Review of Eric Cressey and Excel Sport and Fitness
In early December, I took a group of 10 high school students and one other staff member on a tour of Excel Sport and Fitness in Waltham, MA. This is the new home of
T-Nation author Eric Cressey, who provided us with the tour. We were also assisted by owner and T-Nation author John Sullivan. As an added bonus, T-Nation author Tony Gentilcore, who was visiting to workout, also freely gave of his time and proved to be an integral part of the tour.
I contacted Eric with the hope of viewing the facility for a Saturday school program my school had instituted this year and he was wide open to making it happen. I threw out a general concept idea and Eric really organized the day into something the students would enjoy.
The students and I arrived to the facility around 9:00am and were greeted by Eric, Tony, and John. After quick introductions and a brief overview of the facility we began a tour by being introduced to each major station. Before this began, our group was in awe of the layout of the facility and many, I think, were somewhat confused. This was not your typical gym or fitness facility. This was clearly a place where performance was the defining factor in determining the selection of equipment and the layout. The equipment alone was beautiful. Every piece was top of the line and mostly from EliteFTS. There was great open space available to work through mobility drills as well as to do sled dragging or other exercises where movement is needed. The floor was completely rubber coated and clients were encouraged to workout without shoes. There was also a treatment area with a table where clients could get more intense work on soft tissue or have evaluations done.
We started with the power rack station by EliteFTS. It was very interesting as Eric was able to give us a break down of the station, explaining what it is used for and how it is used, along with typical exercises. This is where Tony and John were instrumental by also adding in tidbits of information from their own experiences. Each guide then gave demonstrations of the use of the equipment in different functions. It was quite impressive, especially the custom pegs for attaching bands for different heights and exercises.
We moved on to the platform station where we were treated to a deadlift demonstration by Eric and a clean and jerk and snatch demonstration by John Sullivan. The students, as well as the staff were amazed as Eric quickly worked his way up to 500lbs on the deadlift with no warm up and finished each set as if he were moving grocery bags from the floor. John was equally impressive tossing up some heavy weight with ease. Let me tell you, if you?ve never witnessed live Olympic weightlifting, it is pretty shocking to see such weight go up so quickly and then get dropped to the platform like it was nothing. My students were reexamining their own accomplishments after these demonstrations.
The Just Jump station was a big hit as students were able to test their VJ as well as their reactive abilities. Eric gave explanations of how each test can be used to assess an athlete?s strengths and weaknesses and then be used to develop a program to enhance these areas. Many students gave it a shot and this made for interesting discussions based on their results.
There was a more general area of typical strength training equipment. However, typical did not describe the pieces available. Each piece was devoted to strength and performance and was not what the average gym goer is used to seeing. Even the plates were outstanding. All open faced, VTX plates for easy carrying and ability to use for rotational movements. The other equipment was just as sweet and included EliteFTS, York and ProStar components for lat pulldowns, low rows, chest supported rows, a power squat station, the sweetest glute/ham raise I have ever worked on, and a dual cable tower for functional training. There were plenty of other stations as well along with trap bars, safety squat bars, fat-bar dumbbells and bars, kegs, sleds, and an area devoted to cardio, which included a Versaclimber. The guides gave a general introduction to these pieces and described the types of exercises and techniques they prefer to use and why.
At this point, Eric assembled the group on the open floor area and put us through a group dynamic warm up and mobility session. He utilized the drills from Magnificent Mobility and even some from the Inside Out DVD?s to get everyone prepared to workout. I own both DVD?s, but it was still pretty phenomenal having one of the authors coaching you through the drills. He finished by introducing a lot of foam rolling techniques and Eric, Tony, and John demonstrated and then helped everyone out with perfecting their own technique.
Eric had a tight schedule that day and therefore had to devote his time to some clients for the remainder of the morning. He began working with Jeff Salzenstein, a professional tennis player ranked in the top one hundred, and encouraged us to follow him while he put Jeff through his program. I for one tried to follow and ask as many questions as I could. I felt like a newbie again as Eric?s attention to detail and thought process for the program was truly eye opening. Tony and John took over the rest of the area and really got into the trenches with the group. They took individuals through every piece of equipment in the place and specifically taught techniques as well as spotting and giving critiques to everyone. These guys had the group using foam rollers, working on front squats with bands, resisting rotation from the cable station, lifting kegs, using fatgrip dumbbells and bars, learning Olympic movements, perfecting glute/ham raise technique, using chains, dragging sleds, tossing medicine balls, using slide boards as well as experiencing some single limb work for stability.
It was tough to end the day because everyone was really enjoying the facility and the attention they were receiving. We wrapped it up around 11:15pm and each person was provided with an extremely discounted copy of Magnificent Mobility. The ride home was filled with loud chatter of the awesome experience we just had and everyone decided that maybe Saturday school wasn?t such a bad thing.
Eric, Tony, and John were absolutely incredible hosts and are the most professional guys I have ever met in the field. No question was too simple to answer, no piece of equipment was too advanced for someone to try out, no request for demonstration was turned down, and in no way did we ever feel like it was time for us to leave. These guys gave everything they had for the entire time to a very inexperienced group. It takes a true professional and a real ability to teach to be able to change their approach for each individual depending on that person?s skills or understanding. My group came away with a heightened interest in the area of strength and fitness and a new appreciation for what can be accomplished with the right information and a good coach.
I really wanted to get this review out a lot earlier, but my schedule kept pushing it to the back burner. However, in retrospect, it?s better because I was able to read one of Eric?s latest articles before posting it and reference him. In his article, ?What I Learned in 2006? he talks specifically about giving of yourself without asking anything in return and to be available to people. He is truly a man of his word. I contacted him out of the blue and he welcomed my idea and made me feel like we had already been acquaintances for some time. My students and I learned a lot about training during this trip, but I also came away with a solid understanding of what makes people like Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, and John Sullivan successful and respected members of the strength and conditioning field.
I encourage those of you who have the means and are within the general area to visit Excel Sport and Fitness. Whether it?s to seek out guidance in your training or just to see what it?s like to train in a true performance enhancement facility run by professionals. I guarantee you won?t be disappointed!