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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 18

Written on May 18, 2016 at 7:40 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the May installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. I never really expected this series to last this long, but I'm enjoying it and the feedback has been awesome, so we'll keep it rolling. Here goes...

1. Don't eliminate internal focus cues altogether.

I'm a big fan of external focus cues. As an example, I've had much better luck with saying "show me the logo on your shirt" than "pull your chest up" when coaching a deadlift. Effectively, individuals seem to perform better when we let them organize themselves to their surrounding environment (in this case, the logo on the shirt), as opposed to us sending mixed messages that might interfere with how they would naturally figure out how to organize the body for optimal performance. The key word here, however, is performance. If you're just looking to run faster, jump higher, or throw harder or farther, external cues are your best bet.

athletics-649650_960_720

What happens is there is aberrant movement, though? We've always heard that athletes are great compensators. If we just tell an athlete with very limited hip extension to "push the ground away" when he sprints, isn't he just going to continue to jack his lower back into excessive extension when the better long-term strategy is to get the hip extensors to do the job? To this point, there is actually some research (examples here and here) that internal focus cues definitely still have their place, especially when trying to modulate muscular recruitment patterns on single-joint exercises. I use internal focus cues (usually with tactile facilitate, or touching the region in question) every day to get better positional awareness and recruitment patterns, particularly with our arm care drills.

If you had to put me on the spot, I'd say that external focus cues are better and definitely a good place to start. I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water, though; internal cues definitely should always have a place in your coaching toolbox.

2. Barefoot deadlifting doesn't just clean up movement quality; it also makes it easier to coach.

I've written a lot in the past about how I like to have our athletes deadlift barefoot or in minimalist sneakers. Because the deadlift is a posterior chain dominant exercise and we want the athletes to think about driving their heels through the floor, it seems only fitting to make it easier for those heels to be in close proximity to the floor. Additionally, given that some people have mobility or stability restrictions that make it hard to get all the way down to the bar without compensation, being barefoot actually shortens an individual's range of motion by an inch or so. 

That said, there are two technique flaws you can spot easier in a barefoot scenario. First, you never want to see an athlete deadlift on a pronated foot; rather, a supinated foot gives us the rigidity we need to put force into the ground. You'll commonly see athletes "spin out" and dump into pronation like this, though.

IMG_5887

Second, you can more easily spot what the toes are doing. Often, when someone has a faulty hip hinge pattern, they'll simply pull the toes up rather than maintaining "tripod foot." This is most easily recognized on the decent of the lift.

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You can certainly spot these issues when athletes have shoes on, but they are definitely easier to pick up in the barefoot scenario.

3. If you're successful in one rotational sport, you've got a higher likelihood of success in other rotational sports.

A few days ago, Bartolo Colon hit his first career home run at age 42. This feat is is impressive in itself, but it's more surprising to the casual observer when you realize that Colon is a) a pitcher and b) obese.

For me, though, this wasn't nearly as surprising as it was entertaining. Efficient rotation is efficient rotation, whether you're a hitter, pitcher, hockey player, or golfer. There's a reason hockey and baseball players are usually excellent golfers without much formal skill instruction; they understand sequencing from the ground up.

Bartolo Colon has 17 years of Major League Baseball service time, has thrown over 3,000 innings, and has won 221 MLB games. You break down or lose effectiveness long before any of those numbers happen if your body doesn't "get" efficient rotation.

4. A little upper trap rolling can go a long way in improving upward rotation of the scapula.

Serratus anterior, lower trap, and upper trap work together to get the upward rotation of the scapula that we want with overhead movement.It's important, though, that they all work together to do this. If you want to get up to speed on upward rotation, give this video a watch:

If you've read this blog or followed me on YouTube for any length of time, you've probably realized that I'm a huge serratus anterior guy. It's really important that you get serratus anterior going to create the rotational component of upward rotation that gets the shoulder blade around the rib cage. I have quite a few serratus activation videos (examples here, here, and here), but I think it's important to realize that if someone doesn't have good serratus recruitment, they'll often create a pure scapula elevation (shrugging) pattern instead of the clean upward rotation we want. Effectively, upper trap and levator scapulae can pick up the slack and do too much work. When I see this pattern, I'll often encourage individuals to try out a little bit of upper trap rolling with a lacrosse or baseball to reduce the bad stiffness "up top" before we get to work.

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Tinkering vs. Overhauling – and the Problems with “Average”

Written on May 11, 2016 at 6:34 am, by Eric Cressey

Over the past year or so, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta has been a highly celebrated MLB athlete not only for his dominant performances (including two no-hitters) on the mound, but also for "reincarnating" his career with a new organization. Previously, Arrieta had been a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization - and while he had been a Major League regular, his performance had been relatively unremarkable. That all changed when he arrived in Chicago.

Arrieta

Source: Yahoo Sports

In Tom Verducci's recent piece for Sports Illustrated, Arrieta detailed that his struggles with the Orioles were heavily impacted by constant adjustments with everything from mechanics, to pitch selection, to where he stood on the rubber. He was even quoted as saying, "I pitched for years not being comfortable with anything I was doing. I was trying to be somebody else."

I'm always cautious to take everything I hear in the sports media with a grain of salt, and this blog is certainly not intended to be a criticism of anyone in the Orioles organization. However, what I can say is that this story isn't unfamiliar in the world of Major League Baseball. There is a lot of overcoaching that goes on as many coaches try to fit pitchers and hitters into specific mechanic models. In other words, rather than looking for ways to make Jake Arrieta into the best Jake Arrieta possible, some coaches look to make athletes into Greg Maddux or Nolan Ryan - and they usually wind up with Henry Rowengartner (minus the arm speed).

Rookie_of_the_year

This "phenomenon" isn't confined to baseball, however. In his outstanding book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose, writes: "The real difficulty is not finding new ways to distinguish talent; it is getting rid of the one dimensional blinders that prevented us from seeing it all along." Moreover, he adds, "We live in a world that demands we be the same as everyone else - only better - and reduces the American dream to a narrow yearning to be relatively better than the people around us rather than the best version of ourselves."

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As Rose notes, we can extend this concept to the idea of standardized testing for students and conventional hiring procedures for new employees, both of which often overlook the brilliant individuals among us who may be wildly capable of remarkable contributions if put in the right situations. In short, pushing the "average" rarely allows anyone to demonstrate - let alone leverage - their unique potential.

This is where coaching becomes more of an art than just a science. On the pitching side of things, we know there are certain positions all successful pitchers get to in their deliveries - and there are certainly bad positions they should probably avoid to stay healthy. With that said, we have to "reconcile" this knowledge with the realization that some of these "bad positions" may help pitchers generate greater velocity, influence pitch movement, or add deception. If we try to change them - especially at the highest level - we may take away exactly what makes a pitcher successful. 

You can draw parallels in a lifting environment. Some of the best deadlifters of all time pull conventional, and others use a sumo stance. Their individual anthropometry, training histories, and success to date govern the decision of how to pick heavy things up off the ground.

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It's important to note, however, that it's very easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback in situations like these, as hindsight is always 20/20. Long-time CSP athlete Corey Kluber won the American League Cy Young award in 2014 in large part because he switched to a 2-seam fastball with the help of Indians pitching coaches Ruben Niebla and Mickey Calloway. And, another long-time CSP athlete, Jeremy Hazelbaker, is one of the feel-good stories of Major League Baseball after a subtle adjustment to his swing from a Midwest hitting coach, Mike Shirley, yielded huge results and put him on the Cardinals opening day roster after seven years in the minor leagues.

Arrieta's Cubs teammate Jason Hammel spent some time with us at Cressey Sports Performance this off-season and made some mechanical adjustments, and he is off to a good start with a 4-0 record and 1.85 ERA. The point is that we hear a lot more about failures than we do about success stories, and it's really easy to rant when things don't work out. Subtle adjustments that keep guys healthy and confident don't always show up on the radar - and as a result, some really important and tactful coaches from all walks of life don't always get the recognition they deserve.

So when is it right to tinker on the coaching side? And, are there commonalities among what we'd see in pitchers, lifters, and other facets of the performance world? Here are seven questions I think you need to ask to determine whether the time is right to make a change:

1. Has the athlete been injured using the approach?

If an athlete can't stay healthy, a change might be imperative.

2. Has the athlete stagnated or been ineffective with the approach?

The more an athlete struggles doing it his way, the more open he'll be to modifying an approach. Career minor leaguers will buy in a lot easier than big leaguers - and the minor leaguers definitely have much less to lose if things don't work out. Conversely, Jason Hammel already had over eight years of MLB service time before I even met him; we weren't about to drastically change things.

3. Is the athlete novice enough that a change is easy to acquire and implement?

It's a lot easier to correct a 135-pound deadlift than it is to correct a 500-pound deadlift. You're best of fixing faulty patterns before a lifter has years to accumulate volume of loading the dysfunction. This is one reason why I'd rather work with a young athlete before he has a chance to start lifting on his own; there aren't any bad patterns to "undo."

4. What's the minimum effective dose that can be applied to "test the waters" of change?

Can a "tinker" be applied instead of an "overhaul?" Switching from a 4-seam fastball to a 2-seam fastball is a lot less aggressive than switching from a 4-seam fastball to a knuckleball. And, it's probably easier to go from an ultra-wise sumo deadlift to a narrower sumo stance than it is to go all the way to a conventional set-up.

5. How can you involve the athlete in the decision-making process with respect to modifications?

The concept of cognitive dissonance tells us that people really don't like conflict and generally like to avoid it. This works hand-in-hand with the concept of confirmation bias; we like to hear information that agrees with our beliefs and actions. In their fantastic book, Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath write, “In reviewing more than 91 studies of over 8,000 participants, the researchers concluded that we are more than twice as likely to favor confirming information than dis-confirming information.” Furthermore, the Heaths note, “The confirmation bias also increased when people had previously invested a lot of time or effort in a given issue.”

decisive--jacket

How, then, can we involve our athletes and clients in the decision-making process so that they effectively feel that the necessary changes are their ideas? And, can we regularly solicit feedback along the way to emphasize that it's "their show?"

6. How can we change the situation rather than the person?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, another great read from the Heath brothers, the authors note that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts. If a pitcher's velocity isn't very good in the first inning (particularly during colder times of year), there's a good chance he needs to extend his warm-up. However, many pitchers are very rigid about messing with pre-game routines. Maybe you just encourage him to do more of it inside where it's warmer, or have him wear a long-sleeve shirt until he starts sweating. Here, you're impacting his surroundings far more than his beliefs.

7. Can the change be more efficiently implemented utilizing an athlete or client's learning style?

All individuals have slightly different learning styles (one more reason "average"coaching isn't optimal). Some athletes simply need to be told what to do. Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way. And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues. The more we understand individual learning styles, the more we can streamline our coaching with clear and concise direction. If a adjustment is perceived easy to understand and implement, an athlete will be far more likely to "buy in."

Closing Thoughts

On the whole, I think there is a lot of over-coaching going on in today's sports. Above all else, I think us coaches need to talk less and listen more so that athletes can be athletic. And, when a change is warranted, we need to make sure it's a tinker and not an overhaul - and it's important to give an athlete or client and ownership stake in the process.

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Pitching Injuries: Should Lat Strains Even Be Happening?

Written on May 4, 2016 at 6:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Last week, I came across a meta-analysis that examined the existing body of research on latissimus dorsi and teres major strains in professional baseball pitchers. While the collective sample size was small (30 total athletes), one resounding theme was present:

Lat strains can be pain in the butt to rehabilitate.

In these studies, 29 pitchers were managed conservatively, while one pitcher required surgery for the issue. In the conservative group, the average return-to-pitching timeline was 100 days, whereas the surgical case was 140 days." Perhaps of more significance, though, the researchers noted that "five patients in the conservative group suffered from complications and/or setbacks during their treatment and rehabilitation."

We have to keep the sample sizes in these studies in mind, too. They haven't had a large pool from which to draw, and many researchers might not appreciate how different "return-to-pitching" is than "feeling like your old self." The general consensus among guys I know who have had the surgery seems to be that it's 8-10 months before you're back to feeling 100% in games. 

Let's face it: if you're missing 3.5-5 months with an injury - and adding even more time to get back to 100% - you might as well just cash in an entire season. That's not only a lot of money wasted on disabled list time at the Major League level, but also a lot of lost developmental time in the minor league ranks.

To make matters worse, the rehabilitation process can be delayed because lat strain diagnoses can be somewhat challenging. According to Dr. Leon Scott, a sports medicine physician and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University, "Because lat strain diagnoses aren't all that simple to make, especially if a physician’s exam is limited and relies heavily on an MRI, they are often a missed diagnosis. A standard MRI may not be distal enough to capture the area of injury. Arthrogram images are an even smaller field, leading to a missed diagnosis." He also notes that in one acute lat injury he saw in the past, "With a wide field shoulder MRI, there was acute edema, hematoma seen at the bone-tendon interface. It was hard to miss." In short, ordering physicians may be trying to use a narrow imaging technique for a shoulder injury when they should be painting with a broader brush that would also pick up an upper arm injury.

 Latissimus_dorsi_muscle_animation

 Source: By Anatomography (en:Anatomography (setting page of this image)) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

One professional player I saw struggled with getting a definitive diagnosis that his lat strain needed surgery for two years. At first, they suspected his anterior shoulder pain was occurring because of a labral tear, but a labral "clean-up" surgery didn't change his symptoms. Perhaps more interesting, though, the surgeon didn't even see the lat tear while he was doing the arthroscopic intervention. Five months later, another surgeon went in to repair the lat - which was actually significantly detached from the bone.

The first take-home message here is that if you're a thrower and you have shoulder pain, you need to make sure that you see a sports medicine physician who sees a lot of throwing injuries. A lat strain can be a tricky diagnosis, and even the most well-intentioned physicians may not know to look for it. This is especially because it often presents as pain in the front of the shoulder, in the event of a tendinous injury. You can see this clearly demonstrated by the attachment points in the image above, but I'll take more about this later when we get to functional anatomy.

As I pondered the research article and actually discussed it with a few of my staff members, I realized that we have literally never had a lat strain happen with one of our regular clients at Cressey Sports Performance - and we see a lot of pitchers. I say this not to brag (or jinx us), but rather to just bring to light that success leaves clues - which I'll also get to later on in this article.

That said, I should note that my ideas in this article also draw heavily on our experiences working with a lot of frustrated pitchers who have come to work with us after the injury has occurred because they need help bouncing back. Failures (in this case, injuries) also leave clues.

Before we get to all these observations and potential countermeasures to prevent lat strains, I think it's incredibly important to discuss the functional anatomy of the latissimus dorsi and teres major. And, as an extension, we'll discuss how this functional anatomy understanding needs to be put alongside biomechanics research and anecdotal observations of injured athletes to pull together a hypothesis for the "perfect storm" of lat injury risk.

Functional Anatomy

The latissimus dorsi is a big muscle with huge functional implications.

Latissimus_dorsi

It attaches on the thoracolumbar fascia (lower back) and runs all the way up to the intertubercular groove of the humerus (front of the upper arm). This is why it has to be considered as a differential diagnosis for anterior shoulder pain in throwers - alongside everything from biceps and rotator cuff tendinopathy or tears, to labral injuries, to anterior capsule injuries, to thoracic outlet syndrome.

As an interesting aside, there are a number of anatomical variants present along this lengthy anatomical course. In a small percentage of people, the lat actually attaches on the ilium (top of the pelvis). In just under half of individuals, it has a direct attachment on the scapula. The number of costal (rib) and vertebral attachments also varies from person to person.

Everyone knows about the functions of the lat at the shoulder - extension, adduction, internal rotation, and horizontal abduction - but in consideration of this expansive functional anatomy profile, we have to appreciate that it has several other key roles to consider.

Lat is a key core stabilizer - to the point that it can be heavily overused and pull athletes into a "gross extension" pattern. Notice the big anterior pelvis tilt and lordosis here - but also take note of the position of humeral extension (and the indirect effects on forward head posture).

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Given its attachment on the scapula in some individuals - and the indirect impacts of "crossing" the scapular region - the lat also contributes to scapular depression.

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Finally, it's been theorized that an aberrant, extension-biased posture would interfere with optimal diaphragmatic function (via loss of the zone of apposition). Because the lat is also an accessory respiratory (inhalation) muscle, you could say that it has to pick up the slack for a problem it actually helps create! My favorable experiences with the Postural Restoration Institute and my own anecdotal observations definitely support this theory.

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Source: www.PosturalRestoration.com

For all intents and purposes, you can view teres major as a "mini-lat." It shares the same scapula-to-humerus functional relationship and actions, but doesn't impact the rib cage or lumbar spine directly.

 

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Implications for Throwers

By appreciating the functional anatomy of the lat, we can recognize just how vital it is to throwing a baseball hard. In short, it connects the lower body to the upper body to allow for force transfer that ultimately leads to arm speed and ball velocity.

Not surprisingly, a 1987 study from Gowan et al. observed that lat recruitment during the acceleration phase of throwing was substantially higher in professional pitchers than in amateurs. Not surprisingly, experienced, accomplished athletes know how to use big-boy muscles (prime movers) to do big-boy jobs (accelerate the arm, which is the fastest motion in all of sports). The amateur pitchers actually continued to heavily rely on smaller, stabilizing muscles - the rotator cuff, biceps, and posterior deltoid - during acceleration. That's not a safe or effective long-term strategy.  

This is likely why we rarely see lat strains in younger athletes; you probably have to throw 90mph+ to effectively "use" the lat, and muscles that don't get used usually don't get strained. The younger kids are more likely to have rotator cuff pain, irritation of the long head of the biceps tendon, or proximal humeral growth plate issues.

There's a bit more to "lat overuse" than just the acceleration phase of throwing, though. During the lay-back (extreme cocking, or maximum external rotation) portion of throwing, the lat and teres major are two of several muscles (including notables like subscapularis pectoralis major) that are working eccentrically to prevent the humerus (upper arm) from flying off the body.

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This eccentric pre-stretch also helps to store elastic energy that is subsequently released during the acceleration phase to create ball velocity. Most muscle strains occur - whether it's acutely or chronically - as muscles and tendons are stretched during the eccentric phase of activity. Hamstrings strains usually occur at the terminal swing phase of sprinting. Middle-aged men rupture Achilles tendons when they land on dorsiflexed ankles - where the calves are maximally stretched. The lats and teres major are the most overstretched at this lay-back phase of throwing.

On a chronic note, repeated exposures to aggressive eccentric stress can lead to muscle shortening. Reinold et al (2012) demonstrated this with respect to elbow extension and shoulder internal rotation. My experience has been that pitchers who trend toward the "tight" end of the continuum also lose shoulder flexion and "true" external rotation over the course of the season. As I describe in the video below, this is very likely related to stiffness or shortness in the lats - and the research has demonstrated that it is associated with an increased risk of elbow injuries in pitchers.

Beyond just the specific roles of the lats during the throwing motion, we have to also appreciate that they're heavily overused during daily life because of their roles as core stabilizers and accessory respiratory muscles. And, given that we don't spend a lot of time in our daily lives with our arms overhead and shoulders externally rotated, they aren't afforded a whole lot of length throughout the day. Take a chronically shortened muscle, overuse it, and then throw it into the fastest motion in all of sports, and you've got a recipe for strains. However, you can't throw hard without it. Hence, this Tweet from me a few years ago:

lats

Why Do These Injuries Take So Long to Heal?

Having established the injury mechanisms, it's important to also consider why lat strains in throwers take so long to rehabilitate. I see four primary reasons that differentiate lat strains from just "any other muscle strain:"

First, as we noted earlier, early diagnosis may not happen. This can occur because the athlete just ignores the issue as normal soreness, or they manage it as "biceps tendonitis." Or, a physician may not recognize that a lat injury could create anterior shoulder symptoms. Finally, a typical MRI might just miss the injury altogether. All these factors can potentially lead athletes down the wrong rehabilitation path.

Second, my experience has been that many of these injuries are far more chronic than they are traumatic. More often than not, when you dig deeper into the history of a pitcher who has a lat strain, he's thrown through some kind of extended soreness/discomfort for weeks, months, or years. Eventually, it becomes too much to stand and begins to significantly interfere with pitching performance. Given that the issue developed over an extended period of time, it isn't going to go away overnight. 

Third, as I discussed in my functional anatomy musings earlier, the lats are heavily involved in multiple planes of motion. I've theorized in the past about how muscles that play crucial roles in multiple plans are more likely to be stubborn rehabilitation projects:

Pull a quad (rectus femoris), and you’ll usually bounce back really quickly. Pull an oblique and it’s much more stubborn. What’s the difference? The rectus femoris is really all about the sagittal plane, whereas the obliques have a big role in controlling excessive motion in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes. The more complex the job of the muscle, the more significant the injury – and the longer the rehab. Hamstrings have roles outside the sagittal plane and can be equally stubborn, too.

Fourth, the proximal humerus (upper arm) area really seems to scar down faster than almost any other region in the body - and this is particularly true of throwing shoulders because of the eccentric stress pitchers encounter. There are 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, and most of these structures cross the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint. Perhaps more significantly, eight of these tendons attach in close proximity to the insertion of the latissimus dorsi and teres major. Throw eight tendons in a very small area that experiences a lot of eccentric stress, and you'll wind up with a gritty, fibrotic mess eventually.

Injury Risks

Whether it's a chronic or traumatic onset lat issue in a pitcher, one theme always seems to hold true: symptoms emerge after a dramatic increase in throwing stress.

On multiple occasions, I've seen lat strains that have come about because a reliever pitcher was moved into the starting rotation without a gradual increase in pitch count. 

In other instances, the lat got cranky after a big velocity jump in a single off-season. This is usually the case in a high school kid who jumps from 84 to 94mph in a single winter. As my friend Derek Johnson, the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers has said, the "arm is writing checks the butt can't cash."

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Sometimes, it may come about after a single outing with an abnormally high pitch count. The pitcher just can't bounce back in time for the next start, and the subsequent start becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back. y experience has been that when you throw the typical "high arm speed" (90mph+) high school pitcher out for back-to-back outings of 100+ pitches - even on a seven-day rotation - things often start to head down the wrong path. This doesn't happen nearly as frequently in the college game, and I think this speaks to the fact that there is clearly something really important that's occurring in terms of work capacity and/or strength improvements for pitchers in the 16-19 age range.

Finally, lat issues seem to be particularly common when you see high school and college starters switch from a 7-day rotation to a 5-day rotation when they enter professional baseball. It isn't as much of a dramatic increase in stress as it is a significant loss in recovery time or capacity. I've heard many guys over the years say that they have to learn to pitch with only 90% of what they're typicaly capable.

Movement Quality 

Beyond just the increase in throwing stress, there are a few things I've found to be common in the lat strain pitchers I've seen in recent years.

1. The lower traps can't keep up with the lat.

The lower traps are very important for providing posterior tilt (slight tipping back) of the scapula and assisting in upward rotation. These two functions make it essential for a pitcher to get his scapula in the right position during the lay-back phase of throwing.

Conversely, the lat has more of a "gross" depression effect on the scapula; it pulls it down, but doesn't contribute to posterior tilting or upward rotation. This might help with an adult rotator cuff pain patient who has an aggressive scapular elevation (shrug) substitution pattern, but it's actually problematic for a thrower who is trying to get his scapula up and around the rib cage to make sure that the ball-on-socket congruency is "flush" when it really matters:

baseball-97898_960_720

As such, you can say that the lat and lower trap "compete" for scapular control - and the lat has a big advantage because of its cross-sectional area and multiple attachment points. It's also much easier to train and strengthen - even if it's accidentally.

To this end, we'll often hear throwers cued "down and back" during their arm care drills. The intension - improving posterior tilt via lower trap activation - is really good, but the outcome usually isn't. Unless athletes are actually put in a position of posterior tilt where they can actually feel the lower traps working, they don't get it. Instead, they pull further down into scapular depression, which feeds the lat-dominant strategy. This is why we teach almost all our throwers to differentiate between depression and posterior tilt on their first day in the gym.

2. The rotator cuff can't keep up with the lat.

As I noted earlier, the lat has numerous functional roles at the shoulder. Because the attachment point of the lat is on the shaft of the humerus and not the ball, the lat really can't have any direct control on the positioning of the ball in the socket. In fact, it actually indirectly destabilizes the throwing shoulder because it contributes to an anterior (forward) gliding of the ball on the socket during the lay-back phase of throwing. This anterior glide is counteracted by the rotator cuff musculature.

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Whenever we evaluate movement, we have to consider both osteokinematics (gross movements - flexion, extension, etc. - of bones at joints) and arthrokinematics (subtle movements - rolling, rocking, gliding, etc. - of bones at joint surfaces).

To paraphrase something that physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann has noted many times, whenever you see a strained or overworked muscle, look for a dysfunctional synergist. In this case, the synergists to the lat and teres major are the rotator cuff muscles. We just rarely consider lat strains as a consequence of rotator cuff weakness because it's usually the biceps tendon, labrum, capsule, or rotator cuff itself that winds up cranky before the lat starts barking.

3. Guys usually have a history of doing a lot of lat dominant lifting.

In a baseball population, throwing is lat dominant. Breathing is lat dominant. Core stabilization is lat dominant. When you add in a lot of lat dominant lifting to the mix - particularly during the in-season period - things don't usually go well. I'm just going to put this out there:

I've never met a high-level thrower who had "weak" lats.

I'm speaking with respect to both relative and absolute measures. Relatively speaking, I've never looked at a guy and said, "Well, if he added 50 pounds to his best weighted chin-up, he'd definitely throw harder and be healthier. His rotator cuff and lower traps are too strong." Absolutely speaking, I have yet to see any research examining the relationship between lat strength and throwing velocity. I'm very confident that there is a point of diminishing returns where getting stronger doesn't help add any more velocity. Moreover, it may actually interfere with improvements - and increase susceptibility to injury. This includes elbow irritation, as heavy weighted pull-ups and chin-ups are brutal on the medial elbow in lifters who don't even throw a baseball for a living.

Just like you don't have to squat 800 pounds to have an elite vertical jump - but you probably won't jump high if you only squat 200 pounds - your lats just need to be strong enough to throw hard.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that exercises like deadlifts, farmer's walks, and dumbbell lunges, and any other drill where weights are held in the hands are actually very lat intensive. With the arms at the sides, the lats are almost fully shortened - and the lat is working hard as a core stabilizer against appreciable external loading.

The take-home message is that you really have to critically examine your entire strength training program for how much lat-dominant work your athletes are doing. My rule of thumb is that an athlete has to have full shoulder flexion and great cuff strength to "earn the right" to do pull-ups in his off-season programming, and we don't use any pull-ups or pulldowns with in-season programs. We can accomplish everything we need with horizontal pulling variations.

4. Guys usually accumulated a lot of innings or appearances without much, if any, manual therapy 

NASCARs require more upkeep that ordinary automobiles. If you're going to push a car to its limits, you better plan on changing the oil and tires more frequently. The same goes for a high level throwing arm. Manual therapy is a game-changer for maintaining or improving range-of-motion and bouncing back between outings.  

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The lats and teres major get pushed really hard during the throwing motion, and it's important to do regular routine manual therapy maintenance to keep them "supple" with a variety of soft tissue approaches. I've seen athletes that responded really well to cupping, some to Graston Technique, some to Active Release Technique, some to dry needling, and others to more traditional massage. Everyone is different - but everyone needs it.

Also worth of note, trigger points in the latissimus dorsi may actually relate to discomfort in other regions. Chris Howard, massage therapist at Cressey Sports Performance – MA, notes:

“Trigger points in the latissimus dorsi can refer pain and discomfort to the medial and inferior border of the scapula extending to the posterior shoulder, medial triceps region and down to the pinky and ring finger. Trigger points not only cause pain, but can also mimic nerve symptoms by causing numbness and tingling in their referral zone. Of particular interest to this article is the fact that trigger points, regardless of whether they are active or latent, have the ability to alter muscle activation patterns. In other words, once trigger points are present in muscles of the shoulder girdle, the normal activation pattern is altered, which can lead to abuse of some of the smaller muscles.”

5. Guys have insufficient anterior core control.

The stiffer (or shorter) your lats are, the more you need to have great anterior (front) core control to prevent this from happening:

When the core control isn't present, the lats are never really challenged to approach their end range - which is full shoulder flexion. Learning to add some good stiffness to lock the ribs to the pelvis during overhead motion obviously protects the lower back, but it also has the added benefit of making lats "healthier."

6. They turn all rowing motions into lat dominant movements.

Rather than reinvent the wheel on this point, check out this detailed rowing technique video I filmed a while back. In particular, points #1, #2, #4, and #6 are the most common findings in a very lat-dominant individual. I'd encourage you to watch the entire video, though, as it's not uncommon to see multiple mistakes at a time:

7. Guys have lost shoulder flexion.

If a muscle is fundamentally short, it's going to be more likely to strain. These are usually the ones who have failed miserably on points 1-6 over an extended period of time.

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Prevention

Several years ago, in the heart of the ACL prevention program craze, Mike Boyle made a bold statement, "ACL injury prevention is just good training." In short, if you teach athletes to move well with comprehensive, well-rounded programming and solid coaching to ensure good training technique, you're going to markedly reduce the incidence of ACL injuries. I couldn't agree more - and I'd argue that lat strain prevention training in pitchers is just good training, too. 

1. Maintain tissue quality with regular manual therapy, and complement it with daily foam rolling.

2. Make athletes earn the right to do pull-ups.

3. Don’t do pull-ups/pulldowns during the season.

4. Make sure that the rotator cuff, lower trap, and anterior core are strong enough to keep up with the lats.

5. Be cognizant of overdoing it on drills like deadlifts, farmers walks, and DB lunges/split squats. These are all great exercises that can have their place, but anything done to excess can be a problem.

6. Ensure appropriate training technique. Specifically, don't overuse the lats when you aren't supposed to use them at all.

7. Closely monitor athletes who have seen dramatic jumps in pitching velocity or workload - and avoid building up pitch counts too quickly.

8. Constantly solicit feedback from pitchers so that mild lat soreness is discovered before it can become a full blown injury.

Obviously, once an athlete already has a teres major or lat strain, things are a lot hairier. That's really the point of the article, though: as always, prevention is the absolute best treatment

Related Posts

Does Throwing Really Build "Arm Strength?"
What's with all the Power Arms?

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Expanding the “Safe” Exercise Repertoire

Written on April 21, 2016 at 1:04 pm, by Eric Cressey

In his outstanding new book, Back Mechanic, spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill speaks frequently to how he works with patients to “expand pain-free abilities” over the course of time. This begins with practicing good “spine hygiene” throughout daily activities while avoiding any positions or movements that provoke symptoms.

Back-Mechanic

As a patient gets some asymptomatic time under his/her belt, new movements and exercises are gradually introduced. Over time, the individual’s pain-free movement repertoire can be integrated into a comprehensive exercise program. Effectively, it’s a way to test the waters without simply jumping into the deep end. This is an especially important process for patients who have lived with chronic back pain and need to break the cycle to relearn what it actually is like to feel good. As Dr. McGill writes,

“The approach that has produced the best results for us over the years has been to teach the patient pain-free movement. This is based on the ‘gate theory’ of pain. Finding simple movements that do not cause pain floods the proprioceptive system with joint and muscle sensor signals, leaving little room for pain signals to get through the neural ‘gates.’ These pain-free movements are repeated to encode the pattern in the brain. Slowly, the patient’s ability repertoire of pain free movement increases until they are able to move well, and for longer periods. They successfully replaced the pain inducing patterns wired into their brains with pain-free patterns.”

As I read through Dr. McGill’s work, I couldn’t help but think about how it can be adapted to other realms of the rehabilitation and fitness communities. As an example, speaking to my main realm of interest – training baseball players – we have to consider how this applies to return-to-throwing programs in the baseball rehabilitation world. Truth be told, this approach traditionally has not been applied well in most rehabilitation scenarios in overhead throwing athletes because they have just about the most specific kind of mechanical pain there is. In other words, the elbow or shoulder only bothers them in this position, and usually at higher velocities:

layback

Most of the significant upper extremity throwing injuries you see don’t involve much pain at rest. Rather, the arm only hurts during the act of throwing. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), nothing in our daily lives really simulates the stress of throwing. As such, for a thrower, expanding pain-free abilities really have just traditionally meant:

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You’d actually be surprised to find that there often aren’t any progressions that “link” one phase of this progression to the next. In the “not throwing” phase, we often see a lot of generic arm care exercises, but little attention to speed of movement, integrating the lower half and core, and incorporating training positions specific to an athlete’s arm slot. Unfortunately, just laying on a table and doing some exercises with a 5-pound dumbbell won’t necessarily prepare you to throw the ball on a line at 120-feet.

For this reason, we always seek out physical therapists who treat the athlete “globally” and appreciate the incremental stress of various phases of throwing. The name of the game is to incorporate several “test the water” steps between each of these three categories. We do the exact same things as players ramp up their off-season throwing programs. As physical therapist Charlie Weingroff has astutely observed in the past, “Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training.”

How do we bridge the gap between not throwing and flat-ground throwing as much as possible? For starters, rotator cuff exercises need to take place near 90 degrees of abduction to reflect the amount of scapular upward rotation and shoulder elevation that takes place during throwing. Moreover, it’s important to work closer to true end-range of external rotation in testing strength that “matters” during the lay-back phase of throwing. And, we need to test how they do with the external-to-internal rotation transition.

To this point, in my career, I’ve seen a lot of throwers who have passed physical exams of cuff strength in the adducted (arm at the side) position, but failed miserably in the “arm slot” positions that matter. Picking the right progressions really matters.

Additionally, more aggressive rotational medicine ball drills can help to teach force production, transfer, and acceptance in a manner specific to the throwing motion.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the only thing that can truly reflect the stress of throwing is actually throwing. And this is also why there have to be incremental steps from flat-ground work to mound work (where external rotation range-of-motion is considerably higher).

Fortunately for most rehab specialists and the fitness professionals who pick up where they leave off, most return-to-action scenarios aren’t as complex as getting a MLB pitcher back on the mound. A general fitness client with a classic external impingement shoulder presentation might just need to test the waters in a progression along these lines:

(Feet-Elevated) Push-up Isometric Holds > (Feet-Elevated) Body Weight Push-up > Stability Ball Push-up > Weighted Push-up > Neutral Grip DB Floor Press > Neutral Grip Decline DB Press > Pronated Grip Decline DB Press > Barbell Board Press (gradual lowering) > Barbell Floor Press > Neutral Grip DB Bench Press > Low Incline DB Press > Close-Grip Bench Press > Bench Press > Bottoms-up KB Military Press > Barbell Incline Press > Barbell Overhead Pressing

Different people might start at different places on this continuum, and some folks might not need to progress all the way along. The point is that there needs to be a rhyme and reason to whatever continuum you create for expanding individuals’ pain-free abilities.

A lot of folks have a pretty good understanding of “progression.” This, to me, refers to how we sequentially teach movements and make training more challenging. Unfortunately, not nearly as many professionals understand “pain-free progression” under the unique circumstances surrounding injury.

This is one of many reasons why I think understanding post-rehab training is so important for the modern fitness professional. It’s a tremendous competitive advantage for differentiating oneself in the “training marketplace.” Moreover, on a purely ethical level, having a solid understanding of various injuries and their implications helps a coach deliver a safe training experience.

With all this in mind, I'd really encourage my readers to check out Dean Somerset's resource, Post-Rehab Essentials. It's a fantastic product that also happens to be on sale for $50 off through Sunday at midnight. You can learn more HERE.

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Looking Closer at Pitching Injuries: An Interview with Jeff Passan

Written on April 18, 2016 at 7:06 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, I'm fortunate to have an interview with Yahoo Sports baseball writer, Jeff Passan. Jeff spent the past few years traveling the country to research why arm injuries in pitchers are at an all-time high, and his efforts culminated with the recent release of The Arm. I've read it, and it's fantastic.

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EC: Why did you write this book?

JP: Originally, I wrote it because I thought maybe, just maybe, through reporting and research I could find a fix-all for elbow injuries and help rid the sport of Tommy John surgery. What I learned was that I was foolish to even conceive of that, considering people far smarter than I am have dedicated their careers to ramming dead ends. Because of that, while I still think the recoveries of Daniel Hudson and Todd Coffey are the heart of the book, I began to realize just how acute this is for children. When nearly 3 in 5 Tommy John surgeries is done on a teenager, and the rise of teenage surgeries has gone in lockstep with the ascent of the showcase circuit and desire for velocity, something is very wrong. This is a book about a lot of things. I hope amid those, the lessons to parents resonate and cause them to think twice this spring about sending their young kids especially back out for an extra inning or keeping them in the game too long.

EC: Let's stay with the teenage discussion, as I've been preaching about this problem it for a decade now! When you investigated the current state of teenage baseball, what did you find? And, what surprised you the most?

I found a wasteland of ignorance, greed and scars on the elbows of children. I always heard executives complaining off-handedly about the showcase circuit but didn't realize the pervasive grasp it has on the youth space. Major League Baseball's greatest failure was allowing a for-profit company to co-opt its pipeline. As much as Perfect Game wants to claim moral superiority and a concern for the arms of children, reality tells a different story. Showcases 11 months of the year. Radar guns trained on infielders throwing across the diamond. Out-of-control pitch counts for arms simply too young to handle the workload. And that's to say nothing of actively seeking out sub-standard players to fill out an event. The commodification of children is gross, and encouraging performance and winning over development at young ages simply reinforces some of the same principles that I fear ultimately lead to arm injuries.

EC: Many people claim these issues are isolated to just the United States, and that the Far East and Latin American are immune. They deny that arm injuries are occurring at high rates in these areas; what did you find?

At the major league level, one's ethnicity does not make him any likelier to hurt himself. The numbers are pretty flat across the board. We see with Latin American players how that manifests itself because so many spend their formative years in the minor leagues and we witness their ascent and, in unfortunate cases, injury. Japanese pitchers, on the other hand, have a reputation of clean mechanics and hard work, and while that may be true, the results are devastating. It's not just the recent study that showed 40 percent of a sample of 9- to 12-year-old Japanese children had suffered ulnar collateral ligament damage. It's what I saw first-hand: Little boys, some so young their adult teeth still weren't fully grown in, coming into a clinic especially for baseball players and being diagnosed with an arm injury. Avulsion fractures. Frayed ligaments. OCD lesions. You name it, these kids had it. And it made me wonder how the Japanese baseball culture can live with itself knowing that it's choosing blind tradition over something as fundamental as the health of children.

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EC: Everyone likes to play Major League Baseball general manager on the internet, but I'm going to do you one better. I'll let you be MLB commissioner and task you with determining how to address the injury epidemic that's spanning from youth leagues all the way to MLB veterans. How do you handle it?

JP: Wow. OK. So, I'm assuming an unlimited budget here, because a lot of these things are going to take money. Let's start with the kids first. I appreciate what Pitch Smart is trying to do. I also think it's not conservative enough with the youngest kids. If baseball is injuring its youngest players -- and doctors and studies alike believe it is -- we need to focus on the two likeliest culprits: overuse and excessive maximum-effort throwing. Curb the first with lower pitch limits. It's not like 8- or 9-year-old kids need to be building toward triple-digit pitches. And in concert with that, advocate an epistemological change in how we approach youth baseball: as an apparatus for development over competition. Don't get me wrong. Competition is great. But if competitiveness in this space leads to the things that lead to an increase in injuries, we can satisfy our competitive jones elsewhere and instead emphasize developing safer development and the importance of control and command over velocity. This demands better coaching, and free coaching clinics run by MLB-trained advocates at least gives us a better chance of empowering those whose voices are critical with the necessary education.

There are so many more things in the youth space I could do, but I want to move on to the pros, because if I were in power and had carte blanche, the first thing I would do is force the 30 teams to abandon their injury-prevention fiefdoms and band resources to help start solving this problem. This is a matter of the greater good. Baseball as a sport is facing another generation of pitchers arriving with Tommy John surgery scars on their elbows, and if a team found something that could mitigate injuries, those children deserve to know. I understand the desire for a competitive advantage. I also see this as a moral imperative for baseball to do what it can to solve it. Beyond that, continuing to fund the current epidemiological studies, working hand in hand with the tech companies -- so many of which seem to have a problem getting their products to market -- and pioneering in-house research through a think tank-like establishment devoted not just to the arm but varying other ends of research. In other words, I'd throw the full weight of MLB behind this, not just monetarily but starting with the first commercial of the World Series, which is a close-up camera shot first on Matt Harvey's elbow, then Stephen Strasburg's, then Jose Fernandez's. And as the camera pans back to reveal their familiar faces, each says: "This could be you." Then some stats on year-round baseball -- oh, yeah; as commissioner, I'd shut that down and hold twice-a-year showcases at which the top prospects can show up and show off their stuff for everyone in the industry, like a combine -- and some other scary numbers and, boom: Immediate education on Tommy John surgery through people not wearing white lab coats.

EC: Thanks for joining us, Jeff! Whether you're a baseball player, coach, parent, scout, or fan, I'd strongly encourage you to  pick up a copy of The Arm.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/8/16

Written on April 8, 2016 at 3:07 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy Friday! I hope everyone is gearing up for a great weekend. Before you kick off the festivities, though, here are a few good reads to wrap up your week:

The $100 Billion Hoax - My buddy Adam Bornstein authored this fantastic post on how outrageously spending has increased in the health, fitness, and nutritional supplement sectors while Americans have become more obese than ever.

Fergus Connolly Coaching Series: Part 1 - Great Coaches - This was a fantastic article written by Fergus Connolly, who has a fantastic background in sports science at the highest levels.

The Arm - Jeff Passan recently released this great read - and it's the culmination of several years of research all around the country to examine the causes of the pitching injury epidemic. He actually stopped by CSP-Florida last spring to interview me. The finished product is great "infotainment," where you'll learn to see injuries through a different light while being drawn in by various stories on baseball development, new research on the horizon, and rehabilitation struggles. I'll be posting an interview with Jeff on EricCressey.com soon.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 17

Written on April 6, 2016 at 7:25 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the April installment of my random thoughts on sports performance training. Here are a few ideas that are currently rattling around my brain.

1. The absolute speed-strength continuum doesn't matter if you're weak.

I posted this on my Facebook page last week, but thought it merited a mention here. With respect to this old video of mine...

One thing I didn't mention that is an important consideration, though, is that an athlete has to have a foundation of strength and work capacity to even "get on" this continuum. This is one reason why it's absolutely absurd for a 10-year-old to be embarking on a crazy aggressive throwing program. Before he introduces overload/underload throwing or high volume, he needs to establish a base of general stability and work capacity to be able to handle more specific stress.

2. In-season training isn't just about lifting.

When people hear "in-season lifting," they seem to immediately think that the sole justifications for incorporating it is to maintain strength, power, and muscle mass. Surely, that's a huge part of the equation. However, I'm quick to point out to our athletes that in-season training includes a lot more. 

Each time an athlete trains at Cressey Sports Performance during the season, he's also going through his foam rolling work. And, he's working his way through a more individualized warm-up than he'd typically get at the field during practice or at games.

Likewise, it's an exposure to an environment that "nurtures" good lifestyle behaviors. There are invariably discussions about optimizing sleep quality, and improving nutrition. These exchanges just don't happen as often at the field.

All that in mind, in-season training isn't just about lifting weights.

3. There aren't absolutes when it comes to discussing packing the neck.

I can't definitely tell you that packing the neck during lifting will guarantee that you'll lift more weight.

tbdl

However, I think it's very safe to say that if - 20 years down the road - we take MRIs of the necks of lifters who lifted with a more neutral cervical spine posture and compared them to MRIs of those who looked up at the ceiling when they squatted and deadlifted, the packed neck group's diagnostic imaging would be a LOT cleaner.

4. Culture matters more than expertise, programming, finances, and just about anything else.

I've been fortunate to visit a lot of different strength and conditioning facilities in the private, collegiate, and professional sector. Without fail, the most successful facilities are the ones with an awesome culture. In other words, the athletes and staff are excited to be there. They're thrilled about the prospects of innovations, and there is great communication without consideration of organizational rank, service time, or any other sort of hierarchy. I think this awesome post from Matt Duffy of the Giants is a great example of this in action in professional sports. 

Culture matters because it's a limiting factor. Expertise and good programming are super important, but they don't matter if you don't have an environment that accommodates the implementation of these things. And, if you look at professional sports, you can't outspend a crappy culture. This is why you can see small market teams competing with the highest payroll teams in just about every professional sport. And, it's one reason why you see fancy facilities with seemingly limitless financial resources fail miserably in the private sector all the time.

This is one reason why I always emphasize to our staff and interns that we hire based on both competency and fit.

howwehire

Competency can be taught, but fit is something that is directly drawn from one's character. Character is something that needs to be established at a young age and reinforced over the course of decades in a professional career. It's a challenge to hire someone with the right fit for your culture, and this is one reason why we like to hire from our internship program; it's a test drive to determine "fit" and work to fine-tune it if the alignment isn't quite perfect.

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4 Strategies for Improved Base Stealing Jumps

Written on March 28, 2016 at 6:08 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern and current University of Washington Strength and Conditioning Coach, Dave Rak. Enjoy! -EC

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Coaches often talk about gaining an extra step when it comes to improving speed. For a baseball player an extra step could be the difference between a stolen base or a jog back to the dugout. There are many ways to gain that valuable extra step. Strength training, drill work, and refining technique all play an important part. As a coach you need to help the athlete feel the correct positions in order to maximize efficiency when stealing bases. Here are 4 simple ways to improve common mistakes.

1. Videotape everything.

With almost everyone having a smartphone or a tablet device on them 24/7, cameras are easily accessible, which leaves no excuse as to why you can’t video tape your athletes. Whether you are working 1-on-1 with an athlete, or with all of your position players at once, video feedback will be crucial. This gives the athlete a view from your perspective as to how they could improve their movements. Video feedback will not only allow you to show the athlete what is going on from a technical standpoint, but in a team setting, it will allow you to work efficiently with large groups. As a coach you will be able to see every rep from each of your athletes. This allows you to go back, take notes, and identify what needs to be worked on for each player. The athlete can use this information to better correct movements and execute proper form.

Most importantly, having video allows you to study the athlete’s movement and learn what corrections need to be made. This grows your knowledge on this specific movement. You may not have all the answers right away, but video will help you and your athletes figure out what can be corrected. Video is nothing new in sports and especially baseball; why not use it when trying to gain an extra step on your steal jump?

Video programs such as Hudl Technique (formerly known as Ubersense) and Coach’s Eye are great apps that can be used on a smartphone or tablet to record video It can then be played back in different speeds for the athlete.

2. Overload the movement. 

After breaking down video of my athletes I noticed some players were over reaching or stepping too high with their right foot on their initial leg drive. This is wasted movement that does nothing but prolong the steal jump, and put the athlete in a poor position to accelerate from. The photo below is an example of an ineffective directional step. The foot comes up too high, which prolongs the movement:

steal

By taking a smaller and more direct step the athlete will achieve a better position for acceleration. Below is a video that shows an example of a more efficient step.

To help with this common mistake, you can physically pull the runner towards second base and overload the movement using a bungee cord attached at the waste as seen in the video below.

Lee Taft suggested told me about this drill, and it has been very helpful with allowing my athletes to figure out how to make that direction step more efficient. The pull of the bungee cord forces the runner to be quicker and more direct with their step. The pull of the cord will cause the athlete to shift their weight towards second base and onto the right foot. Once they take a directional step they have to replace the foot quickly, if they don’t they will fall. The bungee cord allows the athlete to feel their mistakes in the moment. After a few repetitions the athlete should be able to make the adjustment on their own.

NOTE: Bungee cords work better than jump stretch bands for these drills.

3. Gently resist the movement.

A lot of time is spent on developing power and becoming more explosive in the weight room. The initial push of the steal jump is a great place to show off these attributes. Using video feedback, you can easily see if an athlete is lacking that “push” when they take off for second base. Yelling “triple extension”, or “push harder” may not always work. Instead give the athlete something to push against. To do this take the bungee cord from our previous drill and instead of overloading the sprint, gently resist the start. This will make the athlete have to overcome the resistance of the bungee cord when they make their first move. This should force the athlete to get better extension with their left leg. The video below is an example.

Again, the bungee cord will work better than a pair of jump stretch bands.

The athlete should feel the resistance of the cord before they start their sprint. This will force them to be aggressive when they push off. The goal is for the athlete to feel how hard they need to push with the lower body. It is also important to note that too much resistance will change the outcome of the drill. We are not weighing down the runner and having the partner get dragged behind. The runner should have to overcome the resistance on the push off and then be able to run normally as they accelerate.

4. Use a towel to teach arm movement.

After speaking with Lee Taft about what I was seeing with my athletes I began to realize how important the arms are, especially in the initial move. Lee helped me to realize that by achieving better arm action, common mistakes will be corrected on their own. These mistakes include: popping up on their first move, weak initial push-off, inability to stay low through the acceleration phase, and not turning the body quick enough to get into a linear sprint.

To help get the athlete to become more aggressive and throw the arms on their initial move we can hold a towel or shirt behind him. One of my former players actually came up with this idea on the spot during a training session. We told him to knock the towel out of his partner’s hand, which forced him to drive his arm back in a more aggressive manner. Originally this athlete did not have an aggressive arm action from the start position, preventing him for getting his body turned efficiently. This drill is an exaggerated movement; keep in mind the goal is to get a feel for what his arms should be doing.

Throwing the arms too much can be a bad thing and can cause the runner to over rotate. Make sure to find a good middle ground.

In addition to the actual action of the arms, the hand placement is also important. Longer arms require a greater distance to be traveled which takes up more time. Instead of letting the arms dangle near the knees, try to move the hands to belt level. This shortens the path of the hands, therefore allowing the runner to drive their arms back faster. This will get he body turned in a quicker fashion.

The purpose of these drills is to allow the athlete to feel mistakes and then provide an opportunity to self-correct. When the runner gets out of position the bungee cords will provide instant feedback. The video will provide visual feedback as well. The towel drill forces the athlete to accomplish a movement with the arms that they previously may not have done. The ultimate goal is for the athlete to feel the correct technique for themselves and carry it over into game time situations.

About the Author

David Rak is in his third year as an assistant strength & conditioning coach at the University of Washington. David directly oversees sports performance for Baseball, Men's & Women's Golf, and Men's Tennis. He can be reached at davidrak25@gmail.com.  

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 16

Written on March 10, 2016 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey

With all our Major League Baseball affiliated athletes having left for spring training, things are a bit quieter at Cressey Sports Performance.

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At this time of year, I always like to look back and reflect on the offseason and some of the lessons we've learned. Invariably, it leads to a blog of random thoughts on sports performance training! Here are some things that are rattling around my head right now:

1. Just getting a baseball out of one's hand improves shoulder function - even if an athlete doesn't actually do any arm care or "corrective exercises."

If you look at the glenohumeral joint (ball-and-socket of the shoulder), stability in a given situation is essentially just a function of how well the ball stayed in good congruency with the socket. This congruency is governed by a number of factors, most notably the active function of the scapular stabilizers and rotator cuff. This is what good arm care work is all about.

However, what many folks overlook is that there are both passive (ligamentous) and active (muscular) structures that dramatically influence this congruency. In the throwing shoulder, we're talking predominantly about the inferior, middle, and superior glenohumeral ligaments and long head of the biceps tendon; collectively, the provide anterior (front) stability to the joint so that the ball doesn't fly forward too far in the socket in this position:

layback

These ligaments and biceps tendon are always working hard as superior (top) stabilizers of the joint at this point, especially in someone with a shoulder blade that doesn't upwardly rotate effectively. By the end of a long season, these ligaments are a bit looser and the biceps tendon is often cranky. Good arm care exercises shifts the stress to active restraints (cuff and scapular stabilizers) that can protect these structures.

What often gets overlooked is the fact that simply resting from throwing will improve shoulder function in overhead athletes. When you avoid a "provocative" position and eliminate any possibility of pain, joint function is going to improve. And, ligaments that need to stiffen up are going to be able to do so and offer more passive stability.

shoulder

This is a huge argument in favor of taking time off from throwing at the end of a season. It's effectively "free recovery" and "free functional improvements." Adding good arm care work on top of abstaining from throwing makes the results even better.

*Note: this isn't just a shoulder thing; the ulnar collateral ligament at the elbow can regain some passive stability with time away from throwing as well. 

2. Coaches need to find ways to be more efficient - and shut up more often.

Each year, we start up three intern classes at both the Florida and Massachusetts facilities. As such, we have an opportunity to interact with approximately 30 up-and-coming strength and conditioning coaches. Mentoring these folks is one of my favorite parts of my job - and it has taught me a lot about coaching over the years.

Most interns fall into one of two camps: they either coach too much (the "change the world" mentality) or too little (the "don't want overstep my bounds" mentality). This is an observation - not a criticism - as we have all "been there" ourselves. I, personally, was an over-coacher back in my early strength and conditioning years.

The secret to long-term coaching success is to find a sweet spot in the middle. You have to say enough to create the desired change, but know when to keep quiet so as to not disrupt the fun and continuity of the training process. My experience has been that it's easier to quickly improve the under-coacher, as most folks will develop a little spring in their step when it's pointed out that they're missing things. That adjustment usually puts them right where they need to be.

The over-coacher is a different story, though. It's hard to shut off that "Type A" personality that usually leads someone in this direction. My suggestion to these individuals is always the same, though:

Don't let the game speed up on you. Before you say anything, pause - even take a deep breath, if you need to - and then deliver a CLEAR, CONCISE, and FIRM cue. Try to deliver the important message in 25% as many words as you normally would.

The athletes don't get overwhelmed, but just as importantly, the coach learns what the most efficient cues are. You might talk less, but you actually deliver more.

3. Use the "hands and head together" cue with rollouts and fallouts.

One of the biggest mistakes we'll see with folks when they do stability ball rollouts is that the hands will move forward, but the hips will shoot back. This reduces the challenge to anterior (front) core stability, and can actually drive athletes into too much lumbar extension (lower back arching). By cueing "hand and hips move together," you make sure they're working in sync - and then you just have to coach the athlete to resist the impacts of gravity on the core.

Rollouts

You can apply this same coaching cue to TRX fallouts, too:

kneelingfallout-2

4. Ages 28-30 seems to be a "tipping point" on the crappy nutrition front.

I should preface this point by saying that there is absolutely nothing scientific about this statement; it's just an observation I've made from several conversations with our pro guys over the winter. In other words, it's purely anecdotal, but I'd add that I consider myself one of the "study" subjects.

We all know that many young athletes seem to be able to get away with absolutely anything on the nutrition front. We hear stories about pro athletes who eat fast food twice a day and still succeed at the highest levels in spite of their nutritional practices.

One thing I've noticed is that I hear a lot more observations about "I just didn't feel good today," "my shoulder is cranky," or any of a host of other negative training reports in the days after a holiday. The pro baseball offseason includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve/Day, and Valentine's Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these observations almost always come from guys who are further along in their career - and as I noted, it's something I've felt myself.

If you eat crap, you're going to feel like crap.

Why does it seem to be more prevalent in older athletes? Surely, there are many possible explanations. More experienced athletes are usually more in-tune with their bodies than younger ones. Recovery is a bigger issue as well, so they might not have as much wiggle room with which to work as their younger counterparts. Older athletes also generally have more competing demands - namely kids, and the stress of competing at the highest levels - that might magnify the impacts of poor nutrition.

McD

Above all, though, I think the issue is that many young athletes with poor nutritional practices have no idea what it's like to actually feel good. They might throw 95mph or run a 40 under 4.5 seconds, but they don't actually realize that their nutrition is so bad that they're actually competing at 90-95% of their actual capacity for displaying and sustaining athleticism. It's only later - once they've gotten on board with solid nutrition - that they have something against which they can compare the bad days. 

Again, this is purely a matter of anecdotal observations, but as I've written before, everyone is invincible until they're not. As coaches, it's our job to make athletes realize at a younger age the profound difference solid nutrition can make. We can't just sit around and insist that they'll come around when they're ready, as that "revelation" might be too late for many of them.

Speaking of nutrition, today is the last day to get the early-bird registration discount on Brian St. Pierre's nutrition seminar at Cressey Sports Performance - MA on April 10. Brian is the director of performance nutrition for Precision Nutrition, and is sure to deliver a fantastic learning experience. You can learn more HERE

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/7/16

Written on March 7, 2016 at 6:54 pm, by Eric Cressey

Happy Monday, folks. I hope everyone had a great weekend. We brought our twin daughters to their first MLB game yesterday, and they did surprisingly well, behaving through all nine innings! Hopefully, this momentum carries over into the rest of the week. Here's some good strength and conditioning reading to get the ball rolling: 

How to Prepare to Avoid Early Season Pitching Injuries - I was interviewed for this article by Dan Weigel for Sporting News. The second half of the article ran a few days later: The Dangers of Spring Training

Pump the Brakes on Bashing Higher Education for Fitness Professionals - My business partner, Pete, did a solid job of outlining another perspective on the topic of college education in the fitness industry. These come as follow-ups to my popular articles, Is An Exercise Science Degree Worth It - Part 1 and Part 2

7 Truths About Strength Training - This was an excellent post from Jim Wendler for T-Nation. He hit a lot of nails on the head.

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