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The High Performance Handbook

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5 Strength and Conditioning Exercises that Overdeliver

Written on February 9, 2016 at 7:31 am, by Eric Cressey

With this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite exercises that are included in the program. I like these, in particular, because they're "anti-isolation" exercises. In other words, they deliver multiple training effects to give gym-goers more efficient training outcomes. Keep in mind that just because I don't include classic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts in this discussion doesn't mean that they aren't absolutely fantastic; I just want to give you a little exposure to some different drills in this post.

1. Kettlebell Crosswalk

Because of the asymmetrical loading, you get some great rotary stability work at the core - on top of the anterior core stability work you get from holding a weight overhead while resisting too much arching of your lower back. You get some outstanding shoulder mobility and stability benefits, as getting the top arm up requires a lot of scapular upward rotation and rotator cuff activation. Finally, an overlooked benefit is the opportunity to reaffirm good neck positioning. A lot of athletes will want to shoot into forward head posture, but if you pack the neck correctly, you'll be able to avoid this.

2. Positional Breathing

I use a wide variety of positional breathing drills as part of The High Performance Handbook program, so this is really more of a "category" than a specific exercise. When you put athletes (especially those with more "extended postures) into a more flexion biased position and encourage them to full exhale, you are effectively training both mobility and stability simultaneously. When you exhale, many of the muscles of inhalation - scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, lats, pec minor (not surprisingly all muscles that have chronic tissue density in many individuals) - all are forced to relax. Concurrently, the rectus abdominus and external obliques fire to get air out - and in the process, establish better anterior core stability.

Here are a few examples:

3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL

Whenever I put this in an athlete's program, I go out of my way to warn them that they'll be pretty sore in the days that follow. Lunging and 1-leg RDLs constitute different kinds of single-leg work with different training effects, but when you combine them, you can get the best of both worlds.

This can also be done with one dumbbell at a time. As athletes get more proficient with the drill, I look for more "fluid" transitions, as opposed to a lot of stop-and-go movements.

4. 1-arm KB Turkish Get-up

This one is just too obvious. To do a good get-up, you need everything from a hip hinge, to anterior core control, to shoulder mobility, to single-leg stability.  

 

Not bad for a crafty lefty. #CSPfamily #100lb

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

If you're looking for a great coaching resource on Turkish Get-up Technique, check out Greg Robins' article, 6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes.

5. Combination Mobility Exercises

Let's face it: nobody really enjoys mobility warm-ups. Fortunately, for those of you who dread these drills and prefer to get to the lifting as quickly as possible, there are some combination drills that speed up the process a bit. Check out these two examples from the program:

Wrap-up

If you're looking to learn more about how all these different pieces fit with an overall strength and conditioning program "puzzle," then I'd encourage you to check out my most popular resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off this week, and offers programs versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of training goals.  

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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm TRX Row with Offset Kettlebell Hold

Written on February 2, 2016 at 7:29 pm, by Eric Cressey

We're long overdue for a new installment of my "Exercise of the Week" series, so here's one of my all-time favorite drills. The 1-arm TRX Row with Offset Kettlebell Hold affords all the shoulder health and postural benefits of horizontal pulling, but also trains thoracic (upper back) rotation, and both anterior and rotary core stability. In other words, it delivers some fantastic bang for your training buck. Check it out!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 15

Written on January 27, 2016 at 7:38 pm, by Eric Cressey

This is my first installment of this series since October, so hopefully I can atone for that with a solid January performance. Here goes!

1. On several occasions, I've written that if you are going to include an exercise in a program, you absolutely have to be able to justify how it's going to create the training effect you want. In particularly, this is a question that should be asked constantly during sprinting and agility progressions. The end goal is obviously to (safely) put a lot of force into the ground as quickly as possible to create powerful athletic movements in all three planes of motion. Sometimes, I feel like we get very caught up in just programming drills for the sake of programming drills. There are a million different types of skipping drills, for instance, and we use a lot of them. Athletes certainly ought to be able to skip, but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if making a skip more advanced and elaborate is really going to make an athlete move better. Or, would we be better off devoting that training volume to actual sprint work? There isn't really a "correct" answer to these questions, but I do think it's important to critically analyze our programs to see if the carryover from drills to actual athletic performance is really that good.

2. Earlier today, I was discussing outfield "jumps" with a few of our Cressey Sports Performance clients, including Sam Fuld, an Oakland A's outfielder who is well known for making some pretty crazy plays in center field. We were talking about lower-body movement (hip turn, crossover run, etc.) during the initial break as he reads a ball off a bat, but as we went to actually find some video online, my attention went elsewhere. Check out this play where Sam traveled 58 feet to make a diving catch:

What I noticed was the fact that he never actually got upright. He stayed in acceleration mode the entire time. If you replay the video from above, watch the :08 through :11 second interval. You'll rarely see a player cover more ground in the field.

This is yet another reason why I think a 30-yd (or home-to-first) time is more appropriate for assessing baseball-specific speed than a 60-time. Baseball players rarely get to top speed, whether it's in running the bases or playing the field. And, more importantly, they'd never do it in a straight line. I'm beginning to think that a 60-time is about as useful for a baseball evaluation as the 225lb bench press test is for NFL players...

3. Remember that not all your anterior core work has to be slower tempo drills like rollouts and fallouts, or low-level isometrics like prone bridges. Rather, remember that any time you go overhead while maintaining a neutral spine, you're working to resist excessive extension at your lumbar spine. In other words, overhead med ball drills can be great anterior core progressions - and here's a way to take them to the next level:

4. Resistance bands are awesome on a number of training fronts. They can be used to accommodate the strength curve, making the movements more challenging at the points in the range of motion where we are strongest. They can also be used to deload certain movements at positions where we are weakest.

In sports performance training, though, I'd say that their biggest value is in teaching direction - and subsequently loading it. As an example, I like band-resisted broad jumps because they allow us to produce force in a path that would be challenging to load in any other way. And, we need to produce force in this path during everyday athletic endeavors:

This is an area where Lee Taft really excels. When I watch experienced coaches teaching and coaching, I look for patterns that stand out: strategies that they return to frequently. In his new Certified Speed and Agility Coach course, Lee uses a band a ton to teach direction of force application and create appropriate angles for acceleration. It made me realize that we can get more efficient in some of our coaching strategies by busting out the band a bit more.

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Speaking of Lee, the early-bird $100 discount on his new certification wraps up this Friday at midnight. I'm finishing it up myself and really benefited on a number of fronts - and our entire Cressey Sports Performance staff will be going through the resource as well. You can learn more about the course HERE.

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4 Strategies to Improve Athletes’ Innate Acceleration

Written on January 23, 2016 at 2:39 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Lee Taft, who just released his Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) course.

We often hear or read about coaches and athletes bragging about the “40” time. To be honest, it is an impressive event to see an athlete rip off a 4.3 or better time in the 40. Sensationalism aside, though, a 40-time is probably a lot less important than the ability to travel 10 feet to make a game play.

You see, most court and field sports require athletes to move in such an extreme array of directions in such a short time that training for the 40 needs to have a specific reason (i.e., the combine) for doing so. With that said, I want to share with you my four top strategies for improving an athlete’s innate acceleration. What is so cool about these strategies is they will make a baseball player better at getting an incredible jump when stealing. These techniques will make an infielder snag more broken bat bloopers over their head. Basketball players, soccer athletes, football players, and tennis athletes will also increase their acceleration with the strategies.

So what do I mean by innate acceleration? Well, the body was built with a pretty smart design. It has the ability to feel fear and either attack it or escape from it: the Fight or Flight response. I have learned to tap into this to make my athlete faster. Because this response is innate, all we have to do as coaches is put our athletes in situations that bring out this attack and escape approach. Here are my top four strategies.

#1: Directional Step

The directional step is an “action” more than a strategy by a coach or athlete. It would, however, be considered a strategy the body uses to become more effective at acceleration. Let me explain…

Imagine a baseball player in his “athletic position” that makes up the base stealing stance; he needs to accelerate quickly to the right. The legs each have an important job. The backside leg has the job of pushing the center of mass of the body in the direction of travel (laterally). While this pushing of the body is occurring, the front side has an awesome opportunity to take advantage of the moving mass. It knows the best way to keep the mass moving (accelerating) is to push down and back under the body. By doing so, the front leg can continue to accelerate the mass of the body. This is where the “Directional Step” comes into play.

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If the body wants to push down and back, it makes sense to the neuromuscular system to use the posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, calves) to do so. The creative strategy devised by the body is to have the lead foot turn out so that it is facing the direction of travel. This, in essence, allows the athlete to be like a sprinter coming out of the blocks: pushing down and back with that powerful lead leg. What a great strategy!

To take it a bit deeper so that you understand the reason the Directional Step matters, let’s consider what the action really is. When the body wants to accelerate from a lateral stance to a linear run (base stealing jump) the external rotation of the lead leg to turn the foot toward second base actually aids in the pushing action by the back leg; it is called “action-reaction.” So, when the lead leg turns out (an action) there is a force that goes back into the back leg while it is still on the ground (reaction). To make a long story short, the Directional Step is a really great innate strategy by the body to become quicker.

Try this:

Have a partner stand in front of you prepared to point either to your right or left. When they do point, you are going to turn and accelerate for 10 yards in that direction. Do this 6-8 times so you can build on your ability to accelerate, using a Directional Step, out of an athletic stance to your right or left.

#2: Hip Turn

The Hip Turn is a great strategy the body has given athletes. That said, some athletes aren’t very proficient or smooth with it. Fortunately, with some corrective approaches and drills we can fix that. The Hip Turn is a way for the athlete to get out of an athletic stance (a parallel stance, like an infielder or tennis player) quickly and retreat or move away from the direction they were facing.

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In basketball, coaches often teach pivoting. The problem with pivoting is that it requires friction as the foot turns while in contact with the ground; this is not good for quickness. Luckily, the body once again has this innate ability to make the athlete perform escape or attack movements quicker. During the Hip Turn, the feet lift ever-so-slightly off the ground and the hips and legs turn quickly in the air in order to allow the backside leg to push down and away into the surface. It’s important to recognize that the athlete does not elevate his or her body; rather, the hips and legs simply rotate as they clear the ground contact. Imagine a tennis player turning quickly to chase down a lob over their head. The action they use is a Hip Turn to get into acceleration after the ball.

Basically, the Hip Turn is a way for the athlete to get their legs and feet into a better acceleration angle. This is a great built-in strategy by the body, as when the hips and leg whip around, the back leg actually starts the extension “pushing” just before it hits the ground. There is a resulting impulse or stretch reflex of the muscles that allows the athlete to start accelerating quicker. Again, the rear leg/foot is actively driving into the ground; this causes a “plyometric” response and greater starting speed.

Try this:

Have your partner stand roughly 12 feet behind you, holding a tennis ball out to the side at shoulder height. You will be standing in an athletic stance, but facing away from your partner. Your partner will yell “GO” and drop the ball at the same time. You must react and accelerate after the ball and catch it before it bounces twice. This drill is a great drill for refining and improving the Hip Turn and acceleration. Perform it 5-6 times turning to the right and left.

#3: Crossover Run

As a kid, did you ever hear your coach yell; “Don’t cross your feet when you move laterally!” If so, they were pretty much wrong in telling you that. Athletes don’t actually cross their feet; they simply turn their hips and run with the lower body and shuffle with the upper body.

What does this mean? Let’s consider a basketball player or a baseball infielder having to shuffle to the right to make a defensive play. If the ball is moving at a speed where the defender can use the shuffle to make the play, it should be used. However, if the ball is moving at a speed and distance that won’t allow the athlete to use a shuffle, the Crossover Run will naturally be used. This techniques is so much faster, yet allows the athlete to keep the head and shoulders somewhat oriented to the ball or the play in front of them. This is why I say the Crossover Run is a run with the lower body and a shuffle with the upper.

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The reason I say this is an innate movement is because athletes instinctively perform the crossover action immediately upon the perception of the speed of the play and the distance that must be traveled.

Try this:

Have a partner stand 10-15 feet in front of you with a tennis ball in hand. You are facing your partner and in an athletic stance. The partner is going to toss the ball up in the air, but to the right or left of you so that you have to move to catch it. The rule is you must shuffle when at all possible to catch the ball. However, if you perceive the ball is out of range for a shuffle to get the job done, then a Crossover Run is allowed. You’ll likely be amazed at how you will naturally do it anyway when it is out of reach. Perform 10-15 times, mixing up the direction to which you move.

#4: Linear Repositioning Step (Plyo Step)

I can still hear my high school football coach yelling at us for taking what he called a “False Step.” A False Step by most people is when an athlete takes a step backwards before moving forward. This action occurs in virtually all sports where the athletes have to react and move in a straight forward or angled movement. What has boggled my mind over the years is in spite of the fact that athletes very commonly take this step, very few coaches have bothered to ask, “why are they taking this step?” Let me explain…

Going back to our fight or flight survival response we are designed to move quickly to attack or escape. In order for this response to be realized into fast acceleration, the body must have proper alignment to do so. In order to accelerate, we must push the ground away from the direction of travel. When an athlete is in an athletic stance, the feet are directly under the center of mass – which, unfortunately, is not a great position from which to accelerate. We need the push-off foot to be behind the body. Well, when a stimulus occurs and the athlete reacts and now knows the direction of travel, one foot will instinctively reposition in order to create a proper angle of force application into the ground. I call this a Plyo Step.

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The Plyo Step or Repositioning Step occurs not only to have a better and immediate angle with which to push, but also to give an impulse or stretch reflex to the neuromuscular system. This makes the ground contact time quicker and more explosive.

This directly competes with the idea of a false step being problematic. There is a reason the body repositions the feet upon a quick recognition to accelerate: it needs a more efficient acceleration angle and quicker ground reaction time once the foot strikes the ground.

Try this:

Stand side-by-side in an athletic parallel stance with your partner. Your partner and you are going to race for 10 yards to see who wins. Your partner is the one who says “GO.” When he or she says “GO,” you both are taking off and racing. Because you don’t know exactly when you are moving, you will most likely take a Plyo Step – and so will your partner. Perform this 6-8 times.

Wrap-up

Because athletes are designed to move quickly, I use drills to bring out the innate abilities they already have. This strategy has allowed me to polish the mechanics and postures they use while making them accelerate quicker.

Note from EC: If you're looking to learn more about Lee's approach to programming and coaching speed and agility work, I highly recommend his Certified Speed and Agility Coach course. I'm finishing it up now myself, and the information has been top notch. It's on sale at an introductory $100 off price through Friday, January 29. You can learn more HERE

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When Do Strength and Conditioning and Fitness Certifications Really Matter?

Written on January 18, 2016 at 8:13 am, by Eric Cressey

It's a question I get all the time:

Is this certification worth it?

Unfortunately, while it is a seemingly simple question, the answer is far from simple. Not all certifications are created equal, and not all trainers, rehabilitation specialists, and strength and conditioning coaches have similar educational needs, certification requirements, and target populations.

Given that each scenario is unique, I'll do my best to give you multiple perspectives in the paragraphs that follow.

First, I'll speak from an employer's perspective. You absolutely, positively need a certification to get your foot in the door in this industry. It's a baseline requirement. Sure, some are better than others, but I would never consider actually hiring someone who didn't have a certification. That's not to say, however, that having multiple certifications makes you a more qualified candidate. Nobody likes that person who have 14 certifications and the resulting "alphabet soup" after his/her name. One certification might very well be enough.

Second, putting myself in potential clients' shoes, they really don't know the differences among NSCA-CSCS, NASM-CPT, QRSTUV, ASAP, and R2-D2. There isn't a certifying body out there who spends enough money and time marketing to the masses to educate them that one certification makes for a better personal trainer than others. It's like me trying to figure out what makes one architect better than another if you just throw a bunch of initials after their names; I'd have no clue. Potential clients turn into actual clients because they've perceived your expertise in some fashion - e.g., word-of-mouth from another client, reading an article, chatting with you, observing a training session, etc. - but it rarely has to do with them becoming familiar with what certification you have.

Third, and most importantly, I'll speak from my own experience. When it comes to certifications, the only questions I ask are:

1. Will this experience provide me with specific information I wouldn't otherwise have?

2. Will this experience provide information I can immediately apply in my interaction with my clients and staff?

3. Is the experience delivered by one of the best in the experience? Can these individuals speak from perspective? Or, are they academics who haven't worked with an actual human in years?

In other words, I'll do a certification for the knowledge, not for the resume building. And, I want to make sure there are practical strategies that have been implemented in the trenches, not in a magical theoretical paradigm.

This is what Dr. John Berardi and his team delivers with the Precision Nutrition Certification. It's what we've worked hard to deliver with our Elite Baseball Mentorships (even though it's not a certification).

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And, most recently, it's what Lee Taft has done with his Certified Speed and Agility Coach (CSAC) offering. I'm actually going through the course myself right now, as Lee actually filmed it at Cressey Sports Performance and I got a sneak preview. To say that it's excellent would be an understatement, and we're actually implementing it as part of our staff training curriculum; all CSP coaches will be CSAC by the end of the spring. I really couldn't care less about the initials, though; it's about getting quality information from a guy who has dedicated the last 25 years of his life to teaching speed and agility to athletes from all different sporting disciplines. This program "correctly" answers all three of my questions from above, and that's why it's a go in my eyes.

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Registration for Lee's new certification actually opens today at an introductory $100 off discount, and it'll only stay open for 12 days. If you're looking for top notch direction in coaching movement training with your athletes, look no further. You can check it out HERE.

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4 Rules of Posture

Written on January 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Physical Therapist Chris Leib. Enjoy! -EC

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Recently, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the efficacy of the idea of posture and whether attempting to improve it is a useful tactic for decreasing pain. This discussion has been perpetuated by research indicating that there is a surprisingly poor correlation between pain and posture. The evidence seems to be pretty damning on this topic, which raises questions about whether looking at pain as an outcome measure actually makes sense when discussing posture. Moreover, even more basic questions still need to be asked regarding the very definition of posture.

When discussing these inquiries, it’s important to understand that the current research has demonstrated that pain is far more complex than previously thought, and that a single model of physiological stress will not be sufficient to demonstrate why some people experience pain and some do not. A discussion of pain science is too complicated to be brushed over in the present discussion; however, it must be understood:

Just because proper posture hasn’t been highly correlated with pain doesn’t mean it’s not important.

When looking deeper into the studies cited above, it becomes clear that there is not a consensus definition of posture. Instead of looking at the constantly changing nature of posture, many of these studies defined posture by using various markers of static structure. Taking this fact into consideration, one must ask the following question: If no agreement is reached as to what proper posture is, how can it be well studied?

In my experience over the past decade as both a strength and conditioning professional and physical therapist, my own definition of proper posture has evolved considerably. Utilizing these years of clinical experience and the current research, I would like to set forth the following 4 Rules of Posture.

Rule #1: Posture May Not Cause Pain, But Improving Posture Can Help to Decrease Pain.

Although there is poor evidence that various definitions of poor posture are associated with increased pain, it’s obvious through clinical assessment that a change in posture can decrease pain when it is present. Go to any physical therapy clinic and you will find patients in pain getting education regarding postural changes that improve their symptoms on the spot. Pain can be a great indicator of what the body feels is a stable position. Often, immediate positive changes are made just by getting the person into a different position.

A common example is the individual with neck pain who has pain when sitting slouched with his or her head forward. Frequently, a combination of education and ergonomic adjustment can abolish this excruciating pain in shorter order. Now, this isn’t to say that the quick fix always “cures” the problem, but it does gives the person more feelings of control over making change with regard to their pain, which actually goes a long way. This sense of control has been demonstrated to be a positive indicator of recovery from and the ability to cope with chronic pain .

Rule #1 is the only rule in which we’ll discuss pain. As I noted, the research on pain indicates that the science is far too complex to discuss isolated associations. Clinically, pain can be a good feedback indicator of postures and positions that a person’s body finds unsafe. This feedback helps determine the best positions for the person to train in and, with time, adopt.

The subsequent three rules will discuss posture in relation to functional and physical performance-based movement quality.

Rule #2: Support Yourself Actively and Passively.

This rule will illustrate the difference between passive and active postural stability, as well as the appropriate balance that’s needed between the two. Let’s get some definitions out of the way first.

Generally speaking, passive stability is using something other than balanced muscular effort to adopt and maintain a desired position. Passive stability can either be anatomical or external in nature. Anatomical passive stability utilizes one’s passive stability structures such as joint capsules, cartilage, and ligaments to find stability in a position, while external passive stability utilizes an external item for extra support when attempting to maintain a position. When dealing with passive stability of any type, the common denominator is finding a stable position while decreasing relative muscular effort.

Active postural stability, on the other hand, refers to the use of muscles to maintain a desired position. In order to optimize muscle activity during static and dynamic postures, the attachments of the muscles must be positioned so that the muscles contract in a balanced way. In addition, the position should minimize energy expenditure against the pull of gravity.

For clarification on how best to determine optimal positioning based on the above definitions, let’s illustrate a common static and dynamic example.

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

No matter what, this common static position will never be ideal for postural stability due to the severe muscle imbalances inherent to sitting with your hips and knees in 90 degrees of flexion. However, sitting with the head and shoulders substantially in front of the line of gravity makes a bad situation even worse. The further forward the head and shoulders travel out in front of this line, the more effort the muscles that hold up the head and trunk must exert. More importantly, because the muscles in this case are overstretched and in a poor position to function in a balanced way, less resilient structures such as ligaments and joint capsules/cartilages are forced to pick up the slack.

Thus, the most optimal default position in sitting is the one that minimizes the effort of your muscles and stress to your other more passive structures by allowing the head and shoulders to balance effortlessly in the line of gravity. (Feel free to take this opportunity to observe your own posture. Are your head and shoulders neatly stacked or forward like the pass from the 2000 Music City Miracle?)

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ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

In this dynamic example, the muscles of the hips, lower back, abdomen, and thorax will be in the most balanced position to lift the load when the pelvis is in a neutral position. That is to say, the lower back should neither be flexed nor extended. In this position, the muscles of the lower back are well balanced with that of the abdomen, and the hip extensors have a better opportunity to contract during the lift.

If the lift were initiated with the lower spine in an extended position, the position can still indeed be stable; however, the stability would come from passive anatomical structures such as the lumbar facet joints and ligaments of the anterior spine. This position increases compressive forces to the lower back and decreases the contractile ability of both the abdominals and hip extensors, as both of these muscle groups are now in an over-lengthened position.

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Therefore, the optimal position for the dynamic movement of deadlifting is the one that allows for the hip/trunk flexors and hip/trunk extensors to work in the most balanced fashion (see video below). Moreover, setting up the movement and transitioning the bar in such a way that the load stays as close to the body as possible minimizes the downward pulling effects from gravity much like the head and shoulders staying over the midline of the body in the previous sitting example.

When attempting to understand how best to balance active and passive stability within a specific task, we must take into consideration four factors: (1) the available tissue mobility in order to get into the position required; (2) the external objects manipulated or used for positioning; (3) the duration of the task; (4) the intensity of the task.

Let’s return once again to our two examples:

i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair

For static sitting, we must first assess ranges of motion like thoracic extension, shoulder internal/external rotation, and scapular retraction/depression/posterior tilt. In doing so, we’re able to determine whether the desired position can be assumed without pain or excessive compensatory muscle effort. Moreover, we must know the type of seat the client will be utilizing and what activities he or she will be doing while sitting (i.e. typing, driving, etc.).

In terms of duration and intensity, sitting will typically fall under the category of a low intensity activity done for long durations. The longer the duration, the more muscular endurance necessary to maintain a desired position. If any of the above factors are not optimal, external passive support in the form of a lumbar cushion, posture shirt, or corrective tape may be necessary to enable the client to attain a more favorable posture without excessive effort.

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(Passively elevating the hips to decrease the effort to maintain an upright torso)

ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground

With deadlifting, mobility limitations in the hips and trunk can often limit an individual’s ability to adopt and maintain the optimal stable position described above. In addition, the intensity of the load or duration of the set must not exceed the amount of muscular force the individual is able to generate, or else even a solid initial position will be lost.

In cases where mobility restrictions are a limiting factor, passive support can come in the form of apparatuses that decrease the range of motion of the movement (i.e. elevating the load onto blocks or a rack). When approaching maximal loads or durations, passive support may take the form of stability belts and braces in areas most susceptible to positional failure.

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3. Posture is the Product of Your Movement Variability.

Posture is often discussed as a single static element that represents one’s lack of mindfulness or genetic misfortune. Clinical experience and the current scientific literature say this belief is not only wrong, but also a harmful notion to the process of making postural change. One shouldn’t feel guilty or unfortunate that he or she is demonstrating an unskillful posture. Instead, there should be an understanding that posture is not a single static entity, but rather task dependent and constantly changing.

The secret to good posture is that you shouldn’t need to work for it when you are at rest. You see, your static postures during sitting, standing, and walking are a product of your cumulative movement throughout the day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the positions and activities we take on most frequently. If any of these positions and activities are done is excess, all our positions and movement can become imbalanced. This imbalance is what is deemed by many as poor posture, but in reality it is just the body doing what it does best: adapting.

In order to prevent postural imbalances, it is unwise to attempt to simply make ergonomic adjustments to the positions we sustain too frequently. Instead, we must consider our whole body of movement throughout the day. If we focus on proper positioning in training, it will inevitably transfer to our static postures. In this way, programming for any strength, conditioning, or fitness routine must involve a strong focus on developing positions that promote muscular balance (active postural stability) and task transference, as opposed to simply task completion.

For example, there are many ways to push yourself up from the ground when doing a push-up, but there are positioning subtleties that can either promote balanced muscular stability or feed habits of chronic positioning that we already practice too frequently throughout the day (see video below). Thus, an individual’s movement practice should be about movement quality and variability as much as about cultivating strength and conditioning.

Mindless prescription of physical activity (i.e. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises; 3 sets of 10 of machine based resistance exercise) prioritizes strength and conditioning capacity over movement capability and variability, hoping that by blindly improving one’s quantity of routine movements the quality of movement will also improve. Don’t get me wrong, in moderation, more movement is better than less movement. However, too much of the same movements can create similar problems as too little movement.

4. Counterbalance Your Life.

The idea of increasing movement quality and variability goes way beyond one’s time at the gym. To allow for increased ease of active postural stability, the common patterns of one’s entire day need to be understood so that behavioral change can be implemented. This is not to say that if we sit all day at work then we need to get a new job. That’s just not practical. Nor does it mean that we must be obsessed with maintaining an upright posture or “drawing our abdomens in” all day long. It simply calls for awareness — awareness of the positions that are most frequently adopted and strategies for counterbalancing them.

Guidelines for this awareness are three-fold:

i. Understand the chronic positions you adopt.

Often postural counterbalances are subtle and developing improved body awareness becomes much more important than simply adjusting your position. This improved body education can come in many forms, such as independent reading on anatomy and physiology, advice from a movement professional, or cultivation of a versatile movement practice as discussed above. It’s important to know that ultimately YOU have the best opportunity to understand your own body. It can be a gradual process to refine this body awareness, but once developed, understanding the positions and movements that are healthy versus harmful to your specific body becomes much easier.

ii. Separate times you must be stationary and times you choose to be stationary.

It’s important to have a plan of attack for positioning throughout your day. Practically speaking, if you sit all day at work, acknowledge it, and then minimize the time you sit when in the comfort of your home. Likewise, if you are on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to spend some time vegging out on the couch. One stationary position is not necessarily better than the other (i.e. standing is not better than sitting). It’s the one that you do most frequently that will usually lead to problems.

iii. Expand your positional repertoire.

When attempting to adopt positions different from those in which you are most comfortable, it is important to have other positions at your disposal. For example, sitting in a chair is a completely different mechanical stress than sitting cross-legged on the ground, just as standing stationary on two legs is different than weight shifting effortlessly from one leg to the other. Similar to the idea of developing more movement variability in an exercise practice, it’s important that you’re able to adopt positions besides those you do most frequently. This may be another area where the help of a movement professional is necessary so that you can become comfortable with the mobility and stability necessary to adopt different variations of sitting and standing positions.

See the video playlist below regarding positional variations for sitting (chair and ground) and standing:

In conclusion, there is plenty of disagreement and misunderstanding around the topic of posture. In my experience, this controversy is unnecessary and overblown. Any respectable strength and conditioning professional would agree that proper positioning and technique is vital when undertaking various movements in a strength and conditioning program. Why should the importance of positioning be any different in our movements throughout the day? We must understand that our bodies are constantly changing; therefore, posture should be viewed as a dynamic, ever-changing journey — not a fixed destination. Hopefully the 4 Rules of Posture set forth above allow you to better understand how to embrace this journey!

About the Author

Chris Leib of MovementProfessional.com is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with nearly a decade of experience in treating movement dysfunctions and enhancing human performance. He has written for many popular training and rehabilitation websites, and has a versatile movement background with a variety of certifications as both a physical therapist and fitness professional. Chris considers physical activity a vital process to being a complete human being and is passionate about helping others maximize their movement potential. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

A special thanks to Travis Pollen of www.FitnessPollenator.com for his help with this article.

References

1. Grundy, Roberts (1984) Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet. 1984 Aug 4;2(8397):256-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6146810

2. Pope, M., Bevins, T., Wilder, D., & Frymoyer, J. (1985). The Relationship Between Anthropometric, Postural, Muscular, and Mobility Characteristics of Males Ages 18-55. Spine, 644-648. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4071274

3. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. (2006). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal Eur Spine J, 669-678. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2213543/

4. Nourbakhsh, M., & Arab, A. (2002). Relationship Between Mechanical Factors and Incidence of Low Back Pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 447-460. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12322811

5. Dieck, G., Kelsey, J., Goel, V., Panjabi, M., Walter, S., & Laprade, M. (1985). An Epidemiologic Study of the Relationship Between Postural Asymmetry in the Teen Years and Subsequent Back and Neck Pain. Spine, 872-877. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2938272

6. Franklin, M., & Conner-Kerr, T. (1988). An Analysis of Posture and Back Pain in the First and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 133-138. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9742469

7. Lederman, E. (2010). The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 131-138. http://www.cpdo.net/Lederman_The_fall_of_the_postural-structural-biomechanical_model.pdf

8. Christensen, S., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal Curves and Health: A Systematic Critical Review of the Epidemiological Literature Dealing With Associations Between Sagittal Spinal Curves and Health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 690-714. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19028253

9. Evidence-Base for Explain Pain, Second Edition. (n.d). Retrieved October 2, 2015. http://www.noigroup.com/documents/noi_explain_pain_2nd_edn_evidence_base_0813.pdf

10. Control, culture and chronic pain. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0277953694900205

11. Garber, C., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M., Franklin, B., Lamonte, M., Lee, I., Swain, D. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1334-1359. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx


Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/13/16

Written on January 13, 2016 at 3:34 am, by Eric Cressey

Here's a bit of recommended strength and conditioning reading to get you over "Hump Day:"

Is There a Recipe for a Great Gym Culture? - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, speaks to how the culture at CSP-Mass has evolved over the years, and how you can take the lessons we've learned and apply it to your unique training facility. 

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The Do and Don't of Coaching - This was an excellent post on a wide variety of important coaching points from Mike Robertson.

Weekly Meal Prep: Mastered - Dr. John Berardi presents a great infographic for those looking to plan their nutrition effectively. I love Precision Nutrition because they are all about specific, actionable items, as opposed to just handing out diet plans and simply telling people to follow them.

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Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

Written on January 10, 2016 at 8:11 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw. 

As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they've done it previously while playing defense in basketball. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).

Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavors. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.

It's foolish to think, however, that every individual we encounter in personal training, strength and conditioning, or rehabilitation settings will have this broad foundation of context from which to draw. This is where appropriate training progressions become so important. You select exercises with which individuals can be successful not only to build confidence and achieve a training effect, but also to establish context for further progressions.

As an example, if you want to be able to do a quality lateral lunge with overhead reach as part of your warm-up, you've got to be able to string together several movement proficiencies: full shoulder flexion range-of-motion; sufficient thoracic extension and scapular posterior tilt/upward rotation; hip adductor range of motion; hip hinge proficiency; and good stiffness in your anterior core and deep neck flexors to prevent low back arching and forward head posture, respectively.

When I'm teaching this pattern for the first time, I'll always say, "It's just like your back-to-wall shoulder flexion, but with a long lunge to the side."

Back-to-wall shoulder flexion is big-time "context creator" for me because I can teach it to just about anyone really quickly. In fact, I've taught it to seminars with 100+ people without many challenges. More importantly, it creates quality movement from the core all the way up (five of the seven movement prerequisites I noted earlier) - and that has big payoffs later on when one wants to teach anything from a push-up, to a landmine press, to a snatch, to an overhead medicine ball variation.

 

 

#Orioles prospect Will Shepley with a little controlled chaos during this morning's pro crew. #cspfamily #medicineball

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

A lot of folks will read this article and think, "But these is just common sense progressions." I'd agree. However, as we've learned in recent years, in the world of larger group training without individualized programming, common sense isn't so common anymore - and as a result, folks wind up skipping steps and advancing to exercise for which they aren't ready. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, being able to effectively sequence coaching progressions will, in my opinion, become even more important in the years ahead. With the trend of early sports specialization, we're getting "less athletic athletes;" they don't have as much context in place, and wind up having to back-track. Additionally, we have an increasingly sedentary society, which certainly robs individuals of context.

All that said, just remember that if you want to have an exercise in your program, you have to think about how you're going to coach it with all the individuals that may come your way. And, that coaching might involve devising some exercise regressions that build context from which to draw.

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The Best of 2015: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on December 27, 2015 at 7:29 pm, by Eric Cressey

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 2015 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 the MLB Draft, to our gold medal win in the 18U Baseball World Cup, to books and DVDs I covered.    

Installment 9
Installment 10
Installment 11
Installment 12
Installment 13
Installment 14

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

This coaching series has appeal for fitness professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and exercise enthusiasts alike.

Installment 10
Installment 11
Installment 12
Installment 13

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3. Strength Strategies

We're only two updates in on this series from Greg Robins, but it's been a big hit thus far.

Installment 1
Installment 2

The Best of 2015 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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The Best of 2015: Guest Posts

Written on December 26, 2015 at 6:54 am, by Eric Cressey

I've already highlighted the top articles and videos I put out at EricCressey.com in 2015, so now it's time for the top guest posts of the year. Here goes… 

1. 3 Reasons Powerlifting Beginners Should Train More Frequently - Greg Robins wrote this article about two months ago, but I wish he'd done is ten years ago, as it could have really helped me when I was starting out with my powerlifting career!

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2. 7 Ways to Optimize a Young Athlete's First Day in the Gym - Former CSP intern John O'Neil discusses many key points for bringing a young athlete into the training fold the right way.

3. 5 Lessons Learned From Training Those With Low Back Pain - Dean Somerset offers a very insightful piece on improving function in those with lower back pain.

4. How to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation - John O'Neil makes his second appearance on the list, again with a piece on training young athletes.

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5. How to Stand Out in a Crowded Fitness Industry - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, writes about what distinguishes successful fitness businesses and highlights a case study to make his point.

I'll be back soon with the top strength and conditioning features from 2015.

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