1. I'm speaking at the Massachusetts High School Baseball Coaches Association's Annual Clinic this morning, so this week's random thoughts will be somewhat abbreviated. I didn't even have time to pick out this week's music selection, so you have to settle for this dude getting owned!
2. Speaking of baseball, one thing I'll be discussing in some detail is hip flexion range-of-motion asymmetries in pitchers. You'll almost always see far more hamstrings flexibility on the front leg for obvious reasons, but it's also important to consider how throwing styles contribute to this issue. Guys who throw on stiff front legs are ones who will most commonly present with big asymmetries. Justin Verlander would be a great example:
Guys like Verlander need to pay close attention to maintaining adequate length of the right hamstrings (the opposite would be true of a left-handed pitcher). Conversely, a guy like Greg Maddux who - at the same point in his throwing motion - is more flexed on the front knee, generally won't have big issues in this regard (although they should still be assessed and addressed).
Leaving these issues unaddressed can lead to a host of problems, most notably hamstrings strains on the back leg.
3. Manuel Buitrago has put some excellent Olympic lifting demonstrations online to help those of you at home who are trying to pick up these complex lifts on your own. Here's a little sample:
4. While I think it's awesome that a lot of folks are finally catching on that glute activation is important for both injury prevention and rehabilitation, a lot of folks have lost sight of the fact that you have to be careful about just training the glutes in hip extension. It's also very important to pay attention to theirs roles as external rotators and abductors. Once you've mastered bilateral movements in the sagittal plane (e.g., supine bridges), you need to get into single-leg and emphasis movements like bowler squats and lunges with reaches to various positions. These are great inclusions in the warm-up, and we highlight several options in our Magnificent Mobility DVD.
And, to take it a step further, you've got to load up those single-leg movements and challenge frontal plane stability to lay some strength down on top of those newly discovered movement strategies.
5. In light of the flexibility/mobility tone of this series of random thoughts, I thought it might be a good time to remind you that "creep" typically sets in at about 20 minutes. So, if you've been sitting at your desk reading for longer than that, it'd probably be a good idea to stand up for a few minutes, Quasimodo.
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I just received this email yesterday from a happy Maximum Strength customer:
"I just finished up with your Maximum Strength program and wanted to write you to let you know of the results. Before I get to the good stuff, I wanted to thank you for writing such a comprehensive strength training program. Not only was it challenging but it was also laid out in a format where it is easy to understand and follow. I have not stopped talking about this program for 16 weeks and now that I have the results, I have people getting ready to jump on the Maximum Strength bandwagon.
"Not only did I see an increase across the board in lifts and movements, but the soft tissue and mobility work opened up my hips and all but eliminated any IT band issues I was having previous to this. I started this program with the idea that the conclusion would come just in time for me to start going back to my endurance training for this summer's triathlon circuit. Now that I am done, I am at the strongest I have been in 12 years, I set a PR in deadlifts and I am in a frame of mind for my next race where I know I will be one of the strongest competitors in the field.
"Here are the results from the program:
Moving Day Packing Day Difference
Weight - 201 212 lbs + 11 lbs
Broad Jump - 88" 115" + 17"
Squat - 385 lbs 445 lbs + 60 lbs
Bench - 300 lbs 325 lbs + 25 lbs
Deadlift - 385 455 + 70 lbs
3 Rep Chin - BW +30 BW + 60 30 lbs + 11 of BW
"To say I am excited about these results is an understatement. I was a little bummed on the weight until I got my new circumference measurements done. While I did add 11 pounds, I lost .5 inches off my waist and added 6, yes I said 6 inches to my chest/back/shoulders measurement. The compliments I have gotten from friends and family are even more indicative of a successful program. Not only did I set a new PR in dealift but I am most proud of the 3 rep chin max, where not only did I add muscle and body weight, I was also able to increase my strength and added additional external weight as well.
"Thanks again. I plan on recommending this program to friends, family and soon-to-be clients!"
One of the pro baseball guys I work with from afar is in town this week for a check-in, and he bought ten protein bars for $10 in anticipation of eating out of airports. He was munching on one of them at the facility yesterday, and it was labeled as a "Triple Threat" for a) great taste, b) energy, and c) nutrition.
Now, you're talking to a guy who spent two years at business school before deciding to go the exercise science route, so I've got a little marketing analyst in me. We all know that lots of stuff can have double meanings - so I check out the first three ingredients:
1. Corn Syrup
2. Soy Crisps
3. "Chocolatey" Coating
Yes, it really had a "Y" on the end of the word. So, you not get a candy bar with crap ingredients, but also are treated like a child with words like "chocolatey."
Joking aside, the best protein bars available are the ones you make yourself. John Berardi has some awesome recipes in Gourmet Nutrition Cookbook (also available as part of the Precision Nutrition package).
Q: Hi Eric, I just finished the Maximum Strength 16-week program, and was thrilled with my results, including a 40-pound increase on my bench press and 80-pound increase on my deadlift. I'm wondering, though, what I should do next? Should I start the program over? Or, do you reccomend something else?
A: Repeating the program is certainly an option, although probably not your best option. I'm actually planning on writing a more extensive follow-up to Maximum Strength at some point, but you could get away with it in the meantime. I just tend to think that variety is the spice of life, and that the same four months over and over again would get old over time.
With that in mind, I think a better bet would be checking out my Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.
It's a bit more athletic oriented, but with some of the same principles included. It would be a good chance to integrate some movement training and new exercises and loading parameters to build on the athleticism that you built over the previous 16 weeks of training. Click here for more information.
In last week's newsletter, I observed that there are a lot of folks out there who think that weight training is unnecessary and plyometrics are sufficient for injury prevention and performance enhancement in pitchers. While a system like this might hold some merit in a population such as football where many athletes already have a large strength foundation, it doesn't work as well in a baseball population, which doesn't have that same foundation.
To illustrate my point, I'm going to touch on a concept - static-spring proficiency - that I covered at length in my Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual. Essentially, you have "static" athletes, "spring" athletes, and everything in between the two. You can use a series of performance tests and evaluate an athlete's training history to get an appreciation for where each athlete falls on this continuum.
"Static" athletes tend to have a good strength foundation - so much, in fact, that they tend to "muscle" everything. In other words, there is less efficient use of the stretch-shortening cycle to produce force. An example might be a powerlifter attempting to go out and play basketball. In order to improve, a "static" athlete needs to focus on improving reactive ability.
"Spring" athletes are great at using stored elastic energy in tendons to produce power. An example would be a basketball or volleyball player who has been jumping for years and years to develop spring, but without much attention to building the underlying strength needed to best use it. So, obviously, to improve, these athletes need to enhance muscular strength while maintaining their great elastic qualities.
Here's an excerpt from my Off-Season Manual that personifies this in the world of baseball:
"The modern era of baseball is a great example, as we've had several homerun hitters who have all been successful - albeit by very different means.
"At the 'spring' end of the continuum, we have hitters like Gary Sheffield and Vladimir Guerrero demonstrating incredible bat speed. The ball absolutely rockets off their bats; they aren't 'muscling' their homeruns at all. Doing a lot of extra training for bat speed would be overkill for these guys; they'll improve their power numbers by increasing maximal strength alone.
"At the other end of the spectrum, we have 'static' homerun hitters like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell, both of whom were well known for taking weight training very seriously. These guys are the ones 'muscling' baseballs out of the ballpark; the ball almost seems to sit on the barrel of the bat for a split-second before they "flip it" 500 feet. Getting stronger might help these guys a bit, but getting more spring by focusing on bat speed with reactive training (e.g., plyometrics, sprinting, medicine ball throws, ballistic push-ups, etc.) would be a more sure-fire means to improvement.
"Then, we have the 'middle-of-the-road' guys like Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez. They possess an excellent blend of static and spring, so they need to train some of both to continue improving physically.
"Bonds is actually a good example of how an athlete's position on the static-spring continuum can change over the course of a career. When he started out, he was definitely a 'spring' guy, hitting most of his homeruns with pure bat speed. As Bonds' career progressed, his maximal strength improved due to neural adaptations and increased cross sectional area (more muscle mass).
"In light of the media attention surrounding the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, I should mention how he increased his muscle mass isn't the issue in question in the discussion at hand. The point is that he did increase muscle mass, which increased maximal strength, which favorably affected performance. The performance enhancing substances question really isn't of concern to this discussion."
Now, here's where it gets interesting - and where you get a bit more time to think about this.
Obviously, even to the most casual observer, not all baseball players are like Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Gary Sheffield, and Vladimir Guerrero. This isn't rocket science; they are/were a heck of a lot more skilled and experienced than the overwhelming majority of the professional baseball world, and certainly all of the amateur ranks.
How are they different? And, why can't we just assume what might work for some of them will work for those aiming to reach the levels they've attained?
Well, you'll just have to think about that until Newsletter 141...
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All the Best,
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1. It's come to my attention that over 54 million people have come to recognize this young YouTube guitar dude as a total bada**, so it seemed only fitting that he be today's music selection:
Had I not won the Nobel Prize at age 12 and hopped up Mt. Everest on one leg at 16, I might be wondering what the heck I was doing with my life at age 27 after watching that. But, let's move on to the good stuff.
2. It wouldn't be a week in my apartment if my girlfriend didn't watch "The Biggest Loser" with me in the room contemplating ripping my hair out. I got a kick out of it this week when they had a 30" plyo box in the center of the gym. I don't know of many 400-pound folks with vertical jumps that good, but apparently, it does make a great platform on which you can set your bottle of water. Now that's training economy.
3. If you thought the kettlebell trend was getting out of hands, just have a look at this:
Bench Pressing Dwarves: I Kid You Not
As long as they don't call me "comrade," I'm cool with it. Success is all about adherence, so if it takes the weight and attitude of a feisty human exercise prop giving you hell on every rep to get the job done - and that person doesn't mind - so be it.
4. We do a lot of anti-extension work with our athletes. While these progressions start with basic prone bridging, you can progress them to overhead medicine ball throwing variations and (my personal favorite) ab wheel variations. We'll do isometric holds, regular reps, and - as seen below - band-resisted ab wheel rollouts.
This is just one of over a dozen innovative, effective exercises Jim Smith introduces in his Combat Core resource; it's definitely worth checking out.
5. It's come to my attention that a tiny portion of my readers get all huffy when I don't post references for my blogs. While I could go to the trouble of posting references in all of them, the truth is that it clutters things up and takes away the informal tone of this blog. And, frankly, I often write these in my boxer shorts and unshowered, with a raging case of bedhead and some kind of angry, belligerent, "my mother didn't love me" music in the background. It's not exactly academia.
Suffice it to say that I can provide references for most of this stuff, and if I can't, I can sure tell you about a ton of bright professionals who have seen awesome anecdotal evidence - as the research world is typically years behind the smartest people who are in the trenches. If that's not good enough, oh well.
And on that note, I need to get back to the trenches. Have a great weekend!
In what has become a yearly tradition, it's now time for this year's installment of What I Learned. As always, I learned a ton, but here are a few that stuck out in my mind as I sat down to write this article.
- Eric Cressey