Today's guest post comes from current Cressey Performance intern, and former D1 college baseball player, James Cerbie. -EC
It’s the age-old question that has haunted athletes and competitive people for ages.
What if I had done this? What if I had done that? What if I hadn’t been stupid and done <fill in the blank>?
Unfortunately, these questions will never have answers. It’s impossible to go back and revisit what could have been. Rather, we’re left to look at the now, learn from our “what if” moments, and share our new understanding with another generation. That is where I now find myself.
I’m in the middle of my internship here at Cressey Performance, and to say I’m greeted with the “what if” question on a daily basis would be an understatement. Everyday I get a glance at how we train and prepare athletes, and get to reflect on how I was trained and prepared.
And just to bring you up to speed, I’m speaking to the training and preparation of baseball athletes. I’m currently 24 years old and spent approximately 19 of those years playing baseball. It was my greatest passion growing up and I devoted countless hours to my craft. My hard work eventually paid off as I got to play Division 1 baseball at a great school (go Davidson). But, nevertheless, it’s impossible to wonder what could have been if I had known what I know now.
Here are 6 things I really wish I would have known, or done more of during my baseball career, courtesy of my experience here at Cressey Performance.
1. Get assessed.
I’ve always been a good athlete. That’s not to toot my own horn because I have my parents to thank for that more than anything; it just is what it is.
Because I was always a good athlete, however, I believe certain aspects of my training got overlooked. Number one on that list being an assessment.
Not once, throughout my entire athletic career, did I ever get assessed.
If I got injured or came up short on a certain task it was just chalked up to being an athlete:
“James…these things just happen. You’re a good athlete and getting injured is just a part of what you do.”
Oh really? A stress fracture in my back, multiple hip flexor strains, a pulled quad and a host of other injuries just happen for the sake of happening? Sorry, but that answer always frustrated me. What I really heard was:
“James…you keep getting injured but I really don’t know why.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that getting injured is a part of sports. Here’s the difference though: there are fluke injuries that pop up on the rare occasion, and then there’s being “chronically” injured which entails always being nagged by one thing or another.
Throughout my collegiate baseball career, I fell in the “chronically” injured category and would constantly be met with suggestions like:
“Oh, your hamstrings are tight. Just stretch those bad boys a couple times a day and that’ll help.”
“Oh, your hips are tight. Just stretch that and things should start feeling better.”
For those of you who haven’t tried the “stretch it because it’s tight” routine, let me save you the time and effort: it doesn’t work. There’s far more to it than that.
I don’t want to start sounding like a repetitive drumbeat, so let’s get to the point: you need to be assessed. It’s the number one most important thing you can do; it’ll help you stay healthy and take your performance to the next level.
I’ll use myself as example.
The first time I met Eric was about a year after I stopped playing baseball. Having heard great things about him, I visited Cressey Performance for a one-time consultation. Here’s an excerpt from the email Eric sent me, highlighting my “problems.”
“1. Your sit in significant scapular downward rotation, and your humeral head dives forward whenever you extend or externally rotate. These are super common in overhead throwing athletes, and you just took them a step further by also becoming an overhead pressing athlete! You simply don't get enough upward rotation when your arms elevate - and that's a big thing we'll address with these warm-ups.
2. Getting upward rotation and good overhead motion is also heavily dependent on building up anterior core stability. You're extremely lordotic and heavily overuse your lats to not only pull the spine into extension, but also take the scapula into depression/downward rotation. When lats are this overactive, your lower traps don't want to do their job. So, core stability closely relates to shoulder mobility and stability (not to mention breathing patterns and a host of other things). You could also see how your anterior weight bearing negatively affected your squat pattern, and why that counterbalance made so much of a difference.”
He actually talks about some of these issues in this video:
In short, here were my issues:
- I was incredibly extended with an obnoxious amount of anterior pelvic tilt
- I had crazy overactive, short and stiff lats
- Lower trap strength equivalent to that of a 7-year-old girl
- A 6 pack that meant nothing because my core was actually really weak
I finally had answers to my seemingly endless list of injuries throughout college. Almost all of them could be tied back in one way or another to the list above and here’s the frustrating part: nobody had ever looked at these things before or had ever written me an individualized program to address them.
I was merely given generic “athletic” development programs that fed into and compounded my dysfunction.
Moral of the story? Get assessed.
2. Movement comes first.
I always equated problems with strength. I thought strength could solve any deficiencies I had and approached my training likewise. Looking back, I now realize how dumb that was.
More times than not, especially as you get older and advance from level to level, it has far less to do with strength and far more to do with how well you move. Like Gray Cook says, “Don’t layer fitness on top of dysfunction.”
Well, I layered a whole bunch of fitness on top of dysfunction.
This happened because one, I was never assessed, and two, I was incredibly stubborn. The thought of taking a step back to work on movement quality irked me like no other.
“I can squat over 400 lbs. Why am I going to go do goblet squats with an 80 lb dumbbell?”
This was foolish, and something the coaching staff at CP does an excellent job of handling. Because Cressey Performance puts every client through an assessment, they know what a client needs to work on and how to do so properly. Many times, this means taking a small step backward (from the client’s point of view) in order to take an enormous step forward.
Unfortunately, most athletes are like I was. They want to always push the envelope and the thought of taking a step back is almost insulting.
Dear athletes: Please change this attitude.
I can’t harp on the importance of movement before strength enough. Do what you need to do to make sure you move well before you worry about building up strength. Your body and your career will thank you as you stay healthy and reach the highest levels of performance.
3. Focus on the little things.
It’s often the little things that get overlooked the most. These are things like prone trap raises, breathing patterns, soft tissue work and your posture outside the gym. They aren’t sexy and are, to be quite honest, boring.
It’s these boring and non-sexy items, however, that make a big difference.
Putting your full attention into the tiny details of arm care, how you breathe, how you stand, and how you often you foam roll will make the difference between being good and being exceptional.
Luckily, the athletes at CP have a staff that understands this and harps on it daily.
4. Do more single-leg work.
There were few things I hated doing more than lunges, single leg RDLs, split squats, step-ups…really any single-leg exercises. I hated them because I sucked at them.
Tell me to do something on two legs and I crushed it. Put me on one leg (especially my right) and I turned into Bambi on ice.
Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but it definitely wasn’t my forte.
Instead of forcing myself to conquer this deficiency, I merely found ways to implement as much bilateral work as possible. Seeing as the vast majority of baseball, and pretty much all sports for that matter, are played on one leg, this wasn’t the smartest decision. I would have been far better off doing like we do at CP and hammering single-leg work.
Not just doing lightweight, high rep sets though, but getting truly strong on one leg:
Ultimately, I believe a lot of the success CP baseball players have is because they are forced to get strong on one leg, while most people take my approach and only get strong on two.
Side note: that’s not to say CP athletes don’t get strong on two legs, because they do.
5. Get outside the sagittal plane.
Oh…the beloved sagittal plane.
Visit most weight rooms and you’ll see people living in the sagittal plane:
Box jump…sagittal plane
And the list could easily go on. Most sports (and life for that matter), do not comply with this North-South straight-line orientation; they are lived in multiple planes of motion.
Just think through the complexity and mechanics of throwing a baseball. All the things that need to take place to ensure a ball is thrown at the correct velocity, with the right spin and the right trajectory to bring about the desired result. It’s pretty amazing stuff when you consider the minute details.
Here’s another cool little tidbit of info: power development is plane specific. Just because you can generate power in one plane doesn’t mean you’ll do so well in others.
Yup…you guessed it. I missed the boat on this one also.
At CP, however, they get outside the sagittal plane, and do so often. First on this list is medicine ball throws.
They use a lot of different medicine ball throwing routines to help their athletes develop power in the transverse and frontal plane. A great example of such an exercise is the rotational med ball scoop toss:
Second, they implement exercises like the 1-arm kettlebell lateral lunge and heiden:
Lastly, they use off-set loading on exercises; this provides a rotational component to the movement because the body has to resist rotating towards one side vs. the other. A good example of such a movement would be a 1-arm 1-leg kettlebell RDL:
Although this barely scratches the surface when it comes to exercises used by Cressey Performance and the importance of training outside the sagittal plane, I hope it has given you a good frame of reference.
6. More doesn’t equal better.
There’s a time to push it and a time to back off. Being an in-season athlete is not one of the “push” times. Many coaches, however, forget this and continue pushing their athletes as if nothing has changed.
If you read Eric’s blog often (which I hope you do) you’ll know he says, “You can’t add something without taking something else away.” I really wish that quote could be plastered on the walls of weight rooms around the country.
When the volume of swings, throws and sprints picks up because you’ve started the season, then you have to start taking something away.
Having been lucky enough to spend the past few months at CP, I’ve gotten to witness this first hand. As pitchers begin entering their competitive season (when they’re obviously throwing more often), you see a change in the program to reflect the increased volume outside the weight room.
Medicine ball throws are scaled back, if not eliminated completely. Lifts move towards a two-day per week full body structure, and extra movement days are limited.
As an athlete, it’s easy to forget how everything you do adds up. Every swing, every throw, every sprint and every lift leaves traces in your nervous system. And, although you may be awesome, your body can only handle so much. I understand the desire to get in and work hard, but you have to remember that a lot of times, less is more.
At the end of the day, this barely scratches the surface when it comes to things I wish I would have done differently. As opposed to dwelling on that, however, I’d rather write and share my experiences with coaches and athletes so they can avoid making the mistakes I did. Feel free to post questions or discuss your own experiences in the comments section below.
About the Author
James Cerbie is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and USA weightlifting sports performance coach who is Precision Nutrition Level 1 and Crossfit Level 1 certified. He has been blessed to work with athletes from the middle school to professional level, including powerlifters, Olympic lifters and Crossfit athletes. Cerbie gets no greater enjoyment than seeing people improve, succeed and achieve their goals. He’s the owner of Rebel Performance and currently works as a strength and conditioning intern at Cressey Performance. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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