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5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players

In their outstanding book, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath emphasize that a new idea will always be more readily accepted if it is incorporated into an individual’s existing schema. In an example I've used before here at EricCressey.com, if I give you the letters TICDGFASOH and then ask you to list all the letters I included to me 20 minutes later without writing them down, most of you won’t be able to accomplish the task correctly.

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However, if I reordered those letters as CATDOGFISH, you’d accomplish the task easily. You know the words DOG, CAT, and FISH – so it would fit into your existing schema. I work to apply this same logic to how I educate my baseball players. With that in mind, here are five analogies I like to use as part of the long-term baseball development process.

1. Arm care is just like making bank deposits and withdrawals.

To me, every action you make with your arm either takes you closer to or further away from arm health.  Every time you do your arm care drills, get in a strength training session, do some soft tissue work, or get your arm stretched out (when appropriate), you're making a deposit in your bank account. Each time you make a throw - especially off a mound - you're making a withdrawal. If withdrawals exceed deposits over the course of a year, you're likely going to go bankrupt (get injured).

2. Bad scapular positioning or scapulohumeral rhythm is like starting behind the starting line - or you're backpedaling when the starting gun fires.

I've discussed the importance of scapular positioning and scapulohumeral rhythmic for throwers in the past - especially in our new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body. Here's a video to bring you up to speed:

In this video, I talk about "ball and socket congruency." In other words, the ball can't ride up, and the socket can't stay too low. I like to refer to neutral scapular resting position as the starting line. If you sit in too much downward rotation, you're effectively setting up behind the starting line. In the photo below, the black line is where the medial border of his scapula should be at rest, and the red line is where it actually is.

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Other folks may actually start in the correct position, but begin what should be upward rotation with an aberrant movement - such as a "yank" toward the midline (rhomboid dominance) or into scapular depression (lat dominance). These are the exact opposites of what you want to occur - which is upward rotation, or running toward the finish line.

3. Doing arm care drills with a faulty core recruitment pattern is like shooting a cannon from a canoe.

I always talk about how the spine and rib cage "deliver" the shoulder blade. You can do all the arm care drills in the world, but if you don't know how to keep a stable core in place, you'll never really put your shoulder girdle (or elbow, for that matter) in an ideal position to throw - and you certainly won't effectively transfer force from your lower body. Here's what a lot of athletes look like with their overhead reaching pattern:

Instead of getting good shoulder flexion and scapular upward rotation, they just go into lumbar (lower back) extension. When you see an aberrant movement pattern like this, you realize that it's no surprise that some of the same underlying movement inefficiencies can contribute to upper extremity, core, and lower extremity injuries alike. It's really just a matter of where an athlete breaks down first.

4. Committing to a college really early is like proposing to the first girl you ever date - and then letting her "shop around" for other dudes while you stay faithful.

This observation has less to do with the actual training process, but more to do with long-term management of an athlete. Why in the world does a freshman in high school need to be verbally committing to a college - especially when he can't sign on the dotted line to officially commit until his senior year? If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that we always look back on what we did 2-3 years earlier and laugh, as we realize how misdirected we were. I do it at age 33, and you can just imagine how much faster an impressionable teenage athlete can acquire new views on the world.

It's fine to take your time and see what's out there - and any coach that pressures a freshman or sophomore to commit so young is probably not a person for whom you'd like to play. And, 99% of the time, that offer is still going to be on the table 6-18 months down the road in spite of the false deadlines they throw on you.

Finally, as an "in the know" friend reminded me the other day, don't forget that even if you verbally commit to a school, they're still out there trying to "date" other athletes. If they can find someone who they think is a better prospect than you are, they'll drop you like yesterday's newspaper. The ethical coaches don't do this, but it is nonetheless still a sad part of college sports. With that in mind, it's okay to go on "dates" with different schools and take your time in finding the one that's right for you.

Side note: if you're looking to be a more informed consumer with respect to the college recruiting process, give this a read: 25 Questions to Ask During the College Recruiting Process.

5. Stretching a loose shoulder is like picking a scab; it feels good for a bit, but only makes things uglier over the long haul.

There are a lot of hypermobile (lose-jointed) pitchers out there. It's often a big part of what makes them successful, but it comes at a cost: increased injury risk, if they don't stay on top of their stability training.

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What they often lose sight of, though, is the fact that it's just as important to avoid creating instability as it is to train for stability. In other words, continually stretching a hypermobile joint is likely even worse than just leaving out your strength work. The former reduces passive stability, whereas the latter just doesn't improve active stability.

The problem is that a lot of loose-jointed players feel "tight" - and it's usually because they lay down trigger points to make up for their lack of stability. The stretching feels good in the short term, but the trigger point comes back stronger and stronger each time - until you're eventually dealing with a torn anterior (shoulder) capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. Eventually, reducing the passive stability leads to a pathology - just like picking that scab eventually leads to an infection or scar.

Want to learn more about whether or not you're hypermobile? Check out my article, Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 1.

Looking to pick up more analogies we use to educate our players - and get a better feel for our overall system? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have a lower extremity course coming up on August 21-23; click here for more information.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/4/14

It's time for another installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Check it out:

The Functional Training Handbook - I contributed a chapter a few years ago for this compilation that was edited by Dr. Craig Liebenson, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this incredible lineup from the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning communities. I'm actually reading through the entire thing myself now, too!

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Long-Term Success: What You Can Learn from Corey Kluber - This is a guest blog I had published on Gabe Kapler's site last week. Young athletes would be wise to follow Corey's lead on a number of fronts with respect to preparation.

All About Infant Nutrition - This isn't really about strength and conditioning, but since my wife and I have twins on the way, I've taken an even bigger interest in nutrition surrounding pregnancy. This was an excellent, comprehensive piece from the Precision Nutrition folks - and I'm sure the parents out there will benefit.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 4

In light of the recent launch of The Specialization Success Guide, I feel like there have been a lot of posts on the site lately on the topic of powerlifting. With that in mind, I thought I'd shuffle things up with a bit more discussion about training in a broader sense, so let's talk some general athletic development.

1. We don't any regular barbell bench pressing with our baseball guys, and it's even pretty rare for us to use dumbbell bench pressing in their programs. This is, in part, because we want to utilize movements where the scapulae can move freely, as opposed to having them pinned down on a bench. In light of this exclusion, we're often ask: what do you do instead?

The answer, as many of you know, is landmine presses, push-up variations, and cable press variations. However, what a lot of people might not realize is that another good option is to simply replace a press with some kind of overhead hold variation, whether it's a Turkish get-up or bottoms-up carry.

One other variation I really like is the kneeling overhead hold to stand. I'll often use this with beginners who might need a little stepping stone before they get to the Turkish get-up. In addition to getting some great reflexive rotator cuff work, we're driving scapular upward rotation in a population that really needs it. Still, that doesn't mean that everyone is ready for it. Watch the video to learn more:

2. It's not uncommon at all to see medial (inside) elbow pain in lifter.s This usually comes from the tremendous amount of grip work one does in combination with lots of loaded elbow flexion. Usually, when these issues pop up, cutting back on lifting volume and modifying exercise selection is imperative.

However, what a lot of folks fail to appreciate is the impact that supplemental conditioning work can have on the overuse pattern. Just imagine how much abuse your common flexor tendon is taking when you hop on the rowing machine for 20 minutes to log a few thousand meters, or add in some barbell or kettlebell complexes. These are very grip-intensive approaches and need to be incorporated carefully - and certainly not all the time. Cycle them in, and then cycle them out.

As an example, I'm someone who deals with medial elbow irritation here and there, and most of the time, it's when I'm doing more work on the rower. As such, I've learned that one rowing session a week is really all I can handle if I'm doing my normal upper body training workload.

3. Having a good hip hinge is a huge contributor to athletic success, and to that end, we include toe touch progressions with a lot of our athletes. Without a doubt, the biggest mistake I see with athletes doing a toe touch is the substitution of knee hyperextension for hip flexion. Here's what that looks like:

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You'll notice that there really is absolutely no posterior shift of the center of mass, and he stays in plantarflexion (calves don't stretch). This is something you'll see really commonly in athletes with very hypermobile joints. I've demonstrated it before with the following video; you'll notice that this loose-jointed athlete can actually get a crazy toe touch without any sort of hip hinge, as he's blocked by the wall. Hypermobile athletes will always try to trick you!

Every time you allow them to use a faulty hip hinge pattern, you're giving them two opportunities to work themselves closer to an ACL injury. First, you're putting them in a position where the glutes can't control the femur, and where the hamstrings are too overstretched to really help stabilize the knee effectively. Second, knee hyperextension is commonly a part of the typical ACL injury mechanism (especially in contact injuries where an opponent tackles an athlete low); do we really want to be going to this dangerous end-range over and over again in our training? With that in mind, when coaching the hip hinge, you want to ensure that the athlete establishes and maintains a slight bend in the knee; the "soft knees" cue usually works well.

4. I've often heard people talk about how prone bridges (front planks) are useless if you can already do quality push-ups. While I can certainly appreciate this line of reasoning, I think it overlooks two things.

First, most people rattle through push-ups pretty quickly, so the time under tension may actually be considerably lower than what one would get on a prone bridge.

Second, you can make a prone bridge considerably more difficult via a number of different means, and my favorite is adding full exhalations on each breath. This is something that's very difficult to "sync up" with push-ups, but the benefits are excellent: more serratus anterior recruitment, better posterior tilting of the pelvis, better anterior core engagement, and relaxation of overused supplemental respiratory muscles.

So, don't rule out bridges just yet! I love them as a low-level motor control exercise at the end of a training session - and after the loaded core work (chops, lifts, etc) have been completed.

Have a random thought of your own from the past week? Feel free to post it below; I'm all ears!

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