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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 24

With only a few days to spare, here is the November 2016 edition of randomness!

1. Don’t let bad movement become cemented joints.

As I presented in Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body, mobility can be restricted for a lot of reasons.

One thing I didn't note in this video is that if you have muscular, capsular, or alignment issues that persist for an extended period of time, you'll eventually develop changes to the joint (bony overgrowth). In a 2013 study, world-renowned hip specialist Marc Phillipon examined how the incidence of femoroacetabular impingment (FAI) - bony overgrowth at the hip - changed across various stages of youth hockey. At the PeeWee (10-12 years old) level, 37% had FAI and 48% had labral tears. These numbers went to 63% and 63% at the Bantam level (ages 13-15), and 93% and 93% at the Midget (ages 16-19) levels, respectively. The longer one played hockey, the messier the hip – and the greater the likelihood that the FAI would “chew up” the labrum.

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Source: Lavigne et al. 2004

It's imperative for strength and conditioning coaches to understand these issues. On evaluation, if an athlete already has changes to the joint, we need to create training programs to deliver a training effect while working around these issues. If you squat an entire team of football players even though you know 4-5 of them already have significant FAI and associated pathologies in their hips, you're probably going to be funding some hip surgeon's retirement. Work on deadlifting and single-leg work instead, though, and you'll probably kick the can down the road for those athletes.

Conversely, if your assessment reveals that an athlete is out of alignment and has some tissue density and core control issues that are preventing quality hip flexion and internal rotation, you need to design a program to get to work on those problems before they can develop bony blocks at the hip. As my buddy Mike Reinold often says, "Assess, don't guess." 

2. We might be seeing the end of the versatile strength and conditioning coach.

One thing I've noticed in the strength and conditioning field over the past decade is an increased tendency toward specialization among coaches. Over the years, there have some been really bright coaches - Al Vermeil, Mike Boyle, and Bob Alejo come to mind - who've had success across multiple sports at the highest levels. They were few and far between, but it was still something that was feasible if someone was educated and motivated enough. I think that's changing and this versatility will be obsolete very soon.

We're seeing a much bigger focus on analytics in all professional sports; the focus on minute details has never been greater. In college sports, we are seeing more "baseball only" and "hockey only" guys to build on the years of the football strength and conditioning coach typically not working with other teams. At every level, specialization among strength coaches (and rehabilitation specialists, for that matter) is increasing. As a result, if a coach tries to venture out into another sport at a high level, it takes longer to get up to speed. 

If a guy leaves basketball to go to baseball, he's got to learn about thoracic outlet syndrome, ulnar collateral ligament injuries, and lat strains; these just don't happen very often in hoops. He won't have to worry much about humeral retroversion in his programming for shooting guards, either - but it has a huge influence on how he manages functional mobility in pitchers.

 

Today is Day 12 of #30DaysOfArmCare. Thanks to #Tigers pitcher @adamrav12 for the assist! Key takeaways: 1. Retroversion is a common finding and throwing shoulders. It gives rise to greater lay-back at max external rotation. 2. The more passive range of motion you have, the more consistently you must work to maintain active stability of that ROM. ROM without stability is injury risk. 3. Perform your cuff work in the positions that matter - and keep in mind that individual differences in passive ROM may be present. 4. Don't stretch throwers into external rotation, especially if they already have this much lay-back! Follow #30DaysOfArmCare and @cresseysportsperformance for more tips to keep throwing arms healthy. #cspfamily #armcare #baseball #mlb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

Likewise, just because I have a solid handle on managing shoulders in overhead athletes doesn't mean that I'm equipped to handle the metabolic demands that swimmers encounter.

Versatility is still important; a well-rounded professional will never go hungry. However, at the higher levels, I just see fewer and fewer professional teams and colleges valuing it highly when the quickest option is to seek out specialists in specific realms.

3. Create context not only to improve coaching, but also to improve adherence.

Recently, I saw a professional pitcher who noted that his team had commented on how limited his extension on each pitch was. For those who aren't familiar, in recent years, teams have started tracking the actual release point of various pitchers. Basically, if two pitchers both throw 95mph, but one releases the ball closer to the plate, the one with more extension is actually releasing the ball closer to the plate, so it "gets on" the hitter faster. All things considered, a higher extension is generally better. You can view it as part of the Statcast panel on each MLB pitchers' page; here's CSP athlete Steve Cishek's, as a frame of reference. Steve's extension is well above MLB average, so the perceived velocity of his pitches are over one mph higher than their actual velocity.

cishekextension2

Returning to the pitcher I evaluated recently, he commented that although his fastball velocity is among the best in the minor leagues and he has quite a bit of movement, he doesn't strike a lot of guys out. While there are a lot of reasons for this, one consideration has to be physical limitations that don't allow him to get extension out in front. In his case, on evaluation, we saw a pseudo military posture; his shoulder blades were tugged back into adduction, and he lacked the upward rotation to effectively "get out front."

adductedscap

Additionally, in the lower extremity, he had significant bilateral muscular/alignment limitations to hip internal rotation. If you don't have sufficient hip internal rotation on your back leg, you aren't going to ride your hip down the mound very far. If you don't have internal rotation on the front hip, you won't be able to accept force on the front leg, so you'll effectively cut off your deceleration arc, also shortening your extension out front. These are usually the guys who "miss" up-and-armside, or cut balls off in an attempt to correct the issue.

If I had just told him he needed to fix these for the sake of fixing them - or even just to prevent injury - it probably wouldn't hold much water. However, by relating these movement inefficiencies back to aspects of his delivery with which he struggles, the buy-in is a lot higher. Striking guys out is a lot "sexier" than avoiding injury or conforming to some range-of-motion norm. 

4. This is a great weekend to be an up-and-coming fitness professional or rehabilitation specialist on a limited budget.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday might be annoying if you're in stores and dealing with a bunch of crazy Moms who are fighting over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo, but in an online context, it's pretty darn awesome - especially if you're an aspiring coach looking to get your hands on some quality educational material.

I did my undergraduate education at a smaller Division 3 school in Southern Maine. We didn't have a varsity weight room where I could observe or volunteer, and there weren't tip top internship opportunities right down the road where I could've found opportunities like that. Looking back, I realize that one of the main reasons I got on the right path was that I was willing to search high and low for those learning opportunities. I spent hours reading T-Nation and hard copy books I'd bought, not to mention driving to whatever seminars I could find.

Nowadays, education is much, more more accessible. Instead of driving nine hours to Buffalo or dropping $1,000 on a plane right, hotel, rental car, and seminar registration, you can spend 10% of that amount and get an awesome education - and you can pick and choose what you want to learn. This weekend, you can do it super affordably, too.

Want a crash course in relative stiffness? Check out my presentations in Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement (on sale for 20% off with coupon code BF2016). 

Looking to patch up the holes in your college anatomy course by learning about functional anatomy instead? Pick up Building the Efficient Athlete from Mike Robertson and me (20% off this weekend; no coupon code needed).

Need some cutting-edge hip mobility strategies? Watch Dean Somerset's presentations in The Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint (on sale for $30 off through Monday).

Interested in taking a peek into the mind of a successful NFL strength and conditioning coach? Soak up Joe Kenn's knowledge in Elite Athletic Development (20% off this weekend; no coupon code needed).

It's an amazing age in strength and conditioning; short of actual hands-on coaching experience, all the information you need to be successful is at your fingertips in a digital medium - and this is the weekend to get it at the best price.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/22/16

Yesterday was a busy travel day for our family as we headed up to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving week, so this list of recommended reading comes a day late. It turned out well, as I updated the list with a few articles that were just posted yesterday.

Before we get to the reading list, though, I wanted to give you two quick reminders:

1. Our Black Friday sale is currently taking place. You can get 20% off on a bunch of my products using the coupon code BF2016. Click here for more information.

2. My 30 Days of Arm Care series is also ongoing. You can see all these videos (currently on day 9) via the hashtag #30DaysOfArmCare on both Twitter and Instagram

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Now, we're on to the content...

30 Seconds of Undivided Attention - I'd argue that this might be the single most important blog many novice trainees can do to take their strength and conditioning results to the next level. The ability to "flip the switch" and train hard is essential - and it's one reason why so many individuals make huge strides when they get in the right training environment. Huge thumbs up to CSP coach Tony Bonvechio for pulling this together.

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3 Reasons Athletes Get Injured - Mike Robertson delivered some great stuff in this week's article. Injuries are multifactorial, but Mike hits on some of the big rocks in this one.

How to Quite Weakend Overeating - Krista Scott-Dixon wrote up this outstanding practical article for Precision Nutrition just in time for the holidays.

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Today is Day 5 of #30DaysOfArmCare. Thanks to #Brewers prospect Monte Harrison for his help with this demo. Key takeaways: 1. Optimal scapular (shoulder blade) function is dependent on appropriate core positioning. Doing arm care with poor core positioning is like trying to shoot a cannon from a canoe. 2. As the arms go overhead, the lats are put on stretch - and the challenge to the anterior core and scapular upward rotators increases. 3. You need strong lats for a variety of athletic endeavors - including throwing - but you also need to be able to tone them down when they aren't needed. Follow #30DaysOfArmCare and @cresseysportsperformance for more tips to keep throwing arms healthy. #cspfamily #armcare #baseball #mlb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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3 Tips for Improving Shoulder Health and Performance

Today's guest post comes from my good friend and Elite Baseball Mentorships colleague, Eric Schoenberg. Enjoy! -EC

It is well documented that shoulder pain/injury is a primary reason for lost time in the gym and on the baseball field. Often times, the culprit is not poor exercise selection, but instead poor exercise execution. Most high level performers are going to do the work that we ask them to do, the issue is whether they are practicing getting better or practicing getting worse.

The following three tips will be useful for any strength coach or physical therapist to help ensure optimal function of the shoulder.

1. Understand and Appreciate Relative Stiffness.

There are several examples of relative stiffness around the shoulder that can result in faulty movement, pain and/or decreased performance.

A primary culprit occurs when the relative stiffness of the deltoid is greater than the rotator cuff. The result of this will be superior translation of the humeral head.

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This can lead to undersurface rotator cuff tears, biceps tendon irritation, cyst formation, inferior glenohumeral ligament tears, or humeral head abnormalities – all of which are common to throwers.

Consider this when attempting to strengthen the cuff. Check to see if the humerus is in extension, as demonstrated in this photo. This faulty "elbow behind the body" pattern will lead to over-recruitment of the posterior deltoid:

humeralextension

You also want to cue the athlete away from excessive horizontal abduction, as demonstrated in the next photo. Prone external rotation with no support results in increased use of deltoid to support the arm against gravity:

proneer1

Here it is corrected with support:

proneercorrected

More times than not, we see athletes doing the correct exercise with the wrong execution and getting poor results. We want to avoid allowing an athlete to practice getting better at moving incorrectly.

2. Stop rowing so much, especially if your rowing technique is incorrect!

Rowing variations are generally the safest and easiest upper body exercises to program. However, even though a row is usually pain free, it can sometimes lead to patterns that result in injury down the road.

For example: If the rhomboids and lats are too stiff, you will see limited upward rotation of the scapula. Regardless of how much you strengthen the serratus anterior and lower trapezius, these smaller muscles will never match the force production of the lats and rhomboids.

With this in mind, the best “fix” is to increase stiffness and muscle performance of serratus and lower trapezius while simultaneously decreasing the stiffness and use of the lats/rhomboids.

This can be done by modifying the way we row. In this great video, EC discusses how to correct the row and ensure the scapula is moving properly on the ribcage with both phases of the rowing pattern.

In addition, we should program pressing or reaching exercises such as landmines, kettlebell presses, overhead carry variations.

3. Don’t let good lower body days double as “bad” upper body days.

We sometimes see athletes come in complaining about an increase in symptoms following lower body days. They will report something like “I don’t know what I did to my shoulder; I lifted lower body yesterday.” 

By now we know that a common cause of shoulder pain is the scapula being too depressed and downwardly rotated.

ScapularDownwardRotation-300x225-2

If an athlete performed deadlifts, back squats, or any lower body exercise where the weight was held by their sides (DB reverse lunges, step ups, RDLs, Bulgarian split squats, etc.), chances are they were feeding the pattern of depression and downward rotation.

Taking this a step further, we commonly see these exercises resulting in postures and stabilization strategies that present with increased lumbar lordosis and anterior pelvic tilt. When this goes uncorrected, scapular alignment suffers. Here’s a look at a reverse lunge with excessive hip extension, lumbar extension, and anterior pelvic tilt:

revlunge

Remember, there is no “corrective’ in the world that will counteract the stress of carrying 120-pound DBs by your side while training on a lower body day. This does not mean that you shouldn’t program it; instead, it means that we should just be aware of the consequences.

The solution to this is to consider alternate loading strategies (such as a Safety Squat Bar, KB Goblet set-up, or weight vests) that will allow the shoulder girdle to be freed up and positioned more optimally.  If we pair this with consistent attention to proper alignment and movement strategies, we can use lower body days as another opportunity to enhance shoulder function.

Looking to learn more about our unique approach to assessing and managing throwing athletes? Check out the upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorship Upper Extremity Course on December 18-20. For more information, click here. Don't delay, though; the early-bird registration deadline is November 18.

About the Author

Eric Schoenberg (@PTMomentum) is a physical therapist and strength coach located in Milford, MA where he is co-owner of Momentum Physical Therapy. Eric is addicted to baseball and plays a part in the Elite Baseball Mentorship Seminars at Cressey Sports Performance. He can be reached at eric@momentumpt.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/14/16

It's been a crazy weekend of travel, as we wrapped up this year's Area Code Training Camps tour with events in Oakland and Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. I'm sorry to say that things were a bit too crazy to get a new blog posted last week, but we'll make up for it with some new content this week. With that said, let's start off with some recommended reading to kick off the week:

#30DaysOfArmCare - This is a new series I just started up now that the MLB offseason is in full swing. Starting today,  I'll be posting a new arm care video tutorial each day for the next month. You can follow along using this hashtag on either Twitter or Instagram

cxlxznjucaai7dh

6 Tips for Writing Better Conditioning Programs - This post from Mike Robertson is pure gold - and I love the fact that Mike isn't shy about reflecting on his previous mistakes and what he learned from them.

Metabolic Cooking - I've long been a fan of this great cookbook from Dave Ruel, and it's currently on sale at an all-time low price of $10. That's an unreal price to get a bunch of recipes you'll use for many years to come.

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535x3 isn't a PR, but I feel like every deadlift video helps to drown out the political posts on social media. #cspfamily

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/7/16

Happy Election Week! I'm happy to report that today's recommended reading list has absolutely nothing to do with politics, as I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about the election on social media. Enjoy the following non-political reads:

The Art of Relationships Based Coaching - This article from Purdue Basketball strength and conditioning coach Josh Bonhotal is one of the best coaching reads I've seen in a long time. It's must-read.

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An Interview with Doug Kechijian  - This is a fantastic interview with a former CSP intern who is currently doing a great job in NYC as a physical therapist. It's free to the public for the week (Sports Rehab Expert is normally a members-only site). 

Gym Owner Musings: Installment 3 - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, always has some great thoughts on the business side of fitness - and this series has been the beneficiary of what pops into his head.

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Not too shabby for November, @mattsolter. #cspfamily #giants

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Cressey Sports Performance Upper Extremity Elite Baseball Mentorship – December 18-20, 2016

We're excited to announce our next Elite Baseball Mentorship offering: an upper-extremity course that will take place on December 18-20, 2016 at our Hudson, MA facility.

2013.01.26 - CP (139)

The Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Mentorships provide an educational opportunity to become a trusted resource to this dramatically underserved athletic population. Through a combination of classroom presentations, practical demonstrations, case studies, video analysis, and observation of training, you’ll learn about our integrated system for performance enhancement and injury prevention and rehabilitation in baseball athletes. Cressey Sports Performance has become a trusted resource for over 100 professional players from all over the country each off-season, and this is your opportunity to experience “why” first-hand at our state-of-the-art facility.

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Course Description:

This Cressey Sports Performance Elite Baseball Mentorship has a heavy upper extremity assessment and corrective exercise focus while familiarizing participants with the unique demands of the throwing motion. You’ll be introduced to the most common injuries faced by throwers, learn about the movement impairments and mechanical issues that contribute to these issues, and receive programming strategies, exercise recommendations, and the coaching cues to meet these challenges. 

EBM-Cressey

Course Agenda

Sunday

Morning Session: Lecture

8:30-9:00AM – Registration and Introduction (Eric Cressey)
9:00-10:00AM – Understanding the Status Quo: Why the Current System is Broken (Eric Schoenberg)
10:00-11:00AM – Common Injuries and their Mechanisms (Eric Schoenberg)
11:00-11:15AM – Break
11:15AM-12:15PM – Flawed Perceptions on “Specific” Pitching Assessments and Training Modalities (Eric Cressey)
12:15-1:00PM – Lunch (provided)

Afternoon Session: Lecture and Practical

1:00-3:00PM – Physical Assessment of Pitchers: Static and Dynamic (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
3:00-3:15PM – Break
3:15-5:15PM – Prehabilitation/Rehabilitation Exercises for the Thrower (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
5:15-5:30PM – Case Studies and Q&A

5:30PM Reception (Dinner Provided)

Monday

Morning Session: Lecture and Video Analysis

8:00-9:00AM – Strength Training Considerations for the Throwing Athlete (Eric Cressey)
9:00-10:00AM – Key Positions in the Pitching Delivery: Understanding How Physical Maturity and Athletic Ability Govern Mechanics (Matt Blake)
10:00-10:15AM – Break
10:15-11:30AM – Video Evaluation of Pitchers: Relationship of Mechanical Dysfunction to Injury Risk and Performance (Matt Blake)

11:30AM-12:00PM – Lunch (on your own)

Afternoon Session: Observation at Cressey Sports Performance – 12PM-5PM*

Tuesday

Morning Session: Practical

8:00-9:00AM – Preparing for the Throwing Session: Optimal Warm-up Protocols for Different Arms (Eric Cressey and Eric Schoenberg)
9:00-11:00AM – Individualizing Drill Work to the Pitcher and Live Bullpens from CP Pitchers (Matt Blake)
11:00-11:30AM – Closing Thoughts and Q&A (Eric Cressey, Eric Schoenberg, and Matt Blake)
11:30AM-12:00PM – Lunch (on your own)

Afternoon Session: Observation at Cressey Sports Performance – 12PM-5PM*

* The afternoon observation sessions on Monday and Tuesday will allow attendees to see in real-time the day-to-day operation of the comprehensive baseball training programs unique to Cressey Sports Performance. This observation of live training on the CSP floor with our professional, college, and high school baseball players will allow you to experience firsthand our approaches to:

• Programming
• Proper coaching cues for optimal results
• Soft tissue techniques
• Activation and mobility drills
• Strength/power development
• Medicine ball work
• Multi-directional stability
• Metabolic conditioning
• Sprint/agility programs
• Base stealing technique

In addition, you will experience:

• Live throwing sessions
• Biomechanical video analysis using the Right View Pro system
• Movement evaluation
• Live evaluations of attendees with Eric Schoenberg

Location:

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

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Cost:

$999 regular rate 

No sign-ups will be accepted on the day of the event.

Continuing Education Credits:

2.0 NSCA CEUs (20 contact hours)

Registration Information:

Click here to register using our 100% secure server.

Notes:

• No prerequisites required.
• Participants will receive a manual of notes from the event’s presentations.
• Space is extremely limited
• We are keeping the size of this seminar small so that we can make it a far more productive educational experience.
•This event will not be videotaped.

For details about travel, accommodations, and other logistics, please email cspmass@gmail.com.

We hope to see you there!
  

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/25/16

Before we get to the recommended content for the week, can we talk about how awesome it is to have a Cubs/Indians World Series match-up?!?! With four Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) guys in this series, you can bet that I won't miss a single pitch. I'm flying out today for Game 1 in Cleveland, but before I do, here's some strength and conditioning reading to hold you over for a few days!

Long-Term Success: What You Can Learn from Corey Kluber - With CSP athlete Corey starting Game 1 of the World Series, it seemed like a good time to reincarnate this article I wrote for Gabe Kapler's website back in 2014. Yesterday's article (here) on MLB.com reaffirmed my thoughts even more.

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Why Nutrition Science is So Confusing - Dr. John Berardi has a knack for making the complex seem simple, and in this infographic, he discusses why things have gotten so complicated on the nutrition front in the first place.

How to Write Better Youth Warm-ups - At our Massachusetts facility, Nancy Newell heads up the CSP Foundations program, which is geared toward 7-12 year-old athletes. They have an absolute blast and it has a lot to do with Nancy's contagious energy and fun programming.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 23

It's time for the October edition of this sports performance training series. I've been doing a lot of early off-season evaluations for pro guys, so a lot of conversations and assessments on that front are at the top of my mind.

1. Communication can be good and bad.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from professional athletes about their "employing" organizations is that the communication isn't good. They get mixed messages from different coaches and don't know where they stand on a variety of things. More than any of the amenities they could request, they really just want everyone to be on the same page and for the plan of attack to be related to them - and with frequent updates.

Interestingly, though, in the gym, athletes (especially more advanced athletes) usually want you to communicate less. They need clear, concise coaching cues so that you don't overwhelm them or kill the training environment with "nit-picking." Too much communication can actually be just as problematic as too little.

If you look at the typical training session for one of our athletes, I think you'd find that 80% of all the words spoken occur during the arrival, warm-up, and post-training cooldown periods. During the training session, it's time to get after it. Those 20% of words are implemented tactfully.

2. Many athletes don't have "clean" hip extension - and your exercise selection should reflect that.

Around this time last year, I posted this video of an MLB pitcher who was just starting up with us:

After seeing quite a few guys who look like this, it's really made me reconsider whether going directly to a Bulgarian split squat (rear-foot-elevated split squat) in these guys is a good bet in the early stages of the offseason. This exercise requires a lot of not only hip extension range of motion, but also the core stability to make sure that ROM is actually used (the concept of relative stiffness in action). This is something we touched on on in Mike Reinold and my recent release, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement

With all this in mind, I've been using more regular split squats - which require less hip extension range-of-motion - in the first month of the offseason for even some of our advanced guys as they work to reestablish cleaner lumbopelvic movement strategies in the early off-season. That said, regular split squats can be a little harder on the trailing leg toes than the rear-foot-elevated version, so individualization (as always) is super important.

3. Sometimes, efficient transfer of force - and not joint-specific coaching - delivers the good positions for which you're looking.

I've often written about how we have both specific and general assessments in our training arsenal, but it's actually somewhat of a continuum. Specific assessments would be more along the lines of classic joint range-of-motion measurements. Shoulder abduction or flexion would be slightly more general, as these screens involve multiple joints. Finally, an overhead squat, overhead lunge walk, or push-up would all be very general screens that look at multiple joints and help to evaluate how well an athlete transfers forces.

Interestingly, though, very often, we see coaches and rehabilitation specialists who only have specific correctives even though they utilize a load of general assessments. The goal should be to ultimately get athletes to the point that efficient movement on general tasks delivers the positions you're hoping to safely achieve. As an example, we will use wall slide variations as part of our warm-ups to teach athletes how to get upward rotation of the scapula. A progression would be landmine press variations; usually in half-kneeling or standing:

Eventually, though, athletes are ready to "sync" these movements up in a scenario where transfer of force from the lower body up through the core and to the arm allows that upward rotation to happen.

In short, a good reminder is:

[bctt tweet="As is the case with your assessments, your correctives should range from specific to general."]

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 9/10/16

It's been a hectic week in South Florida with Hurricane Matthew preparations on top of the baseball off-season, but we lucked out as the storm moved past us in Jupiter before coming ashore further North. Hopefully all our readers in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas are safe and sound! 

That said, here's a little content to get the week going:

Elevation Training Masks: An Analysis - I've been meaning to write a similar post up for a long time, but suffice it to say that I never got around to it. Luckily, Doug Kechijian made it happen and did a great job. Elevation masks are a waste of time and money - and have potentially negative side effects.

Gym Owner Musings: Installment 2 - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, discusses a few of the lessons we've learned in running Cressey Sports Performance for the past 9+ years. I think point #3 on early-stage "learning by doing."

The Ideal Business Podcast with John Berardi - Dr. John Berardi was been a great friend and mentor to me, and he shares some awesome business development wisdom in this podcast with Pat Rigsby. I thought the portion of the interview where he talks about the importance of saying "No" was particularly intriguing (and an area in which I need to improve!). 

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Culture, Social Facilitation, and Strength and Conditioning Success

Last week, in the midst of a great conversation with a college pitching coach who is a good friend of mine, he said something to the effect of, "You guys do a great job of creating a culture where guys want to work hard to get better."

Culture. That word seems to pop up in almost every discussion I have, whether it's on the training or business aspect of things in the strength and conditioning field. And, it seems to pop up a ton of time at this time of year with playoff baseball, the NFL and NCAA football regular seasons, and NBA pre-season all in swing. 

[bctt tweet="There's no recipe for an ideal culture, but if yours is poor, you'll probably have terrible results."]

Everyone talks about how Joe Maddon drives a clubhouse culture where guys have fun and play relaxed - and the Cubs have won 100 games. The New York Times celebrated his "Zaniness" earlier this year in a detailed article.

Meanwhile, Bill Belichick drives a culture of preparation, accountability to the team, and personal responsibility ("Do your job."). The Patriots have won four Super Bowls during his tenure, and he's 3-1 in the 2016-17 season without Tom Brady under center. I'd highly recommended you read this fantastic collection of quotes from his players and coaching peers.

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Source: Keith Allison

From the outside, Maddon and Belichick couldn't be more different, yet they have both had tremendous outcomes. Each culture is unique and successful for different reasons. As my business partner, Pete Dupuis, has written, there is no single recipe for a great culture - and it actually might have subtle changes depending on time of day. Our gym culture is very different when our adult strength camps are running at 5:30AM, as compared to a crew of professional baseball players getting after it at noon. If you look the Wikipedia entry on culture, they cite anthropologist E.B. Tylor as defining it as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." In other words, there are plenty of different ways one can tinker with it to suit their liking - whether this tinkering actually improves the culture or not.

With that said, I do think we can look at commonalities of success. And, there are three things that I think every successful culture shares:

1. Good People

As has been often said in the fitness world and beyond, "They don't care what you know until they know that you care." This is why some corporate and athletic cultures improve dramatically just by getting "bad apples" out of the mix. I call it "addition by subtraction" - and it's one reason why we look really heavily at "fit" on the personality front before bringing someone into Cressey Sports Performance family as a staff member or intern.

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On this front, here's an outstanding article on this front: Why Investments in the Right People - Not Analytics or Scouting - is Key to the Texas Rangers' Success. Very simply, people deliver the systems, and your perfect programming and pristine facility won't matter if you don't have great coaches using them.

I think Josh McDaniels (Offensive Coordinator with the Patriots) is an awesome example. From the outside, he seems like the complete opposite of Belichick. McDaniels is a younger, high-energy, super emotional guy. However, maybe it just works so well because Belichick understand how to complement his skill set and personality - and they both work well together because of a common vision of continuous improvement. This leads us to...

2. Dedication to Continuous Improvement

As I look around the country at the most successful strength and conditioning facilities, companies in other industries, and sports teams, the thing that stands out to me the most is innovation. Whether it's Apple always trying to improve on its product offering, Amazon taking convenience to a whole new level, Joe Maddon employing never-before-seen defensive shift approaches, or the Patriots finding creative ways to use their personnel, the best are always finding ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Regardless of your industry, it's really easy to get comfortable and stop innovating, or to drift away from the practices that made you successful in the first place. The best cultures preserve the good while always finding ways to bring up their weaknesses. 

3. Targeted Approaches to Social Facilitation

Referencing Wikipedia again, social facilitation "is the tendency for people to perform differently when in the presence of others than when alone. Compared to their performance when alone, when in the presence of others, they tend to perform better on simple or well-rehearsed tasks and worse on complex or new ones."

"Facilitation" is a bit of a misnomer, though, as it implies that performance gets easier or better in front of crowds. For this reason, social facilitation is often referred to as the "audience effect" instead.

In a strength and conditioning culture, social facilitation can be wildly important and helpful. It's the loud music and energetic training partners you want around when you're trying to set a personal record. It may also be the driven individuals around which you want your impressionable teenage son training in order to foster habits that will lead to long-term success in sports and life.

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It can be easily problematic, though, too. Putting a rehabbing athlete in a high energy environment can force him to skip steps in his return-to-play progressions. Likewise, some individuals who are new to exercise may be intimidated in these environments. Having lots of eyes on an athlete who is learning a new skill may put too much pressure on this situation for optimal learning to occur. Finally, social facilitation tells us why a 350-pound offensive lineman probably isn't going to be sold on a 120-pound female training him, and why a 14-year-old female gymnast isn't going to be too keen on a 300-pound monster with a 500-pound bench press training her.

For this reason, the best coaches, leaders, and business owners understand how to specifically target social facilitation to drive athletic and business success. 

Culture vs. Systems

A few years ago, a strength and conditioning coach from another facility came to observe at our Massachusetts location, and she remarked to me, "I love your business model!" Apparently, at the facility at which she worked, it was a "one program on the dry erase board" model where coaches would wind up coaching large volumes of athletes through the same exercises all day. She liked the fact that our coaches had a lot of autonomy; they interacted with a wide variety of clients and coached dozens of unique programs each day.

What she might not have realized is that our business model would fail miserably with the wrong people. If I had incompetent coaches who weren't able to work across multiple populations or able to think on their feet, they'd really struggle. And, if they weren't dedicated to continuing education and always delivering the best quality product, we'd be forced to use more "mundane" programming. She actually really liked the Cressey Sports Performance training and coaching cultures; the business model is just structured to allow them to shine through.

[bctt tweet="Systems are important, but it's your culture that determines whether those systems actually work."]

In the aforementioned article's title, Bill Belichick is referred to as the "Greatest Enigma in Sports." I don't think there is anything puzzling about his success, though - especially after reading this article. He's an immensely driven person who is wilding committed to avoiding complacency, and he surrounds himself with people who are like him in this regard - but complement his personality in other ways. Then, he uses social facilitation to foster an environment of continuous improvement and accountability to the team. That's one approach to a great recipe for a winning culture over multiple decades.

However, what flies in the NFL might fail miserably in MLB, the collegiate realm, or the private sector of strength and conditioning. The trick is for you to find the right mix that works for you in establishing the right culture in your world. 

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