Home 2013 March

EliteBaseballMentorships.com: Taking Baseball Preparation to the Next Level

As many of you know, my colleagues Matt Blake, Eric Schoenberg, and I introduced our Elite Baseball Mentorships program back in the fall, and the first phase 1 event in early January was a big success.  Attendees included strength and conditioning coaches, baseball coaches, physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, and chiropractors - and the feedback was fantastic.

With that in mind, today, I'm excited to announce the debut of our mentorships website, www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com

On this page, you'll be able to find information on the agendas and dates for upcoming courses, see testimonials from previous attendees, and register to take part in the fun.  Our next two events will be June 23-25 (Phase 1) and August 18-20 (Phase 2). 

As a participant, you'll attend lectures, review case studies, observe training, and interact with hundreds of high school, college, and professional baseball players. We feel strongly that these events provide the premier baseball education experience in the industry, and we'd love an opportunity to show you why.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring some guest blogs from CP pitching coordinator Matt Blake and physical therapist Eric Schoenberg to complement my own writing so that you can get a feel for how this provides a unique, multi-disciplinary educational opportunity.  In the meantime, be sure to check out www.EliteBaseballMentorships.com to learn more and sign up, as we expect these to sell out quickly.

All the Best,

Eric Cressey

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So You Want to Start Sprinting?

While sprinting has been around since the dawn of man, only in the past few years has it really taken off as true fitness trend. In other words, it was either what we did to kill our dinner in prehistoric times, or it was a modern athletic competition. Only recently have we realized that doing sprint work for our interval training is a tremendously effective way to get/stay lean, enhance mobility, improve athleticism, and prepare ourselves for the demands that life throws our way.

Heading out to sprint full-tilt when you haven’t been doing any running work in recent months is, however, analogous to signing up for calculus when you haven’t brushed up on basic math of late. The main difference is that you can’t rip your hamstrings off your pelvis doing calculus!

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Sprint work requires tremendous mobility, good tissue quality, and adequate strength to tolerate significant ground reaction forces and a wide variety of joint angles. You don’t prepare for this with your “typical” gym workouts, so before I have some specific modifications in place that you’ll want to follow. To that end, below, I’ve provided you with seven tips you can apply to ease into sprint work so that you can get the benefits of it with less of the risk.

1. Do these foam rolling drills and four mobility exercises every day for a month.

These drills are like summer reading before a tough English class. You have to do them so that you can hit the ground running (pun intended).

2. Sprint uphill first.

People often get hurt when they overstride; they’ll pull the hamstrings on the front leg. Sprinting uphill doesn’t really allow you to overstride, though, and it’s also good because you go up with each step, but don’t come down quite as much. Ground reaction forces are much lower, so this is a great option for easing into top-speed sprinting. (great studies here and here, for those interested).

While it’s more ideal to do uphill sprinting outside, it is okay to do this on a treadmill. After all, you’re just trying to lose your spare tire or be a little better in beer league softball, not go to the Olympics.

I like to see a month of 2x/week uphill sprint work before folks start testing the waters on flat terrain.

3. Don’t sprint at 100% intensity right away.

Contrary to what you may have heard, you don’t have to run at 100% intensity to derive benefits from sprint work. In fact, a lot of the most elite sprinters in the world spend a considerable amount of time running at submaximal intensities, and they are still lean and fast.

The bulk of your sprint work should be in the 70-90% of top speed range. You might work up to some stuff in the 90-100% zone as you’re fully warmed up, but living in this top 10% all the time is a recipe for injury, especially if you’re over the age of 35-40 and degenerative changes are starting to kick in.

When you first start out, sprinting is new and exciting, and it's very easy to get overzealous and push the volume and frequency side of the equation just as you would the intensity side.  Don't do it.  For most folks, twice a week is a sufficient complement to a comprehensive strength training program, and the session shouldn't last for more than 30-45 minutes - most of which will be you resting between bouts of sprinting.  If you find that they're 90-120 minute sessions, you're either doing too much volume or not working hard enough.  The speed and quality of your work will fall off pretty quickly as you fatigue, so be careful about forcing things too quickly.  Beyond just injury prevention benefits, taking it slower on the progressions side of things allows you to test out your footwear of a few weeks to make sure that they're the right shoes for you.

5. Don't sprint on pavement.

I can't think of a more unforgiving surface than pavement, especially since it means that you're more likely to get hit by a car. Unfortunately, it's also the more easy accessible surface for most people. In an ideal world, I like to see folks sprint on grass, artificial turf, or a track surface. Broken glass and hot coals would also be preferable to pavement (for the record, that was a joke, people; don't be that schmuck who goes out to try it).

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6. Don't sprint through fatigue early on.

This is a "go by feel" kind of recommendation. On one hand, you have to sprint through some fatigue to get in the volume it takes to derive the training effects you want: namely, fat loss. However, we also have to appreciate that states of fatigue drive injury rates sky-high in the athletic world. With that trend in mind, I encourage people to run conservatively in the first few months of their sprint training programs; in other words, don't allow a lot of fatigue to accumulate. Instead, take a little extra time between sprints. Then, as your sprinting mechanics and fitness improves (and you've gotten rid of the initial soreness), you can push through some fatigue.

7. Generally speaking, sprint before your lower body strength training work, not after.

People often ask me when the best point in one's training split is to sprint.  As a general rule of thumb, I prefer to have people sprint before they do their lower body strength training sessions.  We might have athletes that will combine the two into one session (sprinting first, of course), but most fitness oriented sprinters would sprint the day or two prior to a lower body session.  A training schedule I like to use for many athletes and non-athletes alike is:

Mo: Lower Body Strength Training (with athletes, we may do some sprint work before this as well)
Tu: Upper Body Strength Training
We: Sprint Work
Th: Lower Body Strength Training
Fr: Upper Body Strength Training
Sa: Sprint Work
Su: Off

In this case, the intensive lower body work is consolidated into three 24-36-hour blocks (Mo, We-Th, Sa).

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Conversely, I've also met lifters who like to sprint at 70-80% effort the day after a lower body strength training session, as they feel like it helps with promoting recovery.

Closing Thoughts

As you can tell, while there are definitely some tried and true strategies for avoiding injury when you undertake a sprinting program, there are also some areas that are open to a bit of interpretation.  The value of incorporating sprinting into one's program is undeniable, though, so I'd encourage you to test the waters to see how it fits in with your strength and conditioning programs.  At the very least, it'll give you some variety and help get you outdoors for some fresh air.

If you're looking for ideas on how to incorporate sprinting in a comprehensive strength and conditioning program, I'd encourage you to check out my latest resource, The High Performance Handbook

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Fitness Feeds: A Collaborative Upcycling Effort for Charity

Recently, I had a conversation with my good friend John Romaniello about charity work. John brought up how he is most passionate about feeding those who can’t afford to eat in America, and something he said hit a nerve with me:

"I find it to be the very definition of irony that we spend much of our time in the fitness world telling people to eat less to lose weight or eat more to gain weight. Meanwhile, in America, there are people who still can’t afford to eat – period."

I thought back to when I was a kid and discovered that my mother (a high school teacher) kept food in a drawer of her desk to feed students who came to school hungry. It was astounding to me that in my hometown – a reasonably affluent community in Southern Maine – there were still families who couldn’t afford to eat.

John and my conversation ultimately brought in another fitness friend, Ben Bruno, and we discussed how we might be able to use our industry presence to increase awareness and, more importantly, make it easy for our readers and colleagues to help to feed folks. We stumbled upon an organization called Causes International that will allow us to do just that, and – as it turns out – much more.

You see, Causes International focuses on upcycling, the process of donating your used electronics so they can be sent back UP the chain, and either disposed of in an environmentally clean and sustainable way—or given to those in need. This is a big deal, as electronics that aren’t disposed of properly often wind up releasing extremely toxic heavy metals—such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and deadly toxins like polyvinyl chlorides—directly into the environment. We may not notice it yet in the US, as over 80% of our "electronic trash" is sent overseas, but there are parts of China and other industrialized countries where people can’t breath the air or drink the water, and children are dying or being born with defects because of these toxins.

These electronics – even if they’re outdated or broken – actually have residual value to those who refurbish them and introduce them into other markets, or simply reuse the parts. With over 12 million laptops thrown away in 2007 alone in America, and more than 100 million smartphones tossed in the garbage annually around the world, there are a lot of financial resources going to waste, literally and figuratively.

That’s where Causes International comes in; they have developed not only education—but practical, real-world solutions for fixing the e-waste epidemic for good. In this case, in line with the theme of our drive (Fitness Feeds), the “good” will also refer to feeding the hungry.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1…

Do your normal spring cleaning and notice how many outdated pieces of technology you find (the average American has 4-5 items). Figure out which items you want to donate, and enter them for donation directly on the special donation page Causes set up for us at www.FitnessFeeds.org. Over 60,000 items, in 13 different categories - iPhones, iPods, iPads, and MacBooks (even with shattered screens), plus various other items, like other smartphones, video games, graphing calculators, or digital cameras - are eligible.

Step 2…

Once you do that, you’ll receive a free, pre-paid shipping label you can print off —so that you don’t have to spend a penny or leave your house in order to send in your used electronics. You just hand it to a UPS driver or put it in one of their 40,000+ boxes around the country.

Step 3…

This is the best part: the items you donate can be used to generate revenue to help Feeding America put food on the table for hungry Americans. Every $1 raised can provide 8 meals for those in need. That’s not a typo: $1 yields 8 meals.

And, your donation is 100% tax deductible.  There's no cash outflow, either, so Causes has done a great job of combating the "donor fatigue" seen by charities in a down economy.

Our goal with this drive is to provide 100,000 meals to those in need by the end of April, and we can do it with your help. We’d love it if you’d put that broken or outdated iPhone to great use, and encourage your friends to do the same by passing along the www.FitnessFeeds.org link.

This is an absolute win/win for everyone. You’re cleaning out the clutter in your house, while feeding those in need, while saving the Earth, while getting a tax deduction – and without spending a penny. However, Ben, John, and I wanted to sweeten the deal by offering a free PDF special report, “30 Ways to Shake Up Your Training Programs Today,” to anyone who donates. Just forward your receipt on to receipts@fitnessfeeds.org and we'll send it along. We'd normally sell it, but in this case, it's just our way of saying thanks for supporting a great cause.

Thanks for your time, consideration, and support. I’d encourage you to click the link below to start upcycling today:

www.FitnessFeeds.org

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Fitness Professionals: Figuring Out Your Learning Style

One of the more profound realizations any fitness professional can make is that not all clients and athletes learn the exact same way.  Some athletes simply need to be told what to do.  Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way.  And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues.

These learning styles aren't specific to the athletes' training experience, demeanor, intelligence, injury history, or previous coaching experiences.  I've had professional athletes and very inexperienced athletes from various walks of life in each categorization.  People are just wired the way they're wired, and you're better off working with that, as opposed to changing it.

Every good fitness professional gets to this realization eventually on the coaching front, but I'm constantly amazed at how individuals never stop to consider how it might apply to their own learning.  In other words, just like you can make faster fitness progress when you have the right cues, you can also acquire a lot more knowledge as a coach when you appreciate your own unique learning style.  Let me explain.

I'm an auditory and visual learner.  I can watch a DVD, read a book, or listen to a presenter and retain information very well.  I find hands-on sessions at seminars to be far less productive than lectures.  I don't get excited about going to seminars that are just full days of exercise; I'd rather just read the handouts or watch a DVD of the event at 8x fast-forward (yes, I often watch DVDs in fast forward).  This makes me dramatically different than most fitness professionals, though.  In my experience, far more than half of attendees at seminars thrive in the hands-on components, and struggle to learn and apply knowledge from reading book chapters.

What does this mean for you?  Very simply, you need to figure out what your learning style is and then plan your continuing education accordingly. 

If you do well with hands-on learning, attending a workshop with 1,500 attendees probably isn't going to be a great learning experience for you. A 600-page book would probably bore you to death. You'd be better off seeking out a more intimate learning experience like a mentorship - or even just hiring a personal trainer you respect to coach you through something you'd like to learn.

If you're more like me and do well with just reading or listening, a lecture-based experience might work great, even with a larger crowd.  And, books might be a much more affordable option for continuing education, as you can get a ton of information without travel expenses.

If you're an observational learner, make sure that you get to seminars (like the Perform Better tour) that have practical components to complement the lectures.  Pick up DVDs and order webinars in lieu of buying books.  And, make trips to visit other gyms to learn; we have trainers come to visit us at Cressey Sports Performance all the time, for example.

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The great thing about technology in today's society is that it's made the same great information available via multiple mediums.  If you want to learn Shirley Sahrmann's methods, for instance, you can read her books, watch her DVDs, go take a course with her, or study in a fellowship until a therapist who has trained under her.  And, you can even pursue all of these avenues with someone who has previously learned from her, but figured out how to relate information in a manner that might be more user-friendly for you. 

The sky is the limit; you just need to figure out what works best for you.

This is one reason why I'm so proud of the resource we've put together with Elite Training Mentorship.  It combines in-service lectures, articles, exercise demonstrations, sample programs, and case studies all in one place; there is something for everyone.  If you haven't checked it out already, I'd encourage you to do so.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 37

Courtesy of Greg Robins, here are this week's tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Try these two cues to keep your butt down with your bench press technique.

2. Remember to have fun!

If you are reading this post, then you probably fall into this category: You take the time to educate yourself on training and nutrition – so much so that you might tend to find yourself over analyzing and reasoning everything you do. That’s all well and good, but think back to the days when you just started training. Maybe some of you had to fight against your will to workout, but most of you probably did it because you – I don’t know – actually liked it?!

If I scrutinized everything I did in my training, I’d come to the conclusion that about 20% of the stuff I do isn’t that “intelligent” at all. Then why would I do it? After all, aren’t I supposed to know better than most? The truth is that too many people know too much for their own good. They overanalyze and dissect every little thing they do in the gym.

I used to be one of those guys who scoffed at others in the gym who did curls and triceps extensions. “Ha!” I would think. “What a waste of time, they should be doing more compound exercises.” Now I know enough to think otherwise.

Make sure your training includes some things you just want to do. Want to do curls, and shrugs, and band extensions until your arms explode? Do it. Be safe, but have some fun, for crying out loud.

3. Try spaghetti squash, a versatile vegetable that requires very little preparation.

Spaghetti squash is awesome as a vegetable side, and you can even use it to replace pasta in various recipes.  The best part is that it's ridiculously easy to prepare.  How easy?  Try this.

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Pour a little olive oil on both halves, and then sprinkle cinnamon, salt, and pepper on there.  Bake it at 350 degrees until it softens up. 

Yep, it's that simple.

4. Ladies, consider doing more volume.

I have trained my fair share of women. I have coached numerous figure competitors, female athletes, a few female strength athletes, and enough middle aged women that I feel like I have 5 or 6 people in my life who would willingly claim me as their son. Heck, I even train my own mom twice a week.

There are quite a few things I have realized about training women, but one stands out: they THRIVE lifting weights at about 50 – 75% of what they’re actually capable of lifting. Maybe it’s a neuromuscular coordination thing, a mental thing, or likely a hormonal thing. The point is I am very certain it is true.

50-75% is an optimal intensity for training at higher volumes. Volume is a measure of “total work done,” and knowing that, I tend to keep the volume in a woman’s program (person dependent) quite high. Smart waving through varying amounts of volume should still take place for the best result. However, the “low volume” mark for women can be set higher than that mark for men.

For the women out there, consider training at a higher volume more frequently. This is easily done by adding additional sets to your main exercises and/or by adding 1-3 drop-down sets after your main work sets. The following is an example of a drop-down set:

A1. Squat – 3 sets of 6 at 185lbs, followed by 2 sets of 10-12 at 145lbs

5. Match hand position to stance width.

Recently, Eric did a short video on hand spacing difference between the sumo and conventional deadlift. In short, with the wider sumo deadlift one should utilize a wider spacing, and with a narrower conventional stance the opposite is true. This tip is also applicable to the squat.

Many people advocate getting the hands in as close to the shoulders as possible. I find this works very well with narrower stance squat set-ups, such as the Olympic high bar squat. However, as taller individuals move their feet wider and wider they may find more success using a hand spacing that is also wider. Many folks can go super wide and manage to move the hands in quite narrow. While this does create a lot of “good stiffness,” it may not make for the best control of the bar, or ability to find the optimal spinal position.

A very narrow hand position will force the torso to extend quite a bit, keeping the torso more upright. That fits well in a stance width that depends on a more vertical back position to keep the bar over the center of the foot. However, as the feet move out wider, the lift changes, and a more pronounced forward lean is optimal for keeping the load over the center of the foot. It’s not the answer for everyone, and many people are successful doing the opposite of that. If you are having issues getting comfortable under the bar, give this a try!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/22/13

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

Who Are "They," Anyway? - This was an outstanding post by Mariana Bichette, who - as a MLB wife and the mother of a minor leaguer and 15-year-old ballplayer - has a tremendous perspective on everything from player development to scouting, not to mention how parents can best handle the teenage baseball years.  I hear about parents talking about "well they ranked this kid as #4 in his class in Kentucky" (or whatever other number/state) on random blogs or showcase websites.  If you liked my recent article, 20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success, you'll love everything Mariana writes.  Look around her website and you'll see what I mean.

Roman's Road Rules - This article from my buddy, John Romaniello, is a great resource to anyone who travels regularly but still wants to eat clean and train regularly.

Vitamin D Deficiency Rampant in Patients Undergoing Orthopedic Surgery, Damaging Patient Recovery - Vitamin D has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, and with good reason; it clearly has some serious implications in terms of our health on the musculoskeletal and endocrine fronts (just to name a few example).  This article at Science Daily certainly verifies that, and serves as a good follow-up the study a few years back that demonstrated players with deficient pre-season Vitamin D levels were more likely to get hurt over the course of an NFL season.

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Exercise of the Week: Side Bridge Rows

Check out this week's exercise of the week: the side bridge row.  I think you'll find it to be a great progression you can add to your strength training programs.

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6 Tips for People Who Stand All Day

Sitting has been blamed for a lot of the "modern" musculoskeletal conditions and poor posture we see in today's society, and rightfully so: having this posture all day is an absolutely terrible way to treat your body.

Fortunately, by teaching folks to get up and move around during the day, we can break the "creep" that sets in over the course of time.  Additionally, we can implement ergonomic adjustments (e.g., standing desks) and mobility and strength training programs that favorably impact posture to prevent these issues from becoming a serious problem long-term.

Unfortunately, though, in the process of focusing our heavy attention on those who sit all day, we've forgotten to show some love to the individuals who have to spend the entire day on their feet.  And, this is actually a large segment of the population, encompassing the majority of young athletes, manual laborers, and - you guessed it - fitness professionals and coaches. 

My name is Eric, and I have a problem: standing 8-10 hours per day.

It's important to appreciate that "good posture" is different for everyone.  If I sit all day, I'll probably wind up in posterior pelvic tilt. Conversely, when you see folks who stand all day, it's generally greater lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt):

Of course, I should reiterate that this is a generalization. There are folks who sit all day who do so in anterior tilt, and those who stand all day in posterior tilt.  As such, you have to be careful to assess and not assume.

With all that aside, let's talk about my top six tips for those who stand all day.

1. Stand differently.

This is clearly the most obvious of the bunch, but it never ceases to amaze me that folks will ask for all the best exercises to correct X posture or Y condition, yet they won't pay attention to modifying their daily postural habits to get the ball rolling.

If you're on your feet and stuck in extension all day, engage the anterior core and activate the glutes to get yourself into a bit more posterior pelvic tilt.  Doing so can take you to a position of discomfort to one of complete relief in a matter of seconds. 

Remember that these adjustments have to be conscious before they can become subconscious.  In other words, be consistent with these basic adjustments and eventually you'll find yourself establishing a better resting posture.

Also, if your posture looks like this...

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...make sure you check out this great post from Greg Robins to change your "standing strategy."

2. Learn to exhale fully.

The rectus abdominus and external obliques are two prominent muscles responsible for exhalation.  Both of them also posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  As such, when you learn to exhale fully, the pelvis posteriorly tilts and the ribs come down, taking you out of excessive lordosis and relieving some of the annoying lower back tightness you may be experiencing.  One of my favorite drills for this was inspired by the Postural Restoration Institute.  Deep squat belly breathing gets you some length of the latissimus dorsi (a gross extensor) and flexes the spine back toward neutral.  During inhalation, the belly pushes out against the quads to make sure that the individual isn't breathing into the supplemental respiratory muscles (e.g., sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, pec minor) we don't want to use.  Then, we just try to get all the air out on each exhale.

Of course, there are several other options you can use on this front as long as you understand the positions you're trying to achieve and the cues you want to integrate.

3. Break your day up with "relief" postures.

I always tell our clients that the best posture is the one that is constantly changing.  It's healthy to be a good "fidgeter." This also applies to the way you stand - or your avoidance of excessive standing.  You simply have to break up the day.  Maybe you try to find time to sit, lay on your back for a bit, or go into a half-kneeling (lunge) position.  These are great benefits of being a fitness professional; you're constantly going from one position to the next for the sake of demonstrating or coaching an exercise.

If rolling around on the ground isn't an option, look to integrate a split-stance position while standing.  It's much more difficult to hang out in excessive lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt if you're in a split-stance position than if your feet are side-by-side.  It's also one reason why we teach all of our wall slide variations with one leg forward (usually the right leg).

4. Work in low-level anti-extension drills throughout the day.

If you do have the freedom in your schedule and responsibilities to incorporate some different mobility drills during the day, here are some quick and easy ones you can apply without any equipment.

5. Avoid feeding into your resting postural dysfunction with flawed training approaches.

People who stand in extension can usually "get away with it" if they train well.  When they stand in extension all day and then feed into this dysfunction in their training programs, things can get worse sooner than later.  In other words, if you're standing all day and then you crush hyperextensions in all your workout routines, expect to have a really tight lower back. 

However, it's not just hyperextensions that would be a problem.  Rather, doing a ton of arching on the bench press and squat could make things worse as well.  You may not be a candidate for an aggressive powerlifting-style bench press with a big arch, as an example. However, a more moderate set-up should be fine.

As important as what not to do is what you should do - and you should definitely work on glute activation/posterior chain strength...

...as well as anterior core stability with prone bridges, reverse crunches, and rollout/fallout variations.

Take all together, I'm basically saying that if you have an extension bias in your daily life, you probably need a flexion bias in your training.  Likewise, if you have a flexion bias in your daily life, you probably need an extension bias in your training.

6. Play around with footwear.

Not all feet are created equal, and I'm a perfect example: I have super high arches.  Heavy supinators like me typically don't do well on hard surfaces for extended periods of time, as we're built more for propulsion than deceleration (probably one more reason that I'm a powerlifter and not a distance runner).  So, you can imagine what walking around on these floors for 8-10 hours per day does to my knees and lower back.

I'm able to minimize the stress by putting some cushioned insoles in my sneakers and changing them every 6-8 weeks.  The insoles don't change the contour of the shoe; they just offer some padding.  Conversely, heavy pronators may do better for extended periods of times on their feet by wearing firmer shoes, or trying out some orthotics.  The answer is different for everyone, but at the end of the day, the take-home message is the same: if you're going to be on your feet all day, you better find the right footwear for you.

Wrap-up

If you've read this entire article, chances are that you feel my pain - literally and figuratively - and realize the standing all day can be just as problematic as sitting all day.  Fortunately, I can promise you that these strategies do work, as I employ them every day myself.  Give them a shot and you'll find that "standing around" is much more tolerable.

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Elite Training Workshop at Cressey Performance: April 21

I'm psyched to announce that Cressey Performance will be hosting the first ever Elite Training Workshop in the Boston area on Sunday, April 21.  Presenting will be Mike Robertson, Mike Reinold, Dave Schmitz, Tony Gentilcore, Jared Woolever, and Steve Long.  Additionally, there will be a "bonus" fitness business day with Pat Rigsby and Nick Berry on Saturday afternoon, April 20.  At just $99.95, this is an outstanding value.

Click here for more information and to register!

Hope to see you there!

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Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Mobility Training for Catchers

Today, my good friend Joey Wolfe has a great guest post on the topic of training baseball catchers.  Joey's a really bright guy with a lot of experience on this front; I think you'll enjoy this. - EC

One of the biggest challenges for young players is being able to make adjustments to their swing, throwing mechanics, running mechanics, etc. Sometimes mental barriers get in the way of making the adjustment, yet often times it is a physical limitation; more specifically a mobility, stability or sequencing issue. As a coach it can be very frustrating trying to get a player to make an adjustment to their mechanics that their body is simply unable to make. A good coach will try to figure out another way to communicate the adjustment to the player. A great coach will figure out where the problem lies. This is where the strength & conditioning coaches come in. Although most of us may not know what it means to beat the ball to the spot, all of us should have a good understanding of how to improve the mobility of our athletes. It is this skill set that will directly affect the performance of our athletes.

The main responsibility of any catcher is to catch the ball. If a catcher cannot consistently catch the ball he will quickly find himself playing in the outfield. A catcher has many responsibilities; handling the pitching staff, calling pitches, receiving, blocking, throwing; the list goes on. In order for a catcher to be successful they must first and foremost be comfortable. Without the proper mobility the catching duties can quickly go from hard to impossible. Here are the three areas that stand out as the limiting factors in regards to mobility for catchers.

1. Limited ankle mobility: It is imperative that a catcher has mobile ankles. Having mobile ankles allows the catcher to comfortably get in a squatting position. With nobody on base (primary stance) a catcher is generally going to sit into a deep, comfortable squat with the ankles slightly everted. Stiff ankles have a tendency to put more stress on the hips. Also, without ankle mobility a catcher’s ankle sway will be limited. Ankle swaying is extremely important for catchers, especially at the lower levels because pitchers tend to lack command of their pitches. Ankle swaying allows the catcher to get their nose and body in front of the ball without moving the receiving arm too much. When there is a lot of movement with the receiving arm the pitch doesn’t look as good from the umpire’s vantage point. Finally, if an ankle is locked up it will limit the catcher’s ability to get in the proper throwing position to deliver the ball to second base. Although the movement may start at the hip, the ankle needs to have the appropriate amount of mobility to allow the ankle to externally rotate so the back foot can get in the correct position. Here are some of our favorite ankle mobility exercises.

Multiplanar Wall Ankle Mobilizations (previously described by EC here)

Ankle Inversion with Band

Sit with the band attached to your inside foot with a pad under calf so heel is off the ground. Use only your ankle, pull toes to stretch the band shin and return to the starting position for prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during the exercise. There should be less motion moving your foot out than in. This exercise will work the muscles in your lower leg and challenge the coordination in your ankle.

Ankle Eversion with Band

Sit perpendicular to a band that is attached to the outside of your foot. Place a pad under your calf so the heel is off the ground. Move your ankle away, stretching the band for the prescribed number of repetitions. Do not allow any movement throughout your leg or hip during exercise. There will be less motion moving your foot out than in. Working the muscles in your low leg and challenging the coordination in your ankle.

2. Poor thoracic mobility: It has been pretty well documented that limited shoulder mobility and/or thoracic extension will impede one's ability to get into the correct squatting position. Well imagine trying to catch an Aroldis Chapman fastball or a Tim Collins curveball if you can’t get down in a comfortable squatting position; not fun! Remember, the key to being a successful catcher is being comfortable. The absence of thoracic mobility is highlighted when a catcher has to get down into their secondary stance (two strikes on the batter and/or a runner on base). What you’ll find is a rounded upper back and shoulders that roll forward. This creates three problems.

First, it makes for a smaller target for the pitcher. Pitchers want a big target to throw to, not a small one. Therefore, generally speaking, it is the catcher’s job to make himself look as big as possible.

Second, it limits the catcher’s ability to receive the ball comfortably from the pitcher. Often times the catcher will feel “locked up” when they are unable to move freely through their t-spine. A low and away curveball from a right-handed pitcher will give them fits and you can forget about a good right-handed two-seam fastball or filthy left-handed slider. Basically any pitches that require the catcher to go get the ball will create challenges for a catcher that is tight in their t-spine.

Third, when a mobility issue is present the lengthened muscles will serve to dissipate the force transfer from the ground and lead to slower feet. This will make it near impossible to do anything quickly. Whether it is going down to block a ball, throw a runner out or back up first base, being tight up top will effect what is going on down below. Here are a few great exercises to help improve mobility in the t-spine.

Thoracic Spine Mobility - Double Tennis Ball

Tape two tennis balls together to for a "peanut" shape. Lie on your back with the balls under your spine just above your lower back and your hands behind your head. Perform 5 crunches. Then raise your arms over your chest and alternately reach over your head for 5 repetitions with each arm. Move the balls up your spine 1 to 2 inches and repeat the crunches and arm reaches. Continue moving the balls up your spine until they are just above your shoulder blades and below the base of your neck. During the crunches, try and "hinge" on the ball rather than rolling over it. Think about keeping your ribs pushed down to the ground during the arm reaches, as if you were getting a deep massage in your mid to upper back.

Side-Lying Extension-Rotation

Quadruped Extension-Rotation

3. Bad hip mobility: Last, but certainly not least, on the list of mobility restrictions is bad hip mobility. Of the three limitations I have mentioned, this one may be the biggest culprit in young catchers today. Given the number of hours kids spend sitting in class, watching T.V. and playing video games, it comes as no surprise that their hip mobility is negatively affected. We often find that the catchers we work with lack internal rotation (internal rotation deficit), and are short/tight in their hip flexors and adductors.

Two of our favorite stretches to address an internal rotation deficit are the knee-to-knee stretch and the supine dynamic hip internal rotation stretch. Allowing for more rotation in the hips is going to free the catcher to better perform the ankle sway, which really starts at the head of the femur. That internal hip rotation gives the ankles and the rest of the body a better chance to get in front of the ball when receiving a pitch and also allows the feet to get in the proper position when throwing the ball.

Lying Knee-to-Knee Mobilization

As Eric mentioned a few weeks ago in his epic post 15 Static Stretching Mistakes, the lying knee-to-knee stretch can impose some valgus stress at the knees if it isn't coached/cued properly. So, instead of thinking of letting the knees fall in, tell the athlete to actively internally rotate the femurs. The stretch should occur at the hips, not the knees.

Supine Dynamic Hip Internal Rotation

When addressing the adductors (groin), we are advocates of doing as much soft tissue work as one can stand. It’s not easy to get in to all of these areas with a foam roll, so we'll often we’ll have our clients use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball (if they can handle it). After hammering these areas with some soft tissue work, we’ll have our catchers do a few lengthening exercises. A couple of our favorites are the Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs and the Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch. When done right, both of these exercises emphasize the importance of hip mobility while maintaining core stability. Here’s a look at some of these exercises.

Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobs

Half-Kneeling Hip Stretch

Simple and easy way to stretch some of the tightest muscles in the body. Squeeze the glutes of the knee that is on the ground, then push the hips forward. To progress, raise your arms overhead.

Typically, catchers are big guys who – for their size – move free and easy, especially in the aforementioned areas. Being a good catcher is more than just being big and strong. It is about being big and strong while maintaining your mobility and flexibility. Anyone can add size and strength, but if your movement is compromised in the process, then it is almost certain that you will see a decrease in performance. Spend some time doing these mobility exercises before, during (preferable) or after your workouts for the next few weeks and see how much better your body feels. Good luck!

About the Author

Joey Wolfe is the owner and founder of Paradigm Sport, a Santa Cruz based training business that specializes in performance training for athletes. Before his career as a strength & conditioning coach, Joey played baseball professionally in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He now works with dozens of youth, high school, college and professional baseball baseball players. Joey's aptitude in the specific skill sets as well as the strength and conditioning aspects of the game provide him with a unique perspective from which to work with his clients on multiple levels. He can be reached at joey@paradigmsport.com.

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