Home 2012 June (Page 2)

Exciting Announcement: Cressey Performance is Expanding!

I'm psyched to announce that Cressey Performance will be expanding to a new space within our building that doubles our size to over 15,000 square feet.

To say that we're excited would be an understatement, and while there are a lot of renovations required to make this just the way we want it you can pencil Saturday, August 25th into your calendars for a grand opening.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/13/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - My new content at Elite Training Mentorship was just loaded up last week.  In addition to two new exercise demonstrations and articles, I added two new staff in-services: "Preventing Anterior Shoulder Instability," and "Zones of Convergence."  Tyler English also provided some great content for this update.

What Top Experts Are Doing Differently This Year - I contributed on this collection of year-in-review reflections from a number of experts in the industry.  Mike Reinold organized it and published it on his blog - and you'll find some great insights there.

A Muscle Plan for Every Man - This was an article I wrote last year for the print version of Men's Health, and they just reprinted it online recently.  In the article, I discuss how to go about writing your own strength training program.

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5 Reasons You Have Tight Hamstrings

There might not be a more obnoxious and stubborn athletic injury than the hamstrings strain.  When it is really bad, it can bother you when you're simply walking or sitting on it.  Then, when a hamstrings strain finally feels like it's getting better, you build up to near your top speed with sprinting - and it starts barking at you again.  In other words, a pulled hamstrings is like a crazy, unpredictable mother-in-law; just when you think you've finally won her over, she brings you back down to Earth and reminds you how much more she liked your wife's old boyfriend.

However, not all hamstrings pain cases are true strains; more commonly, they present as a feeling of "tight hamstrings."  If one is going to effective prevent this discomfort, rehabilitate it, or train around it, it's important to realize what is causing the hamstrings tightness in the first place.  Here are five reasons:

1. Protective Tension of the Hamstrings

This is readily apparent in someone who has a crazy anterior pelvic tilt, which puts a big stretch on the hamstrings, which posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  When someone is extremely anteriorly tilted, the hamstrings are constantly "on" to prevent someone from ending up with extension-based back pain, such as spondylolysis (vertebral fractures), spondylolisthesis (vertebral "slippage"), and lumbar erector tightness/strains.  This is a problem most commonly seen in females (greater anterior pelvic tilt than men) and athletes:

Doing a lot of longer duration static stretching for the hamstrings in this population usually isn't a great idea, as you run the risk of making someone more unstable - particularly in the case of females, who have less rigid ligamentous restraints (more congenital laxity) to protect them.  To that end, our approach with these folks is to use the warm-ups to foam roll the area, then do some hamstrings mobilizations to transiently reduce stiffness in the hamstrings.

After this reduction in stiffness, we work to build stability in synergists to the hamstrings in posterior pelvic tilt.  In other words, there's a heavy emphasis on glute activation and anterior core recruitment both with a strength training program and postural reeducation for the other 23 hours of the day.

At the end of the training session, with the male athletes, we may do some shorter duration hamstrings stretching just to "dissipate" a little eccentric stress.  I like ten seconds in each of these three positions:


 

 

 

 

 

The thing to remember is that while you can do everything right with these athletes in training, what they do with their posture during the rest of their lives is of paramount importance.  If they continue to stand around in anterior tilt and don't help the new stiffness they've developed "stick," they'll continue to over-rely on their already tight hamstrings.

2. Neural Tension

Just because you feel hamstrings tightness doesn't mean that the hamstrings are actually the source of the problem.  In fact, it's not uncommon at all for those with lumbar disc issues to present with radicular pain, tightness, or numbness/tingling into the legs - especially the hamstrings.  The symptoms may also come from nerve entrapment (most commonly the sciatic nerve) on soft tissue structures further down the chain.  Just aggressively stretching the hamstrings can actually make these symptoms worse, so it's important to see a medical professional to rule out causes further up with the appropriate clinical exams, such as the slump test.

3. Truly Tight Hamstrings

In order for hamstrings to really be short, one would have to spend a lot of time with the knee flexed and hip extended - so just imagine the position you're in at the top of a standing leg curl.  That's a hard pose to hold for an extended period of time, much less do so on a regular basis.

That said, some folks do get somewhat close to that on a daily basis in the sitting position, and are therefore the most likely to really have "tight hamstrings." They have to be in posterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion for a considerable chunk of the day - and even then, it's still pretty tough to be truly short, as they are still in hip flexion.

These folks usually can't distinguish hip flexion from lumbar flexion, so if you do a standing hip flexion assessment, rather than maintain the neutral spine we see in this photo, they'll go into lumbar flexion (butt will "tuck under").

The same trend will usually be noticeable with any kind of squat unless they have a tremendous amount of core stiffness to overcome the posterior hip stiffness that's present.  If you test these folks on an straight leg raise, it isn't pretty, as the pelvis is already posteriorly tilted.  In a pelvis that starts in "neutral" on a straight leg raise, roughly the first 1/3 of movement that you see comes from posterior tilt of the pelvis before the femur ever starts to flex on the acetabulum of the pelvis.  These folks are usually already posteriorly tilt, so that 1/3 is already used up; you're really only measuring hip flexion and not hip flexion PLUS posterior pelvic tilt.  And, as you can imagine, if someone is truly short in the hamstrings, that straight leg raise isn't going to be pretty. Obviously, these folks usually have a terrible toe touch pattern as well.

This should also educate you on why you can't treat all hamstrings strains the same.  In the protective tension example earlier, we needed to work to regain stability to hold a position of a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.  We'd cue glute activation, and use exercises that draw folks back into posterior tilt (e.g., reverse crunches).  If you have someone has a pulled hamstrings because they are truly short from already being in posterior pelvic tilt, though, some of these cues and exercises would be contraindicated. You'd be feeding the dysfunction.

While manual therapy and stretching for the posterior hip is valuable, again, it must be followed by stabilization work at adjacent joints with the pelvis in a neutral position.  These folks can benefit from training hip flexion above 90 degrees as well, as it educates them on how to flex the hip without rounding the lumbar spine.  This is one reason why I think a lot of the chop and lift exercises we've learned from Gray Cook are so fantastic; they teach us anti-rotation and anti-extension stability in various positions of hip flexion while the pelvis is in neutral.  They make changes "stick" better.

4. Previous Hamstrings Strain

Not to be overlooked in this discussion is the simple fact that the single-best predictor of hamstrings strains is a previous hamstrings injury.  One you have an injury, that area may never be the same from a tissue density standpoint - whether it's the surrounding fascia or the muscle or tendon itself.  A previous injury can leave athletes feeling "tight" in the region, so regular manual therapy can certainly help in this regard.

Anecdotally, the athletes with the long-term problems seem to be the ones with the pulls up on the gluteal fold, right where the hamstrings tendons attach to the ischial tuberosity.  The area gets "gunked up"in a lot of athletes as it is because of all the tissues coming together and exerting force in a small area, but it's especially problematic in those who have a previous injury in the region.  Perhaps more problematic, though, is the fact that we sit on our proximal hamstrings attachments - and that isn't exactly good for blood flow and tissue regeneration.

 

I haven't seen any research on it, but I have a feeling that if you looked at this region in a lot athletes with ultrasound (similar to this study with patellar tendons), you'd find a ton of people walking around with substantial degenerative changes that could be diagnosed as tendinosis even though they haven't actually hit a symptomatic threshold.  My guess is that it's even worse in the posterior hip region because a) we sit on it, b) the ischial tuberosity is a more "congested" area than the anterior knee), and c) the study I noted above used 14-18 year-old athletes, and degenerative problems will get worse as one gets older (meaning this study likely undercut the true prevalence across the entire population).

Very simply, an athlete with a previous hamstrings strain needs to stay on top of quality manual therapy on the area, and be cognizant of maintaining mobility and stability in the right places.  They have less wiggle room with which to work.

5. Acute Hamstrings Strain or Tendinosis

Of course, the fifth reason you hamstrings might be tight is because you might actually have a hamstrings injury!  It could be an actual hamstrings strain, or just a tendinosis (overuse issue where tissue loading exceeds tissue tolerance for loading).  There is no one perfect recommendation in this regard, as a tendinosis or grade 1 hamstrings strain is going to be much more tolerable than a grade 3 hamstrings strain where you have bruising all along the back of your thigh.  

In terms of maintaining a training effect with the less serious ones, here are a few suggestions:

a. When you are ready to deadlift, use trap bar deadlifts instead of conventional or sumo deadlift variations.  I explain a bit more about how the positioning of the center of gravity makes this more hamstrings friendly HERE.

b. Shorten up your stride on single-leg exercises.  This makes the movement slightly more quad dominant, but allows you to still get the benefits of controlling the frontal and transverse planes with appropriate glute and adductor recruitment at the hip.

c. Go with step-up and reverse sled dragging variations.  Eliminating the eccentric component can take a considerably amount of stress off the hamstrings, and both these exercises get the job done well.

d. If you're going to squat, start with front squats at the beginning, and reintegrate back squat and box squat variations later on, as they will be more hamstrings intensive.

e. Understand anatomy.  If you are in hip flexion and knee extension, you're going to really be stretching the hamstrings and likely irritating them in the process.  Select exercises that don't hit these painful end-ranges, and then gradually reintroduce more dramatic ranges of motion as the issues subside.

f. Do hill sprints before you do regular sprints.  Your stride is going to be a bit shorter with hill sprints, and that'll take a considerable amount of stress off the hamstrings at heel strike (pretty good research on uphill vs. downhill sprinting HERE, for those who are interested).  Just don't go out and run as hard as you can the first time out; propulsive forces are still quite high.

Of course, this just speaks to how to train around a pulled hamstrings; there is really a lot more to look at if you want to really understand why they occur and how to prevent or address them.  In my eyes, this post was necessarily "geeky," as it is important that we don't dumb down complex injuries to "just stretch it out."  This recommendation is analogous to a doctor just telling someone to take some NSAIDs for regular headaches; it doesn't get to the root of the problem, and it may actually make things worse.

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

 

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Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Increase Strength, Be More Awesome: Live Q&A #2

Okay, it's time for another live Q&A here at EricCressey.com.  To get your questions answered, just post your inquiry in the comments section and I'll approve it and then reply.  

My only rule is that your question must be limited to five sentences or less.  I'll answer the first 30 that are posted, so please don't bother posting questions if you come to this post days, weeks, or months after it was originally posted.

With that said, head on down to the comments section below and ask away! 

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 6

Here are some strength and conditioning and nutrition tips to help you lose fat, gain muscle, get strong, and scare obnoxious kids off your lawn, compliments of Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

1. If you're going to use kettlebells, hold them correctly:

2. There's "strong," and there is "strong enough."

In our strength and conditioning programs, we focus on the improvement of three main strength qualities: maximal strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength. Strength is basically the ability to produce force. Potential force finds its ways into different equations that represent qualities executed on the field, court, diamond, ice, etc.

I look at maximal strength as a pool of potential force that can be called upon, while explosive and reactive strength are a measure of how efficiently and quickly this potential force can be utilized. At a certain point, improving one strength quality without another is a futile effort. The amount of each quality can be determined by the demands of the athlete's sport, and position within that sport; how does the athlete need to move themselves, or someone or something else?

At a certain point the continued increase of maximal strength at the disproportionate increase of explosive and reactive strength is not productive. In other words, how beneficial is it to take a pitcher's squat from 315lbs to 405lbs when he is asked to throw a baseball that weighs about 5 ounces? Do not get wrapped up in maximal strength numbers, be weary of assigning arbitrary numbers as benchmarks for your athletes, and make sure to train different qualities in a strength training program.

3.  We were given two legs and two arms, don't forget to use them together.

I am not dismissing unilateral work from a solid strength and conditioning program. I am offering that the dismissal of bilateral exercises, injury cases/movement issues withstanding, is not necessary. In fact, I would argue that it is detrimental to your purpose.

Strength coaches often use the analogy that "weight lifting is not your sport", and I have written on this forum on how the only necessary activity to an athlete is actual sport practice. As coaches, and everyday people, we all know the last thing we want to do is get hurt in the weight room. So if weight lifting is an added benefit to sport performance, and not used to replicate the sport itself, why is uni lateral work considered more functional to our goal? Additionally, if the idea is to keep people healthy, why would we not use the best mechanical positions to move heavy loads in our strength training programs?

I realize an argument can be made for unilateral work in both of these cases, and thus I am not saying it shouldn't be included; rather it shouldn't be included at the expense of bilateral work. Instead of looking for ways bilateral lifts aren't great choices, you are better served to look at how they are, and then find ways around their shortcomings. This is what we do at CP, via specialty bars, elevated trap bar settings, and so forth. Do yourself and your athletes a favor and include bilateral exercise selections in your strength training programs; they are safe, effective, and very "functional".

4. When squatting, create outward pressure from the heel.

When I teach someone how to squat I am careful in how I cue pressure on the foot. I like people to imagine "spreading" when going down AND when coming up in the squat. However, I find that when you tell someone to spread they will often supinate and lose a neutral position of the ankle.

The good news is that this cleans up when you tell them (or yourself) to create outward pressure on the heel. In this position the ankle joint will remain centered, and you will produce better force through the ground. Make sure to keep contact with the ground with the front of your foot as well. The two points of contact there will be just below the big and little toe. This creates the "tri-pod" effect and gives you power through the lateral heel and control through the front foot. Give it a try and watch your squat improve right away!

Additionally, think about what this means in the context of your footwear selection.  If you've got a huge heel lift, there is no way you'll be able to get the appropriate weight positioning through your feet.  That's why a minimalist footwear option is a better bet for performing various strength exercises (and just about everything in life).

5. Cue up some music; it helps!

I don't know about you, but I love to have some great music on when I train. I honestly prefer to listen to music I actually enjoy when training, not always something that just makes me want to put my head through a wall. Furthermore, it has actually been shown that music does improve performance in activities requiring high muscle outputs.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that music actually improves muscle power output.

"...peak and mean power were significantly higher after music than no music warm-up during the two times of testing. Thus, as it is a legal method and an additional aid, music should be used during warm-up before performing activities requiring powerful lower limbs' muscles contractions, especially in the morning..."

While external sources of motivation should not be relied upon, make it a point to charge the iPod the night before big training sessions. It actually WILL make your strength and conditioning programs more successful!

My top five favorites on the playlist these days include Rage Against The Machine, Skrillex, Metallica, Jedi Mind Tricks, and "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. Yes, I went there.

What are your favorites? Leave a comment below!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/7/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Treadside Manner: Confessions of a Serial Personal Trainer - Greg Justice sent me an advanced copy of this book he wrote on the business side of the fitness industry, and I thought it was outstanding (so, outstanding, in fact, that I read it non-stop on a long plane ride).  Greg has run a successful personal training facility in Kansas City since 1986, and he discusses many of the lessons he's learned along the way.  It's become mandatory reading for our entire staff at Cressey Performance.

Glutes Gone Wild - I really enjoyed this T-Nation article from Ben Bruno not just because there were some exercises I hadn't seen before, but because a lot of these exercises are great options for maintaining a training effect on the uninjured side in someone who has a lower extremity injury. Ben has great perspective in this regard, as he's dealt with knee issues and had to be creative to keep his muscle mass and strength up.

IFAST Assessment: Breathing Patterns - I was psyched to see that Bill Hartman is blogging again!  Bill's a super smart guy and always has great information to share, and this post (and the videos in it) touch on an important, but commonly overlooked issue.

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14 Reasons Pitching Velocity Decreases Over the Course of a Season

In the first half of this two-part installment on why pitching velocity changes during the course of a season, I outlined 9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season.  As you'll appreciate after reading today's post, there are actually a lot more ways by which pitching velocity can decrease over the course of a season. Let's examine them individually:

1. Body weight reductions 

This is far and away the most prominent reason pitchers lose velocity as a season goes on.  In fact, it's so big a problem that I devoted an entire blog to it: The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity.

2. Strength loss

As I discussed in my first book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, strength is an important foundation for power.  And, taking it a step further, power is certainly an important part of pitching.  As the season goes on, many guys just don't get in the quality weight room work they need to maintain strength, and power on the mound tails off.

3. Injury

It goes without saying that if you're hurt, you won't throw as hard. This isn't just a shoulder or elbow thing, either; sprained ankles, sore hips, tight lower backs, oblique strains, and stiff necks can all wreak havoc on velocity. If something is bothering you, get it fixed before it causes you to develop bad habits.

4. Loss of mobility

When people hear the word "mobility," they typically just of tissue length.  However, mobility is simply one's ability to get into a desired position or posture.  In other words, it's a complex interaction of not just actual tissue length, but also strength/stability, tissue quality, and kinesthetic awareness.  If you don't continue working on mobility drills, static stretching (when appropriate), foam rolling, and your strength training program, one of the components of this equation can suffer.  

Obviously, as I wrote previously What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, stride length is the best example of this phenomenon.  However, what happens at the shoulder is another great example, too.  One who loses thoracic mobility or scapular stability may stiffen up at the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint; it's possible to gain range of motion without even stretching at the "stiff" joint!

600px-Corey_Kluber_on_June_27,_2013

5. Excessive workload

This is the time of year when a lot of guys start hitting all-time highs for innings in a season.  And, with the games getting more important at the end of the high school and college seasons, pitch counts often rise when the innings really matter.  It's very simple:

Fatigue masks fitness.

If you're dragging and the velocity is down, a short-term reduction in throwing volume is often the quickest path to getting velocity back - particularly in pitchers who are throwing more innings than ever before.  Throwing an easy flat-ground instead of a bullpen between starts is one way to stay fresh, or you may opt to alternating higher pitch counts with shorter outings.  If I hear about one of our high school pitchers who has an exceptionally high pitch count (105+), I usually tell him to make sure the next one is in the ballpark of 80 pitches.  At that age, arms always seem to be dragging if kids go over 100 pitches in back-to-back outings.

6. Cumulative effect of bad throwing programs

This is best illustrated by a "hypothetical" example that actually happens far too often.

a. Pitcher makes great velocity gains in an off-season with comprehensive throwing program that includes long toss.

b. Pitcher goes in-season and encounters pitching coach that doesn't believe in long toss as part of a throwing program.

c. Pitcher has a velocity loss.

This scenario doesn't just happen because a specific modality (long toss) is removed, but also because of the effect it has on a pitching routine.  This, for me, is why it's so important to have conversations with pitchers on what throwing programs they've done in the past.  What's worked?  What hasn't? It's all about tinkering, and rarely about overhauling.

7. Cumulative effect of distance running

This 2008 study might be the greatest research that has ever been performed on baseball players - mostly because it reaffirmed my awesomeness by proving me right: Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players.

These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight pitchers over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically – except the running portion of their strength and conditioning programs. Three days per week, the “sprint” group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts. The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

Over the course of the season, the endurance group’s peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts.  You still want to distance run?

Of course, there are still the tired old arguments of "it flushes out my arm" (much better ways to do that), it clears my head (go see a psychologist), "it keeps my weight down" (eat less crap, and do more lifting and sprinting), and "it helps me bounce back better between starts" (then why are so many players in MLB living on anti-inflammatories?).  The system is broke, but instead of fixing it based on logic, many coaches continue to change the oil on a car with no wheels.

Epic-Fail-Guy-300x250

8. Insufficient warm-ups

While there are definitely some outstanding opportunities out there to develop in the summer, the truth is that summer baseball is notorious for sloppy organization.  Guys are allowed to show up ten minutes before game time, do a few arm circles, and then go right to it.  If you're walking directly from your car to the mound, don't expect your velocity to be too good in the first few innings.

9. Cumulative effect of altered sleep patterns

Early in my training career, I realized that missing sleep the night before a training session really didn't have any effect on my next training session.  However, if I had consecutive nights of little to no sleep, it crushed me.  I know of a lot of people who are the same way.

Now, imagine an entire season of red-eye flights, 3AM bus departures, and going to bed at 1am every night.  Beyond just the sleep deprivation component, you have the dramatic change in circadian rhythms that takes place.  Just head over to Pubmed and look at the hundreds of studies examining the health impact of working night shifts (shift work disorder); you'll see preliminary research linking it to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a host of other issues. I firmly believe it's one of many reasons injuries in baseball are on the rise - and certainly one potential culprit when velocity declines as a season progress. 

10. Pitching off a crappy mound

Many players wind up pitching off terrible mounds during summer ball, and when the mound isn't groomed nicely, you get into "oh crap, I don't want to get hurt" mode with your landing leg. If you aren't comfortable landing, you shorten your stride, or reach for a "safe" part of the mound, messing with your mechanics in the process. Additionally, velocity is going to be lower when the mound height isn't as elevated; it's just how gravity works.

11. Mechanical tinkering for the bad

In part 1, I noted that mechanics changes in the summertime can be a source of velocity improvements.  They can also, however, be a reason for guys losing velocity.  Not all changes are new changes, and it's important to be careful about overhauling things on the advice of each new coach you encounter. Repetition is important, and it's hard to get it if you're always tinkering with something.

12. Dehydration

Dehydration can have a dramatically negative effect on strength and power.  Most athletes are chronically dehydrated at rest, and certainly during pitching outings in the summer heat.  Hydration status is an important thing to monitor if you want to throw gas.

13. Throwing to a new catcher

Being comfortable with the guy who is catching your pitches is a big part of success on the mound.  When the catcher is constantly changing, there is more hesitation - especially if his pitch-calling tendencies are different from those of your previous catcher.  If you're constantly shaking him off, it'll mess with your pace on the mound and slow you down.

14. More erratic throwing schedule

One of the biggest adjustments a pitcher will ever have to make is switching from starting to relieving or vice versa.  While going to the bullpen can often lead to an increase in velocity, it can make other guys erratic with their delivery, as they've learned to rely on the pre-game period to get everything "synced up."

Meanwhile, thanks to an increased pitch count, guys who go from the bullpen to the starting rotation sometimes see a drop in velocity.  As examples, just compare John Smoltz or Daniel Bard out of the bullpen to what they have done in the starting rotation.

The only thing tougher than making that switch is to constantly bounce back and forth between the two, as it really hurts your between-outings preparation.  How you prepare to throw seven innings is considerably different than what you do if you're just going to go out and throw 10-15 pitches.

These are only 14 reasons velocity may dip, and their are surely many more.  Maybe your girlfriend cheated on you with the bat boy and you got distracted, or you decided to just throw knuckleballs.  The point is that - as if the case with many things in life - it's a lot easier to screw up (lose velocity) than it is to thrive (gain velocity). Plan accordingly!


 

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9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season

We're a few months into the college and professional baseball seasons. Not every pitcher's velocity is where it needs to be just yet, and that's no surprise. In today's post, I'll cover nine reasons why pitching velocity increases over the course of a season.

1. Increased external rotation

Over the course of a season, pitchers acquire slightly more external rotation at the shoulder (roughly five degrees, for most).  Since external rotation is correlated with pitching velocity, gaining this range of motion is helpful for adding a few ticks on the radar gun as compared to early in the season. However, this added external rotation comes with a price; it is usually accompanied by increased anterior instability and, in some cases, a loss of internal rotation.  As such, you need to stabilize or stretch accordingly.

layback

2. Optimization of mechanics

Many pitchers integrate subtle or dramatic changes to their mechanics in the off-season and early in-season periods, but these changes won't "stick" until they have some innings under their belt.  June is often when those corrections start to settle in.

3. Transfer of strength to power

Some pitchers build a solid foundation of strength in the off-season, but take extra time to learn to display that force quickly (power).  In short, they're all the way toward the absolute strength end of the continuum, as described in this video:

4. More important game play

Some guys just don't get excited to pitch in games that don't mean much.  While that is an issue for another article, the point here is to realize that a greater external stimulus (more fans, playoff atmosphere, important games) equates to a greater desire to throw cheddar.  Soon, the high school and college post-seasons will be underway, so you'll start to see some of the big radar gun readings more frequently.

5. Warmer weather

Many pitchers struggle to throw hard in cold weather.  Pedro Martinez was a great example; during his time in Boston, he was undoubtedly one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, yet his Aprils never held a candle to what he did during the rest of the year (good thing his change-up was filthy, too).

800px-Pedro's_return

Source: Andrew Malone

Warmer weather makes it easier to warm up, and many guys - especially the more muscular, stiff pitchers - need to lengthen the pre-game warm-up early in the season.  If you're a guy who typically doesn't see your best velocity numbers until you've got several innings under your belt, extend your pre-game warm-up, dress in layers, and don't pick up a ball until you're sweating.

6. New desire to prove oneself

For many pitchers, summer ball is a new beginning.  This might be in the form of a Cape Cod League temp contract, or a situation where a player is transitioning from a smaller high school that doesn't face good competition on to a program that plays a challenging summer schedule.  Again, that external stimulus can make a huge difference, as it often includes better catchers, better coaching, more fans, better mounds, and more scouts behind the plate. 

7. Mechanical tinkering

Piggybacking on the previous example, some pitchers may find their mechanics thanks to help from summer coaches.  So, a change in coaching perspective can often bring out the best in guys.

8. Freedom to do one's own thing.

I know of quite a few pitchers who've thrived in the summer time simply because their pitching coaches haven't been in the way.  Usually, this means they can go back to long tossing rather than being restricted to 90-120 feet all season.  It's a great way to get arm speed back.

fstupper

9. Different pitch selection

There are quite a few college coaches who have guys throw 75% sliders in their outings - and wind up ruining plenty of elbows in the process.  Summer ball is a chance for many guys to take a step back and really work on commanding their fastballs, so it's not uncommon to see a few more mph on the radar gun.

In an upcoming post, I'll outline the reasons why pitching velocity may decrease over the course of a season. 

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 5

Here are this week's list of tips to help you lose fat, gain muscle, get strong, and be just a little more awesome, compliments of Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

1. Cook with coconut oil.

Many people know that cooking with oils such as extra virgin olive oil is an easy way to add healthy fats into their diet. However, coconut oil is a less utilized source of good fatty acids.

Coconut oil is a great source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are named as such due the medium chain length of their molecular structure. What does this mean for your health? First, MCTs are more easily utilized by the muscles in your body, which means they are transported quickly to your mitochondria for energy, and therefore less likely to be stored as adipose tissue. MCTs also have a thermogenic effect that is nearly double that of other dietary fat.

Secondly, MCTs’ shorter chain length makes them easily digestible, which is a plus for populations with nutrient absorption issues.

Third, MCTs are ketogenic, producing two ketone bodies when metabolized. Ketones are used by the body as a source of energy, and in a lower carbohydrate diets can be beneficial as a source of energy.

2. Use the GHR.

The Glute Ham Raise (GHR) is a fantastic posterior chain builder. The GHR offers a closed kinetic chain option that trains the hamstrings in knee flexion, and thus provides incredible transfer to other hip dominant strength exercises like the squat and deadlift. Seek out a gym that has this piece of equipment, or pony up and add it to the equipment in your gym. Below is a video on how to set up the GHR properly and perform the exercise:


 

3. Figure out exactly how much caffeine you really need pre-training.

In a recent study featured in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers concluded that 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight was needed to significantly increase squat and bench press maximal power. To put things in perspective, that is roughly 273mg of caffeine for a 200lb person. Upon a short google search of popular energy drinks, the average caffeine content looks to be about 150mg / 16oz can. An 8oz cup of brewed coffee yields roughly 90-100mg of caffeine. It is also worth noting that "Booty Sweat" energy drink does not deliver enough caffeine to be effective over a bodyweight of 190lbs, giving us yet another reason not to drink it.

The take home message? Caffeine has been utilized as a performance aid for many years. It is safe for most populations, and the amount does not need to be anything crazy to receive the benefits. With all the junk found in most energy supplements, consider black coffee as your new “go-to” when you need a pick-me-up before hitting the gym.

Note: to learn more about coffee, check out our previous feature here at EricCressey.com: Coffee Consumption and Health: Part 1 and Part 2.

4. Get a grip.

A strong grip is synonymous with strong person. It makes perfect sense: you can't lift what you aren't able to hold.

Furthermore, almost every lift involves your hands on the weight, whether or not they seem to have direct transfer into that exercise's success. Why is that important? When your hands are strong, that means your forearms are strong, and if you make the effort to squeeze the bar, DB, or other implement during every lift you will apply tension that transfers from your lower arm, through the elbow, and into the shoulder girdle. This is called "radiant tension."

Paying attention to training your grip will also help with lower arm pain, and keep your elbows and wrists healthy. Make sure to include a well rounded approach, with exercises that take the wrists through various ranges of motion. As well as exercises for the hands to include pinching and squeezing. Some easy options are: Farmer's Carries, Plate Pinches, Towel Rows and Pull Ups, thick handles, and wrist curl variations.

5. Surround yourself with different people.

In order to be successful, you must constantly challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone. If you become complacent, you will eventually be passed by. With that in mind, make sure that you are constantly surrounding yourself with different people. In doing so, you will expose yourself to varying beliefs and ideas. Everyone has taken a slightly,or dramatically different path to get to where they are; even if they operate in the same sphere as you. There is something to be learned from just about anyone, if you are open to it.

Surround yourself with people who are as committed to being great as you are, but not people who are the same as you. In doing so you will find that your strengths have once again become a weakness, and your weakness may actually be a strength. The reality is that your constant exposure to varying ideologies is making you better.

With that said, here’s an action item to kick off your weekend. Schedule a time right now to go observe another coach, train with a different training partner, or just hit up a training session at a different gym than you normally attend so that you can experience new equipment and observe what other exercisers and trainers are doing.

Co-Author Greg Robins is strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Check out his website, www.GregTrainer.com, for more great content.

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