Home 2013 September (Page 2)

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/12/13

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

How Concern Over Pitcher Usage Can Actually Give College Coaches a Recruiting Advantage - I've been very outspoken in the past about how prior overuse invariably winds up predicting future injury, and this article reflects on the topic as well - including a mention of CP athlete and Vanderbilt Tyler Beede. If you're looking for a good complementary resource, check out this page, which tracks the highest pitch counts in D1 baseball each season.

Real Core Training: Offset Loading: I have to show some love for former CP intern Kyle Arsenault for having his first article published at T-Nation.  It came out great!

Interview with Me - I appeared on the "Smart Science of Slim" podcast.  You can check it out here on YouTube:

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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

I've talked quite a bit in the past about how much I like bottoms-up kettlebell exercises to get great "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers in a more unstable environment. I'm also a big fan of carrying variations - so it gets me pretty pumped up when I can combine the two!  With that in mind, today, I want to talk about the 1-arm Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry.

This is an exercise that I really like to utilize with a lot of our baseball players early in the off-season, as it teaches them to relax the latissimus dorsi to allow proper scapular upward rotation to take place.  My two biggest cues are to "keep the biceps quiet" and "don't let the lower back arch."  If you do these two things, chances are that everything else will "click" just right.  Check out this video for a more detailed coaching tutorial:

I like to program 2-4 sets of 30-40yds on each arm. We'll often use this in place of a pressing exercise with our baseball guys, particularly in the early off-season when we're working to establish optimal scapular upward rotation after a long season.  Give it a shot for yourself and you'll find that it'll quickly be a great addition to your strength training programs, whether you're a throwing athlete or not!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 51 (Set-Up Edition)

Today's guest post comes from CP Coach, Greg Robins.

Since this website first launched, Eric has gone to great lengths to focus on coaching cues you can use to fine-tune your technique on a number of strength exercises.  If you check out his YouTube page, you’ll be greeted with hundreds of videos, many with thorough instructions on now only the “how,” but also the why.

With that said, when I’m working with lifters in person, I always find myself stressing the “little” things to them. In reality, these “little” tips are a really BIG deal. They’re not something taught in the typical exercise science curriculum, nor are they something that crosses the mind of someone who hasn’t taught hundreds of people how to do an exercise. In fact, even people who have spent decades in the gym tend to pass over these sorts of things because they have just become second nature to them.

Taking the time to teach someone these things will set them up for continued success, as well as keep them from having to learn many small lessons the “hard way.”

The number one thing I stress to lifters is to not overlook the set-up. It’s imperative that lifters know how to get in place for an exercise before actually demonstrating the movement. I will usually reference the following phrase:

“Hard start, easy finish”

I’m not sure where I heard this phrase originally, but it has stuck with me for many years. It is obviously applicable to more than lifting weights, and a solid reminder that the harder we work at the start, the smoother the sailing thereafter.

In terms of exercise technique, the more stock you put into your set-up, the better your form and performance will be thereafter.

If you are a coach, MAKE IT A POINT to teach people where to set the pins on the squat rack, how to position the body, their feet, the bar, the weights, etc.  These small tips will make an enormous difference in shortening the learning curve and making exercises more effective as well as safer.

Below, I’ll discuss and demonstrate five set-up points for different lifts. These tips should help out with your own efforts in the gym, as well as with those you may be instructing.

1. Watch your foot position on Bulgarian split squats.

2. Make sure the pins are set correctly to allow you to “get tight” on back squats.

3. Teach the hip thrust from the finish position.

4. Don’t butcher the feet-elevated inverted row set-up.

5. Avoid these common rotary stability set-up mistakes.

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How to Know You’re Not a Deadlift Beginner Anymore

Today, we've got an outstanding guest post from Dave Dellanave, author of the awesome new resource, Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination.

There is a lot of really fantastic deadlift information available on the internet. To be fair, there’s a lot of bad information, too, but that’s another post. The only downside is that it seems like every article falls into one of two camps: either it’s for raw beginners, or for advanced lifters. This is great if you’re just getting started, or tweaking your program to find a few more pounds, but if you’re just on the cusp of surpassing beginner status, it might leave you scratching your head.

Next to people simply lifting too much weight, the most common “mistake” I see from beginners is that they’re afraid to add weight to the bar or to shift to a better starting position. Usually these are people who have diligently put in a fair amount of practice reps, have been reading all the right authors online, and have a desire to do things properly. Whether for fear of injury, or simply because of the desire to do it “right,” they hesitate to make the leap. I’ll come back to what those changes might be in a moment.

My good friend Bret Contreras and I had a long conversation about this in a call we did for Off The Floor. Ultimately, the conclusion we came to on the call is that you’d do well to connect with a qualified coach and get an evaluation. That way, they can see how you move in general and how you deadlift, and hopefully give you the green light to add weight without further hesitation. If you’re not ready, they can tell you what to work on or fix to get there.

dlBookSmall

Upon thinking about this question more, I stand by my original answer, but I think with the visual aid of some stills stolen from YouTube, I can offer a good rule of thumb for when you can take the next step. First, let’s talk about the two big changes that people need to make when they transition from “beginner form” to more “advanced deadlifter form.”

The first big change is starting from a higher hip position. The way most people are taught to deadlift (and this is how I teach clients at my gym) is to start with the hips very low, chest and shoulders “high” relative to the hips and to “squat” the weight up for the initial portion of the lift, and then finish by extending the hips. This is good because it keeps the back in a nice neutral or slightly extended position throughout the hardest part of the lift on the back. This allows a beginner with a relatively weak back to strengthen it. If you look at the form of the very strongest deadlifters in the world, however (Bret did a great post on this with tons of still frames), you will see that every single one of them starts with a higher hip position. At some point you, too, are likely to need to make this change.

Here’s a guy who has (unsuccessfully) made the transition from a higher starting position. He loses position more and more throughout the lift. Luckily for him, he knows it’s bad so presumably he’ll drop the weight and work on getting stronger.

405 Dead Lift (Form Check_ Bad) - YouTube

The second change is the actual addition of more weight to the bar. It sounds simple, but I have added 50 or more pounds to a person’s best deadlift in one training session in the past. As much as I’d like to take credit for that as “trainer mojo,” the reality is that they had never even come close to even approaching their limits in the past. Now, keep in mind, I’m not advocating that everyone go out and explore their outer limits — in fact, I am a staunch advocate of always working within your limits. However, if you could potentially lift 350 pounds and you’ve never lifted more than 250 pounds because you were hesitant, you don’t have to get even near your limit to lift 300.

Things start to feel different when you get closer to your limit, and that sometimes makes people uneasy. The fact is, the lift does change. A fantastic 2011 study by Swinton et al. tracked the path of the bar from the floor to lockout at weights ranging from 10 percent to 80 percent of one-rep max. In theory, the path of the bar is a straight line. In reality, there is about a 7-centimeter (nearly 3 inches) difference in the path from the lightest of weights to 80 percent of max, with the heavier weight drifting farther away. If that doesn’t seem like a lot, try deadlifting with the bar 3 inches away from your shins — on second thought, don’t do that and just take my word for it. Changing the bar path by that much changes everything about how the lift feels. And that’s not even 90 or 100 percent.

A BIOMECHANICAL ANALYSIS OF STRAIGHT AND HEXAGONAL BARBELL DEADLIFTS USING SUBMAXIMAL LOADS.pdf (page 4 of 10)-1

(Source: Swinton, PA et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):2000-9.)

These two changes are not independent of one another, either. At some point, to be able to lift more weight, you will need to make changes that put you in a more favorable position to lift bigger loads.

Here is someone who has clearly put in the time to hone his technique, but he needs to put more weight on the bar and possibly even start with a higher hip position. Either way, he’s ready for more weight.

Deadlift form check - YouTube

So, how do you know when it’s time? Here are two questions you can use to make the call:

  1. Can you maintain your back position throughout the lift up to the heaviest weights with which you’re comfortable? If your back rounds or arches more and more as you lift the weight, you need a stronger back. A lift at 80 or 90 percent of your current max should look the same as 40 percent of your max.  Nearly everyone has a phone with video capabilities now, so shoot a video from the side and compare. If your form is significantly changing as the weight rises, you’re adding too much weight. If your form doesn’t change – it’s time to put more weight on the bar.
  2. Can you lift 1.5x your bodyweight (for men) or 1x your bodyweight (for women) with form that looks the same as half that? If so, you have probably laid enough of a strength foundation to move on to a more favorable starting position with higher hips. When you do so, keep in mind that you still want to keep a good, solid back position that doesn’t go anywhere near end range of motion in either flexion or extension.

Look, these heuristics aren’t perfect — remember I said your best bet is a good coach — but if that isn’t an option then you have a few guidelines to help you move forward. Work within your limits, respect them, and listen to the feedback your body gives you. If it hurts, don’t do it. But if you’ve built a solid base of strength, you can’t get any stronger without moving forward.

Looking for more insights like these on the deadlift - as well as a great program to help you improve your pull?  Be sure to check out Dave's new product, Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination, which is on sale at a great price until Saturday at midnight. I've read it beginning to end, and it's fantastic.

About the Author

David Dellanave is a lifter, coach, and owner of The Movement Minneapolis in the Twin Cities. He implements biofeedback techniques, teaching his clients, ranging from athletes to general population, to truly understand what their bodies are telling them. He writes articles to make you stronger, look better naked, and definitely deadlift more at http://www.dellanave.com/. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddn.

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5 Keys to Long-Term Deadlift Progress

In the fitness industry, for some reason, folks like to pigeonhole coaches into certain specialty roles. Over the years, I've been called the "mobility guy," "the baseball guy," and - most applicable to today's article - "the deadlift guy."  You see, I really enjoy picking heavy things up off the ground, and I've gotten pretty good at doing so. 

ec_660dl

As a "deadlift guy" (whether I really identify with that label or not!), I've gotten a lot of inquiries over the years.  These questions relate to programming, technique, exercise selection, and a host of even more obscure topics (such as: "why does my iPhone always auto-correct 'deadlift' to 'deadliest;' doesn't anyone at Apple actually lift weights?").  In the process of answering loads of these questions and coaching thousands people on how to deadlift, I've picked up on some trends that explain why many people don't make deadlift progress.  Contrary to what you may assume, the deadlift is definitely a unique exercise that must be trained a bit differently than just about any other strength exercise.  With that in mind, here are my top five keys for long-term deadlift progress.

1. Don't have setbacks.

This could be said of all training goals, but the unfortunate truth is that a lot of people get hurt deadlifting.  This might be because of poor deadlift technique or inappropriate programming, but regardless of the true cause, it goes without saying that it's a big issue.

I learned this lesson early (age 21), as just a week after I pulled 400 for the first time, I felt a nice "pop" in my lower back during a warm-up set at 225.  It set me back a good 3-4 months, but was a blessing in disguise, as it scared me into grooving better technique, as opposed to just piling more and more strength on top of a dysfunctional pattern.  From there on out, I did a much better job of not only lifting with better technique, but also fluctuating my training stress within the strength training program and individual training sessions.

2. Recognize that your body may not be ready for specific deadlift variations.

I've pulled 660 with a conventional stance, 630 sumo, and 700 on the trap bar.  A big part of me being able to train all three lifts (and their variations) regularly was the fact that I'd built a good foundation of mobility and stability that enabled me to execute the lifts from a safe position.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case with everyone who deadlifts for the first time.  In fact, for many general population folks, the conventional deadlift might never be an option purely from a risk: reward standpoint, as they simply can't get into a safe starting position to start the lift.  For that reason, we start all our athletes and clients with the trap bar, progress to sumo deadlifts, and see where things stand.  Programming a conventional deadlift on Day 1 is like sending a 7th grader into a calculus class when he needs algebra first.

3. Train the deadlift frequently, but not necessarily with high volume.

It never ceases to amaze me how many lifters I encounter who say they want to improve the deadlift, yet answer "twice a month" when I ask them how often they train the lift!  For some reason, many folks in the powerlifting world latched on the idea that if you just trained the squat or good morning, it'd automatically carry over to the deadlift.  Sorry, that just isn't the case - at least not if you want to make optimal progress.

I'd estimate that I've trained the deadlift twice a week for 80% of my training career, and once a week for the other 20%.  It's almost always trained after the squat within the training session.  It may be lighter and for speed, or heavier for sets of 1-5 reps.

I can't say that I've ever spent much time above six reps, though.  I find that my percentages fall off quickly, and doing a lot of high rep work at 60% of my one-rep max doesn't really do much for me besides give me a raging headache. Seriously, every time I pull heavy for high reps; my head pounds for a good day - and I really don't feel like it gets me any closer to where I need to be.

Either train heavy or train to be fast off the floor, but don't train to be slow, and methodical by conserving your energy for 87-rep sets.

4. Upper back, upper back, upper back!

Buying shirts and suit jackets is a royal pain in the butt, as my upper back is considerably larger than my arms.  In fact, the size of my upper back is what inevitably forced me to go from the 165- to 181-pound weight class during my powerlifting days - in spite of the fact that I was trying to keep my weight down.  I think it speaks volumes for how important upper back strength is for the deadlift, as my pulls were improving considerably faster than my squats over this time period. To give you a feel for how accidentally disproportionate deadlifting has made me over the years, take note of this recent picture. In looking at my traps, one would think that all I need to do is develop an underbite, and then I could have a prosperous career as a troll underneath a bridge, demanding tolls from unsuspecting passersby.

traps

Very simply, having a strong upper back enables you to control the bar, as opposed to it controlling you.  It's obviously of great importance to getting the shoulder blades back at the top of the lift, but it's also essential to making sure that the bar doesn't drift away from you, which would effectively increase the distance between the weight and the axis of rotation (hips).  Letting the bar drift away from you doesn't just decrease the likelihood of you completing the lift; it also raises the stress on your spine, increasing your likelihood of injury.  Having a strong upper back helps to spare your lower back.

You'll find the best carryover from rowing variations, farmer's walks, and rack pulls. However, vertical pulling variations (chin-ups, etc) can still have a beneficial effect.  I also always responded well to doing heavy single-leg work, as it challenged my grip and upper back while I was still training the lower half.

5. Have a plan.

It's easy to build a solid deadlift, but taking a "decent" amount of success and expecting it to automatically translate to really big time deadlift numbers is a recipe for disaster, as what you do to get to a 315 deadlift is going to be dramatically different from what you do to try to pull 500.  Very simply, you need a plan.

To that end, a lot of people have asked me why I've never written a book or training program on the deadlift, and the truth is that I've simply never gotten around to it.  Luckily, my good friend Dave Dellanave - who is also a very strong lightweight deadlifter (we have a secret society with a cool handshake) - just released an outstanding deadlifting manual that does an outstanding job in this regard.  It's called Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination, and it's on sale at a great price through the end of the week.  Whether you want to pack some poundage on your deadlift or just pick up some heavy stuff to look, feel, and move better, this is a great resource that I'd encourage you to check out, especially at the awesome introductory price.

dlBookSmall

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The Curious Case of the Yips: Both Psychological and Physical for Pitchers?

There may not be more perplexing phenomenon in the baseball world than a pitcher with a case of the yips.  For those of you who aren't "down with the lingo," this term refers to an extended period of time when a pitcher simply can't throw the ball where he wants to throw it.  And, the yips can certainly extend to position players, as there are countless instances of catchers mysteriously struggling to throw the ball back to the pitcher, and infielders who can't make clean throws to first base - in spite of years of doing these things successfully. Perhaps the two most noteworthy cases of the past few decades were Rick Ankiel and Chuck Knoblauch, who were both forced to change positions because they couldn't overcome the issue.

Clearly there is a heavy psychological component to this issue - and that's a big part of how the yips have historically been managed.  Whether it's visiting with sports psychologists or chatting with pitching coaches, the powers that be aim to modify the thoughts that go through the pitcher's head prior to throwing.  And, there's certainly nothing wrong with that approach, as it's clearly part of the problem.  However, in today's article, I want to view the yips through a bit of a different paradigm.

One thing that nobody ever seems to mention is that the yips don't happen in high school players. Why?  It's because the frame of reference is different.  You see, high school kids don't throw enough strikes normally for us to even perceive when something is out of whack.  I've spoken with a ton of professional pitchers and they universally agree that they weren't able to repeat their mechanics consistently until they were in the 18-20 age range.  Until that point, their bodies were changing dramatically and they hadn't had sufficient throws under their belt to master the pattern and consistently repeat it.  Plus, they were pitching off different mounds each time out, and the quality of the mound can have a dramatic impact on one's delivery.  With these factors in mind, I think we can all agree that the yips are a problem confined to the college and professional ranks.  If a high school kid or pop star is missing wildly, we just chalk it up to poor skill or inexperience.

Drawing parallels in other sports proves to be difficult, though.  Among athletes who need to accurately project an object from a consistent release point, you just don't see the yips outside of baseball players.  Quarterbacks don't get it, and I've never seen a track and field thrower accidentally fire an implement into a terrified crowd.  Olympic archers and biathlon competitors don't miss targets by large margins, and I've never heard of a tennis player whose career ended from double faulting over and over again.  Certainly, if all these issues were purely psychological, we would have found cases of the yips across other sporting disciplines, right?  There simply have to be examples of other professional athletes' minds being so jumbled that tens of thousands of reps worth of motor control and precision would be seemingly wiped clean from the slate, right? 

Nope. It doesn't seem to work that way. So what is so unique about pitching, then? 

Stress and adaptation to that stress.

You see, throwing a baseball is the single fastest motion in all of sports - and that means serious stress on not just the arm, but also the rest of the body.  Additionally, the Major League Baseball season is among the longest in professional sports - lasting from mid-February to some point in October (depending on post-season play) - and eight months is plenty of time for things to go in the wrong direction as players may get more and more detrained.

Rotator cuff strength drops over the course of the season. Scapular upward rotation diminishes.  Tissue quality gets "gunkier" with each throwing session. Some players lose hip, shoulder, and elbow range of motion. Others acquire more ligamentous laxity and become increasingly unstable. Body weight may drop, and lower body strength and core stability fall off.  And when these issues collectively build, elbows, shoulders, lower backs, and any of a number of other areas may even become symptomatic. 

To be clear, what I'm saying is that guys don't magically forget how to throw strikes after tens of thousands of reps.  Rather, their bodies often let them down and don't enable them to physically get to the positions needed to repeat the mechanics to which they've grown accustomed.  They're like the teenagers who are growing into their bodies all over again.

If you need further proof, check out this great study from Kibler et al. Researchers noted that in the tennis serve, a 20% decrease in kinetic energy from the hip and trunk means the shoulder must generate 34% more velocity to get same force to the racket. It's safe to assume that the stress of pitching in this context is even higher because arm speed must be greater.  If you're 10-15 pounds lighter and have lost a bunch of your lower body strength, how can we know if your issues are purely psychological and not physical? In attempting to maintain velocity and compete, you have to compensate in any of a number of ways - and that's how physical problems quickly become mechanical and psychological ones.

As another example, it's not uncommon to see pitchers get hurt when they've been quickly transitioned from relieving to starting roles without adequate time to build up their pitch counts.  And, I wouldn't be surprised if the incidence of the yips is much higher among those who don't get hurt.  When you throw fatigue in the mix, altered mechanics (whether they appreciate it or not) are the only way guys can continue to try to compete.  This is one reason why it's so important to bring guys along slowly and methodically with this transition.

When we see a guy who is struggling with his command or velocity, the first thing we ask is, "Is he hurt?"  Yet, when he responds "No," nobody ever asks if he feels fatigued or weak.  So, maybe it's a paradigm that needs to shift?  I can remember chatting with a major league pitcher a while back roughly 2/3 of the way through his season.  He told me he'd had outings when he had absolutely no idea where the ball was going, and had actually developed a new pitch by accident because his mechanics were so off. Not surprisingly, the evaluation I then performed revealed a lot of things he needed to address physically - and he was clearly fatigued.  Nobody had even touched them, though, because his velocity, command, and numbers were good. This is like refusing to change the oil and tires on your car proactively because it seems to be running fine. Maybe the yips are just the equivalent of breaking down on the side of the road after ignoring those routine service appointments?

With all these factors in mind, I think it's safe to say that there is a definite role for physical shortcomings and both acute and chronic fatigue in the development of the yips.  It just may not be easily "diagnosed" because a) symptoms may be absent and b) many athletes aren't assessed appropriately when they're doing well, so there isn't a standard against which to compare.

Here is where I think so many players have struggled to overcome the problem.  They think that throwing more to "re-master" their mechanics is the way to fix the problem.  In throwing more, two things happen:

1. If each throw isn't right on the money mechanically, they're simply re-engraining those problems.

2. With each passing throw, they're imposing more fatigue - especially when those throws are off the mound (and if you want to re-master your mechanics, you want this level of true specificity).

Conversely, my first suggestion to athletes with the yips is always to simply take the ball out of their hands for 7-10 days.  I think it's important not only because it's a chance to acutely avoid reaffirming bad habits, but more because it's a chance to temporarily remove fatigue so that one can build up strength and stability in the right places, improve tissue quality, and normalize body weight. When that happens, "muscle memory" can kick in. 

Imagine driving your car after someone has adjusted all the mirrors, moved the seat up, lowered the steering wheel, messed with the alignment, and changed all the pre-set radio stations. It feels brutally awkward in spite of the fact that it's the same car you've had for years, and you might even be a danger on the road.  This is what pitchers often feel and look like at the end of a long season if they haven't been managed correctly on the physical side.  If you fix all these issues with the car, it goes back to feeling normal; you don't just forget all those years of safe and "natural" driving.  You wouldn't just call your driver's education instructor for a pep talk and then hop back into the funky new version of your car, would you?  The only differences are that you can easily recognize everything that's out of whack with a car, and a quick tune-up at the mechanic only takes a few minutes. Conversely, it's hard to self-assess physically, very few people truly understand how pitchers should move, and physical adaptation takes time.

This isn't a knock on sports psychologists or pitching coaches, as they are absolutely, positively a huge part of the process with getting a pitcher with the yips back on track.  However, it'd be extremely ignorant to overlook the pronounced physical adaptations and detraining that often take place with pitchers - and how this might interfere with one's ability to repeat mechanics that until that point had become second nature.

Wrap-up

A lot of you will read this article and think that it doesn't apply to you.  And, while you may not have experienced the yips yourself or in one of the players you coach, my hope is that this article effectively served as a call for you to establish baseline evaluations of movement quality.  If there isn't a thorough preliminary assessment against which to compare when things go south, you're really just guessing about how much is physical, psychological, and mechanical. If you're not assessing, you're assuming - and if assuming worked, this wouldn't be a problem that had shaved years off a lot of careers.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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