I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2016 at EricCressey.com:
1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training
I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from off-season baseball preparations, to the Olympics, to new books and DVDs I'd covered. There's an article for every month:
3. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success
While most of my writing folks on the training side of things, I do like to delve into the business side of fitness, too. These posts include various pieces of wisdom for those who make their living in the fitness industry.
With my last post, I kicked off the "Best of 2016" series with my top articles of the year. Today, we'll highlight the top five videos of the year. These videos only include instructional videos, not quick exercise demonstrations.
1. 1-arm TRX Row w/Offset Kettlebell Hold - Every good program includes plenty of horizontal pulling, and this is a way to incorporate a good core stability challenge at the same time.
2. Grip Width for Conventional Deadlift Technique - Getting the grip width right is one of the most important strategies for optimizing your deadlift technique.
3. Hip Extension and the Bulgarian Split Squat - The bulgarian split squat (rear foot elevated split squat) actually takes more hip mobility than you might appreciate, and this excerpt from Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement goes into detail on the subject.
4. Tall Kneeling Cable Press to Overhead Lift - This is an older video, but I just uploaded it this year, as it made for a great "Exercise of the Week" inclusion.
5. Rhythmic Stabilizations: Where Should You Feel Them? - Rhythmic stabilizations are a great way to improve rotator cuff timing - but only if they're performed correctly. In this video, I answer one of the most common questions we receive about them: "Where should you feel them?"
I'll be back soon with the top guest posts of 2016!
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As we wind down to the holidays, here's the last installment of Random Thoughts on Sports Performance for 2016.
1. One of the most overlooked benefits of medicine ball training might be the frequency at which it can be trained.
Before I get to this point, check out this old video of mine on the Absolute Strength-Speed Continuum (if you haven't seen it already):
One of the things I've been thinking about is that medicine ball training doesn't absolutely crush people the same way that absolute speed work (whether it is sprinting, jumping, throwing a baseball, or something comparable), strength-speed (Olympic lifts, jump squats), and heavy lifting does. You could likely train it every day, and while it wouldn't be optimal, people could handle it and still derive some benefit.
More than likely, it's just a sweet spot in the "Force = Mass x Acceleration" equation. The mass is pretty low (especially since there really aren't huge ground reaction forces like we see in sprinting), and the acceleration drops off quite a bit. This likely parallels what we see with baseball vs. football throwing; the football is just much less stressful.
This doesn't help us a lot in the question for developing peak power, but it does give us a really good option for training power - especially rotationally - more frequently.
2. Good thoracic positioning will help you make the most of your overhead medicine ball training.
Speaking of medicine balls, check out this side-by-side comparison of two athletes that I recently posted on my Instagram account. On the left is one with a "normal" thoracic curvature and set of movement capabilities. He can get into thoracic extension at the top, and effectively flex at the bottom to deliver the scapula to the correct position for ball release. On the right, though, notice how flat the upper back stays at the ball release position. We'd like to see him able to round a bit more to ensuring a good convex-concave relationship between the scapula and rib cage.
3. Narrow exercise selections make for impressive lifters, but less impressive athletes.
With our typical minor league baseball player, we may actually have time to get through six 4-week programs over the course of an offseason. In six months - especially if we happen to have an athlete who is genetically gifted for strength development - we *could* get guys freaky strong on a few big lifts. We choose not to, however. Why?
A narrow exercise can lead to some very impressive weight room performances on a few lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, etc. This specificity can be great if you want to be a one (or three) trick pony (powerlifter), but not quite as helpful if you're an athlete who actually needs to change directions. To this end, a few thoughts:
a. I'd much rather see an athlete with a more versatile "strength portfolio." Show me a 200-pound athlete who can front squat in the mid-300s, deadlift in the mid-500s, turkish get-up in the 80s, and do axial-loading single-leg work in the mid-200s, and I'll show you a guy that has a great foundation to really move well.
b. These strength numbers aside, eventually, your priority needs to shift from just building strength to actually using that quickly. Simply chasing a number on one lift can quickly leave you unprepared in a particular movement/plane or in the context of creating more usable strength. I out-deadlift all of our pro baseball players, but many of them can broad jump longer than I can; who is using their force more efficiently?
c. If you do insist on this narrower "main" exercise selection can be offset by variety in warm-ups, sprint/agility work, and assistance strength training drills.
d. I think narrower exercise selections have the most benefit in beginning lifters and teenage athletes who need to build a solid foundation and awareness of putting force into the ground. I'd honestly have no problem with sticking with the same 3-4 "main" exercises for 3-4 months straight in this population, although you have to be sensitive to the fact that some athletes will get really bored quickly. For this reason, we'll try to simple incorporate subtle changes; as an example:
Month 1: Trap Bar Deadlift (6-8 reps per set)
Month 2: Trap Bar Deadlift (4-5 reps per set)
Month 3: Trap Bar Deadlift vs. Band or Chains
Month 4: Low Setting Trap Bar Deadlift
Obviously, we don't rigidly adhere to this, but it gives you a feel for how to add some variety without overhauling things and having to completely re-groove a new skill.
That's all for 2016; happy holidays!
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The Fitness Entrepreneur's Handbook - Pat Rigsby is one of the brightest business minds I've ever met - and certainly among the top guys in the business of fitness. I was thrilled when he asked me to write the foreword to this new book. This is a must read if you're in the fitness industry.
5 Lessons on Coaching - I published this guest blog from former Cressey Sports Performance intern John O'Neil one year ago, and it was a huge hit. There are definitely some great coaching lessons in here.
Top Tweet of the Week
Maybe the problem isn't the weighted balls. Maybe it's one coach giving an entire team of 14-year-olds the exact same weighted ball program.
Good morning! I hope everyone had a great weekend. This week's "Stuff to Read" was a breeze to pull together, as there was some outstanding content on the 'Net since our last installment. Before we get to it, though, just a friendly reminder that my 30 Days of Arm Care feature is currently at Day 28. You can view all the videos on Twitter and Instagram using the #30DaysOfArmCare hashtag. Now, on to the good stuff!
Physical Preparation Podcast with Dr. Stuart McGill - Bold statement: this was probably the best podcast to which I've ever listened. Dr. McGill is so smart and cutting-edge that you can't drive while listening to his stuff or else you'll find yourself pulling over constantly to scribble notes.
I hope your week is going well. I had a blast in Nashville this past weekend while speaking at the Pitchapalooza event, but now it's back to the regular craziness of the baseball off-season. I'll have some new content later in the week, but in the meantime, here are some good reads for the week:
30 Days of Arm Care Updates - You can see all these videos (currently on day 23) via the hashtag #30DaysOfArmCare on both Twitter and Instagram.
Pre-Suasion - This is the second book I've read from Robert Cialdini, and while neither of them were directly written for strength and conditioning coaches, they can both really help the way we interact with our athletes.
The Ideal Business Show with Pete Dupuis - Pat Rigsby interviewed my business partner, Pete Dupuis. This is a great listen for all fitness professionals interested in the business side of the industry.
New Boss Derek Falvey Looks to Make an Imprint with Twins - Derek Falvey is the new team president of the Minnesota Twins - at age 33. That's an incredible accomplishment, and this article sheds some light on how he quickly ascended through the MLB front office ranks. There are great lessons in here for up-and-comers in any field. Derek has become a good friend, and I'm really excited to see where the Twins go in the years ahead behind his leadership.
Top Tweet of the Week -
A minor-leaguer just told me he's had 10 pitching coaches in 3 yrs. It's a good reminder that you always have to be your own best coach.
Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Nancy Newell. Nancy is a rock star when it comes to working with our softball players, and today you'll see why. Enjoy! - EC
The conventional belief in fast-pitch softball has been that the underhand throwing motion places minimal stress on the shoulder and pitching-related injuries are therefore rare. As such, unlike its baseball counterparts, the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) has zero pitching regulations in place to monitor pitches thrown per game, innings played, rest between appearances, and number of required pitchers per team. This mindset puts these young athletes at a higher risk of injury. Here’s why:
1) Significant forces and torques are experienced at the shoulder and elbow.
It’s true the forces and torques experienced at the shoulder for females do not match the forces produced with overhand pitching in males. Males typically have bigger frames (height x weight) and muscle mass to produce higher forces than their female counterparts, so we should expect to see higher forces in males verse females. However, the forces produced by females relative to their height and weight are significant enough to cause injury to their bodies over time.
During the deceleration phase, baseball pitchers create forces at the shoulder measured as high as 108% of body weight in professional pitchers. Softball pitchers on the other hand have to resist glenohumeral distraction forces of up to 80-94% of bodyweight while also controlling a maximum internal rotation torque velocity greater than 5,000 degrees per second. The combination of high rotational forces at the shoulder and elbow place a stressful workload on the biceps tendon, pectoralis major, and subscapularis to resist internal rotation and forward translation of the humerus along with pronation of the forearm. Consequently, Shanley et al. noted up to 80% of all girls playing high school softball reported having shoulder injuries (discomfort, pain, or strains). Barrentine et al. (college pitchers) and Werner et al. (youth pitchers) both demonstrated that compression forces needed to resist distraction at the shoulder were close to 1x body weight. Furthermore, the Werner group noted, "Excessive distraction stress and joint torques at the throwing-arm elbow and shoulder are similar to those found in baseball pitchers."
Note from EC: as an interesting aside, another study from the Werner group demonstrated shoulder stress almost 20% lower in elite (Olympic) softball pitchers even though their velocity was significantly (5mph) higher. This parallels what we see in high-level baseball pitchers; the best athletes out there find more efficient ways to pitch, and understand how to effectively distribute stress across multiple joints. They're also generally stronger, and therefore able to tolerate higher training and competition loads. This is just a friendly reminder that your untrained 14-year-old isn't highly trained, biomechanically efficient, or skeletally mature.
2) Pitch counts are extremely high.
Young female athletes are now specializing in softball year round and playing at least 52 and sometimes upwards of 72 games per year. These athletes play for their high school team (12 games); participate in summer ball or tournament play which have around six 3-day showcases with up to nine games per tournament (30-54 games); fall ball (10 games); then attend numerous winter clinics.
A 2016 Lear et al. study helped shed some much needed light on daunting pitch count numbers being thrown by young women. It has been reported that high school softball pitchers may average about 99 pitches over 5 innings of work. Lear additionally stated, “In tournament play, youth players may throw every game of a weekend tournament, reaching upwards of 1,200 pitches in a 3-day event.”
Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon and authority on the topic of throwing injuries, had this to say in his 2013 writing of Any Given Monday: “There is a common belief that the throwing underhand is a natural way to keep a player safe from injury, but this is definitely not true. The repeated movement and velocity of pitches thrown, even in the windmill style, are now even tearing the ‘Tommy John ligament,’ resulting in a UCL injury. Pitching limits matter in softball as much as they do in baseball.”
3) Kids are lacking in the strength and conditioning department.
Compounding these issues is the fact that many young athletes do not get exposed to strength training until their freshman year of college, resulting in poor rotator cuff strength, scapular control, and a lack of both muscular and kinesthetic awareness. These factors, coupled with kids spending less time outdoors and more time on their couch absorbed in a digital reality, is not helping the situation either. Just to put this in perspective, WebMD noted that 85% of kids aged 14-17 own cell phones and spend an average of 6 hours per day checking social media and playing games. Without a solid foundation of strength and conditioning, young athletes are at a higher risk for injuries to begin with; with a program, their bodies are more prepared for the demands their sport places on them. Take three of those hours staring at a screen and devote them to a consistent strength and conditioning program and we have a different story.
Softball pitchers will continue to be negatively impacted by the effects of overuse unless associations above implement a change. Until then, softball pitchers need to focus on:
• Getting stronger
• Tracking pitches thrown
• Effective and honest communication with coaches and parents
• Putting the softball down for a few months
About the Author
Nancy Newell (@NancyNewell2) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. Nancy earned her Bachelors Degree in Fitness Development from the State University of New York at Cortland. You can read more from her at www.NancyNewell.com.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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).
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Here it is corrected with support:
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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