Lessons New Coaches Can Take from the Belichick Blueprint - I'm a big Patriots fan not only because I was born in New England, but also because they always seem to find value where others miss it. Some of the personnel decisions during Bill Belichick's tenure have come under scrutiny, but they always seem to work out. This article shares some invaluable lessons that carry over across industries.
It's time for the January edition of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training. Before I get to it, though, just a friendly reminder that today is also the last day of the introductory $50 off sale on Cressey Sports Performance Innovations. Don't miss out on this chance to get our new resource at a great price. You can learn more HERE.
Since my presentation is "Scapular Control: Implications for Health and High Performance," I thought I'd take an upper extremity approach to this month's cues.
1. If you want to relax the neck, talk or exhale.
One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make when they're doing upper body work is aggressively recruiting the muscles surrounding the neck. In particular, we know that a hypertonic sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and scalenes can be implicated in not only neck pain, but also headaches and thoracic outlet syndrome.
In most cases, simply telling an athlete to relax or repositioning their head/neck will get the job done. However, another strategy you can employ is to have them exhale through the exertion phase, or simply talk during the set. Both the scalenes and SCM are accessory muscles of inhalation and this forces them to relax a bit so that you can build tension where you really want it.
2. When it comes to scapular control, nothing beats kinesthetic awareness coaching cues.
As I've written at length in the past, I'm a big believer in categorizing all athletes by their dominant learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory.
Visual learners can watch you demonstrate an exercise, and then go right to it.
Auditory learners can simply hear you say a cue, and then pick up the desired movement or position.
Kinesthetic learners seem to do best when they're actually put in a position to appreciate what it feels like, and then they can crush it.
My experience with teaching scapular positioning has been that option #3 - actually putting someone in the position you want - is the quickest and easiest way to teach someone about scapular positioning. This is likely because:
a. The scapula is a unique bone with some unique movements (upward/downward rotation, anterior/posterior tilt) that aren't familiar to most people
b. You're always wearing a shirt when demonstrating drills, which makes it harder to see these subtle movements as they occur.
When in doubt, put a shoulder blade in the position you desire and then ask an individual to hold it and own it.
3. Uncontrolled end ranges are bad for the scapulothoracic joint, just like every other joint.
Here's something to consider...
We know that if you repeatedly flex and extend the spine to its end-ranges, you'll eventually wind up in trouble - whether it's a herniated disc, stress fracture, or some other pathology.
We also know that if you repeatedly hyperextend an elbow, you'll eventually wind up with loose bodies in the joint, early osteoarthritis, or a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
The point is that it's important to have sufficient range of motion - and stability in that ROM - but not excessive ROM. Hanging out at any end range probably isn't a good idea.
Interestingly, though, we overlook the fact that the scapulothoracic joint - the interaction of the shoulder blade with the rib cage - is subject to these rules. In particular, one issue that sometimes emerges is an excessive "military posture" of scapular adduction (toward the midline) and depression when folks are cued "down and back" without understanding what it really means.
These athletes often get neck/upper back flare-ups when they do a lot of deadlifting, carries, or even too much horizontal pulling. The shoulder blades are so far pulled back that it becomes a faulty stabilization strategy instead of a strong base from which to perform.
4. A PVC dowel is a super affordable way to do a lot of great things for your upper body work.
I was looking at a program I wrote for one of our pro guys yesterday, and realized that we used the PVC dowel for three different exercises in a single training day. That's as much as barbells and dumbbells - but you can buy the piece of PVC for around $1. You won't find a piece of training equipment that offers that kind of bang for your buck - and this realization made me think back to this video CSP coach Greg Robins filmed a few years ago. These options are really just the tip of the iceberg, too:
Have a great Sunday - and don't forget about the CSP Innovations sale that ends tonight! Learn more HERE.
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Today's guest article comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio. Tony is also one of the contributors to the new Cressey Sports Performance Innovations resource, which is on sale for $50 off through this Sunday at midnight. Enjoy! -EC
I wouldn’t break the Internet if I told you that we don’t use the barbell bench press to train baseball players at Cressey Sports Performance.
As a powerlifter, I love the bench press. It’s a solid choice for general fitness folks, too. But by now, it’s widely accepted in the baseball world that the reward of getting really strong on the bench press is outweighed by the risk the exercise poses to the shoulders and elbows. And if you dig a little deeper, there’s some more specific reasoning why the bench press doesn’t show up in most programs at CSP.
1. It Exacerbates Negative Adaptations to Throwing
When you throw a baseball for a living, it’s likely that a handful of things will happen, including:
So basically, you get a shoulder that’s loose in the front and tight in the back, along with an elbow that doesn’t straighten all the way. But what happens at the torso and lower body?
• Decreased scapular upward rotation
• Decreased soft tissue quality (lats, rotator cuff, pec major and minor, among others)
• Abnormal spinal curvature (i.e. lumber and/or thoracic hyperextension)
• Decreased hip rotation (most often loss of hip internal rotation)
Now we have scaps and hips that don’t move well, gritty tissue surrounding the shoulder, and a spine that’s stuck in extension. This paints a grim picture and it’s not as bad as it sounds, but what does bench pressing do to help this situation?
The answer? Nothing. In fact, it feeds into many of these dysfunctions.
Coach someone into a proper bench press setup and what do you get? Global spinal extension, scapular retraction and depression, humeral motion WITHOUT scap motion, and heavy loads placed on the pecs, delts, lats and triceps. The stresses are eerily similar to throwing, albeit at slower speeds and heavier loads.
We spend a lot of time each offseason trying to restore movement quality in our baseball players, which means staying away from many of these gross extension patterns and exercises that lock the scaps in place. You can’t justify strength gains at the expense of movement quality. As Gray Cook says, don’t build strength on top of dysfunction.
2. It’s Not Speed- or Plane-Specific
In order for a movement to transfer to sport, it needs to have some degree of specificity. We have to look at the plane in which the movement occurs (sagittal, frontal or transverse) and where the movement falls on the force-velocity curve.
Granted, simply getting stronger has direct transfer to sport without being specific. Otherwise, strength coaches wouldn’t have jobs. However, research shows us that power development is highly plane-specific and that traditional sagittal plane power exercises (jumps, sprints, cleans, snatches, etc.) have limited transfer to throwing a baseball. We've seen plenty of pitchers with sub-20-inch verticals and 90-mile-per-hour fastballs to back this up. Research from Lehman et al. (2012) backed this up as well.
Rather, frontal and transverse plane movements like Heidens and med ball throws work better. So building a fast, crisp bench press might make a football player incredibly powerful, but it won’t transfer much to baseball.
Also, bench pressing is simply too slow to have much transfer. If you look at the force-velocity curve (also known as the strength-speed continuum), throwing a baseball is all the way at the velocity end. It’s a light load moved incredibly fast. Benching is on the other end: a heavy load moved slowly.
High-load, low-speed lifting might benefit some athletes who have spent their entire training career on the pure velocity end (i.e. the travel team athlete who plays all year and never lifts weights), but we can still “fill in” this gap with push-ups and dumbbell bench pressing. And while we can train our athletes to develop force quickly and move heavy weights with ballistic intent, it’s too far removed from baseball to have much of an impact, especially for athletes who are already pretty strong.
3. It’s Not Very Self-Limiting
In my experience as a lifter and coach, I’d wager that most of the poor decisions in the gym occur on or near the bench press. People are much more likely to overestimate their strength capabilities while benching than they are squatting, deadlifting or lunging. If health and performance are our two top priorities, we need to pick exercises that don’t unleash our athletes’ inner meathead.
An incorrectly performed bench press can put an athlete in some lousy positions. Elbows flared, body squirming with hundreds of pounds hovering over their throat; that’s the LAST place I want my athletes. Sure, any heavy exercise can be risky, but a missed rep on a push-up or landmine press has less potential for disaster. Even the dumbbell bench press requires a light enough load to get into the starting position, making it a more self-limiting choice.
If you coach multiple athletes at once, you won’t see every rep of every set. As hard as you might try, it’s impossible to see everything in a high school or college weight room. That said, picking exercises that are self-limiting while still effective makes for a safer training environment. For our athletes at CSP, that means more push-ups and landmine presses than barbell bench variations.
The exclusion of the bench press in our baseball programs goes beyond “it’s dangerous for your shoulders.” Even if coached and performed perfectly, our athletes won’t get as much transfer from it as they would from other pressing exercises.
If you DO bench press and use it with your athletes, you won’t want to miss our newest product: Cressey Sports Performance Innovations. It’s a collection of 11 webinars from the staff members at CSP with tons of great fitness and business content, including my presentation, “10 Things I’ve Learned About the Bench Press.”
CSP Innovations is on sale for $50 off until Sunday at midnight, so click here to grab your copy now!
About the Author
Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.BonvecStrength.com.
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It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading. With this week's launch of Cressey Sports Performance Innovations($50 off through Sunday at midnight), we're going with a CSP staff theme here.
Believe It Or Not, CSP Isn't a One-Man Show - Pete Dupuis authored up this great post about how to build up a multifaceted fitness team instead of just a one-man show. It's a great read for anyone who aspires to own a facility one day (or already has one).
Technique Tuesday with Tony Bonvechio - You might not know that CSP coach Tony Bonvechio posts a thorough technique video each Tuesday morning on the CSP-MA Facebook page. Here's this week's:
Today's guest article comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach Miguel Aragoncillo. Miguel is also one of the contributors to the new Cressey Sports Performance Innovations resource, which is on sale for $50 off through this Sunday at midnight. Enjoy! -EC
My contribution to CSP Innovations was on the topic of post-activation potentiation (PAP), and you can't talk about PAP without getting knee-deep in a discussion of plyometrics. That said, there were quite a few "spillover" thoughts on this front that I thought would complement my webinar nicely. Here they are:
1. Change the Environment to Improve Outcomes.
Based on what the athlete or individual needs in his or her sprinting capabilities, a different starting position can be used to help teach a different “lesson.” Whether it is drive in the first few yards, arm swing, or even learning how to manage torso position past 10 yards, there are different tools that can be utilized to improve your sprinting ability.
With sprinting (along with several other forms of plyometrics) the position of the set up will greatly affect the outcome of the exercise. As an example, if you begin a sprint with one knee on the ground, you will need to display greater initial strength in order to overcome gravity in comparison to a sprint that starts after shuffling for five yards.
Further, you can use small hurdles at 12 inches or so in order to elicit a higher knee position, or you may simply or kick the hurdles as you move forward.
Much like attacking your specific weaknesses in your strength training and lifting endeavors, the correct tool must be used at the correct time in order to deliver the most appropriate outcome of efficiency, and in this case, power and force development.
2. Change the Words We Use.
While the above point looks to improve upon the external environment in order to help your athletes and clients to move better, the next point aims to improve how your brain processes this information in order to also move better.
Using words in order to describe a movement, motion, or intention behind a movement are all ways we can alter the outcomes of a movement.
Essentially, you can alter the outcomes of a movement by utilizing two techniques: 1) change your words to reflect the intensity of a movement, and 2) provide an external task to be accomplished.
Using words like tap, boom, and zoom, or using claps, or stomps can help reinforce the concept of moving with intention and speed. The purpose of these words will help to improve the rate of force production, along with force absorption if certain awareness is needed when landing as you perform different drills.
3. Physically Demonstrate Exercises.
As a coach, I am always interested whenever someone presents a faster and more efficient way to coach one or more athletes. With this in mind, the point should be driven further that non-verbal cueing is one of the bigger ways to improve upon a movement pattern.
Sure, there are tons of ways for people to learn. Using all five senses is certainly a way to help improve the learning process, but using smell as a way to teach someone to jump may not be the best course of action.
Sometimes a bounding motion is difficult to describe verbally, but showing it will help demonstrate the movement pattern, and describing the emphasis on the desired “hang time” from leg to leg for the movement will reinforce the intention of staying on the ground as little as possible.
Follow up your demonstrations with one or two words (similar to what was described above) to reinforce your intentions and any small details that may not appear to the naked eye.
4. Improve Maximal Strength Before Looking to Improve Maximal Speed.
The off-season is a time to increase strength, as this is the foundation that can create greater speed for our athletes. At Cressey Sports Performance, we do not shy away from deadlifting or squatting the first week our athletes come back.
While the act of deadlifting may feel like a far cry away from increasing sprint time or even further removed from increasing baseball pitching velocity, the take-home message here is that the details found in lifting heavy will contribute to the whole and not take away from the movement pattern. In fact, improving total body maximal strength will eventually lead to a greater rate of force production, as force production is the name of the game when looking to increase speed for your athletes.
5. Using Overload May Not Be the Best Tool for Athletes.
While this may seem contradictory considering the last point, every athlete will respond differently to various percentages of maximal strength. Some athletes 90% of their 1RM relatively quickly, while others move that weight slowly. When speaking about force production, research from Stone et al. (among many others), saw 30% of 1RM maximal strength in lower body exercises as a “sweet spot” for power output with jumping exercises. Further, stronger athletes have greater abilities to express this force production quality.
From the Stone et al (2003):
“... The strong group had higher values at all percentages of 1RM when compared with the weak group. The strong group had their highest power outputs at 40% of 1RM; the weak group had decreasing power outputs as the percentage of 1RM increased.
“... These correlational findings suggest that jumping power may be increased with improvement of the 1RM squat. The fact that the 5 strongest subjects had markedly higher power outputs than the 5 weakest subjects strengthens this finding.”
In this same vein, when we begin to get more specific with our movement patterns, we will eventually need to express faster and faster motions, following the force velocity curve (or absolute strength to absolute speed continuum) as the off-season transitions to pre-season for our athletes!
6. Where the Head Goes, the Body Follows.
If your head, eyes, or other seemingly small detail is “off,” your ability to deliver a movement to its best potential will be thrown off. To this end, your set-up can affect the execution of your movement.
If you’re performing continuous jumps, try looking straight down, and see how you do. Then perform another set looking straight, and then looking up into the air. See what fits best for you and your athletes, and change it based on your drill. The eye and head position will change based on the focus of the drill.
Specifically, when you are looking to improve your distance in a movement such as bounding in a certain amount of jumps, or jumping to increase vertical force production, focusing on an object or space for your vision is the purpose when precision is the name of the game.
7. Competition can breed better output.
This isn’t so much a lesson in plyometrics, but a lesson in performing plyometrics based on your environment and possible training partners.
Perform a drill by yourself, and you can expect to get a certain result - whether it is up to standard is up for debate. Perform a drill in the presence of 10-15 teammates who are all motivating each other can create a better environment, and you can increase your results tenfold. This does not mean to crush your body to the point of no return and getting injured, but having a team or partner(s) to motivate you can improve your outcomes significantly.
How can this be put into action when you are trying to improve from a maximal speed drill? Next time you are in a training rut, see if you can find a few reliable training partners to hold yourself accountable. Challenge yourself or your friends to a few races at the end of a lifting session, whether it is with jumps, bounds, or chasing whoever is at the top of a leaderboard.
For more plyometric training strategies, be sure to check out Miguel's presentation, "Post-Activation Potentiation: Mechanisms, Methods, and Results." It's available as part of our new resource, CSP Innovations, which is in sale for $50 off through this Sunday at midnight. Click here to learn more.
About the Author
Miguel Aragoncillo (@MiggsyBogues) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.MiguelAragoncillo.com.
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When people ask me for my top business mistake, without hesitation, I answer, “Putting my last name on Cressey Sports Performance.”
When I say this, most folks assume that I’m referring to the fact that it’ll make the business harder to sell way down the road. Or, they recognize that it means everyone will expect me to answer the phone each time someone calls the office. And, these individuals aren’t wrong; these are certainly issues. However, they aren’t the primary source of my frustration with this mistake.
Rather, without even knowing it, putting my name on the facility undermines just how outstanding the rest of our staff at both Cressey Sports Performance facilities are. In fact, my business partner, Pete Dupuis, often refers to himself as “the guy behind the guy” even though he’s one of the brightest business minds in the industry – and every bit as integral to the success of CSP as I am.
This is something I’ve worked hard to remedy – and today, I have an announcement that will continue this momentum in the right direction.
Today, we introduce Cressey Sports Performance Innovations, a collaborative resource from the Cressey Sports Performance team. Eleven staff members from our Hudson, MA and Jupiter, FL facilities have each contributed a presentation “from their wheelhouse” to this product – and we’re really excited with how it turned out. I learned a lot in reviewing the 11+ hours of webinars, and I’m confident you will, too.
This 100% digital/online resource is now available at an introductory $50 off discount through this Sunday at midnight.
It's a big Wednesday. The Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 is announced, and our family is actually closing on our new house here in Florida. And, it's a beautiful sunny day outside - and I'm headed to the fields for throwing, hitting, and sprint work with our pro baseball crew. Who says hump day has to suck?
I haven't published a post in this series since September, so this update is long overdue. Here we go...
1. Focus on optimism in training, but pessimism in business.
I'm in the process of reading The Founder's Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman. It's been excellent thus far, and this quote stood out to me, in particular:
"Higher optimism entrepreneurs have 20% lower revenue growth and 25% lower employment growth than lower optimism entrepreneurs who would be less susceptible to the perils of optimism."
Without even knowing it, Wasserman might have explained a big reason why so many fitness professionals struggle when they open their own business (as compared to working for someone else). The best trainers are upbeat, unconditionally positive, and energetic during their training sessions - but that doesn't mean that this approach also works well on the business side of things.
As I think about the most productive meetings I've had with my business partners over the years, they haven't been sit-downs to talk about all the great things we're doing. Rather, they were meetings where we nit-picked and scrutinized everything we were doing to find ways to improve. In a broad sense, they were very pessimistic.
Wasserman elaborates: "Excessive optimism can blind many founders to their start-ups' critical needs. So, they must be particularly vigilant in identifying the gaps in their skills, knowledge, and contacts - and evaluating whether and when those gaps should be filled by a co-founder."
There's your quick, two-part recipe for fitness industry business struggles:
a. Be overly optimistic on the business side of things and miss key opportunities for improvement and growth.
b. Fail to have the knowledge and resources needed to improve a problem even if you do actually identify it.
2. Effective loss leaders shouldn't devalue your service.
A while back, my business partner, Pete Dupuis, wrote up a great article: 3 Reasons We Don't Offer Free Training Consultations. In it, he outlined three primary reasons why offering free training consults at your gym might not be a good idea. One point he didn't make, though, is that you are effectively devaluing your services.
Now, to be clear, I am not at all opposed to loss leaders in the fitness industry - as long as we have a broader definition of "loss leader." Wikipedia defines it as "is a pricing strategy where a product is sold at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services." In my opinion, you can utilize "value addition leaders" with great impact without devaluing your services (the only "loss" is your time). You're simply finding ways to give potential customers something of value before they take the initial plunge with you.
This might be a free seminar at your facility that they attend, or a expedited referral to a physical therapist or sports orthopedist prior to them starting up with you. You might even go to this appointment with them to learn more about their injury and help make the transition as smooth as possible. It's a way to show you care and deliver value before the first transaction.
With our professional athlete clientele, we have a great opportunity to do this prior to them actually getting to Cressey Sports Performance for an evaluation. Maybe it's a function of helping them to find housing (sometimes even at the Cressey residence!), or passing along the information they need for the smoothest travel experience on the way to CSP. Or, maybe it's lining up a catcher for them to throw a bullpen when they're only in town for a short stint.
There are countless ways to add value to the client's experience with your training facility, but you do need to be a bit more creative to find ways to differentiate yourself even prior to the first transaction.
3. Lead Generation, Lead Conversion, and Retention are the big three of fitness business success.
Just as powerlifting has the big three - squat, bench press, deadlift - fitness business success has its own big three:
a. Lead Generation - how many people inquire about your services
b. Lead Conversion - how many of those prospects actually wind up paying for your services
c. Retention - how well you keep those clients
If you're a relatively experienced powerlifter, you can usually identify the quickest way to bring up your total. For me, I was always a strong deadlifter, decent bench, and mediocre squatter - so prioritizing the squat was the fastest way to bring up my overall performance.
Similarly, I think every business owner (even outside the fitness industry) would be wise to look at their businesses with this "largest window of adaptation" perspective. At CSP, lead conversion has never really been an issue for us, so we can devote most of our efforts on the business front to lead generation and retention.
Of course, don't overlook "ancillary" efforts like managing expenses, collecting outstanding payments, servicing equipment, and the like as important. While they are key considerations, they just usually aren't "big rocks" on the profitability front like these other three.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
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Between the holidays and my "Best of 2016" series, it's been a few weeks since the last installment of this weekly recommended reading/viewing list. With that in mind, I'll throw out some extra recommendations this week:
Understanding Influencer Marketing - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, discusses the value of collaborative marketing efforts between one company or individual and another - using our relationship with New Balance as an example.
Stress is Not Stress - This was an outstanding post from Dave Dellanave; he cuts through all the science and explains why not all stress is created equal for every person.