly.

Okay. And then when it comes to the assessment side of things, a lot of people think they have to get a professional to kind of look at themselves and get them and get their opinion on it. Now, how can someone who is not able to or maybe they don’t have access to a professional? There are numerous people that are in the middle of nowhere but they have internet connections. Now, so what can someone do when it comes to if all they’re able to do is self-assess themselves?

back squat with barbell


I think you just have to keep in mind who you are. If you’re trying to go to the Olympics, you’re trying to be a professional athlete, by all means, you have to go to great lengths to find expertise that matches up with your ability levels. It’s like going to a good mechanic if you’re a NASCAR driver, right? But if you drive a 1985 Chevy Cavalier and you need your oil changed you can probably go to Jiffy Lube. What I think that means is, whether we can benefit from the fact that information is more accessible than ever before through the Internet.

And you can pop on YouTube and you can be really, really well educated. I mean you can look at some really bad stuff on YouTube but you know we can hop online, we can see videos that you posted, stuff from Stuart MacGill, stuff like Ryan Elders, there are tons of experts that have loads of content available both for free and for purchase online.

So if we want to be advocates for ourselves and invest in ourselves the resources are definitely there, we just kind of have to have a good filter of who are we listening to. Is this someone who’s got some tremendous experience and has helped a lot of people or is this someone who just kind of took a class and started posting what they learn right up online without actually applying it and seeing if it worked?

So, when it comes to the cookie cutter programs, are we talking about let’s say someone gets a magazine or has read something online or bought some kind of book and just kind of blindly following what is in those resources?


Yes. I think that’s part of it because if you really look at like training success on the whole. Now, the program is really one piece of the puzzle. You also have to look at what’s the level of adherence to the program, do you actually follow the program, what environment you execute that program in, and also how do you carry it out. Just because someone puts a back squat in a program doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s going to do a back squat the same way.

Different people have different hip anatomies, functional capacities, and things like that. If you give that same exercise to 100 different people, maybe we get 30 or 40 really good techniques. And then maybe you get 60 or 70 that are absolutely brutal and people that probably wouldn’t be well off to even do that exercise. So, it’s hard to write something that’s perfect for everybody, but if we do a few things differently we can kind of make things safer.

Okay. So looking at the kind of customizing a program, we kind of talked about the back squat. So a back squat might not be appropriate for some people with previous back injuries, bad movement patterns, poor mobility in the shoulder, etc. But people don’t have to cut out the squat necessarily. You’re giving them or you’re kind of encouraging them to do different types of squatting movements.


Yes, and maybe it’s the kind of thing where we might do a Bulgarian Split Squat. So they still get the benefits that come with what we call axial loading or having a bar on your upper back. We still get great core stability benefits and we still get a lower body training effect, we get it with less loading. We get it with a safer environment. At the same time maybe we can use some other stuff to train the squat pattern. So we might not load that pattern. But working with Goblet Squats or Squat Stands or TRX Overhead Squat, we can start to work on building that pattern back up. I think there’s a lot to be said for not necessarily matching the person to the exercise but matching the exercise to the person.

female dumbbell workout

Okay, that’s a good point. And then how do you do that? How do you match the exercise to the person?


The first thing you do is solicit feedback from someone. You say, “Does this hurt? Does this feel awkward? What does it look like? ” So, I think all things considered we put them in a safe environment, we don’t load them like crazy, we look at what the pattern looks like, and we kind of hope that it’s going to go well accordingly. I think that if we are trying to really verify whether something is going to help or hurt or be problematic that’s where the assessment comes in. Because if you look at a lot of things in an assessment environment, you can say, “Hey, this probably isn’t very good”. So a case in point, if I take an athlete and I send them through an overhead lunge walk progression, so it’s a catch-all assessment I love to use.

Walking lunges with the arms overhead

When that athlete does walking lunges with his arms raised overhead, he looks like a newborn foal. He folds up like a tin can, his knees slip in the valgus, low back arches, can’t even get his arms overhead. I know for an individual like that, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to start him in a back squat grip. Putting a bar on his back and having him try to lunge probably isn’t going to go well. He needs to start lower down on kind of the progression.


Okay. And maybe we can end up talking about that like looking at the movement at how the movement ends differently when it comes to body weight. Then it completely changes when you end up starting loading it. Then when you have it loaded to like max. It totally changes differently.


11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder

I think there are so many different ways to progress an exercise. I wrote an article a couple of years ago called 11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder. Everyone’s just thought, “Hey, add loading”. But we know that we can dramatically change the training impact of an exercise by increasing the range of motions. So doing the Bulgarian Split Squat from a deficit. We can use accommodating resistances where we add bands or chains instead of regular straight plate weight. We can talk about moving the center of mass further away from the base of support.

Therefore, stabilization wise than doing dumbbells at your sides. There are really a lot of different opportunities to kind of change that. I think historically people have sometimes gone to things that maybe are too sexy or potentially problematic.

Bulgarian Split Squat off

There might be some carryover for surfers, but I don’t see any reason why a basketball player would ever perform a Bulgarian Split Squat off an unstable surface. That’s just understanding your population. And if you’re someone who’s programming for yourself you need to understand yourself. That’s where it gets really, really hard because we all know that we’re inherently drawn to what we’re good at doing.

Creating Good Joint Stability

So if you take the super hypermobile folks in the population, all the women, the crazy laxity that can tie themselves into human pretzels, where do they usually wind up going? They go to yoga, they go to Pilates. It’s not to say those disciplines are bad. I think it can be wildly beneficial when they’re taught correctly and used with the right drills and the right cues. But most of the time those women would probably be a lot better off going to a weight room and getting involved in a good strength conditioning program that’s going to create good joint stability.

Benefits of Using Yoga and Pilates Class

Meanwhile, most of the guys in the gym could probably benefit substantially by going to use those yoga and Pilates classes. And they could probably do more drills with good benefit than the really loose-jointed females that we see. So, it’s just a matter of knowing yourself and being able to emotionally separate yourself from what you enjoy doing.

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