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Strength Exercise of the Week: The Z Press

Written on April 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's Exercise of the Week guest post comes from Lee Boyce.

We all know the benefits of overhead pressing. As long as the shoulder girdle is in an acceptable position to handle them, they’re worth their weight in gold for health, strength, and mobility – when performed correctly. Many lifters and athletes find strength improvements on a typical standing overhead presses stall out because of the compensatory mechanisms that enter the lift as the loading increases. Specifically, poor core control can lend to an overarched position that causes much more lumbar spine stress than the exercise should ideally produce.

This usually becomes present to a certain degree, even with what most would consider “good form” when pressing. In the video below, I was quite happy with this technique, but nevertheless, a heavy press shows that some lumbar extension is unavoidable, despite plenty of pressing strength left in the tank.

The solution to this issue is simple. Instead of backing off on overhead pressing, a better idea would be to start training the lift by eliminating the lower body from the equation using the Z Press. This fixes the pelvic position and kills the chances for any shifting of the hips, thus locking the spine into a neutral position. There’s an added benefit to this. Using this setup makes it incredibly difficult to perform reps with poor form – if you lean back too far to compensate, you’ll lose balance since your feet aren’t planted. If you slouch, the bar will go straight down.

The Z Press asks for good mobility as a prerequisite. Trying a Z press may expose shoulder mobility issues a lifter wasn’t aware he had. For many, it’s difficult to load the bar over the spine at full lockout, while keeping the spine neutral. To get the bar to the proper position in space, the hips may drift forward, or the spine may extend.

One other benefit of the Z press is enforcing the correct rhythm to be used when performing reps of a standing barbell press. Knowing when to flare the elbows, and when to time the “head through” position is important. This timing is really put to the test with the Z Press since there’s no pelvic adjustment or leg drive that can be used to “save” the lift. For a live-action demonstration, check out the video below.

Coaching Cues

1. Set the pins in the squat cage just below shoulder level. There shouldn’t be more than 6 inches between where it rests and your starting position. That’ll make it easy to pick up and drop off while in position.

2. Set your feet according to your hip anatomy and mobility. A wider leg width may be good for someone with structural hip limitations, while those with stellar mobility will feel better with a narrower stance. Be sure the set-up you choose enables you to maintain a neutral spine position.

3. Remember to sit tall. Assume that your typical overhead pressing posture will be tough to pull off from a seated position with the legs in front of you. Overemphasize sitting tall, and you’ll be in the right place.

4. Once the bar clears the forehead, push your head and chest “through the window” as best you can. This will put the spine under the bar and load it correctly over the body. Achieve a full lockout at the top.

5. Don’t be afraid to let the elbows flare out in the final 1/3 of the movement.

6. Many people won’t have the mobility to maintain upright posture while sitting flat on the ground. To regress this movement, sit on a step platform or bumper plate to start. The slightly larger hip angle will help keep the spine upright. If you watch my video again, you’ll see I’m sitting on a 1” rubber mat, which is just what I need to perfect my form at this time. Your end goal should still be to reach the floor.

7. If you have shoulder issues barbell pressing, then feel free to modify this movement by performing it with a neutral grip and dumbbells.

8. Just because your lower body is out of the picture, it doesn’t mean the hips aren’t involved. The hip flexors usually work hard to stabilize the pelvis through the movement, and chances are they’ll feel worked and tight by the end of your workout. Release and stretch them before and after.

About the Author

Lee Boyce (@CoachLeeBoyce) is a strength coach, writer, and former collegiate level sprinter and long jumper. In 2013, he was named to the training and treatment staff for Team Jamaica at the Penn Relays. He’s regularly featured in the largest fitness publications as a writer. Visit his website at www.LeeBoyceTraining.com or check him out on Facebook.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/23/16

Written on April 23, 2016 at 5:16 am, by Eric Cressey

It's a rainy Saturday morning, so what better way to overcome the weather than to check out some good reading material? Here's some excellent stuff I've come across lately:

4 Reasons Fitness Professionals Must Understand Corrective Exercise and Post-Rehab Training - I wrote up this post a few years ago, but wanted to bring it back to the forefront in light of the fact that Dean Somerset put his excellent resource, Post-Rehab Essentials, on sale for $50 off through the end of the weekend.

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"Because My Boss Sucks" is a Sh**ty Reason to Open Your Own Gym - The title is a bit aggressive, but my business partner, Pete Dupuis, wrote up a great post for all the fitness professionals out there who are considering opening their own facilities. 

Scaling Up Excellence - I finished up this excellent book by Robert Sutton on my drive back to Massachusetts last weekend. It's targeted toward managing growth of businesses, but has a ton of invaluable messages for coaches, too.

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I've also decided to start including my top Tweet and Instagram posts of the week in this weekly feature. Here they are:

 

Top Tweet:

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Top Instagram Post:

Have a great weekend!

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10 Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success

Written on April 14, 2016 at 7:57 am, by Eric Cressey

With my presentation tomorrow in Charlotte, I'll be kicking off my tenth year of speaking on the Perform Better Tour. It's hard to believe that I've been a part of this great experience for a decade now, having given my first presentation back in 2007 at age 25. To "commemorate" this event, I decided to entitle this year's talk, "10 Years, 10 Lessons: How to Perform Better in Business and Training."

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In the ten years I've had the honor of presenting on the PB Tour, a lot has changed in my life. I've gone from a single guy with minimal responsibilities to a married father of 16-month-old twin daughters. We have Cressey Sports Performance facilities in both Hudson, MA and Jupiter, FL, and my wife and I split our year between the two. We've got more than a dozen employees between the two locations. I've written six books, co-created six DVD sets, and lectured in six countries and 22 U.S. states. This website now gets over 400,000 unique visitors each month.

I mention these things not to brag, but only to emphasize that I've learned a ton in the past decade. Unfortunately, it's far too much to include in a single 75-minute presentation, so there were some important points that I couldn't include. With that in mind, I thought a quick blog on the topic would allow me to bring things to the forefront. Since EricCressey.com typically sticks to the training realm, I wanted to highlight some fitness business lessons that have come to mind that didn't quite make the cut for my presentation.

1. There are tremendous parallels among business, sports, and military success.

Whether it's leadership or culture lessons, we always have something to gain in seeking out wisdom from other disciplines. I always have an audiobook "in play" on this front. Success leaves clues, regardless of the industry in which it occurs. 

If you're looking for a great book in this regard, I'd recommend Extreme Ownership.

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2. Contrarians falter eventually - even if they don't realize it.

Particularly in this social media era, you'll see people who always insist on being contrarians. To me, this is a "short-term gain, long-term pain" strategy for professional success (or lack thereof). Being a "renegade" may seem appealing for garnering attention in the short term, but over the long haul, it'll lead to a lot of broken relationships and dissatisfaction.

I spend a LOT of time withholding what I'd really like to say on social media because you never know who is reading and judging. It's easy to say "I got this many retweets for ranting about XYZ," but it's impossible to quantify bridges burned in the process. How many people chose to avoid training with you because you came across as too negative on social media? You'll really never know. To that end, I think that professional restraint has served me very well. I'd much rather be vanilla and get along with everyone.

3. You can change behaviors or beliefs, but it's very rare feat to change both.

You're better off picking one. I first read this in Robert Sutton's Scaling Up Excellence, and as I thought back on my work with both employees and clients, it couldn't have possibly made any more sense.

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If someone is very set in their beliefs (e.g., I won't change my diet), you need to change the surroundings to impact their behaviors (e.g., get junk food out of the house). Make it harder for them to eat like crap.

If someone is set in their behaviors (e.g., lifting with brutal technique), you have to change their beliefs (e.g., teach them what good technique actually is). Make it harder for them to "accept" lifting like crap.

4. Clients want novelty.

No matter how much we've all convinced ourselves that clients simply need the basics, the truth is that they'll always be inclined to seek out novelty. With that in mind, if you don't plan to create it in your training programs, you better create it in your training atmosphere and culture.

5. It's much easier to spend other people's money than it is to spend your own.

This is my response when people ask me whether I think it's a good idea to bring on investors or bank loans when starting a fitness industry. When someone else is throwing in the cash, it's pretty tempting to buy 17 different kinds of leg curl machines when you probably don't even need one.

Think long and hard about whether you need every single dollar you spend when you open a gym.

6. I'm not sure that I buy the "10,000 Hour to Mastery" rule.

Malcolm Gladwell first introduced the 10,000 Hour Rule in his best-seller, Outliers. The premise was pretty simple: those who were remarkably successful in their fields had accumulated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to attain a level of mastery.

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As is the case with a number of other people in the field, I'm not so sure about this number anymore. 

First, I know of a lot of people who have 10,000 hours that really haven't done much of it with deep study. There are a lot of people who lead very distracted lives. "Deliberate" practice seems to mean something different to everyone.

Second, I think that fitness business success requires mastery in multiple realms. The chances of you getting sufficient amounts in all of these realms over 10,000 hours are really low. For instance, to build on what Michael Gerber presented in The E-Myth, I'd say that I'm a pretty good technician (coach) and entrepreneur (idea generator), but still have a lot to learn as a manager of people. 

Third, remember that we're in a constantly changing field; new research emerges every single day. Putting in 10,000 hours of archaeology training might make you a fossil expert for life, but in the fitness industry, putting in 10,000 hours early in your career and then getting comfortable makes you the fossil - and really quickly.

7. It's good to know your personality and have others who do, too, to keep things in check.

I'm a giver, an eternal optimist, and an "idea guy."

I have a wife that is quick to tell me when someone is taking advantage of my kindness.

I have a business partner, Pete Dupuis, who slows me down on the ideas front to think things through.

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Having a great network is important, but having people who understand your personality and not just your expertise is invaluable.

8. Be succinct.

In coaching, you want your cues to be clear, concise, and firm. Don't overwhelm clients with too many cues, and don't give a cue unless you can deliver it with 100% confidence.

In networking, don't send long emails, especially if it's a first outreach. In this busy world, nobody wants to read a novel. Attention spans (mine included, admittedly) are growing shorter and shorter with each passing day.

With your resume, don't list every single course that you’ve taken in college. If you include any at all, only highlight the ones that had a profound impact on you or give you a competitive advantage as compared to other applicants. In fact, you're probably better off trimming your whole resume down. Nobody cares that you scooped ice cream for a summer job when you were 13.

9. Solve problems.

Every successful business in any industry solves a problem.

Paypal made currency transfer easier in an era of writing checks and cumbersome bank transfers.

The Diaper Genie eliminated the problem of dirty diapers smelling up the house if you didn't take the trash out every two hours. Don't laugh, it sold for $75 million all the way back in 1999.

Cressey Sports Performance offered innovative baseball-specific strength and conditioning when others didn't; we found a gap in the market and filled it.

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With all this in mind, if there are already three Crossfits in your town, are you really solving a problem by opening the fourth? Unless you're willing to go down the miserable path of competing on price, you better think long and hard about how you're going to differentiate your offering so that you can actually solve a problem that hasn't already been solved.

10. Peers are likely just as important as mentors.

This is a lesson I've learned from watching about nine years worth of Cressey Sports Performance intern classes. Consider our staff the mentors who are doing the teaching, and the interns as peers to each other. The mentor group hasn't changed much, with the exception of some staff expansion and more expertise at the interns' fingertips. The curriculum has evolved to provide more education, and fine tune the way we teach older material.

However, looking back, some intern classes seemed to thrive a little more than others. When you consider all the factors that could impact these outcomes, the one that seems to stand out is the camaraderie among the intern class. If they lived together - or at least spent a lot of time outside the gym together - they seemed to do even better. Peers have a pronounced impact on the way we process information and, just as importantly, how we reflect upon and utilize it.

Looking back on my own early career development, I was really fortunate to have great peers. My collaborative efforts with Mike Robertson in the early 2000s definitely stand out above all else on this front. Mike really pushed me to be better, and I think he'd say that I did the same for him.

Building on this, what becomes even more powerful is when a mentor becomes a peer. Alwyn Cosgrove really took me under his wing about a decade ago, and now that I'm a more seasoned fitness professional and business owner, I can contribute more of value to discussions with Alwyn. Likewise, I find myself reaching out to former interns of mine for advice all the time. And, sometimes we hire them to "formalize" their "peer" status.

As the old saying goes, you're an average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Make sure that it's a good blend of mentors and peers.

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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.

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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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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/1/16

Written on April 1, 2016 at 3:30 am, by Eric Cressey

Happy April Fools' Day! I don't have any clever tricks to play on you, so I'll have to just go with posting good content from around the 'net. Enjoy!

Identifying an Untouched Fitness Niche - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, talks about taking lessons learned in building the CSP baseball niche and applying them to other realms in the fitness industry.

Dry Needling is the Next Big Thing in Physical Therapy - Dr. James Spencer offers a tremendously thorough review of what dry needling is, and how it works. James has been a great resource for many athletes at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida.

7 Priceless Things You'll Learn from the Right Mentor - I loved this article from Krista Scott-Dixon for Precision Nutrition. It parallels some of the great tips on mentorship that Robert Greene covered in Mastery.

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Making the Case for Training in the Post-Surgery Period

Written on March 31, 2016 at 5:59 am, by Eric Cressey

If you were to spend a day at either the MA or FL Cressey Sports Performance location, invariably, you’d see something that might surprise you: athletes training in spite of the fact that they recently had surgery. On a regular basis, we have athletes referred our way after everything from Tommy John surgeries to knee replacements. They may be on crutches, using an ankle boot, in an elbow brace, wearing a shoulder sling, or even rocking a back brace. Working with post-operative athletes has become a big niche for us; we work hand-in-hand with surgeons and rehabilitation specialists to make sure that we deliver a great training effect in spite of these athletes’ short-term limitations.

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Unfortunately, athletes will sometimes run across hyper-protective therapists and doctors who are overly cautious in this period. Certainly, for a period, this is incredibly important, as there are risks of not only the repair being vulnerable to movements and direct pressure, but also it being compromised by infection in the first few weeks. However, in my opinion, it’s absolutely unnecessary to tell an athlete to just take 3-4 months off completely from exercise and instead just “rehab” – and yes, I have heard this before.

With this in mind, I wanted to outline six reasons I think strategically implemented strength and conditioning work in the post-surgery period is incredibly important.

1. It’s important to make an athlete feel like an athlete, not a patient.

There is a different vibe in a physical therapy clinic or training room as compared to a strength and conditioning setting. This isn't intended to be a knock on rehabilitation specialists, but athletes would rather hang out in the latter realm! And, while great therapists make rehabilitation upbeat and keep the athlete's competitive psyche engaged, getting back into the gym affords a big mental boost - a break from their current physical reality - for athletes.

Speaking of mental boosts, I won't even bother to highlight the favorable impacts of exercise on mood and the reduction in risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases. Suffice it to say that there are a ton, and it's important that athletes continue to have these benefits during their rehabilitation period. If you really want to dig deeper, I'd highly recommend this recently published meta-analysis: Exercise as a treatment for depression.

2. Small hinges swing big doors in terms of behaviors.

Most people eat healthier when they train. Whether this is conscious or subconscious is dependent on the individual, but it's something I've seen time and time again.

Likewise, many student athletes perform better in the classroom when exercising regularly, and struggle to stay on task when they’re given too much free time.

What's my point? Effectively, training pushes out certain bad behaviors. Likewise, on a physiological level, it supports better brain activity that makes for more productive members of society.

3. Injuries don’t occur in isolation.

Pitchers don’t just blow out their elbows because of functional deficits at the elbow. Rather, the elbow usually gets thrown under the bus from a collection of physical deficits all along the kinetic chain. As an example, Garrison et al (2013) demonstrated that players with ulnar collateral ligament tears scored significantly worse on the Y-balance test than their healthy peers.

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With this in mind, it would be silly to spend months and months only focusing on rehabilitating the arm to the exclusion of the rest of the body. Unfortunately, physical therapists only have so much time with athletes because of insurance restrictions, so they may not get to these important complementary rehabilitation approaches. This is a great place for a competent strength and conditioning professional to pick up the slack.

4. Training improves body composition, which facilitates a number of favorable outcomes.

It drives me bonkers when I hear about an individual dropping a bunch of muscle mass and gaining substantial body fat during the post-surgery period. This should never happen. 

Just as a healthy body composition will help a grandfather avoid setbacks following a hip replacement, having a good strength-to-body weight ratio will increase the likelihood that a college soccer player will avoid setbacks after a meniscal repair.

These benefits aren't just conferred to weight-bearing scenarios. Remember, obesity is arguably the biggest limitation to diagnostic imaging accuracy. In other words, if you have a setback in your rehabilitation and need an MRI or x-ray, being fatter makes it hard for your radiologist to give you an accurate reading. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

5. Exercise facilitates motor learning improvements.

When rehabbing, you’re trying to acquire new, favorable movement patterns. Research (good reads here and here) has demonstrated improved motor learning when new tasks are introduced alongside exercise (particularly aerobic exercise).

Maintaining a robust aerobic system and solid work capacity makes rehabilitation efforts more effective.

6. Contralateral strength training has carryover to immobilized limbs.

Via a mechanism known as cross-transfer (or cross-education), an untrained limb's performance improves when the opposite limb is trained. As an example, if you have knee surgery on your right leg, but do what you can do to safely train your left leg while your right knee is immobilized, you'll still get carryover to the post-surgery (right) side. It won't do much to attenuate the atrophy of muscle mass on an immobilized limb, but it will absolutely reduce the fall-off in strength, power, and proprioception. Effectively, it's "free rehab" that offers a huge leg up with respect to return to play.

As an aside, research on cross-transer from Hortobagyi et al has demonstrated that the strength carryover seems to be stronger with eccentric exercise, so prioritizing this approach seems to have extra merit.

Some Important Notes

Before I sign off on this one, I should be clear on a few things:

1. Not every trainer and strength and conditioning coach is prepared to take on every injury.

If you’ve never heard the word “spondylolysis,” you shouldn’t be programming for a kid in a back brace. And, if you don’t know the difference between an ulnar nerve transposition and an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, you’re not ready to take on a post-op baseball elbow. Don’t be a cowboy.

2. Effective post-operative training mandates outstanding communication.

You should be speaking on a regular basis with the physical therapist or athletic trainer who is overseeing the rehabilitation plan. They’ll let you know if an athlete is prepared for progressions, and also to help you avoid overlapping with what they do in the rehabilitation sessions. I’d even encourage you to sit in on some of their rehabilitation sessions not only to monitor progress, but also as continuing education.

3. When in doubt, hold athletes back.

One of my graduate school professors, Dr. David Tiberio, once said that physical therapists “should be as aggressive as possible, but do no harm.” I’ll take this a step further and say that fitness professionals conditioning “should be conservative and do no harm” during the rehabilitation process. It’s our job to maintain/improve fitness and facilitate return-to-play, but in no way set back the recovery process. In short, let the rehab folks take all the chances when it comes to progressions.

4. Remember that progressions occur via many avenues.

Progressions don’t just come in terms of exercise selection, but also absolute loading, speed of movement, volume, frequency, duration, and a host of other factors. You need to keep all of them in mind when programming and coaching, as even one factor that is out of whack can set a rehabilitation program back. Additionally, there will be times when stress in one area goes up, which means it must be reduced in another area. As an example, during rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, the stress on the medial elbow increases when an athlete begins throwing at the 4-6 month mark, and many athletes will benefit from a reduction in the amount of gripping they do in their strength training and rehabilitation programs. 

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5. Watch for "accidental" stabilization demands.

Many muscles work reflexively, with the rotator cuff being the absolute best example. After a shoulder surgery, you have to be careful training the opposite side too soon (or with too much loading) because the cuff on the surgery side can turn on reflexively. As the aforementioned cross-transfer effect dictates, it's not as simple as right vs. left training effects; our nervous system governs everything - and in curious ways. 

Wrap-up

I hope that in publishing this article, I made a strong case for the importance of appropriate exercise during the post-surgery period. Remember that what is "appropriate" will be different for each individual, and should be determined via a collaborative effort with input from a surgeon, rehabilitation specialist, strength and conditioning professional, and the athlete. And, it should always be a fluid process that can be progressed or regressed based on how the athlete is doing.

For the fitness professionals out there, if you're looking for more information, here are a few good reads:

4 Reasons You Must Understand Corrective Exercise and Post-Rehab Training
7 Random Thoughts on Corrective Exercise and Post-Rehab Training


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/23/16

Written on March 23, 2016 at 12:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

This will be a light content week at EricCressey.com, as I'm on a "pseudo" vacation. After a few days visiting family in Florida, I'm now out in Arizona checking on some of our guys at Spring Training. The good news is that I've got some friends around the 'Net who have provided some excellent content recently:

Lessons Learned - This is an outstanding post from former US Women's Soccer athlete and gold medalist Lori Lindsey. I was fortunate to work with Lori a bit during her career, and it's awesome to see her doing great things in the fitness industry now that she's retired from soccer.

What Were You Doing a Year Ago Today - Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio authored this excellent post to remind us that progress may not always be linear or rapid, but when you look back, it's progress nonetheless! It's okay to take some time to smell the roses.

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4 Things We Did Before Worrying About Brand Development - My business partner, Pete, just published the other day, and he included some interesting numbers on our early business days. To be honest, I had no idea that our facility was actually in business for 293 days before we had a functioning website. This will be a good read for the fitness business folks out there.

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Building Core Control with “The Bear”

Written on March 18, 2016 at 6:38 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Mike Robertson, who just introduced his new resource, Complete Core Training. It's on sale through the end of the day today, and Mike gives you a little sampling of one of his favorite core stability exercise progressions today. -EC

When I teach seminars with other fitness professionals, I'm often asked questions about the concept of rounding out the lower back. Unfortunately, many of us are so scared of lumbar flexion that we never do it - ever - even if there's potential benefit involved. When it comes to lumbar flexion, here are my rules:

1. I don't do it repeatedly (i.e. sit-ups),
2. I don't do it under load (i.e. round back deadlifts).


However, putting someone in a small degree of lumbar flexion and/or posterior tilt isn't going to cause a spontaneous disc herniation. In fact, I would argue that getting someone better control over the lumbar spine and pelvis is going to get them out of extension, and actually allow their lower back to feel better. It's going to relieve pressure on both the discs and facets, which are getting crushed when you're locked in extension.

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The bottom line is a little bit of work in this position could provide massive benefits going forward. This is one reason why I love to teach "The Bear" as a core stability exercise.

The Bear

With this drill, you get the benefits of reaching (serratus anterior recruitment, better rib positioning), plus a ton of lower ab involvement. Now you may be wondering, why the obsession with lower abs? Well for all my clients and athletes, I'm trying to develop stability and control over the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips. The lower abs (internal obliques and transverse abdominus) are critical for this, as they have a ton of "real estate" on the pelvis. Quite simply, if you want to control the pelvis (and, in turn, the lumbar spine and hips), you need a strong set of lower abs.  With that being said, doing draw-ins all day isn't going to fix the problem. The best way to engage an IO or TVA is to set position via an exhale first.

To do The Bear, set-up in a quadruped position and think about reaching long through the upper back. Round out the spine slightly, and tuck the pelvis underneath you. From this position, pick the knees up 1" off the ground, and then hold for a certain period of time (like you would in a plank).

Knees Extended Bear

Once you've mastered The Bear, you'll want to find something more challenging. Enter the Knees Extended Bear! The set-up here is identical to the first, but once those knees are up, you simply straighten them out. As you can see you'll end up in a pike position, with the hips as the highest point. This exercise is a lot tougher than you might expect, so be sure to start with the standard bear first.

Core training exercises might be a dime-a-dozen, but that doesn't mean all of them are worth their salt. These two variations of The Bears are some of my favorites, and I think you'll love them as well.  Enjoy!

As I mentioned, Mike Robertson's new resource, Complete Core Training, is now on sale with an introductory $50 off discount this week.  I'm reviewing it myself, and it's excellent. If you're looking for some help with your core stability exercise progressions - and the rationale for these approaches - look no further! For more information, click here.

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5 “Combo” Core Stability Exercises

Written on March 16, 2016 at 9:25 am, by Eric Cressey

Core stability exercises are kind of like visits to the dentist. You know you need to do them - and they keep you healthy - but they aren't really all that sexy and enjoyable. With this in mind, I think the concept of "minimum effective dose" is an especially important consideration when it comes to programming core stability exercises. We want to pick the drills that give the biggest bang for one's buck: a great training effect in only a few sets.

Fortunately, if we understand how to classify core stability exercises, we can quick recognize that there are ways to deliver more efficient training prescriptions. Speaking broadly, you have four core stability exercise categories: anterior core stability, posterior core stability, lateral core stability, and rotary core stability.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension (arching), and encompass a variety of drills, starting with the likes of curl-ups, prone bridges/planks, and reverse crunches. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Rollouts

Posterior core stability exercises train the body to resist excessive lumbar spine flexion (rounding).  These drills include everything from the birddog all the way up through more conventional strength training exercises like deadlift variations.

tbdl

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations.

Rotary core stability exercises teach you to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Once you appreciate what each of these core stability exercise categories entail in terms of functional demands, you realize that you can combine these drills into options that train 2-3 at a time. Here are a few examples:

1. Reverse Crunch to Dead Bug - A reverse crunch would be considered anterior core drills, but in adding the dead bug component, you get an increased challenge to rotary stability because of the alternating leg/arm component. Of course, the dead bug is already a solid "combination" core stability exercise by itself.

2. 1-leg TRX Fallouts - As I noted early, fallouts are a great anterior core training progression. Going to a single-leg stance makes this an awesome rotary stability and lateral core challenge, too.

3. Tall Kneeling Cable Press to Overhead Lift - Asymmetrical presses are usually only a big challenge to rotary and lateral core stability, but adding the overhead reach component kicks up the anterior core challenge.

4. Lateral Lunge with Band Overhead Reach - This one gets some extra bonus points because it's an excellent hip mobility challenge, too. It takes a lateral and rotary core stability drill and incorporates more anterior core because of the overhead reach. It's a game-changer when an athlete can own the frontal plane with sagittal plane control, too.

5. Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift - You won't find a better posterior core stability exercise than a properly performed deadlift. You won't be able to load it as much in the suitcase set-up, but you'll definitely increase the challenge to lateral core stability.

suitcase-deadlift-bottom

These are just five of countless variations you can create to cover a few core stability exercise categories with one drill. I've found them to be particularly useful with in-season programs, when athletes have limited time to train. 

If you're looking for more exercise progression strategies - and a comprehensive overall system you can apply with your clients/athletes - I'd highly recommend Mike Robertson's new resource, Complete Core Training. It's on sale with an introductory $50 off discount this week.  Mike's a sharp guy and trusted resource, so I'm enjoying going through his progressions to see how we can tinker to improve our approaches at Cressey Sports Performance.

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