Home 2013 December (Page 2)

Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 1

As you probably already know, I see a ton of baseball players on a weekly basis.  And, the majority of them come in with some pre-existing perceptions on what good arm care really is.  These ideas relate to exercise selection, coaching cues, frequency, timing, load, and a host of other factors.  I'm a firm believer that just about everyone does some things that are appropriate, and some things that are wrong. 

This may be "right vs. wrong" in a general sense. An example would be that it's always right for baseball players to strengthen their rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.  And, it's always wrong to do so many arm care exercises before throwing that the cuff is actually fatigued before a thrower picks up a ball.

There are, however, specific cases of right and wrong.  For instance, if someone has a ton of congenial laxity (joint hypermobility), it's wrong to stretch their shoulders out, as you're making unstable joints more unstable.  However, if it's a very stiff individual, stretching may very well be completely indicated and productive.

To that end, I want to kick off this series to educate my baseball audience on how to evaluate arm care options so that you can ensure that they're the best fit for you.  Here's our first mistake:

Assuming all shoulder blades start in the same position.

There are tens of millions of throwing shoulders around the world, and each one of them responds slightly differently to a throwing stimulus - and this has been well documented.  The problem, however, is that when creating arm care programs, not a lot of people take into account that scapular (shoulder blade) position is going to differ - sometimes dramatically - from one throwing athlete to the next.  As examples, check out these two resting scapular positioning photos:

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On the left, you have an anteriorly tilted, abducted, and depressed scapular presentation.  This is what we often expect to see with throwers (usually with a bit more asymmetry, though). On the right, though, we have a very adducted scapular posture; the shoulder blades are almost touching the spine (the medial border of the scapula should be roughly three inches away from it).

The classic "down and back" cue that gets thrown out to just about everyone for every exercise could give both of these guys issues, but for different reasons.  The left example would potentially preferentially recruit lat (which is already cranking the shoulder girdle down) over lower trapezius, so we'd get more scapular depression instead of the posterior tilt and adduction we're seeking.  The right example would yank aggressively toward the spine with the rhomboids and "fight" the shoulder blades as they try to upwardly rotate.  Down and back isn't a good cue for this scapular presentation because he's literally as far back as he can possibly go.

This goes to show you that resting posture governs function, and function (or lack thereof) governs whether or not you're going to get hurt.  If you don't take resting posture into account, how can you be sure that you're creating the type of movement that you seek?

Thsi is just one more reason why I don't believe in "organizational arm care programs."  If every posture presentation and subsequent functional performance is different, why are we painting them all with the same broad stroke instead of giving them the individual attention they need?  Check out this video example, where I talk about how different folks might need different cues for the prone 1-arm trap raise, a commonly prescribed arm care exercise. 

Looking for more insights like this?  Check out one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships, where we discuss scapular posture and movement evaluation techniques (along with many other topics) in great detail.  We just announced our next Phase 1 (Upper Extremity) event: June 14-16.

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Hunger and Fullness Cues, and the Story of Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food

Today's post is an excerpt from The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide, written by Precision Nutrition's Brian St. Pierre; this guide is available as part of the "gold package" version of the product. This section has received a lot of positive feedback, so I thought I'd share it as an example of what you can expect.

Eating Slowly and Only Until Satisfied
 
Many of us eat far too quickly.  And, at each meal we expect to eat to the point of fullness.  Unfortunately, eating in this manner – quickly and until full – will always present challenges to your performance, health, and body composition goals.  This is true even if you eat the right foods (though eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods makes it much easier to tune into these powerful appetite cues).
 
Learning to tune into and follow your hunger and fullness cues will be paramount to your long-term success.  It will teach you to slow down, to listen to your body and its needs and to stop eating when you are satisfied, not full.  This is actually one of the most important skills you need to build for long-term nutrition success.
 
Why is this so?  It takes about 20 minutes for our satiety mechanisms to work.  What this means is that the signal from our gut takes time to get to our brain.  So, if you eat quickly, it is more than likely that you will eat far more in that 20-minute window than you need, and before your brain can tell you that you have eaten enough.  Regardless of food quality and macronutrient composition, over-eating is over-eating.  Unless you are trying to gain weight, learning this skill is critical (and even then it is still critical, because you won’t be trying to gain weight forever).
 
An excellent goal is to aim for about 15-20 minutes per meal, at a minimum.  If this is too big of a change for you, simply aim to take a little longer for now, slowly stretching out your meals until you are able to reach that 15-20 minute mark.  
 
To do this, simply utilize the following strategies:
 
• take a seat when you eat
• turn off the TV and eliminate distractions (though some light reading can be okay)
• take smaller bites
• chew your food more completely
• put your fork down after every few bites
• drink some water
• share some witty banter with your dining partner(s)
 
Slowing down your eating will help in many capacities.  When you eat slowly, you tend to eat fewer calories with each meal (because your brain has time to tell you enough has been eaten), drink more water (improving hydration status and health), improve digestion (because it starts in the mouth), and tune into your hunger and fullness cues more effectively.
 
Hyper-Rewarding and Hyper-Palatable Food
 
This is also one of the reasons that eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods is so powerful.  When you eat these whole foods, which tend to be fibrous, full of water and tasty (but not overly-so), your brain is also better able to signal to you that you have eaten enough.
 
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However, when you eat highly processed foods, they tend to be what are called hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding.  In essence, what happens when you eat these foods, is that your brain becomes over-excited, and it can’t “hear” the signals coming from your GI tract on how much food you have eaten, which delays the signal telling you enough has been consumed.  This leads to over-consumption, addictive-like behaviors, obesity, inflammation and diabetes.
 
While a full discussion on hyper-palatable and hyper-rewarding foods is outside the scope of this resource, just realize that food products have been specifically engineered to get you to eat a lot of them.  Food companies have a limit on how much of their product can be purchased; this limit is called the human stomach.  The only way to increase sales is to get you to eat more.
 
And they do this by systematically testing exactly how their foods affect our hedonic and reward systems in our brains.  Basically, think of it like this: hyper-rewarding foods are foods that you will strongly seek out.  Your brain has associated them with awesomeness (because they over-stimulate and over-excite your reward centers in your brain), so you will go to great lengths to find them and consume them.  Reward is what drives you to find a food (among other elements).
 
On the other hand, hyper-palatable food is food that tastes so good at that moment that you eat more of it than you should, even if you aren’t hungry.  It’s like Thanksgiving.  You have already eaten a ton, and are stuffed – but then the pies come out.  You put some in front of you and you eat a whole big slice, maybe two.  The hyper-palatability of the pie over-excites the hedonic (or pleasure) centers of your brain, so you ignore satiety cues and eat even though you aren’t hungry.  Where reward drives you to seek out food, palatability dictates how much you eat in a sitting (again, among other elements).
 
While these two elements are intertwined, they aren’t always together.  For example, let’s say you want ice cream.  Your brain knows how delicious it is, and associates it with an awesome time.  So you seek some out (reward).  But, when you start eating it, it is not very good.  You take a handful of licks – because you did pay for it, after all – but you discard half of it.  That element was palatability, or in this case, lack thereof.  If it had tasted like the ice cream your brain was envisioning, you would likely have eaten it all, even past the point of fullness.
 
You might be wondering how exactly these processed foods can be so palatable and rewarding. This is because food companies carefully manage three elements:
 
• fat
• salt
• sugar (or refined carbohydrates)
 
donut800px-Donuts_(Coffee_An),_Westport,_CT_06880_USA_-_Feb_2013
 
These three elements rarely exist in nature together, but when combined with other chemical additives and flavor enhancers, they create foods that our brains never evolved to handle.  They override our satiety mechanisms, screw up our hunger and fullness cues, and generally cause us to make poor food choices and overeat.
 
Conclusion
 
With all of this in mind, this is why I so highly recommend eating mostly real, whole, minimally processed foods.  They tend to provide normal levels of palatability and reward, and because of their high water content and fibrous nature, make it easier to eat them slowly, chew them fully, and stop when you are satisfied, but not full.
 
Looking for more great nutrition lessons, practical recommendations, and sample meal plans?  Check out Brian's Nutrition Guide as part of The High Performance Handbook Gold Package.

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

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

Crossfit: The Good, Bad, and Ugly - I enjoyed this candid look at a controversial topic, courtesy of Mark Rippetoe.

I Know What to Do; Why Am I Still Not in Shape? - Precision Nutrition delves into a discussion about how knowledge doesn't really matter without application - and they help you to make application happen with easy-to-apply strategies.

Strength Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift - I discussed this exercise in quite a bit of detail with our Elite Baseball Mentorship attendees this morning, and it reminded me of this post from last year.  It's a great exercise we like to use with our throwers.

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Strength Training for Women: 7 Myths

The regular frequenters of EricCressey.com are typically more "hardcore" training enthusiasts and fitness professionals, but we also must recognize those among us who are newer to the iron game and may need to be brought up to speed.  Additionally, we all know a female in our life who can benefit from hearing about the virtues of appropriate training for women in spite of what the mainstream media tells them. With that in mind, today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Sohee Lee, who specializes in this realm. Please help spread the good word! -EC

This much I know is true: I’ve been strength training for six years now. I can rock out chin-ups, pull heavy weight off the floor, and squat more than some guys I know. I drink protein shakes almost daily and sometimes take creatine as well.

This much is also true: I’m still small. I’m still petite. Still lean. My muscles aren’t big and, when fully dressed, no one has ever asked me, “How much do you bench?” And I’ve never been called “too bulky” in my life.  

There are a myriad of myths regarding females and strength training – too many to count. Yet despite the growing number of women out there slowly converting to lovers of iron and ditching their cardio bunny ways, there are even more women who still believe that strength training is for men only, and that no proper lady would touch anything more than a pretty pink dumbbell.

I don’t blame them, really. We have certain celebrity trainers touting their 3lb dumbbell hour-long workouts to develop long, lean muscles – and others claiming that squatting with a barbell will make your thighs explode overnight. The celebrities themselves rave about these special methods - and we believe them, naturally.

My job today is to convince you amidst all the buzz that the grass is truly greener on the other (strength training) side. At best, I’ll talk you into getting under that barbell today. At worst, I hope to plant a single inkling of curiosity and that you will soon find yourself venturing over to the heavy weights.  

Below I crush a number of the most common myths out there surrounding females and training.

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Myth #1: You should steer clear of heavy weights because it will make you look like a man.

Ah, this is the King (or Queen) of all myths and is one that I am convinced will unfortunately never effectively die out.

There are a number of biological differences stacked against us as women. First and foremost, we only have approximately 5% of the of testosterone men possess. This means that the average male has twenty – twenty! – times as much testosterone than the average female. And given that testosterone is the hormone primarily responsible for muscle gain, we’re facing a major uphill battle if we are truly striving to look like The Hulk (1).

But, you claim, last time I lifted heavy for a month and I got thicker and looked gross! The culprit is very likely inadvertent increased caloric consumption that came along with the new change in exercise. What I mean is that typically, the culprit is increased bodyfat – not necessarily increased muscle mass – that is responsible for what many women call the “big and bulky” look. Often, increased bodyfat “coated” on top of muscle is mistaken for muscle mass, which turns many women away. Can you honestly tell me, though, that when you began lifting weights, your caloric consumption didn’t spike?

There’s this notion out there that after a tough workout, we need to fuel our muscles – which is true, but not to the tune of one large pizza and three protein shakes. It’s too easy to convince yourself that your body is all of a sudden devoid of nutrients and that you have to feed it at all times of the day. But when your body takes in more calories than is needed to maintain your current bodyweight, that’s when weight is gained in the form of fat mass and/or lean mass, depending on how you go about it.

If you can dial in your nutrition while simultaneously lifting hard in the gym, what will result is a leaner, tighter, stronger version of your former self. 

Myth #2: Women can’t do pull-ups.

The word “can’t” implies that all females, regardless of how hard they try, are physically incapable of performing a single pull-up. But while it’s true that women tend to have less upper body strength relative to that of males, that doesn’t mean that all is lost. So what do you do when you have a weakness? You work on it to turn that weakness into a strength.

Simply put, the solution to weak(er) upper body strength is to improve it. In the gym, upper body pulling movements will help: think row variations (barbell rows, cable rows, inverted rows) as well as pullup variations (band-assisted, negatives, chin-ups). Working on your grip via farmer’s walks and the like will also help in this regard. In the remaining 23 hours of each day, work on nailing your nutrition, as decreasing bodyfat will help increase your strength proportionally.   

Pretty soon, you'll be banging out not just one rep, but possibly even double-digit reps, just like the First Lady of Cressey Performance does here (in office attire, no less):

Myth #3: Protein powder is bad for women because it will make them huge.

There’s this idea floating around in mainstream society that protein powder is only for meathead bodybuilders who want to get yoked. So when a lady comes around and plops a five-pound tub of protein powder on the counter at Vitamin Shoppe or GNC, eyebrows are raised. She might as well be shooting steroids into her veins, huh?

As much as I wish this were the case (as it would make my job a whole lot easier), there’s nothing inherently magical about protein powder. It’s simply a portable, tasty way to get in some protein. Its biggest perk? Convenience. And perhaps taste.

But really, the average scoop of protein powder will yield 20 to 25 grams of protein. 

I will say this, however: protein powder is typically ingested in liquid form. Since liquid calories are much easier to take in than solid food, the calories can quickly add up – so you need to alter the rest of the day’s nutrition to account for the calories you’ve already taken in with these shake(s). Just like any other food, if protein powder is consumed in excess, then yes, it can make you gain weight.

Myth #4: All the fitness models and fitness competitors are on steroids; the average woman could never achieve that look.

Before I go any further, I will qualify this point by emphasizing the fact that yes, there are very few people out there who are able to maintain a lean, stage- or photoshoot-ready physique year-round. I’ll also argue, however, that that’s not because it’s impossible. Rather, many choose to switch over into the offseason, during which time they likely intentionally put on some weight in an effort to make improvements to their physiques and dial even sharper than before come next season.

But all of that aside, here’s a cool fact: we all have abs. They’re there. That six-pack? Yes, you’ve been sporting it. The only thing separating them from showing themselves off to the world is a cozy coat of fat.

If you’re looking to achieve the look of a bikini competitor or fitness model, chances are good that you have most, of it not all, of the muscle mass necessary to start off. This is great, because all that means that is you have to lose bodyfat in order to unveil that coveted physique. Easier said than done, I’m aware, but think of it as an art. Over a period of several weeks and months, you’ll chip away at your body, slowly uncovering the sculpted arms and curvy legs you’ve been after.

Myth #5: When you work out, your fat will transform into muscle.

Oh.

Very creative.

Unfortunately, the body doesn’t quite work this way. What it can do, however, is shed and gain bodyfat, as well as strip away or pack on muscle. And while these two processes may be related, they are not one and the same.

Muscle is active soft tissue that is responsible for creating physical movement. Body fat, on the other hand, serves as an energy reserve for the body and helps cushion our joints and organs as well as maintain the integrity of healthy skin and nails.

So while it may seem as though fat magically turns into muscle when you begin training, the truth is likely more along the lines of, you’re losing bodyfat, or you’re putting on muscle (or both).

Myth #6: You should switch up your training routine every week to keep your muscles guessing.

I recommend a minimum of four to six weeks on any given training program before moving onto something different. By this I don’t necessarily mean utilizing the exact same exercises for the same reps and sets week after week. There are multiple ways to go about implementing progressive overload besides increasing the load on the bar: varying speed, shifting body position in relation to the load, changing stability, and so on.

With that said, sticking to the same program gives you time to become better at the prescribed exercises by providing more opportunities for repetition.

I know what you may be thinking. “But I need to confuse my muscles and keep them guessing!” Unfortunately, muscles do not get confused, nor do they participate in guessing games. And if you’re afraid you might get bored, then I ask you, what is so boring about making improvements from one workout to the next? What’s dull about going to the gym and lifting 10lbs more than the week prior or to mastering perfect technique? 

Myth #7: To lose fat, you need to crank up the cardio.

Actually, doing more cardio is the best way to… do more cardio. Doing it for the calorie burn will ultimately leave you disappointed, cranky, and tired.

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but steady-state cardio burns surprisingly fewer calories than you’d think. One study found that it takes an average of 86 hours’ worth of aerobic exercise to lose 1 whopping kilogram (2), and a meta-analysis revealed that steady-state cardio in and of itself is not an effective weight loss therapy (3).

I don’t know about you, but I can think of about a thousand other more useful things I could be doing with those 86 hours than peddling away on a bike.

Rather than steady-state cardio, then, interval training is the way to go. Other names for this include metabolic conditioning, circuit training, or high-intensity training. These short bursts of high intensity activity alternated with periods of active have been found to produce equal, if not better, results as traditional steady-state cardio with just “a fraction of the time commitment” (namely, 0.75 hours versus 13.5 hours [4]). This is likely due to the increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or energy expenditure in the time following the workout.

Where do we go from here?

I hope I’ve demonstrated to you that women can lift heavy weights and perform metabolic conditioning workouts with great success.  And, as long as they dial in their nutrition, they can absolutely achieve a strong, lean look without bulking up.

Note: If the ladies in the crowd are looking for some direction on the programming front, I'd recommend Neghar Fonooni’s resource, Lean and Lovely, which is an outstandingly thorough option focusing on kettlebell techniques early on. An advantage of these workouts is their portability; you can do them just about anywhere, including at home – if you’re in a situation where you need to build some confidence and momentum before you head to an actual gym to train.  -EC

About the Author

Sohee Lee graduated from Stanford University in June 2012 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Human Biology. She now trains clients in New York City, and in an online context.  You can learn more on her website and Twitter.

Note: References will be posted as the first comment below.

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What Santa Can Teach You About Sports Medicine

Last weekend, I was watching the Patriots game and this commercial came on during a timeout. I have to admit: it almost made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. 

Don't get me wrong; I'm in the holiday spirit just fine. My point of contention with it was that the commercial represented everything that is wrong with our pathology-based approach to getting people out of pain - or avoiding it in the first place.  Rather than cleaning up that terrible hip hinge pattern, building some thoracic mobility, or losing the spare tire that was leading to aberrant core stabilization patterns, Santa opts to pop some Aleve.  In other words, he treated the symptoms rather than addressing the movement fault.

Now, I get it: delivering toys to every kid on the planet in a 24-hour span is tough.  And, crawling down chimneys is no easy task, either. However, I have to think that if you have the magic to make reindeer fly, you can figure out a way to work some hip mobility drills into your schedule - especially when you have 364 days per year off from work altogether.  And, while we're at it, you probably ought to swap the cookies and milk for some vegetables and a nice warm cup of "get off your duff and teach your body to move correctly."

It really is the classic example of what we see all the time in both the sedentary population and folks who get injured in strength and conditioning programs, too.  They move poorly, then they move a lot - whether it's squatting 315 for ten reps or trying to cram 500 new X-Box units into an undersized sleigh.  Eventually, they either develop symptoms or structural changes (or both). As Gray Cook has wisely said, you never want to put fitness on top of dysfunction.

If you bang your head against the wall all day and take NSAIDs to get rid of your headache, are the NSAIDs really the solution? Or, is removing the harmful stimulus (banging the head against the wall = bad movement) the best course of action?  With this analogy in mind, it's easy to see that improving movement quality is the name of the game.

Unfortunately, what you often see in the weight training world is that people throw out their back squatting or deadlifting with terrible technique and a lack of physical preparation, then come back as soon as they're asymptomatic to attempt those same movements again.  Meanwhile, the underlying movement faults still exist.  It's not much different than Santa going ham every December 25th after nothing more than a rigorous training program of sugar cookie curls.

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If you've had injuries in your training, don't just treat them; work backward from them to determine why they occurred.  Then, address the "why."

If you haven't had injuries, be proactive and think about what movement flaws you have that you can address so that they don't reach a symptomatic threshold or lead to chronic wear and tear.  It's not just how you feel now; it's how you feel in 20, 30, or 40 years, too. 

Looking for a versatile strength and conditioning program that takes the guesswork out of programming and allows you to select a course of action that's right for your body? Check out The High Performance Handbook.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series