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Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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

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

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

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Making Movement Better: Different Paths to the Same Destination

Written on October 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

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.

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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.

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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

Written on September 12, 2015 at 8:49 pm, by Eric Cressey

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wrap-up

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

Written on December 26, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

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!

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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?

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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

Written on December 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm, by Eric Cressey

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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 this week at an excellent introductory 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

Written on October 21, 2014 at 9:00 pm, by Eric Cressey

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.

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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.

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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

Written on October 20, 2014 at 4:13 am, by Eric Cressey

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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Exercise of the Week: Integrating Hip Mobility with Core Stability

Written on April 4, 2014 at 5:14 am, by Eric Cressey

In this week's installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce one of my favorite "combo" drills for hip mobility and core stability.  I actually came up with the lateral lunge with band overhead reach myself in the summer of 2012 as I was thinking up ways for our throwers to have better rotary and anterior core stability as they rode their back hips down the mound during their pitching delivery. I introduced the exercise in phase 2 of The High Performance Handbook, and got several emails from customers who commented on just how much they liked it.  Give it a shot!

The name of the game with this exercise is "bang for your buck."  You're getting anterior core stability that'll help you prevent the lower back from slipping into too big an arch.  You're getting rotary stability that'll help prevent excessive rotation of your spine.  You're getting hip mobility that'll enable you to get into new ranges of motion.  And, you'll build lower body frontal plane stability so that you can perform outside of just the sagittal (straight-ahead) plane.

I'll usually do three sets of 6-8 reps per side. Enjoy!

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Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 4

Written on March 8, 2014 at 9:21 am, by Eric Cressey

I always tell up-and-comers in the strength and conditioning field, "If you aren't assessing, you're just guessing."  It's not as simple as just doing a sit-and-reach test and having someone hop on the scale for you, though. This series is devoted to highlighting some of the most commonly overlooked components of the assessment process – and here are three more evaluations you might be missing:

1. Previous Athletic/Training Workload – If you're trying to help a client get to where they want to be, it's important to realize where they've been.  For example, someone who has a history of overworking themselves might respond really well to a lower volume program.  Or, an athlete looking to gain muscle mass who has never trained with much lifting volume might be well-served to add some "backoff" sets and additional assistance work.

This is an incredibly important discussion with our professional pitchers, too.  Starting pitchers who have a high workload (some in excess of 200 innings pitched in the previous 8-9 months) need to wait longer to start throwing than relief pitchers who may not have thrown more than 40 innings in a season.  The former group might not start an off-season throwing program until January 1, whereas the latter group might already have eight weeks of work in by that point.

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Discussions of building work capacity get a lot of love in the strength and conditioning field, but I think we often lose sight of the fact that sporting coaches are also looking to build work capacity in the context of the athletes' actual sports.  Now, these two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, but if everyone is always pushing high volume all the time, things can go downhill fast.

2. Quad and Adductor Length – Let's face it: a huge chunk of the population doesn't exercise enough, and even most of those who do exercise regularly don't pay attention to mobility needs. As a result, their entire exercise program takes place in a very small amplitude; they never get through significent joint ranges of motion. Two areas in which you see this probably rearing its ugly head the most are quad and adductor length. 

Your quads are maximally lengthened when your heel is on your butt.  How often do you see someone encounter this position in their daily lives?

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Adductors are stretched when the hips are abducted.  When was the last time you hit this pose in your daily activities – outside of a fall on the ice?

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If you want to do a quick and easy assessment of where you stand on these, try these two (borrowed from Assess and Correct):

Prone Knee Flexion: you should have at least 120 degrees of active knee flexion without the pelvis or lower back moving.

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Supine Abduction: you should have at least 45 degrees of abduction without lumbar or pelvis compensation, or any hip rotation.

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I generally just check these up on the training table when people get started up, but these should provide good do-it-yourself options for my readers who aren't fitness professionals.  Also, if you find that you come up short on these tests, get to work on the two stretches pictures at the start of this bulletpoint.

3. Taking the Shirt Off – This is a tricky one, as you obviously can't do it with female clients, and even when male clients, you have to be sensitize to the fact that it might not be something in which they'd like to partake.  That said, you'd be amazed at how many upper extremity dysfunctions can be obscured by a simple t-shirt.  As an example, this left-handed pitcher's medial elbow pain was diagnosed with ulnar neuritis, and he was prescribed anti-inflammatories for it and sent on his way without the doctor even having him take his shirt off to evaluate the shoulder and neck.

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Needless to say, he sits in heavy scapular depression on the left side, and it wouldn't be a "stretch" (pun intended) at all to suspect that his ulnar nerve symptoms would be originating further up the chain.  Take note on how the brachial plexus/ulnar nerve runs right under the clavicle as it courses down toward the elbow.

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Crank the scapula and clavicle down, and you can easily compress the nerve (and vascular structures) to wind up with thoracic outlet syndrome, a very common, but under-diagnosed condition in overhead throwing athletes.  The more forward-thinking upper extremity orthopedic surgeons are diagnosing this more and more frequently nowadays; elbow problems aren't always elbow problems!

The lesson is that you can see a lot when you take a shirt off.  If it's the right fit for your client/athlete, work it in.

I'll be back soon with more commonly overlooked assessments.  In the meantime, I want to give you a quick heads-up that to celebrate National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness week and help the cause, Mike Reinold and I have put both Functional Stability Training of the Core and Lower Body on sale for 25% off through tonight (Saturday) at midnight – with 25% of proceeds going to MS charities. Just use the coupon code msawareness to apply the discount at the following link: www.FunctionalStability.com.

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Mobility Exercise of the Week: Prisoner Lunge Walk with Pec Stretch

Written on August 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm, by Eric Cressey

Those of you who have followed along with my "Exercise of the Week" series probably can tell by now that I'm a fan of "big bang for your buck" exercises.  This isn't just limited to multi-joint strength exercises like deadlifts, bench presses, lunges, squats, overhead presses, chin-ups, and rows, though.  Rather, it can also apply to mobility exercises because – let's face it – single-joint warm-ups are boring and take too long.  Here's one mobility warm-up drill we'll use to improve thoracic mobility and pec length while opening up the hips.  Simultaneously, you're training the anterior core to resist excessive lumbar extension (arching at the lower back).

For the throwers out there reading this post, be sure to avoid really cranking those elbows back; chances are you already have plenty of range-of-motion.  Just focus more on resisting the excessive arching of the lumbar spine.

Looking for more great mobility drills like this?  Check out Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.

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