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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 22

It's time for the September installment of this series. With the baseball season wrapping up for many minor league and high school players - plus the start of post-season play nearly upon us - I've got a lot of new thoughts rattling around my brain.

1. There's no such thing as "catching the injury bug." 

This is a term that gets thrown around a lot in professional sports. Certainly, there is a significant amount of happenstance in professional sports. Quarterbacks get sacked from the blind side and injure acromioclavicular joints (get well soon, Jimmy G!!!). Hitters get hit by pitches, and outfielders run into walls. Not all injuries are preventable, but not everything we assume to be "happenstance" is unpreventable, either. Additionally, there's something to be said about finding ways to shorten the down time on the disabled list when players are hurt. This recent article in Hardball Times does a good job of highlighting this observation: Doing What it Takes to Keep Players Healthy.

With respect to preventing injuries, most of the focus goes on training and rehabilitation initiatives. Is there a good strength and conditioning program? Are there good manual therapists on hand? Does the organization prioritize high quality nutrition? Are recovery options plentiful? The list goes on and on.

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There are, however, many overlooked factors that are outside the control of the sports medicine staffs in these organizations. For instance, if a front office creates a roster of players who a) are older and b) have more extensive injury histories, it's going to be a lot harder to keep that team on the field. Additionally, how bullpens are managed factors into injury risk heavily. Some relief pitchers get absolutely abused between game appearances and scenarios where they warm up and don't go into the game. I once had a MLB lefty specialist say that he threw more in two months in the big leagues than he did in 100+ innings as a college starer. 

The point is that while some injuries are, in fact, happenstance, the majority are highly preventable - particularly if as many different factors as possible are taken into consideration. The injury bug excuse just doesn't hold water.

2. There are varying levels of "strong enough."

In the strength training world, you'll often hear debates on the question, "how strong is strong enough for athletes?" Truth be told, it's not a simple question to answer.

First and foremost, you get what you train. So, I might just squat and deadlift all the time, but never build an appreciable level of single-leg strength. So, if my sport requires a ton of single-leg strength, I'm really not strong at all in a specific sense. That said, no competitive powerlifter is going to be able to hand his hat on a good Bulgarian split squat number; he's got to squat and deadlift heavy to be successful.

Taking this a step further, though, we have to consider what we're trying to strong enough to do? Is it strong enough to safely perform sprint work and plyos in training, as would be the case after a few months in post-op ACL rehabilitation scenario? Or, is it strong enough to be able to safely participate in athletics, as an athlete would be later in the rehabilitation timeline?

Does an athlete just need to be strong enough to need to even consider this continuum? Or, does he need to be strong enough to make good use of strength-speed and speed-strength training initiatives?

Is the athlete strong enough to not have to worry about training limit strength (the far left of this continuum) as much? Not many athletes ever get to this point because it takes a ton of hard work, consistency, and even a genetic predisposition to being strong to get there. However, I've seen several in my career, and we needed to spend a lot more time training absolute speed and speed-strength.

Above all else, I'd say that in the athletic world, the "strong enough" classification refers to a coach's refusal to push an athlete further due to the potential for injury. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that one of our pro outfielders could unquestionably train to attain a 600-pound raw squat in a matter of 3-4 months. The risk of pushing toward this goal just isn't worth the risk; he has other athletic qualities to which we can devote his training time and recovery capacity - and without the risk. If he could only squat 185 pounds, though, it would be an entirely different story.

3. If applied incorrectly, cross-training can beat athletes up as much as it can help them.

I'm all for young athletes playing as many sports as possible. A rich proprioceptive environment creates an awesome foundation for future athletic development in more specific endeavors. Likewise, later on, once an athlete has specialized, there is definitely a time of year for cross training - but it definitely has to be applied correctly. What am I getting at?

[bctt tweet="The lower the movement variability in one's sport, the less bold the cross-training can be."]

To put this in context, imagine a soccer midfielder or football defensive back. Both these athletes have a ton of movement variability in their sport participation; there is a lot of change-of-direction, full-tilt sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, and a host of additional sport-specific skills. Asking one of these athletes to go out and play ultimate frisbee or beach volleyball for a change of pace isn't going to dramatically increase their injury risk.

Conversely, take the typical pro golfer or baseball pitcher into this same challenge, and it's going to be a pretty stressful event with a much higher likelihood of injury. It's not to say these athletes are soft or "delicate;" it's just that the majority of their athletic calendars take place with more specificity, and there is less movement variability to their sports challenges. With both the golf swing and pitching delivery, you want to consistently repeat your mechanics.

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Invariably, during interleague play in Major League Baseball, we see an American League pitcher who gets injured running the bases or swinging at the plate. Specificity of training matters, and it takes a considerable volume of specificity to build a tolerance to competing at a high level.

This isn't just specific to amplitude of movement (range of motion). Rather, the direction and magnitude of forces need to be considered. As an example, elite swimmers have a high pain tolerance from the insane volumes they do in the pool, but get them into an ultimate frisbee game, and you're going to see some awkward movements because they aren't accustomed to ground reaction forces and moving in the frontal and transverse planes.

Just keep it in mind as you plan your cross-training activities. Just because you see NFL players dominating a game of "Tag" doesn't mean that your 51-year-old master's division swimming star is going to do as well with it.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Methods vs. Applications

Each week, invariably, I get a few email inquiries that go something like this:

What do you think of <insert training device or method here>?

The "training device or method" seems to come in waves. In training, for a while, it was kettlebells. Then it was Crossfit. In the rehab world, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are a hotter topic these days, and I'd expect stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal issues to be the next wave.

In the baseball world, people then asked about J-Bands. Then it was long toss. Now, it always seems to be weighted balls. 

Most of the time, people are asking the wrong question. 

[bctt tweet="You can't truly evaluate a method or device without considering its application."]

Using the weighted balls example, I love them and have used them in various capacities since 2007. I've used them with teenage athletes and I've used them with a Cy Young Award winner. I've used them with 1st round draft picks and 50th round draft picks.

You know what else? There were a lot of pitching coaches using them before I even started. And, they were well established in the track and field throwing community long before the baseball world adopted them. And, we now have plenty of studies in scholarly journals supporting their use. However, that doesn't mean they're right for every single application.

If you throw weighted balls a week after you have shoulder surgery - and then blow out the shoulder again - is the problem the weighted balls? Or, is the problem that you were an idiot in your application of this device/method?

If your 8-year-old does an aggressive weighted ball program and winds up with a growth plate fracture, is it the fault of the weighted balls or the program? Or, are you just a misdirected father who put the carriage way in front of the horse?

The weighted balls are the device/method. The programming volume, implement load, throwing technique, time of year, and athlete preparedness are some of the variables that constitute the broader "application" category.

My High Performance Handbook has been really popular across a number of training populations, but it's a horrible fit for you if you had spine surgery last week.  

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A lot of people have great fitness success with Crossfit programs, but many wind up banged up because their application of these principles is wrong. They may not adhere to solid technique, or they may have pre-existing structural pathologies and movement impairments that should lead to contraindicating certain exercises.

Front squats can be an awesome exercise. They aren't going to feel so good if you have a degenerative hip or acromioclavicular joint injury, though.

J-Bands are a huge training asset to your arm care routine when used correctly. If you're going to use them incorrectly, though, you're better off leaving them in your equipment bag.

Stop contraindicating methods and devices, and instead start improving your ability to critically think and evaluate applications. The best coaches that I know aren't just the guys with the most tools in their toolbox; they're the carpenters that know which tool is the best fit for the job at hand.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/12/16

Happy Monday! Well, at least it is for me. I'm pumped about the Patriots' season opening win on the road against the Cardinals last night! Let's keep the good vibes rolling with some recommended reading from around the 'Net over the past week:

3 Laws to Master Coaching Young Athletes - Cressey Sports Performance coach Nancy Newell does an awesome job with our CSP Foundations (7-12 year-old) class, and this blog shows why. The kids have a blast and learn a ton in large part due to her enthusiasm and fun approach to coaching. 

Performance Metrics in Professional Baseball Players Before and Surgical Treatment for Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - In light of the rise in TOS surgeries in professional baseball, I thought it'd be good to link to this recent publication from Dr. Robert Thompson's group in St. Louis. It's important to note that the case studies in question were performed between 2001 and 2014, and they've actually improved the surgery and rehab in the two years since then. I'd venture a guess that outcomes are even better now.

3 Tips for Transitioning Your Training Model to Semi-Private - When folks come to observe at one of the CSP facilities, invariably, they wind up asking the question, "How can I do this with my clientele?" In this blog, Pete Dupuis provides a thorough answer.

Elite Training Mentorship - Just a friendly reminder that the CSP staff uploads content to this resource every month, and the September update includes an awesome webinar, "Coaching, Cueing, and Performance," from Miguel Aragoncillo.  

Top Tweet of the Week:

 

Top Instagram Post of the Week

 

To think, this all started with a handful of HS baseball players during the summer of '07... #cspfamily #elitebaseball #CSPpitching

A photo posted by Cressey Sports Performance (@cresseysportsperformance) on

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How Lower Body Exercises Can Impact Upper Body Function

A few months ago, I published a blog called Making the Case for Training in the Post-Surgery Period. In short, it discussed how we are almost always dealing with athletes who are training during their rehabilitation periods. In many cases, this is strictly working around the issues while they're going through physical therapy.

In writing these programs, one recognizes that it's actually far easier to write a program for a post-op lower body issue than it is for a post-op upper body scenario. Very simply, because most strength and conditioning exercise selections work "from the ground up," there are many more ways that lower extremity exercises can impact upper body drills than vice versa. Today, I'll outline some examples.

1. Grip work.

There is grip involvement in deadlifts, various dumbbell single-leg exercises, and even squatting exercises that require an athlete to grasp the bar. Particularly in the case of elbow issues, too much grip work can become a real problem. For example, in the 4-8 month period after Tommy John surgery, it's not uncommon for athletes to experience discomfort in the common flexor tendon region - and it usually has to do with the cumulative stress of gripping during strength training and rehab work on top of the intensification of the throwing program. Some doctors have surgical approaches that are a bit "rougher" on the flexor tendon, too. In these scenarios, you're best off working predominately with lower body drills that don't involve a lot of grip work.

2. Front rack position with acromioclavicular (AC) joint issues. 

When you want an AC joint issue to calm down, there are really three big rules: 

a. Avoid reaching across the body (horizontal adduction, like a cross-body stretch)

b. Avoid reaching behind the body (full extension, like in a dip)

c. Avoid direct pressure to the area (particularly because it has very little muscle mass to cushion it)

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With respect to "C," the front squat set-up is an absolute no-no. The pressure on the bar across the shoulder girdle can really take an upset AC joint and make it markedly worse. And, since this is in many cases an injury that we’re just “waiting out,” simply training through it will only makes things worse long-term.

HandsFreeRack

Therefore, deadlift variations, single-leg variations, and back squats (assuming no other related problems) are likely better bets. That said, we generally use the safety squat bar and giant cambered bar exclusively with those who present with AC joint problems.

3. Back squat position with internal impingement.

Internal impingement (also known as posterosuperior impingement) is a broad diagnosis most common in overhead throwing athletes. In the late cocking phase of throwing (or swimming, tennis, etc.) - which involves external rotation and abduction - the humeral head tends to translate superiorly (up) and anteriorly (forward) relative to the scapula.

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These issues are magnified by poor scapular control, weakness of the rotator cuff, insufficient thoracic mobility, loss of tissue extensibility around the shoulder girdle, and in some cases, structural changes. The end result is that the biceps tendon, labrum, rotator cuff, glenohumeral ligaments, or nerves that pass the anterior aspect of the shoulder get irritated. The term "internal impingement" really just explains the pain-provoking position, not the specific diagnosis. Generally speaking, the pain is purely mechanical in nature; it won’t bother an athlete unless the “apprehension” position (full external rotation at 90+ degrees of abduction) is created.

Just about every overhead athlete is constantly "flirting" with internal impingement problems, so my feeling is that it's best to just avoid this "at-risk" position in the weight room - and that's why we don't back squat any of our overhead throwing athletes. And, we certainly wouldn't use a back squat with anyone with symptomatic internal impingement.

backsquat

4. Giant cambered bar with scapular anterior tilt, humeral anterior glide, and forward head posture.

The giant cambered bar is an awesome option for avoiding the "at-risk" abducted, externally rotated position that often gives overhead athletes problems, but it can create a problem with athletes who are prone to scapular anterior tilt, humeral anterior glide, and/or forward head posture. Because of the positioning of the hands, the elbows are driven a bit behind the body, which can cause the shoulder blade to dump forward and "ball" to glide forward on the socket. You may also see the head shoot forward.

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That said, these faults can be easily minimized with good cueing. However, I wouldn't recommend using this bar with an athlete who has a big predisposition toward any of the three issues.

5. Scapular depression from holding heavy weights in the hands.

The deadlift can be an awesome exercise for improving poor posture - but not in all cases. Specifically, whenever we have an athlete who sits in too much scapular depression and downward rotation (more info on that HERE), we'll avoid holding really heavy weights in the hands for lower body training.

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Our goal is to teach the shoulder blades to sit a little higher at rest, and functionally get higher when the arms need to go overhead. We don't want all our lower body work competing against that. During this time period, it's best to go with squatting variations, barbell supine bridges/hip thrusts, DB/KB goblet set-ups, sled work, the front squat grip, glute-ham raises, and anything else your imagination yields - as long as it doesn't tug the shoulder blades down.

There are many more considerations for how lower body work impacts upper body function, but these are definitely the five I most frequently encounter that you should keep in mind.

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Specificity, Delayed Transmutation, and Long-Term Baseball Development

We had a great staff in-service on strength and conditioning programming yesterday, and it really got the wheels turning in my brain. The end result was this video, which is especially timely, given that many professional baseball players are about to begin their off-season training.

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Rhythmic Stabilizations: Where Should You “Feel” Them?

Earlier this week, I received the following question, and thought it would make for some good video content:

Q: I've been training a couple college guys this month before they go back to school and I had a few questions regarding rhythmic stabilizations. I started implementing them with my pitchers recently and they say they don't feel anything. Should they be? Is there any extra coaching points I'm missing here? Thanks for your time.

A: This video!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 21

It's time for the August installment of this popular series, and with the Olympics in full swing, MLB season in the home stretch, and the NFL season rapidly approaching, there's plenty of material rattling around my brain. 

1. Don't criticize what you don't understand.

Maybe it's just because all the aforementioned sporting events are taking simultaneously and we're on sports social media overload right now, but it seems like a lot of people are ranting and raving about high-level athletes' preparation. They're cranky about Usain Bolt's hamstrings issue and how it's being managed. They're shocked the Kerri Walsh Jennings has had so many shoulder surgeries. They're flustered about Michael Phelps using cupping. They're floored by Prince Fielder's retirement after a second cervical fusion surgery. And they're cranky because they're confident that they can do a better job in spite of the fact that they have exactly ZERO knowledge of any of these situations.

If there's one thing I've learned from a lot of work with professional and Olympic athletes over the years, it's that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. What you read in the media is usually a partial truth (if that). For instance, I know of pitchers who have gone on the disabled list with calf strains or neck stiffness when they just needed to iron out mechanics or rest up from a high workload. I've also known athletes whose performance has suffered tremendously as they tried to plow through nagging injuries. They're getting blown up on Twitter when they should be getting commended for putting the team's needs ahead of their own personal health.

The point is that if you don't have any knowledge of the unique situations, blindly criticizing athletes and their sports medicine teams is a cheap shot. And, in my eyes, it makes you look incredibly unprofessional.

I'd also add that it's important to remember that you never know who is reading your criticism. Burning that bridge because you "just had to get it off your chest" could interfere with future job possibilities, or even the opportunity to work with the athletes in question.

So, sit back, chill out, and just be a sports fan, but not a Monday Morning Quarterback. You can't rehab someone on Twitter.

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2. Use the bottoms-up get-up to remind hypermobile athletes to avoid elbow hyperextension - and cue "grabbing"the floor. 

I love using Turkish Get-ups with athletes for a host of reasons; this drill really trains whole-body mobility and stability and delivers a great training effect without insane external loading. That said, one thing you have to be really careful of with using get-ups is that hypermobile (loose jointed) individuals will often wind up with elbows hyperextended - both on the support and overhead arms.

Get-up hip hinge

With that in mind, I like the idea of using a bottoms-up Turkish get-up because it's more grip intensive and strictly mandates a more neutral wrist position. This activation of the flexors of the fingers, wrist, and elbow gets the muscles that prevent elbow hyperextension a little more "pre-tensioned," so it's a lot harder to slip into bad patterns.

The bottom arm is a bit trickier, but I have had some success with the cue, "grab the floor as if you're trying to palm a basketball." That same activation of the flexors can help to keep a slight flex in the elbow.

3. A training effect prepares you, but an education sustains you.

This morning, I woke up to this article about Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel "reinventing himself" this past offseason. Part of that process involved getting started up with Cressey Sports Performance, and we've be really cheering him on as he's put forth a career year to be a big part of the Cubs' success. As the article details, one of Jason's biggest struggles was fading in the second half of the season. This was something he and I discussed at length during his initial evaluation last November. Even though it was 8-9 months away, we started talking about in-season training approaches and how to sustain performance well into the second half of the long MLB season. Thus far, he's done a great job of it; in five starts since the All-Star Break, he's 5-0 with a 1.16 ERA.

I often tell our athletes that the training effects we deliver in the off-season gets them through the first half of the season, but it's the education we impart that should sustain them through the second half of the year. The MLB calendar spans from mid-February (spring training) all the way to early October (and even longer if a team makes the playoffs). Nothing we can do in the offseason is guaranteed to last for eight months, but education certainly can. We need to work hard to help athletes understand what is unique about their bodies so that they can be advocates for themselves - and their own best coaches. 

Jason's success has been a good reminder:

[bctt tweet="Coaching isn't just about building athleticism; it's also about educating."]

4. I still don't like Olympic lifts for baseball players.

By this point, most of you have probably heard (or seen) an Armenia Olympic lifter end up with a gruesome elbow injury on the jerk portion of a clean and jerk. It was a combination valgus stress - elbow hyperextension injury - which just so happens to be the exact same kind of stresses that lead to most pitching injuries at the elbow. Keep in mind that this was on a jerk - and the valgus stress is actually magnified on a snatch because of the bar path and distance traveled prior to the attempted catch.

I've written previously at length on my feelings about the topic: Should Baseball Players Olympic Lift? I think there are much better ways to train power in a specific context and with less injury risk.

Some coaches will argue, "But this is a max attempt in the Olympics! Our technique is much better than this and we aren't taking those kind of chances!" The truth is that video doesn't lie; you see a lot of ugly Olympic lifting technique all over the 'net. And, athletes will always want to push the limits and hit personal records. Moreover, baseball players have a lot more funky presentations (valgus carrying angle, medial elbow instability, and joint hypermobility) that muddy the waters further.

crazyvalgus

Perhaps more importantly, I know of very few high level arms who Olympic lift. We've demonstrated over and over again that you can build huge arm speed without snatches, jerks, and cleans, so why take the chance?

I should reiterate: I think the Olympic lifts are absolutely fantastic for other athletes. Baseball is just a different beast.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 8/8/16

I'm wrapping up my California trip tonight, but didn't want to leave you hanging on this week's recommended strength and conditioning reading/listening. Here are some good ones to check out:

EC on "The Impact Show" with Jim Kielbaso - This might have been my favorite podcast I've ever done, as I feel like Jim and I covered a lot of ground on the business and coaching sides of the equation. He's got some quality stuff in the archives of this podcast, too, so I'd encourage you to check some of his previous episodes out as well. 

Invisible Influence - I've become a big fan of Jonah Berger's writing in a similar way to how Malcolm Gladwell won me over years ago. If you're interested in the factors that govern behavior and decision-making, Berger's stuff will be right up your alley. His commentary on "social facilitation" has immediate utility for those in the fitness industry.

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Softball and Humeral Anterior Glide - If you like my baseball writing, you'll also enjoy CSP coach Nancy Newell's blogs on training softball players. This is one such example.

Top Tweet of the Week:

toptweetspec

Top Instagram Post of the Week:

 

Crossing Dodger Stadium off the bucket list with great friends. #cspfamily

A photo posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Professional Development: Processes vs. Outcomes

I'm out in Long Beach, CA for my fifth annual trip to the New Balance Area Code Games.  Now in its 30th year, this event brings together the top 230 high school baseball players in the country. Friday night, I spoke as part of the opening ceremonies.

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I wanted to be succinct with my message, and with that in mind, I chose to emphasize the importance of differentiating between processes and outcomes. This is something I try to hammer home with all our in-person athletes at Cressey Sports Performance, but I feel it's an important differentiation for all players to make.  

An outcome is - for lack of a better term - a result. It's going 4-for-4 at the plate, getting selected for an all-star team, or getting an "A" on a final exam. It may also be negative: going 0-for-4, getting left off the team, or flunking that final exam. There is never growth in an outcome alone; it's just something that happens after all the work is done. Unfortunately, it's been my experience that far too many people - and particularly young athletes who have had considerable success at a young age - become very outcome-oriented. They devote too much time and energy to celebrating their successes instead of recognizing the processes that got them to that end (good or bad).

Conversely, a process constitutes all the habits and actions that lead to an outcome. It's the hours you spent in the cage fine-tuning your swing before those four at-bats. It's your efforts and attitude that predated that all-star selection decision. And, it's your study habits that culminated in your final exam preparedness (or lack thereof).

[bctt tweet="There is growth in every process, but not in ANY outcome."]

Not surprisingly, there's evidence to suggest that outcome-oriented parenting is an inferior approach to process-oriented parenting. You're far better off praising efforts than you are outcomes, because it's those efforts that remind your kid to bust his or her butt in everything the future holds. Your work ethic and demeanor from tee ball can sustain for decades to help you in your job as an accountant when tax season is upon you, but don't expect your 20-year-old trophies to help you out when the going gets tough in adulthood. 

Interestingly, though, this message actually has significant parallels to some conversations I had with respect to the fitness industry just last weekend, when I delivered a shoulder seminar to a room of 105 trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and rehabilitation specialists in Chicago.

shouldercourse

At the conclusion of the event, I had several young trainers inquire about how I wound up where I am. In fact, one even asked, "What do I need to do to be you in ten years?" I always find these inquiries challenging to answer because I rarely reflect on success, and frankly don't consider myself successful because it's too early in my career (age 35) to determine that. Perhaps more significantly, though, I can't vividly describe where I plan to be in five (let alone ten) years. If I can't be sure of exactly where I'm headed, who am I to tell an up-and-coming fitness professional how he should get to where he thinks he wants to be a decade from now?

With that in mind, my answer is usually necessarily vague: 

[bctt tweet="Embrace processes, but let outcomes take care of themselves."]

The problem is that the fitness industry is unique in that none of these processes are clearly defined. In other words, there is no strict foundation upon which a large body of work in the field is entirely based. There aren't many industries like this.

For example, my wife is an optometrist, and she had four years of undergraduate education, followed by four years of optometry school (including clinical rotations), and then board exams before she could become a doctor. There was a set curriculum, and then measures to determine competency in the areas emphasized in that curriculum. And, even after that proficiency was established, Anna did an additional year of residency where she specialized in cornea and contact lens. You can't just declare yourself an optometrist one day and start a career - but individuals do that all the time in personal training because the barrier to entry is completely non-existent.

So, how do we take this lesson and apply it to our fitness professionals who really want to be great? I think the first step is to heavily emphasize a minimum standard of education: a foundation upon which a career can be built.

While the skill sets needed to be a successful NFL strength and conditioning coach are obviously different than what one would need to do cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation in a clinical exercise physiology setting, there are surely many commonalities across these domains (and everything in between). Here are a few things I think everyone in the fitness field needs to know to create a solid foundation:

1. Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Biomechanics - Structure dictates function, and you have to know what good movement (function) is before you can structure a program to create, preserve, or reestablish it.

2. Physiology - I'm not saying that you need to be able to recite the Krebs cycle by heart, but you should have a clear understanding of energy systems development, the endocrine response to exercise, how various disease states impact exercise, the role of various medications your clients may be taking and a host of other physiological considerations.

3. Coaching Approaches - I'll be blunt: I don't think that anyone should be allowed to train someone unless they've first completed internships under multiple other credentialed coaches. Massage therapists need to complete hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hours before they can go out on their own, and I'd argue that a bad fitness professional can hurt people a lot faster than a bad massage therapist. Good coaches understand how to not only deliver effective coaching cues, but also do so in the most efficient manner possible. The only way to get to this point is to get out and coach individuals from all walks of life - and then fine-tune when things don't work the way you expected.

4. Interpersonal relations - I've always been surprised at how little formal training in psychology the aspiring fitness professional gets in the typical exercise science curriculum. And, honestly, I think that the psychology lessons taught in a classroom by a "typical" college PhD (and I don't mean that disparagingly at all) are likely a lot different than ones you might learn from successful personal trainers who've had clients for decades, or strength and conditioning coaches who've thrived in college weight rooms for generations. Motivation is a very complex topic. Multiple times in my career, I've had a client walk in and start the session with (paraphrased), "So, I'm getting a divorce." Maybe deciding between a reverse lunge and Bulgarian split squat just became a little secondary?

What These Meant for Me

As I look at these four foundational educational processes, I feel like I was really well prepared on both #1 and #2 when I entered the industry. Having a class in gross anatomy during my undergraduate experience was a game-changer, and I was also fortunate to have some excellent kinesiology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology professors that went above and beyond simple memorization challenges.

Early on, though, I struggled with my coaching approaches. I spoke too quickly, blurted out too many cues, and likely confused a lot of athletes. It wasn't until I got to watch some great coaches at the University of Connecticut do their thing that I learned to be more clear and concise, and make the complex seem simple for our athletes.

Interpersonal relations seemed to come more naturally to me, likely because I worked at a tennis club for eight summers while I was growing up; I was constantly interacting with members across multiple age groups. However, this has actually been my biggest area of study over the past 3-4 years (particularly because I now have employees), and I always have an audiobook in progress with respect to leadership, communication, motivation, and related areas.  

What These Mean for You

Everyone in the fitness field has unique preparation. Some folks are very good technical coaches, but not great communicators. Some trainers have a knack for making movements look good even if they don't know the exact anatomy governing that clean movement. Some professionals have delivered outstanding results even if they can't explain the underlying physiological changes that occurred. These successes (outcomes) don't mean that they shouldn't constantly be seeking out ways to improve (processes), so I'd encourage you to do a "self audit" to determine your biggest growth areas.

You can shore up a lot of these knowledge gaps with books, DVDs, and online mentorship programs, but I'm of the belief that the fastest way to learn will always be in-person, as you can pick up information on all four components and see how the fit together. Internships and mentorships are phenomenal in this regard; there is real-time application and feedback. Seminars are also be fantastic, particularly when you have both lecture and practical (hands-on) components.

Cressey scapula

Speaking of seminars, we just announced the lineup for our 5th annual Cressey Sports Performance fall seminar in Massachusetts. It's September 25th, with an early-bird registration deadline of August 25. For more information, click here. Hope to see you there!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 20

It's hard to believe that we're 20 installments deep on this series, but I'm glad they've been so well received and definitely plan to continue to write them. Before I get to the meat and potatoes, just a quick friendly reminder that the introductory $100 off Elite Athletic Development seminar DVDs ends tonight at midnight.

1. Tall athletes are usually longer term projects.

When you have a 15-year-old 6-6, 150-pound kid with size 17 shoes, you have your work cut out for you.

These athletes are challenging for a number of reasons:

a. Their bone growth has usually outpaced their flexibility (except in kids - usually those who haven't finished puberty - who have preserved their childhood joint laxity). This often means that they have to do a fair amount of "preliminary" work just to get into good positions to benefit from big bang exercises.

b. Their center of mass has rapidly shifted up away from their base of support, creating a constantly unstable state.

c. A longer spine is a lot harder to stabilize than a shorter one.

d. You can put 20 pounds on one of these athletes and barely notice. As a frame of reference, in the picture below, the 6-6 athlete on the left added 31 pounds between September and February (when this picture was taken) to get to approximately 200 pounds. Meanwhile, Greg Robins (the CSP coach in the middle) actually weighs more than him even though his about eight inches shorter.

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e. Even if you put that 20 pounds on them, it might not be enough to have a "grounding" effect on the athlete. Unless an athlete is very gifted in terms of reactive ability (as you might see with lighter weight NBA players), you might need to add a lot more weight for them to learn how to properly load the lower extremity to create athletic movement using the stretch-shortening cycle. 

f. At younger ages, they're often put in positions that don't require as much movement (first base, DH, or pitcher in baseball; center in basketball; goalie in soccer; etc.). This may rob them of crucial exposure to movement "education."

 The take home points?

[bctt tweet="In tall athletes, push patience, consistency, calories, and perfect technique on fundamentals."]

 2. It's not your job to have all the answers.

Earlier this week, I sent along a nutrition question to Cressey Sports Performance's first employee, Brian St. Pierre. Brian is now Director of Performance Nutrition for Precision Nutrition and a tremendous resource we have at our fingertips on everything relating to nutrition and supplementation. Within 24 hours, Brian had sent along a 244-word reply that covered his anecdotal experiences on the topic in question, along with some recommended reading in case I was interested in what the peer-reviewed evidence demonstrated.

I'd love to have all the answers, but I simply don't. As such, I refer out all the time - whether it's a question like this on the nutrition front, or sending a client to a physical therapist. Your job is to deliver the best possible outcomes for your athletes/clients, and referring out regularly usually leads to those ends - and creates learning opportunities for you via the collaborative efforts that occur during the referral.

It's not your job to have all the answers; it's your job to know where you can find them.

3. It's important to understand how much relative strength an athlete needs - and that is sport and position specific.

I'll use my experience with baseball to make this point.

Pitching is a combination of absolute and relative strength and power. From an absolute standpoint, more body weight equates to more force to push off the mound, and more momentum moving downhill; that's why gaining weight can have such a profound impact on pitching velocity.

On the other hand, from a relative strength and power standpoint, you eventually have to "accept" all the force you create. We know that there are substantial ground reaction forces taken on by the front leg, and research has demonstrated that they are (not surprisingly) directly impacted by body weight. Additionally, according to 1998 research on professional pitchers from Werner et al., at ball release, the distraction forces on the shoulder are approximately 108% of body weight. You could also make the argument that these forces are even higher now, as average fastball velocity has crept up significantly since 1998, and the subjects in that study averaged only 89mph. As is the case with body weight increases, as arm speed rises, so do shoulder distraction forces. 

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In hitting, "accepting" force on the front side isn't as stressful because we don't hit downhill on a mound. However, batters have to run the bases, and that's a significant relative strength challenge.

With all this in mind, you it's important to realize that some athletes need to gain weight, some athletes need to lose weight, and some athletes are good right where they are. Obviously, body composition plays into this as well, but speaking in general terms, understanding strength-to-bodyweight ratios in sport-specific contexts is really important for all strength and conditioning coaches.

4. Use upper body drivers in your lower body mobility work.

This video from Mike Robertson got me thinking a lot:

We've done quite a bit of upper body reaching in our warm-ups with drills like the lateral lunge with overhead reach, but typical, this motion has really only occurred in the sagittal plane:

Conversely, if you look at the bowler squat, the upper body reach drives hip internal rotation, adduction, and flexion on the support leg.

Moving forward, I plan to get a lot more creative with using reaching to challenge folks in the transverse and frontal planes during our warm-ups.

Speaking of Mike Robertson, along with Carolina Panthers strength coach Joe Kenn, he's the co-creator of the Elite Athletic Development 3.0 DVD set. It's a fantastic resource that I'd highly recommend, and it's on sale for $100 off through the end of the day today. Click here to learn more.

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