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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

leeband

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

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Do Your Strength and Conditioning Progressions Create Context?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

A video posted by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

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

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

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

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The Best of 2015: Strength and Conditioning Videos

Written on December 23, 2015 at 8:24 pm, by Eric Cressey

With my last post, I kicked off the "Best of 2015" series with my top articles of the year. Today, we'll highlight the top five videos of the year. These videos only include instructional videos, not quick exercise demonstrations.

1. Avoid this Common Wall Slide Mistake - I'm a huge fan of wall slides for teaching good scapular upward rotation. Check out this video to see if you're making a common mistake on this front:

2. Steer Clear of this "Shoulder Health" Exercise - Continuing with the shoulder theme, here's a drill I don't particularly like. The good news is that I propose a suitable alternative. 

3. Serratus Anterior Activation: Reach, Round, and Rotate - This video covers some of our common coaching cues for a different variation of wall slides than featured in video #1.

4. 3 Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion Cues - This drill is both a great training exercise and an assessment. With the right cueing, you can clean the pattern up pretty quickly, in most cases.

5. Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss - This is one of my favorite medicine ball exercises for early on in training progressions. 

I'll be back soon with the top guest posts of 2015!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 13

Written on December 20, 2015 at 9:39 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of my series on coaching cues we utilize at Cressey Sports Performance on a daily basis. Today, I'll feature some of my favorite medicine ball coaching cues:

1. "Keep the head behind the belly button a bit longer."

Creating good "separation" is absolutely essential for producing power in rotational sports. This separation occurs when the pelvis rotates toward the target as the torso continues to rotate (or at least stay back) in the opposite direction. In the example of a right-handed pitcher, the pelvis rotates counter-clockwise toward the plate while the torso is still rotating clockwise toward second base. This separation stores elastic energy - but can also predispose athletes to injuries (as I wrote in 2008) if the motion doesn't come from the right places. 

med ball

In this regard, one of the biggest mistakes we see is the athlete "leaking" forward at the torso. This is a bad habit to get into in terms of power production (loss of separation), injury risk (can make a pitcher's arm "late" and subject the elbow and shoulder to undue stress), and effectiveness (hitters can't stay back to adjust on pitches, pitchers make struggle with "catching up" to find a consistent release point, etc.). 

My feeling is that the head goes where the torso tells it to go, so trying to keep the head back a bit longer will force the torso to stay back long enough for the athlete to get sufficient hip rotation to create the ideal stretch. 

2. "Make your front leg and back legs work like a slingshot."

Throwing a medicine ball - whether it's an overhead or rotational variation - is all about putting good force into the ground on the back leg and then accepting it on the front leg. In the analogy of a slingshot, if the back leg doesn't create enough eccentric preloading and subsequent force production, it's like not pulling back hard/far enough on the elastic portion of the slingshot. Athletes usually "get" this really quickly.

What they often fail to recognize is that the front foot has to stiffen up to accept force and - particularly in the case of overhead variations - help to create an effective downhill plane. One of the things I watch for on the front foot is whether athletes "spin out" of their shoes; you'll actually see some guys roll right over the sides of the sneakers if they don't stiffen up enough on the front leg to accept all the force that's being delivered. This is just like having a "limp" front arm when using a slingshot.

In over ten years of coaching these drills, CSP athletes and Royals pitcher Tim Collins is probably the absolute best example of effective "slingshot" force transfer on medicine ball work. He's got excellent reactive ability and absolute strength/power to create force, but is equally proficient at knowing how to stiffen up at the right time on his front side. I firmly believer that this proficiency plays a big role in his ability to create a great downhill plane and throw one of the best curveballs in baseball even though he's only 5-7. 

3. "Take your hand to the wall."

This is a cue I blatantly stole from my business partner, Brian Kaplan, who is the best coach I've ever seen when it comes to cleaning up medicine ball technique - and also creating context for our pitchers and hitters so that the drills carry over to what they do on the field.

One of the common issues we see with athletes with scoop toss variations is that they use too much wrist and get around the ball. You'll see the spin on the ball, and it won't sound as firm when it hits the wall. Effectively, what's happening is that the athlete is cutting off hip rotation and using the wrist redirecting the ball to the intended target. This causes the athlete to be around the ball instead of through it - so it's analogous to throwing a bad cutter with a baseball. By encouraging the athlete to take the hand to the wall, the ideal direction of force production is preserved, and we train hip and thoracic rotation more than just compensations at the wrist and hand.

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Exercise of the Week: Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

Written on March 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm, by Eric Cressey

In this installment of "Exercise of the Week," I want to introduce you to one of my favorite "introduction" medicine ball exercises, the Split-Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Scoop Toss.

It's incredibly useful for two primary reasons:

First, it trains hip/trunk separation through good thoracic mobility (as opposed to excessive lower back motion). Effectively executing this "separation" is key for high-level performance in any rotational sport.

Second, it teaches athletes to have a firm front side for accepting force. One common problem both hitters and pitchers can encounter is that they lack sufficient appropriate timing and multi-directional strength to “stiffen up” on the front side lower extremity.

If they can’t get this right in a controlled environment like the weight room, they sure as heck won’t be able to do it in a chaotic, competitive environment when they’re trying to adjust to a 83mph slider right after a 95mph fastball. Compare the demonstration video from above (Andrew is not a rotational sport athlete) to the following video of one of our professional pitchers, and you'll appreciate how trainable (and beneficial) these proficiencies are.

One additional point about this exercise: because there isn't aggressive hip rotation taking place, it's one of the few medicine ball drills I'll actually continue to utilize during the season with some of our baseball players. That said, I think it's a fantastic exercise that can be used for athletes and general fitness clients alike. Who wouldn't want to be more powerful with better movement quality?

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 10

Written on January 9, 2015 at 6:30 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the first trio of coaching cue suggestions of 2015!

1. Make a straight line from your heels to your head.

I'm a huge fan of inverted rows not only because of the great upper back training they provide, but also because they challenge core control at the same time. Unfortunately, a lot of folks will let the ribs flare up, head to slide into a forward head posture, or knees to hyperextend. All of these are extension-bias compensation strategies that can easily be cleaned up by just focusing on making a straight line from the heels to the head.

Typically, after providing this cue, I'll snap a photo of the posture as a good visual reminder for the athlete, too.

--> Related: 10 Ways to Progress Inverted Rows <--

2. Roll with your forearms, not your hands.

Foam rolling is great, but not if you spend the bulk of your time in bad positions. In my opinion, foremost among these bad positions is doing prone (face-down) rolling while being supported by the hands. The problem is that when you're supported by your hands, you're automatically in a position of heavy lumbar extension (low back arching) - comparable to the upward-facing dog yoga pose. With that said, simply dropping down to support yourself with your forearms is a much better bet for getting your quad and groin rolling in without throwing your back under the bus.

rolling

Keep in mind, of course, that you'll still be in some extension, but it's much closer to the natural lordotic (slight arch) posture we have in normal standing alignment.

3. Keep the head behind the belly button as long as possible.

When we train rotational medicine ball drills, it's important to create a powerful separation of the hip and shoulders. In other words, the pelvis rotates in one direction as the torso rotates in the opposite direction; this stretch helps to create and transfer elastic energy for rotational power. If the torso "leaks" forward early, though, the separation is minimized and force production and transfer is reduced.

One way to prevent this energy leak is to cue an athlete to "stay back" longer. Unfortunately, many athletes don't grasp this vague cue. As such, I like to encourage athletes to keep the head behind the belly button as long as possible. In other words, delay the torso rotation forward a bit longer.

That does it for installment 10. Have a great weekend!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/6/14

Written on October 6, 2014 at 8:10 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Elite Training Mentorship - In this month's update, I include an in-service on the top 10 mistakes I see with medicine ball training. I also have two new exercise demonstration videos, and an article on how to prevent "training boredom."

etmLogo

5 Thoughts on Sprinting - This informative post from Mike Robertson draws on insights from his own experience and what he's learned from others.

Squatting Semantics - Charlie Weingroff presents a quick, but informative look at the different kinds of squats and benefits that each affords - assuming technique is correct.

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7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum

Written on June 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm, by Eric Cressey

Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Italy, and fitness nuts that we are, we frequented several hotel gyms - none of which were particularly well equipped. Here's the one from hotel in Florence; yes, it was just dumbbells up to 10kg.

photo-63

Immediately upon leaving, I sent an email to Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg (@AndrewZomberg), who I knew was the guy to write up a post on having a great training effect without much equipment. This is what he pulled together; enjoy! -EC

Greater equipment availability generally yields greater efficiency because in order to induce structural or functional adaptations, you have to “force” the body to do so. Unfortunately, getting to a gym is not always feasible. The good news? Resistance training does not always have to depend on cable machines, power racks, and barbells.

Inaccessibility to gym equipment can be discouraging. The good news is that by creating structured programs and discovering new ways to challenge yourself with progressions, you can easily elicit a comparable training effect, just as if you were in a gym. Here are some options:

1. Body Weight Exercises

Undoubtedly, your body weight is the easiest, most accessible piece of equipment to utilize anywhere, anytime. Allowing for a more natural range of motion, body weight exercises enhance spatial awareness and improve the proficiency of movements since no other load is being used.

Progression: Alter the range of motion by increasing the total distance of the movement. For example, when doing a push-up, rather than keeping your feet in contact with the floor, try elevating them to increase stability demands of the core as well as the shoulder girdle. You can also add isometrics to any bodyweight exercise at halfway points and end ranges to impose added stress. You can use tri-sets to keep rest periods short and work in some bonus mobility work.

Sample Bodyweight Workout

Perform each tri-set three times:

A1) Body-Weighted Squats
A2) Push-up
A3) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations

B1) Reverse Lunge
B2) Prone Bridge Arm March
B3) Rocking Ankle Mobilizations

C1) 1-Leg Hip Thrusts off Bench
C2) Side Bridge
C3) Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

2. TRX Suspension Training

Easily portable, this piece of equipment can be anchored almost anywhere and targets virtually every muscle group. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for full-body awareness, as most of the exercises call for optimal body alignment from head to toe. It also places a significant emphasis on the core by challenging your ability to resist unwanted movement in every plane of motion at the lumbar spine.

197412_173702382680874_7668140_n

Progression: Lengthen the lever arm to reposition your center of mass further from the anchor to increase the total range of motion. Or, slow down the lift to create a greater time under tension effect thus imposing muscular damage for hypertrophy gains.

Sample TRX Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

TRX Anti-Rotation Press: x 8/side
TRX Inverted Row: x 10
TRX Bulgarian Split-Squat: x 8/leg
TRX Push-up: x 8
TRX Fallouts: x 10
TRX Overhead Squat: x 8

On a related note, if you haven't checked out EC's article, 10 Ways to Progress an Inverted Row, it's definitely worth a read!

3. Dumbbell and Kettlebell Exercises

Often found in hotel gyms, these are very affordable for the home or office and provide a wide range of exercise selection. Their biggest advantage is they provide enough options to gain a solid training effect. If the weight selection is too low, you can use higher volume schemes and minimize rest periods. When completing these complexes, execute the exercises without dropping the implement to increase the overall intensity.

DB Progression: Use stability balls, or half and tall kneeling positions to create a greater instability factor. Or, focus on the eccentric portion by taking a few more seconds to lower the weight in order to stress the muscle.

KB Progression: Turn the kettlebell upside down to a “bottoms-up” position to change the dynamic of the exercise. By moving the object’s center of mass further from the rotation (your wrist), you create more instability, forcing co-contractions of all the muscles of the upper extremity.

Sample Dumbbell Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

DB Goblet Squat: x 8
DB Renegade Row: x 8/arm
Offset DB Split-Squat: x 8/side
1-Arm DB Floor Press: x 10/arm
DB Prone Arm Marches: x 6/arm
DB Burpees: 3 x 15

Sample Kettlebell Complex:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

KB Front Squat: x 6/side
KB 1-Arm Row: x 8/arm
KB 1-Arm, 1-Leg RDL: x 8/leg
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm KB OH Press: x 10/arm
KB Swings: x 20
1-Arm KB Bottoms-up Waiter’s Carry: x 25 yards/arm

4. Resistance Bands

Very portable, bands are inexpensive and create an accommodating resistance effect. In other words, where you are biomechanically the weakest, the band will reduce its level of tension at that given position. The same effect will occur as you become biomechanically stronger; the level of tension will increase at that specific range. Bands also allow for direct arm and hip care for deeper muscles that provide the adequate stability for these multi-planar joints.

Progression: Play around with your base of support. Utilizing a narrow stance or tall kneeling position will alter the stability demands, making it more challenging to maintain joint neutrality. Or, add isometrics at the end range by holding the contraction for 5 seconds.

Sample Band Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Band Squats: x 10
Band-Resisted Push-up: x 10
Side-Bridge w/Row: x 8/arm
X-Band Walks: x 12/side
Standing Split-Stance Vertical Anti-Extension Press: x 12
1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift: x10/arm

5. Medicine Balls

Affordable and found in many hotel gyms, these are great for linear and rotational power, given how quickly you must produce force for maximal output, and how the stretch-shortening cycle plays into each exercise. Medicine balls are also good for core activation due to their emphasis on optimal alignment with overhead and rotational patterns.

Progression: Speed up the movement to increase your heart rate and enhance your power skills. Or, simply add more volume to the complex.

Sample Medicine Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Med Ball Slams: x 12
Rotational Scoop Toss: x 8/side
Side-to-Side Overhead Slams: x 8/side
Tall Kneeling Chest Passes: x 12
Hip-Scoops to Wall: x 12

6. Gliders

Very portable, gliders (our favorite is the ValSlide) can conveniently be replaced by household items - like furniture sliders or even towels - if you're in a pinch. Given their size and usage, these disks provide a tremendous amount of direct and indirect core work, since most of the exercises force you to fight against gravity in an anti-extension and anti-rotational manner. Gliders also improve stability due to the unnatural surface environment on which each exercise is performed.

Progression: Change your base of support by elevating an arm or leg off the floor. Decreased points of stability will call for greater concentration of the core in order to maintain optimal spinal alignment during each movement. If accessible, add an external load such as a weighted vest for a real challenge.

Sample Glider Routine:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Reverse Lunges: x 8/leg
1-arm Push-up: x 8/arm
Leg Curls: x 12
Bodysaws: x 10
Mounting Climbers: x 30 seconds

7. Stability Ball Exercises

A staple in most hotel gyms and very affordable for home or office use, stability balls provide a level of volatility that challenges your strength. Basically, in order to combat the dynamic perturbations of stability balls, additional muscles must co-contract to prevent joint deviations.

Progression: Elevate your feet or attempt pause reps at the end range to make the unstable environment even more challenging. Or, create additional perturbations by having a training partner hit the ball in different directions in an effort to knock you off your stability during the lift.

Sample Stability Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Elevated Push-ups: x 8
Leg Curls: x 10
Stability Ball Rollouts: x 10
Dead Bugs – arms and legs: x 6/side

A Few Notes

  • Be sure to invest a few minutes with soft-tissue work and ground-base and dynamic movements to prepare your body for the workout and prevent injury.
  • Be mindful of areas that need more emphasis than others. For example, structural balance is a common issue due to postural adaptations. Placing more emphasis on the posterior chain and upper back will reduce the overused areas and still provide a solid training effect.
  • Select "casual" rest intervals for most programs. But if you decide to create a greater disturbance, reduce the rest time. Just make sure the load is relatively low so form is not compromised. For complexes, the goal is not to put the object down until you have completed the entire round of exercises prescribed!
  • Make an effort to log your workouts. Noting your exercise selection, volume, load, and tempo will spare time in programming your next workout so you do not backtrack but rather progress.

Give some of these ideas a try next time you're in an "equipment pinch" and I think you'll find them to be a lot harder than they look!

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6 More Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

Written on February 25, 2014 at 9:18 am, by Eric Cressey

I published a "Random Thoughts" article two weeks ago and it was really popular, so I figured I'd throw up another "brain dump" here.

1. I think it's important to differentiate between an athlete's 1-rep max (1RM) weight and a powerlifter's 1RM weight.  Powerlifters may have a little wiggle room in technique at heaviest loads because lifting heavy weights is, in fact, their sport.  That said, athletes lift weights to improve performance in sports other than lifting, and also to stay healthy.  To that end, we always emphasize to our athletes that if you can't lift it in perfect technique, you shouldn't be lifting it; the risk: reward ratio is too high.

2. We do a lot of overhead medicine ball throws and stomps with our athletes.  I see a lot of coaches miss out on some benefits in this context because they do all of it purely in the sagittal plane.  Try integrating variations that also require some thoracic rotation to get to the release point. Here's one of our favorites:

3. I think "protective tension" should be a mandatory course in every exercise science, athletic training, and physical therapy curriculum. Not everything that feels "tight" needs to be stretched; that tightness might be the only thing keeping a person from slipping into debilitating pain.  Take it away, and they may be in for a world of hurt. 

This is actually a perfect example of the pendulum swinging in the other direction in the training and rehabilitation world; for the longest time, we've "assumed" that stretching was the one thing we could always fall back on as being "safe."

4. Here's one of my favorite quotes from my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training:

"While both efferent (motor) and afferent (sensory) processes contribute to overall neuromuscular function, the overwhelming majority of strength and power studies to date have looked exclusively at the efferent component. As a result, afferent contributions to strength, power, and athletic performance are frequently overlooked and largely undefined."

Taking this a step further, the overwhelming emphasis in sports performance training programs is on efferent development: producing force.  What we don't realize is that in many cases, our ability to display efferent proficiency is severely limited by afferent shortcomings.  This is one reason why you see so many people who are weight room rock stars, but just don't come across as all that athletic in sporting contexts.  Sports performance training isn't just about making athletes strong.

Think about this as you're watching the NFL Combine this week.  All the tests in question are closed-loop (predictable) in nature.  The athletes all know exactly what they are supposed to do, so the evaluators are really just assessing efferent potential.  Sure, there is sensory input involved in any athletic movement, but it's certainly not being assessed here.

cressey-blog

5. Humeral retroversion is incredibly important for throwers.  For those who aren't familiar with this term, give this classic article I wrote a read: Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl.

That said, what I don't delve into as much is what happens when a thrower doesn't have enough retroversion to allow for good lay-back, as demonstrated in the third frame in this sequence: 

Baseball_pitching_motion_2004

Well, normally it means they'll compensate via a number of other mechanisms:

a. Increasing lumbar and/or thoracic extension

b. cranking on the anterior shoulder capsule

c. stretching a lat or subscapularis past their optimal length-tension relationship (and possibly injuring them)

d. increasing valgus stress at the elbow. This can lead to medial tensile injuries such as UCL tears, ulnar nerve irritation, and flexor/pronator strains.  Or, it can lead to lateral compressive injuries (little league elbow).

compressive-forces

None of these compensations are really a good thing; you're much better off having good "true" ball-on-socket external rotation at the shoulder.  So, there are really two takeaways from this point:

a. Make sure kids throw sufficiently at a young age to preserve retroversion while they are still skeletally immature.

b. If someone doesn't have sufficient retroversion, make sure you're controlling what you can control: soft tissue quality, thoracic extension mobility, maximizing end-range rotator cuff strength, etc.  These are important for everyone, but particularly for someone who lacks lay-back.

6. If you don't have access to heavy dumbbells, but still want the benefits of them for upper body pressing, you have a few options.

First, you can always switch to 1-arm dumbbell bench presses.  The instability reduces the amount of weight needed to achieve a training effect.

Stability is heavily dependent on one's base of support, too.  With two feet on the ground and your entire back on the bench, you're pretty darn stable.  However, if you only set up your upper back on the bench, you'll also still be able to get a great training effect with less loading. I think you'll find it to be a very challenging core stability exercise, too.

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Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike – Part 3

Written on October 11, 2013 at 6:50 am, by Eric Cressey

Today marks the third installment of this series on trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.  In those installments, we outlined the problem of early and excessive lumbar (lower back) extension, and how to address it with drill work.  In today's final installment, we'll introduce some drills we like to use with our athletes to teach them about proper positioning and build stability within those positions.

At the end of the day, there are a few things that can contribute to a pitcher drifting into excessive extension from the time he begins his leg kick all the way through when his front foot strike.  Obviously, the foremost concern is what cues the athlete has been given that may be leading him in this direction.  Once those have been cleaned up, though, we have to look to see how physically prepared an individual is to get to the right positions. I think the first question you have to ask in this case is, "Where does the posture start?"  If an athlete looks like this at rest, he's going to at least look like this dynamically – and this heavily extended posture is going to be much more exaggerated.

APT

With that in mind, step 1 is to educate athletes on what acceptable resting posture is.  In this case, we need the athlete to learn to bring the pelvis and rib cage closer together, most notably through some posterior pelvic tilt.  Once that has been established, here are some of my favorite warm-up drills for athletes with this heavily extended posture. You'll notice that exhaling fully and learning to get the ribs to come down are key components of these drills.

In addition to these low-level core stability exercises, we'll progress to some balance drills, especially in the early off-season.  Effectively, we're teaching athletes to resist extension and rotation in single-leg stance.  Yes, it's static balance training, but I firmly believe these drills have carryover to bigger and better things at higher speeds. And, you're certainly not going to overtrain on them, so you've got nothing to lose.

With all these exercises out of the way, it takes a lot more high level core stability for this posture to carry over to the high level throw.  You need to improve both anterior core control (your ability to resist excessive extension/arching) and rotary stability (your ability to resist excessive rotation at the lower back).  I've outlined loads of options on these front, but here are two to get the ball rolling for those who aren't up to speed on my writings just yet:

And, remember that the different types of core stability never work in isolation – especially during the basebal throw.  Check out this video for more details:

The core stability you build must, however, be accompanied by a strong lower half.  Candidly, I don't think having a huge squat is necessary.  Athletes seem to get much better carryover from deadlift variations, in my experience – likely due to the fact that the deadlift does such a tremendous job of teaching good hip hinging.  We see so many athletes who drift (LHPs toward 1st base, and RHPs toward 3rd base) early in the leg kick and subsequent movement toward home plate in part because they can't hip hinge at all.  Once you've gotten that hip hinge back (in part with the toe touch video from above), you have to strength train in that pattern to get it to stick.  For the most detailed deadlift technique video tutorial out there, check out my free one here.

Additionally, single-leg strength is insanely important, and there are lots of ways to attack it. 

I think it's equally important to be able to build and maintain strength outside the sagittal plane, especially when it comes to carrying that good hip hinge over to movements when a pitcher is starting to "ride his hip" down the mound.  With that said, definitely check out an article I wrote previously, 7 Ways to Get Strong Outside the Sagittal Plane.

Once you've established hip and shoulder mobility, core stability, and lower half strength, you can really start to make the most of your medicine ball training.  As you can see, I think Tim Collins is a great example from which young throwers can learn a lot, as he has built up a lot of these qualities to make the most of a smaller frame in order to consistently throw in the mid 90s.  That said, I couldn't ask for a better demonstrator for our medicine ball drills for a few reasons.

First, he always throws the ball with intent; there are no half-speed reps. If you want to develop power, you have to try to be powerful in each throw during training.  Second, his direction is outstanding.  You never see him drift forward as he builds energy to apply with aggressive hip rotation. Third, he's got a great hip shift, which is necessary to get the most out of his posterior chain.

As a follow-up to that video, CP coach Greg Robins has a great tutorial here to teach you how to get "in and out" of your hip on rotational medicine ball exercises:

As you can see, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to an athletes being in excessive extension – but also allowing that extension to carry over to their pitching mechanics to the point that trunk position will be out of whack at foot strike.  Additionally, these exercises should demonstrate to you that athletes who land in a very extended position – but still have success and don't want to change things – will need to take special precautions in terms of physical preparation to make sure that their bodies don't break down over time with this delivery style.

This wraps up our series on understanding trunk position at foot strike during the pitching delivery; we appreciate you following along for all three articles!I If you'd like to learn more about how we manage throwers, be sure to register for one of our Elite Baseball Mentorships.  The next one will take place December 8-10.

 

 

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