Home Posts tagged "Hip Mobility"

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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3 Principles for Understanding and Improving Mobility

Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent resource, Ruthless Mobility, which is on sale for 60% off through the end of the day on Monday, July 4. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC


Mobility can be described in a number of different ways, depending on who is writing the story: yoga, flexibility, stretching, movement training, dynamic warm-ups, bendy stuff, and in some cases “how the heck do you even do that?” Regardless of what it’s called or who’s doing it, there are some basic rules and physiologic elements to be aware of when it comes to understanding mobility and how to use it in training programs. Today I wanted to outline the "three big rocks" of developing, using, and maximizing mobility in a safe and progressive manner. 

1. Structure Determines Function.

It’s easy to say that genetics are a separating feature for those who can gain a lot of muscle and those who have trouble adding a pound. The same can be said of those who are congenitally lax (via something like a higher Beighton hypermobility score or a diagnosis of Ehlers Danlos syndrome), compared to people who move like the tin man. Some of this could be connective tissue related difference in collagen to elastin ratio, but much of it could also be considered by the shape and orientation of the joints themselves.

In terms of the acetabular angle, D’Lima et al (2011) found in a computerized prediction model for prosthesis implantation that:

a. those with more acetabular anteversion (forward placement on the pelvis) had greater flexion range of motion and less extension
b. lateral placement of 45-55 degrees gave the best overall mobility
c. a lateral angle of less than 45 degrees gave more flexion range of motion and more than 45 degrees gave less rotation capability
d. if the femoral neck was thicken by 2 mm in diameter, it significantly reduced the range of motion in all directions, irrespective of placement.

Higgins et al (2014) even showed there was a large difference in anteversion angles bilaterally in the same individual (potentially lending some validity to PRI concepts of inherent asymmetry), with as much as a 25 degree difference in anteversion angle between left and right hip. This could translate to a difference in flexion range of motion of 25 degrees between your two hips, without any other feature affecting the outcomes. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed there’s a big variance in the femoral anteversion angle (whether the head of the femur pointed more forward or possibly backward) as the femoral neck attaches to the acetabulum, with the majority being between 10-20 degrees.

Additionally, some acetabulums have too large of a center edge angle, where the socket faces more inferiorly than laterally, which makes impingement during abduction more likely compared to a smaller center edge angle.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 9.32.28 PM

These structural differences are primarily set and unchanging after puberty when bones don’t deform as easily to external forces as with young kids. Baseball pitchers can undergo deformational changes at the proximal humerus (upper arm) to allow a much greater external rotation range on their throwing arm compared to adults who pick up the sport later in life. Eric showed that with his comparison of presidential first pitches HERE.

With advancing age, joint range of motions tend to reduce further with degenerative changes to the structures involved, either with an increase in concentration of cortical bone at contact areas, a reduction of cartilage thickness, or decreased fluid content of the joint space itself. The end result is a tighter joint that doesn’t move as easily.

Most of these types of changes, barring injury or disease, tend to not be limiting factors in mobility until many decades have passed, so if you’re in your 20s and concerned about your lack of mobility, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s likely not related to degenerative changes just yet. If you’re 50 or 60, it’s much more of a likely scenario.

This Canadian study showed that men lost an average of 5 degrees of shoulder abduction and 6 degrees of hip flexion per decade between 55 and 86 years old, while women lost an average of 6 degrees of shoulder abduction and 7 degrees of hip flexion in the same age range, and that this loss sped up after 70 years old and was actually not linked to self-reported activity levels. Being more active is better for everything as you age, but based on this study, not necessarily for keeping your mobility into your golden years.

What this means is that everyone will be different in terms of how much mobility they have and in which directions or movements. One person may be able to press overhead because they have joints that easily allow it, while another may never get there due to specific limitations, and a third may just not be ready to press yet. They may have the specific ability to do the motion, but don’t have the control or strength at the moment to do it effectively, which is where part 2 comes in.

So how do you determine a structural limitation? The best mechanisms are simply to see what the range of motion looks like in a couple of scenarios:

a. passive – have someone move you through the range while you’re relaxed)

b. supported - pull the joint through a range without using the muscles involved in the action. (Think a hamstring stretch with a towel wrapped around the foot and pulling on it with your arms)

c. in a different position or direction – in looking at hip flexion, compare a squat to a rock-back or Thomas test to look at the same range of motion.

If you consistently get the same joint angles in different motions or positions, it’s reasonable to believe that could be the true limit of your flexibility based on structural aptitudes. There’s always a potential that the limitation could be something else, and if you involve some of the training practices and options used later and notice an improvement, it’s a happy bonus. Short of developing X-ray vision, these are some of the best options for determining structure that everyone has available to them, whether we’re talking about the clinician, trainer or average meathead looking to get all bendy and stuff.

2. Can you actually get there?

Now, let's consider shoulder mobility; imagine that we look at an individual in supine and there’s no limitation standing in the way of going through full shoulder flexion.


However, when this same individual is asked to bring their arms overhead in an upright position, they do some wonky shoulder shrug, low back arch, and their upper lip curls for some reason. In short, they aren’t able to access that flexion movement very well, even though they have the theoretical aptitude to get there on their own.

We’re looking for the image on the right, but wind up getting the image on the left:


Now the great thing about the body is it will usually find a way to get the job done, even if it means making illegal substitutions for range of motion from different joints. In this case, the lack of shoulder motion is made up with motion from the scapula into elevation instead of rotation, and lumbar extension in place of the glenohumeral motion.

This by itself isn’t a problem, but rather a solution. It’s not bad to have something like this happen by itself, but it does alter the specific benefits of an exercise when the segments you’re looking to have do the work aren’t actually contributing, and you’re getting the work from somewhere else. There’s also the risk of injury from poor mechanical loading and improper positioning that increases the relative strain on some areas that aren’t meant to be prime movers for the specific exercises.

Now, the big question is whether someone is willing to not do an exercise because they’re demonstrating that they’re not ready for at the moment. If a client wants to squat in a powerlifting competition, but his hip range of motion makes it very difficult to get below parallel to earn white lights without losing lumbar positioning or grinding the hip joints to pieces, how willing would he be to adjust his training or eliminate that possibility to save a lot of hassles? Some people identify themselves by their sport, so telling them not to do what they love isn’t an option. I’ve worked with a lot of runners, and saying “don’t run” tends to go in one ear and out the other.

Back to the overhead example, maybe going right overhead isn’t possible at the moment, but a high incline press can be done easily. This is working in what Mike Reinold calls on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement “Green Zone vs Red Zone training.” Overhead at the moment is a red zone movement as they can’t get there easily and on their own. Green zone would be a landmine press, where they’re still working on flexion, but not moving into a range they can’t easily access.

One manner that could help an individual access this range of motion if they have shown an ability to get there passively is through what Dr. Andreo Spina calls eccentric neural grooving of the motion. Use either a support or pulley to get into the terminal range of motion, release the support or pulley and try to maintain the terminal position while slowly moving out of the end range as controlled as possible. Here’s Dr. Spina doing ENG work on the ankle and anterior shin for some dorsiflexion work.

Here’s another version with yours truly working on a similar variation via controlled hip abduction:

You could do this for the shoulder easily enough as well by grabbing a rope, pulling the shoulder into flexion, releasing the rope, and trying to maintain the position before slowly lowering the arm out of terminal flexion. Just make sure you’re not letting your low back arch or shrug up your shoulder blades in to your neck.

3. Can you use it with force when needed?

So now you’ve shown you have the joints to do stuff, you can get there on your own without assistance, and you want to train the heck out of it to look like your favorite Instagram bendy people.

One thing to consider when exploring these ranges of motion is that force production tends to be greatest in mid-range positions, likely due to the greatest torque development required to overcome natural leverage elements and also due to spending less time in the end ranges. There’s also the reduction of cross bridge linkages in these positions, limiting sarcomeric action when you’re gunning your biceps in peak flex.

Controlling these end ranges (even if the goal may not be to develop maximal force in them for moving the biggest weight from point A to B) can help expand the usable range of motion where peak torque development occurs, as well as provide the potential for expanding sub-maximal torque percentage ranges of motion. These movements aren’t easy and tend to take a lot of mental energy coupled with physical effort, but if getting awesome was easy, everyone would already be there.


To round things out, understanding and developing mobility comes down to:

a) having the structure to produce the range of motion
b) being able to get into position to effectively use that range of motion
c) building strength and conditioning within that range of motion to keep the ability to use those ranges for a long time, and through as many positions and directions of movement as possible.

Some specific movements or positions may not be possible due to your own unique structure and abilities, but work hard at using everything you do have, build strength throughout the entire range of motion, and enjoy the process as much as the outcomes.

Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 60% off through this Monday (7/4) at midnight.



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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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Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

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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Making Movement Better: Different Paths to the Same Destination

Lately, I've been posting more training pictures and videos on my Instagram page. The other day, I posted this video, and it led to some good discussion points that I think warrant further explanation:

One responder to the video asked the following:

You had an Instagram post the other day about an athlete not being able to differentiate between hip and lower back extension. I have a client with what seems to be a similar problem and just wondered how you generally go about teaching them the difference.

The answer to this question really just rests with having a solid set of assessments that help you to understand relative stiffness. I was first introduced to this concept through physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann's work. Relative stiffness refers to the idea that the presence or lack of stiffness at one joint has a significant impact on what happens at adjacent joints, which may have more or less stiffness. Without a doubt, if you've read EricCressey.com for any length of time, the most prevalent example of this is a shoulder flexion substitution pattern. 

In this pattern, the "bad" stiffness of the lats (among other muscles) overpowers the lack of "good" stiffness in the anterior core and deep neck flexors - so we get lumbar extension (arched lower back) and forward head posture instead of the true shoulder flexion we desire. Truth be told, you can apply these principles to absolutely every single exercise you coach, whether it's an 800-pound squat or low-level rotator cuff exercise.

As an example, when you cue a wall hip flexor mobilization, you're working to reduce bad stiffness in the anterior hip while cueing an athlete to brace the core and activate the trailing leg glute. That little bit of good stiffness in the anterior core prevents the athlete from substituting lumbar extension (low back movement) for hip extension, and the glute activation creates good stiffness that impacts the arthrokinematics of the hip joint (head of the femur won't glide forward to irritate the anterior hip during the stretch). 

In the upper extremity, just use this back-to-wall shoulder flexion tutorial as an example.The "reach" would add good stiffness in the serratus anterior. The shrug would add good stiffness in the upper traps. The "tip back" would add good stiffness in the lower traps. The double chin would add good stiffness in the deep neck flexors. The flat low back position would add good stiffness in the anterior core. Regardless of which of these cues needs the most emphasis, the good stiffness that's created in one way or another "competes" against the bad stiffness - whether it's muscular, capsular, bony, or something else - that limits overhead reaching.

Returning to our prone hip extension video from above, if we want to get more hip extension (particularly end-range hip extension) and less lumbar extension, from a purely muscular standpoint, we need more "good stiffness" in rectus abdominus, external obliques, and glutes - and less stiffness in lumbar extensors, lats, and hip flexors. As the question received in response to the video demonstrates, though, this can be easier said than done, as different clients will struggle for different reasons.

Sometimes, it's as simple as slowing things down. Many athletes can perform movements at slow speeds, but struggle when the pace is picked up - including when they're actually competing.

Sometimes, you can touch the muscle you want to work (tactile facilitation). Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill has spoken in the past about "raking" the obliques to help create multidirectional spinal stability. I've used that cue before with this exercise, and I've also lightly punched the glutes (male athletes only) to make sure athletes are getting movement in the right places.

Sometimes, a quick positional change may be all that's needed. As an example, you can put a pad under the stomach to put the lumbar extensors in a more lengthened position. In fact, doing this drill off a training table (as demonstrated above) was actually a positional change (regression) in the first place; we'd ideally like to see an athlete do this in a more lengthened position where he can challenge a position of greater hip extension. Here are both options:

Sometimes, a little foam rolling in the right places can get some of the bad stiffness to calm down a bit. Or, you might need to refer out to a qualified manual therapist to get rid of some "tone" to make your coaching easier. I do this every single day, as I have great massage therapists on staff at both our Florida and Massachusetts Cressey Sports Performance facilities.


Sometimes, a little positional breathing can change the game for these athletes, as it helps them to find and "own" a position of posterior pelvic tilt while shutting off the lats.


The take-home point here is that there are a lot of different ways to create the movement you want; coaching experience and a working knowledge of functional anatomy and relative stiffness just help you get to the solutions faster and safer.


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6 Physical Attributes of Elite Hitters

After reading Bobby Tewksbary's great resource, Elite Swing Mechanics, I've been thinking about the characteristics of elite hitters. Just as Bobby breaks down swing mechanics to identify growth areas, I'm always looking to find physical limitations that might interfere with an athlete's ability to best "acquire" the swing mechanics guys like Bobby are seeking. Here are six physical attributes I've noticed in most elite hitters.

1. Sufficient Hip Mobility

You don't have to look any further than the rise in hip injuries over the past decade to recognize just how aggressive the hip rotation is during the baseball swing. In particular, it's essential for hitters to have sufficient hip internal rotation and extension. Unfortunately, these ranges of motion are usually the first to go in the dysfunctional lumbopelvic (hip/lower back) postural presentations we see. As the pelvis dumps forward into anterior tilt, it blocks off internal rotation - and the athlete will preferentially extend through the lower back instead of the hip.


This leads to not only limited hip function, but also an increased risk of injury. The athlete may develop bony overgrowth (femoroacetabular impingement; read more here) on the head of the femur or the hip socket, a torn labrum, a sports hernia, or a number of other hip issues. There may also be extension-based lower back pain, including stress fractures and disc injuries. This loss in hip motion is generally related to point #2...

2. Sufficient Core Control

Many of the hip mobility restrictions we see in these athletes aren't just because muscles are actually short, or bony blocks have developed to restrict range of motion. Rather, they may be in place because the athlete's core control is so out-of-whack that alignment issues actually limit range of motion. Imagine driving a car that's out of alignment; turning to one side will ultimately wind up being more difficult. The good news about this scenario is that it's often possible to get quick changes in an athlete's hip mobility just by modifying posture, incorporating positional breathing, and doing a bit of activation work. I've seen athletes gain more than 30 degrees of hip internal rotation in a matter of 30 seconds without manual therapy or stretching, so adding some core control in the right places can definitely be a powerful thing.

Remember, the research clearly demonstrates that the core works to transfer - not develop - force during the baseball swing. Its job is to take the force developed in the lower extremity and make sure that it is delivered to the upper extremity and, ultimately, the bat. This function should be reflected in the exercise selection we use, as we gravitate toward rotational medicine ball variations and chops/lifts rather than sit-ups, crunches, and side bends.

3. Sufficient Thoracic (Upper Back) Mobility

One of the key points Bobby made in his article earlier this week was that Pujols - like all elite hitters - gets his hips moving forward while his hands are still held back and up (and actually moving further back and up). To do this, you need three things. We've covered the first two: hip mobility and core stability. However, you also need sufficient mobility through your upper back to allow this "separation" to occur. Even if the hip and core components are ideal, if the upper back isn't sufficiently mobile, the hands can't stay back to allow a) force transfer without "energy leaks" and b) the right timing for this transfer. As Bobby also noted, if the hands can't stay back long enough, the hitter has less time to see and react/adjust to the pitch that's thrown. In short, a physical limitation can quickly become a mechanical issue. I should note that while thoracic rotation (transverse plane) is predominantly what we're seeking, you can't have sufficient rotation if you're stuck in a rounded upper back posture (flexion/sagittal plane). If you look like this, you'll need to get your extension back to help unlock the rotation you seek.


4. The Ability to Hip Hinge

This point really goes hand-in-hand with #1 from above, but I think it's important to distinguish the hip hinge (hip flexion with a neutral spine) as pre-loading, whereas the extension and internal rotation that takes place is actually unloading. In other words, the former stores the elastic energy we need, while the latter releases it over a sufficient range of motion. Candidly, I'm shocked at how many young athletes have lost the ability to hip hinge correctly. You'll see it quite a bit in more advanced hitters as well, and they're usually the higher-level guys who have hip and lower back problems. If you can't effectively pre- load your hips, you'll have to go elsewhere to get your power - or you just won't create it. A detailed review of what a good hip hinge is and how to train for it could be (and is) a full-day seminar. Basically, this is as much a stability limitation and patterning problem as it is an actual flexibility deficit. Put these three components together, and you have your "mobility" potential.

Without getting too sidetracked, here's a quick rule with respect to the hip hinge: players need to be able to touch their toes without a huge knee bend (greater than 30 degrees) or hyperextension of the knees.


Sure, we need to consider how much posterior hip shift there is, whether they can reverse the lumbar curve, and whether they return from the toe touch with predominantly hip or lower back motion, but I think the quick screening rule from above is a good place to start.

5. Lower Body Strength/Power

You don't have to be an elite powerlifter or Olympic lifter to hit home runs. However, you do need enough strength and - just as importantly - the ability to display that force quickly. On the strength side, I seriously doubt you'll find many hitters in the big leagues who aren't capable of deadlifting at least 1.5 times their body weight, and if you do find some, they're probably guys who have been around for quite some time and gotten much more efficient with their patterning to use every bit of force they have in the tank. Or, they're just carrying too much body fat. On the power side, it's not good enough to just be a weight room rockstar. It's also important to be able to take that strength and apply it quickly in more sport-specific contexts with drills like rotational medicine ball throws, sprinting, jumping and, of course, hitting and throwing. Once you've got the foundation of strength, your power training can really take off - and that includes your swing mechanics. Until you're able to put more force into the ground, it's going to be difficult to generate more bat speed unless you have glaring deficiencies in your swing mechanics that can be cleaned up.


6. Great Sports Vision

You can't hit what you can't see - and elite hitters almost always have elite vision. Some of this is outside your control, but I always encourage all our baseball guys to get thorough yearly eye exams. I'm a bit biased because my wife is an optometrist, but I've seen players for whom vision corrections with contact lenses and glasses has been a complete game-changer.


This is certainly not an exhaustive list of physical attributes of high-level hitters, but it's a good start. Building on this point, as examples, you'll notice I didn't say "tremendous forearm strength" or "a huge bench press." Some guys might have these "proficiencies," but that doesn't mean they're absolutely essential for high-level hitting. Many hitters might develop appreciable forearm strength from the act of hitting over many years, but that doesn't mean they had to specifically train it to make that advancement. And, on the bench press front, there may be guys who've trained the bench press heavily, but never recognized that it might not have had much of an impact on their hitting performance. This is why we have to look at the big picture and see what ALL elite hitters are doing to be successful.

If you're looking to learn more about the technical aspects of hitting that go hand-in-hand with these points, be sure to check out Bobby's Elite Swing Mechanics e-book. I highly recommend it - especially at such a great price. 

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The Best of 2014: Strength and Conditioning Articles

With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.

1. 5 Things I've Learned About Mobility Training - This article only just ran about three weeks ago, but it still was the biggest hit of the year. Given the popularity, I suppose I should have written it a long time ago!


2. Why We're Losing Athleticism - This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2014, and was especially popular among parents.

3. Should You Wear Olympic Lifting Shoes? - What started as a Q&A ended up being a lengthy post that kicked off a great discussion.

4. 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises are Essential - We all know core control is incredibly important, but who knew an article about why would be a hit, too?


5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.

I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!

In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle Imbalances Revealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Mobility Training

It's been almost ten years since Mike Robertson and I introduced our Magnificent Mobility DVD set. This popular DVD set certainly helped a lot of people, but as with all aspects of the incredibly dynamic strength and conditioning and rehabilitation fields, we've learned a lot about mobility over the past decade. In other words, there are a lot of things I do differently with my training programs these days. I mean, seriously, I looked like I was 12 years old in this video.


Very simply, mobility is one's ability to reach a desired position or posture. Because many folks erroneously confused it with flexibility (range of motion at a specific joint), the industry as a whole trended toward labeling all mobility issues as true shortness of tissues that crossed the joint(s) in question. As the years have progressed, though, we've smartened up to realize that folks may struggle to get to specific positions because of joint structure (e.g., femoroacetabular impingement), insufficient stiffness at adjacent joints (e.g., poor core control "presenting" as bad hip mobility), density (rather than just length) of the aforementioned tissues that cross the joint, and a host of other factors. To be more succinct, mobility is dependent on much, much more than just tissue length!

With that in mind, I thought I'd highly a few game-changers I've picked up on the mobility front over the years. This post is especially timely, as Dean Somerset's great new product, Ruthless Mobility, is on sale this week at a great introductory 59% off discount.



1. Soft tissue work is important, even if we don’t know exactly why.

I'm honestly entertained when I hear someone insist that foam rolling is the devil, and we should never do it. People feel and move better after they do it, and it always seems to improve the quality of mobility initiatives that take place subsequently.

I certainly don't think it's truly mechanically breaking down scar tissue, but it's absolutely transiently reducing stiffness in the targeted tissues via one or more of a number of other mechanisms. Just because we can't explain them in complete certainty doesn't mean that "good" isn't being done.

2. Breathing can reduce bad stiffness and establish good stiffness.

This point could also be called, "The yoga folks have been right about breathing for a long time."

It's not uncommon to incorporate positional breathing drills that will transiently improve both flexibility and mobility. To me, that's an indicator that we're both reducing bad stiffness and establishing good stiffness. As an example, take all fours breathing in a flexed position:

I've utilized this with athletes and seen supine shoulder flexion range of motion increase by 10-15 degrees in a matter of 15-20 seconds without actually stretching the shoulder anywhere near its end-range. Additionally, scapular upward rotation (which takes place against gravity) usually improves a bit, presumably because of both the increased recruitment of serratus anterior and reduced downward pull of the lats. Again, this is very much a theory, but it's consistently being tested with great results in our training each day. And, it's much easier than doing loads of manual therapy and time-consuming static stretching (although there are still places for both of those initiatives).


3. Not everyone conforms to the joint-by-joint approach.

The joint-by-joint approach was first introduced by Gray Cook and developed further by Mike Boyle. The concept is very sound: the body is a system of joints/segments that alternate in the need for mobility or stability. For instance, the ankles need mobility, the knees need stability, the hips need mobility, the lumbar spine needs stability, the thoracic spine needs mobility, the scapula needs stability, etc. This all makes a ton of sense, especially in the general population that is more predictable.

However, there are some glaring exceptions to this rule. You'll see folks with hypermobile hips, and excessively stiff lumbar spine segments. You'll observe thoracic spines that are so flat/extended that they shouldn't be mobilized, and shoulder blades that are so locked down that they demand more mobility training to achieve optimal function. Shoulders and elbows can really go either way.

The point is not that the joint-by-joint approach doesn't hold water; it's actually a tremendously useful paradigm I use on a daily basis. Rather, the point is that you can't "one-size-fits-all your mobility approaches." Everyone needs something slightly different, and every joint really needs a combination of mobility and stability.

4. A lot of people mistake laxity (or, worse yet, instability) for mobility.

Building on my last point, you'll find a lot of people who have so much congenital laxity that they don't need any stretching. Their mobility training is really a matter of attention to soft tissue quality and stability training.


The problem with these folks is that they can often "cheat the tests." For example, they might have unbelievably perfect overhead squats and shoulder mobility to the naked eye, but if you actually pair these tests up with stability-oriented screens, they may fall well short of what you'd deem "acceptable" movement.

Instability - or an acquired, excessive joint range of motion - is even more problematic. This is where folks will literally "blow out" their normal anatomy to acquire a desired range of motion. An example is the anterior shoulder capsule in throwers; they'll do whatever they can to get the arm back to help generate range-of-motion to support velocity production. Eventually, the shoulder can get so loose that the active restraints (rotator cuff and biceps tendon) can't effectively hold the ball on the socket, and pain occurs with throwing.


In consideration of both laxity and instability, just because you can get to a position does not mean that you're sufficiently stable in that position.

5. Building and maintaining mobility is like managing a bank account.

It goes without saying that it's easier to maintain mobility than it is to lose it and get it back. Everyone uses the analogy of babies and young children having freaky range of motion and perfect squat patterns, but losing them as time progresses. The assumption is that this occurs because they "make enough deposits:" targeted mobility work and a wide variety of activities throughout their days. Certainly, this is an issue, but I'd argue that it's because of excessive withdrawals, too.

Withdrawals could be sports participation where eccentric stress or direct trauma to tissue beats them down. It could be lifestyle factors like alcohol or tobacco use that negatively impact tissue quality. It could be pushing through faulty movement patterns until bone spurs result. What we take out is just as important as what we put in.

We all start with some money in the bank as children, but it's up to us to have more deposits than withdrawals in this mobility account over the course of the lifespan.

These are really just a few of many observations I've made over the years; there are countless more that could turn this article into an entire novel! With that said, if you're looking for an outstanding, up-to-date mobility resource at a great price, I'd recommend you check out Ruthless Mobility. Dean Somerset has put it on sale through the end of the day on Monday, July 4 at more a 60% off discount, and it also provides continuing education credits for the fitness professionals out there. Check it out HERE.



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7 Ways to Make Your Strength Training Programs More Efficient

I'm a big believer in pursuing maximum efficiency in our training programs. We want exercises and training strategies that deliver the biggest "bang for our buck," as most people don't have all day to spend in the gym. That said, supersets, compound exercises, and other well-known approaches on this front are staples of just about all my programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the typical strategies just don't get the job done sufficiently. There are periods in folks' lives that are absurdly busy and require approaches to kick the efficiency up a notch further. With us opening a new facility right as our busiest season is upon us - and my wife pregnant with twins - you could say that this topic has been on my mind quite a bit these days. With that in mind, here are seven strategies you can utilize to get a great training effect as efficiently as possible.

1. Switch to a full-body split.

Let's face it: you might never get in as much work on a 3-day training split as you do on a 4-day training split. However, you can usually get in just as much high quality work. I've always enjoyed training schedules that had me lifting lower body and upper body each twice a week. However, usually, the last few exercises in each day are a bit more "filler" in nature: direct arm work, secondary core exercises, rotator cuff drills, and other more "isolation" drills. In a three-day full-body schedule, you should really be just focusing on the meat and potatoes; it's the filler you cut out.

Additionally, I know a lot of folks who actually prefer full-body schedules over upper/lower splits. This was one reason why I included 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training options in The High Performance Handbook.


2. Do your foam rolling at another point during the day.

There has been a lot of debate about when the best time to foam roll is. While we generally do it pre-training with our athletes, the truth is that the best time is really just whenever it's most convenient - so that you're more likely to actually do it! If you'd rather foam roll first thing in the morning or at night right before bed, that's totally fine. As long as you get it in, over the long haul, you really won't see a difference if you compare pre-training to another point in the day.

3. Do a second, shorter session at home. (Waterbury, PLP program example)

Remember that not all training sessions have to actually take place in a gym. Rather, you might find that it's possible to get in 1-2 of your weekly training sessions at home. As an example, I have an online consulting client who has a flexible schedule on the weekends, but a crazy schedule during the week. He does two challenging sessions with heavier loading on the weekends (lower body on Saturday and upper body on Sunday). Then, he'll work in some filler work with body weight, band, and kettlebell exercises on Tuesday and Thursday. He's still getting in plenty of work in during the week, but he doesn't have to set aside extra time to drive to and from the gym. Obviously, a home gym alone can make for more efficient programs, too!

4. Move to multi-joint mobility drills.

If you're in a rush to get in a great training effect - and abbreviated warm-up - don't pick drills that just mobilize a single joint. Rather, pick drills that provide cover a lot of "surface area." Here are a few of my favorites, as examples:

Typically, you're going to want to do fewer ground-based drills and more drills where you're standing and moving around.

5. Dress in layers.

Speaking of warm-ups, it'll take you longer to warm-up if you dress lightly - especially as the winter months approach. Athletes always comment that they get (and stay) warm better when they wear tights underneath shorts, or sweatshirts and sweatpants over t-shirts and shorts. Of course, you can remove layers as you warm up.


Additionally, if you're an early morning exerciser, you can expedite the warm-up process by taking a hot shower upon rising. A cup of coffee can help the cause as well.

6. Add in mobility fillers.

If you're going to shorten the warm-up a bit, you can always "make up" for it by working in "fillers" between sets of your compound exercises. I actually incorporate this with a lot of the programs I write, anyway. If you look at our baseball athletes, they're often doing arm care drills in between sets of squats, deadlifts, and lunges. They get in important work without making the sessions drag on really long, but at the same time, it paces them on the heavier, compound exercises so that they aren't rushing.

7. Use "combination" core movements.

Usually, the word "core" leads to thoughts of unstable surface training, thousands of sit-ups, or any of a number of other monotonous, ineffective, flavor-of-the-week training approaches. In reality, the best core training exercises are going to be compound movements executed in perfect form. Overhead pressing, Turkish get-ups, 1-arm pressing/rows/carries, and single-leg movements (just to name a few) can deliver a great training effect. Complement them with some chops/lifts, reverse crunches, dead bugs, and bear crawls, and you're pretty much covered.

There are really just seven of countless strategies you can employ to make your training programs more efficient. Feel free to share your best tips on this front in the comments section below. And, if you're looking to take the guesswork out of your programming, I'd encourage you to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/20/14

It's a big week for us at Cressey Sports Performance, as we're in the home stretch and about to get into our new training facility in Jupiter, FL. If you want to follow along, I'll be posting some progress pics on my Instagram account. While I won't have much time to pull together new content this week, I can definitely tell you the following articles will be well worth your time!

Widening the Aerobic Window - Mike Robertson has published some excellent stuff on energy systems development in the past, and this article does a great job of building on them.

The Six Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up - I reincarnated this old post on Twitter yesterday, and it was a big hit. So, I thought I'd remind the EricCressey.com readers, too.

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How You Make Decisions Says a Lot About How Happy You Are - I always love reading research on social phenomenons and how people behave. This Wall Street Journal article highlights some entertaining stuff in this realm.

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  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series