Home Posts tagged "Functional Stability Training"

Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 23

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

1. Communication can be good and bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, a good reminder is:

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

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 19

It's time for the June installment of "Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training."  With the introductory sale on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement ending on Sunday at midnight, I'm going to use this post as an opportunity to highlight one of the key concepts that resounds throughout the product: relative stiffness.


1. All successful coaching hinges on relative stiffness - whether you're aware of it or not.

I first came across the concept of relative stiffness in reading Shirley Sahrmann's work. This principle holds that the stiffness in one region (muscles/tendons, ligaments, or joint) has can have a functional impact on the compensatory motion at an adjacent joint that may have more or less stiffness. You'll also hear it referred to as "regional interdependence" and the "joint-by-joint" approach by the FMS/SFMA and Mike Boyle, respectively.

For those who do best with examples, think of lower back pain in someone who has an immobile thoracic spine and hips. They don't move through these regions (excessive stiffness), so the lumbar spine (insufficient stiffness) just compensate with excessive motion. Likewise, a female soccer player with insufficient "good stiffness" in the hip external rotators and hamstrings might be more likely to suffer an ACL injury, as this deficit allows excessive motion into knee valgus and hyperextension.

This is why a knowledge of functional anatomy is so key for strength and conditioning coaches. Every cue you use is an attempt to either increase or decrease stiffness. When you hear Dr. Stuart McGill say, "lock the ribs to the pelvis," he's encouraging more (anterior) core stiffness. When you hear "double chin," it's to increase stiffness of the deep neck flexors. When you ask an athlete to take the arms overhead during a mobility drill, you're looking to decrease stiffness through the lats, thoracic spine, pec minor, etc. - and increase stiffness through the scapular upward rotators, anterior core, deep neck flexors, etc. 


In short, absolutely everything we do in training and in life is impacted by this relative stiffness.

2. Remember that elbow hyperextension doesn't only occur because of joint hypermobility.

I've written frequently about how elbow hyperextension at the top of push-ups is a big problem, especially in hypermobile athletes who may be more predisposed to the issue. Typically, this is simply a technique issue; you tell athletes to stop doing it, and they do.


However, this doesn't mean that they'll automatically correct the tendency on other movements - like catching a snatch overhead, or throwing a baseball. It's when we look at the problem through a larger lens that we realize there is a big relationship to a lack of scapular motion. If you don't have enough good stiffness in serratus anterior to get the scapula to "wrap" around the rib cage and upwardly rotate, you'll have to go elsewhere to find this motion (elbow hypermobility). This is why I'm a huge stickler for getting good scapular movement on the rib cage - and the yoga push-up is a great way to train it. Think "more scap, less elbow."

3. If you want job security, become a hip surgeon.

The other day, I was speaking with a good friend who works with a lot of strength competitors - powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and Crossfit - and he made a comment that really stood out to me: "I'm seeing uglier hips than ever - even with females."

This has some pretty crazy clinical implications. Most females of "strength sport competitor age" have quite a bit of natural joint hypermobility, so they typically present with excellent hip range-of-motion prior to the age of 40. Even females who sit at computers all day rarely present with brutal hip ROM before they're middle-aged. What does this tell us? We have a lot of females who are developing reactive changes (bony overgrowth = bad stiffness) in their hips well too early, and when they later add increased ligamentous stiffness and a greater tendency toward degenerative changes (both normal with aging), we are going to see some really bad clinical hip presentations.

As an aside, it’s widely debated whether those with femoracetabular impingement (FAI) are born with it, or whether it becomes part of “normal” development in some individuals. World-renowned hip specialist Marc Phillipon put that debate to rest with a 2013 study that examined how the incidence of FAI changed across various stages of youth hockey. At the PeeWee (10-12 years old) level, 37% had FAI and 48% had labral tears. These numbers went to 63% and 63% at the Bantam level (ages 13-15), and 93% and 93% at the Midget (ages 16-19) levels, respectively. The longer one played hockey, the messier the hip – and the greater the likelihood that the FAI would “chew up” the labrum.


Source: Lavigne et al.: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15043094

So, whether it's strength sport athletes, hockey players, or some other kind of athlete, if you want job security, become a hip surgeon - and expect to do a lot of hip replacements in 2040 and beyond. There's a good chance these folks will need multiple replacements over the course of their life, too, if the longevity of the hardware doesn't improve before then. The same can probably be said for shoulders, too.

How does it relate to relative stiffness? Once you've used up all the "bad" stiffness you can acquire - muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint - there's a good chance that you'll have beaten at least some structure up enough to warrant a surgery.


I could go on and on with other examples of relative stiffness in action, but the truth is that they are countless - and that's why it's so important to appreciate this concept. To that end, I'd highly recommend you check out Mike Reinold and my new resource, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement. It's on sale at an introductory $30 off discount through this Sunday at midnight.

eric and mike squat

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Hip Extension, Core Stability, and the Split Squat

Here's another teaser from Mike Reinold and my new resource, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement. While the Bulgarian Split Squat (also known as the Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat) has always been viewed as a "generally safe" exercise, it does require good hip extension range-of-motion that you can't just always assume is present. Check out this video to learn more:

Also, don't forget, the introductory $30 off sale on FST: Optimizing Movement ends this weekend.  Click here to learn more.


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/14/16

Here's some recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing to get your Tuesday started off on the right foot:

How Neural Tension Influences Hamstrings Flexibility - This Mike Reinold video is an excerpt from our new resource, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement. It's on sale for $30 off through the end of the week.

10 Lessons from 10 Years of Lifting - Part 1


Why Physical Therapists are Movement System Experts? - I thought this was an excellent article from my good friend and colleague, Eric Schoenberg. I collaborate with Eric on a weekly basis with various rehab cases and he's an outstanding therapist and even better friend.

Top Tweet of the Week:


Top Instagram Post of the Week: (this week's come from the @CresseySportsPerformance account):


Another exciting 1st Year Player Draft in the books. Odds are looking pretty good that we break into triple digits in '17. #cspfamily #mlbdraft

A photo posted by Cressey Sports Performance (@cresseysportsperformance) on

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Optimizing Movement: Understanding Good vs. Bad Stiffness

With this week's release of Mike Reinold and my new resource, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, I wanted to give you a little sample of what it includes. Here's a three-minute excerpt from one of my webinars on the concept of relative stiffness:  

This new resource is on sale for $30 off as an introductory discount; you can learn more HERE.


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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/7/16

I'm a day late with this weekly recommended reading/viewing list in light of the Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement launch yesterday. Fortunately, though, that launch led to our first piece of highlighted content!

What Goes Into Optimal Movement Quality? - Here's a quick excerpt from one of Mike Reinold's webinars in our new FST resource:

Don't forget: you can pick this resource up for $30 off HERE during our introductory sale.

Strength Faction Eric Cressey Q&A - I did a call with the Strength Faction a few weeks ago, and this was the summary of some of the big takeaway points. Most of it has to do more with business and personal development than training.

Top 5 Coaching Cues - This was great stuff from Mike Robertson. He highlights five coaching cues that I find myself using all the time, too!

Top Tweet of the Week:


Top Instagram Post of the Week:    


I'm going to geek out a bit for the fitness professionals and rehab specialists here, as there are some good coaching lessons on this prone trap raise: 1. Don't force range of motion: he runs out of true posterior tilt (scapulothoracic) movement and tries to get extra ball-on-socket (glenohumeral) motion. 2. Forward head posture: much better to not allow the head positioning to be off the edge of the table. 3. Incorrect arm angle: the arm should be up at 135 degrees (line of pull of lower traps), not out to ~100 degrees, as we see here. This is very common in athletes who a) want to stay in scapular anterior tilt, b) can't shut their lats off, and/or c) are really kyphotic (rounded upper back). 4. Elbow flexion substitution: shortens the lever arm of the resistance, and in conjunction with #3, lets the athlete think they're actually in the right line of pull. Good movement has to be conscious before it becomes subconscious. And, arm care is as much about the "how" as it is about the "what." #cspfamily #armcare

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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Now Available: “Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement”

I'm psyched to announce that my newest project is now available. This collaborative resource with Mike Reinold is called Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement.


As with the previous three installments in this series, Mike and I heavily emphasize the collaboration of the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning worlds. The resource is available in both online-only and DVD formats, and includes a combination of webinars and lab sessions.

Through June 19, Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement will be available at a $30 off launch discount, and you can also get even bigger savings if you choose to purchase the entire "Functional Stability Training" bundle.


Click here to learn more and purchase!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 12

With only one day to spare, here's the July edition of "Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training."

1. One of the things I really heavily emphasize to our staff is that we should always be assessing. Obviously, during an initial assessment, we're going to review injury history, evaluate movement quality, and work to build rapport with the new client. However, I'm a huge believer that the initial evaluation should also include an actual training component. This is for three reasons:

a. I want the client to feel like they've actually started working toward their goals, as opposed to just hearing about all the things they need to work on.

b. We have many clients who come from out of town for short-term consultations, so we need to make the most of every training session.

c. I want to actually get a feel for what their work capacity is before I actually write a program for them.

You can measure resting heart rate, ask about training history, and take a whole bunch of other indirect measures of work capacity, but there is no substitute for seeing it first-hand. I've seen pro athletes in the early off-season who are completely deconditioned and struggle to get through incredibly abbreviated, basic sessions with lengthy rest periods. You really have to be able to take a step back and separate yourself from what you are expecting to see on the work capacity front so that you can observe what's really going on. If they are too deconditioned to put in the work you need to optimally effect positive changes with their performance, then your programming better reflect it.


2. I often talk with my baseball guys about how every throwing session either makes you tighter or looser. This sadly hasn't been recognized very well when it comes to individualizing recovery modalities to players' arms.

If you've got a lot of joint hypermobility (collagen deficiency), you'll get looser. If you're a naturally "tight" individual, you'll get tighter and tighter.

If you're loose-jointed, you'll respond well to low-level stabilization drills that essentially "remind" your nervous system of how to create good stiffness and optimal movement at joints (particularly the shoulder).

These looser-jointed athletes also seem to respond better to mild compression (arm sleeves, not aggressive compression). Even a cut-off tube sock works just fine.


Conversely, "tighter" throwers will generally do better with manual therapy and mobility drills. Static stretching after throwing is definitely appropriate, whereas you can skip it with the hypermobile crowd.

Regardless, these two "camps" share a lot in common. They both need great nutrition and hydration and optimal sleep quality and quantity, and they respond well to foam rolling and positional breathing drills. And, keep in mind that most pitchers don't fall to one extreme; they're usually somewhere in the middle, and can therefore benefit from a bit of everything. This is why recovery from throwing is an individualized topic; we have our theories on what works, but always have to get feedback from the athletes on what has yielded the best results for them.

3. Building on point #2, I never quite understood why some pitchers insist on doing their band work after starting pitching outings. It doesn't match up with either the "loose" or "tight" scenarios from my previous point, as fatigue changes everything. Fatigue is the enemy of motor learning - or re-learning, in this case. In my opinion, post-game band work is pretty silly.


If you're tight, get right to your manual therapy and mobility/stretching work. If you're loose, throw on a compressive arm sleeve and do your low-key band work the next day as part of that "stabilization re-education" I outlined earlier.

4. Good coaching isn't just about making clients and athletes move well; it's about doing so efficiently.

To me, there is a hierarchy in play in the coaching progression. First, a coach must know what an exercise is, and then understand how to coach that exercise. The third step is to learn to assess so that one knows when to include the exercise in a program. This last step is key, because to do an accurate assessment, one must understand what quality movement really looks like, how relative stiffness impacts things, and which compensation patterns an individual might resort to during that exercise. If you appreciate and follow this hierarchy, you continue to refine your ability to make technique perfect - but you can do so far more efficiently. 

Once you get to this point, it's all about coaching as many individuals as possible so that you have a giant sample size of incorrect patterns from which to draw. How do hypermobile folks compensate differently than those who don't have as much laxity? Why do individuals with long femurs struggle with an exercise, while those with "normal" anthropometry do just fine? Eventually, answering questions like these becomes second-nature, and that's where the efficient coaching happens, particularly when you learn about internal/external focus cues, and kinesthetic/visual/auditory learning styles.

5. Earlier this week, we had a 6-7 athlete doing stability ball rollouts - and the exercise was (unsurprisingly) pretty challenging for him. The combination of long arms and a long spine put him at a very mechanically disadvantageous position. It got me to thinking about how everyone seems to think about how tall guys have it tough when they squat and deadlift, but nobody seems to carry this thinking over to most core exercises. Imagine being seven-feet tall and trying to perform a stir the pot, where the forearms are a great distance from the feet:

Even on cable chops and lifts, the center of mass on a tall athlete is considerably further up from the base of support. The external loading that can be used is going to have to be lower if you don't want compensations to kick in.

One thing that can actually help a bit in this regard is athletes putting muscle mass on in the lower half of the body. It has a "grounding" effect as the center of mass is shifted slightly lower on the body.

Regardless, though, core stability exercises may need to be modified for taller athletes, especially initially. This might be in terms of regressing (e.g., going to prone bridges instead of rollouts), limiting range of motion (e.g., shortening the excursion on a rollout), or reducing the external loading relative to your "typical" expectations of where an athlete can start. 

6. Speaking of core stability exercises, have you checked out Mike Reinold and my Functional Stability Training? These resources have been our most popular collaborations, and we have modules covering our approach to rehab and training of the upper body, lower body, and core. It’s essentially a snapshot of how we think when designing our programs. You can learn more and purchase HERE.


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Save 20% on Functional Stability Training!

I hope everyone's week is off to a great start. And, just in case it isn't, I've got some good news for you: Mike Reinold and I have put our Functional Stability Training products on sale for 20% off this week. These resources have been our most popular collaborations, and we have modules covering our approach to rehab and training of the upper body, lower body, and core. It’s essentially a snapshot of how we think when designing our programs.


You can get any (or all!) of the FST products for 20% off this week only as a special sale to our readers.  No coupon code is needed; the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. That’s under $80 for each of the modules or under $240 for the whole bundle! Click here for more information.


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10 Important Notes on Assessments

I'm a big believer in the importance of the "Assess, Don't Assume" mentality. However, it's crucial that assessments be approached the right way in order to deliver optimal results in strength and conditioning programs. Here are ten thoughts on the subject:

1. Assessments are an easy way to differentiate yourself.

With this era of semi-private training and bootcamps, there are still a lot of coaches and facilities out there that pay no attention whatsoever to pre-participation screenings. On one hand, it's a sad commentary on our industry, as one could argue that omitting assessments sets clients up for injuries. On the other hand, it creates an excellent opportunity for skilled coaches and trainers to differentiate themselves in a low-barrier-to-entry industry. If you're not assessing, you're just guessing! Make it a priority to start learning more about your clients/athletes.

2. Thorough assessments include both specific and general components.

In my eyes, every assessment can be categorized as either specific or general. Specific assessments may be anything from single-joint range-of-motion (ROM) assessments to the provocative tests physicians and rehabilitation specialists may use. They identify specific things like elbow extension ROM or whether a particular test elicits pain.

Conversely, general assessments look at global movements and evaluate multiple joints at the same time. Examples include overhead squats and push-ups.

The problem is that both kinds of assessments can fall short. As examples, you may see unstable young athletes who pass all ROM assessments (specific) with flying colors, but fold up like lawn chairs when they do an overhead lunge walk (general).

You may also see athletes with perfect overhead squats, but significantly limited knee flexion ROM that would make you concerned that they'd pull a quad (rectus femoris) while sprinting. These are just two examples, though; there are countless more we could cite.

3. You must always be willing to refer out.

You're better off being a great trainer/coach than you are trying to be an incredibly subpar physical therapist or physician. Even if you had a tremendous knowledge of provocative tests and rehabilitation techniques, as a trainer/coach, you don't have the same resources (e.g., diagnostic imaging equipment) these professionals have. Furthermore, diagnosing is outside your scope of practice, anyway.

I refer out every single week. It creates great opportunities for collaboration that will benefit our clients/athletes, and for our staff to learn from related professionals. If you see something on an assessment that raises a red flag, it's better to be safe than sorry.

4. Don't assess just for the sake of assessing; make it to the point.

My biggest assessment pet peeve is when the process takes too long. You can do an incredibly thorough evaluation in about 30 minutes, and most shouldn't even take that long. The only ones that would require more time would be those with extensive injury histories or other unique circumstances.

                   The sooner you're done assessing,
                   the sooner you can get to training.

5. Assess in the context of both injury history and functional demands.

As a follow-up to point #4, you never want to go into a movement assessment "blind" with respect to the person in front of you. Rather, it's best to first review a health history and have a discussion about training history, goals, athletic demands, and expectations. I find that it's best to perform an evaluation with a better knowledge of an individual's history than it is to look at movement and then work backward from it.

For example, if your pre-assessment discussion reveals that an individual was a baseball player growing up, you can expect to see more external rotation on his dominant shoulder. That might lead you to look more closely at whether he has adequate anterior shoulder stability, and whether his scapula upwardly rotates enough. It also might help to explain a low right shoulder.


Basically, you need to see the big picture; the "answers" are usually a combination of a bunch of tests, questions, and observations.

6. You have to emotionally separate yourself your personal biases when it comes to assessments.

Baseball players are the largest chunk of my clientele. As a result, I evaluate shoulders and elbows in a ton of detail.

Recently, we started training an NFL punter, though.

I did a thorough assessment with him, but let's just say that we didn't spend a ton of time worrying about verifying that he had perfect elbow ROM. Instead, we spent a lot more time looking at his core and lower extremity; otherwise, the assessment would have taken all day, and we'd acquire a lot of information that wouldn't have a significant impact on his programming.

7. Don't let hypermobile clients/athletes "cheat" assessments.

Just like you need to have both specific and general assessments, you also need to make sure to include both mobility and stability assessments. Hypermobile (loose-jointed) individuals are notorious for cheating assessments that are biased toward ROM. Comprehensive assessments need to also evaluate stability.


In this vein, the Functional Movement Screen does a good job of looking at both sides of the equation. The shoulder mobility, overhead squat, and straight leg raise tests are general assessments largely biased toward mobility, but the trunk stability push-up, hurdle step, rotary stability, and in-line lunge screens are all predominately stability challenges.

To learn more about how hypermobile folks can "cheat" assessments, check out my article, 15 Static Stretching Mistakes.

8. Have some feel; don't make new clients (or any clients) uncomfortable.

If a man is overweight and uncomfortable with his body, it's probably not a great idea to have him take his shirt off for a scapular screen. If a woman is seriously deconditioned, it's probably not a good idea to put her through a lunge assessment that she'll fail miserably. And, it's an even worse idea to do these things in front of a crowded gym.

           Remember that the first day is as much about
           building rapport and starting a friendship as it
            is about evaluating how an individual moves.

As has been said in the past, "They have to know how much you care before they care how much you know."

9. Don't forget to highlight what individuals do well, too.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote, “It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.” This point applies to fitness and movement assessments, too. Think about it: would you like to be criticized non-stop for 30 minutes? Probably not.

By contrast, if someone highlighted what you did well while also covering some important growth areas for you, wouldn't these suggestions be more well received? Absolutely.

Again, your goal is to establish a great relationship, not just analyze movement.

10. Remember that training is a never-ending assessment.

Every exercise is an assessment. Each time your clients and athletes move, they're providing you with information. The more you pay attention, the better you'll be able to individualize their programs and coaching cues moving forward.

If you're looking for more information on the assessment side of things, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training series. These resources go into great detail on evaluating the lower body, upper body, and core.


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